Chapter Twenty: The Nutcracker
Draco was miserable. He was absolutely miserable without Hermione, and he was even more miserable because he was being forced to help his mother unpack. She’d only moved into the safe house—an small, very normal house in a muggle neighborhood— two weeks ago, and she still hadn’t finished unpacking everything, so he was forced to help her. It was only the first full day of the holidays, and he was already wishing for Hogwarts. But he had to admit, it was mostly Hermione that he missed.
‘So, did you tell Hermione yet?’ His mother asked him, sometime in the late afternoon while he was unpacking his mother’s glass plates from the box.
He nearly dropped the plate he was holding. ‘W-what?’ He got out. It sounded like he was choking. ‘No. Of course not. Besides, it’s rather pointless now anyway.’
‘Why?’ She asked, sounding perplexed.
He groaned internally, wishing that he could disappear. ‘Because she’s with someone else,’ he said. ‘Besides, I’m still dating Astoria, and I can’t break up with her and start dating someone else right after.’
Narcissa sighed, obviously disappointed, though he couldn’t imagine why. ‘That’s unacceptable. Who’s she dating?’ She asked.
Draco fought a scowl. He had been dreading that particular question. ‘I don’t remember his name,’ he lied. ‘But he seems to maker her happy, so why should I ruin her happiness because of me?’
‘Oh, little dragon,’ she said, shaking her head at him. ‘You won’t ruin her happiness, telling her how you feel.’
This time he actually did scowl. ‘How do you know?’ He asked, much more bitterly than he intended.
Narcissa smiled. ‘I know because I saw the look on her face when she looked at you,’ she said.
He was confused now. He hadn’t noticed anything. ‘How did she look at me?’ He asked, the curiosity seeping into his words.
‘She looked at you,’ his mother began, ‘the way you would stare at the stars when you were little. She looked at you like you were the most beautiful thing on earth, and I could see the way her eyes sparkled whenever you spoke.’
Draco wasn’t sure what to think. ‘I kissed her once, you know,’ he blurted suddenly. ‘It was just before the Yule Ball. We got caught under enchanted mistletoe, on the steps of the Astronomy Tower.’
‘And?’ His mother pressed. ‘What was it like?’
He felt a little strange, talking about this with his mother, but his mother was the only person he wanted to tell. ‘It was like… magic. Like floating on clouds, yet at the same time it felt like I was drowning. It was like fire was coursing through my veins.’
His mother didn’t look like she felt as awkward as he did. Instead, she looked as if they were talking about something normal, like the weather perhaps, not her son’s second—if you counted the time Pansy forced herself on him, which he didn’t—kiss.
‘I’m surprised you didn’t realise what that meant at the time,’ said his mother. ‘You might have been in a very different place in sixth year, if you had only realised this before.’
He bit his lip, feeling guilty. ‘I know. I just… I guess I was too stubborn, and I didn’t want to admit that I liked her, because it would have been too dangerous if Lucius found out,’ he said. ‘I shudder to think of all the things he could have done to her. No, we were both much safer in the dark.’
‘Yes, I imagine that wouldn’t have gone over well with Lucius,’ she said, nodding in agreement. ‘But he’s gone now. He will never again be able to control you. You can do whatever you want now.’
He shook his head. ‘I can’t, though. Not now that she’s with someone else,’ he said. ‘I refuse to steal another man’s woman. I may not be the most innocent person, but I won’t ever steep to Lucius’s level. Ever.’
Narcissa flinched. ‘I didn’t realise that you knew about…’ she began.
‘Of course I knew about your Henry. Lucius used to brag about it, how he’d stolen you away from the man you loved, how I could have had a much better life if only he hadn’t been conveniently poisoned to death,’ he said bitterly.
She gasped, her hand flying to her mouth, and she stared at him with wide eyes. ‘Lucius poisoned him? Lucius poisoned my Henry?’ She asked, horrified.
Oops, Draco thought, realising that she hadn’t known that. ‘He said as much,’ he said, tasting the sourness in his mouth. ‘He was behind it, at the very least. I’m sorry, Mother. I thought you knew.’
Narcissa closed her eyes—fighting back tears, probably—and took a deep breath. When she opened then again, her face was determined. ‘No, I didn’t know that, but don’t be sorry for telling me,’ she said. ‘I’d always thought that Henry’s death was too conveniently timed to be a coincidence. Now I know my suspicions were true. If we ever see him again, and for his sake I hope we never do, let’s take him back to the Manor, hit him with the Cruciatus a thousand times, and then, because we’re more merciful than he, we’ll shove poison down his throat.’
‘That would be the ultimate revenge for us, wouldn’t it?’ He asked. ‘After all the things he did to us, though, I think Death would almost be too kind for him. Perhaps we should have the Death Eater’s suck out his soul, too. If he even has one, that is.’
His mother almost smiled. ‘Yes, that would be nice to watch,’ she agreed. ‘I think my idea was more poetic, though.’
‘Either idea is fine. I don’t care, as long as we get to watch him get what he deserves before he dies,’ he said.
Narcissa smiled, but she still seemed sad. Most likely she was thinking of Henry. ‘Draco, I want you to do something for me,’ she said.
He frowned, confused at the sudden demand. It was not up for questioning, whatever she wanted. That was clear in the tone of her voice. ‘Of course,’ he answered at once. ‘What is it, Mother? I don’t like that look.’
She gave him a fierce stare, and he was unable to break away from her eyes. ‘Because I lost Henry too soon, I want you to promise me that you won’t let your love be taken away from you,’ she said.
He swallowed. ‘I can’t, Mother. I can’t tell her,’ he said. ‘I can’t. She belongs to someone else now, and I already told you that I won’t steal her away.’
The look she gave him was filled with a determination, a determination that he had once seen in Hermione. ‘You have to tell her,’ she demanded. ‘It doesn’t matter if she is with someone else. I won’t watch you marry someone you don’t love, like I did. If you don’t tell her, so help me Draco, I will.’
He balked. ‘You wouldn’t,’ he said.
‘I would,’ she said. ‘I won’t watch you make the same mistake I did, Draco. I don’t care if Blaise is your best friend or not, you will tell her on the Christmas Eve party or I’ll tell her myself.’
He stared at her. ‘How did you know…?’ He began, and she laughed, shaking her head at him.
‘Honestly, Draco, do you think I don’t know you? I saw your expression when you said that you wouldn’t steal her away. You would try, if the person were not your best friend. I know you’d try,’ she said. ‘And I already know she’s staying at the Zabini’s for the holidays, so don’t try to say that she won’t be there.’
Draco shook his head, feeling slightly dizzy. ‘I don’t know how you know that, but I can’t promise you I’ll tell her,’ he said. ‘At least, not yet.’
‘Good things come out of being friends with Rhea Zabini, Draco,’ she said. ‘She told me that Blaise was having Hermione stay at the Manor for the holidays, due to the situation with her parents.’
If he had been drinking anything, he would have started choking. As it was, it took him a few minutes before he managed to find his voice again ‘What… situation with her parents?’ He stammered.
Narcissa’s eyes widened. ‘You mean, Hermione never told you?’ She asked, and he shook his head.
‘She’s never even mentioned her parent’s, actually,’ he said. ‘Except when I asked her why she was staying at Blaise’s. And she said that they were… Oh, Merlin. How could I be so stupid?’
His mother was staring at him, a look of concern on her face. ‘You’re not stupid, Draco,’ she said.
‘But I am,’ he argued. ‘Mother, she said her parents were gone, and I thought she meant, like, on vacation or something. I didn’t think she meant that they were actually gone.’
She patted his arm, looking rather sympathetic. ‘Draco, her parents aren’t dead,’ she told him. ‘I didn’t gather much more than that, but I’m certain they’re not dead. Just because she didn’t tell you doesn’t mean you’re stupid.’
He felt horrible, though. Her words did no comfort. He should have known, especially when she got so strange when he mentioned Christmas after the Game. He should have asked her then, but he’d never have clued in that she didn’t want to spend Christmas without her parents. If he had, then he could have invited her to stay, not Blaise. She’d be here with him right now.
‘I… I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,’ he said. ‘I mean, it kills me that I was spending all that time with Astoria, and Hermione was hurting, and I didn’t even realise it. I should have.’
His mother shook her head. ‘You didn’t realise because she didn’t want you to know,’ she said. ‘Not because you were too thick. But now you know, don’t you? You know what you have to do now.’
Draco swallowed, and nodded, his stomach turning.
‘There’s no avoiding it anymore, is there?’ He asked, sighing when she shook her head again. ‘I suppose you’re right, though. It’s better now than never.’
She patted his hand this time, reassuring him. ‘You have a lot of lost time to make up for,’ she said.
His breath let out, whistling through his teeth. ‘I was going to have to tell her I love her sooner or later,’ he said. ‘And I have the perfect idea to do so.’
Narcissa smiled, and together they finished unpacking the rest of the plates, discussing his plans for his declaration to Hermione.
On the first morning of the Holidays, Hermione was woken up early by a nearly bouncing
Penny, who told her to get dressed and come downstairs to meet “Mistress” in the foyer in ten minutes. When she arrived, she’d found Rhea dressed in her coat, hat and gloves, carrying a handbag and another for Hermione. At first, she’d been a little confused, but then she remembered that Blaise had told his mother at dinner last night that she didn’t have a dress for the Ball on Christmas Eve. In result, Mrs. Zabini was taking her shopping.
For the last four hours—luckily, they’d stopped to eat breakfast on the way—, Hermione had been in at least fifty different dress shops, and tried on at least two hundred dresses, but none of them were right.
“If we don’t find anything in this one, we might Apparate to Paris,” said Rhea as they walked into another shop.
She felt sick at the thought of a thousand more dresses, and the possible hundred shops that Paris could have. It made her want to faint.
“Hello,” said the woman at the counter they had approached. “May I help you?”
Rhea smiled. “Yes, we’re looking for a dress,” she said. “For a Christmas Eve ball that I’m hosting. Nothing too big, or frilly. Something simple and sophisticated, but also something that shows a little skin.”
The clerk looked from her to Rhea, writing it all down on a pad of paper. “Which of you is the dress for?” She asked.
“Me,” said Hermione. “I’m small, so I fit the smaller sizes. Preferably nothing with sleeves, and nothing silver. I just wore a silver dress recently, so I’d like something different this time.”
The clerk—whose nametag proclaimed her to be “Liz”— nodded, flipping the notepad shut. “Right then. I have the perfect thing for you. Follow me to the change rooms, if you will.”
And so they did. As they walked, she noticed lots of pretty dresses. If Ginny were here, she’d probably be grabbing them off the racks while they went. No doubt that she’d have her arms full of dresses before they even reached the change rooms, which were in the very back of the store.
Liz told Hermione to wait in the change room, and Rhea sat outside, giving her a wide smile before Liz pulled the curtains shut and went to find the, according to her, ‘perfect’ dress.
A few minutes later, Liz returned, carrying a dress bag. She unzipped it, revealing a gorgeous, navy blue floor-length dress. The top of it was pleated, it had an empire-waist and thin, V-neck straps. Where the V ended, there was a silver band that glittered. It was gorgeous
‘Wow,’ Hermione whispered, staring at the dress in awe.
Liz grinned. ‘I’m glad you like it. I’ll help you try it on,’ she said.
A few minutes later, Hermione and Rhea were back in the car, with her dress draped over the back seat. She hadn’t brought enough money to afford the dress, unfortunately, so Rhea had insisted on paying for it, insisting that it was a gift. But she still felt guilty, like she owed her something.
‘You really didn’t have to do that for me,’ she said, for what seemed like the hundredth time as they drove towards Zabini Manor.
Rhea laughed. ‘Don’t worry about it, dear. It’s nice to buy dresses for someone other than myself for a change,’ she said. ‘If you haven’t noticed, I don’t have a daughter of my own.’
‘I suppose you can’t buy dresses for Blaise,’ Hermione agreed. ‘But I happen to think that he’d look adorable in something green and poofy.’
Rhea burst into laughter, so hard that she had to wipe tears from her eyes. ‘You know, when he was a baby, I did dress him in a girl outfit. A pretty pink dress, leotards, even little shoes and a frilly bonnet. He did look rather adorable as a girl,’ she said.
‘I can see that, actually,’ said Hermione. ‘That’s a good story to tell his girlfriends. I imagine that Blaise would be extremely embarrassed.’
Rhea frowned. ‘He’s never actually had a girlfriend,’ she confessed. ‘That’s why I was so excited when he told me that he invited you over for the Holidays.’
Hermione flushed crimson. ‘Oh,’ she said, embarrassed now. ‘We’re… what I mean to say is, we’re not together.’
‘Oh, I know, dear,’ said Rhea, smiling a little. ‘But I also know that he cares about you very much.’
If that wasn’t confirmation to what she’d already feared since the night Theodore hit her, she didn’t know what was. ‘I care about him, too,’ she said honestly.
‘Just not the way he wants,’ Rhea said. ‘But, because is my only child, I must ask something of you.’
‘Anything,’ she vowed.
They reached a stoplight, and Rhea turned to look her steadily in the eyes. ‘Try not to break his heart too much, when the time comes,’ she said.
Hermione swallowed. ‘I’ll try,’ she promised, feeling slightly guilty. She knew that she didn’t deserve Blaise’s affection, when it wasn’t going to be returned. Maybe it would, if she tried to get over what she couldn’t have. But she had a feeling that she would never love Blaise the way she wanted, and she felt guilty, because Blaise deserved a girl that would love him just as much, if not more, than he loved her. She was not worthy of him, and she would never be.
When they arrived back at Zabini Manor, she headed to ‘her’ room to put the dress in the closet. Unfortunately, it was not empty.
‘Holy Merlin!’ She screeched, staring at Blaise in horror. ‘Are you trying to give me a heart attack, Blaise?’
Much to her dismay, he smirked. ‘I can think of a lot of other ways to give you a heart attack, Mia,’ he told her, and she blushed furiously. ‘But I wasn’t trying to. I just wanted to tell you that I purchased tickets for a ballet tonight, and we’ll be leaving shortly after dinner, so you might want to get dressed.’
‘What are we seeing?’ She asked, intrigued, as she headed to the closet and hung the dress inside.
‘“The Nutcracker”,’ said Blaise. ‘I tried to get us tickets for the Shakespeare one, but it was all sold out. I figured you wouldn’t mind.’
She turned to face him, her mouth falling open a little. ‘That was my favorite when I was little,’ she said. ‘In fact, my Mother got me a Sugar Plum Princess ornament for our tree afterwards. I still have it in my box back at home.’
‘Speaking of Christmas trees, I have something to show you,’ he said, smiling. ‘Get dressed, and I’ll show you.’
That sparked her interest, and she hurried to the closet—which was a walk-in style, and held all of her clothes comfortably, and still had room for more—and pulled on a long black skirt, which she normally saved for church, and ruffled silver blouse. She used a quick charm to make her hair stay, held it back with a few pins, and then headed back to the room.
‘What do you think?’ She asked, spinning around. ‘Is it dressy enough for a ballet?’
Blaise stared at her, a dazed look on his face. He had to blink a few times before he answered her. ‘It’s fine,’ he said. ‘Come on, let’s go.’
They left the room, and he led her down the stairs.
‘So, what did you do while we were gone?’ She asked.
He scowled. ‘I helped Penny with the decorating,’ he said. ‘I can see why my Mum wants to rip her hair out now, actually. I’ve never met a single person—House Elf or otherwise—that is so obsessed with having everything in the right order.’
‘You know, it’s not her fault,’ she said, fighting laughter. ‘Penny is the only House Elf that you have, so it’s natural that she feels responsible to keep the Manor in absolute perfect order at all times.’
Blaise smiled. ‘You know, you might yet convince me to join the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.’
She beamed, all the while blushing crimson. She knew, of course, that he was flirting with her, but she found that she didn’t care atthe moment. And besides, a little bit of flirting never hurt anyone. ‘Well, I’m glad you actually remembered it’s real name, rather than just calling it “spew”, like Harry and… and well, you know,’ she couldn’t say Ron’s name. It was too painful.
‘Yeah,’ he said, looking away.
They were quiet for a while, until they reached the Formal Room, which was the only part of the Manor that she hadn’t seen. It was a huge ballroom, with a chandelier hanging from the middle of the ceiling, and the walls painted a soft gold. There were gorgeous, tall windows looking out onto the magnificent backyard, and a pedestal under each one, with a vase filled with red and white roses, and a gold ribbon wrapping around the base of the pedestal. But, at the furthest corner of the room, was the very best part.
‘A Christmas tree,’ she gasped, staring at it with wide eyes. Like the Hogwarts trees, this one had candles, rather than streaming lights, and red, gold, green and silver bows sitting in the branches. There were even little icicle-like ornaments, the same ones that her mother used to have on their tree, hanging from it. And, instead of a star, there was an angel.
‘Do you like it?’ Blaise asked, studying her face. ‘My Mum and I don’t usually have a tree, so this will be different. But I thought it might be nice to have something familiar, something to remind you of home. Er… Hermione, why are you crying?’
She hadn’t noticed that she was, and she quickly wiped her tears away. ‘I’m crying because no one’s ever taken the time to do something like this for me,’ she said, turning to see his face. ‘I know a Christmas tree might seem like nothing to someone else, but it means a lot to me.’
Blaise smiled, and took her hands in his. ‘That’s because no one else realises how special you are, how lucky they are to be your friend,’ he said.
And then, suddenly, his hands were cupping her face, and his came close to hers. Her eyes fluttered shut automatically, and she waited, anticipating the kiss.
But it never happened, because someone coughed, and Blaise’s hands dropped, and they broke apart to see Rhea in the doorway, looking like she was trying very, very hard not to smile.
‘Don’t mean to interrupt, but dinner’s ready, and Penny will have a fit if anything gets cold,’ she said.
Hermione didn’t know what to think. She was blushing like mad, but Blaise looked calm, no embarrassed, as if his mother had not just walked in on a very private moment.
‘Oh, good,’ he said. ‘I’m starving. C’mon, Hermione.’
And he headed to the doors. She was confused as she followed the Zabini’s to the dining room, trying to make sense of what had just happened. She couldn’t decide if she was relieved or not that they hadn’t kissed, or if Rhea’s interruption—probably accidental—had been a good thing. If they had actually kissed, she imagined that their relationship would become very confusing, as she still wasn’t sure what exactly she wanted.
On one hand, there was Draco, who she’d been attracted to since the start of the school year. But he had Astoria, and she doubted he felt the same way about her. However, on the other hand, there was Blaise. Gorgeous, charming, funny, attentive Blaise, who had been there when Theodore hit her, knew about her parents, and was very obviously—at least, it was now—in love with her.
The only question was, what would she do now?
Dinner went by quickly, even though it was awkward and she couldn’t look Blaise in the eye, and she was grateful when it was finally time to go. Thankfully, they were Apparating to the Theatre where the Ballet was being held, so she didn’t have to endure what would have been a very, very awkward car ride. It was a good thing. She was already half-dreading the show. She knew she probably wouldn’t be able to pay attention, with him sitting right next to her. That would be a distraction enough.
‘So,’ she said when they arrived at the theatre. ‘Have you seen this ballet before?’ She felt silly asking, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say, and she was already trying too hard not to notice how close he was standing to her.
‘I saw it once, with my Mum,’ he said. ‘But I don’t remember any of it.’
The awkwardness in the air could probably choke someone. She hurried to think of another topic while they went into the theater. He had bought them each a soda at the concession stand, and she sipped for something to do while she thought. Asking him about classes was stupid, since they had nearly everything together. Quidditch was out, as well, since he wasn’t on the team, and she didn’t want to mention the Ball tomorrow night, because she was trying not to look forward to seeing Draco there.
Thankfully, the theatre darkened, and the ballet began, so she didn’t have to say anything at all.
The air was tense, though, and she felt like she was choking. Blaise’s hand was resting half-open on the armrest next to her, almost as if he was asking her to take it. She could have, but he hadn’t said whether or not this was a date, so she didn’t want to encourage him any further. She sipped her soda again, mind whirling, and tried to pay attention to what was going on below. She had loved this ballet when she was young, but all she could remember now was sitting next to her parents in the dark theatre, leaning forward as she watched the dancers with awe. It brought tears to her eyes, and she had to bite her cheek to stop from crying.
But she forced herself to keep watching anyway. About halfway through the ballet, she realised that she had something in common with the nutcracker. They were both damaged, but they were both loved, despite that. She didn’t know how Blaise could love her, though, knowing everything he knew about her. He knew all her secrets, he knew how broken she was, and yet he loved her anyway. Then again, she reasoned, wasn’t love supposed to be that way? She remembered something her Mum had told her once, when she had asked for advice about Ron, after she realised that she loved him. ‘Love will find a way, no matter what,’ she’d said. Maybe the situation was different, but she was sure that her mother’s advice applied here, too. Maybe love could find a way through the darkness that was her heart.
The sudden clapping startled her out of her thoughts, and she realised that the ballet was over. The theatre lights were on, and people were starting to stand up.
Blaise rose, stretching, and she followed suit. Her feet were prickling, the way they did when she hadn’t moved for a long time, and it took a few minutes of swaying before the feeling returned to them.
‘So, what’d you think?’ Blaise asked, as they left the theatre. ‘I didn’t understand what was going on, but the dancers were good.’
She laughed. ‘I would be surprised if you had, actually. Unless you know the story already, it’s very hard to tell what’s happening,’ she said. ‘And you’re right, the dancers are good. I used to wish I could move with like that. They’re so graceful, and they hardly make any noise at all when they walk. They’re almost feather light. ’
Blaise smiled. ‘You’ve never danced the Waltz, have you?’ He asked.
She shook her head. ‘No, but I would love to,’ she said. ‘It’s always been one of my favorite dances. Why? Have you?’
‘Every Christmas,’ he said. ‘Actually, we usually dance the Waltz at the Christmas Ball, so you’ll have to learn. I’ll teach you tomorrow as best as I can.’
She tried not to think about what that meant. Dancing was intimate, and she wasn’t sure how she felt being so close to Blaise. She hadn’t made her decision yet.
They had reached the front foyer of the theatre, and she saw that the gift shop was still open for at least twenty more minutes.
‘Do you mind?’ She asked, nodding to it. ‘I just want to peek.’
Blaise nodded, and followed her inside. The woman behind the counter, who was at least in her late forties—possibly early-fifties— smiled happily at them. ‘Hello, dears,’ she said. ‘Can I help you find anything?’
Hermione smiled back. ‘I was just wondering if you sold any Christmas ornaments,’ she said.
‘Oh, yes,’ said the woman. ‘There are a few left hanging on the little tree over there. You can take your pick, dear,’ she nodded toward a small table, where a tiny little Christmas tree stood, decorated with lights.
Hermione smiled, and walked over to it. Blaise followed closely behind her, and watched as she searched the ornaments.
‘Is there a particular one that you were looking for?’ He asked. ‘You know, if you want, we can always stop by your house and grab your Nutcracker. I’m sure my Mum won’t mind we add another ornament to the tree.’
‘No, that’s fine,’ she said. ‘I just wanted to look.’
And then she saw the little angel, with her delicate face and brown painted curls, and she knew that was the one she’d been subconsciously looking for. It looked exactly like her; it even had big, wide brown eyes.
She snatched it off the tree, stopping only to check the price—it was cheap—and went back to the checkout counter.
‘The angel is one of my favorites,’ said the woman, as she wrapped it carefully in tissue paper. ‘This one even looks like you, dear.’
Hermione smiled. ‘Yes, it does, doesn’t it? I hardly look like an angel, though,’ she said, suddenly noticing that the woman’s nametag read Margaret.
‘Here you are, dear,’ Margaret said, smiling as she handed her the small box.
She handed her the cash—even adding a little extra, since it was Christmas—and then took the box carefully in her hands. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.’
‘You, too, dears,’ said Margaret.
She smiled, and then she and Blaise left the small gift store. ‘You’re wrong, you know,’ Blaise said, just before they got ready to apparate.
‘About what?’ She asked, confused.
Almost as if it were an instinct, he reached up to tuck a stray curl behind her ear. She shivered at his touch, feeling the warmth of his fingers on her cheek. It was lucky that it was dark out, so he didn’t see her blush. His hand moved back, after resting too long against her cheek, and he smiled a little. ‘You do look like an angel,’ he said at last.
She half-smiled. He held out his arm, and she took it, wondering, for a moment, what he was thinking. But she decided quickly that maybe she didn’t want to know. She wished, again, that she hadn’t figured out his feelings for her.
Because some things should be kept secret, and that was one of them.
Well, there's Chapter 20!! I am sorry for keeping you guys waiting for so long. I have caught some bad virus thing, and I have been sick for the last few weeks, so it took me awhile to get this chapter finished. But Chapter 21 should be up soon! I hope you enjoyed this chapter, though. I loved writing it.