[Book Year 6]
Desiree Warbeck wondered if Blaise Zabini had lost his mind.
He had seemed distant in the few weeks they had been back at school for their sixth year, the letters they wrote back and forth at the beginning of the summer petering out by early August, and when Desiree had gone looking for him on the Hogwarts Express, it was to find him squeezed between Crabbe and Goyle in a compartment shared with a few other of his sixth year housemates. Classes had been brutal since their first day, and so she had assumed—considering the piles of books they were both buried under during their weekly study dates that had carried over from the year before—that he was just busy, trying to get his footing for their first year as N.E.W.T. students.
But now he was standing beside her, at the front of Professor Sinistra’s classroom, telling the Hogwarts BSU that he would be stepping down as its president.
“I just feel it’s for the best,” he said, dark eyes trained on the floor, arms crossed tightly. “Dean has agreed to take over in my place, and we both agree that Alex is a great fit for vice president.”
Dean Thomas, for his part, seemed relaxed, and it was clear he and Alex Johnson were the only two people in the group who had any forewarning about Blaise’s decision. Desiree could see Lavender Brown’s mouth hanging open slightly as she watched in shock, and she shut her own resolutely, clenching her teeth together. Fury rose as if from the ground, rushing up from her feet, making her heart race and her ears hot. What in Merlin’s name is he doing?
“So you’re just ditching us?” fifth year Gryffindor Keegan Thompson’s voice cut through the stunned silence like a Severing Charm.
Blaise’s eyes hardened as he looked at Thompson—he never did like him very much. “No, I’ll keep attending meetings. And if Dean and Alex feel like they need guidance I’ll provide that too. I just…don’t think it makes sense for me to be the face of the BSU anymore.”
“Well why not?” Hermione Granger asked, “It hasn’t been a problem before now.”
“You didn’t have a problem last year going against Umbridge,” fourth year Hufflepuff Charity Samuels pointed out, sounding genuinely confused.
From her angle, looking up at Blaise from her seat, Desiree could see his jaw clench. “That was different,” he explained. “Now that You Know Who’s out in the open—”
A collective groan rose around the room, and Thompson threw his hands up while someone else sucked their teeth. Desiree was suddenly taken back to the Hogwarts Express, where she had seen Blaise deep in conversation with Draco Malfoy…
“Look!” Blaise shouted over the angry grumbles, “It’s already done. Dean will do great as your president.” Desiree heard the unspoken words in his tone. You all like him better than me anyway. She bit her tongue, not trusting herself to say anything productive or close to kind in her rage.
Desiree headed to the library that Wednesday with righteous indignation in her veins. A part of her wondered if Blaise would even show up today. If he was leaving all of his sense behind, why not leave her behind too? They hadn’t spoken once since his announcement at the BSU meeting—not a huge change given the way he’d been acting since they’d come back to school, but different from the friendly chats they used to have in the halls or the silly games they would play in the margins of their notes during History of Magic lessons (not that either of them were taking the class now that they were no longer required to). Still, Desiree could remember other times when they hadn’t been on the best of terms, and neither of them had missed their study time.
Sure enough, when she got to the table squeezed between the high windows of the castle and the Charms section of the library, Blaise was already there, bent low over his Transfiguration essay. Desiree scowled at the sight of him, skinny fingers poised around his quill, brow furrowed as he scribbled black ink across the parchment.
“Hey,” she said shortly, to announce her arrival. She pulled her seat out a little more aggressively than necessary, and plopped down with a huff.
Blaise looked up, eyes guarded in a way that only served to further foul her mood. “Hey,” he said softly.
Desiree searched through her bag for her own Transfiguration essay, which she’d attempted during an earlier break but had been too confused (and a little distracted) to focus on. In any other situation, she would ask Blaise for help—he was better at the subject than she was, and never passed up a chance to brag about it—but just looking at him made her suspicions grow and anger fog her brain, so she resolved to do it on her own, letting the silence around them thicken with tension.
She pretended not to notice when Blaise set his quill down.
“Is everything okay?” he said, keeping his voice low in case Madam Pince was lurking between shelves.
Desiree didn’t look up from her parchment, trying to remember the limitations of Conjuring. “Everything is lovely.”
She heard him scoff, saw him lean back in his seat in the corner of her eye. Her hand stilled, quill poised to keep writing but unable to make the journey.
His voice was teasing, “Sure, Des.”
It was the note of condescension in his tone that did it. Desiree set down her quill and looked up, meeting Blaise’s hard stare. She had to work to keep her voice down as she hissed, “How could you step down from BSU, Blaise?”
His eyes dropped, refusing to meet hers. He pretended to be interested in the sleeve of his robes, as if searching for an errant strand of thread that would never have been caught unraveling from the expensive fabric. He swallowed. “I just thought it would be better to stay under the radar this year. Given everything that’s happening…out there.”
“So you’re choosing your racist friends over us,” her anger trembled through her voice, and she worked to keep her eyes dry.
They had had arguments like this before, discussions about Blaise’s roommates, about the ideologies they spread and the attitudes they tolerated. Since starting the Hogwarts BSU three years ago, Blaise had seemed open, ready to unlearn the things he’d been taught since he was a child. Usually, this was the part of the conversation where he would deflate, when he would realize what he’d done wrong and apologize.
Instead, his features, chiseled into smooth dark skin, twisted in his own anger.
“You think I actually want this?” he hissed, eyes lit with a fury to match Desiree’s own.
“Well I wouldn’t know would I?” Desiree tried hard to keep her voice down, but it rose with her anger. “It’s not like I’ve heard from you, or seen you with anyone other than your precious Draco Malfoy.”
He shook his head, “Owls fly both ways, Desiree.”
“I was writing to you!”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, shrugging her off, “you’ve always been so caught up with making me out to be the bad guy that you’ve never cared to ask what’s actually going on with me in the first place.”
Desiree sputtered at his words, her mind on a retort that hadn’t yet formed. It would be of no use either way; at that moment, Blaise pulled out his wand, muttering under his breath as he pointed it at his papers and books, all of which lifted from the table and landed neatly in his open bag. He pulled the strap over his shoulder and shoved his seat back before storming away through the shelves of the Charms section.
Desiree sat there seething for a few minutes longer, shocked at Blaise’s outburst, at what felt like the first real fight they had ever had. His words finally settle in her mind. You’ve never cared to ask what’s actually going on with me.
As her heart slowed and her homework lay forgotten, Desiree realized with shame that he was right.
Guilt ate at Desiree for the next couple of days. She noticed Blaise scowling in the halls, and while that might not have seemed so different from any other day, her heart squeezed at the thought that she was the reason he looked to be in such a bad mood.
She’d noticed from the beginning that Blaise had been acting different since their return to school, but she paid more attention now—to how he was often alone, hands shoved in his pockets or eyes trained on his wand twirling through his long fingers. She realized that she hadn’t seen him with any of his Slytherin classmates since the train. When they waited outside of Defense Against the Dark Arts, he would hang back from the crowd, ignoring Draco and his preening fans. He sat with the Slytherin members of the BSU during meal times, but she could tell from the Hufflepuff table that he didn’t say much. She thought of the end of their fifth year, fraught as it was with Umbridge’s tyranny and the stress of O.W.L.s, about how light but purposeful he’d seemed. She thought of the jacket still tucked away in her trunk, given to her with a nervous but cheeky smile. He had changed. He was quieter now, somehow smaller.
Occasionally, her frustration would spike as she watched him sulk down the hall. If he would just tell me, she thought, before realizing that maybe there was a reason why he hadn’t said anything. You’ve always been so caught up in making me the bad guy… Was it her judgment that made him hesitant to talk to her? The guilt and shame rose again, swallowing the last embers of her anger.
Friday night, she made her way down to the kitchens as she always did the evening before BSU meetings. The house-elves greeted her warmly, comfortable with her weekly visits. Sadey offered her tea and Twinkle volunteered to help pull out the ingredients she needed. Dobby asked her questions about her favorite kinds of socks as she measured out the sugar. Desiree talked to them as she usually did, hands mixing the dough she needed for her lemon shortbread, but her heart wasn’t in it. Her mind kept drifting off to Blaise, sad and forlorn in the corridors of the castle.
It was well past curfew by the time she finished. She clutched the lemon shortbread biscuits, stacked in a tin she’d brought from home, as she surveyed the cake before her. It was made with cocoa powder and dark chocolate, a cherry filling spread between the layers. White chocolate frosting was piped in little rosettes around each tier, the words I’m sorry curling and waving across the top. Desiree felt drained, only now feeling the aching in the soles of her feet, shoulders drooped now that her feelings had all been poured out.
It was a struggle getting out of bed the next morning. The ache in Desiree’s feet had moved up to her knees, her brain foggy. She ignored Susan Bones’ offer to wait up for her for breakfast and drifted off again, only forcing herself to get up in enough time to get ready for the BSU meeting.
She pulled herself out of bed, and after showering and pulling on her grandmother’s latest tour jumper, went to the mirror to figure out her hair. In a haze of exhaustion, she’d still had the wherewithal to clumsily twist her thick hair into two plaits, but they were now matted and undefined thanks to a hard night’s sleep even with her bonnet. Internally cursing the fact that she had never mastered Angelina Johnson’s Twisting Spell before the older girl graduated, she redid them by hand, ignoring the cramp that threatened to run up her left palm.
Dean and Alex were already done setting up the room by the time she got all the way up to the Astronomy Tower.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said as she entered, passing Dean the tin of shortbread. “I overslept.”
“No worries,” Dean said, his fingers already prying open the lid. His eyes lit up at the contents, “Lemon! You’re brilliant, you are.”
“Honestly,” Alex agreed, reaching in and snatching a biscuit before Dean could grab one.
Members of the club began to trickle in after that, and Desiree took her usual seat, smiling at them as they entered the room, a light chatter rising and bouncing off the walls. Her stomach flipped with Blaise entered, the usual scowl plastered on his face. He didn’t look at her as he sat on the opposite side of the circle.
“Alright,” Dean said, after a quick questioning glance between the two of them. He grinned, shaking off the confusion. “Let’s get started.”
The meeting seemed to go well, but Desiree was distracted. She tried her hardest not to stare a hole into Blaise’s head, instead forcing herself to track the room, to take in Lavender pulling her loose hair up into a bun, Thompson snickering behind his hand with Dearborn, and Alex writing on the board. Still, her eyes were drawn to Blaise, the hard line of his mouth, guarded eyes, clenched jaw.
She hopped up the minute Dean dismissed them.
“Keep the rest of the biscuits,” she told him. “Just make sure to return the tin when you’re done with them.”
Dean beamed at her, snatching the tin from a jealous-looking Alex. Desiree returned his smile tightly, pressure sitting in her chest. She made her way directly to Blaise, who was just now standing from his chair. His eyes were cold as they fell on her.
“Can we talk?” she asked as she looked up into his face, pushing past her nerves.
A muscle popped out in his jaw, and he seemed to be holding his breath, but he nodded.
They left the Astronomy Tower together, Desiree leading the way. Tension rose around them as they walked, their footsteps echoing in the corridors the only thing punctuating the silence. Desiree stopped as they came to a landing on the fourth floor.
“I’m sorry,” she blurted out as she turned to Blaise, no longer able to hold it in. “You were right. I assumed the worst and I shouldn’t have. I couldn’t see past my own stupid nose to see that something was wrong and to ask about it.”
Shock broke through the chiseled ice of Blaise’s face. His eyes widened, mouth popping open as his brows furrowed. “Your nose isn’t stupid.”
He shook his head, “Sorry, I’m just surprised. I’ve never heard you apologize before.”
She lifted an eyebrow at him, “That’s because I’m always right.”
His lips spread into a broad smile, melting away the rest of the tension between them. His eyes twinkled at her as a chuckle escaped him. Desiree took a steadying breath.
“I’m serious though,” she said, stepping a bit closer. “I hope you know you can tell me how you’re feeling. But—I guess I get why you might not want to…” shame washed over her again as she thought about her behavior.
“Thanks,” he said, and he let out a heavy sigh, looking up at the ceiling for a moment. “Things have just been stressful. I’m worried about my—”
“Wait!” Desiree shouted, holding her hands up.
Blaise frowned, bewildered, “What—”
“Sorry, just, come on,” Desiree grabbed Blaise’s hand, her other gripping his elbow, and began to pull him further down the corridor. They took the next flight of stairs down.
“I can walk on my own Des,” Blaise sighed, though he didn’t pull away. As his fingers tightened around her hand, sending a jolt up her arm, Desiree realized that this was the first time they’d ever held hands. Her heart began to pound in her throat, but she ignored it, pretending nothing was out of the ordinary.
Finally, they made it to the kitchens. Desiree let go of Blaise’s elbow (though keeping her other hand firmly in his) to reach up and tickle the pear in the fruit bowl.
“Okay,” she said as the pear giggled, the hinges of the portrait swinging open. “I’m sorry I cut you off before. I was going to apologize to you in here—but you were all broody and cold and it made me feel even guiltier—”
“Good,” Blaise muttered, though he seemed amused.
“Shut up, Zabini. I’m trying to do this properly,” she pulled him into the kitchens, where a few of the elves greeted them kindly, guiding him to the table where his cake stood.
She watched as his eyes fell on the cake. They narrowed, lips pressing together as he took it in. A long moment passed, and she felt her palms start to itch.
Suddenly, laughter burst from his mouth. “Des, what am I going to do with a three-tiered cake?”
“Okay, I’ll admit I wasn’t really thinking as it was happening,” she explains immediately, trying to bowl over her nerves, “It’s just…sometimes I get in these moods. Or frenzies. I get upset or excited or worried and I bake. I didn’t plan it but—”
Her words cut off as she found herself stumbling into Blaise’s chest. He had lightly tugged her to him, his arms now wrapping around her shoulders. She hesitated, heart racing, before sliding her arms around him. She shut her eyes for a moment, taking in the frankincense and vanilla that lingered on his robes.
“I’m really sorry,” she whispered into his shoulder.
Blaise’s arms tightened around her, and she felt his lips at her temple as he muttered, “Thanks.”
A tremor ran through her at the contact, her heart jumping. Forcing herself to pull away, she smiled. “Okay, we’ll cut the cake and then you can tell me everything. Deal?”
Blaise smiled warmly at her, and Desiree felt a flood of relief. “Deal.”