“ZABINI?” Ron exclaimed, the expression on his face a mixture of confusion and disgust. He was sitting on one of the couches in the common room, looking awkwardly stiff beside Harry, who had his arm slung around Ginny’s shoulders. Hermione sat on the floor in front of them, Crookshanks in her arms.
“Yes, Ron,” Hermione sighed. She had been nervous about broaching the subject with them mere moments ago, but something about Ron’s predictable response quickly turned her anxiety to annoyance.
“When did this happen? How did this happen?”
Hermione grimaced, scratching Crookshanks’ head just between his ears. She felt oddly self-conscious, as if the sunlight filtering through the window along the wall behind her was shining only on her. “It’s sort of a long story.”
“Doesn’t he hate Muggles and Muggle-borns?”
She rolled her eyes at this, “Yes. It was one of the main reasons I became interested in him. Come on, Ron, don’t you think I, of all people, would have thought this through?”
“I don’t know,” Ron said, looking doubtful, “People make mistakes. You know he’s friends with Malfoy right?”
“Being someone’s roommate doesn’t make them your friend.”
But Ron wasn’t listening. “He could be feeding Malfoy information on Harry!” he exclaimed with an air of superiority, as if he had caught something Hermione hadn’t.
“Well seeing as we almost never talk about Harry…”
If anything, this was more exhausting than it was scary. Hermione wondered if she had avoided telling her friends for her own sanity rather than her fear of losing them. Ron sat back now, folding his freckled arms across his chest.
“I still don’t like it,” he said with a scowl.
“It’s not really up to you, is it?” Ginny said, lifting her head from Harry’s shoulder. Hermione glanced at her in surprise; she had assumed Ginny would be as wary of Blaise, if not as upset as her brother.
Ron sputtered, clearly just as shocked by his sister’s words. “Well what about you, Harry? What do you think about this?”
Harry was the most relaxed of the four, but when he looked up at Ron now, a flash of discomfort came over him. He shrugged, “I dunno. I think it’s fine.”
Hermione gaped at him. “You do?” For someone who had been obsessed with all things Malfoy, she was sure he would side with Ron, sure he would be ready to come up with conspiracy theories of the entire sixth year Slytherin class’s master plan to win the war for Voldemort one homework assignment at a time.
“I sort of had a feeling something was up with you anyway,” he said, “I’m just glad you’re happy.”
Heat rose on Hermione’s cheeks, but she grinned, “Thanks.”
The rest of the school was much harder to deal with, as she learned on Monday. While most of the student body didn’t seem to care when Hermione and Blaise held hands on the way to Potions past petty gossip, more than a few Gryffindors were suspicious of their relationship, and the Slytherins were downright hostile. Pansy Parkinson, in particular, seemed to take it personally.
While she and other Slytherin girls had often taunted Hermione in the halls and before class, now it was much more pointed, Pansy’s anger at Hermione’s gall to date a pure-blood not so veiled underneath.
It wasn’t much better when she and Blaise were together. On top of the usual anti-Muggle-born slurs, they seemed to at least notice that Hermione and Blaise were also both Black, which resulted in their resorting to racial insults as well.
“If you wanted someone with your background, you could’ve at least picked someone prettier,” Pansy taunted outside of Defense Against the Dark Arts, her nose wrinkled, “At least Brown knows how to tame her hair.”
“Just ignore it,” Hermione said under her breath as Blaise’s eyes flashed in anger. She pulled him into the classroom before he or anyone else could say anything more.
“Ignoring it won’t make it go away,” he said in a low voice, his eyes still tracking Pansy across the room as he pulled out a chair for her. They had had this conversation more than a few times since the teasing began. “I’m not just going to let them continue to say foul things about you.”
“It’ll die down,” Hermione insisted, sitting in the proffered chair. She had had more experience in this matter than he had, given that he often kept to himself as a rule and she was best friends with one of the most scrutinized people in the school.
Blaise sank down into the chair beside her with a heavy sigh, taking up her hand again. His face softened as he leaned forward, reaching out to fluff up the puff she had piled on top of her head that morning. Hermione felt a shiver run up her spine. “I disagree. But we’ll try it your way.”
And so through it all, Blaise did his best to remain stoic, never giving any outside indication that he noticed the nasty comments other than regularly checking in with Hermione to make sure she was okay.
“I’m fine,” she reassured him one morning after Millicent Bulstrode called her her first ‘Mudblood’ of the day. “I’ve dealt with worse.”
Blaise frowned at her comment, but it was true. The comments and bullying weren’t pleasant, but she had been humiliated by a teacher more than once and sent hate mail that had physically harmed her.
One of her biggest worries about going public with Blaise had been Harry and Ron’s reactions, and they not only had accepted it, but had taken to defending her in the halls, to the point where she would have to prevent them from hexing Slytherins in retaliation (Harry, in particular, didn’t need any more detentions).
“They can’t just talk to you like that,” Ron growled, as Pansy stalked away after having suggested Hermione had used a love potion to “trap” Blaise, “Even if this thing with Zabini is mad.”
Eventually, even Blaise reached his wits end.
They were walking to Charms hand in hand, trailing behind Harry and Ron, who were awkwardly pretending to give them space (though both kept glancing back at them more than a few times). Suddenly, Hermione felt the familiar weight of her bag drop, books, vials, and parchment spilling out in the middle of the crowded corridor.
Hermione whirled around as a peal of laughter echoed behind them. A group of Slytherins were a few feet away, Nott stowing his wand back in his pocket, nudging one of Hermione’s scrolls away from Pansy with his foot, disgust on his face.
“Careful, could be contaminated,” Nott said to her, loud enough that the other students passing by could hear. Some ignored the scene, while others slowed down, faces ranging from wariness to curiosity.
Hermione glowered at Nott before looking back to Harry and Ron, ready to force their wand arms down. As she did, Blaise nudged her gently behind him before sliding his hand out of hers. She looked up at his face, surprised to see him showing his anger, a sneer twisting his features as he glared down at his classmates.
“That’s enough,” he said, his voice cold.
Pansy cackled as fury crossed Nott’s face. He stepped up to Blaise, his knuckles white as he clenched his hands into fists. “What are you going to do about it, blood traitor?”
Blaise’s fingers flexed and Hermione jumped forward, grabbing his hand before he could reach for his wand. “Blaise,” she whispered, placing her other hand on his chest. She could feel his heart racing.
He looked down at her, and his anger faltered a moment as he remembered their agreement. He rested his free hand over hers on his chest and said, “You’re right. Sorry.”
“What’s wrong?” Pansy shouted from behind Nott, “Afraid of what your mother would say if she found out you were fighting one of your own for a Mudblood?”
Blaise’s eyes flashed again at the clear threat, but he didn’t move. “I expect not nearly as afraid as your mum was when she found out your father got all your money snatched by the goblins.”
A hush fell across the hall as Pansy’s mouth dropped open. Hermione could hear Ron snickering behind her; the news of the Parkinsons’ financial woes had broken earlier that week — something to do with insider trading and consorting with Death Eaters that had prompted Gringotts to lock down their vault. A look of distress passed over Pansy’s face as Nott stepped up to Blaise, plunging his hand back in his robes for his wand. Blaise moved Hermione behind him again, reaching for his own wand.
There was a bang and Nott fell to the ground, a strange green substance oozing from his nose. Hermione whipped her head around.
He shrugged, slipping his wand away. “Sorry, slipped.”
Pansy quickly pulled Nott to his feet and hurried him away, their gang following close by.
The hall began to empty as the tension broke. Hermione took a deep breath, pulling out her wand and Summoning her things into a neat pile before her.
Blaise watched the Slytherins disappear down the hall before reaching over to slip Hermione’s torn bag from her shoulder. “Reparo,” he muttered, pointing his wand at the rip, which repaired itself quickly.
Hermione hovered her things back into her bag and Blaise helped to fit it back onto her shoulder before taking her hand and pulling her back after her friends. They were quiet the rest of the way to Charms, Blaise lost in thought. Even though she had told him not to, Hermione couldn’t help but feel happy about the way he had stood up for her. Just before they entered Flitwick’s classroom, she planted a kiss on his cheek, prompting a startled smile to spread across his face.
After the altercation in the Charms corridor, the whispers lessened, especially when they were together. When Hermione was on her own a few would become bold, but she wasn’t worried about a few overeager Slytherins. Instead, she tried to focus on the good parts of her relationship, namely all of the time she could now spend with Blaise without worrying about who saw.
They spent one warm afternoon outside, studying under the beech tree near the lake. Blaise was leaning back against the bark of the tree, squinting at his Transfiguration notes as he tried to make out the words in the shifting shade of the leaves above them. Hermione lay on her stomach beside him, rereading Standard Book of Spells, Grade 6 at top speed.
She looked up at the end of the section on the Doubling Charm, turning her head to look past Blaise at the glittering lake. A group of third years had taken to skipping rocks, ankle deep in the water. Terry Boot was taking a break from his own studies by throwing pieces of a sandwich into the water for the giant squid to enjoy. Hermione spotted Harry and Ginny walking together hand in hand. Harry caught her eye and waved sheepishly, surely feeling guilty — as he should — that he was distracting Ginny from studying for her O.W.L.s. Hermione merely raised an eyebrow and nodded to him.
She glanced over at Blaise then, and was surprised to see him looking past her, distress crossing his face. It was brief, but quite noticeable just before he smoothed out his expression, resting back on disinterest. She turned to look behind her, noticing a group of sixth year Slytherins stepping out of the castle, Pansy Parkinson and Theodore Nott among them.
“Everything okay?” she asked, nudging his leg with her shoulder.
Blaise’s dark eyes seemed calm, but a muscle in his jaw popped out briefly before he murmured, “I’m fine.”
Hermione frowned. She realized then that she hadn’t been as vigilant in watching Blaise’s mood as she should have been. Things had gotten easier for her since he’d defended her, but it occurred to her that it didn’t mean the same had happened for him, especially after he called Pansy out like that in front of everyone. She pushed herself up so that she was now sitting cross-legged, facing him.
“How is it with your housemates?” she asked softly, leaning on his knee.
He shrugged, looking down at the parchment on his lap. “Most of them aren’t talking to me. Theo’s said some nasty things and Crabbe and Goyle posture a lot, but they won’t do anything.”
“And Malfoy?” He had always been the loudest in his anti-Muggle-born stance, but he had been strangely silent, at least in public.
“He hasn’t really said anything,” Blaise said, still pretending to be interested in Hermione’s meticulous additions to his notes on Elemental Transfiguration, “But he hasn’t been saying much at all lately.”
“So it’s mostly just Pansy.”
“No, she’s left me alone since that time before Charms.” Blaise paused a moment, pain flashing through his eyes, “My mum found out.”
“What?” Hermione’s voice was louder than she meant it to be, and she lowered it quickly at the sight of discomfort on Blaise’s face. “How did that happen?”
“Dunno,” he said, “Someone must have told her. I got a letter from her a few days ago…” He spoke in a detached sort of way, as if he were commenting on the weather, but Hermione could tell how hard he was taking it. “I was planning to tell her, actually. Just…not like this.”
She hesitated before asking, “What did she say?”
Blaise looked out towards the lake, the sadness clear in his eyes. “She’s not happy. Thinks I’m messing with my social standing for a ‘sordid fling’.”
“Have you responded yet?”
He shook his head, looking back down at his notes.
Hermione took a deep breath before reaching out to take his hand. She felt for him, hated that she was the reason his mother was upset, that she had come between them. She didn’t like seeing him so hurt. “I’m sorry. I didn’t — you never mentioned it.”
“I know it’s nothing compared to what you’re going through with this,” Blaise said, “If I’m being honest, I knew this could happen. I don’t want you to worry about it.”
Hermione frowned, “That’s not fair. I appreciate the consideration, but I don’t want you to feel like you have to keep things from me.”
He finally looked at her head on, eyes shining as his jaw flexed and relaxed again. “I don’t want to keep things from you.”
Hermione leaned forward then, keeping their eyes locked. “Then don’t,” she whispered.
Blaise closed the gap, kissing the tip of her nose instead of her mouth, causing Hermione to giggle.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t sharing,” he said seriously, “I guess I’m just not very used to it.”
Hermione gave his hand a squeeze, “We’ll work on it together.”
In her mind, her gears were already turning. Maybe Blaise had been right. Maybe ignoring it wouldn’t make it all go away.
She quickly discerned that it was Pansy who’d told Blaise’s mother about their relationship. It was no secret that she was one of the most offended by them, and Blaise embarrassing her in front of the school must have been the final straw. In a way, Hermione was glad Pansy was so obvious — it made it easier to come up with a way to put a stop to the bullying once and for all.
She got her chance one afternoon in the library, as she was once again perusing the records section. It wasn’t really studying, but she had built in the time to look through old copies of the Daily Prophet into her schedule, just after Defense Against the Dark Arts and before she was to help Ginny structure her Care of Magical Creatures study plan.
Hermione was looking through an old, yellowing copy of the Prophet when a picture jumped out at her. The girl was around her age, skinny with heavy eyebrows and a long face. Underneath the picture read the caption: Eileen Prince, Captain of the Hogwarts Gobstones Team. Feeling a surge of excitement and vindication, she snatched the paper and turned away, ready to show Harry what she had found.
She collided straight into someone else, who let out a cry of indignation and stumbled back.
Malice flashed through Pansy Parkinson’s eyes, “You’d better watch yourself Granger,” she hissed as she straightened her clothes, “Now I’ll have to burn these robes.”
Hermione smiled. She didn’t know what had come over her — maybe she was bolstered by the thought that she was right about the Half-Blood Prince. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Parkinson, perhaps I could help you with that right now?”
Pansy blinked in surprise. She was used to Hermione rolling her eyes and walking away, or else calming a red-faced Ron or stony-faced Harry before walking away. But she wasn’t going to walk away now. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me,” Hermione wanted to stay calm; she didn’t want to give Pansy the satisfaction of seeing her upset. She fingered her wand, stepping closer to the girl. She didn’t really plan on setting Pansy on fire — that was ridiculously extreme — but Pansy didn’t know that. The Slytherin girl took a half-step back.
“I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re mad too,” Pansy spat, though there was a hint of fear on her face, “I suppose all that filth in your blood—”
“Yes, we all know I’m a Mudblood,” Hermione rolled her eyes, “Honestly after six years, the most original thing you’ve done might have been writing to Blaise’s mother.”
Pansy recovered from her shock quickly, “Well why shouldn’t she know her son is a blood traitor?”
Hermione shook her head, slipping her wand from her pocket. “That, right there. I won’t be having that anymore.”
Pansy backed into the shelves, her face fighting between her panic and her desire to still seem like she was in control. Hermione lifted her wand, resting the tip on the girl’s collar.
“You leave me and Blaise alone, do you hear me? We’ve done nothing to you, but I will if you keep bothering us. That includes in the Slytherin common room. I’m sure you realize word will get back to me.”
She turned away before Pansy could respond, leaving the girl in the middle of the records section of the library, the collar of her robes slightly singed and smoking.
Hermione sat with Blaise in a bright courtyard, holding open her worn copy of A History of Magic. She was turned to face him so that he couldn’t see the contents of the book, her knee pressed lightly against the outside of his thigh.
“What is the oldest known wizarding settlement in Great Britain?” she asked.
She shut the book, impressed. Blaise hadn’t stumbled on a single answer. “You know I’m one for over-studying, but I think you’re truly ready for Binns next week.”
“Thanks,” Blaise said, shuffling Hermione’s Ancient Runes flashcards in his hands, “I wish I didn’t have to take this class. I feel like I have to teach myself everything.”
There was an underlying tension to his words, and Hermione knew he was thinking about his mother, who not only was making him take History of Magic, but had also failed to respond to Blaise’s most recent letter.
“I’m happy to help,” she said breezily, “Okay, just one last time through those cards. I want to be absolutely sure I’ve got them all.”
Blaise flashed her a knowing smile and looked down at the cards. Even though he had no idea what was going on with the translations, he was good at quizzing her, and patient when she insisted on checking the correct answers herself.
Once they finished they packed up, but made no immediate moves to leave. Hermione scooted closer to Blaise, nuzzling her head into the space between his neck and shoulder.
“Hey,” he said as he wound one of his fingers into her curls, “You don’t happen to have seen Pansy recently, have you?”
It had been two days since their conversation in the library, and since then there had been mostly silence.
Hermione shrugged, “In passing. Why do you ask?”
“No reason, just…she seems pretty nervous about even being in the same room as me.”
“Well, you know how she is. She sort of pretends like I’m beneath her notice on her way out the door.”
“Hmm,” Hermione said, trying to force her face to stay neutral.
“That’s it?” he asked, shifting slightly to get a better look at her.
“What? I’m happy things are settling down.”
His eyes were narrowed, scrutinizing her for a moment before he shook his head, relaxing back into the bench. “Whatever, Granger.”
Soon, the sun began to set, the light shadows at the edges of the courtyard becoming darker and longer.
“I’ll see you later?” Blaise asked softly at the end of a dimly lit corridor. It was here that they would part, Hermione making her way up to her common room and he down to his. He ducked his head down towards her, resting his hand along her jaw, his thumb brushing her cheek.
Her stomach swooped at his touch, and she nodded. “Later.”
Blaise leaned down further, his lips at her ear. “Thanks for sticking up for me.”
Hermione’s heart sped up as his warm breath tickled her ear. She stopped breathing for a moment, but the smirk on his face as he pulled away brought her back. She grinned slyly, “Of course.” She pushed up on her toes, planting a kiss directly on his lips, and turned away with a parting wink, skirting around two giggling fourth years and hurrying up the stairs towards Gryffindor Tower.
She found Ron in the common room, watching the fire from the couch.
“What’s up?” she asked, plopping down next to him and sliding her bag off of her shoulder, her mind still on Blaise’s smile, his amusement at her antics.
“Harry’s with Professor Dumbledore.”
His words pierced through her mind, blocking out everything else. She sat up, “Wait, does that mean…he’s found one?”
“I don’t know,” Ron said, “It didn’t say in the note.”
Hermione’s mind was going a mile a minute. “Ron—”
The portrait hole opened and they turned to see Harry hurrying through. Hermione stood.
“What does he want?” she demanded, before taking him in. He looked harried and upset. “Harry, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said shortly as he rushed past them. Hermione and Ron exchanged a startled glance.
Moments later he was back, the Invisibility Cloak thrown over his shoulder, a piece of spare parchment and a pair of balled up socks in his hands.
“I’ve got to be quick,” he rushed, “Dumbledore told me to get the cloak. He’s found one and he’s asked me to come with him—”
“But where—” Ron started as Hermione clapped her hand over her mouth, a mixture of dread and excitement filling her.
“No, listen,” Harry said with a shake of his head, “While I was on my way there I ran into Trelawney. She all but told me Malfoy was celebrating in the Room of Requirement. I tried to tell Dumbledore, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Hermione had a thousand questions, but she tried her best to keep them to herself until Harry was done.
“So you see what this means?” he was saying, “Dumbledore won’t be here tonight, so Malfoy’s going to have a clear shot at whatever he’s up to. No, listen to me!” he snapped as Hermione — unable to help herself — started to interrupt. “I know it was him.”
He shoved the Marauder’s Map into Hermione’s startled hands, “You’ve got to watch him and Snape too. Use the Galleons to alert the D.A., they still work right?”
“But Harry,” she pushed through, “Dumbledore wouldn’t just leave the school unprotected—”
“He trusts Snape,” Harry said, a look of disgust crossing his face as he said it, “If he’s involved, he’ll know what Dumbledore’s protection is, and how to avoid it — but he won’t be expecting you lot to be watching, will he?”
“Harry—” she began again. She was trying her best to clamp down on her fear, to find the logic in what he was saying.
“I haven’t got time to argue,” he insisted, “Take this as well—” he passed Ron the socks, “It’s the Felix Felicis. Share it between yourselves and Ginny too. Say good-bye to her for me. I’d better go—”
“No!” Hermione said finally, as Ron slowly unwrapped the bottle of luck, “You need it for yourself, who knows what you’re going to be facing?”
“I’ll be fine, I’ll be with Dumbledore,” Harry said, “I want to know you lot are okay.” Hermione eyes were starting to sting, the gravity of what Harry was about to do pressing down on her. “Don’t look like that, Hermione, I’ll see you later…” he gave them a fleeting smile before turning and hurrying off, vaulting back through the portrait hole.
Hermione turned to Ron as the tapestry closed. He looked dumbstruck, Harry’s old socks and the half-empty bottle of Felix Felicis in his hands. This was it. If Harry was right and Malfoy had succeeded in whatever it was he had been working towards all year, they had to stop him. Hermione swallowed down her fear and doubt. She didn’t need it right now — she needed a plan.
“Find your sister,” she told Ron, “Bring her here. I’ll go grab my D.A. coin.”
It took her awhile to find it once she made it up to the dormitory. Neither Parvati nor Lavender were there, which she lamented if only because it would have been easier to tell them what was happening in person. She had to clear out half of her trunk — littering her side of the room with Muggle clothes, books, and spare notebooks — before she found the small coin, which she had charmed into a communication device for Dumbledore’s Army last year.
She thundered back down the stairs, finding Ron and Ginny near the portrait hole.
“Here,” Ron said, passing her the bottle of Felix Felicis, which had noticeably less liquid inside since Harry had given it to him, “Take the last of it.”
Hermione grabbed the bottle and tilted it back into her mouth. She felt warmth spread through her, but it couldn’t blot out the growing anxiety in her mind.
“I think we should go to the Room of Requirement,” she told them, “I’ll set the coordinates on the coin, and whoever sees it will meet us there.”
“Good idea,” Ginny said, pushing the portrait open.
Hermione took a steadying breath as she stepped out into the corridor. For a moment she thought about Blaise, down in the Slytherin common room. She got an urge to contact him, but it was fleeting — if Harry was right and Malfoy really was going to attack the school tonight, the last thing she wanted was for Blaise to get caught in the middle of it, especially when there was no more lucky potion to go around.
She led the way to the Room of Requirement, trying not to worry that no one would come to help, that the Felix would run out too soon, that Harry was in fatal danger without any liquid luck. Instead, she thought about what needed to be done. Find Malfoy, find Snape. They had to protect the castle.