Three blocks away, Blaise realized he had no idea where he was going. But he put his hand in his pocket, and saw the letter from Minister Jenkins, the one he was finally going to show Des — the one that finally told him where to begin finding answers about his father — and decided it was as good a time as any to find Kenroy Williams. He didn’t need anyone, girlfriend or not, for that.
According to the address tucked inside the letter, Kenroy lived in a flat. Blaise had to ask someone, who also looked like a tourist, to help him find the place on a Muggle map. They didn’t even move, how ridiculous. Blaise realized, as he approached the large apartment complex, that he’d never been to one before. Especially not a huge Muggle one with elevators. He stood waiting for the doors to open, but they didn’t until a man came and pressed a button on the wall. Had it been hidden there? Did Muggles have magic to hide things in plain sight, or was he just distracted? Desiree would have known — he huffed and entered the elevator, shaking her out of his mind. He headed to the 7th floor and circled the floor until he found apartment 7B. Blaise wasn’t sure Williams knew he was coming, and he stood outside the door for a full minute before a noise inside startled him into action. He knocked.
Kenroy was a tall man, slightly taller than Blaise, but he stooped a bit, his back hunching as he opened the door. He froze when he saw who was standing on the other side.
“You’re Cas’ son alright,” he said with a faint laugh. “I couldn’t forget those cheekbones anywhere. Come on in.”
The apartment was sparsely decorated, but what little decor the man had was clearly from the wizarding world. There was a shrunken head with a painted red x on it, the plain beige rug warmed under Blaise’s feet when he stepped on it, and there was a mug on a wooden fold up table, spoon stirring gently on its own.
“Minister Jenkins told you I was coming?”
“She did, but she didn’t say what for. She told me to maybe not mention it to your ma.”
“Do you still hear from her, then? My mother?”
“She sends me money every sixth months — way more than I need — or she’ll send me trinkets, like the rug,” he nodded at the thin beige rug that had automatically begun cooling when Blaise noticed his dragon-leather sandals were starting to feel slippery. “Usually no note, but she’s sometimes updated me on how you’re doing. She was pregnant when I left Britain.”
Blaise knew there was much about his mother he didn’t know, didn’t ask about, and likely didn’t want to know. But she’d never been the type to fawn over him or gush about his accomplishments to other people. So to hear that she was giving periodic updates to a man he’d never even heard of…
“How did you meet them? My parents?”
“I was in Notting Hill. I didn’t hang out much in the wizarding world, but the Notting Hill Street Festival had a magical equivalent the same day — they could blame all the mess and commotion on the drunken Muggles — so I went to both. I still had a couple of wizarding friends, so we went out and celebrated. I’d seen Cas and Nic partying at the festival, your parents knew how to have a good time, boy! Hard to miss ‘em. Their outfits alone caused everyone to stop and look.” He paused, apparently remembering his manners. “Do you want something to drink?”
Blaise said, “sure,” and Kenroy got another cup. He made it the Muggle way, with a teabag from some company called Caribbean Dreams and he poured out the sugar by hand. But the water was hot and there was no indication of how it had gotten that way. Blaise couldn’t tell if it was magic or Muggle science. Not for the first time since he’d arrived at the building, he wished Desiree were there with him. She was always so attentive to these things and had taken Muggle Studies and would know the answer to his questions. He hated feeling so unsure. Blaise drank his tea, ginger, it’s warmth doing nothing to his insides without Desiree.
“Anyway,” Kenroy continued, “it was late and we were all a little fired up off some Ogden’s and it was time to head out. Most wizards Apparated out, but me being a Squib, I walked home. Didn’t even get around the corner before I was attacked by some white wizards.”
“Why?” Had Binns droned on about this stuff in History of Magic? He never covered anything after the year he died, though, so possibly not.
“Why? Who knows why they do any of this stuff. They knew I wasn’t magic, saw I was Black…Gave me jelly legs and watched my drunk-ass stumble around the street for several minutes, laughing away. I sprouted all kinds of tentacles, they jinxed me good that night. Thankfully no Unforgivables. They were some young kids, so they might not have had the power. Eventually, Cas and Nic came along and fought ‘em off. Unjinxed me. Helped me back to my place.”
“My mum? Did all that?” Blaise couldn’t keep the skepticism out of his voice. He didn’t doubt her power, just her boldness.
“Sure did. I admit it was mostly your dad. He was really big on helping others like that, I later learned. He came back the next morning before I’d even gotten up. Gave me some Pepper-up Potions for the hangover and the pain, and stayed to chat. Then he came by once a month and checked in on me. Saw that I had things I needed.” Here, Kenroy got a far off look. It didn’t look like he was going to cry, but Blaise still felt uncomfortable and looked out the large window, where he could see the waves from the beach in the distance. “When I heard he died, I didn’t know what to do. My wizarding friends tried to keep up with me, and we still exchange letters, but we’d grown up together. This was a wizard helping a Squib he’d never met before, for years. His wife has helped me for even longer. Neither ever had reason to help me, but Cas always said, ‘I will always protect my people.’ Most people count blood. Your dad was looking at something deeper.”
Blaise stared into his tea, taking in the massive amounts of new information he was receiving. It was starting to give him a headache.
“This is all really interesting, Mr. Williams. I appreciate it.” Blaise rose to go when Kenroy stopped him.
“Wait, here.” He shuffled off into a bedroom and came out two minutes later with a wad of letters. “Can you do one of them doubling spells? I think you’d like to read some of these.”
Kenroy handed over the letters and Blaise duplicated them, miniaturizing the stack and placing them in a pocket. Kenroy’s eyes widened at the use of magic, but he said nothing. Blaise wondered how long it had been since he’d seen wandwork.
“Your mum told me about the BSU. Good on you,” he said, clapping Blaise on the shoulder. “It’s something your father probably would have done.”
Blaise struggled with getting words out. He was never emotional like this. And Kenroy hadn’t even said much. But his mother told people about the BSU. She’d never said anything about it to him, other than nodding along when he mentioned having work to do for it. Hadn’t said anything when he quit trying to save his own skin — and hers. Had never ever told him his father would have created the same thing. He looked at Kenroy and eventually smiled a watery smile. He shook his hand, made sure Kenroy didn’t need anything, and went on his way.
He wandered towards the beach nearby. Blaise hadn’t been to the beach very often, especially not one so beautiful. He plopped down on the warm sand, took off his sandals, and laid back, casting a subtle charm to protect his skin from sunburn (but one that would provide a nice dusky tan).
He thought about his dad, first. A man he still didn’t quite know but found somewhere deep within himself. He laughed at the thought of his mother honing his father’s sense of justice, and Desiree honing his. They were opposites in nearly every way, but had a similar effect on the Zabini men. Perhaps that meant they just pointed them in the direction they were meant to go all along. He still wasn’t sure what direction that was for him — the BSU was part of it, but he didn’t know how to propel that forward. He needed to talk to—
He shook his head and thought about his mother next, and whether he was mad at her for not telling him this stuff about his dad or her past. Maybe Des’s Puff was rubbing off on him because he found he didn’t care much. He got it. She’d always been private, and she’d always held immense love for his father that she didn’t want to share with others. And what little she did share, she shared with people who knew him and could validate his existence with her. She told Blaise a few things, and left out much, much more, but he found he really didn’t have any interest in being upset with her for keeping her secrets. It was part of who she was, and it hadn’t quite harmed him in the end.
Except maybe it had. He’d kept so much from Desiree the entire tour. He confided in her more than anyone else, but he still couldn’t tell her the bigger things. The things that made him seem vulnerable. She wouldn’t care that he was feeling confused about his dad. She, of course, would never mock him or make him feel like it was stupid. He’d done that to himself.
He’d really screwed things up with Des, he thought as he slapped his hand to his forehead. He could feel now in his heart, as warm as the Jamaican sun beating on his face, that Desiree was on his road forward. She was the key to the successful life he wanted and needed, and not just because of how she pushed him to be better and make better choices. Just her existing in his life meant he’d been successful. He’s never thought about success outside of money or power before.
Blaise tried to remind himself that though she was mad at him now, she’d been mad at him before. She appreciated a true apology — changed behavior — and he’d likely have to grovel a bit for the jealousy, which was fine. He’d help her with whatever she needed with her parents, whatever she needed with Fortescue’s old place. He just had to…find her.
Blaise suddenly sat up, shaking sand from the linen of his shirt and out the short curls on his head.
“Jordan.” He and Des were supposed to meet up with Lee Jordan and his cousin Tia because she owned a bakery by the beach.
He walked around like a mad man, asking anyone about a beachside bakery. There were lots of confused looks from Muggles, but he finally spotted a man covertly slipping a wand into his pants pocket. The wizard knew exactly what he was talking about and pointed him in the right direction. Soon enough, Blaise arrived at a wooden shack, with an elaborate painted mural on the side. It depicted a Black woman, Blaise thought it might be a goddess, joyfully eating a cupcake. Blaise looked around and saw that none of the Muggles could see it, because the water goddess shimmered her fishy tail as she munched on the treat. Next to the happy goddess read: “Tia’s Magical Beach Bakery.”
It was a wizarding only establishment, he could see now, the way it shimmered in the heat waves as he walked toward it. That explained the strange looks from the Muggles, who couldn’t see what he was gawking at. It was lightly attended and warm inside. He wondered why no one had cast a cooling charm, but he thought about how Desiree liked the heat of the oven, something about it ensuring it really felt like you were baking.
Lee Jordan sat at a long green counter, laughing at two women behind it. One being Desiree, the other likely being Tia. Both were in aprons, and Desiree had her hands deep in a bowl, mixing some kind of dough. She had flour on her left cheek and it shimmered like a highlighter from her magical make-up kit as she giggled at whatever the three of them were talking about. He stepped closer and cleared his throat. The warmth and fun of the moment all turned cold, but he’d spent seven years living in cold dungeons. He could take their glares.
Well, Lee and Desiree were glaring. Tia had raised her eyebrow and said to Desiree, “This is the boy you’re upset wit? Mad you are. I could never be angry at him!” She leered at Blaise, making him just a little more uncomfortable than he thought he was.
“What are you doing here, mate? She told you to clear off, didn’t she?” Lee smirked as he turned towards Blaise. They’d never gotten along, even in their BSU days, and Blaise had merely nodded along when Desiree told him they were planning to meet up with Lee. He was originally sure he wasn’t even invited. But he was here to make things right, so he tightened his jaw and smiled at Lee. Lee’s eyebrows nearly magically lifted right into his locs.
“Hey, Lee. Good to see you.” That shut him up. Blaise held back a smirk. He shifted his gaze. “Hey Des. Can we talk?”
“My hands are literally full, Blaise. You can talk right here.” And with that, Desiree went back to whatever molding and shaping she was doing to the dough in the bowl, her concentration fixed on her brown hands in the pale, shimmering dough, but he knew she would listen to what he had to say. He just…hadn’t wanted to say it in front of other people. But he knew that his error was a public one, so she deserved a public apology.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t respect your wishes,” Blaise said, stepping next to where Lee was at the counter.
Lee sucked his teeth, but Desiree gave him a soft, smiling reprimand. She was blushing under all that flour.
“I stepped out of line, twice. And I apologize. I have no right to be jealous when I know you are the friendliest, nicest, most loyal person that I know. And I had no right to speak about your dreams to your parents, especially without talking to you about it first.” He leaned his elbows on the counter, tilting his head to look into her still downcast eyes. They were sparkling liquid brown, like the rich browned butter that went into butterbeer. “And I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you about the letter.”
When she still didn’t respond, he reached for her hands in the batter — Lee gave an exclamatory, “Oh come on bruv, we were going to eat that!” — and held them in his. The batter was sticky around her plump hands, which were warm and trembling.
“I need you to forgive me. I’ve got no one else to tell about all the stuff I learned about my dad today,” he said in an innocent sing-song voice. Teasing her with a taste of his vulnerability was the ticket.
Her eyes rose sharply, finally making eye contact. “What? Is…is that what you’ve been doing all this time instead of finding me?” She said the last bit with a sniff.
“She’s been waiting for hours,” Tia said. “Thought you’d remember right away. I reminded her you’re a man, and therefore you probably forgot.” She cocked her hip against the counter, clearly amused.
“Yeah. I’ve got quite a bit to tell you. Thanks to your granny Genie,” Blaise said. “She wants to meet me by the way. I promise not to reveal any long-held desires when I do.” He took a breath. “If you’ll…still let me?”
Desiree sighed, squinting back into his dark brown eyes with her own. Then she shook her head. “There was no getting rid of you, Zabini. I love you too much.” She rolled her eyes and pulled one of her hands from his, bopping him on both cheekbones with flour. Blaise’s “hey” was muffled by Desiree fully grabbing his face with her doughy hands and popping a kiss on his mouth. It tasted like peppermint lip gloss and rum cake.
“Ugh,” Lee moaned. “You two are right disgusting. I miss the days when it was angsty looks across the Astronomy classroom. Somehow that was less nauseating. And I was popping Puking Pastille antidotes to get through it.”
Blaise didn’t even care. A weight had lifted off his chest. He still had a lot to figure out, but he had the best girl in the world to figure it out with.
They headed out for a night of dancing with Lee and Tia — Desiree mostly danced while Blaise two-stepped for a couple of songs before sitting down near the exit and nursing a blazin’ rum punch. He watched Tia wine-up on Desiree in a way that made him entirely uncomfortable.
When Desiree came and plopped down beside him, taking a big gulp of his drink, he pointed at Tia, still commanding the dance floor. “You know she’s been flirting with you, right?”
Des scoffed as she fanned her curls off her neck, giving him a side-eye and a roll of the eyes somehow at once, before casting a spell that dampened the loud club music around them so they could hear one another. “Yeah, she’s been flirting with you too, you idiot. She’s flirty. It’s not a big deal. I swear, I didn’t know you had this much of a jealous streak in you, Zabini.”
Blaise tensed, though he could see her smirking in the dim club, her teeth glinting in the colorful lights strobing about.
“Look,” she said, “I think it’s a little sweet — when the annoyed honey badger within me retreats — but I very clearly chose you. I have no reason to look for anyone else, nor am I interested in being tempted. I would love for us to go back to when you didn’t freak out every time I talked to literally anyone else.”
Blaise sighed, and slumped in his chair, draining the last of the punch. The glass automatically refilled, but he handed it off to Des, who was still panting a bit. “Yeah, it’s just…at Hogwarts, I knew there was no competition.”
“There’s still no competition. I saw you come back from the beach with that delicious tan.” Desiree leered at him in the dim lights of the club. Blaise blushed a little.
“Anyway, those nutters weren’t good enough for you. But we’re in the real world now, with people who…know what they want to do with their lives. Do you know how weird it is that I haven’t started working yet? Even Nott got a job in Knockturn. I have a perfectly boring job lined up for me and I don’t want to go. What does that say about me? About my ambition?”
“It says you haven’t found what you actually want to be ambitious about. And that’s okay. It would be surprising if you went into the Ministry exactly as planned since you were eleven years old. Especially after the last few years we’ve had. Your dreams and goals are allowed to change as you have, Blaise.” She reached up and gently pulled at a short coil at his temple. He’d noticed she liked to play in his hair as much as he liked to play in hers. Maybe he was growing it out for her, maybe he just liked the style.
He looked at her, knowing she was right, and knowing that there was something that had been rising inside him since he formed the Hogwarts BSU, since he met her, since just a few hours ago when he met Kenroy and learned more about his dad. He just had to give it some time.
“Now come on,” Des huffed, taking a big gulp of punch and handing it back to him, “drink. You owe me two more dances — no don’t give me that look, you know you have penance to pay, Zabini. We’re going to dance, we’re going back to my parents, I’ll sing at tomorrow’s show, then we’re packing our stuff and we’re leaving early. We’ll help Nana set up for the Harlem gala. And then we’re getting off this damn world tour. I want to go home.”
And with this, she ushered him to drink and dragged him off to the dance floor, where he was caught between laughing and grimacing all night with two very energetic women dancing him in circles.
“Desiree this is ridiculous, you don’t have to leave early—”
“I do, Mum. I sang the set, the crowd went wild, but I nearly threw up on a very white sandy beach. I need to leave before you try, once again, to convince me that this is what I want. I want far away from this.” Desiree was, of course, standing her ground, and Blaise found it incredibly hard not to back her up. But he’d promised her he’d keep his mouth shut, and shut it he did.
“Well, fine. No singing. But seriously. A bakery?”
“You can support me or not, but it’s happening. I don’t actually need you to weigh in on this. Which is why I hadn’t mentioned it.”
“And what about your father? You didn’t even want his opinion?” Desiderius and Celestina were out meeting some of the recipients of Celestina’s charity work, partially to avoid this very fight.
“I didn’t need it. Daddy supports me in everything. So does Nana. It’s just you who picks and picks and picks at me until I feel like a popped, deflated balloon.” She imitated the sound of a large balloon losing its air with her mouth, dramatically slumping forward.
“There’s just so much potential in you, Desi-dear…”
“Yeah, there is Mum. It’s just not what you envision. I have the potential to be a great baker. To have a shop that rivals even Fortescue’s. I know I do. I thought it was just going to be a hobby all this time, just something I like to do when I’m mad or sad or whatever. But I’m good at it, and I work hard at it, and it doesn’t make me sick with anxiety when I do it. It’s just funny that despite having a Slytherin mother, it was my Slytherin boyfriend who encouraged me to be more ambitious about it.”
Blaise flushed, not expecting to be dragged into the conversation.
“But,” Desiree continued, “he did. He’s encouraged me, he’s listened when I said I didn’t want to be a singer — well, he tried to do like you did once. But when I said no, he stopped.”
Diahanna sank into a nearby chair, her flowing robes draping around her regally, belying the pensive, sad look on her face.
“Well, I’m sorry I haven’t done better to learn how to make you happy. I’ve done a lot to make sure my vision for this family was carried out to perfection and didn’t want to see that you didn’t want to be a part of that. I just, I want you to be a part of it Desiree.”
“I am, Mum, I always will be. But you have to let me do my own thing. And eat whatever I want.”
Diahanna huffed at that but didn’t say another word. Desiree went over to her and hugged her mother right in the chair. It was a tight hug and lasted longer than Blaise thought it would, but in the end, Desiree rose and walked to stand next to him. He was proud of her. It wasn’t that he’d doubted her ability to stand up for herself, but for the first time in his life, he’d wanted to stand up for someone else. The only other time he’d felt that way was about the BSU when anyone — especially Umbridge — talked shit. He guessed he’d found his small circle, where even people like Lee made the cut of his defense, but Desiree? She was the very center.
“We’re still leaving,” Des was saying when he tuned back in. “We’re helping set up the hotel for Nana’s gala. But I love you, Mum. Even when you drive me crazy.”
“I love you too, Desi-dear. Even when it seems like I don’t.”