Disclaimer: I only wish.


1.

She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth in exasperation, taking the liberty to snatch the old tome away from Ron, flip it to the right page, and hand it back, ignoring his glare all the while. He was in the process of working on a lengthy Potions essay he'd saved up until the last minute, and he'd asked her to drop by for a quick study session after dinner. She'd been there for nearly three hours. When he glanced down at the book page, his irritated expression turned sheepish and, with a "Thanks, Hermione," he began writing again.

"If that's all, I'll be retiring to my quarters now," she said, shuffling her papers into her satchel. It was getting late. She had patrol duty in an hour, and there were a few things that still needed to be done before then. "Right," Ron mumbled as he read. "See you at breakfast, then."

She shook her head, hiding her smile as she headed for the portrait hole. It swung open automatically to accommodate her exit, and she was about to step down when she heard the resounding 'thump' and a muffled curse. Blinking, she looked round and squinted into the dimly lit stairwell. "Who's there?" Hermione nearly yelped when Blaise Zabini spoke. He was so close she could feel a trace of his warm breath on the shell of her ear, and his proximity made her heart pound even if his words didn't.

"Bloody hell, Granger," he scowled, rubbing the bridge of his aristocratic nose. The Gryffindor in her hoped zealously that she'd put a sizable dent in it, but the girl in her won out in the end, keen on Zabini's devastating good looks. "Your damned portrait whacked me a good one." He shot the Fat Lady a glare in the dark, and she returned it with a dignified "Hmph".

"Did you want something, Zabini?" Hermione began to walk, keeping her own biting remark about her House's portrait to herself. The Fat Lady was rather irritating. She couldn't even sing. "Or did you come all this way just to hit your nose?" It didn't take much for the Italian to match her pace – he was tall, after all.

"Trust me, Granger," he muttered, "I wouldn't search your smarmy arse out if this could wait. We do share a study, after all." It was true. With him as Head Boy and her as Head Girl, they were forced to share quite a few things. Thankfully, the list did not include a bathroom. Something told her that the aforementioned would not have been a pleasant experience. "Dumbledore wants to see us."

"Why? It's late." Hermione had concluded that Dumbledore was a barmy old wizard long ago – barmy and old, but clever, and knowledgeable at that. He wouldn't call them in at this time of night unless it was of the utmost importance. At least, that's what she told herself.

Zabini shrugged casually, as if it didn't bother him in the least. "Haven't a clue," he said, lifting a hand to brush his hair out of his eyes. She chanced a quick look at him and decided yes, she was glad the portrait hadn't left an impression. When she found that she couldn't help but appraise his long, pianist fingers, though, she tore her eyes away. Suddenly, the old, moving pictures that lined the hallways became rather interesting, and she was gratified that everything was dimly lit.

Zabini would've been quite appealing if he wasn't such a smarmy little git, Hermione mused thoughtfully. He was beyond attractive – not even she would take time to deny it. His long, sable hair and clashing blue eyes, only a few shades darker than the sky, easily made him one of the most sought after bachelors of Hogwarts. She was sure that Malfoy was having a field day maintaining balance in his House, along with his own self-proclaimed status.

They reached the statue that led up to the Headmaster's office, and Hermione took the initiative to mutter the password, "Jelly slugs." When nothing happened, Zabini drawled, "Twisted splitzers," and there was a resounding crack as the stone began to shift.

She huffed and stepped onto the revolving staircase before he could say anything, missing the amused flicker in his eyes. When had Dumbledore changed his password anyway? And how in Merlin's name did Zabini, of all people, know it when she hadn't? It was just enough to grate on her nerves, and it took every ounce of willpower she had to keep herself from shooting a glare in the Headmaster's direction.

"Miss Granger, Mister Zabini," he greeted them from his position by the window. "Do sit down." His pale blue eyes twinkled with mischief behind his half-moon spectacles, and the irritation she had for Zabini completely evaporated in the wake of Dumbledore's smile. Hermione felt a leaden weight drop in her stomach as she took a seat. She knew that look. Good things almost never resulted from that look – for her anyway. The old wizard seemed to pick up on her anxiety, and his smile widened minutely.

"May I offer you some food for thought?" he motioned to the bowl of – she didn't know what they were, yellow and shaped like lightning bolts – sitting atop his desk. She responded with a polite, "No, thank you, sir," and Zabini just shook his head.

Dumbledore nodded and, pacing back to his desk, took the chair behind it. "Undoubtedly both of you are wondering why I would ask a meeting so late into the night." She nodded out of courtesy, and she was surprised to see Zabini do the same. Perhaps the Slytherin had manners after all.

He smiled again, popping one of the twisted splitzers into his mouth and closing his eyes. When he finished chewing, he finally rasped, "I felt it just could not wait. The faculty and I," he made a vague gesture about his head, "have decided to begin a side project for the seventh-years."

Hermione blinked. What sort of side project could Dumbledore possibly have in mind? All seventh-years were already required to take their NEWTs in order to graduate, and she was having enough trouble studying as it was.

"It is a new project," he continued, "and all are required to participate, the two of you included." He winked at them both, leaving Hermione at a loss with where he was heading with this revelation.

In the morning, when everyone was seated at breakfast, Dumbledore stood and clapped his hands. The Great Hall quieted immediately, and he beamed at the sunlight streaming through the windows. "I have an important announcement to make," he declared, a pleasant smile seemingly plastered to his old face as his voice traveling the length of the room. Hermione stared at her untouched plate as she listened. She still couldn't quite wrap her mind round what Dumbledore was about to say and, from the looks of Zabini's ordinarily composed face across the hall, he couldn't either.

"All seventh-years will be required to take a three week camping trip into the Forbidden Forest." He was met by nothing but shocked silence, but the old wizard was not under any delusion that it would last. Before the entire student body could erupt into a multitude of whispers, he finished with, "It will be done the Muggle way, and any sort of magic seen used will earn you a failing mark. Your wands will be collected before the trip by your Head of House. Our Head Boy and Girl will be managing this excursion, and any questions concerning it are to be directed at them. Tuck in!" Then, he sat down and began a conversation with McGonagall, as if the Great Hall had not just exploded into life.

The proverbial shit had just hit the fan. Hermione's wide, frantic eyes locked with Zabini's, and she knew he was just as taken aback as she was. Dumbledore had purposely withheld information when he had spoken to them the night before.

And the panic set in.

Oh, gods. She had to help plan this. She had to help plan this. Harry and Ron were going to eat her alive. Hell, the seventh years were going to eat her alive.

Dead. That was what she and Zabini were. Dead, dead, dead.


Note: I'm really sorry for disappearing… for those who care. I haven't updated in about seven months pleaseforgiveme, but I come bearing gifts! A little more Blaise Zabini to drool over.