Series: Song Out of Tune
Title: Solitude Standing
Rating: R (if that)
Pairing: Blaise Zabini/Padma Patil, mention Hermione/OFC
Disclaimer: My initials are CMF not JKR I trust that says it all but just in case. I am not now, nor have I ever been, J.K. Rowlings if you recognize the name from the books it's her's if you don't it's mine. This is a work of fanfiction and as such is not intended to cause hurt or profit.
Archive: This and all my other flights of fancy are archived at the Realm. Thank you Kim for being the Goddess of all things archival. http://www.realmoftheshadow.com/morte206.htm
Also at Girls Dormitory where it is archived under Morte351 and the series name.
Feedback: Well I find that incisive and thought provoking feedback is best but the truth is that any little morsel will do. So I am willing to resort to downright begging here. Any little note is appreciated. Send it all to firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Note: My eternal and overwhelming thanks to Blyss who for all intents and purposes co-wrote this with me. Thought of course one could say that I really owe my thanks to Mario Puzo.
Blaise rang the doorbell to Padma’s house at precisely 6:00 PM, the same as she’d done every Saturday since the start of summer holidays three weeks ago. Much to her surprise Mr. Patil opened the door.
"Mr. Patil, sir, what a surprise to see you. I thought they kept you chained to the pub."
He smiled showing even white teeth beneath the thick brush of his mustache. "Blaise, on time as usual," he winked conspiratorially stepping aside to allow Blaise passage. "Padma isn’t quite ready yet."
"I didn’t expect she would be sir." Blaise followed Padma’s father, not into the living room as she expected, but into what appeared to be his home office. "But in my line of work timeliness is of the utmost importance."
"Have a seat Blaise." Mr. Patil indicated a chair in front of his desk, taking his own chair as he did so.
"Sir?" she asked puzzled as to why he would wish to speak with her alone in his study.
"You’re probably wondering why I brought you in here." Blaise nodded but remained silent. "I don’t like to discuss…Radha and the girls…some things are better kept from them…you understand I’m sure."
"Of course. Why should they worry about," she considered her words carefully, "…unpleasantness that doesn’t concern them," she gave him a small smile. "I understand."
"I imagine you feel the same way. Certainly you must see and hear things in your work."
"Discretion is of course paramount."
"Yes it is. In fact I am counting on it." He quickly explained. There had been a fire at the pub the night before, no one had been hurt - it was after hours - but he was afraid etc, etc, etc. He’d had some problems of late with some of the local toughs; he’d even been to the police who’d told him there was nothing to be done till after something had been ‘done’. Could Blaise arrange a meeting for him with her father?
"Certainly but may I ask why?"
"I…I thought…your name…your family…I thought your father…."
Mr. Patil visibly paled at this. He’d heard the rumors - who in the Wizarding world hadn’t – and like most pub owners he was no stranger to racketeering. He thought he’d put the clues together well enough. The Zabini family owned a chain of Wizarding funeral homes, known as Zabini Mortuaries, but they also owned a single Muggle funeral home in Liverpool, Zabini and Zabata, and in the Muggle world the name Zabata was synonymous with organized crime. The girl seemed to have a near limitless amount of money, if the gifts she’d given Padma for her birthday were any indication, and he didn’t think she got paid that well for her work at the funeral home.
"Sir, Mr. Patil?"
Blaise’s voice brought him back to the conversation, "Forgive me. I…"
"It’s quite alright these things happen," she stood up, straightening her jacket as she did so. "You’re certainly not the first to make the mistake."
"I did not mean to insult."
"None taken. You’re not entirely wrong there is a connection. Just not that one."
He breathed a sigh of relief; it would not behoove him to make an enemy of his daughter’s girlfriend. He had seen the influence Blaise had on Padma and did not want to get on her bad side. "I think I hear Padma coming down the stairs," he stood now and made his way around the desk hand extended towards Blaise. "No hard feelings, no misunderstandings then."
"None taken," Blaise shook his hand. "Before we go sir?"
"My parents wanted me to extend an invitation to our summer party in London, Saturday after next."
"I’ll speak with Radha I’m sure…"
"Do you play billiards?"
"I own a pub."
"Silly me, of course you play billiards," Blaise chuckled. "Well then make sure to play after dinner."
"Then I’ll tell mother to expect you all."
"Just myself I think. And Padma," he added. After a moments hesitation he nodded his head definitively, yes. If his gut was right Blaise was offering the introduction he sought and if that were indeed the case then he’d rather not have the rest of his family exposed. It was too late for Padma. "I think that would be best."
"I understand." Blaise paused, hand on the doorknob. "My mother always says that one should never discuss business with a lover, either at the table or elsewhere. She says it shows a woeful lack of conversational skills; then there is the little matter of my client family’s expectations of and right to privacy." To be certain, the real lesson had been ‘the less your lover knew the less likely they were to rat you out. And the less likely you were to have to arrange for them to be silenced’. This maxim had been most effectively illustrated the summer of Blaise’s fifteenth year. The brother of a close business associate was convicted primarily on testimony provided by a former lover. When the ex turned up dead from obvious foul play it had been Blaise who’d hidden the physical evidence of such with her magic. It was the first time she’d had occasion to test her skill at that level using the spells and techniques she’d read of in her grandfather’s work journals. It had drained her like no other reconstruction and embalming had before or since. Even then she hadn’t been sure her ‘corrections’ would be permanent, it had fallen to her to exhume the body almost a year later to assure herself and other interested parties that they were. But Blaise wasn’t about to share that with Padma’s father. Instead she met Mr. Patil’s level gaze with her own. "I believe that too, wholeheartedly. Whatever business you and I discuss will always be just between us. And I will never discuss business in front of Padma. I promise."
He gave a sigh of relief not even aware he had been holding his breath while Blaise was speaking. "You care for my daughter deeply don’t you?"
"With all that I am."
"Don’t keep her waiting then,’ he reached past Blaise to open the door. "Go on. I think you’ll like the dress she bought for tonight."
"Thank you sir."
She stepped out into the hall eager to see Padma who was just coming down the stairs. Blaise’s breath caught. Padma was beautiful, the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The dress was a deep sapphire blue silk sheath that clung to Padma’s every curve and ended at mid-thigh. The neckline, deeper than any Blaise had seen her wear before, accentuated the swell of her cleavage and Blaise imagined what it would be like, later, to trail her fingertips along that oh so alluring flesh. Heels showed off her legs to perfection and Blaise ached to feel them around her waist as they made love or entangled with her own as they slept.
From the doorway to his study Mr. Patil observed Blaise’s reaction to his daughter. He had to admit that Padma was beautiful and the dress enhanced that beauty but he’d seen the same look of adoration on Blaise’s face when Padma had been wearing jeans and a T-shirt. There was no doubt in his mind; the girl was besotted. What troubled him was Padma, seeing Blaise’s look mirrored on her face as they stood together at the foot of the stairwell. It’s too late for Padma, he thought.
"Good morning darling."
"Morning Mama," Blaise mumbled. She shuffled over to the breakfast table where her mother sat, drinking a cup of tea and reading the paper as she did every morning, and kissed the top of her head.
"Your friend Hermione called. She’ll be arriving at ten o’clock at Kings Cross tomorrow."
"You should have woken me."
"She called last night while you were out."
"Did you have a nice time with Padma? Coffee or tea?"
"Coffee please," Blaise watched as her mother prepared her coffee. "We went to dinner it was nice."
Mrs. Zabini placed a cup of coffee on the table in front of Blaise then resumed her own place at the table next to where her daughter sat. "And…"
Blaise blushed. "Mama," she whined.
"Sorry. I forget sometimes what it was like to be your age and in love."
"Don’t you still love Daddy?"
"Oh yes very much but things mellow, ties grow deeper and more sure, things don’t seem so…desperate. Or so serious," she took a sip of her tea. "So did you invite the Patil’s like I asked you."
"Hmmm…" Blaise put her coffee down. "I wanted to talk to you about that. He wanted me to arrange a meeting between him and Daddy."
"Whose ward would the pub be in? It’s in Liverpool about a mile from Zabata," Blaise said referring to Zabini and Zabata, the muggle mortuary the family owned.
"I’d have to ask Gianni to be sure but off hand I believe Rico, his brother-in-law the one married to Maria Teresa. Why?"
"There was a suspicious fire at the Patil’s pub. Mr. Patil says he’s been having a problem lately with some of the local talent."
"Perhaps you should look into this matter yourself. Sometimes the personal touch is best," she brushed Blaise’s hair away from her eyes, caressing her cheek as she did so. "Speak with Gianni he’ll handle the details. Now as to the party…"
"Just Mr. Patil and Padma."
"I take it he believes in keeping business and family separate."
"I wouldn’t have invited him to play billiards otherwise."
"No I suppose you wouldn’t have," Mrs. Zabini rose from her seat and then bent down to kiss the top of Blaise’s head. It was the only time she could do that sort of thing easily, kiss the top of Blaise’s head or her cheek for that matter, she was 5’2" tall her daughter 5’11". "Show Mr. Patil to the games room after dinner." She wrapped her arms around Blaise and hugged her tightly. Blaise hugged her back, tucking her face into the curve of her mother’s waist like she’d done as a small child.
"Thank you Mama."
Blaise checked the monitor displaying arrival information again. She’d arrived at Kings Cross half an hour early on the off chance that Hermione’s train would be ahead of schedule but such was not the case. Indeed the train had been delayed but finally the monitor showed the train’s arrival on track five and Blaise hurried to meet Hermione.
"Mione!" Blaise called out spotting her bushy haired best friend in the crowd of people walking towards her. The Gryffindor was dragging two huge suitcases on rollers; an overstuffed backpack gave her the appearance of a hunchback. Blaise made her way through the crowd to Hermione, who promptly dropped her bags and threw her arms around the taller girl. They hugged tightly. "Merlin but it’s good to see you. How was the ride?" Hermione had been vacationing with her parents in Wales; they’d traveled by train.
"Tedious. My ass hurts from sitting so long. On the other hand I got all of the reading done for Statistics and Probability and you what have you been up to? How’s Padma? Can we get something to eat, real food, the café car was sorely lacking and I am ravenous."
"Hermione breathe," Blaise squeezed Hermione’s shoulder gently as she took a deep breath. "Good, now why don’t we get a cart for the luggage, I have a car waiting for us. Let’s get you home and fed."
They snagged a luggage cart and loaded Hermione’s bags onto it then made their way through the station to the passenger pickup area where the funeral home’s car and driver was waiting with a sedan. They got in the car while the driver loaded Hermione’s luggage in the trunk. Blaise raised the privacy barrier between the driver and passenger compartments then offered Hermione a crisp from the bag she’d opened earlier on her way to the station. Hermione pounced on the proffered treat and while she snacked Blaise spoke.
"Before we arrive there are some things you need to know. First, we have human servants and the south wing is forbidden to them. In fact most of them aren’t even aware of it, except for Hammond, my mother’s driver, and his wife Dale, the house manager. They’re Squibs and accustomed to magic, having grown up around it, but nonetheless even Hammond and Dale are not allowed in the South Wing. There are spells to dissuade non-magical people and creatures as well as disillusionment charms and other security measures in place. I’ll give you the password when we get home."
"Fair enough. Might I ask, why all the security? What are you hiding?"
"My grandfather’s laboratory, his library…my library now I guess. A Floo network receiving room…"
"I get it. The ‘south wing’," she said ruefully, shaking her head. "Just how big is your house?"
"Excluding the south wing…" Blaise drifted off in thought. "Excluding the south wing there are eight bedrooms, ten baths, a library, a formal parlor, a games room, the music room, the formal dining room, a small ballroom…"
"A ballroom?" Hermione managed to squeak out.
"My great grandmother liked to play hostess," Blaise said matter-of-factly. "But that’s besides the point. What I was getting at Mione is we have house elves, two of them. They attend to the south wing and the kitchens and when we go to Milan for the summer they take care of the house there." Hermione looked aghast. Blaise continued hurriedly, "I’ve explained to Mother and Father about S.P.E.W. but you also have to understand, we can’t let them go. They know too much."
"Like Kreacher," Hermione mumbled, remembering the Black family house elf at Grimmauld Place.
"No! I resent that we don’t treat them like creatures at all. Dickens and Nod are…"
"Valued members of our family…"
"Who can’t even leave without your permission I bet."
"Drop it Hermione. You don’t have to avail yourself of their services - though I notice you eat the food at Hogwarts readily enough - if you don’t want to. I just don’t want you getting silly ideas about freeing them. For these house elves freedom would have to mean their death, just so you understand where I’m coming from okay. Besides this is what they live for, serving a wizard family gives them purpose and pleasure, who are you to deny them that."
Hermione grunted; caught yet again between her idealism and a hard rock she thought. It had been the same with Kreacher whose defection to Narcissa Malfoy’s service after Sirius’ passage through the veil had indeed hurt the Order. The ancient, half-mad house elf had been privy to many of the Order’s secrets, including the names of its double agents. Snape had been of little use since, except as a tactician something he was surprisingly good at.
"Look Mione," Blaise said in her most placating tone of voice, "You’ll see, Dickens and Nod they’re happy and well treated. Their family has been with us for over ten generations. They have their own rooms…"
"Do you pay them?" Hermione cut in rather aggressively.
"Of course not," Blaise snapped back. "I’d sooner insult the Minister of Magic. If you must know they like magazines, cutting them up. They’ve papered the walls of their rooms with a rather lovely array of models and gardens. Every year for Christmas we give them a subscription to various gardening magazines as well as Blender, Maxim, French Cosmo, Elle…. You know Hermione has it ever occurred to you that most house elves are barmy and wouldn’t know what to do with freedom even if you gave them explicit directions. Nod for instance needs to be reminded to eat properly every now and then or all he’d do is chew on plastic bags like a cat."
Further discussion was cut off by their arrival at Blaise’s home. They were greeted at the door by the butler, whom Hermione could only describe as ‘a rather muscular mountain’, and immediately ushered in to see Blaise’s mother in the library.
"Thank you Douglas that will be all," Mrs. Zabini said. She stopped working on the crossword puzzle, folding the paper carefully so that only the puzzle showed she lay the paper on the coffee table in front of her. Douglas left the room and Mrs. Zabini stood to hug each of the girls in turn. "Hermione, you’re looking well. The holidays seem to be agreeing with you. You had a pleasant train ride?"
"I’m doing well thank you. The train ride was too long though, I’m rather stiff now."
"Well then I shan’t keep you long. Blaise you should show Hermione to the spa. Do you like massage dear? Do say yes, you’ll be in for quite the treat, my girl Brenda has divine hands. If I didn’t know for a fact she was a Muggle I’d swear she used magic."
"Oh I’ve never had a professional massage."
"Well it’s settled then. I’ll send Brenda to your room around three after she’s done with me. Now I understand that you are rather fond of reading so I’ve put you in the room directly above this one. Blaise explained to us about ‘Spew’" - Blaise noticed Hermione biting her lip – "so Mary, the maid, will be seeing to your room. That bookcase over there," the older woman pointed to a bookcase left of the fireplace, "is the doorway to the stairwell connecting this library with your room; Blaise can show you how to open it later." Blaise nodded. "And has Blaise explained to you about the south wing and Dickens and Nod?"
"She has." Next to her Hermione felt Blaise stiffen and deciding to take pity on her friend said nothing more. Besides, she had the distinct impression that while she could get away with haranguing Blaise about the house elf issue there’d be no such leeway with her mother.
"Good. Well then girls I’ll let you go. Hermione, I hope you enjoy your stay with us, Peri and I are looking forward to getting to know you. Oh, before I forget, you are going to the States with us, right?"
"If the offer still stands."
"It does," Mrs. Zabini said with a smile.
"Thank you Mrs. Zabini. My parents send their regards and also their thanks for you hospitality. I’ve a letter for you from my Mum in my pack."
"Why don’t you give it to me at lunch," she checked the clock on the mantle, "in say thirty minutes. Blaise show your guest to her room and then come find me."
"How do I look?" Hermione looked up from the book she was reading. She’d made it through about forty pages of a generic lesbian mystery while Blaise tried on almost everything in her closet in search of the perfect outfit for the evening. Finally the tall dark haired girl settled on a white man’s tailored silk shirt and smoky gray slacks.
"Stunning, I said you looked ‘stunning’."
"No you didn’t! I’m sure I heard you say ‘studly’," Blaise swept her hand down her front. "Too butch, do you think?"
"Well with your hair braided and pulled back like that…I don’t know it makes you look kind of severe…more masculine. But no, in and of itself the outfit isn’t ‘too butch’, a little androgynous maybe but that’s part of your charm."
"So you think I should let my hair loose."
"Well just not braided. A ponytail would work but completely loose would probably be best." Hermione pushed Blaise to sit on the edge of the bed then slipped behind the taller girl and undid her braid. Using her fingers Hermione combed Blaise’s hair loose so that it fanned out across her back and shoulders. "There, that looks nice. You have such beautiful hair. How does it grow so quickly?"
"Side effect of the necromancy I think," Blaise shrugged. "Makes sense if you think about it, after all hair is nothing but dead cells anyway. Same thing with the nails," Blaise held her hand up to illustrate, "Why else would I have a standing manicure appointment?"
"Because long nails and lesbian sex just don’t mix."
"Me, from personal experience." Blaise threw her head back and laughed. Hermione giggled. She gave Blaise a small shove and said, "Anyway go look."
Blaise got up and crossed to the mirror. "Do you think Padma will like it?"
Hermione joined Blaise in front of the mirror and admired her friend’s reflection. "You know she loves it when you wear your hair loose. And it looks amazing against that shirt, black silk on white silk."
Blaise smiled at Hermione in the mirror then nudged her. "And what are your plans for the evening?" It was the night of the Zabini’s dinner party and Hermione had declined to attend siting a previous engagement. "And please don’t tell me you’re seeing that woman." Blaise pointedly did not say Shelagh McClarty’s name, ever. She could not comprehend Hermione’s willingness to take up with the flame haired university student after all that the older girl had said and done. She fervently hoped that this was strictly a summer fling and silently sent up a prayer for Hermione to return to her senses before they returned to Hogwarts for their seventh and final year.
"Fine ‘ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies’," Hermione said quoting Fred and George Weasley’s favorite maxim.
"Oh you are," Blaise did nothing to disguise her disappointment. "Hermione why…"
"It’s different this time." Blaise snorted and shook her head in disbelief; this coming from the girl who less than three months ago had been crying her eyes out in Moaning Myrtle’s toilet because Shelagh had broken up with her by post. Her letter cited age and distance as the basis for breaking Hermione’s heart but apparently Hermione had forgotten that under a steady stream of summer afternoons and evenings spent in a post-coital haze. "We’ve talked she says…" Blaise interrupted her with a wave of her hand.
"If you want to believe what she says fine. But if you want my honest opinion…"
"Don’t B." Hermione looked up at the taller girl. "Please."
"Oh Mione you’re so much better than…"
"Sometimes I see you and Padma…I get so jealous. I want that B. I want someone to look at me the way you look at her, the way she looks at you. And Shelagh…well lets just say for now the way she looks at me, for now it’s enough."
Blaise nodded solemnly. It saddened her to hear her friend’s willingness to settle in this fashion. But she said nothing preferring to let the matter drop in favor of supportive friendship.
"Where are you going then?"
"I’ll Floo over to her parent’s in a few. We’re going to the movies and a bite to eat. Nothing special."
"Don’t forget to take your talisman," Blaise said referring to the wizard pager both girls carried for the funeral home. To earn money this summer Hermione often assisted Blaise on ‘house calls’. When someone died at home two people were sent to attend to the family and transport the deceased to the funeral home. "We’re not on call but still you never know."
"What time do you think your party will be over?"
"Late. It probably would be best if you came…"
"Actually I think I might spend the night at home, at my parents’. She doesn’t live too far from them, it’s more convenient as well."
"You don’t have to do that H."
"I think it would be better that way," Hermione looked up at Blaise. "Don’t you?" she asked softly. Blaise’s jaw clenched, she closed her eyes then slowly nodded.
"Forgive me," Blaise began before Hermione forestalled the rest of her words with a hand on her chest.
"There’s nothing to forgive. Blaise, I’m your friend. I keep your secrets willingly. You can always come to me and I will listen. I will always help you as best I can. But there’s no need for me to seek your secrets out."
"You’re right of course. Nonetheless if you’re stuck and want to come home."
"I know how to get in touch."
Further conversation was cut off by a soft knock at the door followed by a man’s voice asking for Blaise.
"I need to speak with him," Blaise smiled hesitantly down at Hermione who winked at her in understanding. She dipped down to give Hermione a quick peck on the cheek. "Thank you Hermione," she said solemnly. Hermione followed the taller girl to the door slipping silently past Blaise’s guest when she opened the door to let him in. As she walked away she heard Blaise address him as Gianni and smiled to herself thinking that at least now she knew what the mysterious ‘Cousin Gianni’ looked like.
"Good God girl you’ve grown," Gianni said jovially. He hugged Blaise then stepped back to look at her appraisingly. "What are you 5’10" now?"
He shook his head chuckling as he did so. "Can’t call you short stuff any more huh?"
"Don’t worry I’ll still look up to you." Gianni burst out laughing, at 5’7" he had to look up to her but he appreciated Blaise’s subtly cheeky show of respect. He gave Blaise an affectionate pat on the cheek. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes," Blaise said showing him to the seating area she had set up in front of the fireplace in her room. They sat facing each other over the small coffee table where Blaise had a Scrabble board set up ready for play; sometimes when she could not sleep she would get out of bed to play against herself. "Shall we?"
Gianni nodded and they silently drew a tile apiece from a small silk bag in order to see who would go first. Gianni won. He drew seven tiles then passed the bag to Blaise who did like wise. They continued to remain silent for several minutes while rearranging the tiles on their racks in an effort to find the best letter combinations. Finally the stocky dark haired man began to lay down a word: ‘M-U-S-C-L-E’. He grinned, settling back into his chair before speaking in Italian. "I remember my debt." Leaning forward he snagged the bag of tiles and withdrew six. "How may I repay it?"
Dinner was a small affair twelve people in all: Blaise, her parents, Padma, Mr. Patil, Gianni and three couples each comprised of a witch or wizard and their Muggle spouse. Conversation was light, the teenagers politely answering questions about school and university prospects when asked but otherwise speaking only with each other while the adults discussed politics, law enforcement and the affairs of the day. Desert and after dinner cordials were served in the music room where Mr. Zabini entertained on the piano.
Blaise was seated, eating a piece of tart, when Padma, standing behind her, leaned down to whisper, "Your father is really quite good", in her ear sending shivers down her spine and a tidal wave of lust that threatened to leave a wet spot on her chair. "Now I know where you learned your fingering technique."
"I can’t play the piano for all the gold in Gringotts. Plus I’m tone deaf you know that."
"Not the instrument I was referring to."
Blaise stared at her lover uncomprehendingly. Padma pointed to herself and slowly ran the tip of her tongue across her bottom lip. Blaise put her desert plate down and stood. Out of the corner of her eye Blaise could see Gianni inviting Mr. Patil to play a game of billiards. "Perhaps you’d like a private concert," she murmured holding her hand out to Padma who took it eagerly in her own.
Blaise checked herself in the mirror everything matched. Her shirt was properly buttoned, the crease in her slacks could draw blood, her shoes were shined and her hair was in a neat braid down her back. She put her jacket on, buttoned it, checked her reflection in the mirror and decided, unbuttoned. She checked her wallet, making sure she had her credit cards and enough muggle money for a taxi before slipping it into the breast pocket of her jacket. Tonight she was taking Padma to dinner at a Spanish restaurant her aunt, a chef and restaurateur, had recommended as being highly authentic. Afterwards they would come back here, to the studio apartment Blaise kept above the funeral home in Liverpool. Her heartbeat sped up at the thought of spending time alone with her lover, holding her maybe even making love to her if there was time before Padma had to be back home.
She was almost out the door when the phone rang. She snatched the cordless up, her voice calm and mellifluous despite her annoyance, "Zabini Mortuary, how may I be of service?"
"Well, well you’ve been a difficult one to track down." She recognized the voice instantly; it was less pompous than usual but she recognized it nonetheless.
"What do you want I’m in a bit of hurry." Thoughts of Padma and paella filled her mind she had no time for verbal dancing.
"Running late to meet your girlfriend are you."
"None of your business," she snapped.
"Oh ho hit a sore spot did I, there’s no hurry she always keeps you waiting anyway. That must really rankle, I know how much you hate to be kept waiting."
"Get on with it MacMillan."
"You owe me," he said bluntly.
"Excuse me, how so? As I see it you still owe me. One hundred and twenty galleons to be specific. And you should be grateful MacMillan that I’ve not calculated interest. You couldn’t pay the interest."
"You let me take the fall entirely. You could have told the Headmaster the truth…"
"I don’t know what you’re talking about. All I know is I introduced you to someone…"
"The Floo connection in your room…"
"What you did with that introduction is not my concern, nor is it known to me. As for the Floo connection, it’s there because of my apprenticeship and can only go to the funeral home I’m called to. You know that Ernie," she said her voice dripping unctuously.
"I should have guessed you’d cover your tracks well enough at Hogwarts, but how do you think your girlfriend’s parents would take the news that you’re the one responsible for their other daughter being in hospital."
"I don’t care for your tone Ernie. Now listen carefully," she glanced at the timepiece on her wrist, "It’s now 5:45 PM, you have until midnight to consider my offer."
"I said ‘listen carefully’. Consider the money you owe me a gift. Stay away from Padma. Stay away from her family. Do not speak to, owl, or even look at them, at her. If I have even the slightest inkling you’ve done otherwise you’ll pay and I don’t mean monetarily. Am I clear."
"You can’t do magic away from Hogwarts and you’re certainly not going to do anything to ruin you’re cover there so…"
"Think on it. You used to be a Prefect so I know you’re not completely thick." She cut the connection with Ernie and opened another line to place an outside call. It was answered on the third ring. "Two twenty-three Mulberry St., London, needs a lesson he won’t soon forget."
"Are we talking advanced seminar or just a refresher course."
"I want you to tutor him every day till he either gets on that train in two weeks or he finally concedes the lesson, doesn’t matter to me which. I trust your judgment in this matter."
"The other of which we spoke…."
"Already taken care of."
"I took the liberty of putting the word out. Your future in-laws shouldn’t have any problems whatsoever from now on. Rico’s people will keep an eye out for them."
"Good Lord Ernie what happened to you," Harry asked the former Hufflepuff prefect. They were waiting on platform 9 ¾ to board the Hogwarts Express for what should have been their seventh and final year. For Ernie though it wasn’t, he was to repeat the sixth year after his suspension last year for hosting the party where more than half a dozen students, Parvati among them, had overdosed on spiked punch.
"Had an accident hiking with my brother."
"Broken then," Harry nodded at the cast that covered Ernie’s left arm from fingertips to shoulder, "In how many places?"
"Couldn’t the medi-wizards…"
"We were in the middle of nowhere by the time we were anywhere near a medi-wizard it was too late for them to do anything but send me to a Muggle doctor." This was a blatant lie but there was no way Ernie was going to risk telling anyone the truth. He’d learned the lesson well. Blaise’s ‘teacher’ had been thorough and as she’d said; he’d been a prefect, he wasn’t stupid.
"Hello Harry. Looks like you had a bit of a rough summer MacMillan."
"Hello Blaise," Harry smiled broadly at her in greeting, "Hermione’s already here if you’re looking for her. Stomach’s a bit upset so she got settled on the train."
"Blaise," Ernie said desultorily.
"She’s stressing out about being Head Girl no doubt," Blaise said with a smirk.
"And NEWTs. You know at this rate she’ll have an ulcer by the end of the week." Harry waved at someone behind Blaise. "Excuse me there’s Luna I wanted to have a word with her," with that he left Blaise standing next to Ernie alone.
"So MacMillan, good to see you."
"Can’t say the same now can I?"
"Cheer up MacMillan at least we won’t be having any ‘lessons’ together this year."
"I assure you I won’t be needing any ‘tutoring’ either."
"Good to know we understand each other then." The first boarding whistle blew just then. "If you’ll excuse me I need to find Padma." The Patil family had joined Blaise and her family for a week at the Zabini’s summer home in Milan two weeks previously but had returned to Liverpool for the last week of holidays. Blaise hadn’t seen her lover since and now she hurriedly made her way through the throngs of students and their parents to join her.
"Sure." Ernie breathed a sigh of relief as he watched her walk away.
"Ernie! What happened to you?" Hannah Abbot asked as she and Susan Bones passed him.
"Oh well here let us help you," Susan offered picking up Ernie’s small carry on bag while Hannah threaded her arm through Ernie’s good one and cleared a path for them. Ernie smiled to himself thinking that perhaps the injury was a small price to pay if it could garner him the attentions and sympathies of the prettiest girl in his house. He was sure he’d be able to work things to his advantage he might even get lucky, perhaps the school year wasn’t starting off as poorly as he’d feared.