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It’s the day of the Yule Ball, and Ron absolutely could not give less of a fuck.

For the past week Harry and Hermione have been trying to convince him to come along with them. He has repeatedly declined, but by now he’s run out of polite ways to say I’m not going to the stupid fucking ball with you and your stupid fucking Slytherins so quit fucking asking me about it.

That’s why he’s out alone on the Hogwarts grounds this afternoon, despite the harsh winds and the thick blanket of snow left last night. Anything to get away from them and their bloody pity. They’ve both been too busy shagging Slytherins to spend any time with him all term, anyway, so their attempts to drag him along now are pretty fucking hollow. It doesn’t matter that it’s the big event of their final year at Hogwarts. He isn’t going, and that’s fucking final.

Ron’s almost made it down to the lake, which he guesses is more or less where he was trying to go. He reaches up and yanks his hat down farther over his freezing ears, then tightens his thick red and gold scarf around his neck. This was a stupid idea. He should’ve moped somewhere with a fucking fireplace.


Ron frowns and turns around, and when he spots the source of the call his frown turns into a scowl. What’s Zabini doing out here, hurrying towards him through the snow? He doesn’t want company right now, and definitely not from Blaise fucking Zabini.

But contrary to popular belief, Ron isn’t a complete arsehole, so he stops and waits for Zabini to catch up with him. Zabini’s got on a hat and scarf too, but his ensemble somehow seems sort of elegant instead of just bulky like Ron’s. Probably made out of some kind of fucking rich person fabric.

When Zabini finally reaches Ron he stops in front of him with a smile. “Hello, Weasley.”

“Hi,” Ron says uncertainly. “What’s, uh, what’s up?”

“Just out enjoying the weather,” Zabini replies, which sounds like a load of dragonshit to Ron given the current temperature and such, but what does he fucking know about what kind of weather Blaise Zabini likes. “May I walk with you?”

“Uh.” Ron scratches at his eyebrow with the tip of his mitten, a little too baffled at this point to be properly annoyed. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Zabini smiles again, that weird sort of charming but vacant smile. “Lovely.” He starts walking the way Ron’d been going before, and Ron tentatively follows suit.

They walk in silence for a few minutes, and Ron can’t remember the last time he felt so fucking awkward. This is maybe the third time in nearly eight years that they’ve ever interacted, and he’s really got no clue what he’s supposed to say to the bloke or what he could possibly want.

Blaise is game to give it a go, naturally, Malfoy’s unwelcome voice echoes in Ron’s head, and he shakes it off. The thought is just as ridiculous now as it was a week ago, so that can’t be it. And even if it was, that’d just be insane. He wouldn’t go out with a Slytherin no matter how attractive he may be.

Objectively speaking. Ron isn’t attracted to Zabini. Obviously.

He sneaks a glance at Zabini out of the corner of his eye. Zabini doesn’t seem to be bothered by the silence, but then, Ron’s not sure Zabini’s been bothered by anything ever. He’s a fucking statue carved out of sophistication and shallow charisma, and Ron has no fucking idea why a bloke like that is out here with him on a freezing December afternoon instead of inside getting ready for the twelve different dates to the Yule Ball he probably has.

Finally he can’t take the silence anymore. “What d’you want, Zabini?”

Zabini gives him an inquisitive look. “What makes you think I want something?”

“Well, you lot always do.”

“Us lot?”

“Yeah, you know.” Ron gestures vaguely with his mitten. “Slytherins.”

“I see.” Zabini looks more amused than offended. “Well, then, I suppose you’ve caught me. I’ve a proposition for you.”

Ron frowns. “A proposition?”

“Yes. I’ve given it some thought, and I’m quite certain that what I’m proposing could only turn out to be mutually advantageous, especially considering both of our present — ”

“Merlin, just fucking say it,” Ron interrupts, exasperated. Slytherins and their longwinded arsery.

Zabini gives him a smile that’d seem almost nervous if Ron thought nervousness was a feeling Zabini was capable of. “Go to the Yule Ball with me.”

Ron stops dead. He stares at Zabini, who’s stopped as well and is waiting patiently for a response, but Ron can’t seem to formulate one.

“No fucking way,” he answers at last. “No. Fuck no. Never.”

Zabini arches an eyebrow drily. “Don’t hold back, Weasley, tell me how you really feel.”

“You’re — ” Ron shakes his head to try and clear his thoughts. “You’re taking the piss, right? Or — or Malfoy put you up to this, or you lost a bet with him or something, is that it?”

Zabini frowns a little. “Is that really how you see yourself?”

“What does that even — no, never mind, fuck you,” Ron says irritably, thankful for the hat covering his reddening ears. “I just know he talked to you about it, and I can’t figure why else you’d bother asking.”

Zabini’s forehead creases, and Ron gets the impression that he wasn’t expecting much resistance. He’s probably the kind of bloke who’s used to always getting his way. Just goes to show how wrong Malfoy and Ron’s Slytherin-fucker friends all were about the two of them being a good idea. “Weasley, do you really think I’m the type of man to do anything I don’t want to?”

Ron scowls back at him. “Do you really think I have any fucking idea what type of man you are? I barely know you.”

“Well, let me assure you, I am not.” Zabini’s gaze is intense and inscrutable, and Ron wants to look away but he doesn’t let himself. “I’m being serious. I didn’t lose a bet, and I’m not taking the piss, or under an Imperius, or whatever else you may be thinking. Draco may have suggested it, but I promise you I’m here entirely of my own volition. He has no idea, actually. I’m asking because I want to.”

Ron stares at him, brow furrowed heavily, for another long few seconds. Finally he asks, “Why?”

“I’ve been giving it some thought,” Zabini says with a slight shrug of his narrow shoulders. He resumes walking, and Ron hesitantly picks up beside him again. “It’s partly because, believe it or not, I do actually have some respect for Draco’s matchmaking hunches, so if he thinks it’s worth a try then I do, too. Partly because if he’s wrong then I get to lord it over him forever, and I do so love doing that.” He grins mischievously at that, and it’s sort of...well, not cute, it’s definitely not cute, but like. Cute-adjacent, maybe.

“And partly because…” Zabini casts a sidelong glance at Ron, then looks away again before continuing, “Well, it wasn’t the first I’d ever considered it, to be honest. You and I, I mean.”

“What?” Ron says, flabbergasted. “Now you’re definitely fucking with me.”

“I’m not fucking with you,” Zabini says. It’s the first Ron’s ever heard him curse, and it actually sounds sort of weird in his calm, posh voice. “I swear. I wouldn’t lie about that.”

Ron’s tempted to press the subject, but he’s strangely compelled to shut the fuck up, so he shuts the fuck up. Zabini falls silent, too, and for a couple of minutes they walk in a quiet that’s surprisingly only slightly awkward.

As they trudge through the snow, Ron mulls over what Zabini’s just said. There’s a lot to unpack there, but Ron just focuses on the most palatable bit: the fact that if they tried and it all went to shit, which it would, he’d get to rub it in his so-called friends’ smug traitorous faces. That’s a pretty convincing reason, actually.

“Even if I wanted to — and I’m not saying I do,” Ron says, shoving his hands deeper into his pockets and keeping his eyes straight ahead. “But even if I did, I couldn’t. You realize that this is like, the absolute last fucking minute, right? I don’t have any dress robes.”

“That wouldn’t be a problem. You and I are about the same size, don’t you think?” Zabini muses, looking Ron up and down studiously. “I’ve several sets of dress robes. It would be no trouble to lend you one.”

“What — no,” Ron says, a little horrified. “I don’t want to borrow your fucking fancy rich fucker robes, thanks very much.”

Zabini just shrugs. “Then we can go in casualwear, if you’d like. I don’t mind.” He tilts his head and purses his lips pensively. “I don’t think I have any jeans with me, but I’m certain I could borrow a pair from someone to match whatever level of dressing down you’d prefer.”

Ron gapes at him. Zabini doesn’t seem to notice, still seriously considering his options for casualwear.

“You…” Ron starts, and Zabini looks back up at him, eyebrows raised. “You wouldn’t mind that?”

Zabini smiles, and fuck it all, this time it really seems genuine. “Not at all. I don’t know how much clearer I can make this, old chap, but I want to take you to the Yule Ball, and I’m perfectly happy to do so in whichever way would make you most comfortable. Oh, you know, I think Theo’s younger brother is nearly my height, I could probably…”

Ron stops listening. Stops thinking, too, mostly, except for the single thought: Zabini wants to take him to the Yule Ball. Zabini wants to take him to the Yule Ball. That’s fucking mad, not to mention a terrible idea. Right? Yeah. Yeah, it’s a terrible idea.

“Zabini,” Ron says, and Zabini stops his rambling about jeans or what the fuck ever and looks back up at him. “I just… I don’t get it. What makes you so sure this is a good idea?”

“What makes you so sure it’s not?” Zabini counters, raising his eyebrows just slightly.

“I don’t know. We don’t even really know each other.”

“We could change that.”

“And that’s what you want?”

“I’ve told you what I want.” Zabini gives Ron a searching look. “I want you to go to the Yule Ball with me. But if you don’t want the same thing, I’ll respect that. I wanted to be sure you considered your options, but now that I’ve said my piece, if you tell me no, I won’t ask again.”

Ron almost says no, so that Zabini won’t ask again. But all of a sudden he isn’t quite sure that that’s what he wants.

“I’m going to say no again,” he says slowly. Zabini actually looks disappointed; his lips form a thin line, and he nods sharply, but then Ron continues: “But after I do, you should ask me one more time.”

Zabini scrutinizes him for a moment, and then his lips curve into a little smile. “Go to the Yule Ball with me.”


Zabini stops walking again. He gently takes Ron’s elbow and turns so that they’re facing each other. “Ron,” he says quietly, dark eyes staring beseechingly into Ron’s. “Go to the Yule Ball with me. Please.”

Ron’s stomach flips. He nods. “Yeah, all right. Fine.”

Zabini fucking beams at him, and god fucking dammit, it’s cute. He lets go of Ron’s arm and claps his hands together. “Brilliant. Well, then, I should hunt down Theo’s brother and see if he has any denim I can borrow.” Zabini speaks quickly, excitedly, without seeming to need to pause for breath. “What other dress guidelines should I follow? I’ve some trainers, they’re a little bit fancy but I think they’ll probably do — ”

“Wait,” Ron cuts in frantically before he can get too carried away. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I told you, I don’t mind,” Zabini says, still seeming genuinely unperturbed, which only solidifies Ron’s reluctant resolve.

“No, I’ll…” Ron heaves a sigh and drags a mittened hand over his face. “I’ll wear dress robes. If you’re, er, still willing to lend me some, that is.”

Zabini looks both surprised and thrilled. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Ron says. He doesn’t say that Zabini’s easy willingness to go to the trouble of borrowing some kid’s jeans just to go out with him is one of the most endearing things he’s ever seen, or that it somehow managed to trick him into wanting to reciprocate.

“I’ve got the perfect set for you,” Zabini declares happily. “Would you like to accompany me to Slytherin to see them?”

“No way,” Ron says, panicked, then feels a little guilty for being so blunt. Again. “I, er, I trust your judgment. I guess.”

Zabini nods, unfazed. “Then I’ll bring them to Gryffindor when I come to pick you up.”

“Not that either!”

Zabini raises an eyebrow. “You realize that people will see us together at the ball, don’t you?”

“I know,” Ron mutters, feeling his face heat up despite the cold. “I just don’t…” He trails off when he realizes he doesn’t have a good excuse. He shrugs instead. “Listen, just… Meet me in the prefects’ bathroom, all right? I’ll get the robes from you then, and then we can just...head to the ball from there, I guess.”

“All right.” Zabini looks amused, which is sort of annoying, but Ron guesses he probably deserves it. “I’ll see you then.” He flashes one last bright smile at Ron, then turns and heads back towards the castle, leaving Ron wondering how the hell he’s managed to get himself into this tit of a situation.




Ron glares at his hair in the mirror in the prefects’ bathroom. In the ten minutes since he left Gryffindor Tower he’s somehow fucking forgotten what he usually does with it, which is stupid because what he usually does with it is literally fucking nothing, but for some reason that doesn’t fucking seem to be working right now. He drags his hands over his face and groans. Zabini’ll be here any minute now, and his fucking hair is still behaving like an absolute fucking heap of goblin pubes, and he’s starting to consider just shaving it all off or maybe just dropping out of school effective immediately so that he won’t be allowed to go to this stupid fucking dance.

The bathroom door swings open and in walks Zabini, dressed in probably the nicest robes Ron’s ever seen. “Hello, Ron,” he says grandly. He’s clearly all ready for the night, and Ron’s suddenly hyper-aware of his own wrinkled trousers and untucked shirt.

“Hey.” Ron scrubs a hand through his goblin-pube hair self-consciously. “Sorry, I’m, er, not quite…” He trails off, not even really sure what he’s apologizing for.

“Nothing to be sorry for,” Zabini says with a smile. He offers Ron a carefully folded parcel of deep blue robes. “These are for you.”

“Right. Thanks.” Ron takes the robes and lets them fall open to inspect them. Okay, actually, these are the nicest robes he’s ever seen. What the fuck. He casts a dubious look at Zabini, who doesn’t seem to find anything odd about the situation, and Ron sighs. It’s not like he’s got any other choice at this point, really.

He clears his throat. “Could you, er. Turn around?”

Zabini raises his eyebrows. “Really? You aren’t even — ”

“I know,” Ron says, flapping a hand at Zabini frantically. “Just. Please. Okay?”

“All right,” Zabini says, amused, and turns his back to Ron.

Ron feels slightly less uncomfortable now that there aren’t any dark, seductive-ish eyes on him while he tries to get dressed, and he shrugs on the too-fancy robes. As he starts doing them up his gaze wanders over to Zabini, who appears to be fascinated by the wall in front of him. Ron had thought his robes were black at first, but they’re actually just a really dark green, and the way they fit Zabini’s slender frame makes Ron think they were probably tailored specifically for him. Prick.

He gets to the top of the robes and frowns when he realizes he has no idea what the fuck is going on there. It’s got some kind of weirdly complicated collar, with buttons in places that make no sense, and strings for some reason? He turns to the mirror to try and get a better look at it, but it doesn’t really help.

“What the fuck,” he mutters, tying a few of the strings together and then promptly untying them. “What the fuck.”

“Need a hand?” Zabini asks, back still turned.

“No,” Ron says, scowling. He mashes two of the buttons together in a last-ditch attempt to make something work. Then he sighs and admits, “Yeah, maybe.”

“May I turn around?”

“I guess.”

Zabini comes over, and Ron turns to face him, still scowling with frustration. “What the fuck are these?” he demands, brandishing the strings in Zabini’s face. “What are these supposed to do?”

“Nothing. They’re ornamental,” Zabini explains. He moves in closer and reaches up to brush Ron’s hands aside. “Allow me.”

Ron begrudgingly drops his hands down to his sides and lets Zabini take over. He thinks Zabini’s probably standing a little closer than he needs to, but he seems to be wholly focused on doing up the stupid robes, so Ron guesses it’s fine. Also, he smells really nice. Like, really nice.

As Zabini works at the fastenings with his ridiculously long, elegant fingers, he bites at his lip with concentration, and for some reason Ron can’t stop staring at that, so he tries to distract himself. “Green, huh? You Slytherins sure like green.”

Zabini glances up to meet his eyes for just a moment, then chuckles and returns his attention to his task. “I didn’t choose these robes for a reason as silly as house pride.” His lips, which Ron is apparently still fucking staring at, curve into a smirk. “I chose them because they look very, very good on me.”

They do, is the thing, and Ron thinks that since this is technically sort of a date then maybe he should say so, but he can’t quite bring himself to do it. Luckily, Zabini doesn’t seem to be waiting for a response before he continues.

“That’s also why I chose these ones for you,” Zabini murmurs. He finishes with the robes and smooths his palm gently over his handiwork, across the top of Ron’s chest and shoulder. “I thought they’d look lovely with your eyes.” Then he looks back up and gives Ron a bright, self-satisfied, completely fucking disarming smile. “And I was right. Look. Wait, no, one moment — ”

Zabini reaches up and cards his fingers through Ron’s hair while Ron stands frozen in place. He does not remember how to act like a human person anymore. He just stares at Zabini, at his dark eyelashes, his sharp cheekbones, his awful little smile as he fusses with Ron’s hair. After a minute he nods and withdraws his hand. “All right. Now look.”

Ron lets Zabini manhandle him into facing the mirror again, and he’s shocked to see that this probably actually is the best he’s ever looked. Whatever Zabini just did to Ron’s hair has somehow made it seem like it’s supposed to be that way, and he was right about the robes, too; they do look surprisingly good on him. He actually thinks he looks sort of handsome.

And then he looks over at Zabini, who’s watching him in the mirror, and he’s reminded that, right, yeah, that’s what a handsome bloke really looks like. There’s a tiny pleased smile on Zabini’s lips, and as he meets Ron’s eyes in the mirror his smile widens. “You look lovely, old chap,” Zabini says, and he sounds like he really means it, which is sort of insane.

“Thanks,” Ron mumbles back, and the fact that he can literally see himself turning red in the mirror only makes him flush even redder. “Uh, you too.” It’s about the best he can manage under the circumstances, but Zabini seems perfectly pleased.

“Thank you very much,” Zabini says, beaming, and he offers his hand to Ron. “Shall we?”

Ron stares at it. There is no fucking way in hell he's going to...hold Zabini’s hand, or let himself be escorted, or whatever the fuck Zabini’s trying to do here. But he doesn’t want to leave the bloke hanging, either, so he just slaps his hand in an awkward sort of high-five before turning and rushing out of the bathroom, face hot. Behind him, he can hear Zabini chuckling quietly as he follows.

They make their way down to the Great Hall, and by the time they get there it’s at least a quarter past. “Fashionably late,” Zabini says with a smile, and even though Ron thinks they’re really just late he just nods without saying anything.

Ron glances around the hall, though he’s not really sure what he’s looking for. He knows his friends won’t be there yet; when he snuck out of Gryffindor Tower, Harry and Hermione were still getting ready before they went down to Slytherin. He does, however, spot an enormous shrimp fountain in the back of the hall, and his mouth instantly begins to water.

“Shrimp,” he says, and steers Zabini towards the refreshments.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to dance first?” Zabini asks, looking amused, as Ron all but shoves him towards the back of the hall.


As soon as they reach the table Ron releases Zabini to fend for himself and immediately grabs a plate and a handful of fried shrimp. He drops about half the shrimp onto the plate, then shoves the rest directly into his mouth. Fuck, that’s some good fucking shrimp. He’s found heaven at the Yule Ball. He picks a couple back up off the plate and stuffs those into his mouth too.

As he chews he adds more shrimp to the plate, along with a few different dips and sauces. He probably made a mistake putting this much shrimp in his mouth at once. It’s going to take him a while to swallow all of this. He gets a cup and fills it nearly to the brim with punch to wash the shrimp down with whenever he finally finishes chewing.

After a minute, Ron realizes he doesn’t see Zabini anywhere, so he walks around the table until he sees a tall dark head a little ways away. He starts heading over there, focused on balancing his shrimp-piled plate and overfilled cup.

He’s so intent on not spilling anything that he makes it almost to Zabini before he sees Harry and Malfoy standing there with him. Ron screeches to a halt, and his punch splashes over onto his hand and probably onto Zabini’s nice fucking robes, too, but it’s too late anyway. They’ve seen him.

“Ermf. H’llo.”

“Classy,” Malfoy says arseishly, while Harry just stares at Ron, brow furrowed with confusion.

Ron’s about to retort, full mouth and all, when he’s distracted by Zabini moving closer, way closer, and sliding his arm around him. Ron’s brain short circuits.

He sort of registers Malfoy’s apparent shock — “Wait, are you — are you two here together?” — through the weight of Zabini’s arm around his shoulders, but it’s not until Zabini replies that he regains enough presence of mind to do anything about it.

“I don’t know what you’re so surprised about,” Zabini says, even as Ron hurriedly shakes his arm off his shoulders. “It was your idea.”

“Well, yes, but…”

“Honestly, I just sort of can’t believe Ron agreed,” Harry puts in with a glare at Ron. “You gave me and Hermione so much shit for dating Slytherins!”

“Imf — ” Fuck. Shrimp mouth. Ron chomps down the last of it and swallows hard, luckily managing not to choke on the still-too-big chunks. He glares right back at Harry. “It’s different. I’m not dating a Slytherin. We’re just…” He trails off, knowing it’s obvious but still not willing to say it. He just gestures awkwardly. “You know.”

“On a date,” Zabini supplies unhelpfully.

Ron can feel himself flushing all over, a self-conscious heat spreading over his face, neck, arms. “We just figured that one way or another it’d get you lot to fuck off about it, so.” That’s true, actually, and really not as humiliating as it could be, so with more feeling Ron adds, “Fuck off about it.” He pops a couple more shrimp into his mouth to prove his point, somehow.

“Well, we’ll leave you to it,” Malfoy says, to Ron’s relief. “I’ll be expecting a thorough explanation from you after, though.”

“Don’t worry, darling,” Zabini assures him, “I’ll be sure to give you all the dirty details.”

Ron chokes on his shrimp. Harry pats him on the back, though it’s more out of sympathy than any effort to help with the choking. He’s seen Ron choke on his food enough times to know the best thing is to just wait it out. “Good luck with this one, mate,” Harry says, and heads off with Malfoy.

Zabini steps closer to Ron again, looking concerned. “Are you all right? Should I…?” His hand hovers over Ron’s shoulder like he’s considering giving him a solid thump or two on the back. Ron shakes his head quickly and waves Zabini off, so he just stands there looking awkward while Ron coughs.

When he’s finally managed to clear his throat, Ron takes a big swig of his punch, then straightens up to his full height and gives Zabini the most serious glare he can muster after just having hacked his lungs out. “Dirty details? What fucking makes you think there’ll be any of those?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Wishful thinking, I suppose.” Ron must look fucking horrified, because Zabini laughs and pats him gently on the shoulder. “I’m kidding, darling, relax. I told you, I only want to do what you want.” Zabini pauses, then adds, “Speaking of which, how would you feel about dancing? Once you’ve finished your food, of course.”

Ron doesn’t even want to think about dancing. The very mention makes him feel clammy and awkward, much like the Yule Ball fourth year. Instead he says, “You haven’t eaten anything yet.”

“I don’t intend to. It appears to be dangerous.”

Ron scowls, and Zabini’s teasing grin grows wide. “I’m fine, Ron, really.”

“But — I’m still eating, and I’ll feel like an arse if you have to just stand there while I keep — ” Ron cuts himself off as soon as he realizes how stupidly desperate he sounds.

Zabini studies him for a moment, that unreadable little smile on his face again. “All right, if it’ll make you happy,” he says at last.

“I wouldn’t say happy,” Ron says quickly. “Less uncomfortable, mainly.”

“I’ll take it,” Zabini says, and heads back over to the refreshments.

Ron takes another gulp of punch, feeling even more awkward now that he's just standing by himself. But just a few seconds later, there’s a tap on his shoulder, and he instinctively turns around only to see that there’s no one there. He huffs loudly and keeps turning until he sees a grinning Ginny on his other side. “Real mature, Gin.”

“Thanks,” she replies, and steals a shrimp from his plate.

“Oi! Get your own!” Ron snaps, pulling the plate away before she can take any more.

“I didn’t think you were coming tonight.” Ginny takes a bite of the shrimp and her eyes widen. “Damn, that’s some good shrimp.”

“I know,” Ron says irritably. “And I didn’t think I was coming, either.”

Ginny hums as she chews her stolen shrimp. “Get a last-minute date, or did you just decide you didn’t want to miss out on the fun?”

Ron pretends he didn’t hear her. “Hey, where’s Luna?”

“Getting some food, I think.”

“Shouldn’t you be over there too, getting your own fucking food?”

“Nah, I’m good. Are you avoiding the question?”

“What question?” Ron says, pointlessly, because Zabini is heading back over to him, now arm in arm with Luna. Both of them are carrying plates of chocolate-covered strawberries, though Luna’s plate is significantly more stacked than Zabini’s.

“Hello, Ginny,” Zabini says with a pleasant smile. Luna lets go of his arm and instead latches onto Ginny’s as Zabini comes to stand by Ron.

Ginny glances back and forth between the two of them with surprise, but unlike some people Ron knows, she’s actually got a tiny fucking bit of tact, so all she says is, “Hi, Blaise. Having a good time?”

“Very much so. I was just talking with your lovely date about the Inklebutch infestation in your dormitory. Dreadful, really.”

Ron’s never heard of an Inklebutch, figures it’s probably just some more made-up Quibbler shite, but Zabini’s saying it with such a straight face that maybe it’s actually real. He only thinks that for about a second until Zabini glances at him and gives him a sly little smile, like he’s in on the joke, and Ron almost smiles back before he catches himself and looks away.

“I’m so glad you two came together,” Luna says with a dreamy smile. “You make a lovely pair.”

“Yeah, Ron, you actually look surprisingly nice,” Ginny says, cocking her head and frowning. “Where’d you get those robes, anyway?”

Ron’s mouth opens and closes, unable to think of a good cover, and he briefly contemplates just leaving. Unfortunately, Zabini beats him to the punch. “I lent them to him.”

Ginny looks fucking ecstatic, but Ron gives her a Don’t you fucking start or I swear to god I’ll return your fucking Christmas gift glare, and she wisely keeps her mouth shut.

“Oh, that’s so kind of you,” Luna sighs happily. “They really do look nice on you, Ron. They bring out your eyes.”

Zabini nudges Ron and smiles. “I told you so.”

“Whatever,” Ron mutters, rolling his eyes and trying to stop himself from turning red. “Thanks, Luna.”

Ginny gives him a You are so getting your arse handed to you later look before turning her attention to Luna and wrapping her arms around her. “So how’s the spread?”

As the girls start talking, Zabini turns back to Ron and holds up his plate meaningfully. He picks up a chocolate strawberry, takes a tiny bite, and raises his eyebrows. “Happy?”

“Less uncomfortable,” Ron replies, and is surprised to find that he actually means it a little bit.

Zabini laughs and takes another, larger bite, and Ron enthusiastically starts back in on his shrimp. The strawberries look pretty good too, though. Maybe he should’ve saved some room on his plate for some of those.

Zabini catches him eyeing them and smiles. “Would you like one?”

“Oh, er — that’s okay,” Ron says sheepishly.

“Are you sure? You’re welcome to it if you’d like. They’re very good.”

“Um…” Ron hesitates, then decides, what the hell, it’d be weird if he refused only to go and get his own in a minute anyway. “Yeah, okay. Thanks.” He reaches over and grabs a strawberry from Zabini’s plate. “You, uh, can have some of my shrimp too. If you want.”

He sort of doesn’t think Zabini will accept, because there’s no graceful way to eat shrimp and Zabini only does things gracefully, but he smiles and plucks up a shrimp. “Thank you,” he says, and proceeds to eat the shrimp gracefully, with his stupid long fingers and his stupid soft-looking mouth. Ron hates him.

Zabini finishes chewing and swallowing before he speaks again. “Oh my. I see now why you’re so keen on the shrimp. It’s fantastic.”

“Yeah,” Ron replies, feeling weirdly a little proud at having picked out a good dish. As if any of the dishes offered would fucking be bad.

“How do you like the strawberry?”

Ron forgot to try the strawberry. He was too busy staring at Zabini’s stupid long fingers and stupid soft-looking mouth while he ate the stupid shrimp gracefully.

Ron hurriedly takes a bite, hoping that Zabini won’t notice it’s his first one, and before he even has a chance to taste it he says with his mouth still full, “S’good.” Oh, it’s actually really good. Fuck. He’ll have to get some more of these bad boys. After he’s finished his shrimp, obviously.

“Good,” Zabini says, looking pleased. “You can have as many as you’d like. I got too many, anyway.”

“Are you serious?” Ron says incredulously. “You got, like, four.”

“Six,” Zabini says, sounding defensive, almost petulant. “I’m watching my figure.”

Ron snorts. “That’s ridiculous,” he informs Zabini as he finishes off his strawberry and reaches for another.

“And why do you say that?”

“No reason. It’s just that you’ know.”

Zabini looks curious now, dammit. “I’m what?”

Ron takes a huge bite of his second strawberry so that his mouth will be full and maybe Zabini won’t be able to understand him when he says, “Sort of fit, or whatever.”

As his bloody luck would have it, it’s not a very big strawberry, and the words come out only slightly muffled but still definitely audible. A wide, pleased smile spreads across Zabini’s face. “Why, thank you, old chap. I didn’t know you thought so.”

“I don’t,” Ron says unconvincingly, mouth still half full of strawberry.

“You just said — ”

“Ronald!” a familiar shrill voice interrupts, and Ron is pretty sure he’s never been happier to see Hermione. She’s headed over to them with a forlorn-looking Harry in tow, and doesn’t let go of his arm even after they’ve stopped in front of Ron and Zabini. “Sorry to interrupt, but — ”

“You’re not,” Ron says quickly, turning his attention to Hermione and Harry with relief. “What’s up?”

“Where are Pansy and Draco?” Zabini adds.

“Draco left,” Harry says, sounding completely heartbroken.

“What do you mean, he left?” Ron demands furiously. “He just abandoned you in the middle of the ball? Where’d that slimy little ferret go, I’ll fucking — ”

Hermione rolls her eyes. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, there’s no need to be so dramatic. Pansy went with him. He’s probably just had a wardrobe malfunction or something like that and needs her help fixing it privately.”

Ron scowls, unconvinced. “Or maybe they’ve come to their senses — or, like, whatever Slytherins have instead of senses — and realized that Slytherins and Gryffindors don’t mix, and they’ve run off to — to go be evil, or something.”

Hermione clears her throat and cuts her eyes meaningfully at Zabini, and Ron’s face goes hot with embarrassment. “Or, I mean — you know,” he backtracks lamely.

But Zabini just looks neutral as ever. “I’m sure they’ll be right back, just as Hermione’s said,” he says with a polite smile.

“Thank you, Blaise,” Hermione says, very cordially, before turning her attention back to Harry. “See? Nothing to worry about.”

“Hey, what’s going on?” Ginny asks as she and Luna join the group. “Where are Pansy and Malfoy?”

“Wardrobe malfunction,” Hermione answers at the same time as Ron says, “Off being evil.”

“I’ll go looking for them, if you want,” Ginny offers. “It’s been too long since I got in a good Bat-Bogey Hex.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Hermione says, glaring back and forth between the two Weasleys. Ron feels a little surge of pride for his baby sister and her quick Slytherin-hexing reflexes. “Everything’s fine. Harry, why don’t you tell us what happened?”

Ugh. Listening to Harry mope about Malfoy is just about the last thing Ron wants to do right now. He immediately tunes it out and instead decides to nab another strawberry from Zabini’s plate.

But when he turns to Zabini, he realizes that Zabini seems...uncomfortable. He still looks cool and composed, so Ron’s really not sure where he’s getting the impression from. Maybe it’s the tight line his lips are pressed into, or the way his eyes are darting around the room instead of focused on the person speaking in the group like he usually does since he’s fucking courteous as hell.

Ron suddenly feels very stupid and rude. Whether he likes it or not, Zabini is his...well, he knows what Zabini is, even if he still can’t bring himself to say it. And Zabini’s uncomfortable. They’re in a group of Ron’s friends — Zabini’s on decent terms with most of them, but they’re still Ron’s friends — and his two best friends have disappeared somewhere without bringing him along, and people keep saying (okay, Ron keeps saying) moronic shite about those friends and Slytherins and Gryffindors and what the fuck ever.

No wonder the bloke’s uncomfortable. His date’s being an utter tit.

So instead of taking a strawberry from Zabini, Ron takes a tentative step closer to him. “Hey,” he says, lowering his voice so he won’t interrupt the others. “Er, sorry. About what I said. About Malfoy, I mean.”

Zabini shrugs and smiles. It looks nonchalant, but Ron can still see an awkward stiffness in the movement. “That’s all right. I’m aware that you hate Draco.”

“That’s not true,” Ron protests, even though it sort of is. “At least, I don’t always hate him. We get along sometimes.”

“Do you, now?” Zabini asks, raising an unconvinced eyebrow.

“We do!” Ron insists, though he’s not really sure why he’s trying so hard to convince Zabini of this. “Just the other night we — well, uh.”

Now both of Zabini’s eyebrows shoot up with interest. “What happened the other night?”

“We...agreed on something,” Ron says cautiously. After how his friends reacted to that specific conversation, he’s not really sure he wants to live it again.

“On what?” Zabini presses.

And because Ron still feels bad for making him feel uncomfortable, he sighs and says, “That the earth is flat.”

Zabini blinks at him. “That’s what you agreed on?”

“Yeah. And before you go fucking heckling me — ”

“I’m not going to heckle you.”

Ron blinks back at him. “You’re not? Do you…?”

Zabini shrugs, but this time it really does seem carefree. “Frankly, I don’t care what shape the earth is.”

“Oh.” Ron doesn’t really know what to make of that. “Well, it’s flat.”

“All right,” Zabini agrees easily, with a smile that’s neither patronizing or mocking, just...nice. He looks a lot less uncomfortable than he did a minute ago.

Spurred on by that small victory, Ron continues, “I mean, it just makes sense, doesn’t it? If it wasn’t flat we’d know by now, wouldn’t we?”

“One would think so.”

“And I know they say Muggles have got it figured out with their science or what the fuck ever,” Ron goes on. He’s starting to get a little worked up now. “But Muggles also don’t think magic exists, so what do they know? Why should we trust their word on anything?”

Zabini nods, expression still serious. “You make some valid points.”

Ron pauses and narrows his eyes at Zabini. “You’re taking the piss, aren’t you? Letting me go on about this just so you can go laugh about it later.”

“What?” Zabini actually looks genuinely surprised and a little distressed at the accusation. “No, of course not. You’re talking, I’m listening. That’s what people do on dates, you know.”

“I know,” Ron says, feeling a light flush rise to his cheeks. Again. “Just… I don’t think this is really what you want to be doing.”

Zabini just laughs at that. “I don’t think you know what I want, darling.”

Ron’s blush grows hotter and deeper. “Yeah, I guess not,” he mumbles, looking down and scuffing at the floor with his shoe.

“So I’ll tell you,” Zabini continues magnanimously. “I’m interested in what you’re saying. I’d like you to finish.”

“That’s really what you want?”

Zabini looks a little bit exasperated. He cocks his head and raises his eyebrows suggestively. “That, or we could go snog in the gardens. Your choice.”

“Sn— ” Ron splutters, feeling a bit like he might spontaneously combust. “Talking’s — talking’s fine, yeah.” Zabini motions for him to continue, so he quickly downs what little is left of his punch and sets the empty cup on his plate so he has a free hand to gesture with. “So the way I figure it…”

Ron immediately falls back into the enthusiasm he worked up just a minute ago. He finds it’s surprisingly easy when Zabini seems to be hanging on his every word. He keeps nodding and hmming and asking questions like Ron’s the most fascinating, intelligent person he’s ever met, like everything Ron says is something that deserves to be heard. It’s been a long time since someone treated Ron that way. Possibly never.

They both finish off their food — well, Ron finishes most of it, including two more of Zabini’s strawberries — as Ron keeps talking. He’s so wrapped up in his monologue (“So when we went to Egypt,” he’s saying, drawing a long sharp line in the air with the flat of his palm, “if we didn’t have magic we’d’ve fallen off”) that he doesn’t notice what’s happening until it’s already begun.

“Harry,” a familiarly obnoxious voice echoes throughout the whole hall, and Ron stops mid-sentence as he and Zabini both turn to the source. Malfoy’s onstage, looking terrified as all hell. “I need to tell you something,” he continues. Ron exchanges a bewildered look with Zabini.

“I love you, Harry,” Malfoy says, and Ron frowns, even more confused. Wasn’t that already common knowledge?

A few feet away with the others, Luna cups her hands around her mouth and shouts back what everyone’s thinking: “We know!”

Ron snorts with moderate amusement. Zabini, on the other hand, fucking loses it.

Up on the stage, Malfoy keeps talking, and a few of them — Harry, obviously, and Hermione, and Parkinson, who’s apparently returned from being evil when Ron wasn’t looking — are paying attention, but Ron immediately stops listening.

He’s never heard Zabini laugh before, not really, because if this is what Zabini laughing sounds like, then anytime he’s done it before has been fake. It’s loud and high-pitched and horrible, the first thing about Zabini that isn’t polished and perfect. Ron likes it. He...really likes it.

“Oh — oh my god,” Zabini wheezes. He’s got tears of laughter running down his cheeks. He tries to take a step towards Luna, but doubled over as he is he stumbles and grabs Ron’s arm to catch himself. Caught off guard, Ron clasps his hand over Zabini’s on his arm to help steady him. “‘We know.’ Merlin, Luna.”

“What? We do,” Luna says, frowning quizzically at Zabini. “I just thought he should know that we know.”

“Good thinking,” Zabini agrees, still laughing. He uses the hand not holding Ron’s arm to wipe the tears from his cheeks, then reaches down into a pocket of his robes. “Luna — Luna, here.” He pulls out a handful of Galleons and attempts to push them into her hands as she stares at him, baffled. “Luna, take it. I want you to have it. You deserve it.”

“You really are strange,” Luna says, shaking her head with amusement and pulling her hands away. “Stop trying to give me money.”

“Then let me do something for you,” Zabini insists. “Anything. You name it. Consider it an I-owe-you.”

Ginny nudges Luna gently. “Ooh, have him take care of the Inklebutch problem.”

Luna purses her lips, considering. “I’ll think about it.”

“Grand,” Zabini says, still looking thrilled, as the music starts back up again. He still hasn’t let go of Ron’s arm, which Ron realizes is maybe because he’s holding him there. He moves his hand off of Zabini’s, but Zabini doesn’t let go, and Ron figures maybe it’s better that way anyway, just in case he loses it and almost falls over again.

“Well, if you’ll excuse us. Don’t have too much fun,” Ginny says to Ron with a shit-eating grin. He flips her off, and she just laughs and lets Luna drag her back to the dance floor. Harry, Hermione, and Parkinson have all disappeared again already too.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to dance as well?” Zabini says, casually, still holding onto Ron’s arm.

“I think I need more punch,” Ron announces instead of answering. He starts back towards the refreshments, and Zabini releases his arm to let him go.

Ron takes his time getting a new cup and filling it up with punch. He’s starting to feel really nervous again, which he knows he probably doesn’t need to because he and Zabini have been hanging out for a little while now and neither’s tried to hex the other or anything. But now all his friends’ve gone off to dance and it’s just the two of them again. He’s pretty much only been talking to Zabini, anyway, but at least they were there just in case.

He manages to buy himself some time by letting some younger students cut in front of him, but eventually he’s got his punch and has no choice but to head back. Zabini’s moved over to stand against the wall, gaze travelling around the hall with mild interest. When he sees Ron approaching him his eyes widen and he gives Ron a dazzling smile. “There you are. I was beginning to think you’d left out the bathroom window.”

“The bathrooms in the castle don’t have any windows,” Ron says unthinkingly.

“Figure of speech, old chap.”

“Right.” Ron attempts to cover his embarrassment by taking a sip of punch. “D’you call all your dates old chap?”

“Not all, no,” Zabini says, tipping his head thoughtfully. “Only the ones I’m trying to seduce.”

Ron almost chokes again, but the little teasing smirk Zabini’s got on annoys him enough to force himself to keep it together. “Interesting tactic,” he says, trying to keep his expression as cool and carefree as Zabini’s. “And how’s that tend to work for you?”

“I’ll let you know at the end of the night.”

“Fuck you.”

Zabini laughs, and it’s not the same hysterical cackle as before, but it’s sort of in that direction. It sounds real, anyway. “I don’t know about you, old chap, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this evening so far.”

That sounds real, too, which really throws Ron for a fucking twist after all the hokey seduction shite. “Uh, yeah,” he says, scratching at his eyebrow awkwardly as he tries to figure out the appropriate way to respond. “It’s been...not completely terrible.”

“Why, Ron, I’m very flattered.”

“You — ” Ron groans and drags his hand over his red face. “You fucking know what I mean.”

“I do,” Zabini agrees amiably. He seems to get a kick out of making Ron blush, which is just fucking great. “Now, if I may ask, do you think you’ll be interested in dancing at any point in the evening, or shall I cease inquiring?”

Ron considers excusing himself for more punch, but his cup’s still mostly full, so he sighs and shrugs. “I dunno. Probably not.”

“May I ask why?”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“That’s another part of dates,” Zabini says, slowly, like he’s teaching a first year who’s never talked to a girl before. Or a bloke, or...whatever. “In addition to listening, one can ask questions, and then listen to the answers.”

“Fucking cheeky,” Ron grouses, taking another swig of punch out of spite. Zabini appears to be waiting for an answer, though, so he sighs again. Loudly. “I dunno, it’s just not my thing. It was a fucking nightmare fourth year, honestly, and that was after the lessons and everything. Haven’t really done it since then, so I imagine it’d be even worse now.”

“So it’s not because of me?”

“Not really,” Ron says, which is actually mostly true. Sure, he doesn’t love the idea of being seen dancing with Zabini by the whole fucking school, but at this point it really is more the dancing that’s the issue than Zabini. “You’re all…” Ron gestures vaguely. “You know. Elegant and graceful and shit. If I had to dance, you probably wouldn’t be a bad person to have to do it with.”

“That may be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, darling,” Zabini says, with an amused little smile.

“Yeah, well.” Ron shrugs uncomfortably. “You’re, er, you’re welcome, I guess.”

Zabini just smiles at him for another moment, then looks back out to the dance floor, and his lips form a little O of surprise. “Oh, my. How scandalous.”

“What is it?” Ron asks curiously. He tries to follow Zabini’s gaze, but doesn’t see anything interesting, let alone scandalous.

“Look, here…” Zabini moves in closer and, for the second time tonight, wraps his arm gently around Ron’s shoulders. For the second time tonight, Ron freezes.

Zabini smells good. And his arm is warm, and the weight of it is weirdly sort of pleasant, and his breath tickles Ron’s cheek, and that’s what tips Ron off to the fact that he’s still talking.

“Uh.” Ron shakes himself internally. “Sorry, what?”

Zabini’s dark eyes twinkle. “Are you going to go into a state of shock every time I touch you?”

Ron feels his face heating, and it’s mostly from embarrassment but not entirely. “Probably. You keep surprising me.”

“You don’t think you’ll get used to it?”

Ron shrugs, lightly, not enough to shake Zabini’s arm from his shoulders. “Maybe. Depends how much you keep doing it.”

Now it’s Zabini who looks surprised, but very, very pleased, and suddenly Ron realizes that they’re... flirting. He hasn’t flirted with anyone in ages, and here he is, at the fucking Yule Ball with fucking Blaise Zabini, and Zabini’s arm is around him and he’s not doing anything to get it off, and they’re flirting.

He’ll check himself into the Janus Thickey Ward in the morning. For now, he nudges Zabini where their sides are pressed lightly together and says, “So, the scandal?”

Zabini looks lost for a moment. Ron feels a little thrill of satisfaction at being the one to throw him off for once, but it only lasts for a second before he’s shaking his head as if to clear it. He leans in closer and says, “See, just over there.” He gestures discreetly towards a corner across the hall from them.

Ron follows the movement and sees that in the corner, Madam Hooch and Madam Pomfrey are snogging surprisingly passionately for a couple of birds as old as they are. His jaw drops.

“Bloody hell,” Ron mutters, horrified but unable to look away.

“I know,” Zabini says, sounding just as disgusted yet fascinated as Ron feels. “Do you think they realize they’re still in public, or are they too senile to know any better?”

“Hard to say. You’d think they’d at least go outside or something. That’s where people are supposed to snog. Merlin.” Ron forces himself to quit gaping and takes a big gulp of his punch, sort of wishing it was spiked.

“Good grief.” Zabini sighs and leans into Ron. His lips are now very close to Ron’s ear, and Ron’s not really sure whether that’s intentional or not, but he doesn’t say anything, and Zabini continues in a low murmur. “If they keep on like that, hippogriffs won’t be called hippogriffs anymore.”

Ron bursts out laughing, barely managing to swallow down his punch only for it to come back up and out through his nose as he snorts. It burns and it’s horrible and his eyes water, but he’s still laughing, even as Zabini produces a handkerchief from somewhere within his robes and offers it to Ron.

“Thanks,” Ron wheezes, accepting the handkerchief and wiping his face with it. “And, uh, sorry.”

“Not at all,” Zabini says with a brilliant smile. He looks awfully happy for a bloke whose date just snorted punch all over his borrowed dress robes.

“What does — ” Ron stops and coughs into the handkerchief. A little more punch comes out of his nose. God, that’s acrid. “What does that even fucking mean? Hippogriffs won’t be called hippogriffs anymore? What the fuck, Zabini?”

“I don’t know,” Zabini says, still grinning. “My mother says it sometimes. Also, you can call me Blaise. Perhaps should, even.”

Ron’s instinctive reaction to that is No thanks, but he figures that’s probably not the right answer, so he nods. “Okay...Blaise.” Yeah, he doesn’t like that. That’s weird. He’ll just...avoid addressing Zabini by name, ever. That’s fine. It’s only for the rest of the night, anyway, and then they’ll probably never talk again.

That thought gives him an odd little twinge of doubt and worry. Never talking to Zabini again. Is that really what he wants?

What he wants is to not think about that right now, he decides. He gulps down the last of his punch to soothe his burning throat and tosses his cup. Now both of his hands are free, and he doesn’t know what to do with either of them. He crosses his arms and uncrosses them again. What do they even do now? They’re done eating, and they’re not going to dance. Ron suddenly feels more uncomfortable than he has all evening.

Luckily, Zabini isn’t quite as fucking clueless and awkward. He leans in to murmur in Ron’s ear again, and it’s definitely intentional this time. “Would you like to go for a walk in the gardens?”

A chill runs down Ron’s spine, promptly followed by a slower, prickly heat, as he remembers his own words from just a minute ago. You’d think they’d at least go outside or something. That’s where people are supposed to snog. He could say no. Zabini’s been really respectful of him and what he wants and is comfortable with or whatever. If he said no Zabini would listen.

“Yeah, okay.”

Zabini smiles and lets his arm slip down from Ron’s shoulders so that his hand is at the small of Ron’s back instead, then starts guiding him towards one of the garden exits. Ron glances around nervously to see if any of his friends are watching, but Harry’s disappeared mysteriously with Malfoy, and Hermione and Parkinson are still groping on the dance floor, and Ginny and Luna are spinning around with their eyes closed, which seems sort of dangerous but suits Ron's needs right now. The coast is clear.

As they step out of the hall and into the gardens Ron takes a deep breath. The cool air is refreshing; he hadn’t realized how hot and stuffy it was in the hall, but this is much nicer. There are twinkling lights strung all around, as well as some floating orbs placed every so often overhead. It’s beautiful, and it’s romantic. Ron’s not really sure how he feels about that.

Zabini gives him a light nudge, and when Ron looks over at him he smiles. “Shall we?”

Ron swallows hard. “Uh, yeah.” He knows what’s coming next. He isn’t sure why he isn’t doing anything to stop it.

They start walking down the path ahead of them, and Zabini drops his hand from Ron’s back, apparently trusting him to follow along to whatever dark corner he’s going to lead him to. “What are your plans for the holidays?” he asks conversationally.

Small talk. Ron appreciates that. A distraction from how fucking nervous he is. “Same as always, really. Just family stuff.”

“What family stuff do you do?”

“Well, we’ll all get together — Harry, too — and Mum’ll cook a shiteload of food and we’ll sing really badly and argue a lot and generally be a bunch of arseholes. It’s all in good fun, though.”

Zabini smiles softly. “That sounds quite nice.”

“Yeah,” Ron says dreamily, thinking ahead to the Christmas Eve feast, and the Christmas feast, and the Christmas and Christmas Eve leftovers over the following week. Merlin, he loves Christmas.

“And your mother will be knitting sweaters for you all, I presume?”

“Probably, yeah.”

“That’s lovely,” Zabini says, with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. “I always thought those were wonderful.”

“Really?” Ron asks, frowning. “I would’ve thought you’d think they were… I dunno, tacky.”

“There’s nothing tacky about love.”

“I guess,” Ron says uncertainly, but Zabini seems as sincere as ever. “Er, how about you? Holiday plans?”

“Similar to yours, actually,” Zabini replies with a little smile. “Spending time with family and eating good food. Only, it’s just my mother and me, usually. Perhaps Draco and Narcissa, if they’re not too busy, but they usually are.”

Ron frowns, trying to imagine it. Christmas with just one other person. He can’t imagine spending Christmas with just him and his mum and no one else. It doesn’t seem right. “You like it that way?”

Zabini shrugs. “It’s the only way we’ve ever done it. I like it fine. My mother and I get along well, so it’s good company.”


They walk in silence for a minute. Zabini takes a turn, and Ron’s heart speeds up, but it’s just another open path. Are they really just...going for a walk? He wasn’t expecting that. Zabini asked him a question. He should ask one, too. Keep the conversation moving.

Come on, Ron. Think of a question. Any question. Any question except —

“Don’t you want to snog?” he blurts out. Oh, god. Why did he say that? Why would he say that?

Zabini stops short and turns a bemused look on Ron. “Why? Do you?”

Ron has never been so mortified in his fucking life. He is hot and sweaty and shaky all over his body, and he’s sort of expecting himself to melt to the ground at any second, which would actually be fucking great. Anything to get away from this moment, from this conversation he started, from Zabini’s dark intense eyes that are digging into him and unburying everything he’s ever tried to hide or deny about himself.

Ron swallows. “No.”

Zabini just gazes at him for another moment, then tilts his head, expression carefully neutral. “Are you sure?”

Ron doesn’t answer. He can’t answer. Instead he says, “I just — I thought you did, because you mentioned it earlier, and the thing about the dirty details to Malfoy, and the — the touching, and the old chap seduction technique thing, and — and — ” He doesn’t have anything else to add to the list. That’s all he’s got. Jokes and casual touches from a man who’s best known for being a charmer and a flirt.

Ron is so. Fucking. Stupid.

“You were joking,” Ron says, his voice embarrassingly hollow. “All of it was a joke. I fucking — ”

“Ron,” Zabini interrupts. He sounds panicked. “Stop it. I don’t — It’s not a joke.”

Ron looks away, unable to maintain eye contact. “I don’t believe you.”

“I mean — ” Zabini sighs, obviously frustrated. “Just because something is said as a joke doesn’t make it untrue, Ron. Whatever you may think of Slytherins at large, I’m not much of a liar. It’s too much of a hassle. Everything I said — no matter how I said it — ” He reaches up and touches gentle fingertips to Ron’s jaw, which surprises him enough to let Zabini turn his head to look him in the eye again. “I’ve never said anything to you that wasn’t true, darling. And I never will.”

Ron’s starting to believe Zabini a little bit, which makes him feel sort of like he’s falling with no idea how soon he’s going to hit the ground. “But then…” He can’t finish the thought. He doesn’t know how, even if he wanted to.

Zabini cocks his head and raises his eyebrows. “Did you think I was going to just drag you into some dark corner and attack you?”

“Sort of,” Ron admits, scrubbing a hand roughly through his hair. God, this is humiliating.

Zabini sighs again, but now there’s a hint of a smile on his lips. “I’m much more subtle than that, old chap. I had a plan, you see.”

“A plan?” Ron repeats dumbly.

“Yes. A rather good one, too, if I may say so. Shame I didn’t get to carry it out.”

Ron knows it’s bait. He takes it anyway. “What was the plan?”

“Well,” Zabini says, earnestly, as they start walking again. “First, I wanted to just talk with you. I wanted to get to know you better, and to let you know me better. I’d hoped to show you that I wasn’t as horrible as you seemed to think I was.”

“I don’t think you’re horrible,” Ron says. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t sound very convincing right now, but it’s true.

Zabini chuckles quietly. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“What was next?”

Zabini angles his face slightly towards Ron, just enough so that Ron can see the corner of a nervous smile. “Next, I was going to try and hold your hand.” As he says it, the back of Zabini’s hand grazes against Ron’s down at their sides. “I was just about to, actually, before you… Well, you know.”

“I know,” Ron mumbles, still embarrassed, but the heat down at the back of his hand travelling slowly up his arm and into his chest is of a different kind now.

“I’d accepted that it would likely take a few tries,” Zabini continues. His hand stays pressed lightly against Ron’s, maintaining contact even as they walk. Ron could easily pull away and break the contact, but he doesn't. “I might have just kept bumping into you and pretending it was an accident if you seemed put off.”

Two of Zabini’s fingers hook cautiously with Ron’s. Ron really doesn’t think there’s any way Zabini could’ve passed something like that off as an accident; the touch is too warm, too electric, to go unnoticed. He plays along anyway.

“Yeah, that makes sense.” Ron slowly, tentatively, slides his hand against Zabini’s until he finds the right spaces between his fingers, then intertwines them. His heart thuds so loudly he’s sure Zabini can hear it, but he can’t really get any more embarrassed than he’s already been, so he doesn’t dwell on it. “What next?”

“Well, I was intending to just keep walking and talking awhile. I didn’t want to rush you, you know.” Zabini casts a subtle glance at Ron, subtle enough that Ron probably wouldn’t have caught it if he hadn’t already been staring at Zabini. Zabini brushes his thumb across the back of Ron’s hand and smiles, and Ron tears his eyes away, his cheeks warm.

Zabini falls quiet for a minute, and Ron’s briefly confused but then he realizes: Zabini’s giving him an out. A chance to just keep walking and talking. That’s so fucking nice. He knew Zabini was like, a classy gentleman or whatever the fuck, but he never expected him to be this nice.

Ron suddenly notices that his mouth is really, really dry. He should’ve brought some punch out here with him. He swallows and hopes his voice doesn’t sound too hoarse when he speaks up again.

“And then what?”

Zabini’s gaze snaps instantly to Ron, and the way his smile grows wide and sharp makes it clear that that was exactly what he was waiting for. “And then I was going to drag you into a dark corner.”

He makes a sudden turn, tugging Ron along with him, as he continues, “I thought I’d fabricate some story about my head hurting as an excuse to look for somewhere to stop and rest. Somewhere quiet and dark, so as to soothe my headache, of course.”

Ron lets Zabini lead him along, a little slack-jawed. Zabini really did have this all planned out. How long had he been thinking about this?

Soon they reach a relatively secluded area, partially hidden by the hedges and backed by the stone wall of the castle. “Perfect,” Zabini murmurs as he pulls Ron into the space. “And once I had you here, I was going to make my move.”

“Right, because nothing else you’ve done tonight counts as making a move,” Ron says, as cool and sardonic as he can manage.

Zabini laughs. “Oh, darling, not compared to this.” He pulls Ron around so his back is facing the wall and steps in close. Ron takes a step back without really meaning to, and Zabini follows, matching him step for step until his back hits the wall with a gentle thud.

Their fingers are still interlocked, and Ron finds himself clinging way too tightly to Zabini’s hand in hopes that it’ll ground him a bit, but it somehow just makes him feel dizzier. Zabini reaches up with his other hand and places it on Ron’s chest, right over his pounding heart.

“And then,” Zabini says, almost in a whisper. His face is so close to Ron’s, his gorgeous eyes and his perfect mouth and his insane cheekbones, and his hand slides up Ron’s chest and neck until he’s cupping Ron’s cheek with his perfect long fingers — “If you let me, I was going to kiss you.”

Ron can’t move, can’t breathe, can’t think about anything but how close they are and how warm Zabini is and how hot Zabini is, Zabini’s hot, he has to admit it, Zabini’s hot and Ron wants him and for some inexplicable reason Zabini wants him too, this is happening and he wants it to happen, needs it to happen —

“Pretty good plan,” Ron says breathlessly.

Zabini grins, bright and triumphant. “I thought so,” he agrees, and kisses Ron.

His lips are just as soft as they look as he moves them slowly against Ron’s. Ron suddenly doesn’t remember how to kiss — now he’s sort of wondering if he really ever knew, actually, because he doesn’t remember it ever feeling this good before — but he does his best, and the kiss only lasts for a couple of seconds before Zabini pulls back.

“All right?” he asks, his face still just centimetres from Ron’s.

“I didn’t hate it,” Ron says, stupidly, like a stupid idiot.

Zabini looks surprised, but before Ron can try and backtrack and say something less fucking moronic Zabini just laughs.

“Well, that’s a relief.” Zabini moves in a little closer, slides his hand around to the back of Ron’s neck. “I’m going to kiss you again,” he murmurs, “unless you tell me otherwise.”

Ron doesn’t give him the chance. He cups Zabini’s face in his hand and kisses him hard, drawing a little gasp that quickly turns into a sigh. Zabini kisses back enthusiastically and moves in closer, fingers twisting gently into the hair at the nape of Ron’s neck.

It’s only a few seconds at most before Zabini’s tongue runs lightly across Ron’s lower lip. Ron’s suddenly really self-conscious about all the shrimp he had earlier, but there’s nothing he can do about that now so he parts his lips anyway. Zabini immediately slips his tongue right the fuck into Ron’s shitty fried seafood mouth, and he tastes amazing, like strawberries and chocolate and a hint of mint, and if he’s noticed the shrimp taste he doesn’t really seem to care.

Ron disentangles their fingers so he can take Zabini’s face in both hands and angles his head to kiss him deeper. He’s rougher than Zabini, his movements less precise and delicate, but judging by Zabini’s quiet hums and sighs he doesn’t mind that either. He slides his arm around Ron’s waist and presses in against him, and Ron lets out a quiet groan.

Zabini pulls back just enough to give them both some air. Ron drops his hands to Zabini’s shoulders and takes all of one breath before panting, “You’re...really hot.”

Zabini’s eyebrows shoot up, looking taken aback but flattered. “Am I, now?”

“Yeah.” Ron’s eyes flutter shut as Zabini starts pressing light kisses to his jaw. “So hot, and you’re like — really nice, and that’s hot, actually, and — ” He inhales sharply when Zabini moves down to mouth at his neck. “And you’re really good at that, fuck.”

He can feel Zabini chuckle against his throat, tickling his skin, and Ron grimaces apologetically even though Zabini can’t see. “Sorry, I’m fucking...ruining the mood…”

Zabini abruptly pulls away from Ron’s neck and gives him a beseeching look. “No, don’t stop. I love it.”

Well, Ron reckons he shouldn’t be surprised that Zabini has a thing for being praised. He makes a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sigh, then leans in to press his lips briefly to Zabini’s before mumbling against them, “Won’t stop if you don’t stop.”

Zabini kisses Ron on the mouth again, firm and lingering, then obligingly moves back down to Ron’s neck. His soft kisses are punctuated with sharp little nips at Ron’s skin, and Ron thinks that if not for the wall at his back and the arm around his waist his knees might just fucking give out like a fucking damsel in distress.

“That’s — shit, that feels good,” Ron gasps out, clutching at Zabini’s shoulders. “I can’t believe I never — can’t believe I ever said no to you, ever, that’s just — ” Zabini’s teeth scrape across his collarbone, drawing a keening moan from Ron. He has no fucking idea when Zabini undid the top of his stupid fancy robes — he’s been too occupied with what Zabini’s mouth is doing to pay attention to his hands — but they’ve been pushed out of the way so that Zabini can suck a mark into Ron’s skin. Ron groans loudly and lets his hands slide down to Zabini’s chest.

“God, I think I’m losing my mind and I don’t even care, I just want you and you’re funny and considerate and sexy as hell and I’m so, so fucked because I think actually fucking like you and you’re so fucking hot and I don’t want us to never talk again after tonight, I don’t want to never — fuck, Zabini, I can’t do this, I just — ”

Ron fists his hands in Zabini’s robes and jerks them both around, slamming Zabini into the wall a little harder than he means to. Zabini gasps at the impact, and Ron winces. “Fuck, sorry,” he starts, but Zabini’s already kissing him again, and the apology is quickly smothered and forgotten.

Ron’s never been kissed like this before, with this much fervor and need and purpose, like every move Zabini makes is carefully calculated to drive him crazy. Zabini’s hand tangles in Ron’s hair, alternating between stroking and tugging in a fucking maddening way, while his other hand smooths over the bare skin of Ron’s shoulder beneath his undone collar.

Ron’s hands drag down Zabini’s sides to grab onto his hips and push him harder against the wall, eliminating any remaining space between their bodies. He can hear panting but he’s not sure whether it’s him or Zabini or maybe both. He lifts one hand back up to Zabini’s face, and Zabini leans right into it, groaning quietly against Ron’s lips.

All of a sudden Zabini pulls back, leaving Ron’s mouth cold and confused. “Ron, I think we should stop.”

Ron blinks at him, mouth still hanging half open, as he tries to process. Zabini’s full lips are pink and kiss-swollen, his dark skin flushed and his eyes half-lidded. He looks just as randy as Ron feels —

Shit,” Ron hisses as he realizes just how hard he’s been pressing his body against Zabini’s. He jumps back to put some space between them. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Zabini says, shaking his head with a breathless laugh as he smooths out his robes. “It’s only a matter of circumstances, old chap. Believe me, I would be more than happy to continue this at another time.”

“Another time?” Ron repeats, hesitant but hopeful.

Zabini shrugs nonchalantly, but he glances away like he’s nervous. “If you’d like there to be another time.”

“I would,” Ron says much too eagerly. Zabini looks back at him grins, and Ron flushes. “I mean, you’re, er — you’re good at it. It’s good. Or whatever.”

Zabini laughs. “If you think I’m good at this, you should see me dance.”

Ron chews at his lip for a second. “Okay.”

Zabini’s eyebrows raise. “Okay?”

“Yeah,” Ron says, looking down and scuffing the toe of his shoe against the ground before forcing himself to make eye contact again. “We could, uh, go back inside. And dance. If you want.”

Zabini’s whole face lights up, and Ron’s heart skips a beat. “I would love that,” Zabini says. He moves a little closer to Ron again and reaches up to brush his fingertips across the skin exposed by Ron’s unfastened robes. “But I should probably make you decent again first, lest everyone think we’ve been out snogging in the gardens or something scandalous like that.”

“Oh. Right, yeah.”

Ron stands still and lets Zabini redo the fastenings, fighting the urge to lean in and kiss him again. Zabini still looks as proper and composed as ever, his robes hardly even rumpled. Ron’ll have to do a better job of that next time.

As he works, Zabini says, “By the way, don’t think I didn’t notice you calling me Zabini again.”

Ron scowls. “Really? Out of all the shit I said, that’s the part that sticks?”

Zabini chuckles and reaches up to caress Ron’s cheek with his thumb before returning to the fastenings. “Oh, I remember it all, old chap, but I thought you might be embarrassed if I reminded you that you called me sexy as hell and told me that you liked me.”

“Well, I’m not,” Ron says brazenly, despite the color rising to his cheeks yet fucking again. “I meant it. So there.”

“Well, then, you’ve certainly shown me,” Zabini murmurs with a little smile. He finishes with the fastenings, cards his fingers quickly through Ron’s hair to smooth it out, and meets Ron’s eyes again. “I just think that if my tongue’s been in your mouth, my name should be, too. Don’t you agree?”

“I guess,” Ron says, knowing full well that he’d probably agree with just about anything Zabini said right now.

Zabini cups Ron’s chin in his hand and leans in until their lips are almost touching. “Say it.”

“Blaise,” Ron tries, and it doesn’t feel nearly as weird this time as it did before. It’s sort of nice, actually.

“Again,” Zabini commands, Blaise commands, as he smiles and brushes his thumb across Ron’s lower lip.

“Blaise,” Ron whispers. “Blaise, god, Blaise.”

Blaise beams at him, then finally closes the gap and kisses him again, soft and tender. Ron’s heart can’t seem to decide whether it wants to stop or speed up or just explode, but when Blaise pulls back, he looks so blissfully content that Ron reckons he really doesn’t care what happens to his heart as long as Blaise is the one doing it.

Still smiling, Blaise takes Ron’s hand in his and starts to lead him back out into the light.

“Follow me, darling,” Blaise says brightly, and without question, Ron follows.