Chapter III: Streamers.

Note: Last chapter, Hermione was dreaming. And eliegirl, I'm surprised you caught that little tidbit; you're the first. All will be revealed in due time. Onto the story!

"Granger, please."

Hermione flicked an inquiring glance in Malfoy's direction. What was he on about this time? They were halfway through putting up decorations in the Great Hall, and in her opinion, the place looked lovely. It was a shame they wouldn't be having the Yule Ball inside like the past few years. Upon Draco's request (and after much groveling), McGonagall was ready to erect a sort of translucent tent over the Quidditch Pitch when the time came to keep out snow and every other kind of precipitation. Transportation to the Pitch was left up to the students.

"Those baubles you've just conjured," he critiqued, brandishing his wand. The batch of burgundy and gold ornaments flashed a variety of colors: reds and blues and greens, gold and silver. "I know you're a Gryffindor at heart, but it's 'Happy Christmas', not 'Happy House-Day'." She hated to admit it, but the tree did look better with more color.

"Don't tell me you're already done," she sniped. Malfoy had been busy embellishing his own tree the last time she'd checked. Surely he wasn't finished already? "Then I won't tell you," he quipped. With a tap of his wand, the tree was swathed in dazzling lights. Numerous pixies blinked an array of hues as they zoomed through the prickly branches.

"You can summon pixies?"

Malfoy gave her a shrewd glance. "I can do other things, too." She snorted when he waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Malfoy looked affronted. "I'll have you know that I'm bloody terrific in bed," he stated, lower lip sticking out in an oddly endearing pout. It made him look like a grouchy six-year old.

"I'm sure you are," she retorted in singsong. He rolled his eyes and turned his back on her, adjusting a wayward bauble. "Orchideous," she muttered, beaming as a purple orchid bloomed on the tip of her wand. "Engorgio." It grew. "Oh, Malfoy …"

"What," he huffed, facing her. With a swift placement and sticking charm, the orchid plunked itself onto his temple. Hermione was still beaming. "I just thought you might want a flower, to brighten your day and all," she rationalized, promptly ducking behind another Christmas tree in need of decorations when he raised his wand menacingly.

"Draco, aren't you done with that tree yet?" Pansy Parkinson stormed up to him and, taking hold of his elbow, jerked him to an enormous tree on the other side of the Hall. "Get that gruesome flower out of your hair! What are you, six?" Thank you, Parkinson; my thoughts exactly. As he was being dragged away, Malfoy tossed her a glare that ensured speedy retribution. And I owe you a large favor.

-

Blaise lazed about his common room, draped over the couch like a breathing blanket. His Ancient Runes book was sprawled out on the floor in the company of his Arithmancy book, some blank parchment and a fistful of quills. The former was his most favorite subject, and he'd been going over a few Babylonian runes when he'd decided to study some Arithmancy.

Big mistake, he thought, throwing a disgusted look at the open volume on the floor. The subject was still flooring him, even after all the work he put into revising and cramming. "There's an alternative to bad grades," Vector had pointed out at the end of class on Friday. "Get yourself a tutor."

And he would've, if the tutor were a teacher. But as it was, Vector had proposed Granger — Granger — of all people, and after that perplexing dream …

He wasn't sure he could face her. In addition to that, his Slytherin pride barred him from requesting help from a non-Slytherin. As fate would have it, the only Slytherin in NEWT-leveled Arithmancy was Theodore Nott, and he was barely passing the class himself.

It was a rough decision. Ask Granger to tutor him, or risk failing his NEWTs? It basically came down to him having to choose between pride and academics, and he knew which he would end up picking.

"Bloody hell," he muttered, scooping up his wand. After a few waves, the floor was empty and his bag was bulging. He might as well find her now. Either that or he could stroll up to his room and throttle himself with his sheets while thinking up more rumors for Snape.

On second thought, Snape could wait. With that thought, Blaise stalked out the portrait hole, grumpily pushing his hair out of his eyes. I'll hex Vector later for forcing me into this. He wouldn't have even considered it if the man hadn't mentioned it.

Granger.

The one person he truly wanted to avoid. He would've preferred Malfoy, and that was saying a lot. Squaring his shoulders, he made for the Great Hall. Malfoy had made some sort of perverse declaration earlier about his fascination with 'beautifying' Christmas trees and needing to 'deck the Hall'. It was rather disconcerting to behold a prancing Malfoy.

Maybe he's gay.

He'd have to pay more attention to the boy. Gay Malfoy … erk. Granger would be the slightest of his problems, he thought sardonically, perusing the Great Hall for a bushy head of brown. With a violent shake of his head that sent dark curls flying in every which direction, he mulled over something Millicent had said in the middle of their sixth year.

Maybe he did think a little too much for it to be healthy, but that was the way he was. If he didn't have some train of thought whizzing round in his head, then something was terribly wrong. The quirk was that he had to be doing something else to be able to think — sharpening his quills, putting his notes in order and scratching the wood polish off desks were a few examples.

If he were just slumped in a chair and staring at a wall, his mind would go blank. It was really quite peculiar.

Just as he was about to give up in his search for Granger, he heard her.

"Zabini?" Spinning around, he wasn't prepared for the lack of personal space and stumbled back a few steps before catching himself. Her mouth twitched, but it was such a negligible movement that he could've been imagining it. Under the circumstances, he probably wasn't. "What are you doing here? Only Prefects are allowed in the Great Hall at the moment."

Apparently, Malfoy found that miniscule detail inconsequential and chose not to divulge it — or had he?

"Yeah, well." What was he supposed to say? 'Granger, tutor me.' That would go over well. He could already hear her 'why's' and 'what for's' and 'why in the bloody hell are you asking me's'. Perhaps politeness would help his miserable case. Blaise readied himself like a man about to plunge.

"May I …" Polite. Be polite. "May I ask a favor?"

If Granger's eyebrows could shoot up any higher, he'd eat Goyle's shoes. If that sounded rushed, his next words were probably indistinguishable from Parvati Patil's prattling. "I'm" — damn it all — "struggling with Arithmancy."

Okay, he'd said it. Now, for the most important part … he could almost hear her voice stating, "And?"

"And … er, well, Vector recommended a tutor." Why couldn't he just say it? Oh, cripes, her eyebrows could go even higher. Thank Merlin I didn't really make that bet.

"Who did he suggest?" She looked curious and innocently so, yet he could tell she was playing with him. Granger had that mischievous look in her eyes that all girls got. It meant trial and tribulation for any and every guy who happens to be the unlucky bloke to cross her path, and he was in Granger's. Oh, bloody fuck.

He hated Granger.

After a few seconds of silent contemplation — in which Blaise internally sulked and pouted like a child — he ultimately managed to blurt that one pronounce that he, at present, loathed.

"You're asking me to tutor you?"

"Er, right."

Now, she looked skeptical and vaguely suspicious. "I'm a Gryffindor."

"Truly? That little tidbit seems to have escaped me."

She gave him scathing look, and he just knew that he was screwed. If Granger didn't help him, and Vector didn't have the time, he would no doubt have to drop the class.

"What's in it for me?"

"What's in it for you?" he repeated distantly. He hadn't thought of that, which wasn't like him. Usually, he thought everything out beforehand, and he always had a quick response. Now, he was forced to consider. What could he give her that she didn't already have? Her marks were higher than his in every class they had together, so he doubted he could help her academics-wise.

"I'll teach you Italian." It was his native tongue, so it wouldn't be hard.

"Is that all?" At least she looked dimly interested.

She seemed to be deliberating her options when he added, "And French with a bit of Latin on the side, if you want. What do you say?"

That got her attention. "You know Italian, French and Latin?"

"Je ne sais pas," he said with a half-smirk. Granger cocked her head to the side and regarded him strangely. "You're offering me three languages in exchange for Arithmancy help."

"Yes."

The intensity of her gaze was starting to unnerve him when she abruptly smiled. "Alright then."

Thank Merlin he wasn't reduced to groveling. "Good."

"When do you want to start?" That was a good question. He hadn't thought of that either.

"Are you free Wednesday night at … half past seven?" At her nod, he said, "Half past seven every Wednesday, meet me in the library."

"Alright."

"Okay."

She stared up at him for a moment. Then, she tilted her head towards the large oak doors with a small grin. "You're still not supposed to be in here."

"Right," he said, feeling his cheeks heat up a little as he turned and left. Well, it went better than he'd originally expected. Blaise found himself rather eager for Wednesday to arrive. What would it be like to be stuck in a room with Saint Granger for a long period of time? Nothing, he instructed himself. Nothing will happen because it's Granger we're talking about.

He probably had more of a chance in getting ripped apart and eaten by the Giant Squid than in getting in a compromising position with the bushy-haired wonder. She wasn't attracted to him in any way, unlike the girls who practically threw themselves at his feet and outright pleaded to be shagged. But then, if he didn't appeal to her in the least, why had she stood so close just moments prior?

In fact, he had been the one to stagger back. She had merely stood her place with that satisfied little smile — wait. Satisfied?

Blaise halted in the middle of the hall, much to the aggravation of a group of fifth-years. Granger had looked satisfied when he'd stumbled back. Had she been … challenging him?

No.

Granger wouldn't purposely offer a challenge, to a Slytherin no less. They scarcely knew each other.

Would she?

Looks like I'll have to find out.

Blaise wasn't aware of the smirk that graced his full lips as he began his trek back to his common room. The fact that she'd asked how his proposition would benefit her was farcically Slytherin-like. Maybe bossy, self-righteous Granger wasn't so bad after all.

-

"Hermione! OI, HERMIONE!"

She spun around to see Ron approaching her at a run, waving his arms frenetically as he crossed the length of the Great Hall. Ron never did learn what 'tact' was, or the art of subtlety. He was pink in the face when he reached her and doubled over, trying to catch his breath.

"What was," he gasped out in between colossal gulps of air, "that about?"

"What was what about?" Hermione furrowed her brow. "What are you talking about, Ron?"

The redhead in turn pointed towards the door leading out of the Hall and said, "Zabini! Why'd you go up to him like that?"

She reddened slightly but said, "He wasn't supposed to be in here. I just went over there to tell him."

"Took you right quick, didn't it." Ron's brows were raised in disbelief. "Really, what were you two talking about? He was looking right flustered by time you finally told him to get out of here."

"We weren't talking about anything, Ron!" She didn't know why she was keeping the truth from Ron, or why she was being so defensive. It probably had something to do with him not being able to handle news well, or maybe she just felt like being secretive. Either way, she insisted that her brief conversation with Zabini pertained to nothing in particular.

Ron was still glancing at her doubtfully when Ginny stomped up and yanked him away. Second time that's occurred today. While Ron had his back turned, however, the younger Weasley shot Hermione a wink over her shoulder.

She blinked, unsure of what it was for until Ginny mouthed, "You and Zabini," and gave her another wink. Flushing, she shook her head in exasperation and turned to resume in levitating large and colorful self-twirling strips of fabric to the ceiling.

Her and Zabini? Please. It was absurd.

Zabini was one of the most sought-after bachelors of Hogwarts, even she knew that. And, if she came clean with herself, he was drop-dead gorgeous. He wouldn't be interested in her when he had a whole fan club of pretty girls screaming 'Shag Me!' on his coattail.

If she'd had a 'type', he definitely wouldn't be it. Pretty-faced playboy? Not in a million years. Then again … perhaps she did have a 'type'? She did seem to go for the Quidditch players, although she didn't necessarily know why. Viktor had been a Seeker, and now Ron had become Keeper. Harry was a Seeker also, and she'd crushed on him for longer than she cared to remember. Oliver Wood had always been rather attractive, what with his Irish brogue and all, and he'd played Keeper. Fred and George had been Beaters …

I guess I do have a thing for Quidditch players, she realized. It's probably the athletic-toned-body thing, coupled with the admiration of them actually having the capacity to fly a broom that well.

But Zabini wasn't a Quidditch player, although he did fit the description of a Seeker; tall and lithe, lightly muscled and able to fly. And he was able to fly, wasn't he? She'd noticed when she and Ginny had been leaving the Pitch.

Still, though. He didn't play Quidditch, so she couldn't be interested.

Could she?

"Hermione!" Ernie Macmillan was looking positively petrified as Malfoy attempted to 'doll up' one of the self-twirling streamers. She watched in morbid fascination as it gained speed until another terrified cry from Ernie spurred her into action. "Malfoy, stop charming the streamer!"

"I'm making it twirl, Granger! This place is bloody dismal!"

She was slightly surprised that he knew what 'dismal' meant, but she kept to the task at hand: keeping Malfoy from causing chaos and destruction. "They're self-twirling, you git! And it looks exquisite. Now stop it before —"

A loud explosion sounded throughout the entire room, and she was met with utter silence as all eyes turned on Malfoy. Hermione slapped a hand over her eyes and finished muttering, "Before it blows." A glance in Malfoy's direction brought a smile to her face, however; his hair was standing on end, his whole upper body was coated in soot and ash and he had the most priceless, Un-Malfoy-like expression on his grimy face.

Serves him right, the prat.