Deep below Hogwarts, in the cool, damp Slytherin common room, sat Blaise Zabini. Alone. His eyes were shut tight. His mouth, a lopsided grimace. His hands were balled into tight shaking fists. His left knee crossed over his right. His left foot tapping inconsistently. His body entire body becoming stiffer by the second as he replayed the last hour in his head.
Blaise sat at the Slytherin table pretending to read the Daily Prophet while eavesdropping on his housemates. Acquiring information was a skill he learned early on at Hogwarts. The hulking bodies of Crabbe and Goyle had been talking at the slim and particularly gaunt Draco Malfoy. They never had anything smart or witty to say so Malfoy’s silence was noticeable. This morning they were discussing the new additions to the Gryffindor Quidditch team.
“Another Weasley? Ha! Way too many of those, huh Draco?” said Crabbe.
Malfoy nodded, his mind elsewhere.
Crabbe and Goyle exchanged confused looks. Millicent Bulstrode walked by and joined the conversation.
“They just got that Mudblood Thomas as well. Apparently, he was dating the Weasley girl. I heard she broke up with him too.” said Bulstrode.
A sly grin crept over Blaise’s face. Good, he thought.
“Could you imagine their children? You know how fertile Weasleys are. I wonder what's worse, having a baby that's half Weasley or a baby that's half ni...”
Blaise could feel the other end of the table turn in his direction.
An all too familiar feeling hit Blaise in the pit of his stomach. Although it was hard hearing that word come from someone he considered a friend, he didn't let his face betray him. He had become accustomed to his friends speaking about Black wizards and Muggles that way. He preferred it not toward him.
“Do... You think he heard...”
“Well, he knows I'm not talking about him. Just Thomas.”
“Yeah, Blaise is alright. He's one of the good ones.”
He felt the twinge in his stomach again. He waited a few moments before leaving the Slytherin table. His mouth twisted into a scowl.
Blaise had never said a word to Dean Thomas yet hated him with a passion. In his first year, after the Sorting, he came upon Lee Jordan chatting with Dean Thomas.
“...and I just want you to know that you can come to me, Angelina, or any of the other Black Gryffindors if you have any problems,” Lee said, with a wink.
“But...” Dean trailed off.
“Come on now. Speak up!” beamed Lee.
“Well... Professor McGonagall told my mum that only muggles are racist.” Dean said, confused.
“I'm going to let you in on a little secret,” Lee smiled, “only white wizards believe that. The quicker you know that isn't true, the easier a time you'll have here. There a lot of kids from old wizard families here who'd like to think they're not like Muggles. Also, there are loads of kids here who have one or two Muggle parents. Loads of them were raised with Muggle prejudices. Do you follow?”
“...hmm. Yes, I think so. Thanks, Lee. I really appreciate it.” Dean said.
“No problem. Just look out for yourself. Look out for Granger too.”
Dean sighed, “Do I have to?”
That exchange played over and over in Blaise’s head for years. He remembered it every time any of his “friends” said something about his hair, his skin, or anything about the other Black students at Hogwarts. He looked to the older Black Slytherins for guidance but none of them ever offered.
The one thought that gave him solace was that he was better than Dean Thomas. No matter what he will always be a Zabini. He will always have pure blood. He will always matter more than Thomas.
Blaise started to feel better on his way to the Slytherin common room. He rounded a corner and came upon Dean and Seamus Finnigan. He jumped back behind the corner and spied on the two. Dean was staring at the floor. His face was flushed. He was holding his left elbow. Seamus, completely red, leaned into Dean.
Seamus' lips met Deans.
Blaise's mouth fell open. Seamus wrapped his arms around Dean’s neck. Their lips parted.
“Seamus, someone could be watching,” Dean said looking around the corridor. Blaise backed into the shadows.
“I don't bloody care!” Seamus said beaming, “I had ta watch ye slobber all over Ginny Weasley since last summer for Chrissakes.”
“Listen, I did like Ginny, but I've loved you since I was eleven. I don't think I could stop if I wanted to.”
“I love you too.”
Blaise's stomach does somersaults as they start to kiss again.
No. No. No. No. No. No. This isn't fair. Blaise thought as he raced through corridors. He pushed past a group of first years knocking them over.
This isn't how this works. He's a Muggle. I'm better than him. I'm better. I’m better.
Blaise bit the inside of his cheek. This wasn't the first time. It surely wouldn't be the last. Since his first year he bit his cheek anytime he heard any remark from a Hogwarts student or teacher directed at a Black person. Especially himself. Blaise bit his cheek to quell the anger building in his gut. He found himself biting his cheek nearly every day. The bite had not only formed a groove where his teeth fit perfectly but it shaped his face into a permanent scowl. At times, he could taste blood.
The image of Seamus and Dean kissing in Blaise’s head infuriated him and stirred...something. Blaise had sometimes wondered about kissing other boys. When he did, he quickly emptied the thought from his mind. He knew if he explored those thoughts there would be no going back. The plan for his future always included a wife.
Finally, reaching the common room he sat in his favorite chair and thought about his parents. Blaise's father died right before Blaise was born. His mother would tuck him in at night and tell him about his father. His father came from a long line of powerful pure-blood wizards. He was known for his charm and striking features.
She would tell Blaise about how he was destined for greatness.
Years later, Blaise would learn from a cousin that his father met a violent death during the Wizarding War. He was a Death Eater.
When Blaise was younger he, like the rest of the wizarding world, saw his mother as happy and fulfilled. He grew to understand her gambit. She was never truly happy after his father died. He realized that the adoration and fame she received was a distraction. A distraction from her grief and the constant reminder that her worth was contingent on her looks. She was never without a smile and a husband. Behind that smile, Blaise understood, was loneliness and regret.
The door to the common room opened. He quickly emptied images of his mother from his mind.
In walked Pansy Parkinson disturbing Blaise from his trance. Blaise's stiff body remained. Pansy noticed his uneasiness and took that as an invitation.
She walked behind his chair and rubbed her hands over his head. Blaise flinched.
“I love your hair so much. So much nicer than Granger’s. I’m sure I saw a family of pixies living in it. Ha!” she laughed.
Pansy frequently complimented Blaise on his skin and hair. It used to make him feel appreciated.
Today it just made his skin crawl.
“What's wrong?” Pansy asked, scratching Blaise's scalp.
“Nothing,” Blaise replied.
“Fine,” said Pansy, annoyed, “You can always talk to me, my Black Knight.”
Pansy kissed Blaise's forehead and his entire body shuddered. Although the thought of Pansy, at the moment, made him sick, she could very well be part of his future.
Blaise pushed open the door to Horace Slughorn's office. Slughorn jerked his head up, startled, and then smiled.
“Mister Zabini, my dear boy,” beamed Slughorn, “Lovely to see you again. What do I owe the pleasure?”
“Sir, I had a few questions about Slytherin qualities. Our nature.”
“The nature of Slytherins, eh? What about it?”
“Have you ever made bad choices in order to survive? In order to be in the best position?
“In my experience, surviving and putting yourself in the best position are good choices. I'm still here aren't I?” Slughorn winked, “Tell me what is troubling you, my boy.”
“I feel as though my um... my background is,” Blaise paused to find his words.
“I'm Black, sir.”
“I'm aware.” chuckled Slughorn.
“In my years at Hogwarts, I have found... I'm treated in a way...”
“I'm going to stop you right there, son. You are a great student. One day you may be the most successful wizard of your time. People will see that. What you look like can't mask hard work and natural talent. You will one day achieve greatness and happiness beyond what both of your parents achieved.”
Blaise started to feel better. A smile slowly crept across his mouth.
“My boy you have so much promise. You come from the best stock. Your mother is striking and beloved. You're a handsome lad and will no doubt bore beautiful children.” Slughorn paused to take a sip of tea.
“You're in a wonderful position. Don't ruin your future with petty grievances with your future friends and colleagues.”
Blaise's heart sank again. His face turns into a grimace.
“Your classmates will spend the next few years, figuring out their place in our world. You've had the privilege of always knowing yours.”
“Yes, Professor.” Blaise chokes out.
“I hope I was of some assistance my boy. I hope you will attend my next Slug Club.”
“Yes, Professor.” Blaise
“Jolly good! I'll have to have tea with your mother one of these days. Very interesting woman.”
Blaise slowly walked toward the castle grounds. He thought about Professor Slughorn’s words and how true they felt. He thought about how long he had invested in his friends and their family connections. He thought about his bloodline and his mother. He thought about his plan.
Blaise thought about the years he'll have to spend in silence. The loneliness. The expectations. Smiling when all he wants to do is cry.
Blaise spots Crabbe, Goyle, Malfoy, and Parkinson sitting on the grass. He slowly walked toward his 'friends'. His jaw shifting as his teeth slide into a familiar resignation.
Bilal (@bilalipaup) comes from a long line of boisterous Gryffindors. They wanted to be closer to the kitchen and were sorted into Hufflepuff. Bilal is an exterminator by day and writer by night. The Chicago native writes Afrofuturism, urban fantasy, and historical fiction through a queer lens.