Imani; faith — to believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
[BOOK YEAR SEVEN]
Desiree Warbeck’s arm was bleeding through her pink cow pajama top and dragon leather jacket. She was trapped in the Hogwarts kitchens, behind a fallen giant icebox that was too wide to climb in her injured condition and too heavy to lift with magic. This was it, the final battle everyone was worried about. An explosion had knocked the icebox down in front of her, with Desiree pressed tightly against the wall when she’d moved to avoid being hit. She’d banged up her back in the process and everything just hurt so much.
The blood had come from the Death Eater she'd been running from when she’d sprinted from the 7th floor – where she’d been helping the first years evacuate the castle — down to the kitchens to make sure the house elves were taken care of. She’d met Professor Sprout in the chaos and together they made it to the fruit bowl portrait and informed the elves. Some Apparated directly out, while others, led surprisingly by Kreacher, armed themselves to the teeth and swarmed up out of the room. Professor Sprout ran after them at Des’ assurance that she was okay, but several explosions left the Hufflepuff Seventh Year sweating, bleeding, and alone in the dungeons, with no one aware she was down there.
Desiree was sitting pressed against the wall, tensely listening for any intruders or helpers and feeling her knees cramp from the awkward position, when she heard He Who Must Not Be Named’s message of a truce while he waited for Potter. She let out a cool sigh through puffed cheeks and slumped against the wall, the weight of her battle exhaustion bearing down on her. Desiree searched her pockets, hoping she had her magical BSU parchment, but there was nothing. She rarely wore this jacket. It had been a gift from Blaise their fifth year and it made her feel badass. It was why she grabbed it on her way out of the dorm.
As she rested her head against the wall, trying to finally catch her breath, she thought of the brooding Slytherin. She hadn’t seen much of him this year. While last year he’d kept his distance in public, he still attended BSU meetings and hung out with her in the library or their spot behind the greenhouses. Their last real moment together had been in the music conservatory after Dumbledore’s funeral. This whole year they’d spent apart — Blaise keeping a low profile with Snape and the Carrows in charge, Desiree doing the same. She only saw him in class and they both avoided eye contact when they passed each other in the halls or at meal times. It was too painful. In her heart, she knew his unspoken feelings and she hoped he could feel hers. But that didn’t make their year (so close and yet so far apart) any easier. And she nearly felt her heart break when she saw him stride out of the Great Hall earlier when Headmistress McGonagall (Snape who?) ordered Parkinson and any other Slytherins out.
But Desiree knew Blaise. Even with You-Know-Who in charge of the Ministry and the school, Blaise wasn’t part of the torture squads the Carrows had formed. She wasn’t sure how he’d charmed his way out of that one, but she knew that he worked hard at maintaining an image, one that was ever so fragile because even Black pureblood families were in danger under He Who Must Not Be Named. But Des had challenged Blaise before about his relationship with Malfoy and his gang, and even as he pulled away from the BSU, she noticed that he had pulled away from that crowd too. Whenever Desiree saw him this year, he was alone and unsmiling. She missed his smile.
She started to feel a cold, creeping feeling. She couldn’t be bleeding out, it wasn’t that bad, but her arm was too weak to pull herself over the icebox to see. Even in the warm kitchens, wearing two layers of clothing, she felt an icy grip start to worm its way around her heart. She remembered all the times this year that she had spent crying in her dorm, terrified to leave. She knew she wasn’t the only one. Plenty of students had horror stories of torture and abuse by the hands of their fellow students, both in their off hours and sanctioned by the Carrows. She always felt guilty for feeling so scared — she was a pureblood, with a famous grandmother. That meant wealth and privilege, even if her Blackness sometimes put her at a disadvantage. There were so many students who had it worse than her, but she still woke up in the wee hours of the morning before her alarm, unable to go back to sleep.
That feeling of dread hit her now, the prickle of tears catching in her throat and behind her eyes. She was suddenly struck by the thought of being trapped here forever. What if no one ever found her? Or worse, what if the Death Eaters all came looking down here and attacked her? What if she did slowly bleed out over the course of three days, getting weaker and weaker with no one to come help? Now her breath was shallow and coming fast. She grasped at the floor, trying to figure out why she was spiralling. Then she heard the robes sliding slowly across the stone floor of the kitchen and knew what was happening: a dementor.
Desiree tried to remember what you were supposed to do for dementors and regretted never joining Dumbledore’s Army. She knew the incantation, but what was she supposed to do with it? It was hard to think with the fog of anxiety. In the back of her mind, the thought of Blaise saying her name suddenly pierced through the fog. He often said it with a laugh. She prided herself on being one of the few people who could make the stoic boy, well, man now, laugh. There…that was it. Happy thoughts, wasn’t it? That was what was supposed to go with the incantation. She thought of Blaise sitting at the piano in the conservatory and thought she heard her name again.
She lifted her arm, “Expecto Patronum” she whispered, but her injured arm was her wand arm and nothing happened. Thankfully, the dementor seemed to still be a ways from finding her. She clenched her eyes tightly and tried to root deeply for that feeling. She was heartened by the thought of Blaise saying her name again, and felt that feeling grow. But the overall dread still stuck in her throat, tears pricked behind her eyes and began to leak out onto her face.
Why did that sound so real? “Expecto Patronum!” said a strained voice. Desiree immediately felt the air lighten. “Expecto Patronum!” Again, it felt like a thin light cutting through darkness. “Expecto Patronum!” The voice, that had been searing her thoughts was now echoing off the stone walls and the dementor was gone.
“Desiree?” Blaise said one more time.
She raised her good arm weakly and said, “Over here.”
The icebox was ripped away and suddenly he was there, his face still lacking that delicious smile. Then suddenly his head was in her hair, his hands clutching the back of her jacket. The pinpricks of tears were still in her throat, but now she could release them as she clutched him back with her good hand. They stayed like that for a moment.
“Are you okay?” He said, his voice still muffled by her hair. She could only nod, feeling his heart thudding against her hand as she clutched his velvet cloak. Even in the middle of a battle, he was dressed to the nines. It was an absurd observation, and she laughed. It was then that he pulled just far enough back to see her face. He stared deeply in her eyes and caressed her cheek. It took everything for Des not to close her eyes again. “What’s funny?”
“Your cloak. It’s so…posh. We’re at war, or didn’t you know?”
“You’re wearing a Gladrags dragon leather jacket. Looks like I’m not the only one dressing up for the end of the world.” He fingered the lapel of the jacket he’d once given her with one hand, the other still pressed to her cheek.
“How did you find me?”
“I knew you’d come to the kitchens. You spend enough time down here. Then I saw this outside.”
He held up a chocolate frog. Attached was a square piece of blank parchment. It resembled their BSU slips, but was smaller and had a drawing of the two of them together on it. They were laughing. It was likely a sketch from a BSU meeting. “Did Dean do this? Was it in my pocket?”
“I see you’ve been wearing my gift often then,” he said sarcastically. “Yeah, it was in the pocket. I saw it on the floor at the doorway. And then I felt the dementor…”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’ve never been good with the Patronus Charm, but I just thought of you and was able to throw some silver slivers at it. I think they were called back to their master anyway.”
“You thought of me and produced a Patronus?” Desiree knew it was the middle of a war just floors above them, a count of the dead and injured to be had, but she felt like it was just she and Blaise left in the world.
“It should’ve been stronger.”
“It doesn’t matter.” And with that, she closed the gap between them, clutching the back of his black velvet robes as their lips pressed together. He responded in turn, both of his hands deftly sliding into her thick hair.
When she let him go, she grinned, “Be careful, your hands might get stuck there.”
“I don’t need them anywhere else,” he replied breathlessly.
They breathed each other’s air for another moment before a distant wailing broke them out of their spell. Blaise took a step back and looked her over, his face hardening at the sight of her bloody arm. He pointed his wand at her and muttered a spell. Desiree could feel the pierced skin knitting back together. He waved his wand a second time and the dripping blood disappeared. As he helped her to stand, her knees cracked, but she found that her previously shaking legs felt stronger with her hand in his.
“How’s the damage out there?” she asked. She lost track of how long she’d been down in the kitchens, but she assumed that more chaos had ripped the castle apart in her absence.
“I think it’s pretty bad, but I was only focused on finding you.” Desiree felt her already hot face flush anew at that. “Look, Des, I know it looked like I left but—”
“No, I get it. You had to do what you had to do to get the younger—”
“—I wanted to get the younger kids out.”
“Yeah.” For the first time ever, Desiree felt like they might be on the same page. “That’s more than most of your House. I can see how you’ve changed Blaise. Even when it’s seemed like you were farther away from me than before. I had faith. I could see you, Blaise.”
“Yeah, you always could,” he said with that perfect soft smile. Desiree felt another spark of warmth clearing away the chill left from the dementors.
They turned from each other, looking to the entrance to the kitchens, hesitant to go back out into the chaos.
“We should find the other BSU members,” Desiree said softly. “Make sure everyone is alright.”
They stood together for another minute. Up above, they could hear the scraping of benches and the sound of dozens of voices getting closer to the stairway near the Great Hall. Something else must be happening. The two looked at one another.
“You ready?” Blaise asked.
“I have never felt more ready.”
And together they stepped out of the portrait hole and up the steps, hands still entwined. They were going to face whatever was next to come with their community, with their school, and with each other. Nothing could stop them now.