Disclaimer & Summary: See previous chapters. Basically, it's not mine. And Hermione is a romance columnist. HG/BZ
A/N: This chapter is rather angsty. Lost of emotions, lots of developments. Sorry for the delay. My typist coughmecough has been very lazy. I only hope it was worth the wait. Oh, yeah, and this chapter is most lovingly dedicated to G-Dogg. You know who you are. Hope your interview went well! (Was there ever any doubt?)
Chapter 9 — "Trapped in a Box"
Trapped in a box of enormous size
It distorts my vision, it closes my eyes
Attracts filthy flies and pollutes in the skies
It sucks up our lives and proliferates lies
Trapped in a box
This was impossible. How did he know where to find her? Surely Zabini had not leaked the details of their lessons. He hated Malfoy as much as she did—probably even more! When she looked up, however, at those steely grey eyes covered by long, loose locks of silver-blonde hair, she suddenly realised that she had made a big mistake. She had been careless in her interaction with Zabini. And suddenly, she understood why he had become so distraught and broken it off so abruptly. It was very dangerous for them to have contact with each other, and she could see that danger in the seething grey of Malfoy's eyes.
He just stood there, his arms folded, smirking down at her maliciously. She straightened up a bit and swallowed a whimper, but then she was being hauled back into the Room of Requirements by the heavy, strong hands of Crabbe and Goyle. One of them—and who really knew one from the other?—took her wand. It was pointless to try to fight. Their grip on her arms had assured her of that much.
"What the hell is this, Malfoy?" she yelled as the door closed and locked behind them. Her anger suddenly outweighed her fear, and she lashed out at Malfoy to punch him. He moved just in time, which caused her to stumble forward, nearly falling on her knees.
"He just wants to talk to you," said a terse, surly voice from behind her.
She whirled around to find Crabbe and Goyle smirking at her, one of them delicately running his thick fingers over the length of her wand.
"And how is he going to that?!" she screamed.
Her mind was racing wildly. Her eyes darted around the room, looking for an escape. She found nothing but a locked door and a very vivid projection of Michelangelo's signature painting. Her brain slipped into a state of near detachment.
Crabbe and Goyle did not bother answering, as Malfoy had "needed" a desk that suddenly appeared behind the armchairs, along with two short wooden stools. He perched himself casually on one of the stools and pulled out a length of parchment and what she now knew to be a Quick-Notes Quill. He sucked on the tip of the quill quite suggestively, his eyes never leaving hers. She was shoved towards him by one of his minions' rough hands, and she found herself nearly stumbling again.
And then the quill began to move across the parchment, in perfect rhythm, she assumed, with Malfoy's thoughts—
Sit down, Granger.
It was unbelievable, this predicament in which she found herself. It was as though she was no longer in the room, no longer on Earth. She heard her voice bellow her response, but it sounded distant and foreign. "And if I don't?!" She knew she was yelling, but it sounded like a whisper. "You can't curse me! You can't even touch me! And those morons wouldn't know a proper spell if it knocked them on their arses!"
Crabbe and Goyle did not respond. They were, she realised, completely under Malfoy's command. He smirked up at her deviously, and the quill underlined the sentence that had been written.
Sit down, Granger.
She just stood there trembling, despite herself. What did he want with her? What could he even do if she refused? She crossed her arms and tapped her foot on the floor, staring at him unblinkingly. He sighed at last, obviously exasperated by her obstinence, and turned to look at the screen. The light caught the side of his face, his perfectly straight blonde hair practically glowing and his jaw clenching and unclenching. Then he turned back to her with a very sinister smile on his lips, and the quill began to move again.
I know all about you and Zabini. He's told me everything.
"I didn't realise there was anything to tell," she spat.
It was very odd to be having such a conversation. To an outsider—to Crabbe and Goyle—it must have been comparable to hearing someone talk over the phone or into a fireplace. They could only hear one side of the conversation, and the rest was between her and Malfoy. He sighed again, more angrily, and then the quill wrote boldly—
She knew there was nothing else she could do, so she reluctantly submitted. She slid the stool far enough away from the desk to put an ample amount of distance between them, while still allowing her to read from the parchment. He watched as she sat—her knees pressed together, her fists balled in her lap.
Good girl. Now I want you to tell me exactly what you've done to me.
"Nothing!" she roared. Her voice was so loud in comparison to his silence. Then, in a lower tone, as though realising the sheer volume of her voice, she added, "This might come as a shock to you, Malfoy, but my whole life does not revolve around you."
Who did it, then?
She almost told him. She almost blurted it out without a second thought. After all, this was all Zabini's fault, wasn't it? His "protection" of her was what had gotten her into the whole bloody situation to begin with. And besides, he was finished with her. Done. But deep down—and especially when she turned to look at Michelangelo on the screen in front of her—she couldn't do it. Zabini was fumbling for answers, just like her. And she knew that he, as well, was hopelessly trapped. She let out a long, exaggerated breath and turned back to Malfoy.
"I don't know," she responded plainly. She was suddenly as detached as Zabini himself. She suddenly understood him perfectly—if only for a fleeting moment—and she hated the grey eyes that glared at her so viciously. "It's not like you have a shortage of enemies, right?" she commented almost randomly. "I guess it just goes along with being an insufferable prat."
You know who did this, Granger.
And now, she was free. She didn't care about anything. Her indifference—that apathy that she had learned from Zabini—guided her. She leaned forward, her knees falling apart and her arms resting between them, hands folded casually. "I do, do I?" she whispered. "Why don't you ask some of the people in your own House?"
He bit his bottom lip, drawing the teeth up over it brutally before the flesh snapped free, red and swollen. Oh, if he could only touch her! She had a good idea his hands would be around her neck, choking the life out of her. Watching her struggle for breath, knowing that the sight of his pointy face would be the last thing she ever saw.
I knew it. It's Zabini, isn't it?
"I don't know what you're talking about," she spat back. She had never known such apathy, such complete detachment and lack of fear.
You see, Gryffindors are pathetic liars.
Silence. She wasn't going to budge, and he knew it. Now it was merely a matter of insults, of accusations—
I assure you he's only using you.
Yes, that thought had definitely crossed her mind. That was her original mental reaction to Zabini's advances. But now...it just seemed like more. Or maybe that was what she wanted to think.
Virgin, aren't you?
To hell with indifference. Wild, white-hot rage bubbled to her lips before she could stop it. "That's none of your business, ferret!" she bellowed.
He smirked more sleazily than ever, his fingers drumming the surface of the desk as his quill sped on—
Just as I suspected. Zabini has a thing for virgins, you know. He likes them tight, I guess. He must be a horrible lay, though. He always gets dumped after the fact.
Her brain was simply going to explode. Or implode. Either way, she had no clue what to think or feel. It hit her head-on. Of course. Padma was engaged. Parvati's words rang out in her mind.... "She was determined Armand would get her secondhand." But she couldn't delude herself, either. She was sure that Blaise—oops!—Zabini—had gotten what he wanted out of the encounter.
I don't see a bed.
The words were simple enough, written mechanically by the quill as Malfoy glanced around the room.
So what were the two of you doing in here, if you weren't shagging?
"We were studying art," she replied without hestitation, gritting her teeth. How did he do that? How did he know exactly which buttons to push?
And why were you "studying art"?
"I'm sorry," she spouted sardonically, "but I fail to see why any of this should interest you. Unless you're a closet Micheangelo fan, of course, which I seriously doubt. I don't expect you to have any type of appreciation for the fine arts. After all, it's just a bunch of Muggle paintings, right? And you know, Malfoy, you're not really the cultured little Pureblood that you pretend to be."
His eyes burned with malice. Again, she felt like he might strangle her if he had the ability. He glanced at the screen and then quickly turned his eyes back to her. She thought she saw a tinge of crimson colour stain his pale cheeks.
You'd be surprised. My father has quite a collection of fine art. Most of it was purchased from none other than Massimo Zabini himself. I assume you know all about Massimo.
Yes, she knew a lot. And she wanted to know more. He was not a Death Eater. He was a used car salesman, according to Zabini, and now she could add "fine art dealer" to the list. She had a feeling that Massimo was much more than anything Zabini had described to her. He was, perhaps, a "Don" of sorts, pulling the strings on the rest of the Wizarding world. Toying with people like they were puppets in his twisted game. And Massimo supposedly hated Blaise. Forget the "Zabini" shite. The more she heard, the more she learned, the more he became "Blaise" to her. Plain and simple. Blaise.
Yes, I know quite a bit about art, Granger. Shall I show you some of my personal favourites?
She watched as his eyes turned to the screen, and she followed his gaze with trepidation yet interest. What—out of all of the art in the world—could possibly interest Malfoy? She received her answer all too quickly, the slide projector obeying Malfoy's sudden whim.
Picasso's Guernica. Black and white and grey despite the occasional splotches of putrid yellow. Arms and limbs and horse's heads. Feet and horned pigs. Eyes that did not make sense in relation to the faces that housed them. Broken daggers and scratchy hatch-marks. Fingers, candles, distortions. An overwhelming sense of chaos and violence.
Delacroix's Death of Sardanapalus. Pale bodies twisted upon red and brown and black. A woman lying lifeless at the feet of a man. Another woman, attacked from behind, held prisoner by a relentless hand forever, as she writhed against his control. The cacophony of faces and breasts and flesh and grasping hands.
Alexander Gardner's wet-plate photograph of Carnage at Antietam. Indistinguishable lifeless bodies strewn against a field in front of a cannon, still in the confines of their ragged uniforms. Death. Death in black and white. Bent knees, frozen forever in their state of helpless rigor mortis. And a white house in the background. A plain, empty white house, void of occupants, stripped of humanity.
Willem de Koonig's Woman I. A grotesque figure, carved out of stark brushstrokes. The eyes red, the teeth bared. The breasts accented loudly in a hue of greenish-grey. And hooves for feet...because all women were surely Satan incarnate, were they not? She was death personified. Death with bound breasts, rudely defying her bondage.
Hermione swallowed back a strangled gulp at the images in front of her. As they paused, she hesitantly looked back towards Malfoy, whose eyes were alight with hunger and malevolence. He watched her like a predator, feeding upon her disgusted reaction. And then the quill moved again—
And now, Granger, my favourite of all.
Goya. Saturn Devouring His Children. That child's arm would forever be lodged in the god's gaping mouth. Forever—for eternity—as long as that painting existed, Saturn would be a helplessly bare, nude man, his fists hungrily clasping the body of his own flesh and blood, which he devoured with a mad, entranced look in his eyes. The pale of the skin. The red of the blood. The sheer desperate fight for self-preservation.
"Garbage!" she cried at last. She breathed as though each breath was her last, hating Malfoy with every nerve ending in her entire body. And then, lowering her voice, she went on, "I much prefer antiquity to modern art. But thank you for that grotesque journey through the mind of a Malfoy. It was quite...enlightening."
Antiquity? How about this one, then?
The Greek Hellenistic image flashed upon the screen against the steady, humming grind of the slide projector. It clicked into place so abruptly, so resolutely, that the sound of the moving cartridge echoed off the walls. Malfoy looked at the screen, his pale features glowing in the light of the creamy marble sculpture. With that image, Malfoy pinned her to the spot.
Nymph and Satyr, it was plainly called, for lack of a better title. The nymph had no head, and therefore no face. But her body was full and strong as she fought against the advances of her would-be assailant. Her arm bent back his head as he attempted to pull her down on top of him. A grimace distorted his face, and every muscle in his body was tensed as he fought to ravish her. His arms around her waist, pulling, struggling. He would forever battle against her pale skin, his legs spread along either side of her resisting hips. He would forever be unsatisfied, yet forever in control.
It was a warning, and Hermione knew it for what it was. She looked back at Malfoy, who sneered at her scathingly. He was sending her a message, a very clear image of his intentions. And how very cruel it was!—to have an image that had aroused her so intensely now used against her! How ruthless of him to use her newfound glory as a weapon against her! She hated him. She abhorred him almost to the point of biting her lip and spitting her own Muggle-born blood into his pale face.
If you think a simple hex is going to stop me, then you don't know me very well.
She looked at him as though she had never seen him before, and now she understood. Now she comprehended Blaise's "protection" of her. He eyed her greedily, his smirk incomparable to the raw craving in his eyes. And now she understood Zabini's embrace—his attempt to hold onto her, to envelop her. She sat face-to-face with a dragon, helplessly subjected to the fire of his stare.
She wanted to.... She wanted to....
Run. And that was not like a Gryffindor.
So she simply shrugged. "Having fantasies about forcing yourself on Muggle-borns, are you?" she inquired.
That's all you're good for.
She had had enough of all of it. She'd had enough of Blaise's insecurity, of Malfoy's blatant threats. She now knew what it must be like to be a Slytherin—always cautious, always unprotected, always doubtful. Trapped in a box of their own creation. And her compassion burned her up inside, threatening to overtake her. Because surely they understood the flaw in their own reasoning. Surely.
"This is insane," she whispered at last, standing up. "You are insane. I'm leaving, even if I have to insure that Crabbe and Goyle will never reproduce in the process."
Haven't figured it out yet, have you?
Okay. So Malfoy was smart. He was too smart. Because if there was any way on earth to stop Hermione Granger, it was to question her problem-solving skills. And he knew it.
"Figured what out?" she demanded, now looking down at him, her clenched fists on her hips.
Don't tell me you haven't noticed anything unusual in the Daily Prophet recently.
She cocked her head to the side and glared down at his simpering expression. A flicker of fear and shame ran through her veins, suffocating her raw anger. It was true. She had almost been completely ignoring the Prophet. Everything had just been so quiet. Too quiet, she now realised. She should have been skimming through the trash and bias of the newspaper all along. Instead, she had been studying art and throwing herself headlong into her column. She should have known better, and she mentally reprimanded herself.
Been too busy whispering sweet nothings into Zabini's ear, have you?
Yes, she had been a fool. She had completely let herself go. But it had felt so good to lose control!—to bobble on the edge for once! It had been so liberating, and she had felt that she owed it to herself. Her whole school career had been wrapped up in Harry, while he had always stubbornly refused her advice. It wasn't that she had given up on him. No. He was one of her best friends. But the compassion she had felt for Harry had been willingly transferred to Zabini. To Blaise.
Don't tell me. Keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, is that it? Very Slytherin of you. I am almost impressed.
No! That wasn't it at all! But it definitely gave her something to think about. Someone was certainly getting used, and she hated that she had been drawn into this sick world of Slytherin mind games. She watched shakily as Malfoy pulled an issue of the Daily Prophet from the inside pocket of his robes. He tossed it onto the desk and stared up at her as his quill darted out another sentence—
I suggest you read that carefully from cover to cover.
"It's just rubbish," she replied in a withering voice. "I've given up on the Prophet. After all, the whole thing is controlled and funded by slimy, no-good ruffians like your father."
Ah yes, my father.
Malfoy's face slipped into the wickedest grin yet. His eyes gleamed almost triumphantly. If nothing else, he had Hermione's unfaltering attention. She had been absorbed and blinded, and she was helplessly jerked back to reality by her worst enemy.
I'm quite pleased to tell you that he has been discreetly released to St. Mungo's. Nasty little incident with a dementor. They say his mind is beyond repair.
That piece of information was belied, of course, by Malfoy's boastful smile. The closed ward of St. Mungo's was certainly preferable to Azkaban. He probably had a private room. And he could have visitors. Not to mention the fact that Lucius Malfoy was an excellent actor. He had spent his entire life doing just that. She felt a sick twinge of fear as the cold comprehension hit her. Things were not so quiet, after all, to anyone who was really paying attention. But how...?
It won't be long, Mudblood. I'd watch your back, if I were you.
"You know what's going on," she whispered. It was almost a question, but not really. How much could Draco Malfoy possibly know?
And now there's something that we both want. How perfectly convenient.
She was at her limit. She was angry, frightened, bitter, shocked, remorseful. She couldn't feel them all at once, so she shut down her emotions completely.
"Malfoy," she said quite blandly, "go to hell."
She turned to face Crabbe and Goyle. She was finished. And so was Malfoy, apparently—at least for tonight. She heard his cool, drawling voice at last, aimed at Crabbe and Goyle.
"Give her back her wand," he commanded. "Let her go."
She wasted no time. She snatched her wand back from whichever of the two morons was fondling it so mockingly. The door opened, and she walked through it in a daze, feeling the cool air of the corridor dry the beads of sweat that had gathered on her brow.
Over the next few days, Hermione fought to forget the entire encounter with Malfoy. She fought to forget every detail of that entire evening. In a space of about two hours, she had been.... Oh, damn it all to hell. She was going to have to make another list. It was the only way she could attempt to make sense of it all.
In two fateful hours on a Monday night:
1. She had been completely disarmed by Zabini. He had confided in her more honestly than ever before.
2. She had broken rule number two. Hell, the "rules" were no longer existent at all, after an embrace like that.
3. She had almost been kissed.
4. She had, for all intents and purposes, been dumped. Yes, her services were no longer needed.
5. She had been forced into a locked room with her worst enemy and subjected to what, in her opinion, was the vilest possible torture. Mind games. Her own reasoning had been used against her.
Nope, it still made no sense. Her biggest problem, however, was the fact that she couldn't forget about it. She couldn't bloody put it out of her mind because she was supposed to be writing about it. Her work on the column was completely dependent upon the situation that had originated when she had taken her first tentative steps into the damn fiction section. It was all D. H. Lawrence's fault. She was quite prepared, at the moment, to burn all existing copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Instead, she picked it up and began flipping through it. A word in Chapter VIII caught her eye, and she stopped to read.
"Ravished! How ravished one could be without ever being touched. Ravished by dead words become obscene, and dead ideas become obsessions."¹
The deadline for submission of Part III was 15 March, and it was now nearly the end of February. She had writer's block again—her "dead words become obscene"—and Draco Malfoy was entirely to blame. Malfoy made her wish that she had never laid eyes on Blaise...er, Zabini. But now she was stuck. She, the author, had fallen into a very distrubing love/hate relationship with her leading man—the leading man who now wanted nothing to do with her. She strongly considered pulling out all of her hair, overdosing on caffeine, and going into hiding somewhere on the third corridor for the remainder of the term.
In Part I, she had created the exposition. She presented her heroine, whom she quite uncreatively named "Hero" out of sheer laziness. (As a writer, one can always conveniently fall back on Mythology when pressed for names or ideas, right?) Hero was an overworked, underappreciated Ministry employee who—despite her complete lack of interest in the subject—had taken a job in the Department of Magical Creatures in order to subtly push legislation for elfish welfare. (Don't they say to write what one knows best?) Of course, Hero, a very practical and unromantic witch, received quite a shock one day when she went for a file on a certain hippogryff that had gone missing several years back. Instead of getting a file, she got a vivid image of Leo Valentino, an Unspeakable, doing things with a clerk in the file room that were not work-related.
In Part II, Hero found herself struggling with the fact that she was surrounded by brainless idiots and helplessly intrigued by this dark, curly-haired Italian Unspeakable who seemed to be quite...good with his hands. She bumped into him one day in the corridor, and he managed to get ahold of some of her secret memos regarding several house-elves whom she was attempting to free on the basis of extreme cruelty from their masters. He used the memos in order to blackmail her. After all, freeing house-elves was neither common Wizarding practice nor a part of her job description. What he wanted in return was help with a project he had undertaken: cataloguing his personal library. He apparently had a strange fascination with Muggle literature and folklore, and Hero was known throughout the Ministry for her methodical organizational skills. As she began helping him—against her will and better judgement—she realised that this man was possessed by demons. His behaviour was erratic, at best, and downright incomprehensible and cruel, at worst. Yet he seemed to be begging her quietly for help beyond cataloguing his collection of tomes. There was something else going on, which brought Hermione to...
Part III. It was in Part III that Hermione had a burst of sudden inspriation. Leo Valentino was not possessed by demons at all. He was under the control of a Ministry official named "Droghan"—a black magician whose own personal house-elf was at the top of Hero's list for freedom on the basis of cruelty. Originally, Droghan had simply been out to destroy Leo, who refused to become a mindless slave to Droghan's idiotic quest for world domination. But now, Droghan was also determined to crush the rights of house-elves for good and to destroy Hero's career in one foul swoop. Yes, Droghan was the lazy type of bloke who preferred to kill two (or three, or four) pixies with one spell. He was pure evil, and he was rich enough to get by with it.
Would Leo ever fight back? Would Hero's reputation be irreparably damaged? Would the house-elves ever be free? The biggest question of all was yet to come.... Would her readers really care?
It didn't matter at the moment—not to Hermione. Hero and Leo. Hermione and Blaise. It was all over, and Part III would either have to go on hold or never be written at all. If it was the latter, she would not get paid for what she had already written, but she wasn't doing it for the money. Now it was like a vendetta. If she didn't continue with it, then someone else would. Someone with half her wit, little appreciation for the rights of house-elves, and absolutely no knowledge of the situation that had inspired the whole idea. This person would simply pick up where she left off, using her penname. After all, Witch Weekly certainly was out to make money. And there were probably some authors out there who would just love to turn Hero into a swooning, lovesick moron.
It didn't matter. Over the next week, it was like Hermione was waking up from a long, very realistic dream. The more she willed Blaise out of her mind, the more the rest of the world slowly came back into focus. She suddenly found that she barely recognised her best friends. She had been trapped in a box, so large and consumptive that it distorted her entire perception of the world around her. As the walls came crashing down at last, she was appalled to find how much the world around her had changed. She was also more than a little hurt to find out that it had, indeed, gone on without any help from her.
Therefore, when Ron sat down next to her one evening in the common room, she did something unusual. She closed her Arithmancy text, put down her quill, and gave him a look that could only be described as a plea for sanity.
"How are you, Ron?" she asked, really meaning it.
"How are you?" he asked back.
For a moment, they said nothing. They just sat there looking at each other. She wasn't the only one with secrets. She could see it in his eyes, in the anguished set of his jaw. Ronald Weasley looked scared. His red brow was furrowed thoughtfully, and he released a long, heavy breath.
"It's Harry," he said at last, very softly. He looked around the room cautiously, as though insuring no one was eavesdropping. When he didn't go on, Hermione shifted a bit uncomfortably.
"Where is Harry now?" she inquired quietly.
"At the owlery...or so he says."
Hermione squinted her eyes and watched Ron closely. He was trying to tell her something. She knew what it was, and she didn't want to talk about it anymore than he did. Finally, she took a deep breath and said very quickly, "There's something going on between him and Priscilla Pernicia, isn't there?"
Ron's ears glowed red, but his stare was unflinching. "Yeah," he muttered. "I think there is."
Then they both started fidgeting. Neither knew what to think about such a thing, much less what to say. Hermione's eyes darted around the room before they finally settled once more on Ron. "That's wrong, you know," she whispered.
"Of course it's wrong!" Ron whispered back harshly. "She's a professor! Then again, it's Harry's...love life?...we're talking about. Is it even any of our business?"
More tense silence. But they had to talk about it.
"What do you think her motives are?" Hermione asked. She was now picking at one of her fingernails and clearly avoiding Ron's eyes.
Ron snickered. "Who knows? There's that whole sex-god thing that comes along with being the Boy Wonder, isn't there?" Ron looked almost jealous, but his concern was still evident. He was being so quiet, so careful in his selection of words, Hermione thought. And he looked so utterly alone.
"You know what we have to do," Hermione whispered at last.
Ron grinded his teeth quite noticeably. Yes, he knew what they should do. It was always Hermione's first suggestion, and it was always Ron who tried to talk her out of it. "No," he replied firmly after a long pause. "I really don't want to do that, Hermione."
"Yeah, something tells me it wouldn't be the most...comfortable of conversations, would it?"
"Who should we tell?"
"McGonagall, I guess?"
Ron buried his head in his hands and shook it slowly from side to side. "Lovely," he mumbled sarcastically. "Yes, I can just imagine that conversation." He looked up and leaned in towards Hermione, mimicking his idea of said interview. "Good evening, Professor. Mind if I have one of your lovely gingersnaps? That Transfiguration class the other day was really exciting. By the way, Harry is shagging the new Divination professor. Thought you should know."
All right, so it was something neither one of them had ever had to deal with before. It was new territory, and it wasn't exactly a picnic to sit there and think about it. They didn't want to think about it. It was...really gross and icky and strange, and it was...well, it was Harry, for pity's sake. They didn't want to think about Harry shagging anyone. It was like thinking about one's parents making love. It was just...unthinkable, really. Even if they both knew he was bound to shag someone someday. They certainly hoped they never heard about it.
The look on Ron's face pled for answers that neither one of them had. Hermione's bum was practically raw from shifting about in her seat.
"Do you think he's in danger?" Hermione asked tentatively.
"Well," Ron asserted, "he's not exactly himself nowadays, is he?"
"But, she couldn't be connected to Vold—"
"Who knows?" Ron interrupted, still not wanting to hear the name. "It's a perfect weapon, isn't it?"
Hermione had to hand it to him. In six years, she had never heard such insight from Ron Weasley. "You're right," she uttered quietly. "I mean, he's an orphan. He's never known any kind of...er, tactile interaction, so to speak." Ron grimaced. "And he's still grieving over Sir-Snuffles, understandably. And he is sixteen years old, so he—"
"Yeah," Ron said, cutting her off. He blushed furiously.
"Right," Hermione added. What was it about sex that reduced people to one-word sentiments? She felt her own cheeks burning as well. "So...we need to go to McGonagall, then?"
Ron sat back and sighed. "Why don't we just give it a few weeks? Maybe he'll snap out of it. Or get bored with it or something."
Hermione had to admit that she was all for putting it off. To change the subject, she pulled out the issue of the Daily Prophet that Malfoy had given to her. "Listen, Ron," she said softly, "I've been meaning to tell you about this, but I didn't wan't you to burst a blood vessel. I had a slight run-in with Malfoy the other night."
"What?!" he yelled suddenly. A few of their surrounding House mates jumped, and he lowered his voice. "When?"
"Just...the other night." She couldn't go into the details, of course, and she didn't really want to.
"What happened?" Ron pleaded. She didn't have time to answer before he was mumbling, "I swear, I will hex him to doomsday. If he doesn't stop pushing us, Hermione, I'm going to have to hurt him. Or at least insure that he never reproduces."
"Just listen. He gave me this issue of the Prophet, and he told me to read it cover-to-cover, which I've done. I've been over every page, and I can't find anything. But..."
"But what? I hate it when you don't finish sentences!"
"I don't know. It's almost like he was warning me or something, like he wants me to know what's going on. But I can't find anything in there even remotely related to Death Eaters or...well, you know. There's not even anything about Harry in there, and they always talk about Harry."
"It's just too quiet," Ron commented.
"And he told me—" She paused and leaned closer to Ron, her voice the softest yet. "He told me that his father has been released to St. Mungo's after a dementor attack."
"Bullocks!" Ron exclaimed. "This is crazy. Is there anything in there about Lucius Malfoy?"
"No, I'm telling you. I've been over every word. I can't even find anything that would be like code. Ron, why don't you take this with you? Flip through it when you have a chance. See if you can find anything unusual."
"All right," he conceded. He looked really tired, more so than she'd ever seen him look before. He picked up the paper. "I guess I'll go on to bed. I'm really worn out from Quidditch lately."
"It was a pity about the Ravenclaw match," Hermione sympathised, patting him on the arm.
"Yeah, disappointing, that." He wiggled his eyebrows. "But I was pretty good, wasn't I?"
Hermione smiled. "Weasley is our King," she sang softly. "And I almost thought Gryffindor had them when Ginny broke that Chaser's arm. I mean, it looked like he was the one scoring all the points."
Ron grinned proudly. "Who knew Ginny was such a ruthless little freak?"
Oh, if he only knew, Hermione thought with a chuckle.
He got up to leave but suddenly thought better of it. "Hermione," he inquired more seriously, "who sent you that quill? Did you ever find out?"
Hermione glanced away. "Yeah," she answered quietly, "I found out."
There was a long pause in which Ron waited for an answer and Hermione debated giving it to him.
"And what?" she snapped defensively.
"Who was it?"
She fiddled nervously with the corner of her Arithmancy text and prepared herself for the coming onslaught.
"It wasn't that Zamboni bloke, was it?" Ron asked, his ears beginning to glow again.
She had to bury her head in her hands to keep from laughing out loud.
"What is it?" he demanded. "What's so funny?"
"Ron," she panted over her laughter, "a Zamboni is a Muggle machine that's used to re-freeze and re-surface ice at hockey games."
"Hockey? What the bloody hell is hockey?" Then his face turned stern. "Wait a minute, you're avoiding the question."
"It's Zabini," she replied reluctantly. "And it was just a token of his appreciation. I've been tutoring him."
"Tutoring him?!" Ron nearly shouted. "You've been tutoring a bloody Slytherin? You told me it was a third-year Gryffindor!"
"And now you know why!" Their voices were steadily getting louder, post-Yule-Ball style.
"What is it?" Ron spat. "Does he want the scoop on Harry?"
"No, Ron! Calm down. He's not like that. Merlin, I was helping him with Muggle Studies of all things."
"A Slytherin taking Muggle Studies? What's that all about? Trying to get to know his enemies in an attempt to better destroy them?"
"Look!" she shouted. She was breathing heavily by now, her face screwed up despite her efforts to remain calm and rational. "It's over now. His grades got better, he sent me a quill as payment for my tutoring efforts, and the whole thing is completely finished. The end."
Ron was practically fuming, and it was obvious that he didn't quite know what to say. Hermione was finished with the conversation. It only amplified her own feelings of mistrust and betrayal.
"Please, Ron," she said with a sigh. "I don't want to talk about it. Besides, there's nothing to talk about." She just wasn't in the mood for a shouting match, not when her own mind was so hopelessly trapped up in the box of her doubts. She slung her pile of books under her arm and stood up abruptly. "I'm going to bed, too," she announced.
"Fine!" he spat back.
"Good night," she said, turning to go. "And let me know what you think of that newspaper."
"Fine," he repeated as she paced away.
She figured she might as well attempt to write something.
Trapped in a box. The worst part of it was the fact thatBlaise had built the box himself, and now he was stuck. No windows. No doors. Yet everywhere—on every inch of this monstrous, empty box—he could hear people knocking, fighting to bust their way in. Malfoy. Granger. Fifth-year Slytherin girls. And now Lavender Brown seemed to have a thing for him. She had been ogling him shamelessly in the library for the past two weeks. He could just imagine the line of gossip. Padma to Parvati. Parvati to Lavender. Lavender to...?
He hated himself with a passion that he didn't know he possessed. This hatred, this bitter self-loathing, nearly strangled him in his fitful sleep. He would wake up sweating and paralyzed, until he wanted nothing more than to bash his skull in on his bedpost. He hated everyone else, too. It was hatred that was so intense that it could only originate from having a small taste of what might be love. Indifference had been so sweet, so comforting. He missed it.
Blaise sat in his secluded corner of the library, fuming. He stared down at a reproduction of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. In the past few weeks, he had done this for hours. He would simply sit and gaze through unfocused eyes at those two fingers that would never touch. He wanted to slam that book shut. He wanted to rip out that page and crumple it up. He wanted to tear it into a thousand pieces and blast the shreds of that image into obvlivion.
He thought about Granger's touch—her fingers lightly grazing his cheek—and he shuddered uncontrollably. He thought of the embrace—how he could not seem to get her close enough to him, no matter how firmly he grabbed or clutched or squeezed her. He thought of the compassion welling up in her brown eyes, the unmistakable feeling in her gentle fingers. He hated himself. He hated everyone but her. He felt cruel and undeserving, and the strange thing was that the more he detested himself, the more cruel he became to others. Everyone but her. He couldn't even face her.
Something was going on with Malfoy, as well, but Blaise didn't care. The one time Malfoy attempted to confront him,Blaise slammed him against the wall of the dormitory, aimed his wand at the pale boy's throat, and begged him to give him a reason. He didn't care what kind of dirt Malfoy thought he could dig up on him. All he wanted was an excuse to blast the ferret into the next millenium. Malfoy was so shocked by Blaise's sudden outburst that he relented, putting as much space between them as possible since the occurence. But it didn't stop the sneering, and it certainly didn't stop Malfoy from making crude comments in a voice that clearly showed he wanted Blaise to overhear.
It finally happened on one night in early March. Lavender finally got the courage up to approach him. He looked up to find her sitting down across from him at his table. She set down her books, and he noticed the current issue of Witch Weekly lodged between two of them. He cringed at the thought of Rowena Ravvish. Lavender's hair was pinned up in barettes, and she was wearing lipstick in a pale pink hue. Blaise thought she looked ridiculous.
"What do you want?" he demanded harshly.
She leaned over her pile of books and grinned slightly, her bubble-gum-pink lips nearly pouting. "You," she said plainly. Gryffindor bravery. It was sickening.
"You don't even know me," he replied.
"I'd like to." She licked her pink lips and twisted a lock of her hair in her fingers.
She stared at him as though she wanted to devour him, and as much as he hated it, it triggered something carnal, something primitive, inside him. Not desire. It was more like hunger. Not even hunger. It was the same feeling a cat must have when it paws a mouse to a slow, torturous death for the fun of it. Sport killing. He wanted to make her regret ever approaching him in the first place. Cold, wild, sadistic thoughts crept up inside him before he could stop them. He buried his head in his hands, desperate to steady his racing mind.
Then he felt her hand on his arm. The touch was simple but intrusive, and he snapped. He shoved her hand away forcefully and glared at her. "Why?" he demanded, rather loudly. "Why do you want to know me?"
He grabbed the corner of Witch Weekly and jerked it out from between her books, flashing it in front of her face before tossing down on the table. "Because of this, Miss Brown? Don't tell me you've been reading this garbage. Or is it because of your little conversations in your dormitory? Because I know you talk. That's all you do, isn't it? Talk!"
She looked stunned, and it only urged him on. "But I bet you didn't hear all the gory little details, did you? Did you hear how Padma called me a toy? A toy! How she said she was just using me? How do you think that makes a person feel? Or maybe you think I deserved it, do you? Maybe you think that I was using her. And maybe I was. But she had no right, and you have no right. You have no right at all to be so presumptuous, do you?"
Her mouth was hanging open. Now that he was on a roll, he couldn't stop. "Why are you looking at me like that? Gaping at me like I'm some kind of freak. Do you know how pathetic you look in your pink lipstick? What, did you not expect me to say anything? Or maybe, because I never do say anything, you thought I had no brain. Is that it? Blaise Zabini, mindless, thoughtless shagging machine! And you want to know me. Right. I'm sure you want to know all about me, don't you?"
He slammed the book shut and stood up, towering over her, his dark blue eyes flashing vehemently. "You don't even like me," he spat brutally. "And I certainly don't like you. Not one bit."
She was red in the face and still looking extremely shocked. She cleared her throat suddenly and whispered, "You don't like anyone, do you?"
How dare she? He braced himself on the table and leaned down very close to her. "You're wrong," he said simply. "I do like someone. A lot. And you don't even compare to her."
He raced for the double doors, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground. Lightning coursing through his veins. It was as though he had just admitted that fact to himself for the first time. He liked her. Very, very much. And he had to find her. He had to tell her before his heart spontaneously combusted. His jog to the Room of Requirements was a complete blur. He got there before he knew it and began pacing. He knew she was in there. It was after eight o'clock on Monday night, and she still went there on Mondays. He knew that for a fact because he had been watching her for the past two weeks. He had wanted to follow her in there, to sit and discuss art with her like always. He had been too ashamed until this very moment.
He paced in front of the blank stretch of wall, his heart thudding with nervousness and joy. I need her, he thought. I need Granger, if she's in there. I need to talk to her...er, unless she's...er, enjoying Hellenistic art. If that's the case, I'll wait. But I need her. If she's in there running that slide projector, I need her. I. Need. Her.
The door presented itself, but it was locked. He pulled out his wand and whispered an Alohamora. This was it. All he had to do was turn that knob, and he did. He peeked into the candlelit room and found the Minoan "Snake Goddess" on the screen. He could see Granger's legs sticking out in front of one of the chairs, the only clue that she was there. His heart leapt. He gently shut the door behind him and crept towards her. He could see his long shadow on the adjacent wall, but he hoped she wouldn't notice. He inched his way closer and closer. He had to tell her, and he was not going to let her get away.
And then he was on his back, immobilised. If he had been able to move at all, he would have smiled. He would have laughed. He should have known better than to try to sneak up on the smartest witch in their year.
She approached him, wand still poised at the ready, and then she knelt down to look at him. "Zabini?!" she exclaimed. "What are you.... How did you...."
She was unable to finish a sentence. He just lay there frozen, looking up at her, adoring her. The expression on her face was a mixture of shock, amusement, and quite a bit of anger. To him, at that moment, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. If he ever regained control of his limbs, he would wrap his hands around that pale face of hers and kiss her lips as though they were made of nectar.
Unfortunately, she did not seem to be thinking along the same lines. The shock and amusement quickly vanished from her face, leaving only the anger behind. She stood up and pocked her wand. Then she crossed her arms and scowled down at him, waiting for the hex to run its course. She tapped her foot on the floor impatiently. Maybe, he considered, he should just keep lying there even after the spell wore off. It was either that or face the wrath of Hermione Granger, and she suddenly did not appear to be in a very good mood. Again, he wanted to laugh. He liked everything about her—from her sharp intelligence and her quick reflexes, to her bossy stance and her self-righteous pride. He absolutely adored her.
He felt the numbness slowly leave him, and words were tumbling from his lips before he could stop them— "Bloody hell, Granger!" he gasped. "Not a bit twitchy, are you?"
She exhaled loudly. "The room's all yours, Zabini," she spat. "I'm finished for tonight."
But he was not finished with her. He slowly sat up and watched her go for her bag. She packed it furiously, frantically. He just couldn't get his body to move fast enough. He worked himself into a crouching position, very pleased when he felt some circulation come back to his legs. She was crossing in front of him, headed for the door. He had to stop her.
"WAIT!" he thundered. He didn't know he could speak so loudly. She turned to face him, and odd assortment of books and papers crammed into her bag. Her hair was caught in the strap, and even in the candlelight he could see the flush on her cheeks.
"I'm leaving now," she announced softly.
But she didn't move, and it gave him just enough time to clumsily stumble over to her. His knees nearly gave out on him, and he fell on top of her, both of them landing with a thud against the wall. He used both the wall and her to brace himself. He was hanging onto her, probably painfully—
"Ouch!" she screamed.
"I'm sorry, Granger," he gasped. He tried to shift his weight more towards the wall. She just stood there beneath him, her back against the wall. Instead of fighting him, her hand went under his arm to help support him. "That was a really good Petrificus spell," he panted. "I'm impressed."
"What do you want?!" she demanded impatiently.
"I want...to talk." It took all his strength to stand upright. "I have to talk to you."
"Oh, here comes a steaming load of shite!" she yelled. He couldn't help but notice how pretty she was when she was angry. "And who are you today? The sweet but oddly insecure Zabini? Or the evil, blackmailing, completely unfeeling bastard Zabini?"
He wanted to laugh, but it just came out as a sigh.
"I think you need to go see Madame Pomfrey," she asserted. "Your multiple personalities are quite dizzying, you know. Honestly, Zabini, I can't keep up with them. And I pride myself on being quite percept—MMPHHHHH!"
His strength returned just in time, and he covered her mouth with his own. One arm went around her waist, steadying himself as much as her. The other hand went to her head, grasping it firmly. He was not going to let go. Her mouth was a hard wall—a barrier he couldn't break through—but he just kept trying. He massaged her lips with his own, commanding her to kiss him back. He was not taking no for an answer, and he was certainly not going to allow her to protest verbally.
And then—in a split second that was so beautifully triumphant that he almost wanted to stop and memorise it—she went all open to him. Her mouth, her grasping hands, her entire body went as rushingly open as a floodgate. She spilled forth all of her compassion boldly, warmly, without any restraint at all. He basked in it, pulling her even closer to him. She threaded her fingers into his hair, her mouth fighting with his. Soft, mumbled groans filled the air as they sought to devour each other. Her lips worked rhythmically against his. He could feel her hearbeat in her temples. He was breaking—ever-so-sweetly—submitting and yet taking at the same time. Taking her with no apologies, no inhibitions, no regrets.
And once the initial joy and astonishment had passed, his desire hit him full force. He had never known such desire, such mad craving. So this was what it felt like. He wanted to wrap her body all around him, to bury himself against her, inside her. She was so open, and she gave of herself so freely. With a heavy, mindless groan, he shifted his hips and forced his knee between her legs. She made an odd sound—almost like a squeak—and it rocketed him to an even higher level of arousal. His hands traveled firmly to her hips and lifted her, causing her to rest on his trembling thigh. His knee bit into the wall, and he felt every muscle in his body begin to tighten, stretching like a slingshot. She bit at his lower lip, and he gasped, jerking her hips even closer to his. Oh, yes. She began moving against his leg tentatively. Her heat was right there pressing down on him—burning him—simultaneously stretching him further and liberating him. Her lips left his at last as she threw her head back, panting for air.
"Merlin, Granger," he mumbled. He just couldn't stop. He seized the soft skin of her neck between his lips, gently sucking and then greedily kissing his way down to her collarbone. Ah!—he didn't ever want it to end! He had never been so hungry and so sated, all at the same time! One of his hands began caressing its way up her abdomen. She whimpered as his fingers stretched out to graze the curve of her breast, and then—
"Zabini!" she exclaimed. "Put me down! Put me down!"
He really did not want to do that, but he had to obey. He lowered her gently, his face resting in the crook of her neck. They were both breathing heavily, gasping for air. The tension slowly began to ease as she ran her fingers through his hair. He waited silently. He didn't want to hear her speak. He just wanted to stay right there forever, his face buried against her skin. All of his self-loathing was gone. He was free.
"Granger," he whispered at last, "I really, really like you. More than you know. And much more than I've let on."
She continued to stroke his hair and massage his scalp placatingly. He felt relieved to find that she, too, was shivering from the contact. "Malfoy knows," she whispered back. "And he made it very clear that he has his own plans."
His head snapped up, the real world slamming back into sudden, harsh focus. "What?" he demanded tersely. He searched her diverted eyes for an explanation.
"It happened the other night, after you left," she replied softly. "He made me sit through an interrogation on parchment."
Blaise seethed with fury. "Little bastard just doesn't give up, does he?" Blaise snarled. His hands were still on her hips, and the grip there became possessive. "What did he want?"
Hermione looked at him at last with a clearly mocking expression on her face. "He wants to know what I've done to him, of course."
Blaise released her and ran one hand through his hair nervously. "Maybe that binding wasn't such a good idea. I really didn't think he'd have the balls to actually confront you."
"Zabini," she whispered meekly, "he said..."
"What?" he snapped. "What did he say?"
"That you were just using me," she muttered, looking down at the floor.
Blaise felt a sharp sting of guilt. Yes, that had been his original plan. Damn Granger. Why couldn't she just be the one-sided snotty brat he'd been able to carelessly ignore for so long? Why did she have to be so human?
"And after tonight," she went on, "after this... Well, now I don't know what to think."
He glanced at her tentatively. "You hate me, don't you?" he mumbled.
"Hate you?" she repeated. "Zabini, do you have any idea how hard it is to hate you?"
He couldn't figure out whether or not that was supposed to be a compliment. He sighed and fell back against the wall beside her, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ceiling. "I just wanted to get to know you, Granger," he admitted softly, as much to himself as to her. "Of course, I realise now that swiping your story and blackmailing you with it was probably not the best way to go about it."
"You think?" she answered with a slight chuckle.
"It's not like I've ever done this before," he shot back defensively. "What was I supposed to do?"
"Oh, I don't know," she snickered. "Send me a love note? Come up to me in the library and begin quoting Hogwarts, A History?"
He looked down at her with an amused sort of disbelief. "You're kidding, right?"
"That is one of my fantasies," she replied with a giggle. "Okay, so I might be a little imbalanced. But please tell me you've at least read it."
"Three times," he responded with a wink. It was a lie, of course. He had only read it twice.
"Or you know," she went on, grinning, "you could have just been totally normal and asked me out."
"You mean...on a date?" he asked with a gulp. He had never been on a date before.
"That's the commonly accepted term, I believe."
He turned to face her, leaning on his shoulder, and she did the same. "You would have said no," he stated plainly.
"You're right. I probably would have."
"Would have?" he commented, shifting a bit closer to her. "Does that mean you feel differently now?"
"Well, I did just snog you senseless."
"I thought I snogged you."
"Okay, maybe it was a little bit of both."
"So..." He leaned a little bit closer. "What do you say, then?"
"Er..." she fumbled, "...it was... nice, I guess?"
He laughed outright—one quick, heavy spurt of laughter that spilled from his lungs uncontrollably. She looked completely taken back. "Not about the snogging," he said. "Although it was nice. I meant, however, what do you say about the date?"
"Oh...that," she replied, blushing. Merlin, she looked cute when she was flustered. "You mean a real date?"
"Yeah," he whispered, having no idea what a real date consisted of. But he had a good idea it would include some more snogging, and he suddenly was not so disgusted by the idea of kissing on the mouth. In fact, he was all for it.
"A real date," she repeated, clearing up the whole matter for him, "where we go out to dinner, and you pay for everything, and I'm guaranteed a good night kiss?"
"Or we could just skip the dinner part, if you like," he suggested. Damn. This dating thing didn't sound half bad. He had to admit, though, that the female seemed to get the better end of the deal. Not that he minded paying for everything. It was just Massimo's money, after all.
She chuckled but then gasped abruptly as he leaned even closer still, his lips only inches from hers. "Now, Zabini," she whispered, "I don't want to be cheated out of anything."
"Ohhh," he purred, "you won't be."
He closed the last bit of space between them and brushed his lips softly against hers. Then he pulled back and studied her carefully. For once, she looked up at him as though he was more than a Slytherin, more than Massimo Zabini's son, more than just the last name on every list. He almost loved her for it.
This chapter is now officially over.
¹Direct quote from D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.
And now I am going to have a little fun. If this doesn't interest you, please feel free to skip over it. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, just go directly to the little button in the bottom left-hand corner that says SUBMIT REVIEW. Thank you. Ti amo.
Author: Holy freakin' cow, people! You have truly made my millenium. I never, in my wettest Zabini dreams, imagined that I would get over 100 reviews for a silly little fic about romance-writing and artwork. I mean, I am utterly—
Author: Oh no. So it's you, Malfoy.
Draco: Who were you expecting? The great squid?
Author: You are interrupting me, Malfoy. I was just about to thank all these nice people who have reviewed me.
Draco: Yeah, they obviously have no taste.
Author: What? My fic isn't that bad.
Draco: It's OK, I guess. For a Blaise Zabini fic.
Author: Jealous much, Malfoy?
Draco: Please. As though that tongueless Italian pretty-boy compares to me.
Author: Oh, I'll get to you, my fair little ferret. Make yourself comfortable. I've got some shout-outs to do.
(Author clears throat)
The following reviewer has a very, very special place in my heart:
Dixi (molt'amore and french fries)
These reviewers are true kindred spirits:
hoofservant, Zaralya, Procella Nox-noctis, dora mc allister, Pallas Athena1
The following reviewer gets the "Brutally Honest" award:
JeanB (And fasten your seatbelt, darling. It's gonna be a bumpy ride!)
These reviewers get the "Stamina" award for being with me so long:
Alenor, Kurayami Pansa, trova
The following reviewer needs to stop thinking so much:
The following reviewer gets the "Praise Through All-Caps" Award:
Superkid (I LOVE YOU TOO!)
This reviewer was caught in ff-dot-net madness and reviewed the wrong fic, I think:
E.A.V. (Thanks, anyway! Damn ff-dot-net!)
The D/Hr interaction in this chapter is for the following die-hards:
scifichick774, thatonechic, Athena Linborn, x1nfernal
Draco: Aha! The only ones with any sense!
Author: Shut up, ferret, I'm not done yet.
The Rowena Ravvish story in the chapter is lovingly dedicated to:
Capricorn Baby (hope it met with your approval!)
I am very happy to have the following reviewer as a fellow English geek:
The following reviewer gave me a compliment that nearly brought tears to my eyes:
And the following reviewers are much, much appreciated and get 10 points to the House of their choice for utter coolness (as long as it's Slytherin):
Sweet Tension, mizzyfreak7, ladyx, alenchic, antisocial mint, tweetygurl88, Hannah, Redhead Ruth, Kerrie-chan, Louise, Lone Angel, the-damaged-rose, Onion Layers, Dimhalo924, and Fiona McKinnon
Author: God, I hope I haven't forgotten anybody.
Draco: Hem, hem.
Author: What the hell do you want now, Malfoy?
Draco: Why do you have to make me so mean?
Author: Just trying to keep you in character, love.
Draco: Let me get this straight.
Author: (Well, that would be a first.)
Draco: Potter is getting love bites and Granger is writing a romance column, but I don't get any redeeming qualities whatsoever?
Author: Are you quite finished?
Draco: You know you want to turn this into a D/Hr fic.
Author: (underlines the HG/BZ in the summary)
Draco: (winks suggestively) But look at my hair! For pity's sake, look at my body. And don't forget my sexy smirk!
Author: This is MY fic, you ARROGANT BASTARD!
Draco: That's what you think, bitch.
Will the author turn this into a D/Hr fic? Will Harry get a clue? What will Draco's next move be? Will Blaise and Hermione EVER shag? Stay tuned to find out...
Molt'amore a tutti,