By Rurouni Star
A/N: Apologies for the incredible lateness of the epilogue. I was always pretty sure that it was going to take a while for me to get around to it, but life exceeded even my own very generous expectations. Worry not. I always try to finish what I start.
But in the spirit of new things: how many of you have played Neverwinter Nights before? I'm contemplating a terribly dangerous avenue there. Hordes of the Underdark needs a fanfic, because of its sheer awesomeness. But such a thing would also require an original character, being as it doesn't have a specific hero. DANGEROUS, I say. And probably, I'll give in and do it anyway. So for anyone who hasn't played Neverwinter Nights, I will say this: I'll do my best to avoid confusing the hell out of you. Read it anyway.
Without further ado: your epilogue.
"I cannot believe you're here."
Blaise glanced up idly from the book in his hand (Common Potions Mistakes: 999 Recipes for Disaster!) and slowly raised one eyebrow. "That's funny," he said. "As I distinctly remember Moody telling you that I was officially assigned to the job."
"Yes... but..." Hermione sputtered, somewhat lamely. "But this isn't precisely what I was expecting."
Blaise felt his mouth twitch slightly at the edges, as he reached up to shelve the book between two similar titles. "What, is there some other requirement I'm unaware of, to be an assistant librarian? Do I need to go find myself an Order of Merlin first?" He glanced over toward Simone, with feigned interest. "Does she have one?" The woman's eyes widened at his gaze; she immediately ducked herself out of view, behind a book cart.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. She tapped her fingers at her hip. She pursed her lips with disapproval, and opened her mouth to say something, no doubt scathing–
"I see you're wearing a shorter skirt today," Blaise added, interrupting her. His lips curved further upward, and his eyes dropped to her calves rather blatantly. "I do love looking at your legs. I wonder if you took that into account?"
Hermione froze, her mouth halfway open. He saw her struggle, as she was forced abruptly to go from offensive to defensive. "That- that is neither here nor-" Her eyes narrowed again, as she realized what he'd done. "Would you stop that?" she demanded, eyes flashing beneath her mousy hair. "I swear, it is impossible to have a normal conversation with you!"
Blaise grinned, behind another stack of books. "I know. Sensible women just hate being complimented. I'd try to tone it down, except– well, no guarantees while you're showing that much skin."
Hermione colored slightly– huffed loudly, to cover it. "I don't hate being complimented! I was referring to– you know what? Never mind. We both know how this will end anyway."
"Really?" Blaise said. "But wouldn't that be somewhat inappropriate, in a public place like this–"
Hermione picked up another pile of books from the cart, and slammed it down on top of the pile he was carrying already. Blaise coughed, and felt his knees buckle slightly, as she leaned around the stack to look him in the eyes. "Work first," she said severely. "Play later."
As far as suggestive come-ons went, it was somewhat less than seductive. It still made him groan to himself, as he watched her turn and walk away. The shift ended in eight hours. This... was far too long. Especially with that damned skirt swishing around her legs like that.
Blaise was, in fact, just contemplating the distance to lunch, and the possible willingness of the woman, when he found his thoughts interrupted by the most terrifying sound imaginable.
"No, dem it all! I will not surrender my wand! And why are you asking, I'd like to know! Why is it you suddenly want me defenseless, eh? I can already see you're not lookin' me in the eye, that's tellin', right there-!"
Blaise promptly set down his tower of books, and headed over to diffuse the situation.
Poor Simone was standing in the doorway, trying in vain to placate the force of nature that was Moody. The other Auror was gesturing madly, waving his arms in large, sweeping movements.
"I think she's afraid you might burn the place down," Blaise observed dryly, brushing a bit of dust from his hands. "You look like some crazy madman, in off a street corner."
Moody bristled at that, turning his gaze toward his old apprentice. "I do not live on any old street corner!" he said. "Patchwork robes were all the rage twenty years ago, I tell you!"
Blaise grinned, as Simone politely fled. "I take it you've got news for me," he said.
Moody frowned, and crossed his arms. "...Stibbons was gone. Cleared out long a'fore we even knocked on his door. But we got him clear on the run now. Not many places he's going to be able to hide."
"Stibbons?" Hermione's voice said, from behind him. Blaise held back a twitch. It was a sad day, he thought, that Hermione Granger could sneak up on him instead of the other way around. "Where have I heard that name before?"
"Where have you heard–" Blaise sighed, and pressed a hand to his face as he turned to look at her. "Stibbons. The Ravenclaw that nearly mauled you with dark magic in sixth year. How did you manage to forget something like that?"
Hermione colored, and crossed her arms uncomfortably. "Well. Ah. A lot of people nearly mauled me with dark magic. In sixth year." Her tone was somewhat apologetic. It was at once so chilling and so adorable that he had to keep himself from tugging her close and kissing her on the nose.
"Hunch was right on the nose," Moody growled, apparently oblivious to the sudden, growing subtext. "Boy was more'n smart enough to plan something like this. Even took Arithmancy, straight up to NEWT level. And I dug up a near-conviction for being a Deatheater, once upon a time. Apparently, they let him go and chalked the whole thing up to being a stupid kid."
Blaise nodded slowly, grimly. "It seemed like a long shot at first, but it made more sense the more I thought about it. You think you can keep him uncomfortable enough that he won't try anything else?"
Moody shrugged. "Who knows?" he said. "Criminals get desperate. I figure we'll have him within the month, though. After that, you'll be able to head back to active duty, with the occasional check-in on our Miss Granger."
"Ah, good," Blaise smiled. "I don't have to stop annoying her completely, then."
"I doubt," Hermione huffed, "that you will ever stop annoying me, Zabini." There was a tiny, affectionate undertone to her voice that said You won't really, will you?
Moody nodded, and turned to leave. He had never quite mastered the art of ending a conversation properly. Probably because his conversations ended so bizarrely, so often. He paused on his way out, though, and looked back at Hermione with one narrowed eye.
"By the way," he said. "We've intercepted a letter to you from some Patil woman. Do you want it, or should I burn it?"
Hermione's face went absolutely, crimson red.
"No," she squeaked. "No, I'll... I'll take it." Moody grinned fiercely, and tugged said letter from a pocket in his robes. When he offered it out to her, Hermione snatched it from him, as though she were being prodded with hot coals. Moody nodded once, sharp, as she stuffed it into her own pocket. "Good day, Miss Granger," he said, and he moved once again for the door. Simone peeked out from the break room shortly after it closed behind him.
Blaise watched Hermione with interest, as she played self-consciously with a stray thread on her shirt. "Something I ought to know about?" he asked her, with a twitch of the lips.
"Absolutely not," she declared, staring at the thread. "Not ever."
He expanded his smile slowly, and decided he'd get it out of her later.
Blaise walked her home, after work– it was nice and thoughtful, if you forgot the fact that it was currently necessary.
Necessary, Hermione thought grimly, as she unlocked her front door. That's what all of this is. Once he's off doing good deeds elsewhere again, we won't be seeing each other quite so much. And what will happen then?
Circumstances had been dangerous, bold and invigorating. It was only natural they should have ended up attracted to each other. And really, his behavior hadn't changed all that much, except that he was a bit more blatant in his flirting, and he would occasionally nibble at her ear, even in public–
And why am I complaining again? she thought to herself with a sigh. It's not like this has to be serious. Not everything has to be serious.
No. Not everything. But this had to be. She wanted it like she'd never wanted anything else. She wanted to know him better, to learn what else he kept underneath that dark humor of his. She wanted to learn his patience, to marvel at his grim determination, to kiss the frowns that appeared on his face when he thought about things too hard. She wanted to wake up sleepy and warm, with his breath on her neck.
Is that too much? she wondered to herself nervously. Is it bad, to be thinking like that?
Blaise closed the door behind them; took the time to deadbolt it, carefully. "The wards are still in good working order," he observed. "But I think we might want to recast a few later, before I leave. There's always room for improvement."
Hermione shifted on her feet a little, at the mention of his departure. She very carefully avoided speaking, hoping that he would give her something else to talk about instead.
"Do you want to have some wine tonight?" he obliged her, with a sudden smile.
Hermione felt herself smile back, more relieved than anything else. "I think so," she agreed.
His hand slipped around her waist with a casual, warming sort of affection. "And Scrabble?" he mumbled to her. Hermione flushed at his tone, but felt herself lean into the touch. This was a good place to be, right at this moment.
She leaned her lips up to his ear, feeling bold. "I will destroy you at Scrabble, Mr. Zabini."
Blaise turned to give her a half-tilted smile. "I expect I'll still enjoy it," he said. And to Hermione's shock and puzzlement, she heard him say it with a voice devoid of anything like humor, or sarcasm, or suggestiveness. In fact, she thought, it almost sounded as though he meant it for what it was.
She couldn't have known, of course, that he was putting a closing thought on his journal of observations regarding her. Hermione Granger, he was writing, is the most amazing creature in the universe. And one day soon, I am going to marry her.
"Wine after Scrabble," he said to her wryly.