Harry rubbed the diminishing lump on his head with a wince. He noted the guilty look that Hermione shot him from her perch on the bed, a sleepy Gabe draped on her lap as they read a book together. Harry sent her a tiny smile, hoping to brush away her guilt. After all, it wasn't exactly her fault that he had passed out so abruptly after the Summoning Ritual, three days ago.
Harry was bored and that rarely boded well for those around him, as he tended to get mischievous during the rare moments where his spare time wasn't filled with brooding. He glanced around, noted that Gabe had finally nodded off, surely feeling the effects of the lovely dinner they had eaten a couple hours ago and the bath Alana had subjected on the bubbly Zabini boy. Hermione was so enraptured with the fairytale she had been reading to Gabe that she didn't notice the boy in her arms snoozing.
Harry allowed his body to slide bonelessly to the floor, feeling only a tad silly at his technique to avoid notice. Once he was on the floor, he wiggled out of sight, only pulling himself up to a crawl at the foot of Hermione's bed. He thanked Merlin that the door had been propped open after Blaise had gone to his room to shower.
He knew Hermione would disapprove of him practicing his recently acquired skills for his own amusement. He grinned as he shifted, perking his ears up to make sure Hermione's voice had not paused. With the quietest movements imaginable, he slunk from the room and continued on to Blaise's room.
Harry's chuckle at his own perceived cleverness and evasion skills came out distorted, he noted, as he sat down in front of Blaise's bathroom door. He heard the shower running and could smell the soap strongly. A few minutes ticked by and Harry had taken to running different reaction scenarios in his mind in an effort to keep himself entertained. The shower shut off just as he heard his name being called softly from Hermione's room.
Hurry up! Harry thought, knowing he had seconds before he was busted. He heard the soft padding of feet in the hall just as the door to the bathroom opened, allowing a cloud of steam to precede a still damp Blaise, towel slung around his hips loosely.
"Harry?" Hermione called from Blaise's doorway, peeking around the corner just in time to catch Blaise's foot long jump backwards, the towel that had been loose to begin with falling off his muscled frame with the frantic movement. The water droplets that had been sliding down Blaise's chest continued their descent down to his now uncovered (and well-endowed, Hermione would note much later) cock.
"Bloody fucking hell!" Blaise yelped in surprise, more concerned about the possibility of being eaten than being naked in front of the potential love of his life.
His pale face grew paler as the large Black Panther in front of him was joined by a small-ish spotted lynx. The lynx lunged at the black panther, biting the larger cat on its long, swishing tail. The Panther, which a moment ago seemed to be laughing in an odd, wheezy cat sort of way, suddenly yelped from the unexpected attack, and quickly moved to dislodge the lynx. Blaise gasped as the Panther instinctively took a swipe with its large paw at the small lynx, the blow connecting and sending the smaller cat rolling backwards. The lynx growled lowly, the only warning the now cowering Panther received before the small cat pounced on the Panthers back, chomping down on the Panther's ear.
Blaise, shocked into stillness up until this point, snapped out of his daze and reached for the wand that was on the nightstand nearest to him. He muttered a quick 'dress me' spell and proceeded to run from the room, hoping that his family was okay and that Hermione and Harry would know what in the hell was going on or at the very least, help him get rid of the bickering cats that somehow ended up in his room.
Hermione's room was empty, apart from a sleeping Gabe that was snuggled under Hermione's covers. Blaise began to panic, and only the lack of blood gave him hope that Hermione had not been hurt by the quarreling cats. A quick duck into Harry's room also proved to be fruitless and Blaise's worry mounted. He cautiously padded back to his room, peering in and catching the continuing tussle. The panther was on its side, trying in vain to dislodge the lynx from its ear, with the lynx swatting at the panther's back while tugging the ear in its mouth with an oddly gentle aggressiveness.
The angry gleam in the lynx's hazel eyes was so familiar that Blaise's mind put the pieces together with astonishing quickness. The cats, the very same bickering felines that had scared the wits out of him were Harry and Hermione. Blaise shut the door to his room and cast a silencing charm on the room, knowing that things would be getting loud very shortly. He pointed his wand and performed the spell that had once turned a rat into a man so long ago in front of the two that were now panting and swearing angrily at each other.
"My fucking ear, Merlin's saggy blue balls-" Harry was cut off by Hermione's angry shriek.
"You could have given him a heart attack you imbecile! What were you thinking? Prancing around, no regard to secrecy or –" Hermione's shrill tones were stopped by Blaise.
"When were you planning on telling me about being Animagi?" Blaise's tone was soft, almost hurt, but still holding a hint of awe. The pair was surprised; they quickly realized that they were once again human and that Blaise was peering down at their frozen forms. Hermione moved her face away from Harry's ear and pushed away from him and bounced up from her position on the floor, but not without a parting smack on the back of the head for Harry who winced.
"You got the bump, Hermione!" Harry whined.
"Good!" Hermione shot back, crossing her arms and glaring at him. Blaise waited patiently for her anger to cool, knowing that his answers would only come after her annoyance tempered out.
Harry stood slowly, rubbing the back of his neck and ear awkwardly. A sheepish look adorned his red face, and he shot Blaise an apologetic look. Blaise nodded, accepting Harry's apology for scaring him.
Blaise noted that Harry would need some payback for the timing of the prank, however.
"I-well, we- I mean…" Hermione looked guiltily at Blaise. "We started research to become Animagi in our sixth year and finally managed to transform only just before we ended up in your back garden." With Ron gone, their time needed to be occupied somehow. They hated thinking about the friend that had turned tail and ran.
"We didn't mean to hide it. It just never really came up." Harry explained. "What with our boning up on spells and killing a horcrux."
"Okay. " Blaise replied, eyes lingering on a twitchy Hermione. She looked up at that.
"Okay?" She asked, concerned. Did she hurt Blaise's feelings badly? Was he mad at them, at her?
"Okay." Blaise held her gaze with his own. He wasn't mad per say, more disappointed than anything. Being an Animagi was an extraordinary thing, only powerful wizard folk were able to perform the transformation. It was a big thing to forget to tell a comrade. He had felt like a part of the duo, and now he found himself on the outskirts.
"Alright then, sorry about scaring you, mate. I'm off to bed." Harry waved awkwardly and took Blaise's nod in his direction as dismissal. Hermione shot a parting look at Blaise, before she too left the room and Blaise to his thoughts.
A glance at the clock on the nightstand informed Hermione that it was close to 2 in the morning. She hadn't had the heart to move Gabe from her bed, and a soft snore reminded her that all of her tossing and turning needed to stop, or risk waking up the sleeping angel.
She sighed and turned on her side, facing the slumbering Zabini boy. She could vaguely make out the dark fringe of his thick eyelashes as they lay across his still chubby cheeks. His button nose would twitch occasionally and his lips would quirk up in a tiny smile every once in awhile. The resemblance that Gabe shared with his brother caused a curious pang in Hermione's heart.
She felt terrible. It was true enough that the topic of being an animagus had never come up, but really, how often does that kind of conversation come up? It doesn't, and she knew she should have told him the night they decided to learn more spells and switch up their strategy.
How could she fix it? She felt Gabe's hand twitch and connect with hers and it seemed that with the small contact a lightning bolt of realization had hit her.
She had not apologized to Blaise. She had hardly been able to look him in the eye, let alone apologize. Oh, she felt even worse now.
He and his family had taken them in, nourished them and provided warm, loving shelter. He had sworn himself to secrecy and vowed to aid them when their other 'friend' had abandoned them. He cared about her.
More to the point, she cared about him.
And with that, Hermione stopped her useless fretting and quietly got out of bed, dropping a kiss on Gabe's forehead in silent thanks for his unwitting help.
It wasn't until she found herself peering down at a sleeping Blaise that her courage began to diminish. What was she going to say?
"Blaise?" She whispered softly, hoping to wake him gently. He stirred slightly but made no indication of rousing fully. She sighed.
Before her courage completely failed, she lifted the blankets and slid in next Blaise, leaning on her elbow she was angled above him. She leant in slightly, observing the way that the moonlight highlighted his handsomeness. He looked so innocent and sweet; her heart flooded with an emotion she dared not define.
"Blaise." Hermione whispered near his ear, pulling back slightly to see if he would wake. His eyes opened slightly, a crinkle above his brow marked his confusion for a moment before it smoothed out and a smile formed. He looked like he was caught in the place between dreams and reality.
Hermione looked into his beautiful green eyes and couldn't contain herself. The sleepy smile that Blaise wore shifted as Hermione Granger captured his mouth in a gentle kiss.
Hermione traced her fingers over Blaise's defined cheekbones and down to his neck, reaching around to tangle with the curly black hair on the nape of his neck. She felt Blaise circle an arm around her waist and the other slid up her back, finding a resting place between her shoulder blades.
The kiss was soft; both relished the warm sweetness of it. Finally, before she gave into the urge to deepen the kiss, as well as do a litany of naughty things to the sleepy man beneath her, Hermione pulled away.
"Am I dreaming?" Blaise whispered so quietly, Hermione had to strain to hear. Hermione shook her head, gazing seriously at the green-eyed man beneath her.
"I dream of this so often, I'm not sure if I should believe you." He was dead serious and Hermione could think of only one way to prove that he wasn't dreaming.
In the time that it took Blaise to blink, Hermione had disappeared. A flash of disappointment went through him, his fear was confirmed, he had been dreaming. Just as he was about to roll over and try to get back to sleep he felt something soft –that was not Hermione's skin- rub against his bare chest. Before he could even think to move, a furry head and familiar hazel eyes caught his eyes in a trance and he lay still, with Hermione's lynx body lying on his chest.
Lynx Hermione peered at him with sorrowful eyes before running a rough tongue over his nose and then his cheeks. Blaise chuckled quietly and hugged Lynx Hermione to his chest, running his hands up and down her furry back. She was so soft and Blaise could pet her all day.
Hermione seemed to like being petted, and she showed her appreciation by nuzzling into Blaise's neck, occasionally running her tongue over a sweet spot on his neck just below his ear. A shiver ran through Blaise whenever he felt her lick that spot.
A purr began to rumble through Hermione and the sensation made Blaise grin.
"Not a dream, then." Blaise whispered, peering down at Hermione's lynx eyes. A shake of her head confirmed everything and a bubble of excitement filled his heart. She had kissed him.
Hermione was lying on top of him- granted she was an animal, but that's neither here nor there- and she had kissed him.
Blaise felt Hermione wiggling off his chest, being careful not to let her sharp nails scratch him. As soon as she was pressed to Blaise's side she transformed back, biting her lip anxiously.
"I'm sorry." She said simply, knowing Blaise would understand. She lifted her eyes to his and found a gentleness in their green depths.
"Forgiven." Blaise replied sincerely. Hermione beamed at him before starting to shift away, intent on sliding out of the bed. An arm around her waist halted the movements. Blaise slid an arm under her and pulled her closer so that she was curled up against him, her head resting on his shoulder.
"Sleep, Hermione." Blaise commanded gently. Hermione was only too happy to comply. Now that the 'fight' was over she found herself to be greatly exhausted.
"Hermione?" A sleepy 'hmmm' was heard.
"Teach me how to do it?" The unsure tone had Hermione sliding her arms around Blaise and hugging him tight.
"Of course." She whispered into his chest before planting a lingering kiss on his collar bone. Warm and content, both fell asleep instantly.
An hour after Hermione had laid a gentle kiss atop his sleeping head found the younger Zabini boy awake and groping around for comfort after a dream involving a very scary dog and a flowerbed that sprouted hands. He looked around, realizing he was in Hermione's room and wondered where she was.
Without too much thought, Gabe climbed out of the warm bed to do what he usually did when he had a nightmare. He opened the door and checked the hallway for unruly dogs or crawling hands. He spotted none, and quick as lightening bolted from Hermione's doorway to Blaise's door, yanking it open and closing it swiftly. He took a moment to calm his breathing, leaning against the door heavily.
After a moment, he tip-toed to the bed, ready to spring on the mattress and bury himself under the covers next to his strong and brave older brother. He stopped short of completing his usual routine when he noticed Hermione and Blaise snuggled together, sleeping deeply. Blaise was lying on his right side, facing the door, with his left arm wrapped tightly around Hermione's waist, his right arm under her head. Hermione was also sleeping on her right side and had her right hand twined with Blaise's hand around her waist. That left her left arm free, Gabe realized with a happy smile.
Sure he had come here seeking protection from his trusted older brother, but now he would have two powerful people keeping him safe. What luck!
Quietly and carefully, Gabe slithered under the covers, turning his back to Hermione and scooting backward until he felt her warm body against his back. He shifted slightly and carefully lifted her left arm and pulled it around him, snuggling with it like he would a teddy bear.
Hermione's arm tightened around him and he snuggled deeper into her embrace, a sleepy smile on his face as he fell back asleep, dreaming sweet dreams and feeling like nothing could ever hurt him.
Harry Potter felt a pang as he gazed down at the sight before him. A pang of what? Loneliness? Mirth? The urge to sigh, 'Awww,'. All of the above.
It was a verifiable Hermione sandwich in Blaise Zabini's bed. Both Zabini's had her snuggled into them, creating a spooning party. Harry had obviously not gotten the invitation. He shrugged his shoulders, realized that the sun had barely peeked over the horizon, and he was about to gatecrash the snuggle party.
It was lucky, Blaise owning a king sized bed, and before anyone knew it Harry slipped in next to Gabe, content to get a few extra minutes of sleep. He almost chuckled when he felt Gabe hug his arm in his sleep, but the chuckle died and turned into a snore. Harry Potter was fast asleep once more.
"Loves, time to wake up!" Alana Zabini sing-songed to the brood on her eldest son's bed. She had wandered in here after going to her younger son's room to rouse him for breakfast and finding his bed unslept in. She was expecting to find Gabe and Blaise snoozing, but was happily surprised to find all of the children in her care snuggled peacefully together. It was such an endearing sight, and she had snapped a picture of it for that very reason.
In their sleep it seemed that they all were protecting each other, with Hermione as the main benefactor; Hermione was on her back, both of her sons had an arm around her stomach. Harry Potter had arm thrown over her baby boy and it extended over to hold Hermione's arm. Hermione for her part held onto the arms that were draped over her.
"Loves, breakfast is on the table!" Alana spoke louder, finding herself rewarded with opening eyes and groans.
"Oh, my!" Hermione muttered, realizing that she had been caught in bed with Blaise. Before she could stutter out any apology to Alana, or assurances that nothing untoward had occurred she realized that her right shoulder was slightly damp. She glanced around and realized that her shoulder had recently been used by Gabe as a pillow and the dampness was his drool. She saw Harry's messy head lift from a pillow and realized that the sweet smile that Alana was wearing was due to the impromptu sleepover she had stumbled in upon.
A few minutes later had the sleepy troupe climbing down the stairs to eat breakfast as a 'family'. Alana frequently glanced around the table with a sweet smile, and Galileo had taken to coaching Harry on the proper way to mix a potion that cured most cases of Dragon Pox. Hermione kept sending sly glances towards an oblivious Blaise, blushing at the silly smile plastered on his face. Gabe was as usual, chattering happily about adventures, broom rides and his favorite guests to anyone who would listen.
Shortly after breakfast found the trio once again holed up in the basement, freshly washed and changed. Blaise and Harry were dueling, testing reflexes and newly learned spells while Hermione was pouring new potions into vials to store in her beaded bag. She had already quietly collected some clothes from Blaise's room, just in case a lead on a new Horcrux fell into their laps and was now working on improving and replenishing her potions stock. She had added a few books to her library as well.
It wasn't until a couple of days later that Hermione was insanely grateful for squirreling away necessities into her beaded bag, a bag that rarely left her body these days.
The trio had just finished dinner and Harry had been on the cusp of mastering the 'flying knives' spell that they had recently found in a book on medieval magicks. The purpose of the spell was to conjure and control a set (usually six)of knives as they flew at the enemy. Blaise and Hermione had taken to the spell quickly, Hermione because of her skills with conjuring and controlling birds and Blaise because he was just plain good at spells and hexes. Harry on the other hand, had some difficulty aiming the knives as precisely as possible.
As Hermione was dodging a stray knife, smiling at Harry's growing accuracy she heard Blaise swear loudly and called off the duel to check on him.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Blaise was pacing, a golden card in his hands. Harry came up behind Hermione and shot her a confused look. Hermione shrugged back before reaching out and softly touching Blaise's shoulder, getting him to cease his pacing.
"What's the matter?" Her voice calmed Blaise fractionally. Without a word he handed the glowing gold card to Hermione. She immediately felt its heat and read the words that appeared at the top of the card. The card itself vaguely reminded Hermione of a cross between a muggle credit card and calculator, but its face included letters as well as numbers.
"Help?" Hermione read the message aloud in confusion, catching Blaise's eye.
"It's from Theo. Before we went home for Christmas break we charmed a pair of communication devices just in case we didn't go back to school and needed to talk. He was worried his dad would keep him behind and make him take the Dark Mark." Blaise's voice cracked with worry.
Harry instantly stood tall and put a bracing hand on Blaise's arm, offering comfort the way men do. Hermione on the other hand was running through everything in her mind rapidly. Nott Senior had broken out of Azkaban during the summer and had presumably continued his Death Eater activities. Theo needed help and he was going to get it.
"Should we floo or apparate?" Hermione demanded, already shoving things in her bag.
"Don't most Pureblood family homes have anti-apparition jinxes? Floo sounds better, right Blaise?" Harry was already double checking his pockets and his mokeskin pouch, being sure he had everything he needed for the rescue mission.
"Floo is best. His bedroom fireplace is open to travelers from Zabini Manor." Blaise was overjoyed at his friends willingness to help his oldest and best friend, even in the face of the possibility of running into a Death Eater.
"Let's go. Blaise, Glamour yourself quickly. We don't want to paint a target on your back, and by extension your family's." Hermione ordered, already climbing the stairs to reach the main sitting room. Blaise complied, charming his eyes to a murky brown and his hair to light brown. He could not do much for the rest of him, and just prayed that Nott Senior was too addled to recognize him.
They reached the fireplace in record time and Blaise took the first pinch and shouted 'Theo's Lair' into the flames before stepping in and disappearing. The title of Theo's room would have been humorous any other time, Harry believed.
Two minutes later and the trio had all successfully flooed and were following Blaise as he ran down the stairs towards the sounds of extreme violence. Screams of pain bounced off the walls and echoed through the hall and the tell-tale dark red glow could be seen as they approached what appeared to be the living room. The urgency felt by the trio increased at the color of the curse. Theo was being held under the Cruciatus.
Blaise skidded to a halt inside the room and lifted his wand to cast a spell, but Nott Senior was quick. In a moment, he had lifted the curse from his son and pointed his wand at Blaise, putting him under the effects for a few seconds before Harry disarmed him.
Hermione rushed to Blaise, helping him stand on his shaky legs before running to Theo and looking him over. He was in terrible shape; blood was pouring from numerous cuts on his face and neck, bruises were darkening as the seconds passed and he was not responding to Hermione's 'ennerverate'.
It was abundantly clear that the Cruciatus was only a tiny portion of the abuse and torture that Theo had recently suffered. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Nott reach into his cloak and grab a spare wand. She covered Theo's body with her own and screamed for Blaise.
"Get him out of here!" She ordered as Blaise stumbled towards her, his usual leonine grace temporarily absent as his muscles were still remembering the pain they had endured for however short a time. Hermione knew that Blaise would be able to Apparate out; as long as he had Theo with him the wards would undoubtedly allow them to pass.
Hermione jumped behind a darkly decorated fire grate the second that she heard Blaise apparate Theo out of the house. The grate was thick and acted as a shield, causing the curse that Nott threw at her to bounce off and collide with a vase in the corner of the room.
She saw Nott shift his focus to Harry as he ran towards her. Nott hurled a reducto curse at Harry, narrowly missing him. Hermione let out a growl of anger before she popped up from behind the grate and caught Nott with the 'internal fire' curse that Harry had just barely mastered.
With no small amount of satisfaction she saw the immediate weakening of Nott as the curse worked its magic. Nott was grabbing at himself, agony written on his face. She could vaguely hear Harry shouting Blaise's name, and she figured he had made it back.
Then a moment of sheer panic overtook her as she locked eyes with Nott, curse still coursing through her wand. With an almost insane smirk, she saw Nott summon the strength and will power to touch the Dark Mark on his left arm with his wand. The panic worked its way through her and before she had time to control herself, to temper her magic, Nott burst into flames.
She had lost control of her emotions and thoughts for a second and Nott was now a fiery corpse on his own living room floor. Hermione dropped her wand, a mixture of horror and numbness struggled for dominance within her. She could vaguely feel Blaise and Harry grabbing onto her hands in an attempt to get her to look away from her handiwork, or perhaps to get her to follow them back to Theo's room so they could floo out without leaving an obvious trail.
Whatever their motives were, they failed to get her attention before the sounds of Apparition flooded the room and masked Death Eaters surrounded them.
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