Italian!Blaise, ignoring bits of canon. Plus, cliche. But I had fun.
It was a oneshot. And yes, goddamnit, I'm writing more. I hate my mind.
By Rurouni Star
Hermione Granger, despite rumors to the contrary, absolutely hated midterms.
It wasn't because of the tests – or, not directly, anyway – but more for the fact of the week before the tests. As far as she could tell, there was some sort of silent alarm that went off that Monday, a bell to rally the lazy and the ignorant. The week before those semi-finals, her little sanctuary in the library - away from all the noise and hassle of the common room - became packed with students all looking for a seat at a table, or this book or that one. It was insulting. It was rude. It was really just sacrilege.
If she admitted the truth to herself, there was really just one thing that stuck most in her teeth about the whole thing. Namely, the idea that said herd of people had slacked off all semester, and were still hoping – nay, expecting! - to get perfect grades with a week's worth of work.
In any case, it was this particular week, and it was this that drove her to make the request that she did.
"Could I borrow the Charms classroom?" she asked Professor Flitwick. "Just for the week? The library is horrible these days."
The little professor beamed up at her from behind his desk. "Of course you can, Miss Granger," he said. "Come by any time you like. It will be nice to have company while I'm grading."
She heaved a sigh of relief, hitching up her bag on one shoulder. "Thank you very much. I promise I won't be a trouble."
"I have every confidence in you, Miss Granger."
Day one went marvelously well. The Charms room was empty, and quiet, but for the scritch-scratch of Flitwick's quill. Hermione had been prepared, of course, and checked out all the books for her studying ahead of time. She had no doubt that at least one late-comer student was wailing at the lack. It gave her a guilty little pleasure, all told.
And of course, it didn't hurt to have the Charms professor there to correct her little mistakes. He would occasionally look up from his grading to advise her on her pronunciation (rarely) or to make an amused comment on one of the more interesting points of history behind this charm or that (more often). She soaked up the knowledge with enthusiasm, and though she knew she was more than well prepared for her exams, she decided to come back the next day as well. Harry and Ron would be studying furiously, and complaining just as furiously, and it had been a pleasant sort of day compared.
Day two came with an unpleasant surprise, though.
It was perhaps ten minutes after she'd perfected the easy-breathing charm that the knock came at the door.
Flitwick paused again in his grading, and levered himself up to glance at it curiously. "Come in!" he said, in the loudest voice he could manage.
The doorknob turned. A very unwelcome face appeared.
"Sorry sir," Zabini said calmly. "This shouldn't take a moment." He pushed through the door, and Hermione saw that he was struggling to keep about five books under his arm. "There you are," he said, catching sight of her. "Are you the one who took out Vittory's Transfigurations?"
Hermione frowned, and checked the impulse to go hug the book protectively. "I did," she said. "I have it for the next week."
Zabini frowned back, one of the books slipping from his grip slightly. "I need it," he said, as though this settled things.
"They don't have an extra?" she asked, knowing full well that they'd all be checked out by now.
"No, Granger. They don't have an extra. One of them's even been stolen outright, if you can believe it."
She tilted her chin upward in what she knew to be a superior way. "Perhaps you should have tried two weeks ago, then, if you needed it so much. Library policy says not to give away books you've borrowed yourself. Can't help you."
Zabini's eyes narrowed. "I suppose you don't see anything wrong with co-opting the entire library for yourself right before midterms," he said sharply. "I'm beginning to see why you always make top marks."
Her mouth dropped indignantly, and she made as though to respond with another scathing remark, but Flitwick sighed, and interrupted her.
"I understand it's a tense week," he said, in his usual high-pitched voice. "But arguing about such a simple thing isn't the way to relieve stress. Miss Granger, perhaps you could allow him to look over the book in here, but not to take it with him. Is that agreeable?"
She closed her mouth, but continued glaring at Zabini – who seemed, in fact, quite content to glare back.
"Fine," she said shortly. "But only in here, understood?"
He nodded curtly, and set the large stack of books on a desk. A quick glance showed that they were all various titles on Transfiguration.
Hermione got up, and headed over toward her bookbag. It was really starting to fray a little from the weight, and she made herself a mental note to buy a new one over the summer.
A moment later, she handed Zabini the book wordlessly, and he sat down against one of the walls to crack it open.
Things settled down again into silence, though it was now interrupted on occasion by the quiet turning of pages. She'd expected it would irk her, to an extent, but she found herself perfectly relaxed instead. Apparently, she wasn't quite such a loner as she'd thought. Company was company, and as long as he didn't talk, everything would be fine.
She sighed, turning to look at him. "What?"
There was a cool moment, where he met her gaze levelly. She did her best not to fidget.
"...what's a lamprey?"
Hermione stared at him for a second. He seemed serious.
It wasn't so much that she believed he knew the answer. It was more the fact that he was asking her, and expecting her to just hand it to him on a platter. She had her own studying to do, after all, and she was hardly a walking dictionary. Or – sitting dictionary, in any case.
She became keenly aware that Flitwick was watching her curiously, though. Her ego got the better of her.
"It's a fish," she said. "It lives very deep underwater, in salt oceans. It attaches itself to larger fish with its mouth, and sucks their blood for sustenance-"
He twitched a little. "I think that's good. Thank you. I don't need a recitation."
Hermione pressed her lips together, and turned back to her own book. "In which case you can study on your own. I don't have to tell you anything if you're going to act that way."
Zabini 'hm'ed, but didn't comment further. She was almost disappointed. She'd really expected him to say something suitably horrible back, in which case Flitwick would almost certainly throw him out.
It was once the light from the windows had nearly disappeared that Hermione realized she ought to start heading back to the common room. She got to her feet quietly, picking up her things and stopping to give Flitwick a polite word of thanks.
Zabini was about a fourth of the way through the book, with a sour expression on his face. He'd long since conjured himself up a cushion, and was leaning back in it with a frustrated sort of feeling about him.
"I need the book back," she reminded him.
He glanced up at her, and sighed. "Fine." He tossed it at her carelessly, clearly fed up with what he'd read, and she gave him a fierce scowl.
"You don't need to treat it like that," Hermione said, catching it. "I'm the one turning it back in."
He waved a hand almost dismissively. "All right, Granger. Don't get testy."
This won him yet another furious look, as she headed out the door.
Day three. Zabini was already there.
Hermione stared at him incredulously, as she headed toward a desk. "What, again?" she asked him.
"I could have finished the book last night, if you'd been a little less greedy," he muttered, just low enough that Flitwick wouldn't be able to hear.
"Greedy?" she said. "Greedy? What, just because I don't trust you not to cut pages out, just to make me look bad?"
He rolled his eyes at her, and pulled a desk chair. "Anyway, I need it, one way or another. You're not using it."
Hermione's face probably resembled a thundercloud, but Flitwick was still in the back of the room, humming as he graded papers – she stomped over to her bookbag and pulled the book out, handing it over. Zabini looked vaguely amused at her response, and this only infuriated her more.
"You," she said shortly, "sit over there. I'll be over here, practicing. If you interrupt me, I'll-" She glanced at the book again. "-I'll turn you into a toad."
Zabini raised his eyebrows. "No you won't," he said, still looking sardonically amused. "There's a teacher here. Besides, that's human transfiguration; we don't learn that until seventh year."
She shot him a dirty look, and didn't deign to respond. Besides, she could too turn him into a toad if she'd wanted to. Hermione Granger was always ahead.
And just to prove it, she went over to, very obviously and dramatically, turn the desk into a mouse. That kind of size change was certainly seventh year level. Though, admittedly, it wouldn't be on any exams this year.
Zabini was watching, to her satisfaction. But instead of saying anything, he merely cocked an eyebrow and returned to reading.
She had to chase the mouse around the room for a good two minutes, embarrassingly enough, before he lifted a hand and muttered "Accio" under his breath. There was a squeak as it flew through the air, and Hermione felt her embarrassment multiply.
"I could have done that!" she snapped.
Zabini looked up from his reading. Hermione saw that he'd only gotten a few pages farther. "Why didn't you, then?" he asked calmly. The mouse wriggled a little, and he ran a thumb over its head to calm it.
His question was met with silence. She fully intended to keep this silence, until she realized it only made her look even more silly. "I didn't think of it," she admitted shortly. "Now will you hand it over?"
"Certainly," he said, but he didn't move. The mouse's nose twitched against his palm.
"...well?" she demanded, glancing over at Flitwick for a moment. He was frowning at a bit of illegible handwriting.
"Aren't you going to say please?" Zabini asked.
She felt her temper come close to snapping, at that. But thankfully, it didn't. "Please," she gritted out.
His mouth curved up into a smile. He set the mouse down on the floor beside him. At first, she expected it would start running again, and she had immediate thoughts of retribution. But it merely lay down next to him, pink eyes curious.
"...you're insufferable," she hissed at him, as she scooped the animal up.
"So are you," he replied easily. "But I'd been trying not to get personal."
Day three ended with a perfectly unmouselike desk and Blaise Zabini less than halfway through Vittory's Transfigurations.
It wasn't really a surprise to find him there the next day.
"I'm halfway thinking of leaving the book at my dormitory tomorrow," she told him succinctly, as she headed inside.
"Please don't," he said. "It would be inconvenient."
Hermione handed it over to him, and prepared to make her way to the furthest corner she could manage.
"Why do you have it, anyway, if you don't need to read it?" he asked her. There was a hint of irritation in his voice, and it gave her pause.
"I was going back over it, to make sure," Hermione said. "You can't be too careful." She pulled another book out, and opened to the index.
"Isn't there anything you don't know?" he asked her with exasperation. It wasn't a compliment. It was more of a complaint, really.
Hermione frowned, taking the question seriously. "Yes," she said, but she didn't elaborate.
A few minutes later, she heard him muttering something at the book her currently held. Considering she didn't know Italian, she couldn't be sure, but it sounded like he was insulting it and its mother. Which was patently ridiculous, unless it had been transfigured itself. This gave her a moment of amusement, until he finally slammed it shut and set it down on the floor.
Hermione glanced over, surprised. He gave her a surprisingly venomous look. "That book," he said shortly, "is useless."
She frowned. "Well why did you come ask for it, then?"
"I was hoping my memory had failed me," Zabini responded, shooting a glare at the book. It didn't glare back. In fact, it rather sat there.
"Just what is your problem?" Hermione asked him. "You know, I could understand being unhappy if you'd studied some before, but just picking up a book the last week and expecting to suddenly understand everything-"
"I did study, Granger." Shortly. "Get off your high horse. Not all of us are naturally gifted. For your information, Transfiguration is bloody hard."
She gave him a startled look, tinted with annoyance. "I'm not on any sort of high horse," she protested. "And I'm not naturally gifted - I study."
"Well so do I!" he snapped, his voice rising now. "And it works perfectly well, most of the time, when the books make sense!"
Hermione huffed, and headed over to pick back up the book. "It does make sense," she insisted, flipping it open. "Look, I'll show you – what part of it were you not getting?"
"All of it!" He paused. Then, realizing that had sounded somewhat childish - "Mostly the first few chapters."
She sighed, and flipped pages backward. "All right, well there's your problem. You're trying more complicated things without mastering the foundation chapters. Of course, most of this is from last year, and I suppose we did have a bit of a ruckus with McGonagall for a while..."
It took her a while to realize that she'd entirely given up her own reading in order to freshen his memory – the one thing she'd sworn not to do. He was surprisingly efficient and attentive, though, and the almost instantaneous success was a strong lure.
"See, when you're working with a more delicate transformation, you have to tighten up your wandwork- it's all well and good to make big gestures when you're doing elephants or statues, but you know McGonagall prefers mice, so why go unprepared?"
A frown. "That's surprisingly devious of you," he said.
"It's not devious!" she said hotly. "It's common sense! If McGonagall always does mice, then why not learn mice very well?"
"Well I'm hardly arguing the point. I was just observing."
Hermione, of course, had time to pause over the fact that Fred and George had used this particular tactic before. Zabini probably didn't know it, but that little phrase sent her into an agony of self-doubt for two nights running. Not that he'd much care if he did know.
"Never mind! Anyway, mice in particular, you have to get the arch of the wand just right. It's a lot easier than birds, but it's still a little tricky."
"I know that part. What about the pronunciation?"
"Um – well, the end syllable should be elongated – that really should be when you're creating the tail. If you get the rhythm right, it all matches up."
He did get the rhythm right. In fact, it took him only two tries.
"For god's sake, why doesn't she just teach it like that?" he demanded, picking up his own little mouse. This one had been created from a wadded up bit of notebook paper; it showed in the coloring. It nibbled a little at his hand, almost affectionately.
"I think your mouse has blue lines on it," Hermione observed.
"Stop picking on the mouse. It's not its fault it was created different."
"I'm not picking on the- oh, for goodness' sake!"
She decided to ignore his little smirk.
"Now what about reversal? What do you know about the earmarks of a bad Transfiguration?"
"If it can't move, that's probably a good sign." It was unfortunate, the way he could say that and still keep such a bland face.
"You know what I mean." Exasperatedly.
"Coloring is the main one." Not mentioning any particular instances. "Followed by missing digits or tails. Inanimate objects usually don't move on their own – that's a clue right there."
Hermione gave him a flat look. "Well. Fine."
Blaise twitched a little as the mouse bit his thumb a little too enthusiastically.
Day five, there wasn't even any pretension of studying on her own. In fact, the only thing she really brought with her was a stack of old Transfiguration textbooks.
"I feel doted on," Blaise observed acidly, and she frowned at him.
"I could always go deal with Harry and Ron's last-minute panic," Hermione told him. "I don't have to deal with yours."
He shrugged, and held out his hand obediently, and she handed him the fifth year textbook. "Just the last few chapters should be good," she said. "I imagine that's what we missed, mostly."
There was no mention of anything, past sheer Transfiguration, really. He really was woefully behind, due to all the time he'd been practicing bad habits. Thankfully, he was just as adept at playing catch-up as ever, and by the time the sun was setting, he'd reabsorbed much of the problematic material.
There was an awkward pause, near the end, while Hermione picked up her things again. Zabini frowned, a hand in one of his pockets. It almost seemed as though he might have been about to say something to her. But instead, he merely gave her a glance, and headed out the door.
She pursed her lips irritatedly, but was stopped by a tiny hand on her shoulder.
"I'm very proud of you, Miss Granger," said Flitwick.
Hermione found that was enough.
Hogsmeade that weekend was nothing short of a mass stampede. The students, both frantic from studying and in need of last-minute Christmas presents, could have been mistaken for wild animals.
Hermione, on the other hand, had of course prepared adequately for Christmas already. When Harry and Ron gave each other shifty looks, she was fully aware that they were trying to think of a way to get rid of her so they could pick up her Christmas presents.
"I'll go get a butter beer, shall I?" she asked politely. She only barely held back a snort as they both sagged in relief.
"I think so," said Ron. "That's a- good idea. In fact, we'll come join you, um..."
"...after we've taken another look at the Quidditch store," Harry put in helpfully.
Hermione smiled. "I'm sure I'd just be bored," she said accommodatingly. "I'll see you after you're done in the Quidditch store, then."
Funny, that they were headed for Flourish and Blott's instead. She decided to just as politely ignore that part as well.
The Three Broomsticks was packed with people come in from the snow. She had to lever her way through quite a few people to reach the line in front of the bar, and a quick look around convinced her that there wouldn't be any tables free unless half the room decided to vanish the other half. Considering the dirty looks a few people were getting, it might have been a little more likely than normal.
In spite of the large number of people, she was still surprised to find herself stumbling over someone's foot as she turned from the bar with her mug. She recovered herself rather well, she thought, but the somewhat thick laugh let her know that it was someone's crude idea of a funny joke.
Hermione righted herself, checking her jacket and scarf and eying her mug to see if anything had spilled. After which, she turned around to look for the perpetrator.
Hard to miss, really, though which of them it was became debatable. Both had an equally dim sense of humor, and both were rather large. Goyle, though, was a little closer, so she decided to give him the withering 'ha ha' look.
"I thought it was funny," muttered Crabbe, leaning against the bar.
"Oh, shove off," she said, hiking her scarf up on her neck and turning to head for a less populated section of the bar.
The butterbeer went down very fast today, considering the cold temperature, and Hermione was soon staring down at the bottom of the mug with a little sigh. She handed it off to a passing busboy, who looked rather harried, and made a cursory look around for Harry and Ron. Unfortunately, they hadn't yet shown; it gave her the feeling that they had made a little stop-off at the Quidditch store after all.
"I don't understand why," she muttered with exasperation, heading for the door. "They're never going to buy anything, after all." The cold air hit her as she stepped out, a startling contrast to the warmth of the packed taproom. She shivered, and pulled up her scarf again, covering her mouth and nose.
It was strange, walking through the street alone. She was keenly aware that others were doing it too – mostly to buy gifts unseen – but it held a strange sort of allure to it as well. It had been some time since she'd been able to simply be alone, without the burden of occasional conversation or polite faces.
Her steps inevitably took her toward the woods, to the little trail that looped around the Shrieking Shack. Her feet began to sink deeper into the snow, but the cold was still invigorating instead of uncomfortable, so she ignored it for the moment.
Her steps took her up, of course, to the outside of the Shrieking Shack, just behind the fence that kept it sealed off from curious students.
Her thoughts had already headed in another direction entirely when a snowball hit her in the back of the head. She hissed, turning to look behind her; her face turned even darker when she saw the skinny, brown-haired teen behind her.
"Come on, Stibbons," she said, drawing her wand. "We've been through this."
"I'm sure we can give it another try," the Ravenclaw responded, frowning at her. He already had his wand out.
"You'll only get yourself hurt," she warned him, raising her hand warningly. "And in detention. And possibly docked on midterms."
"I can beat you," the boy insisted stubbornly. She sighed, and shook her head, as he began to twist his wand through a series of movements that was probably far above his current level.
A snowball hit him in the face rather abruptly. The fourth year stumbled back a little, blinking through his glasses.
Hermione glanced back toward the Shack. It took her a moment to place the head of black curls, but the fact that he was still wearing his robes gave him away as a pure-blood. The rest followed shortly.
"What've we here?" Zabini drawled, pulling down his scarf. "Two half-pints in one place. This should be interesting." His voice seemed to intimate that he was about to try out a few of the things she'd just taught him.
Stibbons paled, and took a step back. Hermione gave Zabini a perfectly withering look, and raised her wand on him.
"Oh come on," he said. "He was just about to attack you. Why take a curse for him?"
She heard footsteps thudding behind her. Stibbons was now hurtling through the snow, back toward the village.
"You know, you have a lot of- nerve-" She blinked as Zabini slipped his wand back into his robes.
"Happy Christmas," he said bluntly.
Hermione stared at him. Then sighed. "Not to be ungrateful, but that was an entirely useless gesture. I was about to disarm him. He's harmless."
Zabini, trudging past her, paused for a second.
"That's stupid of you," he said finally. "I'm not sure why I expected better." At her indignant expression, he sighed. "Anyone can have a Dark Mark these days, Granger. Considering the spell he was about to use, I'd watch him a little more carefully from now on."
She blinked at him as he headed past, moving for the trail.
His words bothered her, much later, in the dead of night.
Anyone can have a Dark Mark.
He certainly hadn't ruled out himself.
She heard, much later, that he had managed perfect marks on Transfiguration.