If you were to ask her, Nicola Randolph would have never picked getting into a Slughorn party as the most difficult part of her final year at Hogwarts — especially because every year before this she had been a proud member of the Slug Club.
It was only when one of the stupid Carrow twins pointed out that it wasn’t she who was the heir of the Zabini fortune, but her on-again-off-again boyfriend Cas, that Slughorn even realized there was a problem. If she were being honest with herself, under usual circumstances, she wouldn’t care that she was kicked out of the club. Slughorn tended to drone on and on about all the famous wizards he knew and the interesting encounters he had and blah blah blah blah blah. The Christmas party wasn’t that fun either, but it was the only real chance Nicola had at securing her dream job at Borgin and Burke’s. She knew that the shop was questionable, but the thought of traveling the world in search of rare and unique magical artifacts excited her.
The store hadn’t hired anyone in ages, but she had spent the parties in the last few years buttering up old lady Burke, and this year of all years, when she needed to be there the most, Nicola had gotten kicked out. (She had toyed with the idea of dragging Alecto by her thin red hair but settled for jinxing the twins’ pumpkin juice instead. She needed to actually graduate Hogwarts if she wanted that Borgin and Burke’s job).
Normally she would coerce Cas to help her, but he had
A) graduated, and
B) for the first time in their relationship decided to break up with her so that he could “focus on his career.” The shock of the whole thing had left her unable to process, but she was certain that he would never find anyone like her, and would come crawling back by graduation.
So here she was the day after Halloween, in need of a suitable ticket holder to be her date to the party. The problem was that Hogwarts was small, and people talked, and her ex-boyfriend was very much well-liked despite Slytherin’s “reputation.” So much so that even though she considered herself one of the best-looking people in the entire castle, not one bloke had made a move the entire semester.
She didn’t know any of the single people in Slug Club, and therefore couldn’t attend the party as “friends” because she wasn’t friends with them. Which meant she had to flirt. Luckily, flirting came easy to Nicola, and even though there was the added complication of Cas and the comradery he had inadvertently mustered up, in the end, a pretty girl who laughs at your bad jokes always wins.
Sirius Black being her last option would probably be shocking to some people. She had overheard several third years in the baths giggling about how hot he was despite him being a “blood traitor.” And though she didn’t agree with their blood purist misgivings, they were right. Sirius with his long dark hair, sharp cheekbones, and feathery eyelashes was a sight to behold.
The problem was he was also a bit of a jackass. He and his friends didn’t seem to take anything seriously, so Nicola wasn’t surprised that he had never been to any of Slughorn’s parties because they weren’t his “scene.” The boy couldn’t sniff out potential if it were right under his nose. Side effects of being born into a rich pureblood family, she supposed.
Sirius being hot should have made seducing him easier. The boy also got around (with damn near anyone), which gave Nicola pause. She wasn’t a prude, but she liked men with more discretion (Marlene McKinnon AND Moses Parx honestly Sirius).
The other problem was that he was in the year below her and a different house, so actually being close enough to seduce him was almost impossible. Or, it would have been until she got detention for telling Levi Berhana that he was a prat rather loudly in the library. Nicola was so excited she almost cheered, but she remembered herself.
Ever the habitualist, Sirius was indeed in detention, along with his mousy looking friend. Grateful that she had decided to put on lipstick that morning, she quickly and discreetly sniff-checked herself before sliding into a seat next to him.
Sirius was cordial, but he was not giving in to her bait, and Nicola tried everything! She paid him various compliments, touched his arm, laughed at his jokes (albeit he wasn’t telling the joke to her, but still). She even threw in a few jokes herself, all to no avail. By the end of detention, all she had was a sour attitude and a blow to her ego. He wasn’t even her first choice!
As they were getting up to leave, Sirius’s other friends came by to pick him up, as if he was in daycare. Nicola watched them as Sirius and the boy with shaggy hair and glasses fought over a bag of crisps. She really couldn’t figure out where she’d gone wrong — until the tallest of his friends (she had heard the mousy one call him Remus) snatched the bag from both Sirius and the glasses kid.
Sirius stumbled into the boy’s chest and Nicola learned several things during that exchange. The first was that someone as pale as Sirius Black could turn violently red in record timing. Another was that despite being the shape of a twig, Remus had a firm butt, which Sirius was admiring as Remus walked toward the bin, tossing the crisps bag away. The third thing, and the one that was the most important to her, was that all her flirting would be useless. Sirius must have realized he was staring a lot longer than publicly acceptable, because he quickly looked away, relieved that none of his friends seemed to be the wiser.
The next day, after lunch Nicola stopped him by the statue of Merlin.
“Do I know you?” he asked trepidatiously.
“No, but I know you, and I know your secret.”
“Aren’t you dating that Zabini guy?” he continued, completely ignoring her. “How would he feel about you hitting on me behind Merlin of all people?”
“We broke up.” She answered, cursing Merlin that she couldn’t shake the shadow of Cas Zabini if she was on a Nimbus 1200.
“Look, you aren’t my type, though I am flattered,” he dismissed her, turning to walk away.
“Oh, I know that you like em a little more broad-chested, and taller…” she said, now bemused.
“Me liking men isn’t a secret,” he snorted. “I’m open to all types of love!” he shouted, startling a bunch of first-years who happened to be walking by.
“So your best friend knows you’re in love with him?” If she thought Sirius was red before, it was nothing compared to right now.
“Who—who told you that?” He whispered angrily. Nicola almost felt bad for him. The poor boy wore his emotions the way he wore leather jackets.
“You did,” she smiled, “just now.” Knowing she was playing a dangerous game, she quickly continued. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.” Just as quickly as his face reddened, it drained of color.
“What, you won’t tell anyone unless I do something for you?” He spat. Despite his anger, Nicola could feel the burden lift off her chest. This wasn’t what she had in mind, but if it would get her what she wanted so be it.
“You’re going to take me to Slughorn’s Christmas party,” she said almost triumphantly.
He stared at her in disbelief. “That’s it, that’s all you want?”
“Believe it or not Black, you don’t have anything else of value to me.” Nicola mused.
“How do I know you’ll keep my secret after I take you to the party?” Sirius pushed, clearly not satisfied with her answer.
“Because I’m not in the business of outing people,” she stated firmly, as she twirled her wand.
“Unless it’s blackmail?”
“I never said I wasn’t in the business of blackmail, Sirius, pay attention,” Nicola chided.
“Okay, fine I’ll just give you my ticket. I had no intention of going to that stupid party anyway,” he shrugged, ready to end this conversation, but Nicola shook her head.
“No you noob, you have to go with me. Your name is on the invitation. Besides, me next to a Black is the kind of notability I need among Slughorn’s acquaintances.”
“Haven’t you heard?” Sirius asked, sarcasm tracing the edge of his voice. “I’m the bad egg of the family. Been disowned and everything. If you wanted someone from the prestigious house of Black, you should’ve asked Regulus.”
“I did.” Nicola returned, matter of fact. “But he’s too young to be in the Slug Club. You should give your mum a little credit, she managed to keep your family business under wraps. At least from the people, I need to impress.”
Sirius didn’t say anything, staring silently at the statue in front of him, which admittedly, made Nicola nervous.
“What? Do you need me to cast an Unbreakable Vow or something?” she joked. He looked up at her and the smile on her face faded. “I was joking.”
“I don’t have any reason to trust you, so honestly yeah, an Unbreakable Vow,” he counter-offered.
Nicola took a deep breath. She did apprehend him prepared to negotiate, but she had assumed it would be about whether or not she’d let him get to second base, not an Unbreakable Vow. However, she had no intention of telling anyone — it wasn’t her business — so she wasn’t really in danger.
“Fine, take me to the party, be on your best behavior, and I will make an Unbreakable Vow to keep your secret,” she stuck out her hand to finalize. He stared at it and then grabbed it.
When he let go, he seemed to be in good spirits.
“You know, you could’ve just asked me to the party,” he said. Nicola scoffed.
“I spent all of detention trying to seduce you, but I guess I was too short for you to notice,” she quipped back.
After their deal, Nicola suggested that they start spending time together so people would ask fewer questions. To her surprise, Sirius agreed, and so they went to a Quidditch game together, and studied together in the library (or tried to, he spent a good amount of time pranking his friend James). Sirius was good at playing it up, but she knew he was doing it out of obligation and almost felt bad about the whole thing.
The day of the Christmas party, Nicola is surprisingly nervous. She really needed this to go well, and in the pit of her stomach, she was uneasy about trusting Sirius with something so important. The fact that this was the last chance she had to secure the Borgin and Burke’s job before graduating filled her with dread.
But she couldn’t linger on her thoughts, it was causing her to mess up her hair. She had cast at least three different spells trying to get her hair to curl up and feather out just like Diana Ross. If anything went wrong at least she would look stunning in her purple slouchy silk maxi dress.
She found Sirius waiting for her right outside of the Slytherin entrance with flowers. Nicola couldn’t decide if she was more taken aback by the flowers or by the fact that he looked so…good.
“Are these for me?” she asked, trying to reign in her shock.
“No,” he dryly quipped, “they’re for Regulus.”
She rolled her eyes as she took the flowers from him and went back into the common room to put them in a vase. As planned, they arrived 20 minutes late (both of them agreeing that notable people don’t attend things on time), the party in full swing.
Not one to be outdone, Slughorn’s office was elegantly decorated. There was garland made from what looked like real long needle pine delicately draped around the room with little candles nestled inside. Ivy with little red flowers swooped from the ceiling, making the whole place feel like an enchanted forest.
Nicola’s eyes swept over the crowd, searching for Katarina Burke. She was so engrossed she barely registered the decorations and almost didn’t notice Sirius trying to leave.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Nicola whispered through clenched smiling teeth.
“I got you in, didn’t I? I made an appearance, hell even Slughorn saw us, I feel like my job is done now.”
“No way, Black!” Nicola tried her best to contain her frustration. “The deal was that you’d see this through.”
“Was it though?” he challenged just as Thameus Philbane, of Philbane cauldrons, walked up to them.
“Excuse me, young lady, you wouldn’t happen to be related to Minister Jenkins would you?” Sirius turned his head away, trying hard not to laugh. Nicola swallowed both the annoyance and the volatile words that rose to the tip of her tongue.
This wasn’t the first time an old white man had confused her for one of the few Black students at Hogwarts and it probably wouldn’t be the last, but if she wanted a job, she was going to have to move past her desire to turn his bowtie into a cockroach.
“No,” she said, smiling as she stuck out her hand, “My name is Nicola Randolph, Mr. Philbane. And might I say that your cauldrons are top-notch, best in the business.” Despite the compliments, Thameus Philbane looked less interested to be in conversation with Nicola now that he knew she was a nobody, but the guilt from his faux pas resulted in him chatting with her for a little longer, all the while Sirius watched bemused. When Philbane wandered off, Sirius all but pounced on the awkward interaction.
“You know you do kind of look like Diahanna from the side,” he mused.
“Shut it,” Nicola snapped. “At least I got his card.” She triumphed.
“Yeah, you might as well throw that away. He’s not going to remember who you are.”
“And how do you know?” Nicola demanded.
“Because, I’m a Black, remember?” Sirius was embellishing now, but he dropped the niceties as he continued, “I know the inner working of these high society types.”
“And you think I don’t?” Nicola challenged. “I’m da-I dated one of these high society types, I know how to work a room, Sirius.”
Sirius scoffed. “Cas isn’t like these people. He’s different, kinder. Like the Potters. They aren’t poisoned by stupid things like blood status.”
“If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were in love with James too,” Nicola quipped. The thoughtful innocence on Sirius’ face dropped quickly at Nicola’s words.
“That’s not funny,” he hissed. Nicola put her hands up as a sign of apologies.
“Sorry, but it’s preposterous of you to think that you can work a room better than me.”
Sirius stared at her in contemplation. “Wanna bet?”
“Whoever gets the most business cards by the end of the night wins,” Sirius proposed.
“What do they win? I already told you, you don’t have that much to offer me.”
Sirius stepped closer to her. “I can get you into the prefect’s bathroom,” he whispered.
Nicola’s hair hit the back of her neck as she quickly snapped her neck to look up at him. She searched his face for some sort of fallacy but could find none. For years she had had to deal with the stringy hair littered all over the bathroom in the girls’ dormitory. The elves did their best to clean every couple of days, but it wasn’t enough. She had heard rumors of the pristineness of the prefect’s bathroom. It smelled like lavender, had a ginormous bathtub, but most importantly it sparkled like a diamond.
She was going to win.
“Deal,” she said, sticking out her hand, mind already made up.
“You didn’t ask what I wanted if I won though,” Sirius mused.
“You aren’t going to win Sirius,” Nicola stated.
Sirius chuckled. “When I win,” he continued. “I want you to break up with me publicly at breakfast tomorrow.” Nicola looked at him with a confused look on her face.
“Um…what?” She asked, trying to understand this odd request.
“Dating you has put a strain on my other prospects, the world needs to know that I’m single again.”
“Sirius, you’ve been single the whole time, we aren’t dating. No offense, but you aren’t my type.”
“Yes, but everyone else doesn’t know that we’ve been fake dating, remember?” Nicola found Sirius’ request odd. He could have dated other people this whole time, it’s what she would’ve done in his position.
“Fine,” she sighed, sticking her hand out once again. Sirius eagerly grabbed it before the two went their separate ways to chat up all the unsuspecting adults at this party.
Nicola had to admit that making this a competition had given networking a breath of life. In the past, when she had attended the parties with Cas, she was happy to be in her boyfriend’s company, but it felt a bit stodgy. Competing with Sirius gave her an edge, though it did not give her any real desire to work anywhere besides Borgin and Burkes. During her career advice meeting, Slughorn had suggested she find a backup plan.
“Just in case your original doesn’t work out.”
And despite laughing at him (resulting in 10 points taken from Slytherin) she always kept that thought in the back of her mind.
After talking to a second Alchemist—both of whom seemed to be working with Nicholas Flamel, how much help did the old man need?—Nicola turned to see Sirius in a somewhat precarious situation. The boy had the same expression on his face when she had questioned him about Remus.
“You should be asha—”
“Sirius is everything all right?” Nicola interrupted, staring daggers at the old man who was a bit red in the face.
“We are in the middle of a conver—”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Nicola hissed, “unless, of course, your name is also Sirius Black?” Nicola stared at the man blankly, challenging him to cause a scene. From the corner of her eye, she could see Sirius’ shoulders start to relax.
As she pulled Sirius away, he called over his shoulder: “Always a pleasure Uncle Geoffrey.”
The two stop walking when they reach a table full of food. Nicola was about to open her mouth and let Sirius out of his agreement to stay when he let out the breath he’d been holding.
“You’re like my knight in shining armor,” he joked half-heartedly, clearly uncomfortable about having to be saved at all.
She wanted to ask him if that man was truly his uncle, and what that had been about, when they were interrupted by the object of his affection and his date, a pretty redhead girl with green eyes.
“Sirius Black is that you?” the redhead exclaimed, a little louder than necessary. Nicola stared at her, trying to figure out if she was drunk or if this was just her personality. The bewilderment on Sirius’ face answered her question.
“How many drinks has she had, Moony?” he asked Remus as the girl slung one of her arms over Sirius’ shoulder.
“You know she’s right,” Remus muses ignoring Sirius’ question, “it’s a little hard to tell it’s you outside of all the leather.” Nicola smiled—Remus and Sirius reminded her of her and Cas.
“Sirius,” the redhead chided, she seemed to be sobering up a bit, “are you going to introduce us to your date?”
“Oh um,” Sirius turned toward Nicola, a little red in the face. She stared at him, confused by his sudden shyness. Was he embarrassed? Nicola stuck out her hand as she glared at Sirius.
“I suppose I’ll introduce myself since Sirius has started to malfunction. Nicola,” she quipped shaking Remus’s hand. He smiled a soft smile, almost as if to apologize.
“I’m Remus,” he replied and then pointed toward his date who was now stuffing her face with cucumber sandwiches. “That’s Lily. I’m sure Sirius is embarrassed by what a disaster we are. But we couldn’t pass up a chance to meet one of Sirius’s many…um…”
“Conquests?” Nicola offered dryly. Sirius, who had still said nothing, looked at Nicola in shock as Remus’s whole face lit up like a tomato.
“No!” Remus exclaimed. “Of course not! Erm—except if that’s what…not that there’s anything wrong with…” Nicola felt bad about making the poor boy fluster like this. She grinned at him, hoping to ease the tension.
“Only joking,” she reassured him, lightly touching his shoulder, “relax.”
Remus took a big breath and let out a soft chuckle. “It’s just that Sirius keeps his dating life so secretive, so it’s nice to actually meet you.”
Sirius, who had been trying to wrangle Lily away from a somewhat seedy-looking gentleman, had suddenly found his nerve. “I have not!” He objected. “The timing has just been off. Plus you lot are so judgmental, can’t have my lovers dealing with that type of torment.” He huffed.
“Lovers?” Nicola asked, disgusted. She turned to Remus, who was laughing at the ridiculous statement. “Well sorry to disappoint you Remus, but Sirius and I are just friends. One day soon though, I’m sure you’ll meet one of his lucky ‘lovers’.” Remus let out a hearty laugh, that sounded a bit like a howl while Sirius rolled his eyes.
“How long have you two been dating?” she asked motioning toward Lily, who was now eating a pumpkin pasty, looking a little less wild.
“Dating?” Remus yelped as Sirius begins to chuckle. “Lily and I are also just friends.” he corrected sternly.
“Man, I can’t wait to tell Prongs about this!” Sirius laughed.
“WELL!” Remus interrupted Sirius’s laughing fit. “It was nice to meet you regardless of your relationship status with my friend,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure Lily doesn’t embarrass herself further.” He waved as he carted Lily away. Sirius looked after them with a pensive, longing look in his eye.
“You should join them,” Nicola commented, breaking Sirius’s glance. “You should hang out with your friends, I’ve got it from here.”
Sirius eyed her suspiciously. “Nah, you just want to win our bet, nice try.”
Nicola rolled her eyes. “No, I’m being serious Sirius. You’ve been so helpful today, you deserve to hang out with your friends.” She paused thoughtfully before continuing. “ To prove I’m serious I’ll drop out of the bet, you win.” Sirius smiled, appreciation brimming at the corners of his eyes.
“Thanks, Nicola. You’re all right.” He turned and hurried after his friends into the crowd.
Nicola turned to head back to the food table. The cucumber sandwiches that Lily stuffed into her mouth looked delicious, and the emotional whiplash of saving Sirius from his aggressive uncle to small talk with his friends had left her feeling peckish. As she reached for the last sandwich on the table she was intercepted by the same seedy wizard that bothered Lily.
“Excuse me, sir,” Nicola said politely, trying to get around him when he grabbed her wrist.
“Have we met?” he asks, smiling sheepishly. Nicola took a deep breath, trying to get into networking mode while also trying to wriggle her wrist out of his hand.
“I don’t think we have,” she says sticking out the opposite hand, forcing him to finally let go of her. “My name is Nicola Randolph.”
“Well Ms. Randolph, you are certainly the prettiest person here.” He stated, getting closer. Nicola wrinkled her nose, trying to find space between them even though the old man seemed determined that there be none, inching closer still.
“I wouldn’t mind taking care of a pretty girl like you.” He whispered. Nicola was oscillating between hexing this creepy old man and telling him what he could take care of when to her surprise Sirius appeared right next to her.
“There you are!” Sirius exclaimed looping his arm around her waist. “I’ve been looking all over for you.” He smiled, but as he locked eyes with Nicola, she realized he was trying to figure out if she needed an out.
“Sirius, darling,” Nicola drawled. “This is—um, sorry sir, what was your name?”
“Borgin.” The man said proudly as he glanced over Sirius. Of course, Nicola thought to herself. Of course, this greasy old man would be the proprietor at her dream job. Before she could shut her exit plan down, Sirius interjected.
“Well, we really ought to get going!” Sirius practically yelped before the old man could continue his creepy crusade. He quickly dragged Nicola away until they are right outside the entrance of the party.
“I thought I sent you off with your friends?” Nicola shot at him, unable to hide her frustration.
“Are you…upset?” Sirius asks in shock.
“Let’s go to the balcony,” she said, looking around. Sirius was louder than she would like and this was not the place she wanted to have this conversation. For all they knew, creepy old Borgin could be listening. “I need some air.”
The balcony was bare except for a lone house-elf who had accidentally gotten stuck outside. After locking the door behind the house-elf, Nicola pulled a cigarette out of her purse and offered one to Sirius before lighting it with the tip of her wand.
“A nasty habit I know.” She said between puffs, “but I only do it when I’m stressed.”
She stared out into the winter night, taking another puff as she waited for her hand to steady.
“I’m not sure if I should thank you or hit you,” she continued, trying to process what had just happened and how bad the optics were.
“I think you meant to say thank you for saving me from that creepy old man?” Sirius retorted, clearly put out by Nicola’s annoyance.
“This isn’t the first time a creepy old man has hit on me Sirius,” she said cooly.
“That doesn’t make it okay!” he exclaimed, walking around to face her fully.
She smiled at him sadly as she put out the cigarette with her heel. “Of course not. But honestly, I deal with it because what other choice do I have? I can’t afford to screw up in there.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t expect you to understand.”
“Sirius, you’ve been groomed to take over a prominent wizarding estate. When you’re done rebelling, your parents will move on and let you back in, because they have an image to uphold.”
Sirius stared at her before bursting into laughter. He reached out, snatching the second cigarette she’d been about to light from her fingers, and lit it himself before taking a long puff.
“My parents hate me. There is no going back there. My mother called me an abomination and blasted me off the family tapestry.” He stated very matter of fact before taking another puff.
Nicola could feel her pity overtaking her face, unsure of what to say. She decided to just dive in. “Is it because—”
“Because I like boys? Among other things.” he puffed.
“You should tell him, Sirius.”
“I can’t do that.”
“You should’ve been at this stupid party with him.”
Sirius shook his head, a mixture of frustration and something else filling his brown eyes. Upon a second look, Nicola recognized the sadness.
“Remus…he has a lot going on. And he doesn’t feel the same way, I can’t put him in that situation, he’s too…too good.”
“So you’re going to torture yourself instead?” She asked, and he shrugged. “How would he feel knowing that you’re tearing your heart apart because you’re afraid to love him?”
“You don’t know what it’s like!” he exploded.
“To love my best friend? Of course, I do Sirius.” Nicola stared wistfully toward the party entrance. It was the first time she had thought of Cas all night, and the first time she had admitted that she loved him. A moment of quiet passed between them before she continued.
“Look, as crazy as this sounds. Borgin and Burke’s is my dream job.”
He looked at her with horror. “You do know that their employees mysteriously disappear right?”
“That’s just a rumor,” Nicola laughed.
“Is it also a rumor that they only cater to Dark wizards?” he challenged.
“I wouldn’t say only,” she replied, smiling in an effort to ease the tension. “Look,” she sighed, “I want to collect rare artifacts and magical items. Whoever happens to buy them, buys them.”
Nicola wanted to make a joke but the exasperation on his face made her reconsider. “It’s not ideal, obviously, but what else am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know?” He faltered, “Start your own shop?”
It was Nicola’s turn to erupt into laughter.
“With what money? What stature do I have to compete with Borgin and Burke’s? Honestly, Sirius.” She gasped for breath, a tear streaming down her cheek. “Face it, mate. The power of the wizarding world in the UK is in the hands of the Sacred 28. I’m just trying to survive.”
He turned away toward the west of the balcony, conflicted. He knew she was right, but she could see him trying to come up with some other way. It was sweet, she thought, that he wanted to save her. After a moment he turned back to her.
“We don’t have to do the Unbreakable Vow,” he said finally, coughing lightly.
Nicola said nothing, not wanting to betray her surprise. She had completely forgotten about the Vow, but was relieved that she didn’t have to do it.
“If you tell anyone though, I’ll spread a rumor that you slept with Borgin for a job,” he added, smiling devilishly. Nicola shouted in surprise before shoving him. They both laughed. She hadn’t intended for this to happen but Sirius had started to grow on her. She was almost sad that he wasn’t a Slytherin, maybe they would’ve been friends sooner.
“Are we still going to be friends after we break up tomorrow?” She joked as they turned to leave.
“Sure,” he said in earnest, closing the door to the balcony. As they reentered the party, Nicola squeezed her new friend’s hand. She was glad they had both found understanding in each other.