The Whole Thing Is Ridiculous
by alejandra

Blaise Zabini has no interest in Gryffindors. He also has no interest in Slytherins, Hufflepuffs, or Ravenclaws. He is, in fact, irritated by the entirety of the student body of Hogwarts, pureblood and muggle-born. The only exception to this rule is, of course, Theodore - but even Theo has become tiresome of late. Blaise lays the blame for this directly on Neville Longbottom, a tedious Gryffindor who is a peripheral part of Potter's set. That's almost all Blaise knows about him (Theo has been rather vocal about Longbottom's proficiency in bed, which is rather... sickening).

Rather than bother with sitting about in the common room, fending off Draco's pathetic advances, helping first years with their Potions assignments, revising for Binns' pre-NEWT history class, or gossiping about the Dark Lord's plans for their sixth year (obviously the Dark Lord has a plan, as he's had plans for every other year that directly coincided with the school calendar; and obviously the Dark Lord would absolutely not share those plans with anyone attending Hogwarts, so the whole thing is ridiculous), Blaise spends most of his free time in Professor Vector's labs.

Today Arithmancy Lab Gamma smells slightly different. Blaise's nose twitches a little -- carrots and... vanilla? A strange combination. He scans the room and discovers the source of the odor: Granger is sitting in a corner, her shoulders hunched, head down. The book on the table in front of her is almost larger than she is.

"What are you doing here?" he asks sharply. He'd intended to spend the evening going over the principles of time turners. His project for sixth year is to make one, and he knows that somewhere in Professor Vector's library there has to be a less clumsy way to create one than the usual sand and hourglass and all that nonsense -- sand gets into everything and is easily destroyed, therefore surely someone in history came up with a far cleverer way of doing it. And careful studying is almost impossible when another person is scratching, snuffling, turning pages, and being generally noisy.

"Investigating," replies Granger, not even looking up.

"Why?" demands Blaise, feeling petulant - and therefore annoyed. Zabinis are not petulant. They are careful and decisive. They don't sulk like Malfoys or cry like Bulstrodes or --

"It's a free school," says Granger. "Well, almost, anyway. Now be quiet, I'm trying to concentrate on this."

Blaise glares at her, but when she doesn't budge, he slings his satchel down onto a desk in the other corner, as far away from her as he can get, and transfigures two other desks into small walls. They're slightly misshapen, and although he was trying for Slytherin green, he ended up with a rather nauseating turquoise. However, they are sufficient borders to cast a silencing spell, therefore the aesthetics can be overlooked for now. Blaise resolves to work a little harder in Transfiguration -- a lack of control over magic implies a lack of control over other things, and any displayed weakness is dangerous.

Any weakness is dangerous.

Blaise scowls at Granger as he collects the texts he planned to study. When he reaches over her for the final one, he sees the book she's reading and drops the text on her desk. Partially in surprise, but mostly to get her attention and surprise her

The noise is startling.

She looks up.

"What?" she asks, and sounds exasperated. Her eyes are sunken in to her face, and her nose is more prominent than it should be. Maybe she looks like that all the time, but Blaise doesn't think so.

"Why are you reading about Squibs?" he says quietly. Hopefully he sounds dangerous, but probably not -- his voice is too much of a tenor to ever really get the depth of danger someone like Greg has.

"Why do you care?" she replies, and her chin sticks out. At least Blaise is not alone in his petulance. The thought is not comforting.

"That's dangerous," he says.

"Oh, you're concerned for a mudblood Gryffindor?" she rolls her eyes. "I feel all warm and fuzzy."

Blaise slaps a hand onto the text and leans forward. He's not as intimidating as Vincent or Greg, or even Draco, but surely he's enough to make one silly Gryffindor back up.

"I do not care about you," he says, making sure to keep his voice low. It would not do to have this conversation overheard, even by the most innocent and pure of Hufflepuffs who would never consider telling anyone anything. "If anyone -- particularly you, a mudblood, a muggle born -- is seen studying Squibs, there could be repercussions." He stops, then realizes he has to clarify this a bit further, and says, "For Professor Vector."

"She has nothing to do with this," says Granger carelessly, and Blaise sucks in a deep breath through his teeth. Ignorance! Stupidity! Who the hell taught this girl about wizards?

"Whether she is involved in your study or not," says Blaise carefully, "she could be... held responsible." Never before has Blaise wished so desperately for the power of psychic persuasion -- just a slight push to make Granger understand that these are not the sorts of things one should be reviewing in this sort of climate. Thick, idiot Gryffindor! For the love of Mordred, there are more important things in the world than fair treatment for Squibs and House Elves, and keeping Professor Vector off the radar of the Dark Lord is one of them.

But, of course, Granger wouldn't understand. How could a muggle born know how important it is to for the study of Arithmancy to flourish without the finger of the Dark Lord upon it? The Dark Lord is concerned with physical magic‹Potions, hexes, new Unforgivables, resurrecting historical methods of torture. He cares not for the delicate mysteries of Arithmancy, the way the slightest curve to a line can change a spell‹can change the world.

It is his foolishness and it will be his downfall and there is no reason Blaise cannot be instrumental to this process and reap the rewards of saving the world. If Potter can do it, anyone can. And the idea of the Dark Lord being allowed to be in charge of anything... well, Blaise doesn't know what his parents were thinking of, joining into such nonsense. If anyone was going to create an anti-muggle movement, it should have been someone who wasn't completely mad -- someone who would have been able to explain rationally to wizards why allowing muggles into wizarding society is a terrible idea.

Granger, surprisingly, seems to, at least, comprehend the severity of the problem, even without psychic nudging. Her lips press together and she nods curtly.

"I understand," she says, and closes the book. "It's just..." She looks up at Blaise. He folds his arms across his chest - he's practiced it so that his robes billow just so when he does it -- but Granger, far from being intimidated, appears to be amused.

"It's just what?" says Blaise.

"Do you know anything about muggle science and brain chemistry?"

"What? Don't be ridiculous. Isn't muggle chemistry just their poor imitation of Potions? I don't think so, Granger."

"Nevermind, Zabini." Blaise is not happy with her tone, but Granger is sliding out of her chair and slinging her satchel over her shoulder. He's won -- and unlike many of his fellow Slytherins, he understands the subtle art of winning and argument. A great portion of it is knowing when to stop, and Blaise knows when to stop.

With a swish of his wand and a muttered, "Restituo liber," Blaise replaces the text on its appropriate place in the shelves. He turns to Granger, who is leaving. She must be made to understand that this sort of thing simply will not do in these tumultuous times.

"It's. Not. Safe," he says to her, and makes sure to enunciate so she can understand him.

"I get it, Zabini. Whatever," she says, and disappears through the door. He scowls after her for a moment before settling down with his texts and a parchment. Stupid thick pratty Gryffindor idiot.

Before he leaves that night, he reduces the text on Squibs, and tucks it into the inner wand pocket of his robe. It makes his wand stick into his side a bit, but slight discomfort is nothing compare to protecting Professor Vector and the work she's doing.

He does feel a slight pang, because if Granger was to make any significant discoveries on the issue of Squibbing and unSquibbing, there's every chance Alexandria could be... fixed. Then again, Granger, for all her cleverness, is still a mudblood, still as near to a muggle as a wizard can be without being a muggle. Like as not she would just repeat all the same mistakes everyone has made throughout the years and explode a few heads instead of solving anything at all.

Research into unSquibbing, though... despite any possible benefit to Alexandria and therefore to Theo and therefore to Blaise himself (because the gratitude of a Nott is nothing to be taken lightly -- Theo, unfortunately, has found himself saddled with his mother's conscience and his father's cunning, poor boy; at least he doesn't have his father's intelligence and his mother's cunning, because that would be even more unfortunate), it's just too dangerous. What's the point of being pureblood if an Arithmantical equation can make you a Squib -- and vice versa?

No, decides Blaise as he falls asleep, it's better this way.

When he wakes up the next morning to Draco's daily screaming exercises ("My father says it's good to exercise your vocal cords") and Theo yelling at Draco ("Shut up! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!"), he grabs his wand out of his robes and hexes Draco into silence‹and realizes that the tiny book is gone.


During pre-NEWT Potions, Blaise drops a scrap of parchment into Granger's satchel on his way to hand in his paper on the proper way to prepare ingredients for Veritaserum. She's completely oblivious, the way every single Gryffindor has been since, likely, the beginning of time‹or the beginning of Hogwarts, anyway. She finally comes to him in Arithmancy Lab Rho.

"Weren't you in Gamma last time?" she asks.

"Obviously I needed different materials tonight," he replies, and knows that rather than perform a locator spell, she must have actually searched each lab. Her existence is a waste of magic.

She holds out his parchment. "What does this refer to?" she says.

He glances up from the text he's taking notes on. Her hair is sticking up in many directions, unbecoming even a mudblood witch.

"You know what," he says. "Give it back."

"What?" she says testily.

"I don't appreciate your tone," he replies.

"I don't appreciate your accusations! Besides, how would I take anything from you? I don't even know where the Slytherin dormitories are." He watches her cross her arms over her chest and shift her weight from foot to foot. He wants to give her a tutorial on how to confront someone, how to hold yourself so they take you seriously -- but it's a worthless ambition, since he knows that she won't ever change. Gryffindors just don't -- they change the people around them, cf. Theo.

"How did you know what I had was missing from the dormitory?" He leans back in his chair and raises his eyebrows. She sighs, and gestures, and lets her hand fall.

"Whatever, Zabini," she finally says, and lets the parchment flutter to the floor. After she's gone, he picks it up and destroys it. Things like that should be left about where just anyone can see them. It wouldn't do to have people knowing he was corresponding in any way with Granger.

He goes back to his text. There's an Arithmantical equation for getting around Apparition bans, and there's also an equation for making the ban Arithmancy-proof. Chances are that Dumbledore has made all the wards Arithmancy-proof, but maybe he hasn't. Blaise sketches out a quick version of the spell, and then traces over it carefully with lead ink.

When he completes the equation, it's with a flourish at the end of μ, and the tiniest drop of his blood to begin the circuit. The equation glows orange for a moment, then turns black. His blood is gone, but the equation is still on the page.

Damn Dumbledore and his bloody Gryffindors to all seven hells and back again.


Blaise doesn't accuse anyone else of stealing the tiny book from him -- but he does go through the possessions of everyone who shares his dormitory. Their protection spells are pathetically easy to crack -- even Draco's. No point in using blood magic to protect your possessions if you leave hair on your pillows. Any bits of the body can be used to fool a blood magic spell, especially one so clumsily constructed.

Blaise takes a few of Draco's hairs and seals them in a phial -- just in case. Blaise would think that a Pureblood wizard whose family has such close ties to the Dark Lord would be slightly more careful with his bodily bits, but it's only to Blaise's benefit that Draco is lax. And Theo, for example, could teach Draco a few things about sealing one's belongings away and carefully removing potential weapons from public access. Not blood magic, but Wizardprint! It took Blaise four days, one close call with Filch in the Library's Restricted Section, and a careful incantation to acquire Theo's wand for seventeen seconds while he slept peacefully for Blaise to gain access to Theo's bureau.

He finds exactly what he'd expected to: nothing. Well, except some interesting Muggle t-shirts, but no tiny Arithmancy text. Theo would know better anyway.

Blaise is almost ready to start breaking into other dormitories to search them -- maybe some Ravenclaw's taken the book. But Accio only works when you know where something is, and Usurpo only works when you know who has it. Blaise suspects Usurpo was used to take the book from him in the first place, and it's his own fault for not securing it properly. He should have known better -- this particular book is world famous within certain circles of Arithmancers. It contains equations so complex and dangerous that none have dared try them for centuries except the very best. And the very mad.

Granger, Blaise is sure, falls into the latter category.

And so does Terry Boot. Blaise knew a Ravenclaw had taken it! Dumbledore announced his imprisonment in St. Mungo's at breakfast that Saturday. He, of course, used the occasion to pontificate at great length about The Dangers Of Magic One Doesn't Understand and how All Wizards At Hogwarts Must Band Together and blah blah bloody fucking blah.

Blaise uses his non-existent powers of psychic will to make Granger pay attention to the very first part, though. The past four days she's been reading the Arithmancy texts stored in Lab Theta. When Blaise explained to Professor Vector that Granger was part of Potter's set and therefore couldn't be trusted with advanced Arithmantical knowledge, the professor had laughed and patted Blaise's cheek like he was some sort of wayward Hufflepuff. He snuck a look at her gradebook when she left the room for more lead ink; Granger was two in Arithmancy, right behind him by only three-eighths of a point.

When Blaise looks over at the Gryffindor table to make sure Granger is paying attention, he is disappointed but not surprised to see that she is deep in conversation with Potter and two of the Weasleys.

"Eyes on our table, Blaise," says Millicent softly. She's eating a bowl of steaming porridge that smells almost as good as Blaise's coffee -- but not quite. On the other side of Blaise, Theo too is looking at the Gryffindors, but he's looking at the Longbottom bloke. Blaise kicks his ankle.

"Well, that's one down," says Draco as he watches a knife butter a piece of toast.

Pansy frowns at him. "Really, Draco," she says, and Blaise could cheerfully Crucio her when she continues with: "I heard Terry was working on a deSquibbing spell to help Neville Longbottom. After all, everyone knows weak Wizards are just Squibs with a bit of Talent."

Theo sucks in air through his teeth; Blaise can see a tiny muscle in his jaw begin to tick. Millicent makes a low noise in her throat, but when Blaise glances at her, she's intent on her porridge.

Blaise rests a hand on Theo's thigh; Theo is tense. This is annoying. Theo should not be getting so riled up about some ridiculous Gryffindor's lack of magical skill. And if Theo throws a snit, it will only spur Draco to find the spell and then taunt everyone with it -- as though Draco could ever perform the complex Arithmancy required to find the small kernel of magical ta ­

No. Blaise will not allow himself to be drawn down this path. In another time and place, perhaps it would have been his destiny to prove that the condition of Squibs isn't permanent, but he is in this time and this place, and this is not something up for discussion and experimentation.

He leans over the table slightly. "How interesting that you have kept this information to yourself all this time, Pansy," he says, and sneers at her.

Pansy splutters and Draco's interest turns to ire. So predictable -- predictability is a weakness, and a dangerous one. It allows Draco to be easily manipulated into a position where he is out of power.

Draco launches into a lecture on Slytherin loyalty -- despite the belief of other houses, that is not an oxymoronic phrase. Under the table, Theo squeezes Blaise's hand. Blaise and Millicent look at each other at the same time -- but Millicent smirks instead of smiles, and Blaise has to wonder what she's up to.

That night, the text is back in the Arithmancy lab, and an easy charm Blaise has known since childhood reveals which of the pages was most recently scoured free of Wizard blood and other... fluids.

A spell to change one's sexual orientation from same sex to opposite sex. Well, that was certainly something Blaise never needed to know about Terry Boot.

"I teased him," says a voice by his shoulder. He turns slightly; Granger. Predictable. Not so dangerous a vice for a Gryffindor. "Unintentionally, of course." Her voice is quavery; Blaise hopes she isn't going to cry. That would be tedious. "I told him it was in here -- that night. I was -- I was describing the other spells. I realized he must have been the one when you -- that day. But Ron and Harry get so upset when I go to the -- and it's been so quiet this year -- and..." She trails off and looks down. Blaise rolls his eyes. She takes a deep breath. "Being right isn't always good, you know. It isn't any fun."

Gryffindor guilt. Mystifying.

"Whatever," says Blaise, and pulls out his wand.


Granger watches Blaise cast charms over the book to see if spells had been tampered with. Neither Dumbledore nor Professor Vector would ever be so sloppy as to leave traces -- Blaise knows this, but he still performs the spells, just in case. Being thorough has never hurt anyone.

"You're terribly good at wand work," said Granger admiringly.

"Yes," says Blaise, even though it wasn't a question, and even if it had been, the answer is evident. "Not all Slytherins adhere to Professor Snape's disdain of wandwork. One should always be prepared for the eventuality that one's survival might depend on one's wandwork."

"How come..." She stops.

He glares at her. "Conversing with you is not the highlight of my life," he snaps. "Continue and then leave."

Granger glares back at him. Better, at least, than simpering self-pity. "I was only going to ask how come you aren't first in at least one class," replies Granger with typical Gryffindor self-righteous haughtiness.

"I have better things to do," replies Blaise, just as haughtily. He gathers the book into his arms, staggering a bit under the weight. He puts it back down and sighs. "Leviosa," he says, and swishes his wand. Lovely. He floats the book in front of him to the door.

He had been planning to work on -- something else. But it looks like his night will be dedicated to making the blasted book unplottable, something he should have done in the first place. In fact, he should make all the Arithmancy books unplottable, so no one could use any summoning charm to acquire dangerous texts. Unplot them all, link them to one lab, and use a tracking parchment, to see who uses them and who tries to summon them. Maybe one student per year would do so -- but it would still be helpful to know the identity of said one student.

Of course, anyone could Polyjuice themselves into anyone else and therefore trick the tracking device, but one can't prepare for every eventuality -- and linking blood charms to texts is not something Blaise has the skill for. Or the bloody fucking patience.

He should have enacted this plan the moment he realized that the Dark Lord had overlooked the powers of Arithmancy to focus on Unforgivables and Potions, but it's so tedious to always have to be the one to do everything. And, unlike Granger, Blaise is far from being an idiot: that oaf Dumbledore is always a step ahead, and there is every chance he is expecting Blaise to do this very thing. That way someone like Lucius Malfoy, if he found out, could not accuse Dumbledore of hiding or tampering with texts that NEWT-level Arithmancy students might need.

That a Slytherin could be traced back to the Unplottable spells and tracking charms and -- well, that would be unacceptable and play far too easily into Dumbledore's Gryffindor-loving, Slythering-hating wand hand. This means that instead of using Arithmancy to connect all his spells, he's going to have to use Potions. Blast.

Blaise turns slightly at the door. "Come along then, Granger," he says, allowing himself to sound a trifle impatient so as to give the effect that he always expected her to follow him. "This will need another set of hands."

A terrible lie, of course, but Granger doesn't know that, because, as she tells him, she's never boiled an Unplottable Potion before. Blaise has, albeit only twice.

Blaise looks over at her. She has her wand out, but at least she's not brandishing it about.

"First of all," he says to her, "one does not boil a Potion. One builds it carefully, layer by layer. Haven't you ever been to a Potions lab?"

"Only the ones we do in class," she says. Ridiculous.

He sets her to melting amaryllis leaves into eight drops of coriander oil. It smells good, like supper, and Blaise realizes that he's forgotten his tea. Damn it.

"Don't touch anything in here," he says, and sets himself up at another table to chop, julienne, and dice. He works on the Lethe root first, cutting it into small enough pieces that it will melt without leaving lumps, and when he scrapes it into the cauldron, he tells Granger to stir it -- and she does. With her wand.

"Don't let any drops of the potion get on you," he cautions her. "The Lethe root ­"

"The Lethe root is required for all Obliviate potions, and ­"

Blaise cuts her off. "Oh, do shut up. This isn't a class and I don't care how much you memorize." But Blaise is, frankly, rather surprised to find Lethe root in the general stores, even in a NEWT lab. It's used, not only for Obliviate potions, but also for several nastier potions rumor has it that the more unscrupulous Ravenclaws and more nauseating Slytherins use to take advantage unsuspecting, sickeningly trusting Hufflepuffs.

Why anyone would want to take advantage of a Hufflepuff, Blaise isn't sure. He says all this to Granger, who rolls her eyes.

"Some Hufflepuffs are very nice," she says primly.

"But not known for their skill in the Astronomy tower," replies Blaise. He strips off the dragonhide gloves he'd used to protect his skin from the Lethe oils -- his uncle Tiberius once absorbed the oil through his skin, forgot what he was doing, and cut his own hand off. Stirred it into the potion, too. Blaise shudders, and sets himself to grinding bits of dragon claw. "In the Astr -- oh." Granger's face tints red. "The oil of amaryllis is almost entirely evaporated," she continues, ignoring Blaise's smirk. "What's next?"

Blaise rereads the potions text. It's an arcane one; potions aren't used for Unplottable spells anymore, because they are too easy to trace back to the brewer and break once the brewer has been tortured into confessing the location of the object. Still, there are only eight people at Hogwarts who could break Blaise's potion, even if the location of the books is somehow tortured out of him.

He does try to plan for every contingency. But he knows he's missing something here; he has to figure out what that something is. He's sure that when he needs to know, something will go balls-up to demonstrate it to him in the worst possible way. That's not suitable, not at all. He suppresses a sigh.

"Now we leave the fire burning as low as possible," says Blaise. "Put the chervil into the presser and allow the presser to drip the oil into the potion as it simmers... All right, step away."

He sets up the presser, but lets Granger put the leaves and roots into it. She seals the top and adjusts the fire. If she pushes her hair behind her ear one more time, Blaise might just have to hex her face off -- hasn't she heard of gum bands? Sally's Smoothing Salve For Unruly Hair? Please.

"We make a good team," she says, her hands on her hips. She watches the press slowly squeeze out one drop of chervil oil at a time. Blaise rolls his eyes -- as though he'd team up with a Mudblood Gryffindor for anything but someone to take the blame.

He cleans everything with a quick Scourgify and props up a sign that labels the potion as his homework for the assignment due in two weeks.

"We'll be done before anyone realizes that it's not the right color for ­" he starts.

"You read ahead too?" asks Granger, and Blaise scoffs at her as he shrugs back into his robes.

"Don't get cozy," he says, and leaves the room before she can reply. He's hidden the scroll with the potion instructions in his wand pocket, and the Arithmancy text is behind a row of recipes used in previous years' NEWT exams. He's sure Granger won't say anything -- she's learned her lesson. He thinks. Maybe.

After curfew, he borrows Theo's No Squeaking Trainers and Draco's Invisibility Cloak and hides the both the potion recipe and the Arithmancy text in a different lab.

He dreams about what he should have spent the evening working on: his layers of Arithmancy bombs that unravel and pop off spells as one tries to defuse them. Getting the layers right is intensely difficult, and he's not even past the theoretical stages yet.

For some reason, Millicent is in his dream, watching him. He wakes up too early -- it's still dark outside -- and her face floats in front of him, watching him, her wide, too-far-apart eyes blinking in a pattern. Blink blink pause. Blink. Pause. Blink blink blink pause. Blink. Pause. Blink blink pause.

It is unacceptable that she would invade his mind like that -- therefore she must die.

Blaise seethes quietly and spends his Sunday finishing his History essay and planning elaborate scenarios in which Granger and Millicent are killed horribly while he looks on and laughs. At one point he chuckles to himself at a particularly gruesome squishing of eyeballs, and hears his chuckle echoed.

He looks up to see Millicent. She's standing over at him, staring at him, her eyes blinking in the same pattern from his early morning hallucination.

Blink blink pause. Blink. Pause. Blink blink blink pause.

"Hello, Blaise," she says. He is intrigued in spite of himself by her blinking eyes. "Can we have a bit of a chat?"

"Do I have a choice?" he replies. She's wearing a dark green robe that looks almost black, and it swishes perfectly when she comes to sit down next to him.

"Of course you do," she says. "But it's good that you're choosing to be cooperative. That will be important."

"I am never cooperative," says Blaise, but he does bind his History essay to better focus on Millicent. He turns slightly in his chair and places his chin in his hand. "What say you, Bulstrode?"

"Not here, obviously," she replies, and sighs heavily. "Blaise, when will you ever learn?" She taps her finger on his History assignment. "Later, then."

When she gets up to leave, she winks at him. He glares back. There is nothing funny or amusing about life these days -- everything is tedious, all this talk of War, of Us Versus Them, of Loyalty and Honor. There should be no Loyalty And Honor discussions in Slytherin house. It's just another example of how the world is going to pot under the Dark Lord -- and he's not even in power yet!

Blaise traces a quick hex on his palm -- he's never been one to believe in silly ancient superstitions, but perhaps he will powder some asafoetida and trace a hex around his bed before he goes to sleep tonight.

When he unrolls his History essay, he sees that there is a small slip of parchment inside it. How Millicent got it there, Blaise doesn't know, but he is grudgingly impressed. Impressed enough that he will follow the note's instructions and meet her in Arithmancy Lab Pi ten minutes before curfew.


Millicent Bulstrode is not a pretty witch -- although something Blaise has never understood is why any witch would want to be something as insipid and non-descriptive as 'pretty'. What lasts is a good bone structure and a strong will; better to be like Millicent, and be interesting-looking. Or, at least, not absolutely repulsive in the manner of the Goyle family.

Blaise will deny he ever thought that if asked under anything weaker than Veritaserum.

Of course, if Blaise is under the influence of Veritaserum, there will be larger problems to hand than his opinion of the Goyle family.

Blaise follows this train of thought through to its conclusion: if Millicent had requested his presence in the Astronomy Tower, like as not he would have been far less suspicious and far more amiable. Even Arithmancy geniuses out to save the world from itself need sustenance in the form of many many orgasms. Blaise would be more inclined to someone like Theo -- being a wizard -- and less inclined to someone like Millicent -- being a witch who was less inclined to wizards -- but having high standards at a place such as Hogwarts meant that to be too choosy was to spend the night alone. Which Blaise did often, being choosy.

Still, if there ever was a place made for assignation, it was Arithmancy Lab Pi -- while Blaise understands that not everyone is faintly aroused by the scent of lead ink and the texture of living parchment, he is.

Blaise is slightly early. Arithmancy Lab Pi is the lab specifically set aside for OWL students to perform slightly dangerous spells -- which means it's the only Lab with couches and armchairs and seventeen-and-a-half of Madame Pomfrey's Arithmancy Plasters And Other Bits Of Medicinal Aid Kits. Blaise is staunchly of the opinion that if one doesn't almost blow oneself up at least once during an OWL Arithmancy experiment, one is not actually experimenting.

It's helpful, of course, that the Hogwarts wards prevent students from doing truly dangerous spells -- helpful and also irritating. How is Blaise supposed to get anything real done when the wards prevent him from causing himself too much harm? The wards are tricky, though -- he knows that Neville Longbottom nearly blows himself up in Potions every other day, and plenty of people continually fall off brooms during Quidditch practices and matches, and Terry Boot, for Morgana's sake, just destroyed his own mind.

Blaise set himself the goal of finding a way around the wards last year, and isn't quite there yet -- but perhaps the wards sense his competence and therefore allow him to perform spells that might otherwise be forbidden.

Or maybe the wards are just clumsily held together. Dumbledore's not nearly as young as he used to be.

When Millicent arrives, it is with a satchel over her shoulder. There is a gust of air behind her that makes the hairs on Blaise's arms stand up. He puts his hand over his wand.

Millicent turns on the "Testing in Progress" sign and locks the door. Blaise raises his eyebrows.

"While I'm not adverse to ­" he begins.

"Stuff a wand in it, Blaise," she says, and he immediately pulls his wand out and points it at her. He will hex this bint's face off before he will allow a Bulstrode to speak to him in that manner. Millicent only waves a hand at him. "Accio!"

He isn't quite sure how Millicent managed to get his wand from his hand to her hand without using her own wand, but he's quite sure that he wants to know. That was a spectacular feat, and likely done through some sort of trick with mirrors and timestopping that might come in handy in the future.

"Blaise," she sighs. "Did you think I didn't plan for your tendency to plan for every contingency?" She moves her hand slightly: her own wand was hidden in her hand, inside the sleeve of her robe, in the same hand in which she's holding the satchel. Damn her! No, damn him, for relaxing his guard and not being observant enough.

"I appear to have missed a contingency or two," he replies, because he has. He knew there was something wrong, something not quite in alignment. But he wasn't expecting Millicent to turn on him. After all, what does she care for Arithmancy? She's focusing on Charms and Jinxes and, from what he understands when he bothers to pay attention, she's not too stellar at it at all. Good thing she has the Bulstrode fortune backing her.

Millicent points his own wand at him and mutters something he doesn't quite catch. It's not Immobilus, because he can move, and it's not Crucio, because he's not in pain, and it's not any spell he can think of off the top of his head, because he's okay and everything is okay, and nothing is different except something is.

Then he realizes: he can't quite feel his magic. It's there, hovering just out of his reach, but when he tries to get to it, tries to methodically go through simple spells one can do without the aid of a wand, he can't. He has never experienced something like this before -- obviously these spells exist, but he's never seen one used. It's like... it's like... it's rude.

He looks up at Millicent, cursing her silently for making him feel so panicky.

"Don't worry, Blaise. It's only a temporary block. Do you like being a Squib?" She's kneeling on the floor, setting out small phials of oil and powder and what looks like a tiny jar of gold lead ink. Blaise's skin is chilled; he only knows of three or four spells that use gold lead, and none of them are on Millicent's skill level. Three of them aren't even on his. Yet.

"You should know better, Millie."

"Don't call me that, Blah." She glances up at him, then opens the jar of tracing ink. "Do you know what I'm doing here?"

"Obviously," says Blaise. He leans against a small fainting chaise, trying to look casual. It's hard when the chaise scuttles away and he ends up on the floor. Damn misbehaving furniture! Blaise now remembers why he spent his OWL year working in Arithmancy Lab Omicron -- the chairs in there are made of iron, and date back to before the Third Pixie War, and always stay where one puts them.

"Really?" she says challengingly. "I know you think you're good at Arithmancy, Blaise, but this is taking your charade a bit too far."

Blaise knows exactly what she's doing; she has spread a large piece of parchment out and is tracing a small spell into one corner. It's the beginning of a spell Blaise has always been fascinated by -- the spell the Dark Lord should be using to mark his followers, instead of a Potion-based brand.

He thinks very hard for a moment: if he was Millicent Bulstrode, what would this mean to him? He follows her thought patterns, as best he can, and comes to the conclusion that she will use him as an example to prove her loyalty to the Dark Lord, while simultaneously proving that Arithmancy can be used in a far better capacity than its current, and proving that Blaise is not a true acolyte. She will set him up with this spell, force him to perform it, and deliberately work in a flaw so that he kills himself.

There are several different ways this can reflect well on Millicent, provided she acts properly -- but she's a Bulstrode, and they are known for their inappropriate reactions to stress. Isn't it Millicent's mother who breaks out into purple boils every time the Dark Lord even glances her way? Perhaps it's her aunt.

Blaise always imagined that Millicent was anti-Dark Lord, same as him. His entire understanding of her is slightly skewed now -- unfortunate, for she could have been a tremendous ally for the side of the Anti-Dark Lord Anti-Dumbledore And Anti-Everything Else wizards and witches. This is a team of which Blaise is the only member, although perhaps he might be able to eventually have convinced Theo.

He will still be able to convince Theo; Millicent has already made a mistake in her tracing.

The conclusion Blaise comes to is that it will be better for him to feign ignorance, and gain time by flattering Millicent, and hope to Mordred that the spell to suppress his magic will wear off in time for him to switch a few of her tracings around and perhaps -- hm.

Blaise isn't quite sure where he's going with this.

"You're right," he finally says to Millicent. "I am a bit confused about what you're doing."

"Of course you are," she says to him and embellishes one of her lines slightly too much. It's deviations like that which cause the Arithmancy explosions Blaise is fascinated by -- but, as with the original Arithmancy spells, they must be done properly, and Millicent is certainly not paying attention to anything but the aesthetics of her spell.

Perhaps Arithmancy isn't quite on par with Charms or Potions for aesthetics, but it's far more powerful than both of those put together. Millicent is a stupid cow.

He waits as long as he can, until he's absolutely positive of what she is attempting. He knows this spell. He has never performed it, but he knows it -- and he knows how he can change it, if he can only get back to the parchment. And if he can only get his bloody magic back to do it. No Squib has ever been able to perform Arithmancy -- it's done with a quill instead of a wand but it still requires that magical -- magical something.

"Well, explain it to me then," he prompts. She looks up at him and preens a bit. He cracks his neck and smiles at her. "It seems very clever to me," he continues. "You study Arithmancy in secret then?"

"I'm third in our class, Blaise," she replies. "As opposed to your fifth."

"Alas, it's true," he says, and hangs his head.

"That's all right," she says. "I'll explain it to you. Right here is the spell to bind you. Here is the spell to give you a marque of bondage." She moves her quill to the other end of the page, to the crooked spell that Blaise already knows won't work. "This spell here will cause your head to explode -- but it looks enough like the spell for declaring your allegiance to a master that whomever comes to investigate your untimely and unfortunate death will think you just made a mistake."

"And the Hogwarts wards?" says Blaise.

"Psht," says Millicent, and adds a curlicue to the spell that she thinks will -- he squints -- write 'Dumbledore Forever' across his forehead? Would that even fit. Blaise is tempted to reach up to examine his forehead; he'd never thought of himself as being particularly broad-faced, but he'd also never thought of himself as one to underestimate a fellow Slytherin.

"I," says Millicent, and adds another curlicue. Blaise winces. "I had no trouble bypassing Dumbledore's silly wards." Since Blaise has trouble bypassing the wards, he knows that Millicent is bluffing. That, or Dumbledore deliberately allowed her to penetrate the wards. That, or fate smiled upon her. He would bet Draco's beloved broom on the first choice, but can't quite rule out the others. "And since I'm going to use your wand to activate the tracing ink, no one will ever know that it was me who set all this up."

"Clever," says Blaise, but really it's quite stupid and wrongheaded -- it's only a myth that one needs to use one's wand to activate the tracing ink. Professor Vector made them do it so that she could see who was really doing their own homework and who was only copying the equations out of books. Those that did their own research quickly learned the small tricks Professor Vector always pulled, the sly ways she changed the equations, and the subtle pro-Magical Equality Act propaganda she wove through her lessons. Blaise never held that against her; everyone has a blind spot. Blaise's is, apparently, overestimating his own ability to handle any situation.

The point is that the moment Professor Vector sees that the tracing ink was activated by Blaise's wand, she'll be suspicious. Or she would be, if Blaise let it go that far. Which he will not. Millicent's ridiculous plan will not succeed because Blaise refuses to allow it.

His fingers begin to tingle, but he doesn't rub his hands; hopefully this is his magic leaking back in. Millicent was never very good with complicated wand work spells; perhaps her block is crap. Hopefully her block is crap.

Hopefully she didn't bollocks up the spell, keeping him a Squib forever. That would be worse than the time Professor Snape caught him wanking in the dormitory late one night. That would be worse than almost anything else Blaise can think of -- except, of course, having to live life as Harry Potter. Possibly Blaise would rather be a Muggle than be that ugly Mudblood. Of course, if Blaise could keep his own brain and be placed in Harry Potter's body and given control of his actions... that could be interesting.

Unless Potter really is shagging Granger, in which case that would be absolutely sick.

Blaise cracks his neck again; he can almost touch his magic. Millicent activated the tracer ink, which is now glowing with a faint orangey pink color. She's not very good at following over the tracer lines with the gold lead, and there's absolutely no reason why, if she's third in Arithmancy, she wouldn't have just cast the No Shake charm on her quill to keep the ink in. Blaise is a little dubious of her skill -- with a weak hand like that, there is no way she will get a NEWT. How did she even acquire herself an OWL in the subject?

Stupid cow.

If he can get a toe onto the parchment, he can change three of the lines -- Millicent isn't working with the original equations. She's just copying the spells out of a book. If he works the equations in his head quickly enough, he'll be able to break the lines in exactly the right places for the spell to backfire on her. Perhaps he'll even be able to get his wand back first.

"You know, Millicent, my family has a secret motto that we've never told anyone. I should tell it to you, so that it doesn't die with me," says Blaise.

"Blaise, you have two younger siblings," says Millicent, not even looking at him.

"Why are you doing this?" he asks. "Clearly you want power and glory, but what Slytherin doesn't?"

"Do you know how many witches are in the Dark Lord's inner circle?" she replies. The spell is almost finished; he needs to change it before she can activate it. With all the mistakes she's made, he's not sure what will happen when she activates it, but it won't be good. He's trying to translate the equations in his head, but it's fucking complicated, and she's such an idiot, and there's no time. But it looks like if he breaks the leftmost line at the top, there will be a giant sucking void -- but if he breaks it in two places, the spell will. Do something.

"I have no clue," he says.

"Three. Your mother, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Anora Nott." Millicent stands up and studies the parchment. She's sloppy and the parchment is ugly and this ridiculousness really needs to cease.

Blaise ignores his mother's presence in Millicent's list. "Anora Nott has never followed the Dark Lord." Blaise rolls his eyes. His magic is back in almost full force now -- Millicent is weak at dueling. Weak at everything, apparently, although she must be fabulous at Charms to be two, behind Granger. If Blaise can regain his wand, he can also regain control of this ridiculous situation.

Millicent scoffs. "You know nothing, Blaise. I will be the fourth witch in the Dark Lord's confidence -- this is going to show him that I'm worthy."

This, says Blaise silently, is going to show everyone that you're an idiot.

"It will also display to him the absolutely uselessness of Arithmancy."

"Now that's just silly," objects Blaise. "Arithmancy is very useful."

"You're an idiot," says Millicent, and Blaise seethes but keeps his mouth shut. "Do you know what my family motto is?" No, he doesn't, and he doesn't care. "Nihil obstat -- nothing stands in my way."

How tedious.

She lifts her hands up -- so melodramatic. Not very Slytherin at all -- she seems better suited to Hufflepuff or someplace else where she could do a bit less harm. And this time yesterday she'd even seemed like she could be an ally. Blaise decides that when this is over, he will pay a bit more attention to wizarding natures and a bit less attention to Arithmancy Today -- and Tomorrow.

When she closes her eyes and begins to sway, Blaise rolls his eyes. Obviously she's been reading some of Trelawney's texts on Arithmancy -- related to divination? Tosh. Then he realizes: this is his chance.

He moves toward Millicent, but before he can get to her, she falls over as though hit in the stomach, crumpling to the ground with a loud "Ooof" -- and Blaise's wand flies through the air. He lifts his hand and catches it.

"Immobilus!" he says, his wand pointed at Millicent. Then: "Who's there?"

"Me." Granger's head appears, floating in the air.

"You can't do invisibility spells inside Hogwarts," says Blaise stupidly.

"It's -- see, a cloak." She shrugs out of it and throws it over her arm -- where it drapes everything is invisible.

"Hm." Blaise stares at her. "I could have stopped Millicent myself."

"Of course you could have," says Granger. Blaise dislikes her tone; she sounds slightly too reassuring and patronizing. He will hex her face off. He is lifting his wand to do so when she kneels over. "I knew she was going to do something with that book. What is this? She's trying to write something on your face?"

"Trying," says Blaise. "Failing. Her equations are all wrong."

"Gold lead?" replies Granger.

"We should probably sort Millicent out before I explain Higher Arithmancy to you," says Blaise, sniffing a bit to emphasize that if anyone is being patronized, it's Granger.

"Hm," says Granger. She stands up and looks down at Millicent, who is immobilized in what looks like a very uncomfortable position. "Do you know what my family motto is, Bulstrode? Ante victoriam ne canas triumphum."

"Your family raises chickens?" says Blaise, slightly confused.

"It's a Muggle expression. It means, don't count on your victory before you've won your battle. Don't believe your enemy dead before you kill him. You know?" Granger shrugs. Blaise frowns. "Doesn't your family have a motto?"

"Yes, but I think family mottos are silly." Blaise walks over and points his wand at the parchment. "Incendio. Besides," he continues as Millicent's silly spell burns, "my family is mostly Etruscan; a Latin motto would be rather offensive to those very immersed in the family history."

"I think we should take Millicent to Dumbledore," says Granger finally.

"I think you're stupid," says Blaise.

"Is that the thanks I get for saving you?"

"Does Potter often thank you for barging in when you're not wanted and interfering in his plans to save himself?"

At that Granger snorts. "Harry couldn't save himself if I wrote him out instructions," she says, and Blaise snickers in spite of himself.

"Exempli gratia ecce signum," says Blaise, feeling conciliatory. Granger did "save" him, even if he hadn't needed her help. Much. "By grace of example, behold the proof."

"That's a weird motto," says Granger. She levitates Millicent, and they begin toward the door. Blaise supposes that taking Millicent to Dumbledore, although anti-climactic, wouldn't be entirely the wrong thing to do.

"When we were children -- " Blaise stops and shakes his head. He reduces the text Millicent had been using -- another to add to the stash of books that really need to be controlled more carefully -- and tucks it into his robe. He makes sure the candles are out in the Lab, and the door is locked, then follows Granger up the hallway. She says, "Dew," and enters what appears to be a secret passageway, and they walk. Millicent looks furious, which please Blaise.

"This is what you get," he says to her. "Crossing a Zabini is never proper. Not to mention that you're a terrible Slytherin. I can't believe you told me your whole plot and reasoning before you tried to kill me. What ineptitude."

He hears a noise from Granger and glances over to find her smiling. "And you," he says. "Don't think you're getting off so easily."

"Don't think I don't know that you're using me so the spells can't be traced back to you," she returns. "Puh-lease."

"You are so common," he says, and winces, because he knows he sounds like Malfoy. But the important thing is that, despite Granger's interference, Millicent didn't suck the world into a void of some kind, and therefore Blaise can continue his research into Arithmancy bombs and defeat the Dark Lord. Blaise is almost interested in how Granger came to know what Millicent was up to, but not quite -- certainly not interested enough to ask.

"Sorbet," says Granger to a small gargoyle, and a door opens. She floats Millicent through, walking behind her prone body, and Blaise follows. The door closes behind him.


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