Chapter 1 : Rendezvous
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"Granger. Must I repeat your name a thousand times?"
"Oh, what now Zabini?"
"You know, there’s really no need for such testiness. I was merely trying to get your attention."
"Consider yourself excused."
"Ah. So we’re back to being temperamental again? I had rather missed that tone - such old friends we are!"
He was grinning. Arsehole, she thought. Hermione attempted to control her knee-jerk reflex to kick him under the table. He looked so smug. And with no cause to be! Merlin, he infuriated her.
Zabini, still looking ever the smarmy one, chuckled in ill-concealed triumph and so she decided to screw office decorum and kicked him anyway.
“What the ...?! Why is it that whenever I’m around you I end up getting bruised?"
"Ah, if only I could have that effect on your ego."
"You know, for such a clever witch, you have incredibly underdeveloped social skills. You might want to see someone about that."
"You’re mocking me."
The look she had given him was scathing at best, but underneath it, he felt sure she enjoyed their little tête-à-têtes. When one was dating a person of Weasley’s… calibre, a little intelligent conversation would be needed from time to time.
Blaise did not defer to her intellect the way others did. He challenged her and the fact that it both irked and thrilled her was patently clear to him, no matter that she would not admit it.
It was nearly 9 o’clock at night and they were still nowhere near leaving the office. What he needed more than anything was a stiff drink. Working in such close a proximity to Granger was taking its toll on his sleep. Though he rather thought it did not show. He had retained his skin’s natural vibrancy, he thought to himself rather smugly.
"Zabini, you’re staring at reflective surfaces again. How, exactly, is that conducive to productivity?"
"If you tried looking in a mirror once in a while you might be surprised."
"Wh-what?! You’re so rude! What does my appearance have to do with my work?"
"Lord, you’re highly-strung. I didn’t mean it that way. I think we both know I haven’t any complaints about your appearance."
"That’s all you can say?"
"That said you hair is rather…"
"Is what, Zabini?"
"A distraction. Now get back to work."
He smiled smugly but quickly dropped the smirk when he saw her eyeing a bronzed and extremely heavy looking paperweight. He knew from experience her propensity for throwing things at innocent bystanders.
"Satisfy my curiosity."
"You heard me."
"Of course I heard you, but I’m not bloody inspired! Care to elucidate?"
"You’re doing it again, by the way."
"Feigning eloquence to hide your discomfort."
"Well, couldn’t you have simply said explain instead of elucidate. I mean for goodness sake, who speaks that way?"
"Oh, I’m sorry. Let my try again so that the monkey in the room can understand. Care to elu-ci-date?"
She knew she had something resembling a smirk curving her lips, but she simply could not help it. He was pompous and pretentious and many things more. Hermione mentally ran through a long list of obscenities, dismayed to find that none of them seemed to match Zabini’s particular brand of irritating scumbag.
He was looking mutinous, but still had not bothered to elaborate.
"Weasley’s been coming by rather frequently."
"Is that a statement or a question?"
"Note my lack of inflection. I was merely curious as to why he keeps making his presence known. I’m running out of potpourri for the office..."
"You realise that’s not something you should really say in front of a woman. It does sound rather… effeminate."
She let the words hang. She had been joking of course. Hermione knew very well there was nothing in the least bit effeminate about one Blaise Zabini. She would not tell him that though.
His eyes darkened and his voice was honey-smooth and dangerous. She knew that tone, and recognised that she had waved a red flag before the proverbial bull.
"Effeminate? That sounds like a challenge to my masculinity. Did it deliberately, didn’t you? I recognise someone screaming for a demonstration when I see one."
He grinned cockily and her fingers twitched in the direction of the paperweight.
"Shut up, and pass me that batch to your left. Some of us actually want to go home this evening."
"You know, you never did answer my question about Weaslebee."
"I thought we clarified that it hadn’t been a question at all. And don’t call him that."
"You’re being deliberately evasive."
"Urgh! What’s it to you anyway? Why are you so bloody curious all of a sudden?"
"If you have designs on him, I can tell you now, you haven’t the slightest chance!"
"I confess red hair, not to mention blotchy red features, and a vocabulary that doesn’t extend far from grunts and wheezing noises doesn’t really get my bloody boiling. Surprising as that may seem."
"Then what does? And by the way the only reason his face gets blotchy is because you are forever baiting him!"
"You really want to know?"
He leaned closer over the desk, near enough to count the faint freckles on her nose, and definitely near enough to realise she was holding her breath. Hah! She had a look of nervous anticipation in her eyes and her posture was suddenly defensive. The fact that she was patently expecting to defend herself from his apparently unwanted advances irked him no end.
He moved closer still so that there was only a few inches between them. His breath puffed out across her skin and she bit her lip looking ever the vestal virgin, which he knew categorically she was not.
"Blonde hair, long legs and an adoring, docile nature. They’re by far the easiest to bend to my unscrupulous will."
He grinned lewdly, thoroughly enjoying the look of utter loathing she sent him. He knew exactly what she wanted to hear him say; just as well as he knew she would have smacked him if he had said it.
Women had always been the most ludicrous of creatures.
Mercifully, the only sound to be heard in the last half-hour was the rhythmic scratching of two quills on parchment. It was a sound that had always soothed her, for it was a sound that signified that work was being done.
Only she was not feeling very productive at that moment. She had spent the last while rewriting sentences; such was her present lack of concentration.
And it was, typically, his fault. Only this time it was because of his silence. She did not like to let him know she enjoyed their banter, she rather thought she would be forfeiting some of her power to him if she did.
But truth be told, she did like talking to him. Entirely too much.
"Granger, if there is something you want to say, spit it out. You’re burning holes into my head with that incessant staring."
"Oh! I -"
"But if you’re simply enjoying the view - by all means continue."
"You never stop do you?"
"The baiting. The teasing! Are you even capable of normal conversation, or does everything have to be a verbal spar?"
"Heavens, I didn’t realise I’d offended your Victorian sensibilities. Shall I just fetch you some tea and scones, m’dear, and we can discuss your day in gory detail if you like?"
"See! That’s exactly what I mean. You turn everything into a punch line. Why?"
"Why not, Granger? Is it so terrible to not take everything seriously?"
"Don’t kid. You take everything seriously, you just feign otherwise. You seem to have forgotten how well I know you."
"I assure you; I have not."
He said the words with an intensity that seemed to speak of a completely different meaning. He had raised his chin and shuttered his expression so that she could not read him at all. And that was difficult enough at the best of times.
It was a skill she had only partially mastered in all the time she had known him. It had not always been like this between them, a war of words that each somehow had to win.
And though she secretly wished things could be as they were, she knew it was not possible. History had created a cavern between them that could not be sewn back together. It was made all the worse by Ron who had acted as the poison to keep their wounds fresh.
She would have liked to tell the man before her how much she did regret. But it would not help them if she did. It would not help her.
"You blame me still?"
"Please. You know what I’m talking about, don’t ask me to spell it out."
"Granger… I’m not so immature that I don’t understand your reasons. Self-preservation is a tempting thing; I can hardly hold that against you."
"And yet it sounds as though you do…"
"Why are we doing this?! What is the point in rehashing a history that is now so irrelevant?"
Her head snapped back as though he had slapped her; the look of poorly disguised hurt reflected in her eyes. He could not fathom how they had come to be in this conversation, this dreaded and uncomfortable conversation.
And he meant what he said. She was planning a future with someone he hated, and yet she was talking to him about their past. A past, which ought to remain safely ensconced in the memory of six years prior.
She had made a decision then to fall in line with expectation, and Blaise had not been a part of that plan. This is how she came to be engaged to Weasley and not himself. He refused to show resentment about it, but it was difficult to pick apart everything that had happened and remain stoic. And frankly, he thought it bloody insensitive of her to expect it.
Though perhaps that was more his fault than hers. Perhaps his mask of indifference was far more convincing than he had previously thought.
"Look, I’m sorry. That was uncalled for."
"It’s fine. I shouldn’t bore you with the irrelevant anymore. We’re pretty much done here anyway."
"Just sit back down!"
"Don’t shout at me, and don’t tell me what to do!"
"Merlin, I’m just trying to apologise for being an arse and you’re making it bloody difficult."
"Heaven forbid I do anything to suspend the easy life you’ve had, Blaise. It was ever so inconvenient of me."
"And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that you were an idiot then and you’re just as much of one now! It means that you’re an ignorant, blind fool! That’s what it means."
They were both upright, leaning over the desk towards one another. She was clearly furious, whilst Blaise was at a complete loss as to why she was acting for all the world the wronged party.
"This whole attitude right here, this is why I made the decision I did! And you never once proved me wrong!"
"What. Are. You. Taking. About?"
"I’m talking about the fact that you give in so easily. You accepted my choice to break up with you, without even trying to convince me otherwise!"
"Women! I was hardly going to strap you to a goddamn chair and stop you from leaving!"
"Maybe you should have. Maybe I would have stayed."
The breath rushed from his lungs, and he lost the urge to shout more. He was bone-weary and unsettled by the turn in their conversation. Yet he listened very closely for her to continue.
"Us being together would have been hard. We both knew that. I needed for you to be certain before we - before anything serious happened. I needed to know you would stick it out. I didn’t think you would. And I was right; at the first opportunity you accepted defeat."
"I accepted -? I cannot believe I’m hearing this! So you just assumed I’d screw up somewhere along the way and didn’t even give me a chance! Instead you thought Weasley was a mindless enough chump and you jumped in bed with him!"
"No, I -"
"No. Just stop it, Hermione. I’m not doing this again. I honestly cannot hear anymore of this."
He ran a hand through his tousled hair, his world still spinning. Blaise looked at her and shook his head again, but clarity would not come. One thing he was certain of was that he needed to get away from this room and the mind-boggling woman in it.
"Blaise, you can’t just walk away from this conversation! We have to work together…"
He stared at her again; amazed that she was able to worry about work amidst everything that had been said. He laughed bitterly in response.
"Don’t worry about me messing up your working life too; I’m officially removing myself from the mess this time ‘round. Enjoy flying solo, it’s what you’ve wanted all this time."
And he left without another word, thinking all he wanted was some mind-numbing distraction and a lot of distance.
If only he could get it.
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