Title: Christmas Cheer.
Author: W C.

Summary: Blaise Zabini prides himself on his sanity; what's to happen when he finds Hermione Granger, of all people, invading the solitude of his dreams?

Pairing: Blaise / Hermione.
Rating: M.

Genre: Romance / Drama.
WARNINGS: Language, minute violence and oodles of smut. And whatever else you find that requires a warning.
Note: Recommend to your friends if you like. Constructive criticism is welcome.

"Come off it, Zabini." Draco Malfoy lounged in the chair he'd immediately claimed as his during his first year at Hogwarts, trademark smirk in place. "It's just the Yule Ball."

Blaise had been acquainted with Malfoy ever since childhood and, as dreadful as it sounded, the blonde was actually near tolerable; mornings excluded, that is. "You're a Head, you bloody twit," Blaise muttered, glaring. "Did you have to stipulate dates?"

Draco shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at the time that might've ruffled a few prudish hermits," he said, giving Blaise a pointed look. "Spread the Christmas cheer, you know, so nobody's having a hellish time."

"Are you honestly broadcasting that bullshit?"

Draco grinned complacently. "Not at all, but it sounded good, didn't it? Even Granger thought so."

"Right," he said, absentmindedly surveying the Slytherin common room. It was two weeks to Christmas, and Salazar Slytherin would be reeling in his grave if he saw the decorative trees and fake snow his ambitious, cunning and masterminded House had already put up. In fact, he had the feeling that the wreath somebody — Pansy, if he had to guess — had stuck on the portrait hole was the reason Snape kept away.

He had to admit, lacking of holiday merriment or not, that the common room looked better when festooned; and it was considerably warmer.

"So, Zabini, who do you plan on taking?" Blaise disregarded the question as he sipped his morning coffee, the impish gleam in Malfoy's eye not escaping him. He didn't put it past the insufferable pomp to set him up, friend or not. If it served for Malfoy's entertainment, anything was possible. Plus, he still didn't know.

"You have to take somebody."

Insufferable pomp.

"I know."

"Do you?" Draco looked skeptical. "Who?"

"Who are you going with?" There was always a last resort when one was disinclined to answer one of Malfoy's copious queries: have him talk about himself. It was an irksome alternate, but it got the job done.

"Millicent."

Blaise sputtered and choked, his drink splashing hotly onto his hand and down the front of his dark blue bathrobe. Millicent Bulstrode was his friend — a good friend at that — but she wasn't the smallest person on earth, nor the prettiest … and simply not Draco's type. Draco laughed boisterously, a nefarious grin on his face. "Merlin, Blaise, you're so damn easy."

"Not what your mother said." Blaise glanced down at his ruined bathrobe, irritated.

"Don't talk about my mother. Anyway, I'm taking Pansy. It's expected."

"Since when do you feel the need to meet other people's expectations?"

Draco shrugged in response. "She's one of the few I can stand," he replied.

Pansy Parkinson wasn't altogether too bad to be around if you wrote off the show she put on for tradition's sake. Slytherins were always biting, sharp and sarcastic; if they weren't at first, they learned quickly. Draco and Pansy weren't dating, but that wasn't to say that they hadn't tried. She'd been quite infatuated with him for a good three or four years — what she saw in him, nobody knew — but now, they were nothing more than good friends. In fact, he had a notion that Pansy had a soft spot for Potter.

"Right." He got up and headed for the boys' dormitory, leaving Malfoy to his own devices. Then again, that probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but he needed a shower before he went down to breakfast. It didn't really matter that his bathrobe was stained; the house elves were marvelous when it came to laundry. Tossing the robe onto the foot of his four-poster bed and grabbing a towel, he made his way to the bathroom, glad that the rest of his fellow students were still snoring away. That way, he had the showers to himself.

Blaise deposited the towel on a rack near a shower and turned the knob with the 'H', quickly stripping down and stepping in. There was only one thing better than a hot, steaming morning shower to wake him up, and that was a cup of hot, steaming coffee. Fiddling with the knobs a little more so that the water wouldn't scald his skin, he then allowed himself to mull over the questions Malfoy had posed.

Who would he take to the Yule Ball? Going by himself was out of the question; when he'd asked Malfoy what kept the students from simply arriving without a date, the blonde had smiled maliciously and stated, "You don't want to know." And he took Malfoy at his word — most of the time. Once he thought about it, the consequences of turning up dateless couldn't be too severe; Malfoy would've had to coerce Granger into agreement, and the bushy-haired witch was a righteous spitfire, saintly to the infinite degree.

So, risk asking an annoying witch to the Ball that prattled on meaninglessly throughout the whole night, or risk Malfoy and Granger's wrath? Blaise twisted the knobs to shut off the endless stream of water and reached for his towel, patting himself down and draping it loosely around his waist. They were all male, so propriety wasn't exactly upheld … although some were straighter than others. With that thought, he fastened the towel more securely round before moving in front of a mirror to brush his teeth.

When he was dressed in clean robes, he tilted his head forward, scrutinizing his still-damp hair. Deciding to leave it as is, he combed his fingers through it a little to make sure it didn't stick straight up and left for breakfast. He was dropping his bag off in the Slytherin common room when Millicent caught up with him.

"Going down to breakfast?" She was balancing on one foot and pulling a shoe onto the other. He nodded, and she grinned, falling in step beside him. "Are you staying here over holidays?"

"Regrettably. You?"

"I'm going to visit some uncle or the other I've never heard of. I thought you were supposed to go to Italy."

"Change of plans. My parents are going elsewhere on business ventures."

They ascended the stairs that led out of the dungeon, and Blaise was tremendously looking forward to another cup of coffee. The only reason he'd already had his first cup was because last night, he'd persuaded Malfoy's old house elf to drop it off in the morning as a Christmas favor.

There were rumors flying around about Granger charming a Muggle coffeepot to work within Hogwarts's walls, but then, he'd also heard that Snape secretly fancied baby koalas and pink flamingo lawn ornaments. Supposedly, he was furtively attempting to change Slytherin's emblem to a silver koala. The man would have an epileptic fit if he knew.

Blaise sat down at his usual spot, making a note to thank Dobby when a cup of coffee sprang up in front of him. Millicent took the seat beside him as six plates clattered onto the table, soon accompanied by an array of jars. Between the two of them lay platefuls of bacon, eggs, sausages, ham, toast and butter; the jars were filled with diverse flavors of jelly.

"They really overdo it, don't they," Millicent commented, slathering an especially thick layer of butter onto her toast. "It's their job," he said, taking a long drought of his coffee. Brew of the gods, it was.

Millicent watched him, toast in hand. "You're addicted, you know."

"What?" In reality, he knew what she was talking about. He was addicted to coffee, but it wasn't something he could help. He swore up and down that it was genetic; every family member he knew of partook in the imbibing of coffee, and it was only fitting that he join in.

She rolled her eyes at him. "You heard me perfectly, you arse. I don't see what's so special about it. You could drink pumpkin juice and be just as well off."

"I need caffeine to function," he stated flatly. It was true — to an extent. A hot shower in the morning was sufficient enough to break the haze of sleep addling his mind, but he simply preferred both; although, Millicent didn't need to know that.

"Whatever. I'm going back to the common room." She stood and took a bite of the toast. "Coming?"

Was that Granger scuttling over to the sparsely-occupied Gryffindor table? "No, I'll catch up with you." Millicent shrugged and headed off. Maybe he could get her to tell him how she'd enchanted that coffeepot … Potter and Weasley were nowhere to be seen, so he wouldn't have to maim her sniping bodyguards just to get a word in. Before he lost his nerve, he stood and approached the table with a grimace.

"Granger." She glanced up from her inspection of what looked like an ancient tome and started. Clearly, she wasn't expecting him. "Er … Zabini," she acknowledged. He caught the title Greek Gods and Legends before she moved it away.

"May I ask you a question?"

Hermione blinked. Blaise Zabini was in the majority of her classes, but he'd never spoken more than four words to her, and those four words had been, "You dropped your quill." She had Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, Potions, and Transfiguration with him, and those four words had been the only words she'd ever heard him say.

"Sure," she said, motioning for him to take a seat. From what she gathered through overhearing Lavender and Parvati's whisper-and-giggle conversations, he was pure-blooded and well off. It made her wonder what made him feel the need to speak to her. After all, she was Muggle-born, and Slytherins didn't politely associate with Muggle-borns if they could help it.

Blaise was sure that he looked faintly edgy when he sat down; but then, what Slytherin wouldn't, sitting at the Gryffindor table? It didn't matter that it was virtually vacant; it was still another House's meal table. "How did you break the wards round Hogwarts and charm your coffeepot to work?" It was then that he remembered it had only been a rumor. Oh, dumbfuck.

She looked taken aback for a moment, and her eyes flicked down to the cup in his hand. He'd forgotten that he'd brought it with him, but it obviously saved him from a brief explanation. "First of all, I didn't break the wards. I bent them." Thank Merlin the gossip was true. Perhaps the things whispered about Snape had some truth to them … Blaise discontinued that train of thought. He'd pick it up later with Draco.

He shot her a calculating look, and she sighed. "It's true," she asserted, folding her arms. "Breaking the wards would be breaking the rules." Oh yes, he thought, and righteous Hermione Golden Granger couldn't break rules. It was immoral and wrong.

"So you threaded your way through little gaps you found." He was forced to give her credit; it was a very Slytherin thing to do. It didn't mean he had to voice it aloud, though. "Get to the point, Granger."

Hermione stared at him for a moment; well, there went politeness out the window. She might as well tell him — her magic coffee-making pot was bound to get out sometime. "Place the pot as close as you can to a window and charm it four times."

Blaise looked incredulous; it was the first expression she'd seen from him since the start of their conversation; if you could call it that. "Is that it?"

Hermione glanced at her watch and picked up her book and a tiny bag stuffed with as many croissants as she could find; it was charmed. It was Saturday morning, and she was supposed to be meeting Ron and Harry in a few minutes. "That's it," she confirmed. "Now, if you'll excuse me …" Rising, she inclined her head towards him politely. "Good-bye."

Hermione strode towards the Quidditch Pitch, layers of pure, undisturbed white powder surrounding her. Two pairs of footprints led straight to the Pitch, and she was certain she knew who they belonged to. Only those two would be out here in this weather, taking turns on Harry's new Skyhawk. It didn't matter that they were all in their seventh and last year at Hogwarts. In fact, it seemed as if the more Harry and Ron grew up, the more immature they became.

"Probably Fred and George's influence," she told herself, smiling. The Weasley twins were extraordinary troublemakers with reputations to match; she never saw one without the other. It was difficult to tell them apart, but she found that the distinction lay in their voices — a faint distinction, but it was there. George's voice was faintly deeper, a little more courteous. Hermione shook her head, her smile broadening at the memory of the two.

Even though George had sounded a little more chivalrous, there had been nothing harmless about either of the twins. Flirtatious and engaging, they had gone through more girls than she could count. There had been no point in attempting to put a stop to their shenanigans; their humor was contagious. She had to admit, they were great to have around the castle, Dungbombs or no.

Then again, the only reason she was so affable towards them was probably because they'd already won her over with their smiles. She couldn't deny it; they had been quirkily attractive, appealing in the roguish sense that only pranksters could be. Having participated in a clandestine relationship with them, she knew precisely what drew girls to them like moths to flame. Ron and Harry didn't know; they would've had a fit. The twins had agreed to keep quiet for her sake.

Their relationship had been unexpected and brief, but she didn't regret it — she never would. Hermione tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, her feet crunching softly through the snow as she glimpsed a lone figure racing through the sky. She squinted; the splash of ginger assured her it was Ron. On a day like this, no doubt Fred and George would've broken out their Cleansweeps to keep her friends company if they were still here.

"Hermione!" Her eyes fell to Harry, who was waving to her heartily. She grinned and covered the last few yards at a quick jog, pushing the croissant-filled bag into his hands. "I thought you might be hungry." He handed her one as he took a chunk out of another with his teeth. "You were right," he said, "thanks."

"No problem." Hermione shielded her eyes from the sun and laughed. "Ron's enjoying your broomstick, I see."

"He is," Harry agreed, polishing off his croissant and reaching for another. "How many are there?"

"I didn't count. Almost twenty, I think." She watched Ron swoop and arc through the sky, alternately plunging towards the ground and pulling back at the last minute. "Is that it? You think that'll be enough for Ron?" They laughed together; Ron had the most horrendous eating habits of anyone — or anything — she'd ever encountered. "He eats like he should be Hagrid's size," Harry remarked. Hermione couldn't say she didn't agree.

It wasn't long until Ron landed a little ways away from them; he'd clearly spotted her. "All right, Hermione?" He dismounted and froze. "Are those croissants you have, Harry? I love croissants!" Harry threw him the bag with a grin as he and Hermione shared a look. "Loves everything else that's edible, too," she whispered. "Uh-huh," Harry mumbled.

"So, Hermione," Ron said after swallowing a mouthful of croissant, "any plans for today?"

"The Heads and Prefects are supposed to be meeting with McGonagall before lunch to discuss the remaining details for the Yule Ball," she responded. "Got an idea as to who you'll be escorting?"

Ron flushed, and Harry coughed, looking everywhere but at her. "Oh, out with it now. You know I'll find out about three seconds after you've asked them." She cut Ron off when he opened his mouth. "Don't try to tell me you don't know. I posted that notice in the common room last week, and I know you've seen it."

"Er," Harry said, "I kind of …" He scratched the back of his head and mumbled, "Pansy Parkinson." Ron gaped at him. "What?" Harry shrugged, a small smile on his face. "She's the one who asked me."

"Pansy asked you? Are we talking about the same Pansy Parkinson here?" Ron asked in disbelief. Hermione shook her head; he obviously had trouble dealing with the changes taking place in the school. The relations between the Houses were strenuous at best, true, but in the halls hung a mutual respect that hadn't been there before the fall of Voldemort.

Just last year, Hogwarts had acted as a safe haven for those who wished not to actively partake in the war; the walls of the school had suffered, and Hagrid's old hut lay in ruins, but otherwise, everything lay intact. No student who chose to stay at Hogwarts, or there by parental request, had been harmed.

The same couldn't be said on the other side of the walls, however; many died.

Albus Dumbledore and Sirius Black were two examples, and they represented significant losses to everyone who knew them. Remus Lupin had fallen in the final battle, as had Neville Longbottom and Charlie Weasley. Mad-Eye Moody was still around, although he'd been forced to get a new metal leg after a scrape with Bellatrix Lestrange, and Tonks was as clumsy as ever.

"She's not bad once you get to know her," Harry protested defensively. If Harry could pardon Pansy Parkinson from years of verbal abuse and cutting gossip, anyone could.

"What about you, Ron?" Best to change subject before they got into a rough-and-tumble fight over nothing more than male ego. Her question had the desired effect; Ron's ears turned a violent shade of red, and he began to stutter.

"I — well, I thought — she's just — she …" Finally, after more incoherent, fragmented speech, he managed to squeak, "Lavender Brown." Hermione's eyebrows shot up in astonishment, although she had suspected. The witch wasn't all bad; the important part was that she was bearable — to an extent. She didn't want to know how these anomalous relationships had developed, and she shushed Ron when he tried to explain. "You have asked her, haven't you?"

"Well, she kind of … she asked me too." He was red as a tomato now and wringing his hands like they were dishrags. Hermione dimly wondered why the girls were suddenly the ones taking charge when she clapped her hands together. "That's wonderful, Ron. You too, Harry." It seemed that she happened to be the only one without a date yet.

Damn Malfoy and his obtuse ideas. Then again, the only reason she had consented was because he'd agreed — albeit reluctantly — to dress as 'a fat old geezer' on Christmas Eve, starting at breakfast. He wasn't to remove the St. Nicholas gimmick until at least eight o'clock that night, and he'd unwittingly signed a magical contract with her.

A breach of the contract would result in his attending the Yule Ball in the outfit — she smiled — with the addition of red trousers with rotating white stripes, fluffy pink reindeer antlers that sang 'Jingle Bells' and faerie wings charmed to flutter daintily. She hadn't informed Malfoy of it, of course; leave it for him to find out.

"Where are you off to?" Harry shouldered his broom as Ron brushed away particles of ice clinging to his hair. "Ron and I were going to head back to the common room." Ron nodded and grinned, "Nothing like a game of Exploding Snap after being out in the cold."

Hermione glanced at the book held against her chest. "I'm going to the library." They groaned loudly, and she huffed. So what if she spent the majority of her free time at the library instead of out and about? Books were her forte, and there was an intriguing volume situated somewhere in the Restricted section that she was itching to get her hands on. McGonagall had suggested it with an uncharacteristic wink, and that was proof enough that it was more than a 'good read'.

The trio made their way back up to the castle, their trek slowed down by spontaneous snowball fights. Hermione threatened to hex them if they so much as came near her with a snowball, yet Ron, against all good sense, pelted her in the back with two.

"I can't believe you!" Hermione whipped around, struggling to smother her smile. "Ron, you are going to be so sorry —" Another snowball broke open against her shoulder. "Stop it with the dialogue," Harry yelled from behind a large grey boulder; it completely blocked him from view.

"Come on, Hermione!" She spotted Ron stooping down to gather some more snow from beside a tree as he shouted at her. "Get in the game!" Quickly setting her book down on a dry surface, Hermione scooped up some snow for herself and patted it into a sloppy snowball; Ron Weasley was not getting away unscathed.

"Don't be scared —" The snowball splattered against his face, and he blew a raspberry as he tried to get all the snow out of his mouth. She squealed and ducked behind a tree when he made to throw another one at her, only to have Harry land a good one on her backside. He looked sheepish but didn't make the mistake of standing in one spot, apologizing.

And so it went; no less than four of the impromptu snow wars took place. She'd stopped counting after the second and simply enjoyed it; the library could wait. Only when all their fingers seemed numb with frostbite did they concentrate on making it to the castle with their limbs in proper working order. "I'll catch up with you," she said as they parted at the stairwell.

Perhaps she'd be able to get some reading done now that she was alone. Hermione smiled at Madam Pince as she took her customary table nearest the shelves of tomes. The only other denizens of the library, excluding the librarian herself, were three younger Ravenclaws and a Hufflepuff, Ernie Macmillan.

Otherwise, the library was deserted. Pleased with the silence, she set her book down, intent on getting at least a few pages read after tracking down McGonagall's recommendation. Ambling towards the latched door marked 'Restricted', she waited until Madam Pince saw her and pushed the door open. Inhaling the smell of old books and worn pages, Hermione searched the endless rows for Animagi Transformations and How to Achieve the Them.

She rather liked this particular section of the library. It had a mysterious twist to it, the ancient texts darkly appealing in their own way. Earlier in the year, she had fortuitously come across the 'screaming book' Harry had told her of during their first year. His description had been wholly accurate; the pages did mold into the shape of man's face while screeching.

Bypassing a shuddering tome bound by thick chains, Hermione turned the corner and began perusing another shelf. It had to be here somewhere; she'd found the rows devoted to Transfiguration. She touched her fingers to the spine of a nondescript book and grinned in triumph, dropping down to the row below it.

The cover was brown leather, soft and worn from use. A cursory thumbing through the pages advised her to treat the volume with consideration. The pages were close thin and yellow and closer to crumbling into dust than was comfortable, and if she wasn't careful, it was bound to collapse while in her keeping. Madam Pince — nice as she was when you were quiet — was a vulture when it came straight down to it, and it was best to keep in her good graces.

Maybe she could ask Flitwick for a charm later that would keep the book from further falling apart. Hermione doubted that even Flitwick, an expert at charms and enchantments, would be able to patch this up. It was too far gone.

She gently laid the book down on the table in front of the persnickety librarian, smiling hesitantly. It was entirely possible that Pince wouldn't let her take the book out of the library. The woman had allowed her to take other restricted books out on several occasions, but none had been in such a poor state of repair.

'Poor state of repair' had to be the understatement of the century. If the book were alive, it'd be looking death in the face right about now.

"Acquire an abrupt interest in Transfiguration, did you, Miss Granger?" Madam Pince tapped her wand against the leather spine of the book twice before pushing it forward. "A mine of information," she said, nodding her approval, "but it is rather old. Treat it delicately, lest it fall to pieces on you." She smiled. "I charmed it just in case, so unless you're rough, it should hold."

"Thank you." Relieved, Hermione made her way back to her table. She deposited the prehistoric book off to the side a bit and pulled Greek Gods and Legends towards her. For as long as she could remember, she'd been fascinated by the Greeks. Their philosophy was absorbing, and the architecture was beautiful.

She located her bookmark and turned to the page titled 'Apollo' and began to read.

-

Blaise lay supine atop his bed with his head nestled in his pillow. Having nothing more productive to do, he contemplated the possible truth of the rumors revolving around Snape. Maybe he could even start a few.

Koala bears were cute in a fuzzy grey way if you discounted those wicked claws. Seemingly harmless, yet exceptionally deadly. He could see why Snape would fancy them.

But pink flamingo lawn ornaments … how did that get around?

It was a shame Malfoy had disappeared. No doubt he would've found fabricating Snape's life story a more than favorable pastime.

It had to be believable, of course; but then again, almost anything was believable these days. It probably had something to do with the naivety and boredom of the students. They needed a reprieve from the grueling preparations for NEWTs, and if the seventh-years repeated it, the younger generations made it religion.

Therefore, Blaise set to fabricating.

… Snape twirled around his private office in a leopard-print tutu with soft techno playing in the background? Ghastly.

… Snape singing along to an atrocious Muggle boy band while feather dusting his office in a frilly apron? Grisly.

Malfoy would surely find the hearsay amusing, and if Pansy caught a snatch of it … Snape could say good-bye to his dignified reputation, poor man. All of Hogwarts would know by the end of the day. It was amazing how gossip spread like wildfire when spoken by Pansy.

Blaise closed his eyes. Sleep was always welcome, since he suffered from mild insomnia. It was most likely the coffee, but the substance was too precious to give up. He made a note to try and charm his own coffee-maker when he woke up. Hopefully, Granger's instructions were successful.

Speaking of Granger …

She was standing in front of him, her eyes hooded and dark. Her gaze was darker than it should've been, and she was staring at him like she wanted nothing more than to strip him down and — she looked like she wanted to eat him. How did Granger get past the portrait hole? And what the hell was she doing in his dorm?

His eyes dropped down, and he choked on air. Granger wasn't wearing … she wasn't wearing a goddamn thing, and there was no way know-it-all, virtuous, saintly Granger looked like that under her robes. Unfeasible, impossible, Granger was a stick; asexual, bookworm Granger, uninterested in either sex, one-third human, two-thirds dictionary.

She kissed him hard, her tongue filling his mouth as she climbed on top of him, blanketing his body in warmth. It stopped his sprawling mind, that was for sure.

Soft. Supple. Unbelievably appealing.

Granger gripped his shirt and yanked it off, buttons flying in every direction as her mouth latched hotly onto his neck.

"What the bloody fuck?"

He shot straight up, wide-eyed and sweating liberally. Dormitory — four-poster — the room was empty. He was alone, no Granger in sight. Blaise shook his head, pushing slightly damp curls out of his obscenely blue eyes. Merlin, he was hard. A glance at the clock ticking away on his nightstand told him he had an hour until lunchtime; he'd slept for almost three hours.

He'd dreamt. "Oh, fucking hell." He'd dreamt about Granger, and a more than feminine, naked, sexy Granger at that. And his body had reacted. It had to be the monotony of Hogwarts, or maybe he was suffering from the cold. Was there such a thing as 'frost stroke' as opposed to heatstroke? Perhaps Dobby had slipped something into his coffee … Millicent even.

There was no way he'd dreamt of Granger on his own accord. It was absurd. She was Gryffindor's Golden Princess, incapable of being 'sexy'. He couldn't get excited over her because — well — she was Granger.

Oh, damn it all.

"I've lost my bloody mind."