Blaise had hoped that once business was out of the way, Angelina would be open to granting him the pleasure of her company another night—on a date. When he asked to see her again, however, she deliberately misread his intent, blurted that she'd owl if her teammates had any questions, and darted into her flat. The door had literally closed in his face.
In need of advice, he Apparated.
His mother's maid answered the door to her suite. "Madam Zabini is out on the terrace, sir."
"Thank you, Safiya. Does she have a wrap?" Summer nights on Holyhead were much cooler than on Zanzibar.
Blaise strolled to the drinks cabinet. He chose a bottle and reached for two glasses.
His mother smiled when he joined her onto the private balcony and offered a drink. "You are homesick tonight, Mwanangu?
Her "child" shrugged. "I had a yen for sugarcane juice with ginger and lemon." Blaise stood looking out across the dark water, wondering if Angelina stood at her window, thinking about him.
It was highly unlikely.
"What are you gazing at so intently?" his mother asked.
"The brilliant view."
His morose tone earned one of his mother's warm laughs. "Sit with me, Jabari. Share what troubles you."
He tore his gaze away from the lights glittering across the bay. "I do not deserve to be called by my Swahili name," he said, dropping onto the lounger beside hers. "I have not acted valiantly."
"Tell me why you say such a thing."
Blaise stretched out his legs. "I had the chance to act boldly and let it slip away." I should have kissed Angelina and then asked her out. She would have said yes...or at least not have run inside so quickly!
"You chose caution over daring. That is wise—and very Slytherin, Mwanangu."
Her calm assurance made him feel like a child sulking over the loss of a desired treat. His expression turned brooding. What if Angelina never gave him a chance, kept denying the attraction between them?
Blaise startled when his mother tapped his lower lip gently with a finger. "Stop pouting." She laid her hand on his arm. "Kinywa ni jumba la maneno."
Mouth is the home of words—her way of saying, "tell me how I can help."
He wasn't ready to talk about his situation. "How did my father win your affection? Uncle Akeem said you were three times a widow and vowed never to remarry."
"Byron was very determined. He did not care that others called me Mjane Eusi—black widow."
"He was determined…."
"And it didn't hurt that all the best of dark and light met in his aspect and his eyes." His mother smiled in a way she only did when speaking of her fourth husband—the only one married for love. "He recited Lord Byron to me, but it suited him with his skin like velvet night, and the stars he put in my eyes."
She had never spoken of his father like that before. Perhaps his mother was the one who was nostalgic tonight. Blaise said, "I must quote poetry?" The thought was discomforting, and yet, if it worked….
"Heavens, no! The poetry came later, after I was amenable to such things."
"Thank Salazar," Blaise said dryly, hiding his relief. He could imagine murmuring a poem while intoxicated by alcohol or his lover's body, but out of bed—sober?"
"Quote it later, when Angelina is amenable to such things."
Blaise stiffened. "I didn't mention her name."
His mother laughed like a schoolgirl. "You did not need to."
He smiled reluctantly. "True." He thought a moment, and then asked, "How am I to show Angelina my determination?"
"Your father was cunning. He didn't approach me like a suitor. He asked about places to visit, restaurants to frequent. Occupying the most expensive suite in my hotel, he expected my personal attention and got it." His mother's tone became dreamy. "He also wore bathing trunks at every opportunity, flaunting his—ahem—fitness."
Blaise didn't want to think of his parents admiring each other's fitness but her story did bring to mind the look on Angelina's face when he'd stripped down to his tee to match her casual attire.
Perhaps I should have continued stripping.
His lips twisted wryly. Enjoyable as it was to imagine Angelina overcome by desire, tearing off her own clothing and pinning him to the floor, he wanted there to be more than lust between them. He wanted to know her—to have her know him. He wanted a relationship, not one night of passion.
Yet how were they to build a relationship if she would not go out with him?
"I must find a way to spend time with her," he said to himself.
His mother chuckled. "And if you get the opportunity to show how fit you are—take it."
Blaise tried to keep the smile from his voice. "Are you telling me to wear swim trunks to team meetings?"
After shared laughter, his mother said with no trace of facetiousness, "No, but if you ever get the chance to take off your shirt…."
The moment she recast the security ward on the front door, Angelina headed for the kitchen. Her lips thinned. If Nia had finished off the last of the elf-made wine, she was going to short sheet her bed and put wasabi in the guacamole. She needed a drink!
There was only enough for half a glass. Angelina tossed down the blood-red wine like a medicinal potion and seriously considered chugging a six-pack of Butterbeer in the hopes that they contained traces of alcohol.
She snorted. "With my luck they wouldn't, and I'd end up pissing the night away—literally!"
Angelina shut the coolant cabinet with more force than necessary and stalked through the flat to her room. Why did Blaise Zabini have to be so attractive? His self-confidence, his sense of humour, his looks, and his voice: everything about him appealed to her.
Drawn to her window, she leaned a shoulder against the frame. On the other side of the bay, the grand hotel was visible only by enchanted candles twinkling like stars in the darkness. Unable to help herself, she pictured Blaise looking across the water, thinking of her. He wasn't wearing clothes.
Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! she thought angrily. I'm not a hormonal schoolgirl! I don't care what he looks like naked!
Angelina yanked the curtains together and spun on her heel. She needed a distraction.
An hour later, she was lying in the tub, futilely attempting to get into the Auror mystery she had been meaning to read for weeks. It didn't help that the protagonist was tall, dark, and handsome. Angelina kept mentally altering descriptions, envisioning a man would make it hard for his partner to insist their relationship remain strictly professional.
Instead of colouring suited to typical Irish descent, she imagined chocolate brown skin. Slightly shabby robes transformed into hand tailored. The hint of brogue in the character's voice became an occasional stress of the next-to-last syllable of a word—unconsciously mimicking the pattern of Swahili.
She tossed the book aside in self-disgust.
"That bad, huh?" Nia said from the doorway. Her green eyes sparkled with amusement. "I would've knocked, but your doors were open."
The flatmates had what they jokingly called the "Open Door Policy." If a door was shut, the others respected privacy. If it was open, it was an invitation to come in and talk.
"The characterisation put me off," Angelina said, scrutinising her friend curiously. "You're home early."
"Kathy hooked up with a bloke at the Green Dragon and gave me the "three's a crowd" signal." Nia's thumb held down her pinkie as she demonstrated the three-fingered wave. "No one else looked fanciable, so I decided to go by the off-license and pick up a bottle of elf wine to share with you."
"What if I'd been out?" Angelina said.
Nia burst into laughter.
Annoyed by the implication that she was a social recluse, Angelina said, "Shut up and go uncork the wine."
"It's already poured into our glasses, breathing and becoming mellow." Nia giggled. "As I'll soon be."
Angelina no longer wanted to drown her sorrows, so to speak, and she didn't want to talk about Blaise, but she did want some company. "I'll paint your toenails if you like."
"Would you? You're an angel, Angel!"
Angelina raised water-wrinkled fingers threateningly. "I don't need a wand to hex. I'm no angel."
"Mi scusi signorina Angelina!"
"I'll excuse you for speaking Italian with a brogue if you take that book with you."
"Grazie molto," Nia said with a smile, scooping up the book. "Ooh, Black Irish?" She fluffed the ends of her auburn hair. "He'd be better-looking as a redhead."
Angelina instantly thought of Fred. In the past, she used to imagine fictional heroes with his physique. "Yes, he would," she said, filled with guilt for thinking the hero would look even scrummier as a proud black man.
"I'll go get the polish," Nia said, backing away.
Angelina stretched out an arm for her towelling robe. "You do that."
Two days later after Friday practice, she stretched up her hand to ask if management had sent word about bonuses. In the changing room earlier, her teammates had bombarded her with questions, and all she could say was that she had been in contact with Zabini and done her best to represent the players' interests. Thankfully, no one asked for specific details.
Coach Glamorgan's thick, bristly brows drew together in a frown. Gruffly, he announced that the gold would be deposited in Gringott's vaults that very day. Wild cheering didn't lighten Glamorgan's expression. He clearly thought Angelina stole his thunder or some rot, and resented her for it. She lowered her eyes so he wouldn't see them roll. The man was such an arse.
When he announced that "Mr. Zabini" requested a player be chosen to act as liaison between team and management, the nominations were unanimous: everyone wanted Angelina to do it.
She shook her head. "No. Gwenog's Captain."
"And as your Captain, I'm ordering you to accept the position." Gwenog gave her a hearty clap on the shoulder. "Keep scoring for the team!"
"Score! Score! Score!" the others chanted, some laughingly, some with the same fervency heard from their fans.
A bizarre image popped into Angelina's head. She and Blaise, together on the pitch, his body pressing hers into the ground, his mouth over hers, kissing passionately. In a circle around them, the team stood clapping in rhythm.
Score, Score, Score!
Nia saw Angelina's blush and said, "We're just teasing, mate. You'll be brilliant."
"Could you start now?" Jo asked. The petite Seeker smiled apologetically. "I know it's only been a couple of days since the pipes burst, but the changing rooms smell mouldy and I have allergies."
"As soon as I've changed," Angelina said, seizing the excuse to retreat from her teammates—and the fluttering in her middle caused by the thought of lying with Blaise on soft, green grass.
The butterflies in her stomach resumed their swooping as she exited the lift on the management floor. In addition to a conference room, there were several offices, but the staff had already left. No one was around to ask where she could find Blaise. On a hunch, Angelina made for the right corner office. The door was open, so she walked inside.
Sleek, contemporary furniture made of dark wood filled an office formerly crammed with English oak. Blaise looked completely at home, as though he'd been management for ages, instead of days.
He caught sight of her and smiled. "Good afternoon." He nodded toward the wall of glass behind him and the pitch beyond. "The team had an excellent practice."
"Thanks." The knowledge that he'd been watching unsettled her: a ridiculous feeling. Blaise had every right to observe practice. He was an owner, after all, the one in charge of day-to-day management.
Reminding herself of those facts didn't stop a wash of heat from stealing across her cheeks. The glint of admiration in his gaze told Angelina she had looked good today.
"I was chosen as team liaison," she said, driven to establish that she hadn't come there for social reasons.
His lips curved. "Due to your skilful negotiation of the bonuses, no doubt."
Blaise's tone wasn't suggestive, yet she couldn't help but remember the tension that arced between them as they faced each other across a dinner table.
Tell me what you need, and I'll give it to you.
Everything he offered was so tempting; Angelina had virtually run into her flat to escape the urge to take what Blaise offered. It had been a long time since her last relationship, and she was lonely, but it was too soon after Fred's death. It didn't matter that he hadn't loved her. She had loved him.
Angelina brought her focus back to the present. "I hope I don't disappoint them on my first day."
He waved her toward a chair. "There's an issue? Tell me about it."
"The changing rooms already smell of mould, and Jo's allergic."
Blaise didn't resume his seat. "Let's go," he said, striding to the door. She jumped to her feet, surprised. Why would he check on the matter himself?
He waited for her to precede him. "I believe in hands-on management," he said as she passed.
Angelina bit her lip. Was her face that easy to read?
Blaise lifted an eyebrow. "I hope that doesn't disappoint you."
"Of course not," she said sharply. "I've waited for an owner to take an interest in something other than maximising profit ever since I got here."
Blaise easily kept pace as she marched down the corridor. "I'm interested in much more than profit," he murmured, following her into the lift.
Angelina didn't answer. She was too busy praying that the old lift wouldn't stall between floors. If she was forced to remain in close proximity with Blaise, she didn't trust herself not to find out if he was as gorgeous without clothes as she'd imagined. Worse, she might discover he was a man she wanted to spend time with out of bed.
She was not disappointed that the lift functioned perfectly. She was relieved. Completely. "You can't smell the odour from here," she said, leading the way to the changing rooms. "But when you get inside…."
Blaise coughed upon breathing the musty air. "You dressed out in this stench?"
"None of us had a choice—"
"You have a choice now," he said firmly. "Come to me."
She was not going to read anything more into his words than a desire to help the team. "I did."
Blaise took out his wand. "The cleaning service either did not show or cast weak spells. I will rectify the situation."
"You know cleaning charms?"
A boyish smile crossed his face. "Zanzibar is a tropical island. Spells are employed to control humidity and eliminate mould—especially in hotels."
Which his mother owned…. She watched him weave an intricate pattern in the air and asked to fill the silence, "My wand is Black Walnut. What's yours made of?"
"Black Palm—known for creating positive changes and creating opportunities."
Romantic opportunities? She laughed self-consciously. "My nose appreciates the change you made to the air quality."
Blaise glanced at his watch. "If you have time to accompany me to a manufacturer, I would appreciate your input on the selection of lockers and seating for the changing room refurbishment."
"I've made dinner plans," she said, to forestall him asking her out. In truth, she was going to order take-away and read a book.
"As have I," he said. "Our business should be concluded in a couple of hours, at most."
Unaccountably, hearing that he had plans made her tetchy. She wondered if he had a date—not that she cared. "Fine," she said briskly. "Is the manufacturer local, or will we Floo?"
"Floo. The company's in Caerphilly, Mid Glamorgan."
South Wales: she'd never been there before. "I heard there's a castle with a tower that leans more than the one in Pisa."
Blaise said, "If you're interested, after business concludes we could judge for ourselves before we return."
She shrugged as if she didn't care either way. "If there's time."
They made time to tour the castle, agreeing that the "walls within walls" defence system was impressive, although the leaning tower was the highlight of their visit. Blaise seemed amused by her insistence on purchasing a Muggle postcard. "The tower leans, not wobbles," she said defensively. "The photograph doesn't need to move!"
He stared at the postcard thoughtfully. "True."
Her jaw dropped when he purchased one—after borrowing some of her Muggle money to pay for it.
Later that night, Angelina's flatmates were equally astounded when she told them the story, but for a different reason.
"You're dating our scrummy owner?" Nia said, looking delighted.
Kathy, a simpler soul, said confusedly, "You picked out furniture? Does that mean the relationship's serious?"
"Changing room furniture, loony, not household." Nia turned to Angelina. "Was it lust at first sight? Tell all."
"We aren't dating. We toured a castle after a business meeting I attended in my capacity as team liaison. Nothing more."
"Are you sure?" Kathy asked. "Your voice was all breathy-like when you talked about him and—"
"Shhh! Stop teasing her before she kicks us out of the flat and we have to sleep on the street." Nia gave Kathy a meaningful look. "Angelina's acting as liaison and that's all, so why don't you be a mate and heat up some of our leftover chicken curry. Poor thing's prolly starving."
"No," Angelina said quickly. "Don't bother. The pub that served as a Floo station in Caerphilly had this buttery white cheese that's famous, apparently, so we shared a cheese-board. It had grapes, apples, tomatoes and a baguette. I'm still full."
"What kind of wine goes with that?" Nia asked.
Angelina wished she'd lied and said they'd drunk water when Kathy whispered audibly to Nia, "They had wine. That wasn't a date?"
"No. Come help me do the clearing up and I'll explain why," Nia said, steering Kathy toward the kitchen.
Whatever Nia said must have been convincing, because in the days that followed, neither Kathy nor any of the Harpies questioned whether Angelina's relationship with Blaise was other than professional.
As the weeks passed, she continued to act as a liaison, and was pleased that Blaise lived up to the promise of his Black Palm wand, effecting positive changes. Representing the team's interest, Angelina accompanied Blaise to shops and manufacturers to choose new brooms, new practice equipment, and new, stylishly tailored, team robes.
If they happened to share a drink, a meal, or visit some local place of interest on their business trips, Angelina refused to feel guilty about it. It didn't matter to her that he was strikingly handsome, intelligent, well read, with a wicked sense of humour and a strong loyalty to family. Blaise might be extremely fanciable, but she was willing to overlook it for the good of the club.
By the beginning of July, when the team officially entered the off-season, Blaise had taken more cold showers and resisted more temptation than some Slytherins experienced in a lifetime. He had restrained himself from approaching Angelina as a suitor, creating the liaison position to enable them to spend time together.
He had put that time to good use, sharing his thoughts and interests and listening when she shared hers. He planned their outings with care, walked Angelina to her door and said goodnight with a smile instead of a kiss. He even purchased Muggle postcards—eerie, frozen images—to show he was not prejudiced. He had been attentive and patient. What more could he do?
Angelina seemed content to exchange lingering looks and banter that edged on flirtation, but that wasn't enough for Blaise. He needed more. It was time to act.
He sent an owl, and then waited. At the appointed time, he Apparated to the street outside Angelina's flat.
She was sitting on the building steps, wearing a red shirt that reminded him of flame tree blossoms. The flowers would look lovely in her hair.
When he didn't speak, Angelina said, "You could have come up."
"I wanted privacy." He stepped forward.
Angelina stared blankly at the object he'd given her. "You needed privacy to give me a coconut?"
"It's a Portkey," he said. "I'm leaving for Zanzibar, and I want you to accompany me."
Her eyes were dark with emotion. "I'm not ready."
"I ask only that you be my guest at our hotel, and allow me to show you the island—my home."
She stood to face him. "That isn't all you want."
"No, but I have waited longer than you know, and I will wait as long as you need." He smiled a little. "Kwa heri ya kuonana. See you soon."
Zanzibar Island was lush and green, fragrant with the aroma of spices and the perfume of tropical flowers. The Indian Ocean embraced the white sand beaches, beckoning those on land to sail clear turquoise waters. With Angelina by his side, Blaise would have considered it paradise. Without her, the beauty was a mocking reminder of everything he wanted but didn't have.
On the third morning of their holiday, his mother looked up from the Tanzanian paper she was reading and said, "Sayyid is taking the dhow out today. Go fishing and stop brooding, Mwanangu. Angelina will come."
He was beginning to doubt it, but since he was bored, he obeyed his mother.
His young cousin jumped out of the wooden boat and splashed through the water to meet him. "Subalkheri, Blaise!"
Blaise ruffled the boy's soft black hair. "Good morning, Kami. U hali gani? How are you?"
"Sijambo, I am well."
From the dhow, Sayyid called, "Haya!"
"You heard your father, let's go," Blaise said.
The boy's eyes lit up. "Toss me like a fish at the market?"
Blaise grinned and picked his small cousin up by the waist and out of the water. The boy hollered joyfully as he hurtled through the air. When he splashed down near the dhow, Kami came up laughing.
An hour later, the boy sidled up to Blaise as he lounged on a bench, soaking up the sun. "I brought a book of stories, cousin. Will you read one to me?"
"You always bring a book of stories." Blaise turned his head toward the fishing poles.
"The fish are not hungry today," Sayyid said dryly, his face shaded by the triangular sail.
"Words are magic," Kami said earnestly. "If you read a story, the fish will come and you will catch one!"
Blaise reached for the book. "And if one doesn't, I throw you to the fishes."
Kami beamed. "Yes, please, and levitate me this time, so I float in the air."
Chuckling, Blaise leafed through the pages until he found a short story with an interesting title. Anansi Goes Fishing. As he read about the spider who planned to trick his friend turtle into catching a fish for him and ended up doing all the work and going hungry, he began to question: was he like Anansi? Had he tried to trick Angelina into a relationship only to end up hungry?
When hours passed without a nibble on any of the lines, they finally sailed back to shore. Remembering his playful threat, Blaise told Kami, "Your story magic didn't work, so you must be thrown to the fishes."
The boy's attention had wandered to the beach. He pointed. "Maybe you caught a mermaid and she washed onto shore!"
Blaise saw the woman waiting on the sand and felt like shouting for joy. Instead, he tore off his shirt and dove into the water.
As he waded through the shallows toward Angelina, he called out, "My young cousin thinks you're a mermaid."
She looked down at her floral sarong. "Because of the blue-green colours? He has a vivid imagination."
"So do I," said Blaise. "I've imagined you here so many times; I can't help but wonder if this is real or another fantasy." He reached out to touch her shiny black hair. "I never dreamt it would be so long out of braids."
"I used a straightening spell."
He rubbed the silky strand between his fingers. "It's beautiful."
"It's different," she said, "from what I was used to—what I've always been comfortable with." Her eyes searched his. "But I'm getting used to it, and I really, really like it."
Blaise took her hand and slowly lifted it to his lips. "I really like you, too." Her skin was smooth and firm, and one day soon, he would kiss every millimetre of it. "I'm glad you're here. Karibu."
Her smile was almost shy. "Doesn't that mean 'welcome'?"
"Yes." He continued to hold her hand as they strolled down the beach, deciding that, for now, he would keep to himself the literal—and for Blaise, intensely personal—meaning of the word.
A/N: Finis! Finally! Huzzah! Special Thanks to everyone who waited for this chapter and kindly asked about its progress from time to time. ;) I really enjoyed getting the couple to Zanzibar and hope readers did too. If I hadn't already quoted Byron and planned quoting a Swahili proverb, I would've had Dalila use Elizabeth Bennet's statement on poetry's effect on romance. But if it is only a vague inclination I'm convinced one poor sonnet will kill it stone dead. LOL. For My Fair Lady fans who wondered if Angelina's multiple 'damns' were inspired by Henry Higgins, yes, they were!
In looking up the magical properties of wood, I found that Black Walnut "couples reason with intuition to help a person grow spiritually and heal themselves from within." I thought that suited Angelina. :) There's a Muggle locker manufacturer in Caerphilly, which is why I based the wizard one there. (Yes, I Google every random idea that floats through my brain. :P) I also reuse characters when I can, like Sayyid and Kami from Gone Fishing. The African folk tale is one of many about Anansi the Spider.
For Bitter or for Worse readers might wonder if a chapter will post Friday. It will, pinkie promise, even if posts late Friday afternoon instead of bright and early in the morning, because I might have to work on it until the last minute. :D
The readers who reviewed the last chapter and helped motivate me to finish the story were...40/16, alix33, Alone All Along, Calenmarwen, Carnivalgirl, Cazx, Chrys-Moony-Marauder, Dannie7, Dark Rose of Heaven, ElspethBates, Freja Lercke-Falkenborg, LostHeart4, GraceRichie, Itsa Mia, Jo Claire, MollyCoddles, Moontime, Mrs. Hermione Jane Weasley, Newbie GK, obliviate36, PhoenixDreamer55, potteronpotluvhim, QueenBee11, RahNee, Slipknot-3113, sofia666, SOphia.weasley, summersgirl2526, tambrathegreat, and xoxphoenix .