Blaise’s grandfather had a brother, and that brother had a Squib son, and that son ended up marrying some Muggle. It wasn’t something they ever thought or talked about; it was just one of those embarrassing things about his family that he kept to himself. But these days things were different.
They weren’t in any danger, of course. He didn’t have any Death Eaters in his family, so it wasn’t like his family did anything wrong. They didn’t have to pay reparations like the Malfoys and no one was sent to Azkaban like the Goyles. But like his mother had said, this was about practicality. Blaise was a Pure-blood Slytherin, his mother was a Pure-blood Slytherin, his father was a Pure-blood Slytherin, and their parents, too. Things would definitely be more comfortable if it were known they had Muggle relatives.
But in order to boast about it - or, at least, drop the information that he had Muggle relatives into the conversation, they needed to know them. And so, one Saturday afternoon, Blaise and his mother found themselves paying a visit to his uncle-once-removed’s wife’s sister. And her son.
They lived in a small house in East London. Blaise’s mother looked disdainfully at the neighbourhood, with its not-very-clean streets and shards of broken glass on the pavement and a few too many stray cats, and sighed. “Are you sure this is the place?” she asked as they faced number 26, as if hoping Blaise would say no and spare her the need to knock.
“Yeah,” he answered. “Number 26, that’s what the note says.”
“Well, let’s get it over with,” she said and knocked on the door.
A few moments later, the door was opened by a small woman. She looked at them in confusion, at their fancy clothes that looked so out of place in this street and at their unhappy expressions, and wrinkled her brow. “May I help you?” she asked.
“Are you Tanya Thomas?” Blaise’s mother asked, trying to sound as friendly as possible.
“Yes - oh, you’re the Zabinis, aren’t you! Come in, come in!”
She showed them to a small living room, that was cluttered and shabby and looked just as grey as the street outside. On a sofa, in front of what Blaise was pretty sure was a television, Tanya Thomas’s son sat and watched some sports match. “Come on come on come on!” he told the television. Blaise looked at him in confusion - from the little he remembered about that thing, it wasn’t interactive at all. Perhaps he was wrong, and it wasn’t a television?
The son didn’t even lift his head from the screen. He looked about Blaise’s age, and a bit familiar, too. Was it possible he knew him? But he didn’t know any Muggles. He was probably just confusing him for someone else. All Muggles looked the same to him, anyway.
“Dean!” Mrs Thomas said, sounding slightly annoyed. “We’ve got company.”
“Just a second, just a second, he’s going to, come on come on - Argh!” he called in disappointment, then turned his eyes from the television and looked at Blaise’s mother. Then his gaze fell on Blaise, and he froze in his place.
“These are the Zabinis, Dean, they’re - ”
“I know who they are,” Dean said quietly. “Blaise Zabini, right?”
“I’m sorry,” Blaise said, slightly wrong-footed - which was absurd, he was a Zabini, after all! - “Have we met?”
Dean Thomas bit his lip. “I’m in - I was in your year. At Hogwarts. Gryffindor.”
Oh. But he was a Muggle - oh. “Erm. Hi.” Dean gave him one more look, then sat back on the sofa to watch his television.
“Well, you two sit here and watch the game, we should go and make some tea,” Mrs Thomas said, and took Blaise’s mother with her somewhere. With nothing better to do, Blaise sat on the sofa next to Dean.
“Football. West Ham versus Manchester United.”
Blaise watched what looked like a bunch of people chasing one small ball. No one was on broomsticks. It looked completely pointless. “Who’s your team?” he asked, because he didn’t have anything better to ask.
“And they’re winning?”
“Against Man U?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Blaise shrugged.
“Beckham’s playing for Manchester.”
Blaise didn’t even bother asking who ‘Beckham’ was or how that affected matters. After a while and a few more questions - and when even Blaise could see the game was not going well for Dean’s team - Dean became less absorbed in the game and started explaining the rules to Blaise. It was nothing compared to Quidditch, of course, but as the minutes went by and the men on the screen ran and ran, he could actually see the appeal of the game. By the end of it, he even had an opinion about Beckham, but he didn’t tell Dean that. He had a feeling he wouldn’t appreciate it.
“Listen, that was kind of fun,” he told Dean before he left with his mother. “When is there another game?”
“There’s a game every Saturday,” Dean shrugged in a non-committed way.
“You’re watching them?”
“Mind if I come here next week? To watch the game? I mean, we don’t have a television.”
Dean hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, alright.”
“See you next Saturday.”
He came the next week, and the one after that, and the one after that. He was surprised how much he enjoyed it - eating crisps, drinking beer, and discussing the games with Dean. In no time at all, he fashioned himself quite the authority on football. It wasn’t a difficult game to learn, much simpler than Quidditch, but in a way, it was a part of its charm. It also helped that Dean was more than forthcoming when it came to explaining the game. Actually, talking to Dean also turned out much less awkward than he expected, as long as they didn’t branch out too much with conversation topics.
He made the mistake of talking about the war once, about a month after he started showing up at Dean’s house on Saturdays. “You know,” he said, “sorry I didn’t recognise you that first time.”
“S’okay,” Dean mumbled.
“I wasn’t - I mean - we don’t have any Death Eaters in the family, you know.”
Dean didn’t answer.
“So it wasn’t us.”
“Yes, it was you,” Dean said, still staring at the television, his voice completely calm.
Blaise looked at him in confusion. “Pardon?”
“Weren’t you friends with Malfoy? And Goyle? And the rest of that lot?” Then Dean stopped looking at the television, and looked at Blaise, instead. His voice was still completely calm. “And how many times did you pass by a Muggle-born in the corridors and called them Mudblood?”
Blaise tried very hard to remember whether he had ever called Dean a Mudblood. The problem was that, since he didn’t really remember Dean at all, he couldn’t quite trust his memory on that. He wanted to say that ‘Mudblood’ was just a word and nothing like what the Death Eaters did, but something in Dean’s expression told him it was better to let it go.
“Look, Malfoy’s an adult, I’m not responsible for what he did,” he said, annoyed.
“Let’s just watch the game,” Dean said quietly. Blaise didn’t mention it again.
Another time they had an argument about the Ministry. Blaise didn’t even remember how they ended up on that topic, but they missed the end of the Chelsea-Aston Villa game when they argued with each other, because Dean, for some reason, insisted that everyone who was working for the Ministry the year before should be fired.
“What d’you want from them?” Blaise retorted in the end. “They were just doing their jobs. The Death Eaters are all in Azkaban, that should be enough, no?”
Dean paused, then shrugged and offered Blaise some more beer. That was what Blaise liked most about Dean - he never got angry. Not really angry, anyway, just slightly annoyed, and then he would sit back on the sofa and say that maybe they should stick to football from now on and even the annoyance was gone.
But after that Ministry argument, Blaise wasn’t sure he was still welcome in Dean’s house, even for football. He asked as casually as possible before he left, “Same time next week?”
“Sure - oh, wait. A couple of guys from the neighbourhood asked me to play with them. Hold on, you’ve never actually played the game before, have you? Wanna come?”
Blaise, amazed that he was invited, said yes without giving it a second thought. Later, he thought it might be awkward - after all, ‘the guys from the neighbourhood’ were probably all Muggles. But he came anyway. It was fun, even if Blaise turned out to be completely rubbish at the actual game. Dean was actually rather good, he thought, but their team was still crushed by the opposition. After the game, they went for a beer in some Muggle pub near by, and Dean lamented how it was almost like going to a real game, “Except that we’re all rubbish and tickets to the real games cost a fortune.”
So the next week, when Blaise passed by Leicester Square and accidentally noticed tickets for the West Ham versus Manchester game in Boleyn Ground, he fished out his Galleons, changed them to Muggle money in Gringotts, and returned to the Muggle street to get tickets for the both of them.
He went by Dean’s house, but it was Dean’s mother who opened the door. “Blaise!” she said. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, hi, Mrs Thomas. I was just wondering whether Dean’s home.”
“No, he’s not home at the moment.”
“Oh,” Blaise said, disappointed. He couldn’t wait to see Dean’s face when he told him about the tickets. “It’s just that I bought us some tickets for the game on Saturday.”
Mrs Thomas’s expression changed. She was no longer confused, but seemed pensive instead. “Come on in; I’ve got a nice cake,” she said.
Blaise, slightly confused, walked into the small house and into the smaller kitchen. The old washing machine was working, filling the house with noise. There were some dishes in the sink - it seemed Mrs Thomas was just in the middle of washing them when he knocked. Blaise wondered - not for the first time - how did she ever manage to hear him knocking. She shooed the cat from the chair, then put a big slice of chocolate cake in front of Blaise, and sat at the table as well.
“You were in Dean’s class, right?” she asked.
“Well - not quite in his class...” Blaise started. How much did Mrs Thomas know about Hogwarts, he had no idea. “Sort of.”
“Have you thought what you’re going to do now that you’ve finished school?”
“Not really,” he admitted. He didn’t have to work at all - his family were Pure-bloods and like most of the old wizarding families, they had a not-so-small fortune. And his mother had quite hefty sums left from some of her husbands. But sitting there, in the small old house, he didn’t want to say all that, so he just took a bite of the cake.
Mrs Thomas didn’t seem to mind, though. “Well, that’s quite alright for a boy your age,” she said kindly. “I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished school. And then I met Dean’s father... well, after his father left, I had to take every job I could get, of course, but we’ve been getting by.”
Blaise stared at his cake. Why was she telling him that?
“It’s funny about Dean, he never really knew what he wanted to do either. Except last year, when he came back, and all of a sudden he said he wanted to be a Healer, which I think is a bit like a Doctor for your kind, no? Anyway, I said, maybe try to go to uni, maybe there’s something more, but he said he wanted to be a Healer. He just doesn’t know if his marks are high enough,” she laughed softly. “He’s volunteering now, at that hospital of yours. Most of the time he’s working at Mr Dewanji’s shop, to help me a bit with the bills. And studying in the evening for his - how d’you call it? N.E.W.T.s? - but then he said, ‘No, Mum, I’m gonna volunteer at the hospital twice a week’.” There was no mistaking the pride in Mrs Thomas’s voice. “I hope wizard doctors make a bit more than our doctors, though,” she added.
Blaise finished his cake.
“Anyway,” she said, “I know he doesn’t tell his friends about it, but that’s probably because they wouldn’t know what he’s talking about. I reckon he wouldn’t mind I told you. Right?” she asked, and Blaise had the vague impression that, perhaps, Mrs Thomas thought Dean would mind. Still, he said thanks, and Apparated to St Mungo’s.
He found Dean at the fourth floor, at the Spell Damage ward. There was a huge room there, the floor covered with a thick green carpet, some children’s toys, and comfortable sofas. Dean was sitting on the carpet, in the middle of the room, completing a jigsaw puzzle with some boy.
There was something wrong with the kid, Blaise could see that already from where he was standing. He looked about twelve, maybe thirteen, but he didn’t say a word to Dean, just gestured at pieces with his right hand. His left hand was hanging limp from his shoulder, as if dead. When he looked at the other kids, he could see they were all like that. Some of them were dragging their legs, others opened and closed their mouths but no sound came out. Some just drooled all over themselves.
Most of the people there were children, but on a second glance, Blaise could see a few adults too. They all must have been patients there, he thought. One of the adults, who looked slightly older than Blaise, was sitting in an armchair, staring ahead. At first, Blaise thought he was staring at him, only to realise he was just staring at the empty space.
“Dean!” he called. Dean raised his head. He didn’t look happy to see Blaise.
“What are you doing here?” he asked in trepidation. “How did you know I was here?”
“Your mother told me. Look, I got tickets to the game this Saturday! West Ham versus Manchester!”
Dean got up from the carpet with a puzzled expression on his face. “Show me the tickets,” he said, and Blaise handed him the tickets.
“Great seats, too! Right next to the field. I’m telling you, it’s something, and I don’t care who you’re rooting for, Beckham’s gonna - why are you laughing?”
Dean did a pretty good job of biting down his smile until that point, but as Blaise mentioned Beckham’s name, he started laughing in earnest.
“Look, I know you hate Beckham with a passion, but you gotta admit he’s a great player - why are you laughing?!”
“Blaise, you prat, that’s the game against Manchester City!”
“And who does Beckham play for?”
“Oh,” Blaise felt ridiculous now. “How many teams does one city need?”
Dean laughed some more.
“Well, you know, Manchester City, Manchester United, what difference does that make...”
Dean’s laughter could probably be heard through half the hospital.
“Anyway, if you don’t want to go...”
“Nah,” Dean said. “It’d be fun. I’ll be happy to go. And hey, at least we’ll get to see a West Ham victory. Thanks.”
“No problem,” Blaise answered. “Listen, what are you doing here?” he asked.
“I’m just volunteering a bit,” Dean said.
“Yeah, your mother said you wanted to be a Healer?”
“Nah, I doubt I’ll get enough N.E.W.T.s for that.”
“So why waste your time here?”
He must have said something wrong, because all of a sudden, Dean’s face darkened. “I’m not wasting my time here,” he said quietly. “These kids need someone to help them.”
“Yeah, but, I mean... don’t take it the wrong way, but your mother’s not very rich. I wouldn’t think you had the time to waste on volunteering when you could be earning money. And you work in a Muggle shop, too, I mean, why not try to get a better paying job working in Diagon Alley or something?”
“These kids need someone to help them,” Dean repeated.
“Yeah, but they’re not all kids, like that bloke - ” he pointed at the guy in the armchair - “he looks older than us.”
Dean paused, then turned to look at Blaise. “That’s Justin,” he said quietly, and when it was obvious Blaise had no idea what he was talking about, he continued, “Justin Finch-Fletchley?”
“Er...” Blaise said. It was clear Dean expected him to understand.
“From Hufflepuff? He was in our year.”
“Oh.” Blaise looked again at the bloke. Maybe he looked familiar? But the empty expression on his face didn’t look like anyone he knew. “What’s wrong with him?”
“The same as everyone here,” Dean said shortly.
“What happened to them?”
“The Muggle-Born Registration Commission. That’s what happened to them.”
Blaise looked at Dean in horror, then at Justin, then at the children, who were all Hogwarts age, and most of them didn’t look older than third year. “The Ministry did that?” he whispered. “But there weren’t - I mean - it’s the Ministry!”
“Yeah,” Dean said quietly.
“But I - ” Blaise didn’t finish that sentence. It was the Ministry, that was what he always thought, it wasn’t like they were Death Eaters or something.
The kid on the carpet had the right piece in his hand, but was having a hard time moving it to the right position. Dean returned to the carpet to help him. “I’ll see you Saturday,” he said, and Blaise wasn’t sure if his voice was colder than usual, or maybe Blaise was just imagining it.
Whether real or imagined, there was no sign of coldness on Saturday. Blaise Apparated to Dean’s house, and they walked together to the stadium, chatting excitedly about the game to come. Dean was nothing short of impressed once they had entered the stadium - the seats were the best in the whole field. They could almost touch the twenty-two men who were running after that small ball.
The excitement continued all through the game, and reached its peak with West Ham’s easy victory. They left the stadium just as they entered it, slightly more tired but still excited and happy. At some point, at the car park, they ran into a City fan in red-and-black. Blaise wasn’t even sure how it happened, but all of a sudden he was arguing with the City fan. Dean, apparently, didn’t feel like joining in - he was leaning on a nearby wall, rolling his eyes and looking exasperated with the two of them. Blaise was shouting and shouting.
It might have ended up in a real fight, if it weren’t for the mass of West Ham fans in blue and red. The City fan looked at the group in trepidation, and then retreated, muttering under his breath.
It took a few seconds before the Knut dropped and Blaise understood what the fucking Muggle called Dean and him. He grabbed his wand in anger and searched for the Muggle to curse him into oblivion, but the bastard was already gone, lost in a sea of red and black, and all the Muggles there looked exactly the same. Fuming, he turned now to Dean, to ask him, ‘Did you hear what that fucker said?’, and froze when he saw his friend.
Dean was still leaning on the wall, but he was no longer wearing the exasperated, amused expression. His face was completely unreadable, his expression almost passive.
“Let’s go,” Blaise muttered, and they left.
He thought about that for the rest of the weekend, and the more he thought about it, the angrier he became, angry with the Muggles and angry with Dean. How could Dean be so apathetic with being called those names? How could he act like he didn’t hear or didn’t care?
He meant to tell him this the next Saturday, but by Wednesday he was so riled up that he showed up at St Mungo’s again. He went all the way up to the fourth floor and past the door that said Spell Damage, but before he had the chance to speak to Dean, Dean started talking.
“What is it?” he asked, sounding slightly short-tempered. “It’s not a good day.”
Blaise looked at the kids around him, and all of a sudden, he said, “I thought maybe I’d come volunteering with you.” He was confused at his own words. The thought of volunteering had not, in fact, even crossed his mind until that point. At least, he didn’t think it had.
Dean, however, seemed too busy to think too much about this. “Oh, you’re a lifesaver. Could you help Matt with the jigsaw puzzle?” he gestured at a boy, about fourteen years old, on the carpet. “Justin’s having a pretty bad day and I wanted to get back to him.”
“Yeah, sure,” he said and sat down next to the kid.
By the end of three hours, when he went back home, his mind was full of things, but being called names by racist football fans was no longer one of them.
He dropped by Dean’s on Saturday, to share his ideas with him. Dean, however, told him off for being late. “The game’s about to start!” he said and led him quickly to the living room. The beer and crisps were already on the table.
Blaise stared at the old television in confusion. “But the league games ended! You said so!”
“La Liga, man! Barcelona’s playing Madrid.”
“Oh,” Blaise wrinkled his forehead in confusion. International football. A whole new world of possibilities opened itself in Blaise’s mind. “Who’s our team?”
“Barça,” Dean said in a voice that left no room for argument. Barça it was. Dean, however, was already nattering on about the team. “Ronaldo left last year, that’s a shame, but they’re still the best damn team in the world and Rivaldo’s doing a really good job so far and...” He talked so much that Blaise had to point out to him that the game had started and would he kindly shut up.
By the end of the game, Blaise had to admit one thing. Barcelona were the best team in the world. “So,” he asked Dean, “Barça playing West Ham. Who are you rooting for?”
“No, mate, don’t do that to me,” Dean shook his head, and they both laughed.
“Listen, I was thinking,” Blaise said when the laughter had calmed down. “All the kids in the ward at St Mungo’s are Muggle-borns, right? They all know football. Why don’t we set up a team or something? They could probably play other teams in the area. I’ll talk to my mother, she can donate some money to have proper kits and everything.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Dean nodded, deep in thought. “Or, you know, we could set up more than one team of wizards. Muggle-born versus Pure-bloods,” he smirked.
“Aw, come on, man, that’s not fair! Wizards don’t - ” Blaise caught himself, just a moment too late. “Shit, sorry. Non Muggle-born wizards, I mean, we don’t know football, they’ll be crushed by the Muggle-borns!”
Dean’s smirk widened. “Sounds good to me,” he said.
Blaise took another sip from the beer. Time to say the other thing on his mind. Now he felt a lot less reassured. He was a Zabini, he reminded himself. Zabinis never lost confidence. “And, uh, there was this other thing I wanted to say.”
“Sure, what is it?” Dean asked, not giving any indication he had noticed the change in Blaise’s voice.
“It’s about, I mean, last year... and the years before, I guess. I know - I mean, I didn’t realise... and I wanted, er, I wanted to say that - ”
Blaise, who until now had been looking intently at his beer, raised his gaze to Dean in surprise. For the first time since he met him, Dean’s voice was full of anger. No, not anger - rage.
“Don’t. Don’t say it,” he said. His voice shook. “Don’t say I’m sorry.”
“Because I can’t forgive you.”
They looked at each other, without blinking, for ten whole seconds. Then Blaise nodded silently and averted his gaze. They sat there, on Mrs Thomas’s sofa, for a while longer, in complete silence. It was the longest silence in Blaise’s life.
Finally, he found his voice again, and when he did, he asked quietly, “What now, then?”
“It’s Saturday,” Dean said. His voice was back to normal. “Let’s go play some football.”