She could feel the heat of his gaze scorching the downy hair upon her skin, adding a further layer to the depth of her thoughts that day.
It disconcerted her.
Hermione Granger considered herself to be well versed in many things. She was an avid reader, an intelligent and very able witch. She had received 11 OWL’s in her fifth year, she had determinedly defended the rights of house elves since her fourth year, and she had fought varying shades of evil alongside her best friends since her first year. She was a Gryffindor; she was brave.
She was also a girl.
And it was precisely this aspect of her being that was the primary cause of her current disconcertion.
Why? Because he was still staring at her.
As one of Harry Potter’s best friends, she had become accustomed to a certain degree of staring from other students, fleeting looks of jealousy or mocking. She was not, however, used to the sheer weight of one’s gaze upon her as constantly as this current one had been. And certainly not from the type of person who owned the gaze.
She raised a hand to push back some of the tumult of wild curls threatening to escape from their current encasement atop her head. Blinking rapidly, Hermione pushed her fork around the dish residing in front of her on the long table in the Great Hall, disinclined to eat her breakfast.
Her heavily lashed gaze swept upwards, hazarding a glance toward the table on the far side of the room where she knew the culprit would be sitting. As indeed he was. He continued to stare at her intently even after she had acknowledged his absurd behaviour with her curious glance.
Hermione could not help but reflect upon the lack of social skills apparent in the upbringing of Slytherin students. Flicking her gaze down the table, she asserted the lack of examples to the contrary and, shaking her head, turned her attention back to the untouched plate before her.
The unusual situation in which she currently found herself had started some two months prior - the cause of which was still unclear. She had attended one of Professor Slughorn’s infamous Slug Club meetings and had stumbled across him there.
Blaise Zabini was his name and, prior to that moment, she felt sure she had never laid eyes on him in all her six years at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This in itself had been a minor point of vexation for her as she had been quite sure she knew all of the students in her year level - even the wretched Slytherins.
But not he. Zabini‘s general inclination, she had immediately noticed, was to sink into the background. To be the observer and not the observed. It was clearly, in his case, a refined art.
How he had managed it for six years was quite shocking in itself, considering his exotic looks and his mother’s unfortunate propensity for marrying men who would mysteriously die shortly thereafter.
In fact, the only reason her attention had been drawn to him in the first place was the derisive snort, which had erupted from him at her introduction by the Potion’s Professor as the smartest witch in their year level.
Slughorn appeared not to have noticed. She was not so fortunate.
Hermione had turned her gaze to cast a stern look upon the guilty party, only to find herself looking at the heretofore unknown Blaise Zabini who had at the time been wearing an expression of such cultivated disdain as to cause an immediate and unquestioned dislike of him.
He was, after all, a Slytherin.
Hermione had then given him a look, which suggested just as much and had proceeded to ignore the insufferable unknown for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, for Hermione, he had chosen his sixth year as the time to start cropping up everywhere: at meals, at classes - her classes no less, and of course at the Slug Club meetings.
Under normal circumstances, she would have immediately banished him as a blight upon her memory. That's when the staring had started, and even Hermione, beneath her feigned ignorance, could not help but to notice.
Perhaps that had been his intention. Perhaps he had chosen this year to make a name for himself and, in the grand tradition of his fellow housemates, had chosen to torment Hermione by way of making his debut. It seemed fitting to her. Slytherins.
Assuming this to be the case, Hermione had diligently moved into research mode, determined to understand the enemy - for that was exactly what he was soon becoming.
She'd had an extraordinary amount of difficulty in unearthing facts about the strange boy, presumably because, like herself, the rest of the student body was unaware of his existence. All that she had gleaned thus far was that he spent the majority of his time with fellow Slytherin and bane of her existence, Draco Malfoy, and although he appeared not to be as openly hostile as the blond, she was sure that like minds attracted.
Hermione had also learned of his penchant for Arithmancy, much to her own consternation. She found the subject to be terribly complicated, though she enjoyed the challenge. In contrast, he would quietly sit at the back of the room completing his charts with an efficiency that left her deeply troubled and Professor Vector, deeply thrilled.
She had barely heard a word pass his lips in the few months since his presence had flickered her radar into action. She had hoped, rather dismally, that this was a result of the lack of intelligence rife within the inbred pureblood families. With that thought, her gaze lifted to encompass the sight of one Gregory Goyle committing unspeakable crimes upon his breakfast. She shuddered in mild horror at the sight.
Her revulsion increased as she turned to say something to Harry and was confronted by Ron and Lavender greeting one another good morning. Feeling rather queasy, she uttered a quick excuse about further readings to her friends and hastily removed herself from the vast hall.
His gaze matched her every step.
He was staring at her. Again.
Cursing inwardly, the boy lowered his glance from the Gryffindor table to take in the sight of Goyle attacking a kipper with such an alarming amount of enthusiasm as to cause Blaise to lose his appetite entirely.
He had never much liked kippers anyway.
He pushed the dish before him away; instead reaching for the pumpkin juice, as his gaze unconsciously skittered over her once more. In all honesty, he was not sure he could explain his sudden fascination with the infernal Muggle-Born. She was presumptuous, over-bearing and painfully ignorant of her effect on the student body, male and female alike.
At first, he had considered her rather mundane looking, in that way that only Muggles could be, what with their lack of proper breeding and the inherently striking features, which came with it - such as his own. She was in general a rather dismal sight, he had decided - with very few redeeming qualities. Yet he was intrigued.
Perhaps he, like Malfoy, was infuriated by her need to know and be right about everything. Though he had never really been preoccupied with her before.
He recalled the first time she had acknowledged him, at one of Slughorn’s first little tête-à-têtes. She had been eagerly listening to the Professor’s glowing report on her character, her cheeks suffused with a rosy glow and her gaze rather rapturous beneath the mountains of wild hair. In truth, the image had been ridiculous and he had snorted somewhat derisively, indicating he thought as much.
Her gaze had snapped from Slughorn to him and he had noted the flicker of confusion and surprise in her dark eyes. She had recovered quite quickly and had turned her attention back to the professor, though he noted her indignation.
Blaise had been amused at her consternation. She had not recognised him, despite them having shared numerous classes (much to his chagrin), and she had been left flustered and unsure of how to retaliate. The silent triumph had been rather delightful and he found he now understood, in part, Malfoy’s inclination to rile a reaction out of her. She made it far too simple.
Faint footsteps resonated in his mind and he glanced up in time to see the subject of his musings walking out of the Great Hall. He waited a beat before giving into his impulse and following her out the door. He had double Arithmancy first thing, and the class was due to start in approximately 20 minutes. He would wait there.
He ran a long fingered hand through the sleek black hair, which fell with frequency over his eyes, as he directed his tall frame passed the various paintings, which lead the way to the fourth floor classroom.
His footsteps echoed off the walls as he turned the corner and noted Granger standing primly by the locked classroom. Blaise continued his pace, despite a sudden and inexplicable urge to slow down. She glanced up and, seeing him, visibly stiffened before concentrating deeply on the stone underfoot.
He came to rest his frame languidly against the opposite wall and proceeded to gaze at her unabashedly. She must have felt it too because she began to squirm and fidget more than she usually would.
Realising she had spoken; he merely raised an eyebrow and continued to stare - into her eyes this time. It made her uncomfortable, he noticed. It was all the motivation he needed.
"You’re staring at me. It’s rude." As she said it, she raised her hand in an unconscious gesture to smooth her hair and brush any potentially present marks from her nose.
He noticed it all.
Furrowing her brow, she gazed at him rather wearily, as though he were an unknown specimen of flobberworm, before turning her relieved gaze toward the oncoming horde of students, which had just rounded the corner.
Watching the absurd girl scurry into the classroom, Blaise Zabini vowed to himself in that moment to be the primary source of one Hermione Granger’s discomfort.