Summary: After a midnight encounter, Hermione's view of Firenze began to change. What happens when sparks fly and the line between teacher and student began to blur? Set in 7th year. This fic completely and utterly ignores everything that happened in DH and assumes that everything is just fine and dandy (either that or the author is wearing rose-colored glasses). Aw heck, while I'm at it, let's make this non-HBP compliant as well. I want Dumbledore alive, dammit!

Note: I don't remember where Firenze's classroom was. It's been years since I read OotP. All I remember was that it looked like a forest. I'd assumed his classroom would be in the same room (or at least the same general area) as Trelawney's Divination class, which, if I recall correctly, is in a tower. By extension, I also assumed that Firenze's quarters wouldn't be that far from his classroom, i.e., in the tower. If I'm wrong, please forgive me!

I don't know the full extent of centaurs' magical ability. I know only that they have divination skills, and I read in hp-lexicon that they have magical healing skills as well. I'm taking some creative license here (based on that classroom-that-looked-like-a-forest thing) and assumed that they have other skills like illusion or transfiguration or stuff like that.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter ain't mine (though I wish Firenze was… he he….). I make no moolah out of this.

oOo

She didn't normally come here, especially this late at night. It was just a small clearing surrounded by trees and bushes. It would've made a perfect make-out spot for couples during Yule Ball, but it a little too close to the Forbidden Forest. So, most students avoid it— if they venture this far at all. But Hermione had a reason for coming out here tonight. She had been secretly experimenting on creating a crystal that would protect its wielder from powerful hexes and jinxes. She had steeped a quartz crystal in an experimental potion that she'd invented. But that wasn't all. After much research, she deduced that she would have to expose the potion-imbued crystal under the northern star for three nights in a row, starting from the full moon, which happened to be tonight.

So why did she come all the way out here when she could've simply left the crystal on her dormitory window in Gryffindor Tower? Simple. Had she left it anywhere within Hogwarts, anyone could've stumbled upon it. Whereas this secluded spot was not only avoided by most people, but was also out of the way that the chances of anyone stumbling upon it were quite low.

She supposed she could've just set it somewhere and placed a concealment and an imperturbable charm around it, but she didn't want to risk contaminating the crystal with unnecessary magic.

So, she borrowed Harry's invisibility cloak, then set out for the clearing. She crossed the grassy field, then pushed past the trees and the low-hanging branches that bordered the hidden clearing. Just as she emerged onto the clearing, however, she stopped.

There, standing in the middle of the clearing, stood Firenze. He was facing away from her. He had a bag slung across his shoulders, though she couldn't see what was in the bag. The moonlight was shining upon his entire body— from his long, silver blonde hair to the tip of his silvery tail —giving him an almost ethereal glow.

For a brief moment, Hermione stood entranced. She had seen Firenze on one or two occasions (he rarely came down from his tower during meal times). She had heard seen how Lavender and Pavarti swooned over him, but she never actually took notice of the centaur beyond a simple acknowledgement that he was her teacher (sort of. Not that she'd ever taken any of his classes). But now, seeing him bathed in moonlight like this, the only word she could come up with to describe him in her mind was: beautiful.

Firenze stood unmoving. He was looking at the Forbidden Forest with such longing in his eyes that Hermione couldn't help but reach her heart out towards him. Did he miss his people? Did he dream of returning to his herd one day?

Suddenly, Firenze stiffened. He swiveled his head around and looked from left to right, as if he was searching for something. Then, he stilled and tilted his head slightly, as if he was listening for something.

Hermione froze. She started breathing rapidly out of nervousness. What if Firenze spotted her? She turned around, ready to head back when she heard the sound of crunching leaves, followed by galloping hooves.

She turned around and looked just in time to see Firenze galloping towards her. He was looking around, as if he was trying to find someone or something.

Hermione froze. If she were to move, Firenze might hear her. She tried to calm her breath, but her heart was beating rapidly. She could only hope that Firenze's hearing wasn't that good (though that might be wishful thinking. Do centaurs have better sense of hearing than humans? She didn't know. She never asked. Now she wished she had!)

Firenze continued searching. He looked to and fro while his arms swept around him, as if searching for something.

Or someone, Hermione thought in panic. Her heart was beating like mad. She couldn't move, lest Firenze hear her. But at the rate he was moving and the way he was reaching blindly around him, he might accidentally knock her over.

He galloped closer in her direction.

Hermione panicked and tried to duck around the tree she was leaning against.

Suddenly, Firenze leapt up towards the tree she was leaning against and started searching around the tree. By sheer luck, his hand grazed the invisibility cloak she was wearing. He grasped at it and pulled it.

Both centaur and human froze as they stared at each other.

"Miss Granger? What are you doing here?" Firenze frowned. He looked at the fabric in his hand, then turned his eyes back towards her and raised an eyebrow at her. "And under an invisibility cloak, no less."

"I… I was just… er…" Hermione fidgeted. She wrung her hands nervously. She knew she shouldn't have been out here, Head Girl or no. But how else would she be able to complete her experiment with the crystal?

"Well?" Firenze raised an eyebrow in a manner that was too Snape-like for her comfort. On hindsight, she would probably prefer seeing that expression on Firenze rather than on Snape. At least Firenze would be a tad more fair in his punishments than Snape.

"I… I…" Hermione contemplated lying, but what was the point? There was nothing wrong or illegal about the experiment she was doing. In fact, she was sure that Professor Dumbledore would probably cheer her on, were it not for the fact that she had to sneak out in the middle of the night in order to complete it.

Firenze gave her a 'look' that said he was still waiting for her answer.

Hermione sighed in resignation. She took out the crystal that she had in her pocket and said, "I was experimenting on creating a crystal that would protect its wearer from powerful hexes and jinxes. I've finished the first step, which is leaving the crystal in my own experimental potion. But now I needed to leave the crystal exposed to the northern star for three nights in a row, starting from full moon, in order to complete it."

"Can you not do this from your dormitory?" Firenze asked.

"I… suppose," Hermione shuffled and pouted. "But I'm sharing a room with Lavender and Pavarti. They could easily find it and either move it or take it away, or even cast dark-detector spells on it, which I don't want to happen since any unnecessary magic could potentially contaminate the crystal. I'm sorry for being out here this late, but this is the best place I could think of that wouldn't be overrun by students during the day."

"I see." Firenze crossed his arms. Then, with a disapproving look, he said, "As noble as your intentions were, this place is too dangerous for you. It's far too close to the Forbidden Forest. Besides, you should not be out this late."

"I know. I'm sorry. It's just that… I can't think of anywhere else to put this crystal," Hermione said.

Firenze sighed. He looked at the crystal, then frowned in contemplation. After awhile, he said, "What if I place it on the windowsill in my quarters, would that suffice?"

Hermione looked thoughtful. She had never been to his quarters, so she would have no way of knowing whether it would be suitable or not.

"Can you see the northern star from your window?" Hermione asked.

"Yes." Firenze answered.

Hermione thought about it. She wasn't entire sure if that would work, since she had no way of knowing what his quarters look like. Still, it was a better offer than any.

"Come," Firenze suddenly said. "I will show you my quarters, and you can decide for yourself."

Hermione blinked. "You… really?"

Firenze flicked his tail and began to move. He glanced back towards her and said, "Come, Miss Granger. Let us not dally here. It is not safe here at night, even when we are still on castle grounds."

Hermione nodded and moved to catch up to him. Together, they walked back towards the castle. Firenze walked slowly and matched his pace with hers. For awhile, nothing neither spoke. Only the clip-clopping sound of his hooves broke the silence between them.

But something nagged at Hermione. She glanced sideways at Firenze and couldn't help but wonder: what was he doing out here?

"Sir, can I ask you something?" Hermione looked at him.

Firenze glanced at her, waiting for her to continue.

"Why were you out here?" Hermione asked, then winced inwardly at her words when she belatedly realized how rude she sounded. Hadn't she seen the look of longing in his eyes earlier when he looked at the forest? What if she'd inadvertently intruded upon a private moment for him?

But Firenze didn't admonish her at all. Instead, he answered, "I was searching for mallowsweet for my seventh year class."

"Mallowsweet…" Hermione tried to think of what she knew about the plant. She remembered reading about it in her herbology book. Then, her eyes widened when she finally recalled what the plant was. "Oh! Isn't that the plant that you burn during stargazing, to refine your results by observing its fumes?"

Firenze gave her a rare smile and nodded. "Yes, that's the one."

For some reason, Hermione's heart fluttered at his smile. Blushing, she looked away and forced herself to focus on the grass under their feet. Inwardly, she berated herself for acting like a hormonal teenager. Oh, honestly! It was just a smile! She tried to stomp on the little butterflies fluttering around her stomach, but it only made her even more aware of the fact that Firenze was walking closely next to her.

"I have heard of your accomplishments in your classes. Pity you did not continue Divination. I am curious as to how you would have fared under my tutelage." Firenze said.

Hermione blushed at the not-quite-veiled compliment. "Yes, well… I had only taken it for a short time under Professor Trelawney and, well.. you know how she is. I hardly learned anything from her beyond guessing what my next calamity ought to be."

Firenze smiled inwardly. "Ah. Yes. She certainly has a… unique teaching style."

Hermione snorted. "Well that's an understatement, don't you think?"

Firenze smiled indulgently, then said, "Do not be so hard on her. She is trying in the only way she knows best. Some of her methods could have worked to those few who are gifted with the art of prophecy— but people with such gifts are rare. It is a gift that cannot be taught, no matter how many books or classes one may take. For the rest of us, the easiest, most precise way to foretell the future is by watching the stars, as your human ancestors once did, though many of you seemed to have abandoned that art."

Hermione blinked. "You know our history?"

Firenze nodded. "Though my people separate ourselves from the human world, we are not ignorant of it. We would be foolish if we were. You humans are in a constant state of flux. You change constantly, unlike we centaurs, whose way of life had not changed for nearly a millennia. Still, in order for us to survive, we must always be aware of what is going on around us. That is also why we constantly search the stars, for we do not have the freedom to roam about the world as you do."

Hermione looked to the ground as she contemplated his words. After awhile, she spoke, "It's not fair that you should have to hide yourselves. This is as much your world as it is ours. You should be able to walk freely as you choose, like going around London, or even taking the train."

Something shone in Firenze's eyes when he heard her words. He looked at her and gave her a sad sort-of smile. "My herd are content to remain in the forest, for we are not accustomed to the stone walls that your kind favors. But thank you for your words. No one has ever said that about my people before."

"I meant what I said. I think it's unfair that centaurs were treated differently. Why did your people refuse to be classified as 'being'?" Hermione asked. She remembered how centaurs insisted on being classified as 'beasts' instead.

"We are creatures of the forest. Most of my people have no desire to mingle with outsiders. As 'beasts', we would not be expected to take part in human society, to trade, do business as goblins do, or even take part in your ministry. We are content to be left alone." Firenze replied. There was a faraway look in his eyes as he said this. Then, he sighed.

Hermione noticed his sad gaze and frowned. "You miss them, don't you?"

Firenze looked at her questioningly.

"I noticed the way you look at the forest back in that clearing earlier. You looked so sad," Hermione looked at him with a sad gaze.

Firenze's eyes softened. He gave a sad smile and said, "Do not concern yourself with me, Miss Granger." He looked up at the stars and continued, "What's done is done. No amount of wishing will change my past. But I still have a home here in Hogwarts. And for that, I am grateful."

"Is there no way to get your herd to accept you again?" Hermione asked with a look of concern in her eyes.

Firenze sighed and shook his head. "They are stubborn and set in their ways."

"Still, there's got to be a way." Hermione insisted.

"Perhaps," Firenze said in a faraway voice. "But I do not think they will change their minds so readily."

Hermione sighed. She looked and realized that they had arrived back at the castle. Silently, they made their way up to the tower where Firenze dwelt. Instead of continuing up to the divination classroom, they veered to the right and stopped in front of what looked like a blank wall. Of course, anyone who'd been in Hogwarts long enough ought to know that appearances are often deceiving in this magical castle.

"Myrrhwall." Firenze muttered while looking at the wall. The wall shifted to reveal an archway.

"Myrrhwall?" Hermione looked at Firenze in question.

"It is an ancient centaur language, one that was spoken by my people thousands of years ago, long before wizards separate themselves from muggles," Firenze said.

"What does it mean?" Hermione asked curiously. She never knew that centaurs had their own language. But, merfolk had their own language. Nearly every muggle country had their own language. She supposed, it only made sense that centaurs would have their own, too.

"It refers to a moment in time. A memory," Firenze replied with a wistful look in his eyes.

"A memory…" Hermione muttered in a whispered tone. She looked beyond the arched gateway… and gasped.

"That's your quarters?!" Hermione's jaws dropped. She had expected a room with a bed, or at least some sort of furniture. Instead, his 'quarters' were filled with trees, moss-covered ground, vines, and bushes. In short, it was a miniature forest. She looked up at the ceiling and noticed twinkling stars and the full moon from between the branches. But the image was ghostly, just like the ceiling in the Great Hall.

"It's… an illusion…" Hermione muttered.

"Yes," Firenze replied while gazing at his ceiling. "I find it more relaxing to sleep under the stars."

"But the trees… are they… real?" Hermione took a step inside, then paused and looked at Firenze, who still stood by the arched gateway. "Is it okay for me to go in?"

"Go ahead," Firenze inclined his head.

Hermione smiled, then walked towards the nearest tree. Tentatively, she touched the bark and gasped when her hand came in contact with its rough texture. "It's real!"

"Real enough." Firenze muttered as he stepped past the arched gateway. As soon as he stepped in, the arched gateway rearranged itself and formed a blank wall once more.

"The tree is an illusion too?" Hermione withdrew her hand and looked at Firenze in confusion. Not that the concept of illusions were foreign to her. She had her meals under an illusory sky every single day, after all. But all the illusions she'd encountered or had been able to conjure so far never felt solid. Like Firenze's ceiling, most illusions had a ghostly texture to them. One could always tell that its an illusion because it's somewhat see-through, like ghosts.

But these trees were solid.

The tree bark felt cool and rough to the touch, and a bit damp, too. It felt just like a real tree would.

"There are different types of illusions. The first one is the simple one, like the ceiling above us and the one you see in the Great Hall. It requires naught but a simple charm. Though they can be modified in a number of ways, these types of illusions were never solid. You can usually see through illusions such as these. The second one, is the one you see before you here. The trees you see in this room is a combination of transfiguration and illusion." Firenze answered.

Hermione looked around her with starry eyes. She felt like a kid lost in a mega-toy store. She was practically drooling at the thought of magic such as these! With a bounce in her steps, she turned towards Firenze and said, "Will you teach me how to do it?"

Firenze looked at her in surprise. "You wish to learn to create illusions?"

"Yes! I mean, look at this! I've never seen illusions this realistic before! You can actually touch these!" Hermione patted the nearby tree-trunk as if to illustrate her point. The tree made a 'thunk-thunk' noise as she patted its bark. Eyes wide, she turned to Firenze and said, "It even sounds real!"

Firenze couldn't help but smile at her enthusiasm.

"Very well, if you truly wish to learn, then I'd be glad to teach you," Firenze said with a smile.

Hermione grinned from ear to ear. Then, she launched herself at Firenze and said, "Thank you!"

Startled, Firenze took a half-step back from the impact of her hug.

"Er… yes. Well…" Firenze said awkwardly as he returned her hug awkwardly by placing his arm on her waist. He had never had a female launch herself at him, be it centaur or human. To have one willingly press herself against him sent his mind reeling in a direction he knew he shouldn't. Inwardly, he berated his reactions and steeled his thoughts. It wouldn't do for him to have inappropriate thoughts about a student— or any female, at the moment. For the very first time in his life, he desperately wished he was human. At least humans wear clothing, which could conceal any embarrassing 'reactions'. As a centaur, any 'reactions' out of him would be noticeable right away.

Hermione belatedly realized that she had— in a spur-of-the-moment thing —actually hugged Firenze. No, not the arms-around-his-waist sort of hug, but the arms-around-his-neck sort of hug that lovers often do while kissing. Hers was an innocent enough hug, but somewhat inappropriate between a male teacher and a female student. The fact that he was bare-chested only made the inappropriateness of their position even more apparent. At least, that's what her logical mind was telling her. Her body, however, felt quite content to remain in this position. A traitorous voice in her mind whispered that if she would just tilt her head up slightly she'd be able to kiss him.

Hermione hastily sprang away from Firenze.

"S-sorry. I didn't mean to… I mean… sorry." Hermione blushed beet red and turned away from Firenze in embarrassment.

Firenze cleared his throat nervously and decided not to comment on the hug. Instead, he said, "Come to the divinations classroom after dinner tomorrow and I will teach you the basics of illusion charms."

Grateful for the change in subject, Hermione turned to him and smiled, though the blush in her face was still evident. "Thank you. I'll be there."

Firenze nodded. He then looked towards the window on the far side of the room. He glanced at Hermione and asked, "Do you have the crystal with you?"

Hermione blinked. Crystal? What crys— oh. She blinked when her mind belatedly recalled the original reason she came here. She dug the crystal out of her pocket and held it up so Firenze could see. "Here it is."

"The window is over there," Firenze pointed across the room. "The windowsill should be wide enough to accommodate the crystal."

Hermione walked over to the window he pointed towards. It was an arched window, about as wide as her body and roughly one meter in length, ending roughly two feet above her head. Just as Firenze said, the windowsill was wide. In fact, it was wide enough that she could sit on it, if she wanted to (except she was scared of heights. There was no way on earth Hermione would want to sit on a windowsill on top of a friggin tower).

She peered out the window and looked at the constellations. She found the big dipper right away (which wasn't that difficult to find, anyway) and trailed her gaze from there in order to find Polaris, the North Star. Sure enough, there it was, the North Star, twinkling merrily above the sky. She looked around and saw the full moon shining from the left, though it was partially hidden by clouds at the moment.

"This'll do," Hermione said. She placed the crystal on the windowsill. Then, a thought popped in her mind. What if wind blew past and knocked the crystal off the windowsill? She frowned and turned to Firenze. "Do you have anything to secure it? I don't really want it to fall in case a strong wind blew on it or something."

"Wait here," Firenze said. He turned and disappeared behind the trees, though Hermione could still hear the crunching leaves and the clip-clopping of his hooves as he made his way around the trees.

Not long after, Firenze returned with what looked like a glass bowl in his hands.

"Would this suffice?" Firenze asked.

"That would be perfect! I didn't know you keep other things in here," Hermione muttered as she took the bowl from Firenze and set it on the windowsill. She placed the crystal inside and prayed that it wouldn't fall. She supposed she could place a temporary sticking charm on the bowl, but she didn't want to risk contaminating the crystal with the magic. So, she left it there and hoped that nothing would knock it over.

"This room is full of illusions, Miss Granger. Not everything you see here are trees and plants." Firenze said as he swept his gaze around his room.

"Oh? What other things are in here?" Hermione looked around curiously.

Firenze smiled and walked over to a tree right next to the window. He touched the bark. His hands shimmered as it did. The image of the tree wavered. As it did so, Hermione thought she could see the faint outlines of a stone pedestal inside. Then, the pedestal burst into flames. Firenze withdrew his hand and the tree became solid again. But the glow from the fire emanated by the pedestal inside the illusory tree remained.

"Amazing…" Hermione looked on with interest. Tentatively, she touched the tree. It was solid. She didn't even feel the heat from the fire. The tree bark felt damp and cool to the touch. "I can't even feel the fire." Excitedly, she turned to Firenze and asked, "Would I be able to do this someday?"

"With practice," Firenze inclined his head with a smile. "It takes years of training to be able to fully blend illusion and transfiguration."

"Years" Hermione's jaws dropped. Her eyes sunk in disappointment. "But I'm graduating in a few months!"

Firenze laughed. "Do not worry. I will teach you the basics so you can practice on your own once you graduate."

Hermione sighed in relief. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Firenze nodded.

Hermione left after that, but not before promising that she would return the next day for her first lesson in illusion charms (and to check on the crystal). As she walked back to her dormitory, she couldn't help but wonder how different Firenze was from what she thought he'd be. She had always been annoyed at Pavarti and Lavender whenever they flaunt in her face about the fact that their teacher was a "hot centaur" (Lavender's words, not Hermione's). And she'd always retorted with the same answer: that she wasn't very fond of horses.

Looking back, she now realized just how rude her comment was. She felt a pang of regret and hoped that Firenze never heard about her comments. He may have the body of a horse, but Firenze was anything but a horse. Now that she'd actually had a chance to talk to him, Firenze seemed more human to her than a beast. Then again, he was neither man nor beast. Firenze was… Firenze. It seemed as if he was in a class of his own.

Oh, honestly! Would you listen to yourself?! A class of his own? I sound like a hormonal teenager! Hermione blushed and berated herself.

She came up to the portrait of the Fat Lady at last, who was snoring in her chair at the moment.

"A-hem!" Hermione cleared her throat to get the portrait's attention.

"Wh— who…" The Fat Lady looked around in a dazed fashion until her bleary eyes rested upon Hermione. Seeing her, the Fat Lady's eyes widened in surprise. "My goodness! And where have you been young lady? Do you know what time it is? Why, I ought to—"

"Giggling glumbumble!" Hermione muttered the password quickly before the Fat Lady could say anything more.

"Oh, fine! Go on, in you go! Young people these days! No respect for the elders at all, I tell you! Honestly!" The Fat Lady scowled as the portrait door swung open.

Hermione stifled a grin and quickly stepped through the portrait hole. As soon as she made it back inside, she sighed in relief. The common room was completely devoid of life at this time of night. Everyone in the dormitories must've been asleep already by now. So, as quietly as possible, she made her way up the stairs and tip-toed inside her room. Luckily, Lavender and Pavarti were already asleep.

She paused and glanced at Lavender's sleeping form. A grin broke across Hermione's face when a thought popped in her mind. Imagine what Lavender and Pavarti would say if they found out I'd been in Firenze's quarters. Hermione's grin widened. Lavender and Pavarti would probably have a jealous fit.

Not that Hermione would ever flaunt such a thing in front of her friends. Still, it's nice to know that she could have her revenge for their petty remarks over the years (if she wanted to, which she didn't). She wasn't the vengeful sort by any means, but the thought of her being the one to flaunt Firenze in front of Lavender and Pavarti couldn't help but make her grin in amusement (and with no small amount of wicked joy).

She shook those thoughts out of her head then dug in her trunk for her night clothes.

She couldn't wait until tomorrow night.