Lonely Reign, Part 3
Wednesday, 12:24 pm, Great Hall
At lunch, Laura endeavored to become better acquainted with her new companions. It hadn’t taken much to convert Goyle and Crabbe to being kindly disposed to her; she’d always been nice to them, as one was nice to one’s mildly retarded neighbour or cousin, and was pretty besides.
Zabini and Bulstrode, on the other hand, were neither mildly retarded nor unduly susceptible to a pretty face, and thus were harder nuts to crack, as it were.
“From where in Italy does your family come, Blaise?” she inquired politely over her slice of steak and kidney pie at lunch.
He looked startled for a moment, and then suspicious. “Why do you want to know?”
Laura laughed. “You act like no one’s ever asked you before,” she said, and then realized that the others didn’t seem amused. “Hasn’t anyone ever asked you before?”
“Never mind,” Blaise snapped sulkily. “Why do you want to know?”
“Because I love Italy,” she replied honestly. “My family spends a month there for the summer hols every year, in a villa in Tuscany.”
“My family’s from Tuscany,” Blaise admitted. “A little town named Guardistallo.”
“Not Guardistallo, near Livorno?”
“Yes, you know of it?”
“Of course! Our villa is in Tirrenia, not 35 kilometres away. Guardistallo is a lovely place, we market there every Thursday morning.” Laura grinned. “Speaking of food, it must be terribly boring to eat British all the time.”
Blaise rolled his eyes. “It is. Some days I think I’ll die if I don’t have some oregano or a bit of olive oil.”
“You could ask the kitchen elves…” she suggested.
“No, he couldn’t,“ Malfoy interrupted. “They hate Slytherins.”
“But they love Hufflepuffs,” replied Laura with a serene smile. “I’m sure I could talk them into it.” She bit thoughtfully into a roll. “We could have a picnic by the lake!”
The Slytherins did not reply immediately. “Madley,” said Malfoy eventually, “you do realize that it’s almost December, correct?”
“And that it’s twenty degrees?” added Blaise.
“And that there’s a foot of snow on the ground?” supplimented Millicent.
Laura frowned. “Defeatist attitudes!” she exclaimed. “I thought you lot were the ambitious ones of Hogwarts!”
“We’re ambitious,” piped the unfortunate Crabbe, who with his rumpled hair, askew tie, and turned-up collar looked anything but ambitious.
“We just don’t wanna get cold bums, sitting on the ground,” explained Goyle.
“So, we place a water-repellent charm on the blanket we sit on, and a warming charm on the ground and the air!” She rolled her eyes at them. “Honestly! Please do try to remember that we’re magical?”
Draco tossed his serviette onto his plate in disgust. “Ok, it’s painfully clear that the polite way won’t get anywhere with Madley,” he said, ignoring her snort of “Polite?”. “What we’re trying to say is that picnics are stupid, and we don’t care if it’s high summer, we don’t want to participate in one.”
He surveyed the faces around him, faces grim with determination to avoid such a thing at all costs. “And that, as they say, is that.”
Thursday, 12.09 pm, lawn outside Hogwarts castle
Laura removed a crusty loaf of bread and a small jug of gold-green olive oil from the hamper and handed them to Draco, who sat cross-legged on the other side of the red-checked cloth spread under a tree not far from the ice-glazed lake.
“There, that’s the last of it,” she said, surveying the feast she’d laid out before them. Aside from the aforementioned bread and olive oil, there was a platter of ham and melon bruschette, fat slices of mozzarella, tiny meatballs, stuffed grilled tomatoes, and for dessert, a massive chestnut cream cake which she’d placed behind her so Crabbe’s exploring fingers couldn’t wreak havoc with its carefully frosted surface before the moment of its presentation. She’d also managed to obtain…
“Wine?” Draco said, incredulous. “Where did you get your hands on a bottle of wine?”
“Bottles,” she corrected with a grin. “One white, one red.”
“And I repeat, where did you get the wine?”
But Laura only smiled mysteriously. “I told you that the kitchen elves love Hufflepuffs.” Handing the wine to him, she said, “Be a dear and open the white, will you, Draco?”
Blaise took the plate of mozzarella and expertly drizzled it with olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano. He breathed deeply of its aromas before passing the plate round.
“These ham things are brilliant,” Crabbe mumbled around a mouthful, reaching for another.
“Well, save some for the rest of us,” Draco snapped, slapping a glass of wine into the boy’s hand. Some sloshed onto Crabbe’s wrist, and Laura looked sternly at Draco.
He glared fiercely at her and popped a meatball in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. Draco was not pleased about this development. Somehow they’d gone from his explicit decree that they would not have a picnic in the snow, to doing just that, and it had all happened so quickly and subtly he was completely unsure how it’d come about.
Draco thought it might have had something to do with Laura simply arranging for the picnic anyway, and luring Blaise, Crabbe, and Goyle to the idea with promises of culinary delights. Millicent went along out of the morbid curiosity of one who can’t wait to see who’ll throw the first punch, and Draco… well, he’d simply been outnumbered by four shining faces and one darkly amused one.
Laura handed him a grilled stuffed tomato. He frowned at her. She raised her eyebrows and smiled innocently. He frowned again, and sipped his wine.
“We’ve an audience,” Millicent said in her most unfortunately growly voice, and Draco turned to see that they had, indeed, attracted a crowd.
“Oh, dear,” Laura lamented. “There’s not enough for everyone.”
“We’re Slytherins,” Blaise pointed out helpfully. “We don’t share.”
“Oh.” Her brows drew together in thought, and she withdrew her wand from her robes, causing her companions to shy away in terror. “Babies,” she teased. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“That’s what you thought last time, too,” Draco said. “And look how well that turned out.” He gestured expansively with his wineglass at their surroundings, as if they were crammed into a cell at Azkaban and two minutes from a Dementor-frenching.
Laura ignored him with a sniff and waved her wand over the bruschetti, saying, “Duplicato Infinito,” then got gracefully to her feet and approached the huddle of curious students closer to the castle.
“Hullo,” they heard her say. “Care for a snack?” All she lacked was the pinny. When everyone had been served to their satisfaction from the never-ending plate of finger-food, she returned and handed the plate to Goyle and Crabbe, who eagerly took advantage of it.
Draco, Millicent, and Blaise simply stared at her. “Who’d like cake?” she asked serenely, producing it from behind her and brandishing a knife.
Friday, 5.48 pm, Great Hall
It took Laura more than a taste of home or a full stomach to get on Millicent’s good side, but she was patient, determined, and diligent—in a word, Hufflepuff.
“Hannah and Susan and I are going to have a girls’ night, Mil,” she said carefully at dinner. “We’d love for you to join us.”
Millicent frowned at the casual and unsolicited nickname, peering with suspicion at Laura, over whom she towered by 6 inches and a good three stone of admittedly solid weight. “I could go as a way of investigating Hufflepuff’s dorms,” she said to Draco later.
He thought it a fine idea. “Bring a camera,” Draco instructed. “Take plenty of snaps, especially after they change into their shorty pajamas. And hopefully during the pillow fight.”
The younger Hufflepuff students stared, stricken, when Laura led Millicent into the common room. “Miilicent’s here!” she exclaimed cheerfully, as if they hadn’t all just yelped in terror and shock. “We’ll just be in the sixth year room with Sue and Hannah, if anyone needs us.”
The Hufflepuffs in the common room could not think of a single reason any of them could possibly have need of Millicent Bulstrode, or any other Slytherin, for that matter, but wisely remained silent.
Millicent followed the smaller girl up the stairs, surveying her surrounding with an air of deep mistrust. She was used to Slytherin’s dungeon dorms with their dank, windowless walls and green-and-silver decorations. Hufflepuff Central, however, had enormous windows with yellow silk drapes, and airy fan-vaulted ceilings, and everything was so fresh and welcoming.
Being neither of those things, she felt very out of place indeed.
“We’re here!” Laura announced, flinging wide the door to the dormitory to reveal Hannah Abbott on one bed and Susan Bones on another.
“Hi, Millicent,” Susan said indolently. She was lounging on her belly, flipping through the latest Teen Witch.
“Glad you could join us, Millicent,” said Hannah, and stood to give the Slytherin a brief and extremely surprising hug before turning to Laura and bestowing the same on her.
“So, what shall we do tonight?” Laura asked.
“Well,” Hannah began excitedly, bouncing a little on the balls of her tiny feet, “I thought we could try some new hairstyles—Mum owled me a book of coiffure charms—and Sue said she had a whole new set of nail lacquer, we could do each other’s nails…”
“I want to hear about that picnic,” Susan mentioned from the bed.
“Millicent’s on the Slytherin Quidditch team,” Laura began. “And since Susan just made chaser for Hufflepuff, I was wondering if you could give us some pointers on how to handle being the only girl on a team?” She looked hopefully up at Millicent, who felt her steely reserve bending. Just a little.
“Maybe,” she conceded, and allowed herself to be pushed gently to Laura’s bed and presented with a tray of nail lacquer bottles from which to choose.