Um. There are SO many things I could pick and put here. Half of them I haven't looked at in ages. This is one of them.
Hermione/Blaise. Femslash. I started this about, oh, 10 months ago, and never went back to it. I was in a mood, and I wanted the red hair without the Weasley, so I borrowed red-haired!female!Blaise from a certain other writer we all know and love. With her full permission. So. Yeah.
Hermione had always loved libraries. As a little girl her parents would take her to the local library. It was very neat and clean, with tall fountains in the front and a little outside area full of sculptures in the water and things where the other children would play. Hermione would always bypass and go straight inside, where the walls were lined with mahogany overlays and covered in endless rows of books. She loved the staircases with their polished handles and the grim way the librarians would observe her over their glasses, as if the books were more important than she was. Hermione had always been significant, but here the books dwarfed her. Here it did not matter that her tongue sometimes caught on her teeth when she went to speak, or that her hair came out in wiry strands whenever she tried to untangle it. Here everything was smarter than she was. She hated that feeling but she also liked it. It made her feel at home.
She would sit in cushionless chairs, tuck her feet behind the bottom rung, and read until her parents came to take her home, sometimes tapping her on the shoulder two or three times before she could tear herself away. Sometimes, whenever she became lost in a book, the pages would start to turn of their own accord, occasionally so fast she could not make them stop—but even then she never felt out of place. If anything she felt more comfortable here than in her house in Disraeli Square, where the television set often made her thoughts feel crammed inside and unwanted, and where her mother and father spared thoughts enough for her whenever she brought home good grades.
When she arrived at Hogwarts for the first time she was nervous and excited and very scared, and the feeling stayed with her until she saw the library. The smell of leather hit her so strongly upon pushing open the heavy wooden doors that she found herself near nausea; it was a deep, coppery scent, rich with parchment preservatives and ink fumes, and something that smelled vaguely like saddle soap but which she would come to know was binding oil. She was so happy she nearly cried on the first day.
Over the years she would come to know the Hogwarts library as intimately as the back of her hand. She knew that the fourth row from the left, third case down, fifth shelf, was where you could find the beginning of the long and fascinating section of Wizarding History. She knew that immediately opposite it was a very short section on sports and wizarding hobbies that only filled about half a book case, not counting the books on Quidditch. She knew that the reading chairs in the back of the room had the softest cushions because the ones in the front had been stolen and replaced and were always new and firm. She knew that Madam Pince’s spectacles were scratched and bent because of their tendency to serve as a target for certain rowdier books in the restricted section, and that she had once had acidic root of nightshade squirted her eyes while handling a book of dangerous potions. She knew where the book cases were smooth and where the knotholes were on the end of every row. She knew which books would sing if you stroked their covers. She knew how to angle herself so that the sun streaming through the long tall window in her favorite alcove would slant over her shoulder in the evenings as she read.
When she was fifteen Harry Potter kissed her. His lips tasted salty and dirty, and when he tried to awkwardly insert his tongue she pulled away blushing and stammering. That night she dreamed that her dorm room was on fire, and that Harry was rescuing them all by hovering outside the window on his broomstick telling them all to jump to the ground, which was right below them instead of seven floors up. Instead of crawling out the window Hermione calmly went to the library. Upon pushing open the library doors she found the room had been beset upon by professors, none of whom she recognized, dignified men in brown and tweed suits, all, who were busy frantically taking all the books off shelves and ripping out the pages. Hermione tried to stop one of them, who turned into Charlie Weasley and informed her that they were all in the wrong language and would have to be rewritten. He stuffed a page in his pocket and wiped his lips on the sleeve she had been clutching. Hermione moved to the bookshelves, determined to save her favorite books, only to find that they had all been taken away, and all the shelves emptied. Hermione decided the best thing to do would be to jump out the window after all, but when she crawled out it she found Harry had lied, and that she was really five floors up after all. There was really nothing to do but fall, and when she woke she was so frightened she padded downstairs to Ginny’s dormitory, where a soft knock allowed her entrance and a bit of sanity for the rest of the night, at least until Ginny went to sleep, cold knees knocking sharply against the back of Hermione’s legs as she curled up beneath the covers, and Hermione shut off the dread that beamed in her chest like an unwanted search light whenever she closed her eyes. She told Ginny in the morning about the kiss, but never about the dream.
Her seventeenth birthday fell on a weekend, and to celebrate she treated herself to a full Saturday alone in the library with no distractions. It was a Hogsmeade weekend, so most of the students, at least the ones old enough to bother her, were in town, and scant few of the others were hanging around the library. It was a brilliantly cloudless day, and Hermione chose books with vivid frontispieces and iridescent inlays that reflected and danced in the bright glare of the sun like prisms as she read.
The only other girl in the library with her besides Madam Pince, who always left her to herself, was a girl named Blaise Zabini, a Slytherin in her own year. Hermione had never had anything against Slytherins on principle, but her two best friends had an enormous propensity to hate them that made it hard for her to do otherwise, even though as Head Girl she supposed she was technically obligated to be nice to everyone, so as to set a good example.
Accordingly, when she felt Zabini’s gaze upon her from the chair opposite her own, she smiled at her wanly, suppressing her disappointment at having her alcove invaded even when there were plenty of other places to sit. Zabini only raised tawny eyebrows at her and returned to her book. She was a redhead, rumored to have gotten a major de-freckling spell done over last summer, so that there supposedly wasn’t a blemish on her entire body. Hermione didn’t believe this, if only because de-freckling spells were notoriously expensive, and ran the risk of skin de-pigmenting skin; and for all Zabini’s complexion was already brilliantly pale, Hermione couldn’t imagine she would run the risk of returning to school a flaming red-headed albino.
The thought made her laugh. When she did she caught Zabini’s eye again, and the other girl’s expression deepened into a studious pout. Hermione held the gaze while Zabini apparently made up her mind about her; finally she signaled the end with another expressive flick of her eyebrows, and silently moved to return her book to the shelf. Hermione waited until after she was alone again to locate what Blaise had been reading. It turned out to be nothing of importance, just a book on transfigurational properties, but Hermione still felt compelled to immerse herself in it for half an hour or so to see what had been so interesting about it.
A few nights later Zabini was there again. This time the library was crowded with students revising for examinations, and there was no eye contact as they spread their textbooks out at opposite ends of their particular table. Hermione watched Zabini’s hair curl in loose ringlets around her eyes, wishing for the long haircut she had abandoned two summers previous in favor of a chin-length bob that had gotten her asked out on more dates than at any time before or since. Zabini’s hair was long and thick, and it seemed to flicker as if it had been tinged with candlelight, in shades of copper and crimson and russet.
That night Hermione sat for a bit longer in front of her mirror, staring at her own ungainly monotonic brown hair, thinking of ways to charm it longer, or thicker, or wavier. By the time exams had passed she had, after a few days of research, come upon a perfect potion for making hair grow at twice its normal rate, and after a week of imbibing had coaxed her hair down to just below her shoulders. It curled and went wavy even though it was still frizzy, which Hermione didn’t mind so much. She was very proud of the results, and herself for managing it.
The next time she saw her, Zabini rolled her eyes at Hermione over her shoulder. They were side by side in the stacks. Zabini was running a white fingertip over the dusty books in the vocational section, leaving a faint thin streak across the spines. Hermione glared at her and turned back to her perusal of The Magician’s Way. The other girl pushed a red curl away from her forehead and smirked.
“Well, what is it?” Hermione said peevishly, thinking that Zabini couldn’t really be that interested in How to Succeed in Quidditch Without Really Flying. It was the first time either of them had spoken to one another outside of the bare minimum in class, and though Hermione felt it was some sort of progressive step forward in her ongoing quest to get along with students she barely knew, she was still mostly irked at the half-taunting, half-indifferent curve of the other girl’s lips.
“You’ve been staring.”
Thrown, Hermione managed, “I—wasn’t—“
Zabini laughed. It was short and sharp. “It’s okay, I’m used to it.” She cast a sidewise glance at Hermione. “Well. Maybe not from a girl.”
Her stomach lurched a little, as if a fist had suddenly clenched itself around her intestines. Fighting the urge to bolt she forced herself to step around the other girl and slip a book off the shelf, any random book. This one turned out to be The Butcher, the Baker, the Broomstick Maker; she flipped through it diligently, eyes steady on the page. Staring at what? she wondered. Certainly she knew Zabini’s three-quarter profile, her head half-bent over a textbook, thin cheekbones shaded under long locks of hair. But what was there to stare at?
“I… I’ve been trying to grow out my hair,” she heard herself answer. Once again she felt smaller than the books. “I wish I could get it to look like yours.”
On cue, Zabini tossed her head, thick curls spilling halfway down her back like a typhoon of blood. “You don’t get hair like mine from a bottle,” she said. “I’ve seen plenty of people try.” She had a sharp laugh. Hermione thought it matched the sharp twist of her lips. They looked like blood, too, only colder.
Hermione didn’t know what to say to this. She knew she should answer but for some reason her throat was coarse and sandpapery. Instead she closed her book, fingertip in the top to mark her page, although she had yet to read a word, and went back to her seat.