Chapter Two: That Mouth of His
And so did Blaise in the following days. In fact, she did more than ignore Harry: she made a point of avoiding him, swooping out of the library if he entered it, stalking back to her Potions' worktable if he came anywhere near her while she was retrieving supplies from the ingredient cabinet, and never once looking from the Slytherin table to his own at meals to catch his eye as she had been wont to do in the past. It was maddening.
I just told her I liked her hair. Why'd she have to get so chuffed about it? he asked himself, playing with his food one night a few days later during dinner. Snape's wrong. Blaise never did like me.
"Harry," Ginny said, throwing herself down beside him. "What did you do to Zabini?"
"What do you mean?"
"She looks miserable. Millicent says that she's stopped talking to everyone again."
"'Again'? When wasn't she talking to people?"
"You didn't know? Her favorite uncle was killed two years ago on a mission, and she stopped talking for six months."
"What sort of mission?"
"Giancarlo Zabini was an Auror. He was in Ireland supervising some curse-breakers who were trying to stop the trade of cursed artifacts stolen from old burial mounds, when one of the workers was possessed by a spirit. He was run through with one of the swords in the weapons cache."
"Oh, God. That's terrible."
"Yeah, awful. What have you done?"
"Who says I did anything?" Harry groused.
"Millicent. She says that you were all Blaise talked about until a few days ago. What did you do?" Ginny pressed.
They were sitting at the end of the Gryffindor table, and not many people remained in the Great Hall, but Harry looked around and decided that there were enough still present to make him uncomfortable talking about Blaise. "Look, could we move this conversation?"
"Why? No one's listening."
"Harry. Really, you can tell me. Perhaps I can help."
"You mean, perhaps you can find something out to tell Millicent."
Ginny's face changed from friendly concern to horrified outrage almost too quickly to register. "You're a horrid prat, Potter! How dare you accuse me of—"
"Miss Weasley, kindly refrain from shrieking in the Great Hall; this is not a Quidditch match," Snape said, descending upon them from the High Table.
"If you've finished your meal, go about your business."
With a huff, Ginny stormed off.
"Potter, you are the most unfortunate mess with witches it has ever been my misfortune to witness."
"I—" Harry began to say angrily, but then thought the better of it. "I know, Sir."
"Miss Zabini appears to be distraught."
"I know, Sir."
"Well? What are you going to do about it, boy?"
"What can I do?" he demanded angrily. "I didn't mean to hurt her feelings, and she won't even look at me, now!"
"Make her look at you, Potter," Snape ordered, striding off without another word.
"Thanks for the help."
In lieu of returning to the dormitory and running into Ginny, Harry took himself to the Owlery where he found Hedwig and Silvio hooting at each other. The female owl seemed disgruntled when Harry attempted to greet her, ruffling her feathers at him and turning her back. Silvio turned his head around at him.
"Show off," Harry muttered, settling himself down in one of the wide windowsills and glaring out over the moonlit grounds. How did I miss that Blaise's uncle died? She must have been close to him for her to have stopped talking for six months, he thought, a pang of sadness ringing through him as his musings put him in mind of Sirius' death. I wish . . . . "No, best not think about it," he told himself, not for the first time. "What am I going to do?"
Harry liked Blaise, liked her a lot, but it seemed odd to him that the girl might like him so much that she would stop speaking. He decided that it had to be something else, and further, that he was going to find out what it was and put an end to it.
"If I do that, she'll have to forgive me," he told himself, pushing off of the sill to go to Hedwig again.
As he approached her perch, his foot slid through the feathers on the floor and nudged something, something that glinted in the dim light as he examined it.
"What's this?" he asked, picking up the object.
It was a heavy golden piece of jewelry with a hinge; the gold twisted and ended in two golden, head-shaped terminals into which had been set blue cabochons for eyes and a mouth for each serpent-like head, and it was big enough that Harry gleaned it was meant to be worn around the neck. He remembered Blaise having been fiddling with something in her pocket the other day, and realized that the object must belong to her.
"Crap! No wonder she's been so upset. This must have belonged to her uncle," Harry said, carefully pocketing it and returning to the dormitory.
Hermione was sitting at one of the tables doing homework.
"Where's Ron?" he asked.
"Why should I know?" she shot back.
Harry repressed a grin. "Is he still being an ass about Ginny?"
Harry sat down and pulled the neck-thing out of his pocket. "What's thi—"
"A Celtic torc!" his friend exclaimed, snatching it from him. "Where'd you get this?"
"A Celtic what?"
"Torc. It's sort of like ancient barbarian jewelry. Where'd you find it?"
"In the Owlery. I think it's Blaise's. I think it was her uncle's."
"Oh, well, that would explain it," Hermione said, handing the torc back to Harry. "Wasn't he a curse-breaker?"
"Um, an Auror, actually. He was supervising curse-breakers when he died."
"Harry, you should probably take this to her right away."
"I can't just go wandering into the dungeons. Besides, I don't know the password to the Slytherin dorms."
Harry looked around. "Ginny's not here, is she?"
"Right. She knows the password. Look, don't say anything. I, um, I want to give it back to her privately, all right?"
A skeptical look crossed Hermione's face. "'Privately'? Why?"
"Well, she must be—oh. Oh," she said, flushing more deeply.
Harry laughed. "You act as though you've never—" Shit. My big, huge, gaping mouth—I am an idiot! he thought, as his friend's expression turned to mortification.
"Good night, Harry," Hermione said, hastily gathering her books and leaving him alone at the table.
At least Snape didn't see that, he thought, taking himself to bed.
The next afternoon was the occasion of the pre-season meeting of the Quidditch teams. Harry was the Gryffindor Seeker, but Ron had been elected captain. They walked across the pitch toward their corner of the field, the other teams already having assembled—Ron, very proud of his status had wanted to make "an entrance"—and Harry caught sight of Blaise, who was the Reserve Seeker for Slytherin, making an effort to be noticed not noticing his progress. He sighed.
"Cheer up, mate," Ron told him happily. "It's a good sign."
"How is her ignoring her a good sign?"
"Well, if she didn't give a toss about you, she really would ignore you, wouldn't she?"
The logic of that made sense to Harry, and he tried to pay attention to his friend as Ron discussed the coming season's strategy. It still bothered him, however, that Blaise's hair was hanging down her back in a long braid. It's too pretty to be trapped like that.
"Oi! Harry! Pay attention, would you?"
Ron snorted, and the others snickered, but the slight commotion regarding Harry's lapse subsided quickly. After the meeting, Harry took a deep breath and walked decisively toward the group of Slytherin Reserves.
"Uh, Zabini? Have a moment?"
"I have several, Potter, but none for you," she said, turning away from him so quickly that her braid whipped across his face.
"Not even for this?" Harry asked, holding up the torc, the little thrill of lust that had struck him with Blaise's braid urging him on.
The Slytherin's eyes widened, and she snatched at the object, but Harry pulled it away.
"Give that to me!"
"Not until you let me apologize," Harry said, not noticing Draco Malfoy approach him from behind. "Hey!" he exclaimed, as the torc was taken from him.
"Really, Potter—stealing from girls—that's not going to do your reputation any good, is it?"
"Give that back, Malfoy," Harry demanded.
"This?" Draco said, casually examining the item. "I think not. I quite like it, in fact," he said, placing it around his neck.
"Take. That. Off," Blaise said in a low, dangerous tone.
"Why, Zabini? If it's so important to you, you shouldn't have given it to Potter."
"I didn't give it to him!"
"I found it. Now give it to Blai—Zabini—now."
"This is what," Ron said from behind the Slytherin team's captain, bringing one balled fist down on Malfoy's head.
Draco's knees buckled, and he fell to the ground.
"Accio torc!" Harry cast, holding out his hand to take the object and then turning—to find the entirety of Slytherin's Quidditch contingent holding their wands on him.
He did not have to turn around to know that the Gryffindors were doing the same.
"You bastard!" Draco yelled, trying to stand.
"Here," Harry said quickly, handing Blaise her torc. "Look, I'm sorry, I—"
"You will be, Potter—Weasel—I'll make you both—"
"Enough," Madam Hooch said, breaking the circle of angry students and glaring down at Malfoy. "Wands down, now!"
"Would someone please explain the reason for this unacceptable display to me?"
"We were just demonstrating . . . technique, Coach Hooch," Ron lied. "Weren't we, Malfoy?" he threatened.
Draco stood and opened his mouth to protest, but then thought the better of it. "Right. What the Weasel said."
"Right, you bunch of liars had better straighten out whatever is going on and not repeat it, or I'll cancel the season. This is Quidditch, not war," the professor said, leaving them to it.
"Stay away from my team, Potter," Draco said darkly, storming off.
The other Slytherin players followed his lead, except for Blaise, who stood there looking uncertain. "You probably shouldn't have done that, Weasley."
"Felt all right to me," Ron said diffidently, to the laughter of the Gryffindor players. "You coming, Harry?"
Harry shot his friend an annoyed look.
"Right then, see you at dinner?"
"Sure," Harry replied, never taking his eyes off Blaise's.
It felt good to feel her looking at him again.
"What were you going to do?"
"When Malfoy took it."
"Oh, I, I guess hit him. He shouldn't have taken it."
"You took it."
"I found it."
"But you wouldn't give it to me, would you?"
"Look, Zabini—Blaise—I just wanted you to hear my apology for the other night. I was going to give the torc back to you, after, I swear."
"You said something about an apology?"
"Oh, right. I didn't mean to, you know, the other night. I just meant—"
"Potter, you're terrible at apologies."
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I guess I am. I didn't mean it about your hair, I—"
"You mean you don't like it? Did you lie about my breasts, too?" Blaise demanded, once again looking upset.
"No! I do like your breasts!" Harry exclaimed, groaning when his voice echoed across the field. Shit! I did not just say that!
"Oh, lovely, Potter. Now everyone thinks you've seen them!" Blaise hissed at him before turning and striding off toward the changing rooms.
"Merlin, just please kill me now," Harry muttered.
"If you think that would help."
Oh, great. Just what I need—another sneaking Slytherin! "Professor," he ground out.
"Mr. Potter, I don't know quite what to say. Your ability to charm the witches is becoming the stuff of legend."
"Miss Granger, Miss Weasley, and Miss Zabini all seem very impressed by your linguistic facility," Snape answered sarcastically, "if what I've heard is true."
"People are talking about all of this?"
"People are always talking about you, Potter. Why is it a surprise?"
"It's embarrassing, is what it is. Well, I did what you said, and she noticed me, but now I've got Malfoy mad at Ron, and—"
"Mr. Malfoy needed no prompting on that score, and it was not you who struck him, but Mr. Weasley."
"Don't you mean, 'showed him technique', Sir?" Harry asked, in spite of himself feeling amused.
"Why didn't you take points, Professor? I mean, if you saw?"
"I have better things to do than torture brats, don't I?"
"Mr. Potter, it may come as a surprise to you, but I do have better things to do than ruin Slytherin's chances of winning the house cup by irritating Xiomera Hooch into canceling the Quidditch season."
"She wouldn't really cancel the season, Sir."
"You are mistaken in that. She has canceled it before, and her mood is such, given the state of things, that she might be inclined to cancel it again if she felt the teams' interaction warranted it. 'This is Quidditch, not war', she said."
"Yeah, so she did. She's worried, then?"
"We are all 'worried', Potter. Coach Hooch has more reasons than some to be worried. Her . . . partner is a Muggle."
Crap. And I'm worried about getting a girl to like me, Harry thought. "I didn't know."
"Of course you didn't."
"I suppose I should probably just forget about Quidditch altogether and focus on Occlumency and other useful things."
"Whoever told you that Quidditch was not useful?" Snape asked, furrowing his brow in irritation.
"You just did—the war, you keep reminding me about it—I shouldn't be bothering with the . . . with girls."
"Mr. Potter, if you quit the Gryffindor Quidditch team I will personally make your past six years, three months, two weeks, and three days as a Hogwarts' student seem like a vacation, no matter what kind of deal we have struck. I have fifty galleons riding on the outcome of the season, and I will not permit Min—Professor McGonagall to win them because you decide to alter the make-up of your team and cancel the terms of our bet."
He's counting the days until I leave—or die, thought Harry. "Shouldn't you be happy that I want to quit?"
"Your arrogance is reassuring, boy, but you vastly underestimate this year's Slytherin team. We will crush you," Snape said confidently, before striding off, as usual, without another word.
Harry went to see Hagrid, wondering if Snape was being nice to him because of their deal, or because he really thought he might be dying soon.
"Yer no' goin' to die, 'Arry," the groundskeeper cum professor assured him. "Ye'll defeat He Who Must Not Be Named an' everything'll get back to normal, ye'll see."
"Normal. What's that, then?"
Hagrid laughed and began making pointed comments about how one ought to treat a difficult animal. Harry was not sure whether his friend meant Snape or Blaise, but he got the point about "coaxin'."
Three days later, he found himself in the Three Broomsticks sitting alone at the back of the pub and watching Professor Snape chat up Madame Rosmerta. Now that he knew they were seeing each other, it was perfectly obvious that the man was flirting with the her. How does he do it? It's not like he's the most handsome wizard in the world. Of course, I'm not much to look at, myself, but at least I'm nice. Well, he's being nice to her, isn't he? he thought, watching how Snape's fingers slid over the publican's as he took a tankard from her. Given the Potions master's usual reserve, it was almost an indecent display. Touching. That seems to be important. Touching—not shouting about a girl's breasts. Harry groaned to remember his behavior. Idiot, idiot, idiot!
As he was chastising himself while waiting on Ron and Hermione to return from "browsing the shops', Fred and George Weasley entered the pub, scanned it, and grinned in tandem when they saw Harry.
"Oi!" called one of the Weasley twins. "You need another?"
"Sure," Harry called back, and the boys brought three bottles to the table.
But when Harry went to take the one that looked like his, George, at least, he thought it was George, pulled the bottle back and said, "I'll give it to you, mate, if, you know, you like my breasts."
Both twins laughed as Harry lowered his head in mortification.
"Don't mind him. He's an arse," Fred, at least, he thought it was Fred, said.
"How did you know?"
"Please, Potter, we may have left the school, but we're not without our sources. Give him the bottle, Fred."
Ah. Wrong as usual, thought Harry. "Great," he muttered, taking the bottle.
"Look, Harry," George said in an "I'm-being-reasonable" way, "you really shouldn't be courting a Slytherin by wandpoint. It's not subtle."
"I didn't pull my wand."
"That's the problem, then. Thought so," Fred said.
"Blaise Trillare Zabini," George broke in, "is a Slytherin goddess. She could have anyone, but she wants you. So why don't you just take her, then?"
"How do you know—oh, right. 'Sources'—what do you mean, 'take her'?"
The two redheads glanced at each other. "Perhaps brother," said Fred, "our work here is more involved than we thought."
"You do know about shagging, don't you?" asked George of Harry, who's cheeks burned in response.
"Of course I know about shagging!"
"Well, then, what's the problem?" both boys asked as one.
"She doesn't—I can't just—be reasonable!"
"She does, you can, and we're being reasonable," George opined. "She wants you, mate. It's really rather simple."
"It's not," Harry protested. "She's mad at me. I don't know why, and I can't just—you know—we haven't even ever been on a date!"
"Dating's a requirement of shagging?" Fred asked George.
George snorted. "It's news to me, brother."
"I guess I just take this sort of thing more seriously than you two do. I like Blaise. I respect her. I'm not just going to . . . to use her for sex."
"But she wants you to use her for sex, you pillock!"
"Fred, she does not!"
"Our sources say differently, Harry," George told him.
"I'm afraid that's privileged information," both Weasleys replied.
"Now, now, gentlemen, no secret-keeping in my establishment," Madame Rosmerta teased them. "Would you like another round?"
Round, Harry thought, looking at the witch's middle, is exactly what she seemed to be. He tried not to stare. She's . . . she's pregnant! he realized, eyes widening in shock. Snape got her pregnant! No wonder he's been in such a good mood. "Uh, um, no. No, thanks."
"Well, I'd like another," Fred said, "and so would George, please."
After the witch levitated two bottles to the table and left, George laughed. "No wonder you can't get anywhere with Zabini. Harry, mate, you have to talk to witches if you want to shag them, you know. That is a requirement."
Snape's gotten Rosmerta pregnant, Harry thought again, feeling all of a sudden quite put out that his greasy old git of a Potions master could get a witch pregnant, and he could not even talk to one.
"Brother, I believe we've lost him," Fred said, nudging Harry.
"Wha—oh. You know, I'm . . . I'm going back to the school. Thanks for the um, advice," he said distractedly, wandering out of the pub and not looking where he was going until he ended up near the Shrieking Shack. "Great," Harry said, looking at the old, ramshackle building. "Just sodding wonderful."
"More of a shame than anything else, I'd say," a deep, though feminine, voice said from behind him. "I don't know why they don't just tear it down."
"Bulstrode," Harry acknowledged the Slytherin without turning around. Fuck. Where do they keep coming from?
"So Potter, what are the Weasleys like?" the girl asked without preamble, moving to stand beside him and glare at the shack.
"Um, they're nice. Why?" he asked suspiciously.
"Because Ginny's invited me to meet them over the hols."
That does sound serious. "She has?"
"Yep," Millicent replied.
"And you're nervous."
"I'm just asking a question, Potter. That doesn't mean I'm nervous."
Harry chuckled. "Bulstrode, you are nervous—but don't be. They're nice people."
"If you say so."
"Um," Harry said, turning to observe the girl, "you're not going to, I mean, you don't follow—"
"What? I'm in Slytherin, so that automatically makes me a Death Eater?" Millicent demanded.
"It increases the odds, at any rate," Harry replied firmly. "And if you're seeing Ginny, you should know that if you are thinking about it, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley won't be nice to you."
"They'll have plenty of other reasons not to like me," the girl said gruffly, shifting her feet.
"You in the mood to make a deal, Bulstrode?"
"What sort of deal?"
"I'll tell you how to get on with Ginny's parents, if you'll help me get Blaise to talk to me. Deal?"
Millicent laughed. "That's a stupid deal, Potter. Blaise is—I mean, yeah—deal," she said, holding out her hand.
Harry shook it. "Deal, then. So, what do you know about Muggle technology?"
"Not a damn thing, but I'm willing to learn about it. What do you know about Fire Ficuses?" she asked, grinning.
"Nothing, but I know someone who does," he told her, smiling back.