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Kuumba - creativity; to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

[BOOK YEAR SIX]

Blaise Zabini sat in his empty dormitory, staring at Draco’s empty bed across from his. This was not how he thought this week would go — his classmate, his roommate was an almost murderer who had left with the Death Eaters. The headmaster was dead. His head of house was the actual murderer. And Crabbe and Goyle had left the dorm early that morning, leaving for who knows where. Blaise didn’t want to know.

It all seemed to happen so fast. He was studying for exams just last week! Well, he was helping Des study and… well, okay, helping may have been an overstatement. She’d shooed him out of her secluded corner more than once. But just when he was feeling settled in himself and his dual life at Hogwarts, this ish had to go down.

Blaise had hidden his connection to the rest of the BSU this year, taking a step back from his leadership role of three years. With Draco outright bragging about being a Death Eater (then spiraling into reclusiveness) and the Dark Lord reaching out to more and more Slytherin families trying to recruit, Blaise knew he needed to not draw too much attention to his friendliness with the other houses. Dean and the rest hated it, and he felt like he was letting them down, but a Slytherin’s primary function was self-preservation! And this was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Umbridge hadn’t spooked him as much as the idea of the Dark Lord finding out about the BSU. She wouldn’t let them meet, but wasn’t about to murder them all. So he asked the other members to only talk to him during meetings and in private. Most of the members stopped talking to him even in meetings. It was for their safety, but few of the members got that, especially the reckless Gryffs of the group. The only person who continued to spend time with him without consistent looks of disappointment was Desiree — and Blaise knew she was long-suffering and nearing a breaking point.

No, instead of derision, Des looked at him like… like maybe he wasn’t doomed to be evil like the rest of Slytherin House. She didn’t seem to mind not speaking to him in the Great Hall, even. In fact, she flaunted her way past the Slytherin table to the Hufflepuff one with a swing in her step that he knew was just to taunt him. She had a way of making him wish he could break his own rule.

Blaise rubbed his hand over his face. She was the only thing keeping him from breaking. Because between worrying about his mum (who was prowling for a new husband and dating around the usual bad crowd), N.E.W.T. level classes, and trying to stay off the Death Eaters’ radar, he was tired from being spread so thin and keeping his feelings in several tightly packed compartments. Spending time with Desiree — usually in the library, watching her bake in the kitchens, or a spot behind the greenhouses where a Flitterbloom grew — was the only time he could be his full self. A worried son, an ambitious (but not psychopathic ethnic cleansing) Slytherin, and a big enthusiast of wizard-n-blues music. The irony that he’d created this club for Black students to feel free and now was the only one who couldn’t be wasn’t lost on him.

Speaking of which, he had to go. He’d gotten a note on the charmed parchment the BSU had used to communicate when Umbridge was terrorizing them. He’d always kept it on him, and wasn’t surprised Dean turned to it in the aftermath of the invasion. He couldn’t imagine what there was to meet about. The headmaster was dead, classes were cancelled, both a student and a teacher were on the run after attacking the school, and the Dark Lord had scored a major victory. But he was feeling unsettled (and very literally alone) in his dorm, so he would take any excuse to be around his people.

Blaise sat next to Alex Johnson, who’d taken Dean’s place as Vice President when Blaise stepped down, on the desk at the front of the Astronomy classroom. Dean stood next to them. The Gryffindor was riled up. He apparently hadn't slept much after Dumbledore’s death and couldn’t shake his nervous battle energy. Blaise knew he and Lavender had been doing work with Dumbledore’s Army — making plans he wasn’t told about and didn’t ask about.

Hermione was out, but Blaise figured she was with Potter. Ella and Eli, first-year Muggle-born twins, had already been taken out of school. Blaise was the only Slytherin in the room, the others, all younger, were keeping to their dorm this morning it seemed. He didn’t blame them. The looks he was getting from the others made him wish he could ditch his green and silver tie, and he chose that moment to at least loosen it from his neck. Everyone was in their robes. Dumbledore’s funeral would be later that afternoon, and each club was doing something for the service.

“I hear the Assemblé Assembly is doing a performative dance,” said a Moe Mitchell, a younger Gryffindor.

“Charms club is going to provide a light show,” said Kia Langston, a Ravenclaw.

They'd been trying to think of something to contribute for 20 minutes, Dean having found out from McGonagall just that morning that most of the clubs were to contribute something to the ceremony for the headmaster. Blaise knew what he would like for them to do, but the person involved wouldn’t really want to do it. So he'd been silent, feeling it wasn’t his place after having stepped back from club leadership duties anyway. They let him stand in the front because the club had been his idea — Desiree had helped fight for him on that front at the beginning of the year — but he was often overruled on decisions. He saw her profile in the corner of his eye and he couldn’t help himself.

He swallowed and spoke.

“What if we didn't all do something?”

Dean looked ‘round at him, clearly surprised he'd spoken. “What do you mean?”

“Like what if we just had a representative do something?”

“Oh and I suppose you think that should be you?” said Keegan Thompson, a Gryffindor who had been one of the most vocally pissed at Blaise for his decision to “abandon” them as he’d called it. “Typical Slytherin,” he muttered under his breath.

“No.” Blaise hoped his look cut the puny Gryff — he'd been told many times his eyes and cheekbones could cut steel. “I didn't mean me.”

Blaise softened his stare as he turned to look at Desiree. The room was quiet.

“Des could sing.”

She looked shocked that the words had come out of his mouth. He talked about her singing all the time, but he knew she didn't want to do it in front of other people. It was something only he and perhaps her dorm mates had heard her do.

“Blaise.” Her voice just above a whisper. He stared her down and she slowly shook her head. “There's gotta be something else...”

“We've been at this for 20 minutes and McGonagall is going to be asking what we’ve got. No one's thought of anything else and you would be great.” Blaise just didn’t understand. She had such talent, now was a perfect time to use it.

Dean looked at Desiree with kindness. “Would you be down to do that?”

Desiree looked around at every eye staring at her and closed her eyes before saying, “Yeah. Sure. Fine. Let me go prepare.” And with that, she fled the room.

Dean and the rest of the room all turned to glare at Blaise. He ignored the harsh look in Dean’s eyes.

“You'll tell McGonagall, right?” he said to Dean, before hopping off the desk and leaving the room.

He knew where Desiree would go.

The music conservatory in the East wing, just off one of the smaller towers, was filled with any musical instrument you could think of. There was a piano, a self-playing harp, a dirigible, and any number of loud clanging thing, including magical yarn mallets that floated around tapping and ting-ing on any cymbal and singing surface scattered throughout the room. The walls were spelled to be soundproof, but Professor McGonagall often pointed out the portraits of various wizarding musicians hanging in the room and informed students that the portraits liked to gossip around the castle, especially in the headmaster's office. The pseudo-security system helped curb any salacious behavior in the room.  

Last year, Desiree invited him here to hear her sing one of her grandmother's songs — a slow ballad that wasn't one of Celestina Warbeck’s top hits. The song — and more specifically, Des’s voice — bounced around his head for two months. None of his previous interests, mostly older white girls who called him “chocolate” and were obsessed with his hair, held a candle to Desiree Warbeck. But only his own blind ambition and desire to keep a low profile when the Dark Lord returned prevented him from acting on his feelings. They'd hung out in the conservatory only three times in total, her singing her favorite songs while Blaise pretended to play the piano. He'd had lessons once, one of his mother's husband's was an accountant for The Charming Chamber Orchestra of Cheswick (he was later found to have been embezzling Galleons from the charity orchestra), but he didn't have any musical talent. Not like she did. He joked around on the keys to keep himself from staring at her the entire time.

Blaise arrived at the conservatory to locked doors. Well, that hurt. The door didn’t come with a lock, so she’d clearly used magic to lock it herself. He supposed he deserved that.

“Des! I know you’re in there. Don’t make me Alohomora the door open!” He couldn’t hear inside the room, but could almost feel her rattle as she decided whether or not to let him in. But he also knew she was a Hufflepuff, who at the very least was his friend.

She opened the door, standing just directly behind it. “Are you going to apologize?”

“No — have you been crying?” He tried to breach the doorway to see if she had been, but she closed the door with a huff.

“Des!”

“Blaise, go away.”

“No, I’m going to stand right here until you let me in!”

“I can’t practice with you standing outside the door.”

“I won’t even be able to hear you sing from out here.”

“Hmm, maybe I can practice then.” There was that badger’s bite.

“Des,” he continued softly, head pressed against the door. “Have you really been crying?”

“I’ve told you time and again, I don’t like singing in front of people. There’s a reason, Blaise.”

“I — can we not do this with a door between us?”

The door opened magically and Blaise stepped inside. Desiree was sitting at the grand piano, where he usually sat. He often joked that she should sing while sprawled across the top of it, and she always gave him a cutting look, likely rivaling his own. She was staring at the black and white keys. He sat next to her.

“Alright. I’m... I’m sorry. For putting you on the spot, not for suggesting you. You can sing, it’s four minutes of time, and there’s so much going on no one’s gonna remember you anyway! So why are you crying?”

Desiree just sighed heavily.

“Our headmaster is dead, Blaise. Our professor killed him. Your Slytherin mates brought them in. And You-Know-Who is just… out there. Biding his time. He’s killed purebloods before, most of them were like us. And you think I’m crying just because of a little bit of singing? You know I hate singing in front of people, but you’ve never bothered to ask why. It doesn’t just make me nervous. It makes me wanna crawl out of my skin. My heart beats too fast, and I lose track of the rhythm. And now I have to sing in front of the whole Wizarding World at the funeral for a man who was murdered, who is considered to be one of the greatest men to ever live? He’s on a chocolate frog card, Blaise!”

“I… I didn’t realize it made you feel that way. You never seem nervous in front of me.”

“I’m always nervous in front of you, but not because of the singing.”

Blaise swallowed the depth of her words, it wasn’t really the moment to deal with the burgeoning feelings they were both burdened with this year.

“I can tell Professor McGonagall you want out.”

“No. We’ve agreed. I’ll do it. And you’re right, it’s just four minutes of time in a long ceremony where people won’t remember the details in the end. But I’m just…”

Blaise looked at Des. She hadn’t looked up from the keys. Her hands were gripped tightly around the piano bench.

“I’m just scared.”

Blaise felt his heart clench. This wasn’t his fault. He didn’t hang with Malfoy and his crew, he hadn’t brought in the Death Eaters last night, he didn’t kill the headmaster. But he felt blame lace itself around his heart. He didn’t do enough to stop them, or even stand up to them. He let Malfoy spend an entire year plotting ways to kill their teacher. He hadn’t known that part, but he could see his peer diving into something out of his depth. Malfoy had become weary, clearly stretched thin, on the verge of snapping constantly. What if Blaise had said something to him? Could he have made a difference? Or what if he’d kept up his role with the BSU? Would he have been able to help Desiree with her growing fears sooner? He shook his head.

It was in the past. Zabinis didn’t dwell.

Right now, he could focus on the girl next to him. Scared and nearly trembling. He could help put something beautiful in the world, after such tragedy.

He placed his hand over hers on the bench. It was cold and, as he’d predicted, shaking. She looked at his hand, then looked at him. Her warm brown eyes still held the remnants of her tears. He noticed how tired her eyes were, how unkempt her long, kinky hair was. She wore no makeup. But her touch charged him like the moment he cast his first spell, the magic tingling in his arm, sparks flying, a feather flying through the air.

“Come on. It’s almost time.”

Unfortunately for Desiree, and to Blaise’s later glee, a recording of Desiree’s show-stopping performance was kept in the Hogwarts Conservatory.