It had been a week; Harry was absolutely exhausted and it was probably starting to show.
He'd had practically no sleep whatsoever in the last seven days, and he'd barely had time to see Ron and Hermione either. Thankfully, he stayed at an inn in Hogsmeade during term, so he didn't have to go back to the Dursleys.
He would have probably died from exhaustion if he had, with the inevitable list of chores to earn his keep that they would have had for him. He still had to help out at the Three Broomsticks (called so from old stories about witches in the area), but as a result they gave him free room and breakfast and dinner. It worked out.
Still, he barely had any time now! On top of the exacting amount of work he had for all of his classes, and the high standard expected for those classes, he now had all of the errands he was running for the Host Club every waking second he wasn't in class. It had been a while since he'd gotten more than six hours of sleep a night, though Rosmerta had tried telling him he could have a night off from waiting tables occasionally.
He almost hoped the teachers would call an intervention and force him to quit the bloody Host Club, if it was so obviously not doing his health – and, perhaps more importantly, his grades – any good.
But then he'd still owe Malfoy £18,000.
He was glad for the weekend, even if it probably meant an increase in Host activity.
What he was not prepared for was – when he finally had a lunchtime in which he didn't bolt down his food on the way to Hogsmeade, or the library, or wherever else he had to be – to find Bellatrix Black sitting at his table.
Harry blinked, staring incredulously. She was talking with Hermione about some book or other, while Ron watched them dazedly. Bellatrix glanced over and smiled when she saw him.
"Oh, Harry." Hermione sounded surprised, even pleased, to see him. A bit too pleased to see him, really, considering she was talking books.
"Have you met Bella? She's –" Ron began.
"I'm a friend of Tom's," Bellatrix said with a small smile. "But we've never been formally introduced." She held out a hand to shake.
Yes, he gathered that from seeing her around at the Host Club with Tom as her host. His more pressing question was what the hell was she doing sitting with his friends?
He nonetheless stepped forwards, smiling a little tightly, and accepted her hand.
"Pleasure to meet you … what brings you to our corner of the world?"
By Ron's 'shut up' look, he figured his question was too pointed.
"Do you not want me here?" she asked, far too innocently. There was a gleam in her dark eyes colouring the edges of her full red lips.
No, not really.
"I'm merely surprised," he replied. "Slytherins normally keep to their own kind."
"And your type doesn't normally mix with ours, either," she murmured. "How is it that you came to be in the Host Club, then? I'm sure it's a fascinating story."
"Why?" Ron blurted out. "Are you looking to hire him?"
Harry froze at that suggestion, staring at Ron in utter disbelief for even coming out with it. The light in Bellatrix's eyes changed – something sly and coy and vicious which made him want to rear back from her pretty face.
What the hell had he ever done to her!?
"Actually, yes, I'd love to try him out," she smiled. "You'll be there later, won't you?"
Ron blinked, face dropping. This time, Hermione didn't look anywhere near upset enough on his behalf.
"I'm, uh, I don't actually do any hosting," he said, holding his hands up in an almost placating gesture. "I just run errands and … stuff."
"So you've slept with Riddle?" she asked immediately. Harry's eyes widened.
"NO! Bloody hell – I – what the fuck? Of course I haven't!"
Her head tilted.
"Then what's the point of you? You just said you were the errand boy and stuff?"
A blush appeared on Hermione's cheeks. Ron didn't look quite so enchanted with her anymore, whilst Harry just continued to shake his head mutely for several moments.
"That doesn't mean – I mean, do they normally –?" He drew in a deep breath. "I didn't mean stuff like stuff … shit … I do, like, cleaning and stuff 'cause I owe Malfoy money."
"Oh!" Her expression cleared, but there was still something about her that was putting him on edge, despite her pleasant smile. God, she was crazy! "You know, you'd make more money quicker by being a host. I'd be happy to help you out there." She stood up, offering a smile to Hermione and a wink to Ron, before sidling close to him and pressing her lips to his ear. "I'd be ever so happy to help you out there. You're really quite cute."
Harry cleared his throat, forcing a tight smile to his lips, because he didn't need to piss off more powerful rich kids.
"Uh, thanks, Bellatrix –"
"Call me Bella," she purred.
Harry shifted uncomfortably.
"Right, uh, Bella. Thanks. But I just – I have to go see someone – about this, er, this thing – and, uh –"
She chuckled, pressing a kiss to his cheek before sweeping past him, hips swaying.
"Just think about it, Harry. Any friend of Tom's is a friend of mine."
Harry sat down, face blank with shock, bringing his sandwich out methodically.
"What just happened?" he asked, looking at Hermione a little desperately. "Does everyone think that errand boy means – means that –"
"No, of course they don't!" Hermione said convincingly. "Don't be ridiculous."
"Well, kinda, yeah," Ron said simultaneously.
There was a loud thunk as Harry's head slammed against the table, and he mimed aiming a gun to his head and pulling the trigger.
"Well, the Host Club doesn't normally have an errand boy," Hermione murmured. "They can afford to have things delivered to them with the entry money guests pay, or people volunteer to spend more time around them."
"But it's not like that! Surely everyone who knows me knows it's not like that!"
"They also know that you haven't been expelled and owe Malfoy a lot of money," Ron said. "And, you know, there's no proof or anything of it, but you've seen how the club play up their roles and stuff. Like those Lestrange twins, who do that creepy brotherly love thing. Some people would like to think that …"
"But if they want to date these guys why would they like to think that?"
"You know how they all have types, yes?" she said.
"Yeah …" he replied warily.
"There are also some, er, people … who would like the idea of a very dominant-submissive type of relationship, and most of the members are in the year above you, and you're noticeably not in their normal circle of affluence, so … um …"
"You're saying that I'm fitting a role for them? And that the Host Club knows this?" Harry yelped.
He suddenly remembered Riddle's comment about the maid's costume and cringed.
"Slight hints of it …" Hermione was staring at the table.
"I'm not submissive."
"People have no idea what you're like," Hermione returned, raising her brows. "You don't exactly get out much."
"Says the Ravenclaw," Ron muttered. Hermione shot him a glare.
Harry really didn't feel like eating his sandwich right now.
"I'm going to avoid them," he decided. "Then people will see the truth. That I'm just doing normal errands, not …"
"Good idea," Ron said, a bit too brightly.
"I should perform a heist and pay Malfoy back that way."
"Or you could become a host," Hermione said. "As that would make them actually meet you, and force them to give you a more individualised, less … group-oriented type."
Riddle was going to be insufferable.
Bellatrix Black was feeling rather smug with her lot in life.
Whilst what she'd insinuated was true enough in the minds of the majority, the payoff was even better. Evans was flinching back away from most of the Host members and could barely look them in the eye, which just gave him a more guilty demeanour.
It didn't help his case that she might have had Daphne orchestrate it so that Rodolphus, her arranged fiancé, would hear her flirting with the boy in the library.
Whilst their match didn't have them specifically together now, she knew he could be a possessive, jealous creature beneath his good-natured persona.
Evans seemed bewildered as to why both of the twins were eyeing him stonily. More so, he was taking every care to avoid the lot of them to avoid any further 'misconceptions', and so even if her Tom did make any advances, they would hardly be accepted now. She suppressed a smirk behind her cup of tea.
Of course, she could have been a petty bitch and dumped all of his belongings into the lake – and she hadn't ruled that out at all, though she'd rather time it for when he had work due with no time to rewrite – but this solution was far more suited to her preferences. Whilst she had no objection to brute strength to get her way, she was a Black, and she'd try more subtle methods first.
Besides, if Tom really did fancy the boy, he was bound to take notice of her in some manner if she sat with him and made advances. Maybe he might even get jealous – jealous if he fancied the boy, then furious with Evans if he fancied her.
A perfect solution all around, really. Besides, why did she have to use brute strength and overt tactics when she could just get the Lestrange brothers to smash Evans' face in? He wouldn't be quite so cute then, would he?
Tom moved over to her, as was customary when she visited, with that charming smile upon his lips. She held up a hand to forestall him, and he paused.
"Actually, I'd like Harry to be my host today, if you don't mind, Tom?"
She relished the darkening of his eyes, that beautiful danger that made him so much more appealing than any other fool in this place.
"Of course, Miss Black," he said smoothly. "Your wish is our command, as always."
He discreetly indicated with the crook of his finger for Evans to come over .
The boy looked like a deer stuck in headlights as she gave him her best smile.
"Why don't you sit down so we can have a nice chat?" she suggested. "I'm sure you can return to your errands after entertaining me …"
Harry didn't know what Bellatrix Black was up to – if she was even up to anything – but he didn't like it and it was making him very nervous.
Still, he cleared his expression – glad that they had a table between them – and kept a light smile on his face.
"Bella, it's nice to see you again."
She smiled back. "I just thought I'd help you kick-start your hosting career. I like helping people less fortunate than myself."
He immediately wanted to throttle her, but he kept his hands smoothly around his teacup.
"That's very kind of you." He very carefully made no offer of 'if I can ever return the favour …' – it was too open, and he hadn't bloody well asked for her pity anyway. "Though I wouldn't say I was unfortunate."
"What do your parents think all of this?" she asked. "They must be very proud of you for getting into Hogwarts."
"They're dead." He said the words bluntly, without emotion.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, leaning over and placing a hand on his. "Was it recent? It must be very hard for you. Do you live on your own then? Or with family?"
"With my Aunt and Uncle," he replied reluctantly. "What about you? You have two sisters, don't you? Narcissa and Andromeda? I'd love to hear more about you. I'm afraid my own life isn't very interesting."
"I'm sure that's not true," she laughed, squeezing his hand.
He offered a smile in response, wishing he could sink into the floorboards and hide – or go and do anything other than this.
He could sense lots of people looking at them, and many whispers too.
"Is he a host now?"
"He's actually quite handsome."
"He's got beautiful eyes …"
"Isn't he some type of errand boy?"
At least he didn't hear anything about him screwing Riddle. He could even admit that he was enjoying himself just a little bit – it was restful to just be able to sit there listening, as opposed to scrubbing floors. He could have been doing his homework though.
The club hours ended soon enough, so he went to do his cleaning, putting the teacups and everything back into their rightful places. He scooped up his book bag to head out of the main Host room – sort of like a common room, with lots of tables and chairs, and sofas and a fireplace. There were also more private areas too, if required, though the Host Club entertained mostly with attentive flirting and company and conversation, than anything more explicit.
He slipped into one of them to change out of his 'host' uniform back into his normal clothes – not about to risk damaging it and having to pay more.
He'd barely got the top button open before he was being slammed back against the wall and spun around, a hand on his throat and then another gripping his arms.
"Guys, what the hell?" he growled, only to pause at how the Lestrange brothers were glaring at him stonily. "Guys …?"
"Why are you flirting with my fiancée?" Rodolphus demanded, none of the previous jokes on his face now. Harry's mouth ran a little dry as he struggled against their grip.
"I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Like hell you don't! Rabastan, hold him down –"
"Wait – what? This really isn't what it seems, I didn't even know you had a –"
Bellatrix? Was his fiancée Bellatrix? But she'd flirted with him, he didn't understand, she'd …
He swore, trying to knee Rabastan, or Rodolphus, or whichever one it bloody well was, in the gut.
"I bet you wish you had friends in higher places now –"
Had he seriously offended them all with that? They had all been a bit standoffish in the last week, now he thought of it, since he'd insulted Riddle…
"Look, this isn't funny –"
"Now, now, boys," a voice drawled. "He's not going to make a very good host with a smashed-up face."
He shouldn't have sagged with relief. But he did.