He was, without doubt, the most odious man she had ever personally encountered, but was it just her, or did his skin look especially soft in this light?
The dark crown of his head lowered so that shafts of light fell strategically upon the attractive angles of his face. Attractive? She didn't honestly think that, did she?
Apparently she did, underneath it all, because her breath was suddenly and embarrassingly hard to draw and she couldn't help but notice that his full lips were hovering in the vicinity of her own.
She had thought she was stronger than this. She had been so sure that she would never yield to that wretched little creature's will. And not with him of all people!
But then she looked into the depths of his eyes, saw their hungry light and decided that maybe he wasn't quite as bad as she'd always thought.
Surely, beneath the conceited and superior facade, he was a nice guy.
He was an arse.
An irreverent, obnoxious, mind-bogglingly repugnant individual that she wished she'd never have to see again.
Unfortunately given the very small size of the gilt framed elevator, and the fact that it held no one barring her and the aforementioned git, this seemed an unlikely blessing.
Hermione Granger chose instead to rise above the provocation and promptly turned her back on the tall, dark man behind her. She didn't fidget as the elevator moved slowly down one level after another. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction. And she controlled her knee-jerk reflex to run the moment the gates slid open to reveal the atrium. Instead, she walked with as dignified an air as possible away from Blaise Zabini, telling herself she deserved a cool glass of elf-made wine for her efforts.
It was only when she was safely ensconced at her seat on table three, according to her invitation, that she began to unwind and reflect upon the very salient fact that she could have been at home in front of the fire with a good book.
Hermione sighed irritably and glanced around the table at the motley crew before her. Witches and wizards in varying stages of merriment were seated around the large circular table. The table in question was sheathed in an inky hued material and was presently heaving under the weight of food, wine and decorations.
In fact, she rather thought they'd overdone it on the latter this year; they being the administration department of the Ministry of Magic, the event being the Annual Christmas Commemoration Dinner. She still found the whole evening to be rather ironic given that the subject of their commemoration was the close of the war some seven years prior, which she knew from first hand experience had actually been in May. Not December.
But then who was she to stand in the way of a celebration, however ill-timed it might be. The purpose of the event was to jointly ring in the festive season, whilst remembering all the many brave witches and wizards who had given their lives to the cause.
In actuality, the dinner was merely an excuse for people to dress up, drink too much and make utter fools of themselves. Or at the very least, to spend half the evening avoiding the wandering hands of a very intoxicated Willy Potswill from International Magical Co-operation.
Thank mercy no woman had co-operated with Willy thus far, and the world was spared the misfortune that would be a continuation of the Potswill line.
Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, Hermione scanned the room and noted more than one intrigued glance in her direction: gossip-mongers, no doubt. They could smell the newly single a mile away. It infuriated her to no end that she should be the subject of such reflections in spite of the success she had made of herself.
Hermione Granger was nothing if not self-sufficient and the knowledge that she could rise so successfully through the ranks in her chosen career path while leading a supremely full-filling life yet still be considered worthy of pity was utterly incomprehensible.
She had been working with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in the Ministry of Magic for several years now and she believed she had just as much right to show up that evening, with or without a date, as anyone. And more than most.
Certainly more than her personal tormentor, Blaise Zabini, who was presently mocking her from the other side of the room. She glared at him pointedly before turning away. At least she had just cause to be there, unlike him. She wasn't quite sure what Blaise Zabini did for a living, other than swan about at functions making ‘connections' and looking thoroughly bored with proceedings.
Perhaps if her mother were a wealthy black-widow spider like his, she would have the financial stability to lead an indulgent and worthless existence as well. As it were, she did not.
Instead she was leading an embarrassingly solitary life at home with her cat Crookshanks and no boyfriend given that she was presently in the off-phase of her perpetually on-again, off-again relationship with one Ron Weasley. This was the same Ron Weasley who, at the time, claimed to be on a highly important mission through his job as an Auror. Given that the magical world had lived in relative peace and harmony for the past seven years, she supposed his so called mission had led him somewhere tropical and exotic. No doubt in a bid to stop Jamaican banana farmers from over-throwing the Ministry or something equally fanciful.
She wasn't bitter, honest. In fact, she felt confident that upon his return, their sabbatical would end again and they would once more give it another shot. That was simply how things were.
In the meantime, however, she felt determined to limit herself to only one pet for fear that she was increasingly beginning to resemble Harry's elderly neighbour, Mrs Figg. Cats and all.
It was precisely this fear of becoming a spinster which had caused her to acquiesce to Ginny's badgering to come here tonight in the first place. Ordinarily she came to these sorts of events with Ron in tow. He rather liked this sort of thing, which was surprising given his unfortunate experiences at the Yule Ball in their youth. She supposed he came just to prove the fact that the ghastly lace trim of his robes that night really hadn't been a reflection of his personal taste.
Whatever the reasoning, he had adapted to coming out on nights like this quite well, and she had noticed on more than one occasion the way his chest would puff out and the adoption of a slight swagger in his walk.
It was something that always made her laugh because in actuality, she wasn't really a big fan of the evenings herself.
That said, it was quite another thing to come to one on her own and it was probably part of the reason why she had been so averse to attending tonight in the first place.
Hermione's attention was called as a voice talked at her from her left. Bugger it all, Willy Potswill had found her again.
Graciously she swept away from the once safe haven of her table and started to circulate amongst the swarm of people chatting in the very centre of the atrium. She had always liked the fact that they held their functions here, in the wide open space at the centre of the Ministry. It seemed somehow symbolic, and the beauty of the architecture could not be easily ignored.
She was just congratulating herself some two hours later at having passed the evening suitably well and was thinking that now was a perfectly acceptable departure time, when she quite literally bumped into Zabini.
If she hadn't known any better, she would have thought he planned their little encounters just to peeve her further. However, she was painfully aware that her distaste for him was reciprocated. He made it perfectly clear on every possible occasion.
Zabini was staring down at her with a mild look of peevishness upon his face, as though perturbed by the inconvenience that was Hermione's presence.
"Do you mind?" His tone was insulting, and it took all her self restraint not to smack him. She had a sneaking suspicion he'd take flight in the direction of a vanity mirror in such a case.
For someone as good-looking as he unarguably was, he had been grievously afflicted with the most blood-boiling personality she had ever personally encountered. And given her long standing relationship with Ron, Hermione considered herself to be quite tolerant of character flaws.
Weary fingers rose to pinch the bridge of her nose. She was honestly not equipped to deal with more of his unnecessary verbal abuse. Hermione recalled, with much indignation, the pointed and rude remarks she had endured in the elevator mere hours earlier. They were the usual snide comments one could expect from someone who had spent an unhealthy amount of time with Draco Malfoy as a child.
So, choosing to avoid yet another ugly encounter, she rose above the situation and mumbled an apology before walking passed the large and lively roadblock.
She was exceedingly frustrated with herself for feeling any level of upset or annoyance at his comments. But frankly, she was only human. The part of the whole situation that confounded her most was his tenacity. It really did seem as though he deliberately sought her out to vex her. Although why he would do that, she could not begin to imagine.
Blaise Zabini in school had been an entirely unknown quantity. Certainly his vanity did not appear to have changed, but aside from that and the intelligence of his mind, she had known very little else about him. And that was not something that had ever concerned her because, frankly, he had been of no consequence to her at that time.
He had been one among many faces in the corridors. Now he was not one she would easily forget. Why? Because he made it so.
He walked the halls of the Ministry, conversing with different cabinet members; he socialised at almost every function she was forced to attend. No matter what she did or where she was, there he was too. And worst of all, he seemed so much more comfortable and so much more adapted than her despite the fact that she knew her presence was more justified.
She wasn't sure when it was that she had started to notice him around, or when he had started to feel comfortable enough to insult her at every opportunity; most of the time she was more than able for him, and responded with biting comments of her own.
But then there were times when she was so exhausted by the constant battle of wills that she honestly felt like hiding behind her desk for fear that she'd stumble upon him once more.
More frustrating than anything was the fact that her friends' shared distaste for former Slytherins did not appear to extend to him. It wasn't that they were friends by any measure, but they seemed to think that his lack of participation in the war signified that surely he must be a decent enough fellow. Hermione found it utterly unforgivable that on the one occasion that Harry and Ron chose to be anything other than narrowed minded themselves, it was in the case of Blaise Zabini.
The sad truth was, though, that most people seemed to think that way about him. Almost everyone seemed to make allowances for his arrogance, as though he had many other redeeming qualities to make up for it. But he didn't. And it appeared that only she knew what a truly reprehensible sort of a person he was.
She'd stopped going on about it a while back when she realised that the slight murmur of his name would cause a glazed expression to appear in the eyes of her friends.
Her thoughts on the matter had caused her to stew even more than usual on the topic as she marched away from the central area of the room. So extreme was her agitation that the warm weight of a hand on her shoulder caused her to whip her head around rather more aggressively than she normally would have.
The elderly wizard who greeted her furious look seemed quite affronted at her expression, and lifted her very small purse before her as though to ward off any potential act of violence on her part. She felt immediately awful and thanked the kind man before taking the bag.
She was just tucking it under the crook of her bare arm when she heard it, the sound that had been slowly driving her mad for the past three years. His laugh. It was low and gravelly and so at odds with the smooth, rich timbre of his voice.
Zabini was standing a metre or so away from her, leaning against one of the high columns she had admired earlier that evening. She curbed the urge to reprimand him for treating it so carelessly.
Instead she tossed her head slightly and made to depart without so much as an acknowledgement of his presence. Perhaps that was the only way to deal with people like him. Ignore them. She might have tried that before, except her ability to not rise to a debate was not great. She just always had to have the last word, didn't she?
In any case, Zabini seemed uninclined to let her flitter off into the sunset this evening because he interrupted her hasty departure.
"Granger... did nobody ever tell you it's rude to ignore people more important than you." It had the exact effect he'd hoped for. Bastard. She whirled around to glare at him.
"They certainly did, but as you most assuredly do not come under that description, I see no reason to be polite. You're clearly incapable of it..."
His eyes narrowed back at her. Well honestly, she thought, what exactly had he expected in response, a meek apology and an offer to lick his boots? Surely not.
She stalked closer, so much so that when she reached him she poked a pointed finger into his chest and enjoyed the slightly affronted expression on his face.
"You are the most abominable, waste of a person I have ever encountered. I have no idea why you feel the need to bait me the way you do but I can assure you that I don't care what you think of me. Just leave me alone!" She could hear the edge of hysteria creep into her voice toward the end and she knew he'd heard it too.
"You-" But whatever it was about her that he was preparing to rudely point out was cut off at the sound of a borderline maniacal cackle which erupted from somewhere above them.
The strange tingling sensation in her scalp that succeeded the noise caused her heart to stop in horror. A quick glance at Zabini told her all she needed to know, and in slow motion it seemed, they both lifted their eyes to behold their joint tormentor.
The small and pointed face that peeked out at them from behind the wreath of mistletoe held an expression of mischievous delight. Hermione watched the little monster with a level of venom she would not normally direct at non-human creatures.
Once upon a time she had found them fascinating, but not tonight. For as far as she was concerned, she had just fallen prey to what she now believed to be the greatest evil of all: the mistlemite. They were an obnoxious relative of the common garden pixie, which nestled in wreathes of mistletoe. The creatures lay dormant through the warmer summer months and come the chilling yuletide season would gather their shrouds of mistletoes and nest in corners and over the eaves in doorways of surrounding buildings.
Ordinarily, Hermione rather enjoyed their mythology and the way mistletoe had come to be a symbol of Christmas, even in the muggle world. To this day, the tradition of kissing beneath the mistletoe existed. In the wizarding world, however, witches and wizards all over had fallen victim to the wily ways of these creatures, for they were a mischievous bunch.
Like many creatures of near human intelligence in the magical realm, mistlemites had their own brand of magic, their own mystical ways. Whilst Hermione was by no means an expert, she had done some light reading on the matter in her sixth year.
The premise was that when two people came to stand beneath the garlands of the mistletoe, a mistlemite has been known to sprinkle their fine powder upon the heads of those beneath them: the effect being to cause an almost overpowering skin irritation, but one that hasn't been described throughout history as wholly unpleasant.
The victims would be gradually overcome with a desire for physical contact with the other, in much the same way as a strong dose of Amortentia. The difference between the two was that those who fell prey to the magic of the mistlemite were not overcome with a mind-clouding infatuation, or the illusion of love that came with the physical craving. Thus no matter what ensued with their comrade, they would be fully aware and no change to personal feelings would occur.
Ultimately what this meant was that for those very many people who would have liked to have used the excuse of being ‘out of their minds with lust' during an ensuing altercation with the other, could not quite use such an excuse.
It was, Hermione now reflected, quite unfair.
A muttered oath called her attention back to her present predicament and it was enough to remind her of the likely outcome of this evening, something which she could not under any circumstances allow. And with that she spared a last glance at the dumbstruck expression upon Zabini's face before backing away slowly.
"No," she said in whispered dismay, "No. No. No. No. No." She was now a good ten metres away and he was still staring at her, the look of horror on his face quite unflattering. There was nothing for it, she thought. And so she hiked the hem of her robes slightly so as to prevent tripping over, and ran as fast as her heel clad feet could take her.
She stopped for nothing until she reached the witches' restrooms on the same floor and gazed at her reflection in the vanity mirror. Hermione managed to calm her breathing and splash some cool water over her flushed cheeks.
She didn't feel any different, not really. All that was thrumming in her veins right now was the adrenaline caused by distaste at the prospect of any sort of encounter with Zabini. She certainly didn't feel any physical differences.
She bit down on her lip slightly as she watched her unmoving reflection. Surely, she thought, there must be some kind of solution. Surely it could be fixed.
She glanced down at her hands, which had been fidgeting of their own accord with restless abandon the whole time. She knew the whole situation sounded somewhat melodramatic, or at least that her reaction did. But she truly did not believe that anyone understood quite how much the man irked her. That it had to be him of all people, of every single person in that room, was most unfortunate.
Her eyes narrowed in thought as she wondered whether anyone had ever bothered to research why mistlemites chose to target certain people. Perhaps they had a level of sensitivity to human relationships. It would explain their knack for preying on those whose relationships were most at odds, and certainly how they managed to cause quite so much chaos.
It was certainly something she'd look into when she got out of this infernal mess. As it was, she knew something had to be done. She could not bear to sit and hide in a bathroom awaiting her fate.
And so it was that Hermione Granger fled the relative safety of the restroom and, with as much stealth as she was able to apply, crept in the direction of the Ministry's Great Library. It was an extensive archive of materials pertinent to all areas of magic and of particular use to Ministry officials and their research staff.
It would be closed at this time, she knew, because everyone was presently celebrating. It was therefore the perfect time to sneak in and do some research of her own.
A mere five minutes later she was standing before the large mahogany double-doors which led to Hermione's favourite place in the entire Ministry. The library. With gentle but firm fingers, she twisted the brass door handle and kept her eyes firmly closed as she prayed to some higher being that it would be unlocked.
It was. Miraculously. Strangely, even. But she didn't think too much about that. It was only as she was passing through the doorway that she felt the subtle tingling in her finger tips. She knew what it was but ignored it.
This was a time that called for optimism. She schooled her features, calmed her breath and marched right on in with wand lit and held aloft. By the time she reached the annals at the back of the first floor section of the library, the tingling sensation had spread and strengthened. Not enough to overcome her by any means, but it was now becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
Hermione rather thought she showed tremendous strength of character as she tightly gripped the brass railing that lined the circular staircase which led to the second floor landing. The tingling sensation which had migrated throughout much of her body and seemed to sing in her veins was not something she would describe as wholly unpleasant.
She didn't want to feel it though, that itchy and warming rush, because she was painfully aware of what it meant. And that was that time was running out.
It spurred her on. Agitated fingers drummed over the forward facing cases of each towering unit of shelves. She was close.
With a sigh of relief and a palm pressed to her chest, she turned into the relevant aisle. It took only a minute longer for her to locate a few books which might be of assistance.
But by this stage, she knew at least half an hour had gone and the stirring in her body was growing more intense. It made her want to crawl out of her skin and seek refuge somewhere, anywhere but here. With a deep breath she pulled the first title, one that related only to the mysterious creatures and none others. This would be the most specific, she was sure.
Her eyes, wild with impatience, skimmed across line after line, page after page. But she didn't care about their hibernation patterns or their eating habits. All she wanted to know about were case studies, incidents that didn't end with an entanglement with persons unwanted.
She blew her hair out of her face. The curling mass had begun to slip from it's swept up style of earlier in the evening, and many of the boundless and exuberant tresses fell, without her volition, across her lash line.
It was with a slight groan and a few thuds of her forehead against the worn parchment that she paused in her harried exploration to consider the possible consequences.
Oh, it wasn't that the situation would matter to anyone else. Gone were times when an altercation with a pureblood of questionable moral value would do her any harm. Nor was it an issue of betrayal of her partner, because she was single.
It was the fact that no matter what way she looked at it, somehow Blaise Zabini would use this against her. She knew it with every fibre of her being, even as she knew he would have absolutely no right given that his circumstances were identical to hers. But he'd find a way. He always did.
And, truly, she did detest him. And that was what it came down to really. She couldn't bear the thought that she had to subject herself to anything remotely intimate with this man and more so at the whim of a deranged pixie!
Hermione was made of strong stuff though, and she told herself resolutely that she would find a way around it. She wouldn't give him anything to hold against her; even as she thought this, she could feel the restless tapping of her feet on the floor. The burning sensation in her tummy was almost impossible to ignore.
She closed her eyes and allowed her body to sink slowly to the hardwood floor, letting her back rest against the precious books on the shelf. Now was not a time to worry about things like that.
She focused on her breathing and was almost completely zoned out that she didn't hear a slight clanging noise echo in the still air.
Then she heard it, the unmistakable sound of stairs creaking. She knew without a shadow of a doubt who it was because her pulse accelerated ten fold.
What was he doing here? She would have bet any amount of money that he would have fled the building, anything to escape from the prospect of sharing space with her.
In the dark and cold air the moment was chilling, though it shouldn't have been.
Biting her lip, she decided to move. If he had given in, she would make certain she didn't - even if that meant stunning him at the opportune moment: something to which she was certainly not above resorting.
Maintaining her position on the floor, Hermione gathered the pool of fabric around her and tucked it under one arm. And then she crawled, with as much dignity as she could muster, away from him. The jerk would just have to deal with the agony, she thought. No doubt it was worse for him anyway, she'd endured the Cruciatus Curse, for goodness sake, and survived to tell the tale.
Another scuffing sound told her he was close and she peeked around the end of one bookcase and saw a faint pool of light spilling at its other end.
She was screwed, and how on earth would she explain the fact that she was crawling on the floor? She certainly wouldn't admit that she was remotely affected by him, even when he'd naturally know she was.
Her heart stopped as a voice carried softly in the air. "I'm going to find you, Granger. You're making this far worse than it needs to be."
Easy for him to say.
She inched further and further away, feeling a sudden burst of confidence that she could evade him, as long as she tracked that shaft of light. Hermione was just congratulating herself on her excellent subterfuge when her elbow collided with a book that had been half pulled from its place on the shelf.
It fell with a resounding thud. The sound was matched only by the deafening pounding of her heart. A soft laugh echoed eerily and she almost felt sure in that moment that it was a technique well rehearsed in the Slytherin Commonroom, because it was perfectly cultivated to scare her half to death.
The light went out. Oh, boy.
She didn't dare move a muscle, take a breath, or make a sound. And apparently nor did he because she could have heard a pin dropping in the silence.
She was therefore scared completely out of her wits when a burst of light erupted from above and she looked up into the smug expression of her tormentor. Her hand grasped at her neck and she jumped almost three feet in the air from fright.
"Oh! You scared me half to death." He merely cocked a brow and it infuriated her that he had such a satisfied expression on his face. Perhaps he wasn't much affected by the mistlemite's magic after all; he certainly didn't look it in that moment.
She felt a fleeting resentment to realise he had probably planned the whole scare tactic just for his own amusement. He really was obnoxious enough for it.
As she gazed up at his amused, but unperturbed expression, the resentment increased because she was positively squirming in that moment.
And it certainly wasn't from fear. Oh, she hated him.
"Granger, pray tell what are you doing on the floor? Not that I'm suggesting you don't belong th- argh!" And with a satisfying thud, he joined her courtesy of a well placed foot.
He wasn't quite so intimidating when on the ground clutching at his knee, and he certainly wouldn't be once he realised he was covered in dust.
In fact, it was a rather soothing sight to behold.
Clearly he didn't feel the need to continue his sentence because he lapsed into silence, content to glare across at her.
The quiet was heavy, coating her with its weight until the only thing she could focus on was the sound of their joint breathing and the sharp angles of his face lit up by the wand which lay on the floor between them.
She closed her eyes tightly and focused on keeping her twitchy fingers still, her face composed. It wasn't any easier behind closed eyes, because etched on the back of her lids were images of him. Images she hated, but thrived on in that moment.
She thought about his intense dark eyes and high cheekbones. She thought about his hands, which she was certain must be soft. He certainly hadn't done a day of hard labour in his life to warrant anything else.
Her breathing was ragged again. She cracked her eyes open to take a peek at him and felt her heart splutter at the sight. He was staring right at her, unblinking and intense. Scary intense. His jaw was clenched and she could have sworn he wasn't breathing.
Then she realised she wasn't either and when she drew breath again it was a heady experience.
She hated magical creatures, she decided. No more S.P.E.W and the rest of it, they didn't deserve her sympathy. Clearly.
"I hate you," she croaked at him. He nodded. She saw indecision written across his ordinarily composed expression. Oh, dear.
She was struggling though. With every second that ticked by, she itched to reach out and touch his skin. Just once, she told herself. Just once to stop the itching.
She didn't have to think about it anymore because apparently Zabini had made up his mind and with a determined sort of expression pressed his never-touched-a-speck-of-dirt hands onto the floor and prowled towards her.
Hermione was quite certain that in all her life she would never forget the image of Blaise Zabini crawling like a predator towards her. Despite her previous urge to grab him, she shrank further into the bookcase.
It would be easier to give in, she knew, if he wasn't such a horrible person. If he had one - just one - redeeming feature she might have been able to succumb in clear conscience.
Unfortunately time was running out and she was drawing a blank. With the exception of his high attractiveness quotient, which had never been an especially important thing to her before, she couldn't find a thing. She decided then and there, as he leaned over her with arms braced on either side of her, that she wasn't going to try and justify anything. It was all beyond her control anyway, wasn't it?
Yes, it was. Of course it was.
She glanced up at him, scarcely an inch from her, and sent a silent prayer to any and all deities that she wouldn't get stung in the arse for what was about to happen.
His strong nose brushed against the tip of hers and her skin popped with the tingling sensation again. His thick lashes lowered and rested against hollowed cheekbones and she felt a momentary spark of envy that they weren't her own.
And then she didn't think of anything.
It happened quickly. His hand was in her hair and hers in his. His mouth was warm and firm and captivating. Adrenaline hummed in her veins and tingled all the way to her fingertips and she wondered how on earth she could have contemplated not giving in.
His tongue touched her own and she felt giddiness pooling in her stomach. She pulled him closer, hands moving and touching wherever, whatever, they could reach. And his were doing the same.
They were warm, soft as she'd known they would be, and they brushed a trail along her skin, raising fine hairs in their path.
A roaring sounded in her ears, as he lowered his body to press it snug against her own. She heard a voice muttering inanely as his clever mouth moved along her jaw, leaving kisses as it went. Warm breath tickled behind her ear, and then his tongue touched her pulse point and she heard the voice again. Only this time she realised it was her own.
She was going to hell, or wherever it was that sinners and sex addicts went when they died. Crookshanks would miss her terribly.
She realised she had been floating somewhere above reality because she heard him laugh softly and mutter, "I don't give a fuck about your cat," before turning her face to his again. If she weren't so completely absorbed by him in that moment she would have been horrified that she'd said her cat's name out loud while he kissed her.
The fact that he was still kissing her after that was all the more astounding.
He tasted good, she thought. His mouth was expensive; it tasted of elf-made wine and something sweeter. She wanted to drown in it.
His hand moved beneath the satiny fabric of her dress robes to brush across her knee. She knew she had to give him bonus points - she didn't even know when he'd slipped it under there.
But his hands were warm and soft and highly distracting. So distracting that it took her longer than it should have to realise what was wrong with the picture.
When she opened her eyes, however, it was immediately obvious.
A slightly unkempt looking man in serious need of a shave was grinning down at them with a look that combined mostly amusement with a touch of lecherousness. Given the situation, she rather thought it showed incredible restraint on the watch wizard's part to have shown so little of the latter.
She was staring at him at him in shock, not simply because of his unexpected presence but because the jolt back to reality made her uncomfortably aware of the fact that the man she hated above all others presently had his face pressed into her neck whilst his hand was deftly stroking her thigh.
Eric Munch, watch wizard extraordinaire, coughed. The sound was heavy with amusement.
The hand paused in its ministrations and Hermione swallowed uncomfortably as the dark head lifted to catch sight of their companion.
She expected him to jump away in fright and protest temporary insanity at what had happened. Instead - with his hand still firm on her leg - he raised a brow at Eric and asked quite politely, though with a gravelly undertone that was painfully reflective of how he'd spent the last few minutes, "Can I help you with something?"
Hermione rather thought he could have been offering the man a cup of tea such was the unconcerned timbre of his voice.
It was, however, enough to shake her from her stunned and immobile silence to push him away from her and jump to an action-ready standing position. She tried to ignore the tell-tale wrinkles in the skirt of her robe.
"Mistlemite!" She squeaked rather inanely by way of explanation. "There was a mistlemite, and we... and it... we..." She gestured quite helplessly and was peeved at the fact that neither man felt it their job to help lessen the extraordinary awkwardness of the moment.
She glanced to her right to see Zabini unfolding his frame quite lazily before leaning against the bookcase, head tilted as he watched her.
She wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. His calmness despite their present predicament was thoroughly disturbing.
She looked back at the guard who was rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. An expression of amused scepticism lit his, she now observed, clearly unintelligent features.
"Gotta say, never been that lucky m'self. One time it happened to me all I got was a peck on the cheek - never seen that happen before." He gestured at the two of them, grinning once more. The implication of his words was not lost on Hermione, nor would it seem, Zabini, whose mouth was curving into a slow and smug sort of a grin.
It would seem that despite their history of bickering and their mutually antagonistic relationship, he still managed to get side-tracked by the possibility that she found him irresistible.
Such was the complexity of the male mind, apparently.
"Look, I'd... uh... love to leave you both to it but..." Eric let his sentence hang, the meaning clear.
Hermione, frazzled though she was, had no intention of spending another minute in that section of the library and so with a determined shake of her head informed him that he needn't worry. They were just leaving.
She rushed forward, wand lit to guide her through the many annals that lined her path toward the stairs and then the exit. Though he made no move to stop her or talk to her, she felt Blaise Zabini's presence right behind her the whole way.
It confused her tangled thoughts all the more.
It wasn't until they had left the library itself and trekked along the corridor that led to it, that she felt his firm grip wrap around her upper arm and haul her to the side.
"Oh, no! Don't even think-" She was cut off, however, as he dragged her down a separate, and considerably narrower corridor, and spoke over her.
"Scared I'll lose my head and pounce on you, Granger?" There was a hint of suggestion mingled in with the sarcasm and it gave her pause. He laughed and stepped back to look down at her with scrutiny.
She pushed her shoulders back and tilted her head defiantly. He'd make no fool of her.
"I won't pretend to know your motivations, but I don't see the point in discussing it. We both know we weren't the cause of... of that..."
He shook his head in disbelief and she knew quite well that she was not going to like the outcome of this conversation.
"You don't seriously think that all of that was a result of some bloody magic dust, do you?!" His tone was incredulous. She resented the fact that he was talking to her as though she were a two year old, as though she didn't know enough about magic.
"Of course it was! I'm sorry but I never would have kissed you otherwise, and vice versa - you know that. Why are trying to suggest something else?" He was crazy as well as conceited. He had to be.
He was looking at her as though she was the delusional one, but she refused to acknowledge any truth in his words. It just couldn't be.
"Then explain for me how it is that you managed to stop when you realised the security guy was there? If you were still under the influence of magic you couldn't have."
"Self restraint." She cursed herself inwardly because when she voiced it she had intended to sound strong and unaffected, but the inflection at the end really had ruined the whole effect. He probably didn't notice, she thought.
He noticed. Of course he did.
He moved closer to fill the gap he had so generously left her with mere moments earlier. A large, warm hand pressed against the stone behind her and he leaned down so that she could more clearly see his face. She hated that he seemed to have taken her previous statement as a challenge.
If she'd been in her normally sharp-witted state she might have foreseen that. As it was, Blaise Zabini seemed to be causing her mind more chaos than he was usually credited with this evening. She lowered her gaze from his and tried not to think about him and how the warmth radiated right off him despite the winter chill that had crept into the corridor. His lips brushed like air against her ear so that she wasn't sure she'd even felt them.
But then she felt a finger brushing so gently across her hairline, a feather light caress at her temple. This didn't seem like him, like the aggressive man she was used to.
It disconcerted her all the more. Was this the Blaise Zabini that others had faith existed, or was this a game once more? It had to be the latter. Someone of his breeding would always consider it beneath himself to consort with someone like her.
Her eyes were watching him closely as he brushed that very same finger across the line of her mouth, tracing the puffy skin almost reverently. He seemed to take in her curious expression and whatever his thoughts were about it, she couldn't possibly know. He smiled a wry sort of smile and stepped back. That he was experiencing some kind of internal debate was clear - she knew the signs too well.
He stood back and ran restless fingers through his hair. "This," he said softly, "is a pointless conversation. You'll choose to believe what suits you. You always do."
She was going to have to hit him.
"Don't talk to me as though I'm the one behaving strangely here! You have never, ever, said a civil word to me in all the time I've known you. You've never given me any reason to believe the nonsense coming out of your mouth right now."
He looked at her for a long moment, nodding his head. That wry little smile tugged at his mouth again. "You're right." He watched her nonplussed expression with raised eyebrows before turning away and walking down the corridor and back to the main room.
She stood in shock for a full minute, her mind in total uproar and confusion about her entire evening. One thing was certain, Blaise Zabini, whatever the reasons for his supremely strange behaviour, had a lot of explaining to do.
She only hoped she'd have the chance to hear it, for if he did revert back to his normal self by tomorrow she'd never hear the end of it.