Chapter Three: That Present and Christmas Dinner
Two weeks later, Harry was waiting nervously at breakfast for the owls to bring the post. The Great Hall was decorated for Halloween, and animated candy spiders crawled over the table pouncing upon cream puff "flies." Neville slid in next to him and smiled. He knew what was coming.
"Is it ready?" Harry whispered.
"Yes, don't worry. It's beautiful. Sorry it took so long."
"Neville, you grew the rarest specimen of Fire Ficus in eight days. It didn't take long at all. And thanks again."
"Are you sure it's the best thing, Harry? Most of us give flowers, you know."
"She doesn't like flowers."
"But a flaming Dragon Fire Ficus she does like? Too strange," the other boy replied, shaking his head. "Oh, here comes the post!"
Harry looked up to see hundreds of owls descend into the hall, and scanned until he saw six big birds clutching the handle of a huge, fire-resistant bag and carrying it to the Slytherins' table. "Wow, I didn't think it'd be that large."
"All dragons are large," Neville said sagely.
Harry snorted at that. "True enough." Well, this ought to get her to notice me.
Bulstrode had told him that the Zabini household was full of such plants, and that they were Blaise's favorite. She had figured that since her house mate was missing her uncle, it would make her happy to have a reminder of home and family. He hoped she was right.
The owls delivered the parcel to Blaise, who looked poked at it looking for a tag. Finding none, she used her wand to snip the string holding the bag together, and the fabric fell away to reveal a plant with a tall, sturdy looking crimson stalk and shiny red-orange leaves, the tips of which were glimmering with tiny flames.
"Woah, look at what Zabini got," Ron said, looking more rumpled than he had when Harry left him in the common room.
Neville said, "So, where's Hermione?" in a sly tone, and a few of the other boys made rude comments, which Ron mostly ignored.
"Shut it, you lot," he said, sitting down.
"Made up, did you?" Harry asked, watching Blaise's face, which did not seem to be glowing with the expected happiness.
"You could say that. What's that plant?"
"It's a Dragon Fire Ficus," Harry said, turning his head to look at his friend.
"Bloody hell!" the enraged-sounding voice of Draco Malfoy shrieked. "Put me out! Put me OUT!"
The Great Hall erupted into laughter.
Harry turned back just in time to see Gregory Goyle throw pumpkin juice on Malfoy, Parkinson's freezing hex hit the plant and turn to steam, and Blaise looking . . . sad, as well as embarrassed.
"You're off the Reserves, Zabini!" Malfoy yelled.
Harry jumped to his feet. "You can't do that!"
Ron pulled him back down before he could leave, saying, "You'll make it worse, mate. Don't interfere—it might blow over if you leave it."
"Damn that bastard!"
"My poor Fire Ficus," Neville said, and he did rise from the table to go over to the Slytherin one and see to the damage.
Draco was spluttering with rage as he stormed off, Pansy in his wake, when Neville approached Blaise. Harry could not hear what he was saying to the girl, but he saw her nod her head, and then turn it to favor him with a hard stare before reaching for the pot and helping the Gryffindor remove it from the hall.
"That went well," Harry muttered. "Shit."
"Language, Mr. Potter," Snape said, as he walked past him on his way out of the Great Hall.
"Nice. He could have used the staff exit," Ron observed.
"What, and lose an opportunity to make me feel like an even bigger prat?"
"You mean you sent her that?"
"Well, she seemed to like it before it caught Malfoy's robes on fire and he threw her off the Slytherin Reserves."
"Thanks. What part of 'shut it' confused you?"
"You probably should've just kissed her," Ron told him, stuffing his mouth with a piece of buttered toast before gathering up his books. "'R'oo comimf?"
Blaise was not at lunch, nor was she at dinner. It did not make matters any better to note that Malfoy had not been to either meal, as he was "recovering" from his ordeal in the Slytherin dormitory. Harry was worried, and when Neville showed up for the evening meal, he all but dragged him toward the doors again to have a private word.
"Well, what? I'm starved, is what—and this isn't actually subtle, Harry."
"What did she say?"
"Not much. I helped her carry it to the door of her common room, Bulstrode appeared out of nowhere and acted like Bulstrode, Zabini thanked me, and I told her how to care for the bruised leaves. That's it. She didn't say anything about you. . . . Sorry."
"Right, thanks," Harry said, returning to Ron and Hermione, and flicking a cream puff fly across the table in irritation. "Sodding moving candy."
"It's not the fly's fault that your gift-giving exercise didn't go well," Hermione sniffed.
Harry said nothing.
"Hermione, really," Ron protested. "He was trying to do something nice."
"Trying," the witch said, clearly not thinking much of his effort.
"You know," Harry began to say and then stopped. "Goodnight."
Walking away, he heard Ron attempt to whisper, "But we are shag—"
An annoyed exclamation followed this, and Hermione reached the doors to the Great Hall and was through them before he had gotten halfway to them. He decided it would be best if he returned to Ron.
"Back are you? Good. Now we can be in disgrace together."
"How'd you . . . woo Hermione, Ron?"
"'Woo'? I don't know that I'd call it that, mate. You know me," he said embarrassedly, "man of action. I didn't so much court Hermione as, um, grab her face one night last year and kiss her—badly, but she liked it well enough to let me practice. I'm pretty good now," he finished, looking smug.
"You grabbed her and kissed her and she didn't hex you?"
"Nope. She bit me, though. 'Course, that's not always bad, I've decided."
"No more, please," Harry said, holding up a hand.
Ron snickered. "Just kiss the girl, why don't you? Slytherin or not, if she likes you, she'll kiss back," he said, rising from the table. "Now I'm off to make up with my girlfriend."
He did not look at all displeased by the prospect Harry noted. Ron's already made it to angry make-up sex, and all I've ever done is snog Cho, he thought, feeling sorry for himself.
The next evening was Halloween, and the Feast was magnificent, but Harry did not care. He picked at his food and cast lingering glances at Blaise, who was sitting by herself at the end of the Slytherin table. None of her Reserve mates, apparently, would have anything to do with her, and Bulstrode was at the Gryffindor table sitting with Ginny. The only reason Ron did not seem to mind this, he knew, was the fact that Hermione's foot was doing something to her boyfriend's leg. At least Harry hoped it was Ron's leg.
She looks lonely. Maybe I should go over there.
Before he could decide if it was a good idea, Gil Gorechrist, a Seventh Year Slytherin, rose from his end of the table and made a great show of going to sit next to Blaise. He was a tall boy—almost as tall as Snape—and handsome, the kind of handsome that sold magazines and made every other bloke hate you. Harry decided he was one such bloke.
Dean Thomas leaned over Ron to opine that "it's nice to see her getting proper attention," and Harry felt his ears burn.
His eyes filmed over redly, however, when Gorechrist placed one capable-looking, intrusive hand on the small of the Blaise's back.
"Easy there, Harry," Ron whispered. "Don't be stupid."
"Why? I'm good at stupid."
"Because we're seventy-two points behind Slytherin, is why."
Harry sighed. Ron would never forgive him if he did something to harm their chances of winning the House Cup, so he sat where he was, and watched his rival as he charmed Blaise for the rest of the meal.
Gorechrist walked her to the Great Hall the next evening for dinner, and the night after that. In fact, the two quickly became the most celebrated Slytherin couple of the term, behind Malfoy and Parkinson, of course, and it made Harry sick to think about it.
The only thing that cheered him was the fact that Gryffindor had yet to lose a Quidditch game, but that soon failed to move him, too. It did not help his mood that Professor Dumbledore had decided, based on the increasingly frequent Death Eater attacks, that Harry would have to remain at the school over the Yuletide break and forego his plans to visit the Burrow.
"Aw, that's dreadful," Ron said.
"Well, Mum'll let me pop 'round to see you, I'm sure. I'll bring Hermione. We'll open our presents together. It'll be fun."
Christmas day dawned bright and cold for Harry, the only Gryffindor student staying over the holidays, and he went down to the common room after dressing to find a roaring fire and Albus Dumbledore.
"Happy Christmas, Harry."
"Happy Christmas, Sir."
"Now then, why the long face, my boy? You've presents here."
"I do? Ron was supposed to be bringing those later."
"Mr. Weasley is not the only one to think of you, it seems," the old wizard said, his eyes twinkling.
Harry looked at the little table by the hearth and saw an envelope. "This is for me?" he asked, picking it up. "Yeah, so it is," he said, seeing his name written on it in an unfamiliar hand.
"Aren't you going to open it?"
"Sure," Harry replied, slipping his finger through a gape in the flap and flicking it up and then removing the note it contained before scanning it.
"What does it say?"
Harry colored. "Um . . . ."
"Well, it's none of my business, of course. I merely thought I'd come by to wish you the joy of the day and tell you that dinner will be rather small this evening. In fact, so small that I thought you and the other Hogwarts' student remaining might wish to dine alone."
"Someone else is here?"
"Indeed. She found that her plans had changed quite suddenly, I'm afraid, and isn't particularly looking forward to eating dinner with her professors. Do you think you might find it in yourself to take pity on a Slytherin and save her from that?"
"What is it, Harry?"
"Bulstrode. She and Gin—oh."
"It's quite all right. I'm well aware of Miss Weasley's courtship of Miss Bulstrode," Dumbledore said mildly.
That seemed an odd way of putting it, Harry thought, but did not say. "Well, sure. I'll have dinner with Bulstrode. Sure," Harry said, glancing back down at the unexpected note.
"Wonderful! Then I shall leave you to await your friends, Harry. Dinner will be at seven in the Great Hall. The other professors and I will be dining in my chambers," the Headmaster told him, rising to leave.
The boy looked again at the note and thought, Who would send this to me? Why?
The note read:
"It kills me dead to watch you with her when I know you're only seeing her because of your parents. It isn't fair, and I don't like it. You and I have something, you know. We mean something to each other. You can't keep putting me off. You know you'd rather be down on your knees before me than sucking up that bint's conversation. You have to talk to me, Gore. I miss you so much I ache. Doesn't it matter to you that you're breaking my heart? I think it does. I know it does. Please, please meet me in the Owlery before you leave.
"I want you.
"Well, that certainly explains that," Harry said, remembering how surprised Smith—looking disheveled and well-shagged—had been to see him when he had arrived at the Owlery the previous night to find the Hufflepuff leaving. I wonder if Blaise knows that her boyfriend is queer?
He was so happy about having received such splendid information that he found himself actually looking forward to having Christmas dinner with Millicent Bulstrode, and he did not mention it to Ron, Ginny, and Hermione when they came to visit. He was a bit surprised to find Ginny so happy, despite her argument with her girlfriend.
But then, Gin's always bounced back quickly from things, hasn't she? he thought, wondering if Bulstrode would be of a mind to help him figure out a way to explain things to Blaise. I'm an idiot, but at least I'm a straight idiot, he told himself hopefully.
Harry dressed carefully for dinner, out of respect for Bulstrode's unhappiness, and went down to the Great Hall early. He was surprised to find it empty of the long tables usually present, and one small, round, well-laid table sitting in the center of the festively decorated room. Faeries floated in a ring above it, and several fragrant fir trees—that seemed to be growing out of the floor—encircled it; magically produced "snow" fell on their branches. It was quite a romantic scene, and this realization caused Harry to panic. He was well aware of Professor Dumbledore's match-making mania.
But he wouldn't—he couldn't think that Bulstrode and I—not when she's been in love with Ginny . . . .
"It's very pretty, isn't it?" a soft, familiar voice said.
Blaise, Harry thought, turning quickly. "Blai—Zabini—what are you doing here?"
"Well, if that's how you feel about it, I'll go, then."
"No, wait—I'm just surprised. I thought you were Bulstrode," he said quickly, taking a step toward the girl.
Blaise's eyes widened. "What?"
"Well, Professor Dumbledore said that—"
"Potter, you really are dense, aren't you? Millicent's with the Weasleys. I believe she told you that, didn't she?"
His voice caught in his throat as he looked at the Slytherin, really looked at her. Blaise was wearing a long-sleeved, royal blue dress that gathered under her bosom and dropped in a graceful sweep over the curves of her hips to the floor before flaring out. The swell of her breasts rose under the glinting gold of her uncle's torc, its cabochons matching the dress's color exactly, and her hair was shot through with gold ribbons in a crown of braids—but her auburn tresses, impossibly long and shining—fell from the circlet of hair down her back and over her shoulders in wave after wave of silken glory.
God. "You look like a queen," he breathed, his admiration for the girl's beauty draining low in his body and causing his head to lighten from loss of blood. "Y—you're magnificent, Blaise."
She flushed, with pleasure or irritation, Harry could not tell, and said, "I don't believe I've given you leave to use my first name, Mr. Potter."
Oh. Shit. "Um, well, Miss Zabini," Harry replied formally, turning to pull out one of the two chairs from the table for her, "you're looking remarkably gorgeous this evening—not that you don't always look pretty, um, gorgeous, I mean—I mean, would you care to sit down?"
She took the proffered chair, saying, "Thank you."
Harry gratefully sank into his own chair, staring at how the twinkling light of the faeries caused enigmatic shadows to play across Blaise's face. He had no idea what to say to her, so he elected the obvious. "Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas to you, Mr. Potter," she replied, smiling slowly.
Harry's mind went blank.
"Yes—I mean, yes?" he squeaked, valiantly attempting not to stare at Blaise's breasts.
"I was sorry to hear that you had to change your plans for the holidays. It must be . . . very hard to have to hide like this."
"Hide? What? Oh. Oh, you mean Voldemort."
But Harry did not want to talk about the Dark Lord. "Tell me about your uncle, Bl—Miss Zabini—I think you must miss him." Stupid! That was a bloody stupid thing to ask!
Blaise did not look offended. "You really want to hear about Uncle 'Carlo?"
"Yeah—if you want to talk about him, of course," Harry said, as their glasses began to fill with wine.
"Oh, smell that," Blaise said delightedly, picking up her glass and sloshing the contents around before inhaling. "It's a very old vintage."
Harry sniffed at his glass of wine. It did smell nice. "But I don't know anything about wine," he said apologetically.
"Well, taste it," she urged, doing the same. "Yes, it's very old—a lovely Beaujolais."
"Did your uncle teach you about wine?"
"Oh, Uncle 'Carlo loved a good wine. His father was a vintner, and was quite put out when his son decided to become an Auror."
"I'm sorry about your uncle," Harry said. "I didn't know he'd died, or how. That must have been . . . ."
"It was, sad, I mean. Uncle 'Carlo didn't . . . appreciate our family's politics. He was always telling me not to give in to their pressure," Blaise said quietly.
"You mean, he didn't want you to join Voldemort."
"Yes. That's why I'm here, you know. Mother told me I wasn't welcome at home until . . . . Well, I suppose we have that in common."
Harry looked quizzically at her.
"Neither of us has a home to go to."
She looked so unhappy that Harry reached out his hand across the table, and was shocked when Blaise took it. "Hogwarts is home."
"I suppose so. For now. It's selfish, but what I miss most about my uncle is how he protected me—from my parents, from what they wanted me to do—ever since his death, it's been almost impossible to be with anyone else in my family. They hate me for refusing to . . . ."
"Become a Death Eater."
"So you're disowned, then?"
"Yes," Blaise said, squeezing Harry's hand.
"Well, Bulstrode isn't a Death Eater either, and she's your friend. And Professor Dumbledore's taking care of you, isn't he? And I . . . ."
"You, what?" the girl asked, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
"I'm your friend, too, if you want me to be."
Blaise sighed, an irritated sound, but then squared her shoulders and replied, "Then you should call me Blaise, shouldn't you?"
Harry grinned. "Whatever you say, Your Majesty."
Their plates filled then with some sort of beef dish, and roasted potatoes and carrots, and they released their hands and began eating.
"It's very good."
"Of course it is, Mr. Potter."
Harry blinked. "Oh, you can call me Harry—if you'd like to."
"I'll think about it," Blaise replied pertly, laughing at him when his face clouded. "Harry, don't be so tentative. It isn't necessary."
Tentative? Oh, hesitant. "Youmakemenervous," he said, blushing furiously. I should stop trying to talk, that's what I should do. Idiot.
"I hadn't noticed."
"Now you're just being nice."
"No, now I'm just mocking you. . . . Why do I make you nervous, Harry?"
"Um, well, you're . . . you're just so . . . and I . . . ," Harry said, stumbling over his words as he remembered Snape taunting him about the need to form "coherent sentences" in Blaise's presence. "I don't want to . . ." die a virgin.
"What? Offend me in your usual way? Millicent says that Ginny Weasley hasn't spoken to you in weeks."
"I know. I, um, seem to be sticking my foot in it all the time, lately—in my mouth, I mean."
"I understood you."
"Oh, great." This is going well.
"Would it help if we talked about Quidditch?"
"What do you mean?"
"You seem to fare better when we talk about sport."
"You do," Blaise replied, pushing a potato around on her plate.
She looks bored. You're boring her. Wonderful. Think of something, you useless git!
"What do you think about Silvio and Hedwig?" Blaise asked, when Harry did not speak for awhile.
"Silvio and Hedwig—oh, they're rather friendly, aren't they?"
"You could call it that, I suppose. Do you think we should give their chicks to Hogwarts, or were you planning on presenting them to friends?"
"You understand that their brooding together, don't you?"
"Brooding? They seem happy to me. Oh. Oh, they're nesting?"
"You didn't know. Harry Potter, for all that you're the celebrated hero of our age, you miss a lot, don't you?"
"I guess I do," he said, feeling miserable.
"Don't look like that. So you're not observant. There are worse things you could be."
"Thanks." I think. "Well, if there are babies, what do you want to do about them? Giving them to the school sounds like a good idea."
"Do you like Gorechrist very much?"
"Gilbert's a decent enough chap. Why?"
He's queer and too good looking and I wish you'd like me. Do you like me? I like you. "No reason."
"You must have had a reason, or you wouldn't have asked," Blaise said impatiently.
"It's just that I think he might . . . ."
"Be in love with Zacharias Smith?"
"Of course I know," she said, shaking her head a bit and causing her hair to ripple.
Harry's mind went blank again. He was dimly aware that his mouth had gone slack, but he did not care.
"You do like my hair, don't you?" Blaise said, looking amused.
"Yes, and your—I mean, yeah, I do—but I like you, all of you, too. Is that all right?"
"Yes, Harry. It is," she told him, reaching for his hand again.
He took hers, and sighed when he felt her thumb lightly brush over the top of his hand. "That's nice."
"Is it?" she asked, her voice low and teasing.
"Yeah," Harry replied, his breathing becoming erratic.
"You seem to have lost interest in your food."
"Yeah." Oh, God. Keep doing that.
Blaise kept rubbing her thumb over his hand, and Harry translated the sensation to another appendage in need of friction.
"Would you like to take a walk?"
No! "A . . . a walk? Where?" he asked nervously, suddenly worried about having to stand without the benefit of robes to shield him. "Don't you want to see what's for dessert?"
"I thought we'd make our own dessert."
"Make our own—Blaise! he exclaimed, pulling his hand away—you don't have to do this for me to be your friend! What kind of wizard do you think I am, anyway?"
"A singular one, Potter, that's what kind," the girl said angrily, standing up and pushing her chair backwards. "Quidditch. Right. We'll just keep to that next time."
Watching her storm off, Harry felt embarrassed and uncertain and lost. He wanted to call her back or to follow her, but it seemed best just to let her go. I knew she didn't really like me, he thought disconsolately. She's just lonely. She just thinks she has to . . . do whatever it is she was doing so that I'll be her friend. Shit.