Blaise Zabini looked at his mother with a suspicious glare. “Why are we here, Mum?” he asked, glancing around the foyer of the discrete building in the middle of Paris that they’d Apparated directly into. Crystal chandeliers, complete with twinkling pixies, shined above them and their sharp shoes, clacked loudly on the marble.
Nicola Josephine Zabini put on an air of innocence. It didn’t suit her.
“Don’t look at me like that. Henri invited us. It would have been rude to reject him so soon at the beginning of our courtship. Now come along.” And with that, she tugged on his velvet robed arm and pulled him into an immaculately furnished room.
Blaise and his mother had been invited by her latest paramour, Henri Avis — a French wizard Nicola had begun seeing after the end of the Second Wizarding War. (Blaise didn’t ask what happened to her previous boyfriend. He’d disappeared on the night of the Battle of Hogwarts, Nicola said, and Blaise knew not to ask questions.) Henri’s invitation was to a Beauxbatons alumni gala and Nicola had insisted Blaise Apparate with her because she hated traveling long distances alone. “Henri will already be in France helping to organize the event; you wouldn’t want your mother popping all over Europe alone would you?” Blaise had reluctantly agreed, hoping to connect with his mother in the wake of the war and his graduation-of-sorts from Hogwarts. But now that he’d arrived, he saw her game.
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to. You’ve been dropping hints all summer,” Blaise said with an arch of his eyebrow.
His arm was still clutched in his mother’s grasp as they tried not to bump into the many, many eligible bachelorettes that were at the event. They giggled and whispered to each other in French as Nicola and Blaise strode through the room to the table of honor. Nicola didn’t move out of the way for anyone.
“What?” she said with a small whine. “I’m just trying to set you up right!”
It had not escaped Blaise’s notice that he was one of only a few men there. Nor did it escape his notice that they were the only Black people there. But that he was used to, especially in the wealthier circles of the Wizarding World where his parents, the Shacklebolts, and the Jenkins were the main Black families who ran in the upper echelon. The rest were usually long-standing Muggle-born and half-blood families who, though doing very well for themselves, were not invited to the parties that Nicola was invited to.
As they sat down in their seats, their place settings magically appeared before them and Blaise felt a pang of guilt he’d rarely felt outside of Hogwarts before: there were probably house-elves somewhere near, magicking these plates up. But before he could think about the person who introduced this newfound guilt into his heart, he was made to stand as Henri approached them at the table.
Henri was tall and white, with slick honey blonde hair, blue eyes, and a magical tattoo of what looked like four spikes framing his left eyebrow. Its black ink shimmered in the bright candle-lit chandeliers. Blaise shook the man’s hand firmly and looked him straight in the eye as he did so. Instinct bred from living through a time of war clocked Henri’s wand, poking just out of the long-tailed silver jacket he wore over his tight-fitting black breeches, paired with shining silver boots. His mother’s suitors always saw him as some nuisance, some little boy they didn’t have to deal with because he’d be in school. This was his first time greeting one of his mother’s men as a grown wizard. He wanted to make it count.
“Bonjour, Monsieur Avis. Comment allez-vous?” Blaise said in French, smirking at the surprise on Henri’s face.
“Ah, bonjour Monsieur Zabini. I didn’t know you spoke French. Your mother gets so flustered when I do.” Blaise merely nodded. He knew not to tell Henri that she was the one who taught him the language.
Henri kissed Nicola on the cheek — Blaise saw him go for the mouth, but Nicola smoothly turned her head — and the three of them sat down and began to eat. During the meal, Blaise began to get an inkling of why this man was Nicola’s new favorite.
“Well,” he said with a smarmy French accent, “I come from a long line of foreign industrialists. We recently finished an amazing series of projects in the West Indies to stimulate wood production for wands.” He pulled out his own wand and pointed out the solenodon whisker core (“makes for a lightweight wand and piercing spells,” he said) and unique stylings that made it clear it wasn’t an Ollivander’s original.
Blaise read between the lines: they used magical native labor to produce wands and wand cores for white wizards. Lee Jordan had told the Hogwarts BSU of his parents’ frequent trips to the Caribbean and the French “business-wizards” trying to carve out a new wand market in the absence of Ollivander.
During the meal, Nicola giggled and placed her hand on Henri’s arm and flipped her long silky black hair over her shoulder to show her honey brown décolletage. Blaise did his best not to gag into his firewhisky. But it was after dinner that became the true burden for Blaise when Henri and Nicola got up to dance. Girls began to scurry over to his table, taking Nicola’s empty seat and attempting to flirt with him.
“Did you fight in the Battle of Hogwarts? You must be such a skilled dueller!”
“Your skin is so chocolate. We French love chocolate.”
Blaise knew his mother meant well. She’d spent her childhood poorer than the Weasleys — no family house, no farm, no siblings to support her as she and her father scraped by. Then she met Cas Zabini, whose wealthy family emigrated to the U.K. so he could attend Hogwarts. When he died just a year after they got married, Nicola inherited all of his money. When she married the Death Eater who killed Cas, she inherited his money too — when he mysteriously vanished after the fall of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Formerly poor Nicola then kept marrying up, amassing fortunes. Now, there was no real concern for Blaise’s financial future (Nicola had certainly collected enough in widow’s benefits over the years), but she was still constantly worried that it would disappear. So she looked for younger wealthy women to introduce to Blaise. And what better than wealthy French women? It wasn’t in Nicola’s opinion that Blaise needed to love these women. He just needed to marry one.
But Blaise didn’t want to marry a random French girl. It was too soon to tell if he wanted to marry at all — but if he were going to, it wouldn’t be someone his mother set him up with. Desiree Warbeck was all Blaise wanted, but his mother didn’t know about her yet.
After their half-courtship at Hogwarts, Blaise and Desiree finally got together at the end of the war, no house rivalries or baby Death Eaters keeping them apart. Desiree was finally impressed with the man Blaise had become. They began dating after school ended, and while they weren’t keeping it a secret (their mutual friends in the BSU knew — most of them saying “about time” and rolling their eyes when they found out about the couple) neither of their families knew. Desiree’s parents toured with her grandmother, the esteemed songstress Celestina Warbeck, and Nicola liked to travel around the world with one husband or the next. They weren’t there for the gossip from any local villagers who saw them around, and the young couple was still settling into both their new relationship and the aftermath of the war as quietly as they could.
Blaise looked at the latest girl. This one was French-Moroccan, going by her actually intriguing story and smooth dark skin, and though she was beautiful and not quite as vapid as the others seemed, she still only made him miss Desiree.
“I’m sorry. I’ve got to go,” he told her, placing his napkin on the table and watching it vanish immediately. He rose to find his mother, whispering in the corner with Henri. They weren’t kissing, but rather canoodling, giggling about the other guests, their faces not so far apart. Nicola looked disappointed to see him leaving unaccompanied.
“I’m going back to the manor,” he told her.
“Oh, dear, you should stay! There will be cake!”
“That’s okay, Mum. I had some yesterday.” And with that, he twirled his long robes right around and headed out.
“I think I should tell my mum about you,” Blaise said a week later. They were at the Zabini Manor, which was tucked away in a mixed Muggle-Wizarding part of the country, hidden by concealment charms. He stared up at the ceiling of his living room, hand buried in Desiree’s hair as she laid on his chest. She sighed softly.
“I suppose it’s been long enough, huh.” She rubbed her nose against the soft material of his robes, as if trying to nuzzle deeper into him. Something, Blaise could tell, was making her nervous.
“The rumors about my mother are greatly exaggerated. You have nothing to worry about. Honestly, you’re exactly the kind of girl she wants for me.”
“It’s not that. I’m very excited to meet your mother. Just…thinking about mine.”
It was Blaise’s turn to sigh. He hadn’t met Diahanna Jenkins-Warbeck but knew the daughter of the first Black female Minister of Magic, Eugenia Jenkins, married into the family after meeting Desiderius Warbeck. She was working for a rival songstress and kept meeting Desiderius at venues. They’d known each other briefly at school, but their mutual interest in live magical music brought them together. It didn’t take long for Diahanna to abandon rising star Coralia Chordice to revive Celestina’s, at the time, dwindling career. Diahanna, a Slytherin through-and-through, never met a challenge she couldn’t face. Even with the public denouncement of her family name (and the racism attached to it all) plus the Wizarding War and its aftermath, Diahanna married Desiderius, turned Celestina’s career around, and raised a daughter. She was the reason Celestina was still on tour — the managerial powerhouse of the Warbeck family. But Diahanna’s fierceness in getting her way often divided her and Desiree, who didn’t want to join the family business.
“She owled, by the way,” Desiree said after a while. “She thinks it’s time I come out on tour. She insists once I’m on the road with them, I’ll feel it.” She sighed a raspberry into the fabric of his chest. He rubbed her shoulder and kissed into the mane of her hair.
“Let’s get my mum over with and we’ll deal with yours after. I’ll tell her I want to have dinner.” He was always better at developing simple plans of attack and smoothly executing them.
“I don’t know if I can leave just now, Blaise-dear. I think Henri might be coming down with something.” There was an anxious lilt to her voice as he listened to her talk through the fire (she’d rebuffed an answer via owl and insisted they Floo-chat instead). Coming down with something, indeed. She had no patience for this one, it seemed.
“I have someone I want you to meet,” he said then, knowing it would pique her interest. She’d never met anyone he was connected to. Not a girl, not any of his school friends, no one.
“So you did meet someone at Henri’s little party,” she gushed. “I knew you would. Does she go to Gringotts or Les Guichet Magique?” Blaise hated when his mother brought up banking.
“Mum, no. This is someone from school.”
“Oh, Merlin, not that Parkinson girl. Her mother has been trying to set you up with her since you were in nappies. That girl’s Gringotts vault is about as empty as her head.”
Blaise rolled his eyes, grimacing at the fact that he would still be giving her the satisfaction when she found out about Desiree, but not in the way that he cared.
“It’s not Parkinson. It’s, er, Warbeck. Desiree Warbeck.”
There was a pause. “What’s her Gringot—”
“Stop it, Mum. I’m not doing this with you. Let’s just do dinner. Come to London this week.”
“Fine. You may not want to tell me, but you know I’ll find out. Celestina Warbeck tours are always sold out,” she said with a flashy smile painted in a dark red.
“Let’s do Thursday,” Blaise said, ignoring her. “And I’m not coming to get you.”
She pouted, but consented.
Thursday afternoon, Blaise was at one of Desiree’s smaller Jenkins family homes, where she lived with some older cousins on her mother’s side while the family was on tour. He watched as she flicked her wand at the clothes in her closet, narrowly missing a bright pink jumper flung in his direction as he sat at the ottoman at the end of her bed.
“Des. I thought you weren’t worried about my mum.”
“I wasn’t when I was worried about mine. But we’ve tabled that for now, and now I’m worried about your mum! I know the kind of girls she usually tries to set you up with, and I am not that.” She plopped down cross-legged in front of the closet. She was wearing her favorite pair of cow pajamas. It made Blaise smirk. He’d first kissed her in those pajamas. He walked over to sit down beside her.
“My mother is not scary. She’s…determined, and okay a bit money hungry. But she is not scary. She’s so not scary that she’s been widowed five times and people keep wanting to marry her. She’s going to find you charming and has likely already seen your Gringotts vault numbers and will be pleased as pie.”
Desiree sighed and leaned her head against Blaise’s shoulder. “I still want her to like me for me though. Not just for all the gold in my bank account. Which is my grandmother’s gold anyway, as she’s always keen to remind me. ‘It’s not yours ‘til I’m dead, Desi-dear. I loan you money and you repay me with hugs and kisses.’”
Blaise laughed and leaned his head on top of hers. He stared at the clothes in her closet — they were still floating in a circle. “You should wear the green.” Desiree gave him a side look. “Not because me and Mum are Slytherin. You…you just look good in the green.”
Desiree’s look gave way to a pleased smirk. She kissed his cheek with a pop and bounced to pull the green outfit — a slick dress with a peplum flare that accentuated her curves — from the closet and dashed into the bathroom. He couldn’t get over her boundless energy and resilience.
He flopped back onto her plushly carpeted floor as his heart became overwhelmed with his feelings for her. And now they were making it real. Really real. Blaise could hear Desiree humming from the bathroom and he lay on her carpet, content. He really didn’t care what either of their families had to say about it. This wasn’t going anywhere.