Chapter Nineteen: Zabini Manor
In the dream, Astoria was drowning. She could hear voices—familiar voices—talking to her, but when she tried to speak, it felt like someone was choking her, and she could not answer. She was aware of everything happening around her. She’d heard Draco’s voice, and Blaise’s and that Granger’s. She’d even heard Daphne’s voice once, mocking her, bragging about her and that Nott boy’s plans, how no one was going to be able to stop them. She remembered hoping that Draco was able to interpret her note. Maybe he would be able to do something—he was so much braver than she was.
She didn’t know how long it had been when she finally stopped drowning. But when she opened her eyes, she was staring at the Hospital Wing ceiling, and she could feel the pressure of someone’s hands wrapped around hers.
That was Draco’s voice. It sounded strained, like he was trying not to cry. ‘Tori? Can you… can you hear me?’
She nodded, and was delighted when she found that she actually could. ‘Dr-’ she tried to say his name, but her mouth was too dry, and she hadn’t spoken in such a long time. She licked her lips, and tried again. ‘Draco.’
There was a sharp intake of breath, and the hand—his hand?—squeezed her fingers more tightly. ‘You have no idea how good it is to see your eyes open,’ he said, and she could hear the relief in his voice.
So he does care about me, she thought, smiling. ‘What happened?’ She asked, her voice coming more easily to her.
‘You were found on the sixth floor corridor,’ said another familiar voice. ‘Mr Potter brought you here, and Mr Zabini figured out that you were given a Tropere Potion, and he and Miss Granger have worked the last four months on a cure.’
‘Professor McGonagall?’ Astoria asked, surprised. She tried to move, to sit up, but she couldn’t, and it was very frustrating. ‘Draco, can you help me sit up? If I’m allowed, that is?’
There was some shuffling of feet, and then his face loomed above hers. He looked tired, but relieved. He slid his hand under her waist, and helped her sit up a little. She only needed a little bit of help, and then she did the rest on her own. Once she was in the right position, she looked around the room. Familiar faces surrounded her. Madam Pomfrey. Blaise. Professor McGonagall. Even that Hermione Granger, the goodie-two shoes. She remembered what Draco had said about her… what Nott was planning. She didn’t hate her anymore, and she would let him be friends with her, but that didn’t mean she had to like her.
‘Hello, Miss Greengrass,’ said Professor McGonagall. ‘It is such a relief to see you awake. Your parents will be thrilled.’
She felt sick at the mention of her parents, because thinking about them made her think about Daphne. That traitorous… witch! She thought angrily. I can’t believe she actually wanted to kill me! ‘My parents? Have they visited me?’ She asked.
‘No, but they have been keeping in touch. They have been extremely worried about you, Miss Greengrass,’ said McGonagall.
Yeah, right, Astoria thought sourly. She highly doubted it. Her parents didn’t care what happened to her, as long as it didn’t mess up their so-called “perfect reputation”. ‘I’ll write to them as soon as possible,’ she promised.
Professor McGonagall nodded, and Astoria looked around the room. ‘So, I suppose I have you two to thank for saving me, then?’ She asked. The question was directed at both Granger and Blaise, but she was looking at Blaise.
‘Well, if you want to look at it that way, then yes,’ answered Granger. ‘But really, it’s all thanks to Blaise. I didn’t even know there was such a potion.’
For Draco’s sake, I’ll try to like her, she vowed. But it was going to be a very, very hard promise to keep. ‘Oh, yes. What was it called again? The Trophy Potion?’ She asked.
Draco sniggered, and Blaise laughed. ‘The Tropere Potion,’ Blaise corrected. ‘It’s illegal, and not many people know about it nowadays. It’s otherwise known as the Numbness Potion, and what it does is paralyze your entire body.’
‘Well, I definitely felt like that,’ she said. ‘I felt like I was drowning.’ She didn’t bother mentioning that she could hear everything they had said while she was unconscious. She felt like it was a bad idea, for some reason. Her instincts told her not to, so she was listening to them, even if she didn’t know why it was a bad idea.
Blaise looked so fascinated that it was a wonder he didn’t start taking notes on her right then. ‘And did you hear anything, when you were unconscious?’ He asked.
‘No,’ she said shortly. ‘I didn’t hear anything.’
He looked disappointed, but he seemed to believe her, and that was all that mattered. She noticed, briefly, that he’d let go of Granger’s hand. ‘So, am I allowed to leave, Madam Pomfrey? Or do you want to keep me for observations?’ She asked.
Madam Pomfrey smiled. ‘I’ll just check you over, and then you can go if everything’s alright,’ she said. ‘You should be fine.’
‘Did I miss much of class?’ Astoria asked, turning to Draco.
He nodded. ‘Lots. But you’ll catch up quickly,’ he said.
‘If you want, I can help you with some of the stuff you missed,’ said Granger.
She smiled thinly, trying to appreciate her help. She did appreciate it, of course. She wanted to pass. But Granger… well, she didn’t particularly want her as a tutor. But it was better than nothing, and she was the “Brightest Witch of her Year” after all. ‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘I appreciate it.’
Granger looked pleased that she’d accepted. Maybe Draco had talked to her too, or maybe she felt like, because she and Draco were friends now, that she should try to get along with her. Astoria felt the same, but the idea of befriending Granger wasn’t particularly thrilling. But her sister and that Nott were crazy, and she didn’t think anyone, even someone she didn’t like, deserved what they were planning for her.
‘OK, now, everyone except Mr Malfoy, please get out,’ said Madam Pomfrey. She had gone into her office for a moment—to fetch a clipboard, she saw—but she had reappeared.
Blaise gave her a small smile, Granger and McGonagall nodded politely, and then they all left, and only Draco remained at her side. He wasn’t holding her hand anymore, she noticed sadly, and she wasn’t sure when he’d let go. She liked holding Draco’s hand. It was comforting to her.
‘So, I missed a lot,’ she mused. She knew most of what she’d missed already, from what he’d told her, but not all of it.
Draco nodded. ‘Yes. To sum it all up nicely, there was a Pumpkin Carving Contest, a Halloween Ball, and a Quidditch match in the time you were… er… asleep. Nothing major happened in between that, though,’ he said. ‘I mean, you missed lots of classes and things, oh, and I’m friends with Hermione now, but nothing else.’
‘Friends with Granger, hmm?’ She asked, pretending that this was surprising to her. It rally wasn’t. In fact, she remembered now what he’d told her about the Ball, about dancing with Granger. She looked radiant. Like an angel. Her stomach twisted with jealousy as she remembered those words. ‘Well, I suppose I can live with that. Did you notice she was holding Blaise’s hand earlier? Are they together now?’ She asked, purely to watch his reaction.
She saw something flash in his eyes, and her stomach sank. She had hoped that she’d misinterpreted the way he’d talked about Granger, but she hadn’t. Her assumption had been right: Draco was in love with her, whether he knew it or not.
‘Of course not,’ he said, his voice full of biting jealousy.
It was hard to pretend that it didn’t hurt her to know that he was in love with someone else, because it did hurt. It hurt a lot. But she could pretend, for just a little while, that the love of her life was not in love with someone else. She wasn’t stupid, though. She knew that, sooner or later, she would have to give up and accept the truth for what it was. But she wasn’t giving up that easily, even if it would hurt her to watch Draco’s eyes light up whenever Granger walked in the room, to watch him love Granger the way she wanted him to love her.
‘Right. Of course they’re not,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘The idea is simply ridiculous, isn’t it?’
He nodded, but said nothing as Madam Pomfrey finished checking her over. When they left the Hospital Wing, after being told to take it easy for the first couple days, she was relieved to find that Blaise and Granger were not waiting for them. She didn’t want to face Granger again. Not yet.
They had only gone a little ways when Draco stopped, grabbed her around the waist, and pulled her to him, kissing her lips gently. In that kiss, she could tell that he had missed her, but it was lacking something. She wondered if it was different now, because he was in love with someone else.
She kissed him back, though, twining her fingers in his hair, pulling him closer. His hand found the back of her neck, and the other cupped her head. They were pressed against the wall of the Hospital Wing corridor, and it was a good thing hardly anyone came down here. To an onlooker, their position would definitely be quite private.
‘I missed you,’ Draco murmured against her mouth, breaking the kiss.
She smiled. ‘I’m here now,’ she whispered. ‘And I promise you, I won’t be going anywhere for a very, very long time.’
His lips twitched, but he was fighting the smile. ‘Good,’ he whispered. ‘In the meantime, though… we can make up for lost time.’
She giggled, and he kissed her again. She was trying to forget about the fact that he was in love with Granger, and she managed, but it was still there in the back of her mind. But, she reminded herself, no one ever said love had to be easy.
It had been two days. Two days since Astoria had woken up, but it already felt like an eternity. Hermione missed spending time with Draco alone. He no longer came into her room at night, and she was alone with her nightmares. Of course, the Sleeping Draught helped keep them away, but… she still missed him, she missed how safe she had felt, knowing that he would protect her.
Of course, she did have Blaise. Blaise… the thought of him made her smile. They had spent a lot of time together in the last four months, fixing the potion and whatnot, and they’d become rather good friends. Of course, he was reluctant to sit at the Gryffindor table, but on the second day, she finally convinced him.
‘Come on,’ she urged. ‘Please? I promise you won’t regret it.’
Blaise sighed, looking at her. He had come to pick her up after her morning patrol, so they could walk down together—she could see a routine in the making—and she had been asking him ever since. Usually, they parted just before they reached the Entrance Hall and walked in separately, but she was determined that today was going to be different.
‘I’m not worried I’ll regret it,’ he told her. ‘I’m worried what your friends will think of having three Slytherins making a permanent residence at their table.’
She hid a scowl. Astoria had joined Draco at breakfast yesterday morning, and she didn’t appear to be going anywhere. Hermione could tell the other girl was making an effort to be nice to her, and she seemed to have accepted the fact that she and Draco were friends now. Hermione was trying, too, but it was hard. Astoria was a much nicer person once you got to know her, but it was hard for Hermione to like her, because she got jealous every time she saw them holding hands or snogging.
‘I’m sure they won’t mind,’ she said at last. ‘They seem to be getting over their Slytherin prejudices.’
He smiled. One of her favorite things about Blaise was his smile. It was a smile that won people over, and it made her smile just because he was. ‘I suppose if you think I won’t be unwanted, then I guess I can give it a shot,’ he said.
She grinned, and they walked into the Great Hall together, ignoring the looks on everyone’s faces.
Two days quickly turned into four, and then four turned into a week, and soon it was the beginning of December. Snow was falling, and on the first Saturday, Gryffindor had a match against Slytherin—they won, much to Draco’s dismay. Soon it was almost time for Christmas holidays to begin, and Hermione was anxious. Other than Harry—and Blaise, obviously—no one knew what her plans were, and she was not sure what she was going to say when they asked her.
‘You really, really have to stop bouncing,’ said Draco one afternoon, the week that McGonagall was going to come around with the sheet for them to sign. She was more nervous more than she had been before her O.W.Ls, and that was saying something, because she’d been a nervous wreck then.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said immediately.
Blaise, who was sitting next to her, leaned in. ‘Are you sure you want to go? I can always stay here with you,’ he whispered. ‘My Mum won’t mind.’
She looked at him, and saw that his words were sincere. She also knew, though, from an earlier conversation about his Mum, that he would miss her. And she couldn’t ask him to be away from his only family on Christmas. ‘No, I’m coming,’ she said. ‘I’m just nervous. I haven’t… I haven’t told them my plans yet.’
He nodded, knowing what she meant. ‘You know, I told my Mum about you. She’s really excited to meet you,’ he told her.
She smiled. ‘I’m excited to meet her, too. From what you’ve told me, she sounds wonderful.’
‘I’m sure she’ll have a whole basket of cookies ready when we get there,’ he said, rolling his eyes. ‘My Mum is constantly baking around this time of year. Well, cooking and baking.’
Hermione laughed. She sounded like Mrs. Weasley, who she thought of as a second mother. ‘I can’t wait,’ she promised.
Blaise grinned. ‘What are you two talking about?’ Draco asked, and Blaise quickly pulled away from her. Draco was eyeing them suspiciously.
‘Christmas, she said, smiling. ‘I’m spending the holiday with Blaise.’
The words just slipped out, and she didn’t have any time to stop them. Draco stared at her for a moment, like he was trying to process what she’d said. His face had gone blank. ‘Why?’ He demanded. ‘What about your family?’
Blaise glared at him. She didn’t blame Draco for asking the question, of course. She hadn’t told him about her family, and she wasn’t going to. Not unless he asked her outright what happened, like Blaise had. ‘My family’s gone,’ she said shortly. ‘Blaise kindly offered to let me stay with him, so I wouldn’t have be at the Castle all by myself on Christmas.’
Draco looked guilty almost immediately, and Astoria looked sympathetic. They probably thought that by “gone”, she actually meant “dead”. Well, she thought, it’s close enough. ‘I’m sorry,’ Draco said, the words sounding strange and foreign coming from him. ‘I wasn’t thinking.’
She nodded. ‘It’s fine,’ she said. ‘You’re forgiven.’
He looked pleased, looked away, and returned to his conversation with Astoria. She turned back to Blaise, who was smiling. ‘I told you,’ he said. ‘I told you worrying was useless, didn’t I?’
‘Yes,’ she admitted reluctantly. ‘You did. And I guess you were right.’
He grinned. ‘You worry too much, Mia,’ he said. ‘So, during Christmas break, I absolutely forbid you to worry about anything. Not one single thing. Oh, and you’re also forbidden to study.’
She stared at him. Was he serious? She was Hermione Granger. Asking her not to worry, not to study, was like asking her not to breathe. But he was definitely serious, and since she was going to be a guest, she would simply have to comply with his wishes. ‘Fine,’ she sighed. ‘I’ll try.’
‘Excellent,’ he said. ‘By the way, My Mum asked me in her letter to make sure you brought a fancy dress.’
She was confused. ‘What for?’ She asked.
‘The Ball, of course,’ he said. ‘The Zabini Christmas Ball. My Mum hosts it every year
on Christmas Eve. It’s rather ridiculous, if you ask me, but I have to go.’
She could only stare at him again, open mouthed. A Ball. ‘Exactly who is all going to be at this Ball?’ She asked slowly.
‘Er… the Malfoys, of course, the Greengrasses, Parkinsons, erm… the Notts, I think, Goyle’s family, and a bunch of other people that I can’t remember for the life of me,’ he said.
She groaned. All of the people would be purebloods or half bloods, and she would be the only muggleborn. The anomaly. ‘Alright,’ she said. ‘I’ll find a dress somehow.’
‘My Mum will take you,’ he said ‘I think she wishes she had a daughter to do all the dress shopping with. A girl wouldn’t complain.’
Hermione laughed, but the mental image she got of Blaise carrying shopping bags was enough to make her heart skip a beat. ‘That would be nice,’ she said, smiling. ‘It’s been a long time since I’ve gone shopping with a Mum.’
Blaise took her hand, and squeezed it. It was a comforting sort of squeeze. The squeeze that said I’ll be there for you, the type of squeeze that a true friend would give when you were going through something. She squeezed back, grateful that he was there for her, that he understood what was really happening with her parents. He was a good friend, and it was nice to have someone she could count on other than Harry or Draco. She didn’t want to let go of him.
The next two weeks seemed to pass in a blur. Draco and Astoria remained glued to each other’s sides, until at least curfew—Astoria wasn’t allowed to stay at the dormitory overnight—and it was beginning to annoy Hermione. She desperately wanted to talk to Draco alone before they all left. She had missed him, and although Blaise was a good substitute, she needed to talk to Draco. They hardly spoke at the table anymore, and even during the Prefect meetings and their shared free period, they didn’t talk much.
So, on the night before they were supposed to leave, Hermione sat up in her bed, reading, while she waited for Astoria to leave.
Finally, a few minutes before curfew, she heard footsteps leave Draco’s room across the hall. She climbed out of her bed, walked over to the door, and opened it just a crack, enough to see them step through the portrait hole. She smiled to herself, tiptoed out of her room, and dashed across the hall into Draco’s bedroom. His room was much like hers, only it was in grey and blue colors, rather than red and gold. She’d expected that he would have Slytherin colors, but he had explained that his room was painted grey and blue, so he wanted to have the same thing here.
The bed was enticing, and she pictured his reaction when he walked in and saw her sitting there, but she decided to stand next to the door.
A minute or two later, she heard footsteps, and then Draco came into his room, running his fingers through his hair. When he swung his door shut, he saw her standing there, and let out a small yelp of surprise, jumping back in horror.
‘Granger!’ He exclaimed. ‘Are you trying to give me a heart attack?’
She glowered at the use of her last name. ‘I knew it,’ she said sourly. ‘I knew that this would happen, but I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe that you would go back to your old ways as soon as Astoria woke up.’
He stared at her, looking like he had been slapped across the face. ‘I… Hermione… you surprised me,’ he managed at last. ‘Using your last name was a knee-jerk reaction.’
She glared at him. ‘Yeah, right, Malfoy. Look, whatever. I just wanted to spend time with you alone before we left. I can see that it’s not going to happen now, though, so I’ll just get out of your way.’
Draco’s mouth opened and closed, and she pushed past him. She stood at the door for a second, waiting for him to say something.
‘Fine. Oh, and Hermione?’
She turned slightly, refusing to look at him directly. ‘Yes, Malfoy?’ She asked, almost angrily.
His eyes burned holes into her back, and she wanted to turn, to see his expression, but she knew what she would see, and she didn’t want to see the pain that was probably written on his face. ‘I hope Blaise makes you happy,’ he said.
She froze, for a fraction of a second. She could hear the jealousy in his voice, and it confused her. He had no reason to be jealous, of course. She and Blaise were not together. But still, he was jealous, and it was puzzling, because then that would mean… that would mean that Draco had… feelings for her.
‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘He does make me happy.’ It was truth: he did make her happy, just not in the way Draco probably thought.
She heard him suck in a breath, and then she walked out without another word, her stomach twisting. Once she was in her room, she swallowed a cup full of the Sleeping Draught, and crawled into bed, her mind whirling.
He can’t have feelings for me, she thought. It’s impossible.
But yet, the jealous tone had said that much, and, when she thought it over, she realised that it was possible. His eyes lit up whenever she walked in the room, and on the night of the Ball, she’d seen his face glow , seen the way he looked at her that night, like she was an angel or something. It wasn’t impossible after all, she realised, for Draco to have feelings for her.
The only problem was, she had no idea how she felt about him. Before she got to think about it, though, the Sleeping Draught pulled her into unconsciousness, and she fell asleep dreaming about Draco.
All night he sat outside her door, listening to the sound of her breathing. All night he tormented himself, imagining her and Blaise together, snogging, holding hands, and dancing. Draco couldn’t stop the images; they were practically taunting him, laughing at him. Hermione’s words were enough of a confirmation for him, and they were going to be spending two weeks together. That was official enough, and it broke his heart. He hadn’t wanted Astoria’s suspicions to be true, but they were.
So all night he sat outside her door, wishing he could go inside and hold her. But he couldn’t, because that wasn’t his right anymore. Only Blaise could do that now.
Perhaps it was a good thing. He had Astoria, after all, and she’d lost a lot of her arrogance since she’d been awake, and he found himself enjoying her company now, rather than wanting her to go away. Hermione’s confirmation made him realise the good thing he had, and although it would take a long time to get over Hermione, for Blaise’s sake—perhaps he never would—he would be more appreciative of what he had.
When he left her bedroom door in the morning, just before she woke up, he was almost looking forward to leaving for Christmas. Maybe two weeks away from her was just what he needed to get over her.
But, in all honesty, Draco highly doubted that was going to happen. And deep down, he knew that he was probably never going to stop loving Hermione Granger, the girl who had found the way into his heart.
In his bedroom, he took a piece of parchment, and his quill, and decided to write a letter, a letter that would never be received.
My dearest Hermione, he began, his hand shaking as he wrote. You’ll never read this letter, but I wanted to write it anyway. Today the Christmas holidays begin, and I can’t tell you how much I am going to miss seeing your beautiful face every single day. I suppose I can expect that my Christmas break will be miserable without you there, but I guess that’s my own fault. I should have asked you to come home with me, before Blaise got the chance. But I’m happy that you’re happy, even though I can’t tell you how much I wish I could be in Blaise’s place. I wish I could hold your hand, and kiss your lips, and hug you around the waist.
I suppose the reason I’m writing this letter is so I can tell you everything that I’m not brave enough to tell you in person. It will probably take numerous pages, though. There’s so much I want to say.
So, lets begin…
And so it did. Draco sat at his desk long after Hermione had woken up. He didn’t stop writing until she knocked on his door, and told him that it was time to leave. And even then, he rolled the letter—already at least four pages long—up, and put it in his trunk. He left the room, and headed downstairs.
Hermione had tossed and turned most of last night, so it was no surprise that she fell asleep as soon as she got comfortable on the train.
She awoke several hours later to someone lightly nudging her shoulder.
‘Wake up, Sleeping Beauty,’ said a soft, lovely voice. ‘We’re here.’
Her eyes opened immediately, and she found herself looking up at Blaise’s face. Startled, she sat upright, her cheeks bright red with embarrassment. She must have fallen asleep on his lap. She didn’t remember that. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said.
‘Why are you apologising?’ He asked, laughing.
Her cheeks went even redder. ‘I fell asleep on your lap,’ she said.
Blaise laughed again. ‘No, you didn’t. You fell asleep curled up on the bench. I thought your back would hurt later, so I made you… comfortable.’
‘Oh,’ she said, frowning. ‘You were probably right about my back hurting. But, why didn’t you use a cushioning charm?’
Now it was Blaise’s turn to flush. ‘Er… I didn’t think of that,’ he said. ‘Besides, I like watching you sleep. You talk.’
Oh, no, she thought, more embarrassed now than she had been before. ‘What… did I say?’ She hedged carefully, almost not wanting to hear it.
‘Erm… I couldn’t really tell. Most of it was just nonsense mumbling,’ he said. ‘Although, you did say my name, more than once.’
Kill me now, she thought. She didn’t remember what she’d dreamed, but he’d been featuring in her dreams quite a bit lately. She kept watching him—and Draco, and Ron—be tortured by Bellatrix, Lucius, and Nott. It was usually better when she was sleeping with somebody, though, so she probably hadn’t had nightmares on the train.
Luckily, though, before she could answer, the conductor’s voice rang out through the train, telling them that they had arrived at Platform 9¾. She jumped up, used her wand to make her trunk feather light, and then picked it up. Blaise followed suit, and they left the compartment.
‘Does your Mum usually Apparate home, or do you drive?’ She asked him as they made their way through the crowded corridor.
‘We usually drive,’ he said.
She must have looked rather surprised, because he laughed. ‘You forgot, Mia, my mother’s a muggleborn.’
‘Oh, right,’ she said. ‘I guess it slipped my mind.’
He grinned. At last, a few minutes later, they made it off the train and onto the platform, where Blaise scanned the crowd.
‘Better give me that,’ he said, nodding at her trunk. ‘My Mum will kill me if I’m not being a perfect gentleman. She won’t care if you can carry it, she’ll insist. And you really, really don’t want to argue with my Mum.’
She laughed, and handed him the trunk. ‘So, being a perfect gentleman… does that include taking my coat when we arrive at your house?’ She asked.
‘No,’ he laughed. ‘That duty belongs to Penny.’
She frowned. ‘Penny? Who’s that?’
‘Our house elf,’ he said. Seeing her look, he smiled. ‘She works for free, of course. My mother wouldn’t have her otherwise. She doesn’t agree with having servants.’
Hermione smiled. ‘Sounds like your mother and I have at least one thing in common,’ she said.
Blaise looked pleased. ‘Ah, there she is,’ he said, and she followed his gaze to see a woman coming towards them.
She stared. Blaise’s mother was nothing like she’d expected. She had expected someone like Narcissa Malfoy, perhaps, someone who screamed “power”. But this woman was nothing like that. She was more like Mrs Weasley and her own mother combined, and it surprised her.
Mrs. Zabini, like her son, had dark skin, and beautiful, pin-straight black hair that was pulled into a ponytail. She was wearing a simple pair of jeans and a dark red blouse, and she looked warm and comforting, not intimating at all. She looked the motherly type, and it obvious where Blaise had gotten his good looks. Even though she looked to be about her mother’s age, she still looked beautiful.
‘Blaise!’ She cried, when she finally reached them. She kissed Blaise on both cheeks, and he blushed in embarrassment.
‘Hello, Mother,’ he said, giving her a hug. He certainly loves his mother, Hermione thought, hiding her smile.
Mrs. Zabini smiled. ‘Penny has been driving me mad, you know,’ she told him. ‘She’s constantly bugging me about the decorations. Where do I want this, where do I want that, what should she do about the Christmas lights. I swear, she’s going to make me rip my hair out.’
Blaise smiled. ‘She’s a house elf, Mother,’ he said. ‘And when her Mistress is having a party, it’s her duty to make sure everything is in its rightful place.’
Mrs. Zabini rolled her eyes. ‘Yes, well, she’s downright annoying sometimes,’ she said, shaking her head slightly.
And then, at last, she turned to Hermione, as if suddenly noticing that she was standing there. She smiled widely at her, showing a mouth full of pearly whites. Just like my Mum’s, Hermione thought, feeling a sudden pang in her chest. ‘And you, my dear, must be Hermione.’
She nodded, smiling. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Zabini,’ she said.
‘No, no, dear. The pleasure’s all mine,’ she said. ‘I’m so glad that I finally get to meet you. Blaise has told me so much about you.’
‘Good things, I hope?’ Hermione asked, raising her eyebrows at Blaise. His cheeks went ever so slightly pink.
Mrs. Zabini smiled. ‘Nothing but,’ she promised.
‘Well, in that case, I’ve heard many wonderful things about you, as well, Mrs. Zabini,’ said Hermione with a smile.
‘Please, call me Rhea,’ Mrs. Zabini said. ‘I feel old enough already.’
Blaise muttered something under his breath that she didn’t catch. ‘Alright then, Rhea,’ she said, unable to keep the grin off her face.
Rhea smiled back. ‘Well, I suppose we should be going. It’s late, and I’d like to make it home by nightfall.’
Blaise lifted up her trunk, and they left Platform 9¾, with Rhea chattering all the way to the parking lot. Soon, they had piled into a tan-colored Sedan—Blaise held the door open for her, which made her blush—and were headed towards the England countryside.
The drive seemed short, and it felt like no time had passed at all—although the drive was a full two hours long. It was probably because Rhea was busy telling Hermione everything that Blaise had ever done as a child, which she rather enjoyed. Blaise, however, found it embarrassing, and his cheeks had gone very pink by the time they pulled into a long driveway, which ended in a circle.
Hermione gasped, staring at the Manor with wide eyes. It was more beautiful than anything she had ever seen. The house was grey-bricked, with a darker grey, asphalt-shingled roof, and the windows had yellow frames. It was huge; at least four-times the size of her parent’s house, and surrounded by a luscious front lawn with lots of trees around it. Of course, the trees were dead, and the lawn was covered in snow, but it was still beautiful.
‘Welcome to Zabini Manor,’ said Blaise, grinning. ‘What do you think?’
She struggled to find the words. ‘I think… it’s beautiful,’ she said honestly. ‘I don’t know what else I can say. I can’t believe you actually live here.’
‘Well, I do,’ he said, grinning at her. ‘And for the next two weeks, so do you.’
She had a hard time wrapping her head around that, so she just smiled, and he hopped out of the car, and came around to open her door.
‘Well,’ said Rhea, ‘I’m glad you like it.’
Hermione nearly jumped, having almost forgotten she was there. The three of them walked up to the house, where a House Elf with wide blue eyes opened the door. She assumed that this was Penny.
‘Welcome home, Master Blaise,’ she said, bowing slightly.
Blaise smiled. ‘Hello, Penny. This is Hermione,’ he said.
Penny the House Elf bowed at her, and she felt a little embarrassed. She wasn’t used to being treated with such respect. First with Blaise carrying her trunk, then opening her door for her, and then the house elf. It was like she was a Princess or something.
‘Penny is happy to meet you, Miss Hermione,’ she told her in a squeaky voice. ‘Mistress Rhea has not stopped talking about your arrival since Master Blaise wrote and told her you were coming!’
She smiled, and Rhea rolled her eyes. ‘Let’s not stand here in the freezing cold,’ she said. ‘If you may, Penny, can you bring me my slippers and a warm cup of tea in the drawing room?’
Penny nodded enthusiastically. ‘Yes, Mistress,’ she said. ‘I will have them right away, Mistress.’ And then she disappeared, and Hermione followed Blaise and Rhea into the house.
The inside of the house was even more beautiful, and the walls in the entrance foyer were all the same shade of mocha-brown. The wood floors were dark, and there was a sweeping grand staircase in the very center of the room. Behind it, she could see a set of French doors.
‘How big can this house be?’ She wondered aloud. It hadn’t looked that large from the outside, but of course, the exteriors of a house could always be misleading. Thus the phrase, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’
‘Er, well, including the master bed and bath, there’s seven bedrooms and four and a half-bathrooms,’ said Blaise. ‘A formal room, a library, Mum’s study, the kitchen, dining area and the drawing room.’
She turned to stare at him, her eyes wide. ‘A library? You have your own library!’ She couldn’t believe it. The one thing she’d always dreamed of having, ever since she’d been a little girl, was her own private library.
‘Yes,’ said Blaise, chuckling. ‘I’ll show you after I show you your room, but you have to promise that you won’t be spending the entire Christmas holidays with your nose buried in books.’
She opened her mouth to protest, but sighed. ‘Fine, I promise,’ she said. She noticed then that they were alone. ‘Where’d your Mum go?’
‘Probably to the drawing room,’ he shrugged. ‘Come on. I’ll show you your room, and then you can have the tour.’
Hermione followed him up the staircase, and he rambled on as they walked passed numerous doors, trying to explain everything to her. As they walked, her excitement grew, and she was suddenly excited for the two weeks ahead.
Author's Note: Hello, my dear readers! This chapter was one of my favorites, and it was also one of the most difficult to write. As you can probably tell, the story is finally coming together. There will be at least 30+ chapters by the time the story is finished, including the Epilogue, and everything is just going to get more exciting from here, and I am VERY excited for you to read them-- I haven't finished writing them yet, but that's OK, they'll be finished more quickly as the story progresses. Once again, I hope that you enjoyed Chapter 19, and Chapter 20 is already in the progress of being written.
Thanks again. Love, DracosGirl012