Merlin, she was a strange one. He almost could not decide whether he found her bizarre concentration boring, or utterly fascinating. And this in itself caused him no small amount of disconcertion.
Blaise Zabini sighed, his long and slim fingers drumming a tattoo upon the dark wood of the desk at which he was seated. The thrum of whispered voices was a buzz in his ear, and more than enough to allow him to tune out the monotonous conversation at his table.
Malfoy was moodily rebuffing Pansy Parkinson’s frequently proffered questions of concern; Theodore Nott in turn was giving her repeated sidelong glances, whilst the presence of Crabbe and Goyle still confused Blaise, as he was quite certain he had never seen them in a library or indeed in such close a proximity to books before now.
But it was none of his fellow Slytherin sixth year classmates that caused him his current consternation. Indeed that role was presently occupied by one Hermione Granger, who at that point in time was elbow deep in ancient tomes and appeared to be thoroughly enjoying herself.
He watched, bemused, as she nodded to herself before turning back to her copious notes, a smile of victory plastered across her partially hidden features. Such enthusiasm over school work was unnatural.
‘What has you so interested, Zabini?’
Blaise turned his head to the owner of the intrusive voice, Malfoy of course, and quirked his brow in question.
‘The mudblood? I hadn’t realised your tastes leant so far towards the less… fortunate,’ Malfoy uttered, a malicious sneer marring his features.
‘She is a rather unfortunate creature isn’t she?’ Blaise responded with appropriate levels of disdain to cause Malfoy to lose interest and turn away, much to the relief of Pansy who had looked momentarily horrified at the prospect of Granger being the centre of attention over her.
Utterly bored with the proceedings, Blaise pushed back his chair and slowly unfolded his tall frame. He walked away from the open seating area and the bustle of students shuffling papers and unclogging their quills, toward the back of the library where the tall mahogany book shelves resided.
If one walked deep enough through this maze of tomes and anthologies they were likely to find themselves knee deep in dust, such was its lack of use – with exception of the prodigiously over-studious Granger.
And she was hardly normal.
Running a finger across one of the ledges, he grimaced at the thick ply of antiquity’s residue smeared upon his skin.
‘Oh!’ The softly muffled sound came from behind him, and he whipped around to see the culprit.
It was her.
Curls in all shades of brown framed her face, and he noted from this small distance that she had a smattering of freckles on her nose. If it weren’t so utterly pedestrian, he might have found it endearing.
‘Surfaced from your books, have you?’ He smirked at her surprised reaction.
‘Oh… so you can talk. Here I was thinking you were verbally challenged. It appears that it’s only your social skills which are lacking.’
And, haughtily raising her chin, she made to push passed him. As for Blaise, well he was mortified at his present inability to come up with a suitably pithy response. It vexed him indescribably to have her get the better of him. This strange, overbearing muggle born girl actually thought she was superior to him.
She genuinely believed it.
He was completely bewildered by the strength of her delusions. And who on earth was she to call him lacking in anything. In fact he’d have her know he was not lacking, not in any respect!
Slightly buoyed up by this reminder, he let out a derisive snort, the kind he knew irritated her beyond belief.
She turned, and in a remarkable resemblance to Madam Pince, glared at him with squinty eyes and a pinched expression.
‘Does it amuse you, is that why you do it?’ The words were uttered in a low and even voice, one which should have sent red flags waving, but did not.
He raised a brow.
‘You stare at me at me all the time, it’s unnaturally and creepy. Do I have something on my nose? Is that what it is, you think it’s funny following girls around the library because you have nothing better to do?’
‘If you had something on your nose, I’d hardly be the one to tell you. And for that matter I was in this aisle first – if I recall you crept up on me. Now who’s creepy?’ He almost grinned at his unquestionable logic.
She stared at him in exasperation.
‘You’re rather rude actually.’ He finished, looking, for all the world, the injured party.
Spluttering, Hermione interrupted. ‘I’m rude? With all due respect, Zabini, you have clearly been using me as your own private mocking toy for the last month. Did Malfoy put you up to this, is that it? There’s some little plan to irritate me? It’s pathetic!’
Blaise watched this eruption, curbing any visual signs of his amusement.
‘Lord, Granger you are amazingly self-involved.’
He glanced down at her, a grin threatening to creep upon his features once more as he took in the expression of self-righteousness upon her face, before turning and walking away.
She was fuming still. Some four hours after her encounter with the rudest, most repugnant individual she had ever come across. Bearing in mind she had had her fair share of run-ins with Draco Malfoy, this was saying something.
Hermione scrutinised her reflection in the dormitory mirror, smoothing her hands over invisible creases, before huffing out of the room in pent-up indignation. Descending the staircase from the sixth-year girls’ dormitory, she noticed Harry poring over something in one of the overstuffed chintz chairs by the hearth.
He glanced up distractedly.
‘Oh, Hermione,’ he paused to push the dark framed glasses further up his nose, ‘I was just looking at some potions’ notes.’ He waved around the parchment to emphasise the point and she narrowed her eyes in scrutiny.
‘You were looking through that book again, weren’t you?’
‘Oh, give it a rest, Hermione. It’s just a book.’ He sighed in exasperation.
After a pause, she asked in what she hoped was a dignified manner, ‘So, where is Ron?’
Her companion’s glance flickered over her left shoulder, and after an ill concealed shudder turned back to her.
‘Oh.’ He need not further elaborate. But little did he know, that a reminder of Ron cavorting with the singularly unintelligent Lavender Brown was the very last thing Hermione needed on this horrific afternoon.
‘Should I assume you won’t be coming to Professor Slughorn’s tea tonight?’ Ignoring the one major detraction from the potential enjoyment of the event, she continued, ‘they’re usually quite enjoyable actually.’
Harry looked up from the parchment once more. ‘Hermione. Seriously.’
‘Alright so he can be a bit over-indulgent, but some of his stories are interesting. Besides it wouldn’t do you any harm to go for once, to stop obsessing about bloody Malfoy and all this half-blood prince nonsense.’
He didn’t respond and she took that as her cue to leave. Try as she might she could not avoid the sight of Won Won and his paramour playing doctor in the corner of the common room. When Lavender raised her head to smirk in Hermione’s direction, she saw red and stormed out in high dudgeon.
A short time later she was seated in Slughorn’s office around a vast oblong table heaving under the weight of life’s excesses. Jugs of pumpkin juice, and platters of cheeses and fruits and small cakes covered almost every square inch of space, so that all the people seated there could not find room to place an elbow, let alone eat with any semblance of comfort.
Ordinarily this would have annoyed Hermione, but this evening she was in want of distraction. The sudden sensation of being watched prickled her skin, and she knew immediately who the culprit was. She refused, however, to acknowledge his absurdly rude, but unsurprising, behaviour and instead tuned back into the droning one-sided conversation of her seating companion.
Cormac McLaggen was presently recounting one of his many amazing Quidditch saves with extraordinary gusto. Although how she had managed to find herself in this conversation; she was quite uncertain. In fact she rather thought it had less to do with him perceiving her to be a Quidditch fan, and more to do with an inherent obliviousness to his own powers of monotony.
Nevertheless he appeared to be the only male in the whole grounds of Hogwarts that was not behaving out of character, and she found she ought to be grateful for small favours.
‘So… Hermione is it?’
Oh, he’d recalled her presence! Miracle of miracles.
‘Er – yes.’
‘Right well, you may as well come to the Slug’s Christmas Party with me. You don’t have a date do you?’ She couldn’t decide which annoyed her more: his presumption, the emphasis in his question which seemed to imply that anything other than a ‘No, of course not’ would have come as truly shocking; or the deep chuckle resounding from somewhere to her left which sounded uncomfortably familiar.
‘No, I don’t have a date but - ’
‘Well, that’s settled then! Be a doll and pass me the marmalade whilst I tell you about that time when I…’
A doll? She cringed outwardly, tuning him out as he regaled her with more enthused stories of his brilliance on and off the field. She chose that moment to chance a look at the usually collected Slytherin across the table. He was, in fact, rather uncollected at that moment, involved in the task of subtly inching his chair away from a fourth year Hufflepuff with an alarming propensity for spitting as he spoke.
The sight cheered her immensely.
Still eyeing him in amusement, she pondered the reasoning behind his bizarre behaviour. Not that she could call herself an expert on him, no indeed, but she knew for a fact that he could not have always been this strange – she was rather certain she’d have noticed.
Her eyes became unfocused with her musings, and it took her a moment to realise that he had extracted himself enough from the aforementioned Hufflepuff to stare intently back at her. She jumped slightly when her now focused gaze clashed with his.
He was actually very attractive, she thought, if one found the whole tall, dark and handsome cliché to be appealing. But then, she mused, she had been interested in a fair-skinned red-head and look where that had gotten her. Leaning in slightly, she studied the unusual shade of his eyes with the same level of attention she applied to an advanced arithmancy problem.
She was completely oblivious to his expression.
And just as she asked herself whether such a vivid shade of indigo was indeed even natural, she felt something scratching up her leg. Breaking from her trance, she glanced down to see a curled up piece of parchment climbing over her school sock.
In utter bewilderment she snatched at the paper, and unfolded it to read the following.
And you said I was creepy. Didn’t anybody tell you that staring is rude?
A dark flush crept upon her cheeks at the words, caused by equal amounts of humiliation at being caught staring so blatantly, and at the slightly leery expression on his face as she looked up.
Good grief! He had assumed she was perving on him. Blanching at the ridiculousness, she excused herself. Truly, his sex had no clue at all.
‘If you don’t mind, Professor, I had better get on. I have…prefect duties.’ And despite being flustered, she shot a final glare at Zabini and stalked out of the room as haughty as humanly possible.
Men, she decided, were the cause of all of life’s problems.