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One of Blaise Zabini's particular talents was that he never forgot anything he saw, heard, smelled, or felt. Another was that he was rather brilliant at resealing letters in such a way as to prevent their recipients from knowing that tampering had occurred. Because of this, Blaise found that he was remarkably well informed about the affairs of his family--and his friends. His desire for knowledge sated in this way, Blaise projected an air of circumspection that allowed the people in his life to comfortably rely upon his discretion in several matters, including that of delivering their private correspondence.

Secure in his rooms after returning from the Ministry gala, Blaise reviewed the scene on the balcony in his mind. He shuddered. The look Draco's father had given the boy was not a healthy one. He feared for his friend. Perhaps he could convince his parents to allow Draco to spend a large portion of the holiday at the family estate. He would ask them tomorrow.

I wonder what they would think of my inviting Ree?

Ree. Gods, she was beautiful now--nothing to touch what she had promised to be while still Harry, of course, but Blaise, unlike Draco, did not have any issues with the female figure. Poor stupid, confused, twisted Draco, Blaise thought, bringing to mind the letter he had carried from his friend to Ree months ago:

"My Dearest Harry,

"For you are that to me, aren't you, you wretched girl? Why couldn't you just have died? Why does Salazar plague me with your continued cheerful existence when I'm miserable with the form it has taken? I hate you, I hate you, I hate you for being alive when I can't love you!

"I apologize. That was uncalled for. I did attempt to write this letter without that sort of beginning, but I'm almost out of parchment, and Blaise's owl, Teiresias, is becoming impatient to leave.

"So, you've been hiding in the dungeons with the good professor, have you? That won't do. You'll lose that lovely bloom of yours. Gryffindor will have a disastrous Quidditch season. Ronald Weasley might start fawning over someone else. And people will talk--just where has oily old Sevvie been dripping his grease, hmm?

"Feeling better, now, are we? I knew you'd throw the letter away. I knew you'd pick it up again, as well. So honorable--seeing everything through to the end. So predictable. That is what will get you killed one day, Potter. A little instability never killed anyone, I always say.

"You need to get up off of your arse, now, Harriet. You're no coward. You're the pompous heroine who must needs do good, remember? I'm the evil git who's planning to ally himself with the most powerful wizard of our time and seize control of his life. If you allow your skills to suffer through disuse, how in Merlin's name will you be prepared to kill me when the time comes?

"Because if you can't kiss me, you know you'll end up killing me one day, don't you? We're not friends. We're not lovers. We're nothing to each other but pain. Don't you want to end your suffering? Hmm? Don't you want to see me writhing under Cruciatus before you tire of me and throw the A.K.? I think you do. Oh, you'll never admit to yourself that you hate me, but Nobility will urge your hand when the time comes; it's exceedingly reliable.

"Yes, I'm aware that I'm being a prat. It's tremendously gratifying to be able to indulge one's bad behavior in the safety of the darkest enclave of spoilt would-be lordlings ever built. Karkaroff is in possession of no small supply of personal power, of course, but he's crippled by fear of Voldemort--and he's also terrified of my father. Wise man, Karkaroff. You would be disgusted to see how the man toadies to me. I'm sickened by it, myself, though I accept my fill of his flattery. It's certainly better than what I'm used to at home.

"And the students here accord me a cracking amount of respect. That's new. I like it. I want more. When I take the Dark Mark, I'll have it. But no, Potter, servile companions aren't enough to make me want to bind myself to Tom Riddle. I think that Daddy is going to make his master angry one day, one day soon, and when he does, Lord Voldemort will need someone he can trust. I will be that someone. And I will offer you to him.

"What do you think of your life-debt now?

"Don't worry, my love. I won't give you to him. I'll give myself, and get rid of the traitor, and then I'll be able to protect us both. Then I might even be able to restore you. Would you like that? or have you resigned yourself to a stiff upper lip? In any case, you asked me to tell you, and finally, I can:

"I will take the Mark, Harry. I will join Voldemort. I will kill my father. I will stop this. I will make everything right again. When I have the power, when I have the power, I will make it right again.

"So there you are. I have a reason to live, now. Power. I expect that you're still thinking of one that doesn't include needing to discharge your debt to me. Well, all I can tell you is what I learned at home, to wit, that if you want to survive, you'll find a reason to live without actually having one. Just be, Harry. Just be--and get the hell out of the dungeons--please.

"I can't stand to think of you feeling as sad and as lonely as I do. Your face is meant for smiles. You're supposed to be happy. You're supposed to be perfect.

"You belong to me, now, so do what I tell you, all right?

"I miss you.

"I miss you so much that I wish you were dead.



"Well, my friend," Blaise whispered, thinking of Draco, "I won't be taking the Dark Mark. And it won't be Ree who kills you when the time comes."

The young man rolled over onto his stomach and propped his face up onto his hands in contemplation. He remembered Ree's words to Draco on the subject of his courting her: "What kind of spineless twit is he to send you in his place?"

"She has a point," Blaise told himself. "I expect I'll just have to begin stiffening my spine, won't I?" Because I'm not going to allow my family to do to me what yours has done to you, Draco. I will be bound to no man in the ways you find yourself caught.

"I will not be a slave to fear. I will not allow it to drive my actions."

I am not weak.

"No, I am just helplessly in love with two people who don't want me and never will."

Blaise twisted around violently on the bed to stare at the ceiling. He laughed. "At least one of us is having a normal childhood," he forced out through the contractions of his diaphragm.

I'm the normal one. Oh, gods, it really is as bad as that, is it?

Boredom, weakness, normalcy--against these conditions Blaise found himself prepared to battle unto his dying breath. He was not yet certain if he should add love to the list.

And then he remembered why he had sought the privacy of his rooms to begin with. Professor Snape will be expecting his letter, won't he? Blaise thought, rising from his bed and shaking off the sleep that had been seeping into him so peacefully.

For though Blaise would not be Fear's slave, he would maintain a salutiferous respect for its main representative in his life.


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