Beneath the Surface - Part 4

A New Normal

Hermione couldn’t think straight. The rest of her walk to class was a blur, and though she was sure she had taken copious notes in Arithmancy, she wouldn’t have been able to say what she had learned. All she could think about was the brief moment where Blaise’s lips had touched hers. It played on a loop in her mind, even when she was changing out of her school robes before dinner and feeding Crookshanks.

At dinner, she deliberately sat with her back to the Slytherin table, trying to occupy her thoughts with her research. Finding the key to defeating Voldemort was far more important than boys at this stage, but it didn’t help that she couldn’t find anything remotely useful to adequately distract herself. Instead, she was reduced to reading about terrifying potions and curses that she had no doubt should be counted among the Unforgivable.

She hurried over to Harry after eating, who she found walking up to the Gryffindor common room on his own, Ron and Lavender nowhere in sight.

“I haven’t found one single explanation of what Horcruxes do!” she told him before he could even greet her, “Not a single one!”

Harry seemed disappointed, and she could tell he had placed a lot of hope on her finding something that would help to persuade Slughorn. Despite her previous anger, Hermione felt a surge of sympathy.

“There’s nothing else to do but to get that memory, Harry,” she told him as they approached an obstinate Fat Lady, where Neville Longbottom stood, the panic on his face melting into relief at the sight of them. “If Dumbledore didn’t tell you outright, he must want that memory before you get any further context.”

Harry grunted unhappily as Hermione recited the password, Neville shooting her a grateful look before hurrying inside ahead of them.

Hermione didn’t get a chance to speak to Blaise at all the next day, and it wasn’t because she was avoiding him. After having slept on it she decided that the kiss, and his immediate departure from the hidden corridor, was rather rude. He hadn’t given her any notice, and it seemed to her that she was at least owed that given their friendly relationship. She spent the day of classes sticking close to Harry whenever Ron was otherwise occupied by Lavender.

That Saturday morning brought the first Apparition lesson. Hermione walked down to the Great Hall with Harry to find the usual House tables gone to allow space for the sixth years. The ceiling was a dull gray, cold rain pounding down on the windows outside. The Heads of House and a small wizard Hermione assumed was the Apparition instructor ushered them all inside.

Once everyone had settled down, the instructor introduced himself.

“Good morning,” he said, “My name is Wilkie Twycross and I shall be your Ministry Apparition instructor for the next twelve weeks. I hope to be able to prepare you for your Apparition Tests in this time—”

“Malfoy, be quiet and pay attention!” Professor McGonagall snapped across the room.

Hermione — along with the rest of the Hall — glanced over to where Malfoy stood. He shot an angry glare at Crabbe. Harry fidgeted a bit, his eyes flitting over to Malfoy more than once as Twycross finished his introduction.

“I would like each of you to place yourselves now so that you have a clear five feet of space in front of you.”

The sounds of shuffling and low chatter erupted through the Hall as people tried to give themselves enough room.

“Harry, where are you going?” Hermione demanded when she noticed him dart off through the crowd. When he didn’t answer, instead making his way quickly over to where Malfoy and Crabbe stood, she sighed. She supposed she was used to being alone at this point.

“Hey,” a familiarly deep voice said from right beside her.

Hermione jumped, her heart suddenly racing a mile a minute. She blushed as she turned to see that Blaise had appeared on her other side, a smirk on his face. She felt a surge of indignation. “You’re too close!” she hissed, motioning for him to put the required five feet between them.

Blaise slid over as the four Heads of House shouted, “Quiet!”

“Thank you,” said Twycross, “Now then…”

He waved his wand, conjuring wooden hoops in front of each student.

“The important things to remember when Apparating are the three D’s!” said Twycross, “Destination, Determination, Deliberation!”

Hermione tried her best to take in what Twycross was saying, but even five feet away she could feel Blaise’s presence. It was as if he was a magnet; she couldn’t help but feel drawn to him. Each time her mind wandered from Twycross’s instructions to Blaise she became more flustered, more angry.

“On my command now...one—” Hermione looked up at Twycross, surprised. They had to Apparate now?

“—two—”

She tried desperately to remember what he had told them as Blaise shifted slightly on her left. Destination. Her mind suddenly took her back to the hidden corridor, to Blaise’s fingers winding themselves in the coils of her hair. Determination. His eyes had seemed determined, as he’d bent down towards her. Deliberation. He had deliberated, for a moment, just before his lips had touched hers.

“—THREE!”

Hermione stumbled forward, her heart racing, hair rising on her skin. Luckily, she wasn’t alone; the entire Hall was full of staggering people. Hermione looked decidedly away from Blaise, her face hot.

They were forced to try again and again, but other than a horrifying moment where Susan Bones got splinched, no one had made any real progress. Soon, the lesson was over, Twycross shouting the three D’s at them as a final reminder.

Hermione still felt frustrated by how distracted she had been. She couldn’t let a boy get in the way of her education. She steeled herself as she turned to Blaise, who was eyeing her playfully.

“There’s a classroom on this floor, next to where Firenze teaches Divination,” she said quickly as she passed him, heading towards the exit. She saw him give a quick nod of his head as his eyes wandered over her, to where Dean was helping Neville off of the floor.

Instead of heading up the staircase like the rest of the Gryffindors, she turned down the hallway just on the other side, trying her best not to think too hard about what she had to do.

She turned into the unused classroom. It was dim, the rainclouds outside doing nothing to bring in any natural light. Hermione shut the door behind her and went over to one of the desks in the front of the room, pushing herself up to sit on top. She bit her lip as she waited.

The door opened and Blaise stepped inside, glancing behind him briefly as he did. He shut the door softly behind him, his eyes adjusting to the gray darkness before they landed on her.

He raised an eyebrow at her, “What’s up?”

Hermione’s annoyance surged at how relaxed he seemed, and she crossed her arms. “You kissed me!”

Blaise slid his hands into his pockets and approached her slowly, his eyes bright, “I did.”

She couldn’t find her voice for a moment. She didn’t know what she had expected. For him to deny it? An apology?

“I — it —” she felt flustered under his playful gaze, “You caught me off guard!”

His eyebrows flew up, “Off guard?”

“I didn’t know it was going to happen.”

He stood in front of her now, close enough to reach out and touch. He shrugged, “Neither did I. You can’t prepare for everything, Hermione.”

She scoffed, “I can try.” She didn’t know why, but his amusement made her more defiant.

“So,” he said, his eyes lingering on her lips before flitting back up to her eyes, “Do you not want me to kiss you again?”

She gaped at him, heat rising on her skin, “I didn’t — that’s not — you’re infuriating!”

He leaned forward then, his hands on either side of her, gripping the sides of the desk she was sitting on. His eyes were now level with her, “And you’re pretty,” he said matter-of-factly. He smiled, “Especially when you look like you’re going to bite my head off.”

Hermione inhaled sharply. His scent was all around her, the fire back in his eyes. His lips were slightly parted, only inches from hers. He held himself there, teasing her. This was not at all how she had expected this to go.

Suddenly, it seemed, all reason left her. She grabbed the fabric of his robes, pulling him in closer. Their lips crashed together, Blaise’s hands sliding up from the desk to rest on her hips. Hermione felt hot, her heart racing, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was Blaise’s lips nudging hers open slightly, his hands gripping her tightly. Her own hands slid to the back of his neck, pulling him closer.

Blaise turned his face so that his mouth was at her ear. His arms tightened around her.

“So was that planned, then?”

“Oh, shut up,” Hermione said, taking his face in her hands and pulling it back to hers.

The change in Hermione and Blaise’s relationship proved to be a tricky one. One of the first things they discussed was keeping their relationship a secret.

“Things are so tense already,” Hermione told him. She could only imagine how difficult it would be if they alerted the entire school that they were seeing each other, when lines between Muggle-borns and pure-bloods were being drawn both explicitly and implicitly inside and outside its walls. On top of that Hermione didn’t want to hear anything about it from Harry or Ron.

Blaise agreed, assuring her that while he wasn’t afraid of the other Slytherins in his year, he would rather not have to look over his shoulder when he had to go to class, eat, and sleep in the same room as them.

So for the first month of their relationship they attempted to navigate dating in secret. In class they sat far apart, barely looking at each other. Hermione found, now that they had worked everything out, she could go back to focusing the way she had before, answering questions and excelling in all of her lessons. She often sat with Neville when Harry was with Ron.

She and Blaise were doing well at toeing the lines of their respective Houses, even on the day when Professor McGonagall, having had it with the growing animosity between Gryffindor and Slytherin, forced her students to change seats and sit with someone of another House. Ron looked angrily at Harry, who’d jumped into the seat next to Ernie Macmillan, before resigning himself to sitting precariously in the empty seat next to Millicent Bulstrode. Blaise, however, walked straight up to Hermione, a deep scowl on his face.

Hermione focused on turning to the correct chapter in her Transfiguration textbook to keep from grinning as Blaise sat as far as he could from her at the small table, his foot resting against hers beneath it.

No one seemed to think twice about it, given McGonagall’s clear instructions, but Pansy Parkinson couldn’t help but comment as they emptied the classroom, making their way to lunch. Harry and Ron were quickly joined by Lavender and Parvati, so she didn’t attempt to catch up, falling back to allow the group of Slytherin classmates to exit the classroom before her. 

As she waited, she noticed Pansy hurry up to an exhausted-looking Malfoy, tugging on his arm to command his attention. Her hand slipped into his and she tried to say something, but Malfoy shook her off, pulling away and detaching from the group with a surly-looking Crabbe and Goyle.

A sour look twisted Pansy’s face as her eyes connected with Hermione. Embarrassment overtook her first, but then Blaise passed between them obliviously, and mischief lit her eyes almost immediately. 

“You alright there Blaise?” she called loudly to him as he started to turn down the hallway, “Granger’s Mudblood stench didn’t get to you, did it?”

Padma Patil, who had previously been in deep conversation with Susan Bones, looked up, a cry of indignation leaving her mouth at the slur. Hermione sighed internally.

Blaise’s face didn’t change, the disinterest he was so good at carefully keeping on his face stark as he looked from Hermione to Pansy and back. He shrugged, and suddenly Hermione felt nervous. What if he wasn’t as good at pretending as she thought?

“I suppose the hair would be the first thing you notice,” Pansy pushed, “Really, Granger, you need to do something with that bush.”

“Perhaps the eyebrows too,” one of her friends, Henrietta Travers, cackled behind her.

Pansy’s mouth spread into a grin, “Yes. Muggles don’t seem to care much for routine maintenance, do they?”

Hermione could see a flash of anger cross Blaise’s face behind Pansy, but she herself felt tired. She sighed, “Pansy, if there’s nothing else you can say about me other than that my hair is unruly and that I’m Muggle-born, I’d rather we just end it here—”

“Why’s that?” she trilled, eyes alight with anger.

“Because,” Hermione said, “I’ve got better things to do than be a punching bag for someone who is just upset that the person they would rather have their attention doesn’t seem to care very much.”

Pansy’s mouth dropped open in shock as Padma and Susan giggled, evidently deciding Hermione didn’t need their defense after all. Hermione didn’t look at Blaise as she left the remaining class, hoping there would be a nice soup in the Great Hall to help knock off the persistent chill that clung to the halls.

To her surprise, she found Harry sitting alone at the Gryffindor table, his copy of Advanced Potion-Making open beside his plate of chips.

“No Won-Won?” she asked breezily, taking the seat across from him and ladling a hearty bowl of French Onion soup.

“Nah,” Harry said, with a look of exasperation on his face, “Apparently Lavender had something she just had to show him up in Gryffindor Tower.”

Hermione frowned, “You should be nicer to her, Harry. It isn’t her fault she likes him.”

“I’m tired of the both of them, to be honest,” Harry sighed, shutting his book, “What kept you, then?”

“Pansy,” Hermione said with a shrug, “She seems to have her own love woes at the moment.”

“What, with Malfoy?” Harry seemed to jolt out of his weariness, as if he had been struck with lightning.

“I dunno,” she said, suddenly wishing she hadn’t brought it up, “I suppose he did seem distant.”

“But he loves all the attention he gets from Parkinson,” Harry said, “I wonder what he’s—”

“People drift apart, Harry,” Hermione said with a roll of her eyes, “Him not being interested in one girl doesn’t immediately spell ‘Death Eater’.”

“Yes, but you’re forgetting about the conversation he had with Snape! Look at all the facts, Hermione. Something is up.”

“That reminds me, I’ve got to go check out a book on Diverting Spells for that Defense essay,” she said, pushing herself up from her seat.

“You’ll be sorry you didn’t give this more thought Hermione, I’m telling you.”

“It seems to me like you’re giving it enough thought for the both of us,” she retorted, before swinging her bag back over her shoulder and turning away, eager to leave Harry’s obsessions behind her.

She didn’t go to the library, however; Harry didn’t need to know it, but she had already finished her Defense essay. Instead, she found herself heading back to the empty classroom on the first floor, where she had agreed to meet Blaise the night before for after-lunch break.

He was already there when she entered, hopping out of his seat and striding over to her, a warm smile breaking across his face as she discreetly pulled the door shut.

“Hey, I—” her words were cut off as Blaise embraced her tightly, pulling her into his chest. The scent of cinnamon and cloves clung to the fabric of his robes and Hermione giggled as she stumbled slightly back, clutching his sides, “What’s this for?”

“I hate that I can’t stand up for you,” Blaise murmured, burying his face briefly in her hair.

“Oh, that,” Hermione said, pulling back a bit to get a good look at his face. “It’s okay, it’s what we agreed on.”

“I know,” Blaise said, his arms still tight around her shoulders. “Still, don’t listen to Pansy. You don’t want to take brow-maintenance advice from someone whose eyebrows are shaped like mountain peaks.”

Hermione tried to keep a straight face, “You know I don’t need you to put her down to make me feel better, right?”

“‘Course I do,” he said, “I just needed to get that off my chest, it’s been bothering me all year.”

Hermione laughed as he kissed her forehead, just between her brows.

This was often how their days went. While Blaise often seemed aloof and cold during the day, he was affectionate and warm when they were alone, often finding reasons to hold Hermione’s hand, drape his arm around her shoulders, or kiss her.

One evening, they were studying together in the library. The table they sat at was in a quiet corner people rarely came to, but still they sat kitty-corner from each other, Hermione’s bag a low barrier between them. Under the table, Blaise’s leg rested against hers.

He looked up from his History of Magic reading, yawning.

“Are you done already?” Hermione asked, keeping her voice low as she skimmed a fifty-year-old issue of the Daily Prophet. They had only been there an hour.

“No,” he said, “I’m determined to stay here for as long as you do.”

Hermione glanced up at him briefly, smiling before going back to her reading. “You might soon regret that.”

“I was thinking though…” he said.

“Yes?”

“I want to take you on a real date.”

Hermione tore her eyes away from the newspaper. He wasn’t looking at her, his eyes on his book, fingers playing with the corner of the page. She sometimes didn’t understand him — how could someone who exuded so much confidence find a way to be nervous around her?

She frowned, “Hogsmeade weekend was canceled, and I’m not sure that would’ve been a good idea anyway…”

“It doesn’t have to be Hogsmeade,” he said, his eyes finally flashing up to her. There was an intensity in his gaze that startled her for a moment. He was really serious about this.

“What would we do then?”

Blaise sat up a bit in his chair, his leg jostling against hers. “Don’t worry, I’ve got it,” he said, “Just be ready Friday night.”

“Just be ready Friday night,” was all Hermione was able to get out of Blaise in the days leading up to their date. She tried everything she could think of to get it out of him, asking directly, tricking him, even very poor attempts at seduction. Nothing worked.

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” he said, squeezing her leg lightly after she had awkwardly and embarrassingly perched herself onto his lap in an abandoned classroom during their afternoon break.

“This isn’t fair, you know,” Hermione said with a dramatic sigh, “How am I supposed to know what to expect?”

“You’re not,” Blaise said with a grin before planting a kiss on her nose.

Even the time of the date seemed to be a secret, so when it was time for dinner Friday evening, Hermione made sure to dress nicer than she usually would. Instead of her usual jeans and jumper, she pulled on a black slip dress her mother had bought her last Christmas over a Weird Sisters t-shirt Ginny had let her borrow months ago. She decided to leave her hair out, and pulled on one of her cloaks for pockets and warmth.

“That’s cute,” Parvati said, giving her a once over as she entered the room to drop off her bag before dinner.

“Oh, thanks,” Hermione said nervously, “Just wanted to try something new, you know.”

“You coming down to dinner?” Parvati asked.

“Oh, yeah, er…” was she going to dinner?

Before she could come up with a response, there was a tapping noise on the window nearest her bed. She looked up to see Blaise’s owl, Adonis, standing haughtily on the sill.

“You can go on without me,” Hermione said quickly, “I’ll see you later.”

“Suit yourself,” Parvati said with a shrug, turning to leave the dormitory.

As the door swung shut, Hermione hurried over to the window, opening it to let Adonis in. The owl stepped in and stuck out his leg in a dignified sort of way. Tied to it was a small package. Once she detached it, Adonis turned and flew off, out of the castle. Hermione shut the window carefully. Nerves fluttered through her stomach. Was Blaise canceling?

She tore off the wrappings, revealing a black velvet box with a silver clasp. She undid the clasp and opened the box. A quiet gasp left her when she realized what was inside: a gold watch with a white face. A note was attached to it.

Join me in the Tower of Solitude. -BZ

Hermione put the note in her pocket, knowing immediately where to go. She looked back at the face of the watch. The hands were made of tiny gold wands, stars denoting every quarter-hour. She couldn’t begin to guess how much it had cost.

She left her room, the watch clutched carefully in her hand, winding her way through the castle to the Astronomy Tower. She hadn’t been up here in ages, since her O.W.L. exams. At the foot of the tower was a spiral staircase which Hermione hurried up, ignoring the giddy nerves in her stomach.

She found Blaise at the top, his back to her. She watched him a moment, in his velvet forest green robes, as he raised his wand.

“I can’t accept this,” she said as a greeting.

Blaise whipped around, looking surprised. His eyes raked over her, taking her in. “You look nice.”

Hermione held her hand out, gold glinting through her fingers. “Blaise, I can’t keep the watch.”

“Of course you can,” he said, waving his hand dismissively, “Every witch should have one when they come of age.”

“It had to have cost a fortune.” Her family wasn’t poor by any standard, but they certainly weren’t anywhere near this wealthy. It was a well-known fact that Blaise’s mother had money, but still Hermione didn’t feel right taking from him.

“It was nothing,” he said with a shrug, “I like your hair.”

“Thank you,” she said quickly, determined not to be derailed. She held the watch out to him, “Here.”

Blaise took her wrist instead, pulling her closer to him. Her pulse sped up at his touch, and all she could do was stare as he gently took the watch from her hand.

Blaise smirked at her as he fastened it around her wrist. His fingers lingered a moment before he dropped his hands, sending little pinpricks of electricity up her arm. Hermione looked down at the watch. The gold of the band complimented her brown skin, bringing out it’s yellow undertones. The band wasn’t solid, instead it was made of thick chains linked together that looked a lot like… “Are those books?

“Yes,” Blaise said, “It suits you.”

He turned then, waving his wand as Hermione twisted her wrist in the dim light, taking in the small golden books, open and connected by tiny gold links. She looked up then, glancing around. The Astronomy Tower didn’t look how it usually did. Candles rose up from the ground, casting a dim glow over everything. A table sat a few feet away where the larger telescope usually stood, a deep red tablecloth spread beneath plates of food. Soft music floated through the air.

“You did all this?” Hermione said, her voice hushed.

Blaise shrugged nonchalantly, but she could see the excitement on his face, “I had a little help. The food is the same as in the Great Hall, but I paid one of the elves — the weird one who’s always in mismatched socks — ten galleons to bring it up here.”

Hermione’s eyes widened, “You paid him…?”

“He wouldn’t take more,” Blaise assured her.

She didn’t know what to say. She remembered the impassioned debate they’d had the week before about house-elves. Blaise had been adamant that the elves liked to serve, and while he may have conceded that they were taken advantage of because of it, he still wouldn’t outright agree to the total abolishment of the current societal structure. Still, Hermione understood what it meant that he had paid Dobby to help — he had heard her and realized that it was important to her.

“Come on,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her towards the table. He pulled out her chair to help her sit before taking the seat next to her.

“I hope the clouds clear up soon,” he said, sounding worried as he eyed the dark gray sky above them. “Otherwise, I set up everything here for nothing.”

“No, this is wonderful,” Hermione said with a smile. She looked out over the grounds, the straight grass and gray-blue lake and flush forest. “The view alone is worth it.”

“Yeah,” Blaise said quietly. Her gaze drifted to him, and she realized he wasn’t looking out at the Hogwarts grounds, but at her.

Hermione flushed and looked down. Her eyes were drawn to the watch again.

“Where did you get this from?” she asked.

“One of my mum’s old friends makes custom watches and clocks,” Blaise said, “I got the idea and then wrote to him.”

Hermione’s mouth dropped open as she took in what he was saying, “So this was your design?”

He shrugged, though she could tell he was really pleased with himself, “Not completely. The books were my idea though.”

She was astonished by just how thoughtful he had been. The gift, she realized, wasn’t just a way for Blaise to throw money at her. It was meant specifically for her.

“And your mum doesn’t care? About your spending so much, I mean?”

“It was all my money,” he said, shaking his head, “She set up a trust for me when I was a kid, but I can access it now that I’m of age.”

His reality was so much different than hers. To have a trust fund in a magical world felt almost the complete opposite of living in the non-magical world with solidly middle class parents.

“I can’t even begin to imagine that,” she said, picking up her fork, “I mean my parents give me money all the time, but not of that magnitude.”

Blaise nodded, “I try to be responsible about it,” he said, “It won’t last forever, but I hope I’m able to maintain at least some of it once I go off and start working, you know?”

“International Magical Cooperation, right?” Hermione asked, though she was able to recall his answer at Slughorn’s first dinner almost perfectly.

“Yeah,” he said, “I just like the idea of getting to go to new places, but also bringing people together.”

Hermione smiled, “What’s one place you haven’t been yet that you want to visit?”

Blaise seemed to hesitate, looking self conscious for a moment. “I guess I’ve always wanted to go to Ethiopia. That’s where my mum’s folks are from, but I didn’t know them growing up.”

“Your mum hasn’t been in contact with them at all?”

He shook his head, “Not that I know of. I could maybe ask, but it always seemed like a touchy subject. I dunno, I guess even if I never meet them I just want to see where I’m from.”

Hermione nodded in understanding. “I think that sounds wonderful.”

Blaise smiled at that, leaning over to nudge her, “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Well, you know all about what I want to do after school, but all I know is that you wanted to be a Muggle Professor before you came here.”

Hermione grimaced, “I...I’m not really sure.”

Blaise raised his eyebrows at her, “You have every week from now until the end of term scheduled and color-coded, but you don’t know what you want to do after?” 

She squirmed a little in her seat at the disbelief in his voice. “I just — I don’t know — find it hard to think about the far future.”

Blaise seemed to recognize her discomfort and softened his voice, “Why is that?”

She took a deep breath. For a moment, her chest tightened and she was back in the Department of Mysteries, surrounded by identical doors. She pulled herself back. “I did used to think about it, when I first got here. I think I stopped around the time Harry came out of that maze at the end of the Triwizard Tournament.”

Blaise didn’t say anything, and she could tell he was remembering that moment too. Suddenly, she worried she had spoiled the mood.

“I don’t mean to be morbid or anything,” she said quickly, “Just, with Voldemort back everything is so...uncertain. There are so many things outside of my control that it can be overwhelming. It’s easier to think about what I can control in the short term rather than dwell on plans that might not pan out the way I’d like them to in the long term.”

Blaise was quiet, and Hermione snuck a glance at him as she stuffed her mouth full of broccoli. Rather than look disturbed or upset, he looked thoughtful.

“Okay,” he said, “What were you thinking of before? Or what direction do you think you would go in?”

Hermione swallowed, thinking. “I suppose maybe something to do with policy? There are so many Ministry laws that haven’t changed since Voldemort rose the last time. The Department for the Control of Magical Creatures needs sweeping reform, but maybe the International Confederation of Wizards would be a good place to start, to address the more widespread oppressive structures. Ron’s dad used to be the head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office and it’s severely underfunded because the Ministry doesn’t prioritize the safety of Muggles and Muggle-borns — what?”

She had noticed then that Blaise was smiling at her. It wasn’t the broad, goofy grin he sometimes flashed when he was teasing her, or the knowing smirk he gave her when he saw through her posturing. It was softer, and yet more intense.

He shook his head, reaching out to brush her cheek with the back of his hand. “Nothing, just...you’re so passionate.”

Hermione flushed under his touch. “I-I suppose so…”

“I think you’ll be great in whatever you decide to do,” he murmured.

A brightness shined through his eyes as he leaned in, and she followed, all food and talk of the future forgotten. She held her breath, just for the moment before their lips touched. When they did, a gentle fire seemed to spring up, spreading through the rest of her body.

When they broke away, Blaise reached over and gave her leg a quick squeeze, his fingers lingering a moment before slipping away. Hermione watched him as he took a sip of water and then at the floating candles around them, lighting them even before the darkening clouds. It felt like they were in their own perfect bubble, their hopes and dreams and feelings for each other creating a thin barrier, protecting them from the rest of the world. Hermione wished she could stay in that moment forever.

The next morning, Hermione woke up feeling content. As she stretched and then went to get dressed for the day, her eyes kept falling to the gold watch on her wrist, and a smile would find its way to her face. She still couldn’t believe Blaise had gotten her something so thoughtful.

Lavender was already up and zooming around the room, her loose curls bouncing around her face. Parvati watched with an amused expression.

“Oh, I hope he likes it,” Lavender said, picking up the parcel wrapped in gold paper from the foot of her bed.

Hermione hadn’t forgotten that it was Ron’s birthday. It only felt a little strange not getting him anything at this point — they hadn’t really hung out in months.

“I’m sure he will,” Parvati said bracingly, before turning to Hermione, “You going down for breakfast?”

“Yes,” Hermione said as she pulled her wild hair up and out of her face, tying it into a messy bun on top of her head, “Want to go down together?”

“I’ll come down to the common room with you,” Lavender said, still bouncing off the walls, “I want to wait for Ron.”

The three of them went down to the common room together, Parvati and Hermione leaving Lavender at the entrance to the portrait hole.

As the two of them walked leisurely down the hall, Hermione reached up to tuck an errant strand of hair up and into her bun.

“Ooh, that’s pretty, Hermione,” Parvati said, her brown eyes tracking the watch on her wrist.

“Oh,” Hermione said, flushing. She self-consciously pulled down on the sleeve of her jumper, covering it, “Thanks. Late Christmas present.”

Parvati grunted in understanding, but Hermione wondered if her roommate actually believed her. Who got Christmas presents in March? But she couldn’t possibly link the watch to Blaise, Hermione thought reasonably. She probably wouldn’t even care to make a connection.

After breakfast, Hermione went back up to the common room. She was supposed to meet Blaise later, but had an Arithmancy essay that she could work on in the meantime. She brought her work out by the fire to begin outlining her points.

She had just begun packing up when the portrait hole opened, Professor McGonagall striding in. Her eyes narrowed on Hermione through her spectacles, and she hurried over to her. “Miss Granger, I have some unfortunate news.”

Hermione’s blood went cold. The look on McGonagall’s face clearly denoted that something was wrong. Had someone died? Had the defensive spells she had put on her parents’ house proven weak? Her imagination flashed to her childhood home, a Dark Mark in the sky above it. Her breath turned short.

“What happened?”

McGonagall paused a moment before saying, “I’m afraid Mr. Weasley has been poisoned.”

“What?” Fear seized her chest. It couldn’t be.

“He’s in the hospital wing with Madam Pomfrey now. It seems Mr. Potter may have prevented the worst,” still she didn’t look optimistic.

Hermione stood, her homework forgotten. “Thank you for letting me know Professor,” she said quickly, before hurrying off to the hospital wing.

Guilt gripped her as she hurried through the corridors, running straight through Sir Nicholas before she had a chance to dodge him. She found Harry just outside of the hospital wing, sitting with a horrified-looking Ginny. His green eyes were wide with shock. 

“What happened?” Hermione demanded as she strode up to them.

“I—” Harry looked almost unable to speak. He swallowed. “Ron accidentally ate my Chocolate Cauldrons, you know the ones Romilda Vane gave me for Christmas?”

Hermione nodded, balling her hands into fists. She tried to take in the information and not panic. Once she knew what was happening, she could come up with something to do.

“Well they were, you know, spiked with love potion. Ron was all infatuated — it was a laugh, really — but I took him to Slughorn to get him sorted out,” Harry’s voice was flat, like he was reading something off of a piece of parchment.

“Slughorn fixed the problem easily, and he poured us all some mead. Turns out it was poisoned.”

“Professor McGonagall said you may have saved him,” Hermione prompted.

Harry nodded, rubbing his forehead before saying, “I found a bezoar. It — I think it may have stopped any lasting damage. At least I hope.”

Hermione didn’t know what to say. She had been so adamant about continuing her fight with Ron, so steadfast in her rightness that she hadn’t stopped to think if their argument even mattered. Hadn’t Ron been trying to talk to her since being back from break? And she’d ignored him, clinging to this petty issue in the midst of Death Eaters and deaths and disappearances. Her lip trembled and she looked away from Harry and Ginny.

“How long did Madam Pomfrey say we have to wait?” Ginny asked impatiently.

“I dunno,” Harry said, “She just sort of grabbed him and shut the doors.”

There was a beat of silence.

“Who could have done such a thing?” Ginny whispered, anguish in her voice.

She and Harry immediately launched into speculation about how Ron could have been poisoned, or who could have done it. Hermione didn’t join in, the guilt gnawing in the pit of her stomach, only one thought running in circles in her mind. She was a horrible friend.

The next day, Hermione walked down from the hospital wing to the first floor of the castle. Ron still hadn’t gained consciousness, but she and Harry had sat with him anyway through most of the morning. Lunchtime came and went, but eventually Hermione got up to go — she had a study date with Blaise.

As she adjusted her bag on her shoulder, she wondered if she should cancel. She felt tired and worn, a dark cloud forming over her head.

When she entered the classroom, she saw Blaise already set up, his book bag on the desk to his left, Advanced Potion-Making open in front of him. He pushed himself up from the desk as she shut the door behind her, concern on his face. She hadn’t talked to him since finding out about the poisoning, but news of it had gotten around the castle quickly.

“How’s Weasley?” he asked, his voice gentle.

Hermione sniffed, “He’s still unconscious, but Madam Pomfrey says he’ll be okay.”

Blaise nodded, “And how are you?”

Hermione started to respond that she was fine, but the guilt and worry pushed itself up, and her eyes welled up with tears. Before she knew it, Blaise’s arms were around her, his chin resting on the top of her head.

“It’s okay,” he murmured, rubbing his hand up her back.

She held onto him tightly, letting the tears go. They stood like that for a long moment, before Blaise leaned back and wiped away her tears with his thumb.

“I’ve been so stupid,” Hermione said thickly.

“No, you haven’t,” Blaise said. His thumb was soft against her cheek, his brows furrowed as he focused on her.

“You’re just saying that because you feel you have to,” she said, rolling her eyes, “I was being petty.”

“And he wasn’t?” before Hermione could respond in indignation, Blaise rushed forward, “Just hear me out, okay? What if you had been the one to get poisoned? Would it still be on you?”

Hermione opened her mouth to retort but then stopped. She didn’t know what to say.

Blaise gripped her shoulders, “I’m not saying Weasley deserved what he got, and I’m glad he’s okay, but he’s reduced you to tears more than once this year, and not because he was almost fatally wounded.”

She didn’t understand why he seemed so adamant about this. “Blaise, he’s my best friend.”

“I just know how you are,” he said, “You give so much, but you don’t always think about what you should be getting back.”

Hermione gaped at him, surprised that he had noticed and listened to her that much to come up with that succinct of a summation. “You—”

“I’m not telling you not to be friends with him,” Blaise said, “Just...I think you two should have a conversation first.”

She nodded quietly, thinking. He wasn’t wrong — she had always been the one to forgive Ron when he did something wrong. She remembered the Yule Ball, the moment she was sure she could never like him as more than a friend; she had had to bury the hatchet with him then too.

Blaise took her hand and kissed the back of it lightly before gripping it more tightly and pulling her towards the desks he had set up for their studying. She decided she was glad she had come.

To Be Continued