A/N: This was written for Ladyoftheknightley's School Subjects Competition, subject Potions (write a oneshot that's longer than 2000 words), The Honeydukes Competition, category Drooble's Best Blowing Gum (write a oneshot that's longer than 2000 words) and Budapest All Over Again's Creatures of Hogwarts Competition, category Blasted-Ended Skrewt (write a story with a cross-gen pairing).
This story takes place after "What Happens At Midnight". What can I say? I loved writing about this pairing so I thought they deserved a suit. It is possible to read Persuing Dawn as a stand-alone one-shot, but it will make more sense if you've read WHAM first.
The train ride to Hogwarts differed from other years. The way he felt it, the smoke of the war was only slowly starting to lift; yet here he was, on the Hogwarts Express, again. The faces of the people on the Platform were gloomy and many of them had been wounded in battle, visibly – their many scars – or invisibly – the way they looked around like scared rabbits caught in a sudden flash of 'Lumos'. The students were different as well. Less talkative, less exuberant, less alive for lack of a better word. They glared at him as if he was the enemy in disguise. He tried in vain to convince them of the contrary. Once a Slytherin, always a bad guy, right? That's what they thought, anyway. He couldn't blame them: everyone was still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. Hell, he was still trying to pick up the pieces of his life.
He could have stayed at home. He didn't have to go back. In fact, he doubted many from his year would. He wasn't really looking forward to redoing his classes with students that had been a year below him last year, but he just wanted to know. Wanted to know if it could work when there was no pending war threatening their lives. Of course, he had not told this to his mother, or any of his former friends. He had stated that he simply wished to finish his school, so that it would help him get a career later on. It had been an argument they had understood. Draco and Theo had almost been convinced to do the same. He didn't know if they too had returned. He had never spent much time with Theo, who always was a bit of a loner at Hogwarts. And if Draco had returned, then he was probably too embarrassed to show his face.
Blaise Zabini stared out of the window and drew little figurines on the glass with his fingers. The real reason he was returning today was a woman. Last year, it had just been meaningless sex, passionate rendezvous to escape the surrealism that was war. But the war was over now and Blaise found himself thinking about her just a little too often. Over the summer, he had come to realise that their escapist liaison meant more to him. He did not know if she felt the same way or if she had closed that chapter of her life when the war ended. He had not contacted her during the summer, for he both anticipated and dreaded her refusal. He did not even know if she would be at Hogwarts this year, or if she even survived the war. The syllables of her name rolled over his lips in a soft whisper. Aurora.
Upon arrival at the castle, it was unmistakable that its wounds had not been fully healed yet. The East Wing of the building seemed to have suffered the most: the battle had been fiercest there and up until today the marks were still clearly visible. Where there ought to have been a solid wall, the stone bricks were absent in a way that allowed the approaching student body a view into its depths. The marble staircase that adorned the hallway leading up to the Great Hall had lost its grandeur now that creaks ran over the banisters. Several steps had disappeared altogether. Blaise could tell that the Professors, who undoubtedly spent their entire summer repairing the damage, had tried their best to restore the castle in its former glory. However, the building tauntingly flared its battle scars like a proud warrior. The Great Hall wasn't much better; the enchanted ceiling was gone and the House tables were arranged in a way that forced everyone to mingle – though admittedly the later must have been done on purpose.
Blaise sat himself down on one of the benches and dared a glance at the large oak table at the front of the Great Hall. His heart skipped a beat when he perceived the features of the one he had came back for. Skin the colour of milk chocolate, hair the colour of burnt coffee beans. Fiery like the sunrise she was named after. Their eyes met and she looked away, a blush of embarrassment spreading over her cheeks. She avoided looking in his direction for the remainder of the meal. He hadn't paid much attention to the speech, as all his attention was focused on her. When at last the last student had filled his stomach to a point where they could eat no other food for the days to come – however, miraculously, they always managed to do so again the next day – he tried to talk to her.
"Aurora, can we talk?"
She walked past him, ignoring his attempt, even when he tried again. When she was a fair distance away from him, he called out: "Professor Sinistra, may I speak with you for a moment?"
She turned around, anger flashing briefly over her face. The echo of his voice had carried far enough for other students to hear and she could not willingly ignore him without raising questions.
"You may," she nodded curtly. "Walk with me to my office."
They walked the short distance in an uneasy silence, until she beckoned him in and closed the door.
"It's been a long time since you called me Professor Sinistra."
"I wasn't used to being ignored by you."
"Why are you here?"
"I wanted to talk to you about us."
"There's nothing to talk about," she said brusquely. "There is no us. So I'll ask again: why are you here?" The accusation was eminent in her voice. Why had he returned to Hogwarts? Why had he come back to pick up where they had left, when it had been clear from the beginning that it ought to have ended with the war? Why remind her of that error of judgment she made a little over half a year ago, when all seemed dark and finite?
"So all of last year…never happened?"
"It was a mistake. It didn't mean anything."
"Come on Aurora, I know you don't mean that." He took a step towards her, closing the small distance between them. "I don't believe you." The tension was still there.
She turned away. "That's up to you. But it meant nothing. Just physical attraction, spurred on by the sense of finity that war brought upon us. It'll never be more than it was: a mistake. So you can leave, Mr Zabini, if that's all you came here for."
"That's your definite decision?" he asked, a little hurt.
"What did you think? That we would just pick off were we left? That you'd get another easy shag this year? I bet you told all your friends."
"That's not fair. I came back partly because of you. Because I wanted to know if it would work without a war catching up on us."
"Look Blaise, I can't do this. Not again." There was a sudden tiredness in her voice that hadn't been there before. "We never should have gotten involved in the first place. And if it hadn't been for the war…"
"I want to give it a try," he said with a persistency he didn't know he had. He bent over and tried to kiss her. She slapped him in reply.
"So far you have done nothing to convince me of your sincerity," she snapped. "So please leave. Now."
Blaise Zabini never turned down a challenge when it presented itself so clearly to him. And this was a challenge if ever there was one. She didn't think he was serious? He'll prove to her that she was wrong. There had been many a man who had attempted to woo his mother, so he had a fair idea of what would work and what wouldn't. Flowers always seemed to work wonders, therefore he knew what he'd do first.
A couple of days later, he glanced around the abandoned corridor. He knew he didn't have much time, so swiftness was necessary. It was also essential that no one saw him, else his plan would fall flat like a cake that was taken out of the oven too soon. Everyone would be in the Great Hall, having dinner, but one could never be too sure. However, there was no one to be seen and he proceeded towards the Astronomy Tower. There was of course also the possibility that Aurora would be preparing her classes, but he counted on the fact that she would be in the Great Hall with the other teachers. He found the top of the Astronomy Tower indeed empty and let out the breath he didn't realise he had been holding. He took the red velvety rose out of his pocket and placed it on her desk in a way that she was sure to find it when she came in. A hint of a smile graced his face and he felt almost sorry that he could not witness the look on her face when she discovered the rose. But that was part of the fun, wasn't it?
Every few days, he acted in a similar way, placing a single flower in a location where she couldn't miss finding it, a different flower every single time. After a week or three of these ongoing floral messages, her eyes questioningly sought out his during breakfast and he smiled mysteriously. He had definitely spurred on her curiosity and now it was about time for phase two in his plan to convince her that he effectively wanted to give whatever they had a try. Getting the flowers every few days and placing them somewhere for her to find, had been relatively easy, for he could order them by owl and have them addressed to himself. The next step took a bit more preparation. The florist he had let sent the flowers so far, was a local florist in Hogsmeade, who was bound to notice it if he started sending his flowers to Aurora from now on. Therefore, he had to take other measures.
In the small town in Italy where he had lived as a child had been a magical florist and he remembered that their flowers always appeared just a bit more perfected, just a little more fragrant. If only he could remember the name of the shop… He decided to take his chance and sent out an owl. The reply was swift and Blaise placed an order at Flora Fiorentina to send out their finest flowers to one Aurora Sinistra, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Hogsmeade, Scotland. He paid in advance, thus ensuring a daily delivery. At times like these, he was rather pleased with the monthly allowance his mother placed into his Gringotts account since he had become of age.
The next morning he sat at the breakfast table, in anticipation of the Owl post. He had little to none attention for his comrades, who had a heated discussion about the upcoming Quidditch match.
"What do you think, Blaise?" Draco's voice cut through his thoughts and he looked up to see the blond staring at him. Next to him, Marvin Ruefelt and Brian O'Meara looked expectantly at him too.
"I'm sorry, I appeared to have missed your question. Could you repeat it again?"
"I was asking who you thought would win today's match, Gryffindor or Hufflepuff."
"I don't really care," Blaise shrugged. "If it were up to me they'd both loose, all the more chance for Slytherin to take the cup."
They all laughed at that and he wondered how surprisingly easy his classmates had adapted to sharing classes with those who had been a year below them in the previous school year. He'd caught Draco casting glances in the direction of Daphne Greengrass' younger sister, much to the dismay of Pansy. But Slytherin had lost its prestige in the aftermath of the war and many a student gave them a foul look whenever they passed.
Their conversation on Quidditch was interrupted when the owls finally arrived, delivering the morning post. A speckled barn owl landed gracefully in front of Aurora, delivering a beautiful red rose to her, drops of dew still present on its velvety leaves. From where he was seated, he could perfectly see the blush spreading across her cheeks and he barely hid a smile.
The following days, this process was repeated, each day delivering a flower that was more beautiful than the previous, and it didn't take long for Professor Sinistra's mysterious suitor was the topic everybody in the school was talking about. Blaise didn't push his luck, but when Professor McGonagall announced that Hogwarts would host a masked ball at Halloween, that was open for the entirety of the magical community 'so that the horrors of war might be put behind them and friendship rekindled' he knew that was his chance.
He went to see her in her office and closed the door behind him. She had been marking essays and looked up when she heard the click of the door. The look in her eyes softened.
"The flowers really are beautiful," she smiled.
He approached her. "Not as beautiful as you," he replied.
She blushed. "Stop it Blaise."
"Well, it's the truth," he shrugged.
There was an awkward silence between them.
"Would you go to the Halloween ball with me?" he asked.
"How do imagine that would work? I'd lose my job if I went there with you."
"But if it wasn't for that, you'd go with me?"
"I think I would consider it, yes."
"Hmm, so what you're saying is that I have to try harder?" he had a twinkle in his eyes and she laughed.
"That's not what I'm saying."
He walked over to her desk and lifted up her chin. "I care for you Aurora."
"I know," she replied softly and their eyes locked. They felt the sparks of electricity between them.
"Give me a chance," he whispered hoarsely. "It's a masked ball, we'll figure something out."
Their lips met and their kiss was different than they had been last year. They parted and she rested her head against his.
"We'll figure something out," she echoed softly.
Blaise felt his heart race in his chest. He knew they could work it out, he just knew they would.
A/N: I've tried a different writing style with this one-shot, one that's more eloquent and flowery than my usual writing style. Please let me know if it worked out or not.