Happy new year to you lovelies! Sorry for the delay on this one (that's the problem with writing a fic that has no clear "blueprint" yet – sometimes you really don't have a clue what to write or what the hell is going on!) but I hope you enjoy! Hint hint: a few juicy developments await you. . .
Draco Malfoy did not stare. He was sleep-deprived, and Flitwick was busy fumbling over himself to pay any good attention to. These days his mind often roamed around and outside of the castle – more outside than in, predictably, because Hogwarts never held much fascination for him. Unlike Granger. He remembered Granger on their very first day here – how could he not? Even then she'd been annoying, spouting off useless factoid after useless factoid to anyone within an earshot in that grating, little mousy voice of hers. She'd been so terribly Muggle about it all in the beginning, so pathetically eager to excel, like a foreigner trying to learn a new language.
But now, as he watched her rest her chin on her knuckles, looking uncharacteristically unfocused as she doodled on her parchment, he was almost startled at how different she'd become. At how tame her mother's death had made her. She'd been different since that day on the train. Then again, so had he.
He didn't know what it was. She'd lost that bright-eyed Gryffindor naivety he'd despised, that "Justice will prevail!" conviction she carried with her, which was also another reason sitting in a room with her caused his eyes to roll so often that he thought his eyeballs might just stay there, retracted. What a terrifying thought, actually.
He snapped out of it when Flitwick cleared his throat, tapping his wand on the hollow podium. Draco ignorantly looked away, picking up his wand.
From a few seats away, Blaise Zabini smirked to himself.
Hermione was in the middle of a Transfiguration essay when she saw a dark shadow being cast over her parchment.
"You call these prefect rotation charts?" Draco barked at her. "A five year old with a watercolor set could do better. Do them again."
Hermione stared at the charts he had slapped down in front of her, smudging the drying ink on her parchment. Charts that she had spent two full hours doing late last night – two full hours that, had she known he was going to show up with a stick up his arse today and was going to make her redo, she could have spent in an attempt at sweet slumber, in complete denial of any association with the now-consistently cranky Head Boy.
She looked up, as calmly as she could possibly muster. She was glad she'd sat in one of the more private corners of the library today, otherwise she was sure they would have had an audience. And Malfoy was bad enough without an audience.
"What's wrong with them?"
"They look like the handiwork of a First Year. You've forgotten all about the pairs that aren't allowed to patrol together, not to mention you've left out about, oh, let's see, a fourth of the prefects assigned for patrol."
"It's exams, Malfoy," she said tiredly. "They asked not to patrol this week."
"I'm sorry, so we're wish-granters now, are we?" he snapped. "Well, I wish you'd told me, Granger, so that I could have wished for a Head Girl that wasn't so incompetent." He glared at her. "Redo these charts. Everybody goes on patrol."
Hermione scowled at him. She was sure the entire library had heard them, and she could feel her face steaming with embarrassment. From a quick observation of Malfoy, she knew something was clearly off. He looked like he hadn't gotten any sleep in days, and had been progressively acting like it – if he wasn't brooding and completely oblivious to the world, he was snapping at her about being incompetent as a Head Girl, or he was on the brink of tearing her head off over something so trivial. Head Duties with him could now be accurately described as entering Dante's seventh level of hell.
Hermione tried not to sympathize with him. She hadn't been getting much sleep either, but that didn't excuse treating the rest of the world like shit. Deep down inside she found herself wondering about his mother, if she was the reason he was suddenly thoroughly foul. But she could never muster up the nerve to ask if she was still alive. She had to be. If she wasn't. . . well, she assumed Draco would have been long gone by now.
"I mean it, Granger," he said warningly, before he stalked out of the aisle.
She was only in her seat for a few more moments before she found herself stomping after him, walking along the seated throng of curious stares. "Get back to work, all of you," she said sternly, and they quickly ducked their heads back down, pretending to be engrossed in something other than the palpable hostility between their two Heads.
She caught up to Malfoy in the corridor. "Hey!"
He whirled around, annoyed. "What?"
She stopped in front of him. Beside her, she clenched and unclenched her hand, speaking in a hushed but forceful tone. "Don't you dare speak to me that way. Do you understand me, Malfoy? I know neither of us like it, but we're supposed to be a team. Contrary to your delusional beliefs, you are not my superior here. We are equals. So treat me with some respect."
Had she not been so full of fire she would have laughed at herself for saying these things to Malfoy. What would he care about respect? About equality? About teamwork? Even in Quidditch he played like a one-man team, obviously skeptical of anybody else's skill. She stood there, glaring at him, her posture as rigid as a straight line, and she braced herself for the likelihood that he might mock her. Or worse: laugh at her.
She didn't know what she'd do if he were to react that way. Hex him, or hit him, maybe. Add another tally to her "good change/bad change" chart McGonagall had brought up. Why cramp her progress if she was already on a roll?
Something in his dark gray eyes settled, flickering at her. He stepped forward, and she tried not to flinch, his blond head towering above her. For one pulsating second, she was scared of what he actually might do.
"Redo the charts, Granger," was all he said to her, sneering. And then he turned on his heel and walked away.
She let out a shuddering breath, moments after. She shook her head.
"Bastard," she muttered at his back, before turning around to head back to the library. As she was walking, she glimpsed someone leaning against one of the stone pillars. She slowed in her step, begrudgingly turning towards their uninvited guest.
"You really shouldn't have spats out in the public like that," Blaise said, his hands coolly shoved into his pockets, looking extremely self-satisfied (a Slytherin House trait, she was sure). "It's really bad for. . . what was it again? That sappy rubbish Dumbledore's always going on about? Oh, yeah. Inter-House unity."
"Bollocks you care about inter-House unity," she said to Blaise. "And besides – it's rude to eavesdrop."
"I'd hardly call it eavesdropping if you've been shouting at each other since the library. What was I supposed to do, plug my ears and hum to myself?"
She placed her hands on her hips, annoyed. As far as Slytherins went, Blaise Zabini did not offend her as much as his other Housemates. They'd been paired for assignments in the past and he'd been perfectly civil to her. A little condescending, true, but tolerable.
"Zabini, what do you want?" she said to him.
"What do I want?" he echoed. "Where do I start?" He sobered a little when he saw the look on her face, getting up off the wall and cheekily stepping towards her. "Can't I just have a chat with my favorite Head Girl? That's what you're here for, aren't you? To facilitate a happy learning environment for your peers?"
"Don't take this personally, Blaise," she sighed, "but I'm not exactly ready to facilitate any kind of pleasing environment for your House at the moment. Or at any moment, really, for the last six and a half years."
She was already starting to feel a migraine coming on just at the mention of it.
"I've only come to ask for a small favor."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "What kind of favor?"
He smiled, his eyes faintly twinkling. "One that requires your feminine expertise."
That weekend, Hermione Granger found herself standing in front of a jewelry shop in the more upscale area of Hogsmeade. She stared at the ostentatious window display and its gold lettering. It certainly looked like the kind of place she would never even dream of stepping into.
She was just about to turn and leave when she found Blaise, in a black, neatly tailored coat (not so unlike the coat Malfoy had been wearing that night he'd saved her in Hogsmeade), crossing the street.
"You came," he said. His half-smirk let her know he'd been counting on it. "Good."
He entered the shop with Hermione hesitantly trailing behind. The shop owner, an elderly man with a diamond earring, greeted Blaise and asked about his mother, and she took note of how impeccably clean all of the glass casings were, not to mention the gigantic jewels they displayed.
"I still don't know what I'm doing here," Hermione muttered. "I don't even know why you asked me, out of all people."
"Because you remind me of her. My sister," Blaise said, looking through all of the trinkets on display. Things that Hermione didn't dare touch, in case she accidentally broke them, in which case she would likely have to trade in her soul just to be able to pay for it.
"I never even knew you had a sister," she said.
"She's studying in France," he told her. "Was never really a fan of Hogwarts. I think it's because of that rabid troll, that one Halloween. I told her and she's never quite lived it down. She's deathly afraid of trolls."
"So I remind you of your little sister studying abroad in France," she remarked, highly unconvinced. "Right."
"Are you really this distrustful of everyone?" he asked her, his eyebrows raised.
For a second she thought of her dad, whom she would have trusted with her life. She thought about how absent he was now, at a time when she needed him the most.
And then she thought about Pansy, who had tied her up to a tree and tortured her late into the night.
"My trust's not exactly freely given these days," she told him.
He nodded, before turning back to the bracelets. "Well, just trust me. At least for an hour or two. And then you can go back to thinking the world is out to get you, I promise."
She looked around the store. A lone woman was hanging around the back, looking at crystal wind chimes. "Why not Pansy?"
"Her tastes differ greatly from my dear sister's," Blaise answered. "Pansy's a bit more ostentatious. My sister's more about understated elegance." At that, he turned his head slightly towards her and winked. Hermione took a subtle step back. Dear God, Blaise Zabini was flirting with her.
She rolled her eyes, but quickly turned to hide her reddening cheeks. "Your flattery won't work on me, Zabini," she said.
"Well, something did. Otherwise you wouldn't be here." Smirking, he raised a dainty gold chain between his fingers. "What do you think about this?"
Hermione leaned closer. It was a simple gold chain with a small emerald in the center.
"I think it's great. Simple," she said, but he had already set it back down and had begun looking around for something else. Hermione watched him study different necklaces, rings, and bracelets, announcing different facts about jewels and gems. In the back of her mind, she wondered what Ginny would say if she'd told her that Blaise Zabini had asked her to meet him in Madame Gwedolyn's Jewelry Shoppe to help him shop for his sister. There was zero chance she'd be as shocked as she herself was. Even more shocked, perhaps, that she'd even gone through with it. All she knew was: she had to get out of the castle.
"How do you know all of this?" she asked him, after he'd told her about all of the different cuts of jewels.
"My mother. She's very fond of jewelry," he said, inspecting a sapphire necklace. "And so were her ex-husbands in giving them to her." He motioned for her to come closer, telling her to take a look at it. Hermione did so, feeling slightly uncomfortable at the feeling of his gaze lingering on her.
She was never a materialistic kind of girl – not like Lavender and the other Gryffindor girls, who had shown a keenness for diamonds and jewelry. She didn't swoon at the sight of jewels or gold; she'd never really felt a connection to them the way other girls did. There was only one piece of jewelry she held close to her: the engagement ring her mum had left her when she died. It was a terribly modest thing, with the smallest of diamonds embedded in the center, but she found that she could stare at it for hours, trying to imagine the life it'd had.
But the necklace Blaise was showing her – she did approve. She looked at it, quite impressed. It was a perfect sapphire blue hanging off a thin, gold chain. He said he'd wanted understated elegance, and now he had it.
"Wow," was all she said.
"I take it that's a good thing," Blaise said, his voice rumbling in her ear.
Just then, the bells at the entrance rang, with the door swinging open. Hermione caught a glimpse of Blaise's smirking face before looking behind him to see exactly the last person she'd ever wanted to see on her weekend.
Her expression must have shown to reveal her dread because then Blaise turned around, chuckling.
"Well, look who it is. Our friendly neighborhood Head Boy."
Before Hermione could slip away – and hide, somewhere – he'd turned around and seen them. The way he looked at them – with surprise, and then barely hidden disdain and coldness, made something in her gut tighten. She also realized just how strange it must look, her and Blaise, being here, jewelry-shopping. For some reason, she felt the urge to explain, but quickly thought better of it. He was the last person in the world she owed any kind of explanation to.
"Malfoy," Blaise acknowledged. Hermione inwardly cringed. Did he have to sound so self-satisfied? "Fancy seeing you here."
"Zabini," he said, coolly. Then with perfect ice: "Granger."
"Malfoy," she muttered, keeping her gaze down.
"Picking something up for your mum?" Blaise asked.
Hermione's eyes jumped up. Malfoy looked away, obviously already bored with this conversation. "As a matter of fact, yes," he said, before turning back around. The jeweler had returned from the backroom with something wrapped in velvet. Draco paid before leaving without another word.
"That Malfoy," Blaise said. "Always such a joy to converse with."
"Yes, if I liked being lit on fire and fed raw to wild boars," she muttered. Blaise summoned the jeweler and they both headed towards the counter to pay. She tried not to take notice of exactly how much he paid, but did spot the bulging pouch of Galleons he gave to the jeweler.
She waited for Blaise outside of the shop, wondering if it would be okay to just leave. She'd excused herself while Blaise and the jeweler had a little chat. But it was only a few more moments before he joined her outside, a package in his hand.
"I think today was a success," he said to her. "I don't know what I would've done without you."
Hermione snorted. "I'm sure you would have done just fine. You know far more about jewelry than I will ever care to know."
He smiled at her. Or smirked. It was a sort of a half-smirk, half-smile hybrid that she was always mystified by. It took a very talented face to endeavor it.
They began to walk back towards the castle, and Hermione still could not shake the uneasy feeling of having spent some of her day with Blaise Zabini. Even more bizarre was how she couldn't stop thinking about that look Malfoy had given them in the jewelry store. There was a time she vaguely recalled that he and Blaise used to be. . . friends. But maybe "friends" wasn't the right word. She couldn't ever remember Malfoy having proper friends. Cronies – never friends.
"What was Malfoy doing in there?" she asked.
"Picking up something for his mum's birthday, I presume," he said. He looked at her, briefly. "I think it'd surprise you to know that you have more in common with him than you think."
"She's ill, not dying," Hermione found herself saying. "There's still hope."
She remembered when she used to say this to herself. To her father, not really, because she couldn't bring herself to – she was afraid he would see right through her, that he would know better. It was a hopeful statement ridden with tragic doubt. And then when her mum got well again, when she was in remission, it was like the whole world had taken a breath with her – before it was stolen again. This time, forever.
"He's told you." Something dawned on his face. What exactly, she didn't know, but she tried not to think much of his expression. Like it had meant something, that Malfoy had told her. It didn't. It was what people in crisis did – they deluged.
She shrugged, trying to feign nonchalance. "It came up. Briefly. Really briefly."
Blaise nodded, and Hermione couldn't shake the feeling like he knew something she didn't. Thankfully, he soon changed the subject, and thanked her when they got to the castle, promising to return the favor, before going their separate ways.
She came across Ron and Ginny in the corridor. Ron, looking highly confused – she noted that this wasn't an uncommon expression for him to wear – and Ginny looking quite impressed with her friend.
"Oy," he said to her, a half-eaten cookie in one hand and crumbs all over his chin. He was still looking behind her with a furrow in his brows. "Tell me I didn't just see you getting chummy with Blaise Zabini."
She rolled her eyes at him. "I'm not even going to dignify that question with an answer."
"Yeah, sod off, Ron," Ginny said. "What are you, her dad?"
Ron muttered something under his breath as he left towards the Pitch, disgruntled, and Ginny grabbed her arm as soon as her brother was out of earshot, smiling from ear to ear.
"First with babysitting Malfoy and now traipsing around with Blaise," she said, winking at her. "This is starting out to be your most interesting year yet, Hermione."
"I was not 'traipsing'!" she called after her friend.
"See you at supper!" Ginny singsonged.
Draco didn't know what it was – what could have possibly possessed him. Both Granger and Zabini were like little irritating rocks lodged in his shoes, poking him at every damn step, so why did a part of his insides freeze up, seeing them together in the jewelry store? He didn't know what made him angrier: the fact that Granger could be so stupid, or the fact that Zabini couldn't find a better candidate for his little games. Nothing could explain why he was here, now, hiding out in an alley with his mother's gift shoved in his coat pocket, waiting for the loathsome pair to come out of the jewelry store.
He couldn't understand why he cared. No, he didn't – he held no such capacity for someone like Granger. And that if he did, it was only because he would be the first to be blamed if Granger were to somehow mysteriously disappear – or worse, turn up dead. Otherwise he would have simply said, Good riddance! A world without Granger. Something so fantastical it gave him shivers to think it could actually be true.
Finally, after a few minutes, he heard the brief jangle of the door opening and their faint voices. He hid behind the stone wall, catching a glimpse of both Zabini and Granger pass by. He stood there for a moment, denying anything he felt that might have clued in any sort of protective feeling he had towards her, before he pried himself off of the wall and began to head back towards the castle.
He still couldn't shake the feeling, though, of something big and terrible lurking ahead.
Draco checked the mirror as he waited for Blaise in the Slytherin common room. He only seemed to be seeing his bedridden mother with Klaus, their house elf. That had to mean that Granger had made it back safely. That, or she was beyond help – beyond needing him, that was, because she was dead.
He had just shoved the mirror back into his pocket when Blaise came striding in through the portrait hole. He didn't seem surprised to see him waiting there. Draco guessed this was because he wasn't.
"Ah, Malfoy. I didn't know you cared. Worried about my safety, were you?" Blaise said, snarkily. "You shouldn't have. I can take care of myself just fine." He tossed his coat onto one of the armchairs, taking a seat across from Draco. "Well. Aren't you going to ask me how my day went?" he smirked.
Draco stared at him, unamused. "What are you playing at, Zabini?"
He sucked in a breath through his teeth, as if hurt. "Straight to the point, look at you, Malfoy. This must annoy you more than I thought." He chuckled under his breath.
"If you're playing one of your little games, keep it to yourself," Draco snapped at him.
"Didn't your parents teach you the value of sharing? Oh, wait, your father was Lucius the court jester and your mother the ice queen. Forgive me." Blaise sobered. "With the Dark Lord quiet – for the time being, that is – I find that I've grown bored, Malfoy. Remember how we used to pass the time when we weren't following Death Eater business?"
Draco looked away. "There are better prospects, Blaise. You're underestimating her. She's trouble." He said this even though he knew that look on Blaise's face. He had made up his mind. She was his new target, and Draco. . . well, what about Draco? He wanted nothing to do with it.
So then why did his throat suddenly tighten and his mouth feel so dry? He reached over and poured himself a glass of scotch.
"I've thought about this, Malfoy. She's a tough one, that Granger, but it's the challenge that makes it sweeter. And with her so vulnerable after her mother's death. . ." he sniggered. "She'll be a fine addition to my collection, one of the better stories to tell."
Draco took one sip of his scotch before getting up to leave. His stomach felt unsettled, and his Housemate's unwavering, creepy stare was getting to be very annoying.
"Going so soon?" Blaise called after him.
"Head duties," he gruffly lied.
Blaise smirked, pleased with himself. "Say hello to Granger for me."
Draco stepped out of the portrait hole. Within the deep reaches of his mind, a voice called back: Over my dead body.