Prompt number: 26
Word Count: 4832
Summary: Hogwarts is a very different place in seventh year, and some unexpected alliances are made.
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize does not belong to me.
Author’s Notes: To my prompter, I am so sorry I couldn’t get this up into higher rating territory. If I’d had another six months... but it’s a story I’ve been wanting to write since the seventh book came out, so thank you for suggesting it.
And to my usual, wonderful, longsuffering beta – thank you as always. You are a star.
Draco took patrol because it was better than sitting in the Slytherin common room watching people ignore him, at best, or talk about him behind their hands and pretend they weren’t. It was a boring job, because only idiots would be out of bed after curfew when the punishment could be anything from lines to torture depending on who caught you.
Idiots like, say, Neville Longbottom, who was painting the doors of the Great Hall in red and gold flashing letters that read ‘Dumbledore’s Army - Still Recruiting because he hadn’t left enough space for the entire slogan.
Which, shit. Draco hadn’t meant to actually run into anyone. He’d chosen his patrol route carefully to avoid the likelihood of so much as stumbling upon a midnight tryst, let alone finding someone he knew actively campaigning for the resistance.
“Ah,” Neville said as Draco loomed behind him, as much as one can when one is rather shorter and considerably less broad in the shoulder than the person behind whom one is looming.
“Ah?” Draco repeated, incredulous. In truth he had no earthly idea what to say next himself. There was just something so blatant, so unrepentant, so stupidly brave about the way Neville was standing there. “Is that all you’ve got to say for yourself?”
He was expecting maybe a bit of cowering, or a stammered excuse, or...well anything but what happened, which was laughter.
“What can I say?” Neville asked. “I’m under Imperius? I just happened to pick up the paintbrush which I found lying here as I walked past? I’ve got some kind of atypical grammar-related OCD that meant I couldn’t leave it saying ‘now recruit’?”
“Never mind. As the Muggles say: It’s a fair cop, guv. You’ve got me bang to rights.”
Now Draco would never claim to be any kind of expert on Muggles, but he did think they spoke English, and his confusion only deepened when Neville held out his hands - no, his wrists - as though Draco might want to bind them or something.
Draco had long suspected there was something not quite right in Longbottom’s brain, and it seemed he was right. Still, he wasn't so saintly as to deny, even if only to himself, that Neville made quite the appealing picture, standing there in that submissive pose.
As soon as the thought formed in his head bile rose in his throat. He’d been at the mercy of that kind of attention too often over the summer holidays to feel comfortable dishing it out.
“Are you all right?” Neville asked sounding genuinely concerned. The idiot even took a step forward and held out a hand as if to touch Draco’s shoulder. “You look like someone just walked over your grave.”
“I am fine,” Draco insisted, but it sounded hollow and false in his own ears, an obvious lie. “On account of I am not the one facing detention with...” and of course it was the Carrows. Well Alecto was on the rota, but wherever she was her brother wouldn’t be far away. “Look, just forget it. Consider yourself cautioned. Don’t be so bloody stupid as to get caught in future.”
Neville actually had the bad grace to look disappointed, if only for a fleeting moment.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Draco spat. “Were you wanting to be punished by Alecto Carrow? I’d hate to get in the way of some sort of assignation.”
“Assig-? No, of course not, I just, well. I don’t understand why you’re letting me go.”
“Neither do I, so I suggest you piss off before I come to my senses.”
Which Neville, of course, didn’t do. At least not quickly enough for Draco to avoid imagining the footsteps of another prefect down the hall behind him, and the horrors he’d be subjected to when the powers that be discovered he let one of the heads of Dumbledore’s Army escape his grasp. A bead of cold sweat made its unpleasant way down his spine before Neville furrowed his brow and asked, “Are you not even going to order me to clean that up first?”
And really, lessons from a defacer of school property in how to be a better prefect was just too much to take.
“No I’m bloody well not,” Draco said. “For one thing how the hell does that give any plausibility to ‘I don’t know who painted it, I just found it like that’ and for another...”
For another Draco wasn’t sure he’d survive watching Neville scrub anything. He’d probably have to get on his knees for the lowest part of the phrase, and maybe he’d get wet and his shirt would draw tight over those impressive Herbologically enhanced shoulders and - and Draco was better than that, or at the very least he wanted to pretend for a little while longer that he was.
“For another?” Neville prompted, dragging Draco back from his musings.
“Never mind. Just, I don’t know, consider it recompense for the Remembrall thing, and don’t do anything so stupid in future.”
“Can’t promise you that,” Neville said with a shrug.
The correct and proper and appropriate response, Draco knew, was not to ponder exactly what Neville might be willing to promise.
But Neville was finally doing as he’d been told and leaving, and, beyond a sneaky glance at his retreating figure, Draco was happy enough to let him. Later he could let his fantasies take him where they would, and Merlin knew Longbottom was clumsy enough to spill soapy water all over himself, and eager enough to please to most likely do anything Draco demanded of him. For now though, he had to clean up the graffiti, and report to the Carrows.
And that, he rather thought, would be that.
Except three days later, having shown absolutely no apparent awareness that Draco even existed outside of Defence against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies lessons in which they were forced to interact, Draco once again ran into Longbottom on patrol.
And again two week’s later.
And...Draco would say he’s forgotten how long after that the next time was, but he’d be lying, even to himself, because every time is just another load of wank fodder for the quiet, lonely, cold moments alone in the Slytherin dorm.
This last time, Neville carried on painting even after Draco had pointedly coughed to make his presence known, putting a final underline to ‘we want YOU for the DA’.
“I’m afraid my allegiance is already given elsewhere,” Draco said when Neville had finished, and sure enough the git didn’t even jump, so he’d known Draco was there all along. “And that paint is an absolute bastard to get off, so I’d really be terribly grateful if you’d stop bloody well smearing it all over the school.”
Neville smirked and leant against the newly painted slogan. He looked like the perfect advert for Hogwarts’ underground resistance lounging there, in his ghastly cardigan and with a smear of red and gold paint highlighting one cheek and the tip of his nose.
Possibly Draco had spent a little too much time thinking about what lay beneath the granddad clothes in the last few days, and not enough time recalling that it was Longbottom, who could barely transfigure a teacup into a different teacup, didn’t like to fly and would forget his own head if it wasn’t screwed on.
“Believe it or not, Draco,” Neville said, and honestly, how far gone must Draco be for the sound of his name in that ridiculous soft accent to send actual shivers down his spine? “I’m not doing this purely to annoy you. There’s a purpose to the consciousness-raising we’re engaged in.”
Which Draco did know, of course he did, and maybe, just maybe, he took a little - carefully concealed - pleasure in hearing the Death Eaters in the faculty bitch and moan about the DA, and the graffiti, and the prank hexes that sprung up from time to time.
On the other hand there was such a thing as a risk-benefit ratio, and when the risks Neville was taking were so huge, surely the benefits could do with being rather larger than merely being a small thorn in a relatively inconsequential side.
When Draco suggested as much, Neville got a strange far-away look in his eye, and his smirk evened out into something approaching a smile.
Which was absolutely fucking infuriating.
Draco knew what he was talking about here.
Last year had been the worst of his life as he’d watched himself get manipulated into actions that horrified and shamed him, and this year was panning out to be worse, and Neville - a boy who could barely remember which way to hold his wand - had the audacity to be smiling at him like it was a good thing that the Carrows were going to snap one day and just bloody well AK him.
If he was lucky.
And wasn’t that really the worst thing? The very real possibility that if they did ever catch Neville, it would fall to Draco to torture and kill him, to prove fealty.
He shoved himself into Neville’s space.
“Look, you insufferable moron,” he hissed. “This is not a bloody game.”
“I know,” Neville replied, and it wasn’t the flippant response Draco hadn’t even realised he feared, but a genuine one, warmly spoken as though Neville understood and even sympathised with Draco’s concerns. He put a hand on Draco’s shoulder, heavy and warm, and solid and safe. “I promise you, I know. And you may not think it’s worth it, but I do.”
“How can it possibly be? You’re nobody. It’s like you’re hoping to fill the void at the top of the meddling sanctimonious Gryffindor tree left by the departure of Potter, and I’ve got news for you. Potter you are not.”
It was the first thing Draco said, in any of these weird meetings, that seemed to give Neville pause.
“Obviously I didn’t mean nobody,” Draco amended, feeling unaccountably shitty. “I just meant -”
“D’you know, in all these years,” Neville interrupted, apparently quite oblivious to Draco’s grovelling apology, “I’ve never once been sorry that I’m not Harry, until right now.”
It took Draco a moment to parse that, together with the soft sadness in Neville's expression and tone, into sense, but when he did he felt his temper spike once more. He swatted Neville’s chest with one hand, and couldn’t help but notice it was every bit as firm as he’d daydreamed.
“I don’t want you to be Potter, you complete idiot,” he objected. “I just want you to be safe.”
Which he hadn’t exactly meant to say out loud, but now that he had he couldn’t find a way to take it back before Neville surged forward and kissed him.
Or knocked their mouths together anyway, rather too hard, and totally wonderfully, if for far too short a time for Draco to be able to transmute the desperation of it into something a little gentler before Neville pulled away again, flushing as red as the paint on his cheek and stammering an apology.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t...I’m sure that’s not at all what you meant,” Neville said, eyes wide and panicked.
“It’s exactly what I meant,” Draco said, with as much sincerity as he could manage and unable to tear his gaze away from Neville’s mouth to check his expression. Not that it seemed to matter since Neville cupped his hands around Draco’s face and kissed him again.
This time it was slightly less desperate and Draco had a chance to kiss back. A chance he took with both hands - curled into fists in the wool of Neville's cardigan in case he got any more stupid ideas about not being welcome.
Neville smelled of paint and faintly of the fertiliser Sprout used on the mandrakes. His hands were warm and dry and shaking ever so slightly, and it was those details that reassured Draco that he probably wasn’t going to wake up in his green-curtained four-poster to find this was all a dream. Draco’s dreams didn’t tend to be so detailed anymore, as though even his subconscious had given up trying to outdo the horror of his day-to-day life.
He was shaking a little himself, pushing up against Neville in a way that was as much about contact as it was about sex.
But even as good as the arms around him felt, as stupidly hot as Neville had got while no one was really paying attention, and as clumsy and perfect as the kiss was, it wasn't enough to stop part of Draco’s brain from paying attention to what was going on in the corridor.
He pulled away at the first hint of a sound from the far end, survival mechanisms finely honed by the summer, and was torn between impressed and surprised that Neville was every bit as alert. Even if he did look a bit dishevelled. Sort of like a bloke who’d just been thoroughly snogged, in fact, which made Draco’s knees go a bit funny, even as he was worrying what he looked like himself. It wouldn’t do for the Carrows to think he was enjoying himself.
Whoever it was walking past, they didn’t come down the corridor where Draco and Neville were holding their breath, but their echoing footsteps seemed to take an age to retreat and fade.
“Bloody hell, that was stupid,” Neville said, dragging a hand through his hair in a way that made it look even more like he’d just got out of bed. “I suggest you make yourself scarce.”
“Oh well, thank goodness you’re here, Longbottom,” Draco spat back. Of all the things he’d been called in his life, ‘stupid’ cut pretty deep being delivered by someone who was self-proclaimedly still recruiting for a dead man’s army. “I was just going to stand here, next to your graffiti, until someone found me.”
“I just meant-” Neville started, but Draco was already stalking away down the corridor, and it wasn’t until much later that he realised what the end of that sentence was going to be.
He’d just meant Draco should go first.
Not that Draco was going to tie himself in knots for being a bit sharp with Longbottom. That would be ridiculous, even if he was a surprisingly decent kisser, and pretty much the only person in the entire castle still treating Draco like a human being.
And if Draco found he couldn’t sleep that evening, well, what of it? Sleep was a precious commodity in dark times like these.
He still felt bad the next morning, which he told himself was just his good breeding showing through, and really, it wasn’t as if he wanted to catch Neville gazing longingly at him across the Great Hall over breakfast, but some sort of acknowledgment might have been nice. By the time Muggle Studies rolled around the following day he’d all but forgotten that he wasn’t the wronged party.
Neville continued to ignore him in the class, probably because he was far too busy arguing with most of the lecture.
Even though no one really believed that Muggles needed to be subject to proper husbandry procedures and the less genetically desirable ones forcibly sterilised, did they? Well, maybe Crabbe and Goyle, Draco supposed, but the point was Neville wasn’t going to change Alecto’s mind, so why bother putting himself in the firing line again.
By the end of the class Draco’s jaw ached from where he had to grind his teeth to keep from begging Neville to shut up, shut up, shut up.
But Neville paid him as much mind as he had at mealtimes these past few days, and Draco honestly couldn’t have said if he was more relieved, or annoyed, that Neville escaped the lesson unscathed apart from a detention and thirty points taken from Gryffindor.
That night was Draco’s regular patrol night, and he found himself daydreaming about what he’d say if he ran into Longbottom again.
Perhaps the silent treatment would be best. Fight fire with fire, as it were, he mused as he started his rounds. Or perhaps take the moral high ground and have another go at pointing out the futility of arguing with the Carrows, and the likely rewards for continuing to do so.
Just as long as he managed to keep the question he most wanted answering locked up tight behind his teeth he didn’t really care. Because as humiliating as it was to have let Neville Longbottom snog him and then toss him aside like a HankyPanky Hankie, it wasn’t as bad as demanding to know why, or what he could do to get back in Neville’s good graces. Or, Merlin forbid, giving him the Insuadible potion he’d brewed especially for Neville in his free period, in hopes of who even knew? Winning him back or some such nonsense.
In all his imaginings, it hadn’t actually occurred to him that it might not even be Neville he ran into on this patrol until he had practically walked into a trio of first-years who were arguing over where the accent went in La Résistance.
Which mostly just confirmed Lucius’s opinion of the poor standards of education at the school even prior to its Death-Eaterification, because frankly Draco thought it was perfectly bloody obvious. But perhaps all those private tutors and exchange trips had been worth it after all.
“Obviously it goes over the e,” he drawled, snatching the paintbrush form the suddenly lax grip of the signpainter and adding it with a good deal of panache if he did say so himself. “Really, where else could it possibly go?”
The first-years paled gratifyingly, and one began to cry quietly, so at least Neville hadn’t told his minions that Draco was harmless. He didn’t really want to have to prove anything to the contrary unless it was absolutely essential.
None of them spoke for a long time, Draco having learnt the effectiveness of terrified silence, and the trio having apparently not been given any advice or training on how to bluff their way out of being caught. Which was something Draco would certainly have remedied, had he been in charge of...well, not that that was likely to ever happen.
“Nothing to say for yourselves?” he asked after a moment. “Defacing school property, political slogans, support of a banned group. It’s really not looking good for you at all. No defence forthcoming at all?”
Come on, he thought. Give me something to work with.
None of them could manage so much as a squeak. It was probably a good thing that he was still capable of being terrifying, but, where he would have enjoyed this a year or two ago, now it just made him feel nauseated.
But what was he supposed to do? He’d caught them red-handed, mostly because he hadn’t been paying enough attention to avoid them, and he could hardly expect that word wouldn’t get round that he was a soft touch if he let them go. And that would potentially mean the Carrows finding out and feeding it back to the Dark Lord himself, and Draco just couldn’t face bringing any more grief on his family.
Curse Longbottom and his bloody shoulders and the way he’d seemed like a safe haven for a few moments.
“I don’t see that you give me any choice,” he said, with a sigh that he hoped the first-years would think of as put-on. “If you’d like to -”
“There you are,” came a familiar, and despite Draco’s best intentions, welcome, voice, followed shortly afterwards by its owner. Neville skidded to a halt in what would almost have been a comical way, but for the circumstances, and stared at Draco wide-eyed for a long aching moment. “I mean, um, of course this is where you are, you know how easily I get lost. But I’m back now, so, thank you for looking after my paintbrush and everything for me, like I asked you to, when I’d finished painting that graffiti. You can go now.”
Draco’s eyebrow rose as Neville talked, chest heaving with the effort after what had clearly been a dead run all the way from the Gryffindor tower most likely.
“Oh, they can go, can they?” he queried, trying to ignore the looks of outright hero worship on the first-years faces when they looked at Neville, or, all right, trying at the very least not to emulate them.
“I take full responsibility for what’s happened here,” Neville replied, like that was any kind of appropriate answer. The timbre of his voice dropped lower when he next spoke. “You know I’ve got priors for this particular offence.”
“Maybe I don’t accept your claim,” Draco retorted, because really, how was it fair that Neville looked every bit as delectable as he had the other night? And more to the point how was it fair that he was staring at Draco like he felt exactly the same way.
“You don’t wanna punish these guys,” Neville said. “They’re just kids.”
“Who are out after curfew. You can’t expect me to just let that go.”
Neville swallowed, and Draco resolutely did not watch the bob of his throat as he did.
“No,” he said finally. “I suppose I can’t.”
Draco inhaled sharply before turning his attention back to the first years.
“Five points each from Gryffindor, and don’t let me catch you again.”
Two of them nodded gratefully, but the third raised her hand as if they were in class and she wasn’t sure if she knew an answer or not.
“I’m in Hufflepuff,” she said.
“Five points for honesty,” Draco shot back. “As long as you don’t tell anyone.”
Her brow creased in confusion as she tried to work that one out, and Neville made a sharp shooing motion with his head to encourage them all to bugger off back to bed.
“Do you really think I don’t know your handwriting?” Draco said once the coast was clear. “I can actually read this.”
Neville laughed, quick and easy and real, and Draco felt something in his chest unclench a little.
“I was right though, wasn’t I? You didn’t really want to drag those children off to detention?”
“Of course I bloody well didn’t, but how the hell did you know that? Don’t tell me you’re some kind of gifted Legilimens or something.”
“Nothing so grand. I’m gifted at Herbology, which as you know is basically just extreme gardening, falling over my own feet, and forgetting stuff. I could tell because it was hard to decide who looked more terrified, you or the kids.”
Draco wanted to bristle at that - did, a bit - but it was hard to stay angry with Neville looking at him the way he was, all warm eyes and crooked smile.
And okay maybe he was feeling a bit happy at not having to send three clearly terrified children to detention, maybe even just the tiniest bit heroic, which severely impacted his ability to hate the world.
“I don’t know what you’re smirking for,” he sniffed. “You needn’t think you’re getting anything from me after ignoring me for the past week.”
The smile dropped from Neville’s face, and Draco wished he’d kept his idiot mouth shut.
“Ignoring you?” Neville parroted, brow furrowed. “I...well. What did you want me to do? I hardly thought you’d want everyone knowing.”
Which Draco was perfectly capable of translating into Neville not wanting anyone to know, and beneath the hurt of that, he could understand why not.
“I didn’t mean I wanted you to hold my hand in Muggle Studies, or kiss me in front of the entire school at luncheon. Just...” He shrugged, because really what did he want? “I suppose you’re right. It would be stupid to have told anyone. It was only a snog after all.”
“I’ve told people,” Neville interrupted, frown deepening.
“Was I not supposed to? It was, well, it was sort of impossible to keep to myself. I’ve only told a couple of people, well, three, and not anyone I couldn’t trust to keep their mouth shut.”
Draco raised an eyebrow, mostly to cover how pleased he was to hear Neville’s confession. He didn’t think there was anyone he could share such a secret with. The only person he could absolutely trust not to sell him out, apparently, was Neville.
"And they didn't mind?" Draco asked. "I mean, not that it's anyone else's business, but...they didn't think I was..."
He waved a hand, hoping for a physical eloquence better than he was managing verbally.
Neville gave him the same crooked smile as before.
"A honey trap?" he asked, and okay, put like that the idea was ridiculous, and arrogant. Draco felt his face flush hot, hotter still when Neville reached out a hand and traced his thumb along the upper edge of the blush on Draco's cheek. "I think it probably crossed their minds, yes."
There was something about the way Neville said it, carefully offhand, that made Draco realise he was lying. Not about having told, just about the reaction to the news. It made something hot and shivery and hopeful unfurl in Draco's chest.
"They were less than thrilled, I take it."
Neville turned the corners of his mouth down as if he was considering Draco's words.
"You could say that," he responded, and then shrugged. As if it didn't even matter that Neville had had a massive falling out with his joint commanding officers over Draco. "They let it drop when I reminded them that your side isn't exactly fond of subtle."
The 'your side' stung a bit, but Neville soothed it with a hand in Draco's hair and the soft press of his mouth against Draco's. When the kiss broke apart they were both breathing hard, and Neville bent to rest his forehead against Draco's with a sigh.
“So, is that a potions vial in your pocket, or are you just really glad to see me?” Neville asked, completely ruining the romantic afterglow.
“It can’t be both?” Draco countered archly, then gasped as Neville’s hand insinuated itself into said pocket and extracted the potion. He held it up and raised a quizzical eyebrow, and in a rush Draco could imagine the DA response to hearing he’d come to an assignation armed with an unknown potion. “It’s for your paint,” he said hurriedly, in case Neville was wondering if Draco had been planning to poison him. “It’ll make it impossible to remove without the antidote.”
He gave Neville a hopeful smile, and was relieved more than anything else to see it mirrored in a bright grin.
“Maybe I was wrong about which side you’re on,” Neville said, pocketing the vial himself.
Draco snuck another kiss, and smiled haughtily.
“I’m on my side,” he said. “Same as always.”
Neville gave him a thoughtful look.
“Course you are,” he deadpanned.
Draco figured he’d bask in Neville’s - entirely misplaced - pride in him for a little while. He doubted it would be long before something disabused Neville of the notion that Draco was out for anyone but himself.
“You should head back to Gryffindor,” he said. “I’d hate for you to run into a patrol, it being after curfew and everything.”
“I dunno,” Neville countered. “Some of them don’t seem so bad.” But he straightened his clothes and took a step back, gesturing towards the paint pot and brushes the first years had left behind. “I should take -”
“Leave them,” Draco interrupted. “I’ll take care of it. Just...go, before I’m forced to drag you back to my bed and do depraved things to your body.”
Neville blushed, blotchy and adorable, and his smile widened into something so bright it almost hurt to look at him.
“I’ll take a raincheck on that,” he said, in a rough tone that Draco knew meant they’d both be thinking about it when they finally got to their respective beds for the night. “See you Wednesday.”
Which was double DADA, or possibly Neville was referring to Draco’s next patrol duty.
“Tuesday,” Draco suggested, heart hammering in his throat. It was the first time he’d initiated anything. The first time any of their meetings had been arranged instead of seemingly accidental. “Seven o’clock. Outside the library.”
“It’s a date,” Neville agreed, still grinning.
Draco watched him walk away before he tried to school the smile off his own face.
He picked up the paint pot from the floor and considered it for a moment, then scrawled an elegant ‘Vive’ above the sloppy ‘La Résistance’. Here, at least, was a slogan he could get behind.