Characters: Neville/Blaise; hints of Neville/Ginny; Pansy, Theo
Prompt number: 82
Word Count: 2500
Warnings: Bellatrix Lestrange.
Summary: The quietest of sufferings leave the deepest scars.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all henceforth mentioned franchises belong to their respective owners.
Author’s Notes: Super stellar to see a prompt regarding asexuality. I hope that component is apparent in this story, although...it's a drabble set, so who knows. I'd definitely like to revisit the theme at a later date. Thanks to the people who made this not a pile of suck (looking at you, CPK) and also to the mods of this fest, who are the most understanding people in the history of understanding people, possibly second to Annie Sullivan (but that's still up in the air).
“There's no place for grey in this war,” Draco said. “You're with us or you're with them.”
“I'm not going to fight.” Blaise's words gained power when he spoke them aloud. His stomach churned as he continued, louder: “If that means you have to kill me, then you'd better get on that.”
“You're with us or you're with them,” Draco said again, voice urgent, and clasped Blaise's arm. “You're not with them, are you?”
Blaise decided a long time ago. “I'm not with them,” he assured Draco. “But I'm not with you either.”
He would carve his own place.
Ginny and Neville go to Diagon Alley together. Her mother had advised them to travel in pairs, and Ginny had promptly latched onto his arm. He likes her, in an abstract sort of way — she has a shapely face and a persistence about her, a scent that reminds him of spring and eyes like knives. She's quick with wit and wand. They traverse the dark cityscape, cloaks close to their bodies, and she keeps open a shrewd eye.
He puts an arm around her shoulders, as if to stave off the rain, as if to stave off evil.
Bellatrix Lestrange ranks among the most frightening people Blaise has ever met.
“Aren't you delightful?” She pinches his cheek with her talon-like fingers. He squirms in discomfort. “I could just eat you up.”
Draco shifts awkwardly at his side. “We have to finish our shopping, Aunt Bellatrix,” he says. “I'll bring Blaise by at holiday.”
“At holiday.” Bellatrix releases Blaise and steps back, laughing. She'd be beautiful, were she not mad. “I look forward to seeing you, my dear.”
“Sorry about her,” whispers Draco, when she's disappeared and they're alone. “She hasn't been right since Azkaban.”
Blaise feels sick.
The first time their gazes meet across a crowded room, the contact is brief, fleeting, and unforgettable.
Sudden, unanticipated synergy: the dark-skinned boy holds a gaze like unyielding fires. Neville doesn't think they've ever spoken. Maybe once or twice, in passing or in a dream...
“What are you looking at?” asks Ginny, touching his arm. Her eyes flit over the bookcases that line the walls of Flourish and Blotts, which could be on its last leg. Change hangs in the air, ready to sweep up the loose netting of their lives and toss it into an ocean of chaos.
On the train back to school, he and Theodore kiss once.
The embrace doesn't last long, but it warms him unexpectedly. He steps back, filled with a subdued yearning that reminds him of early morning hunger. Shrewd, lean. He need not express it.
“I think I'm straight,” says Theo, wiping his mouth.
“Me, too,” lies Blaise.
They go back to the compartment to sit with Pansy and Draco. Autumn's russets and olives have begun to bleed into what remains of a Scottish summer. They each pretend not to notice the dark figures that pass beyond the transparent window, searching.
Neville arrives to a changed Hogwarts.
Stones dark and banners bleached, the castle reminds him of a horrific monolith. The hallways of his childhood, tainted by shadow, lead to austere dormitories and shapeless echoes of their education. They've been searched, observed, tested.
“Have you seen Harry Potter?”
No, of course not. None of them have. Ginny, who insists their relationship has ended, walks in a hollow body. Luna's hope has withered. Neville summons his cultivated bravery and resolves to lead in this absence of light — they won't poison themselves with inaction. They won't lead each other to ruin.
Draco will die for his cause.
Blaise can see it in his eyes. When he moves. When he speaks, reverent with each intonation of the Dark Lord's title. He fears a name, and yet, he has already agreed to die for that legacy. A commitment written in blood and sealed by failure. Blaise has never had an unshakable lineage; his family has been pieced together with money and timing.
“You'll see, Blaise,” Draco is telling him, which a barely-disguised hint of panic. A zealot's irrationality has rooted behind his eyes. “Things will change around here. Things will be different.”
“It's not your fault,” Ginny recites as she fits her breasts back into the cup of her bra. “It happens to everyone.”
Neville feels like he's woken up too early, clammy in a way that bleeds through his entire body. “I don't think this is going to work.”
Her hand freezes. “It's only been once,” she says, voice taut. “You still might like it.”
But it's too late for that. Neville trips into his clothes and stumbles into the corridor. Vainly, he hopes Harry will come back and give her what she wants, because he knows he never will.
Longbottom's voice drifts through the narrow corridor, threaded with doubt. “You want me to carry on the DA?” The girl Weasley says something too low for Blaise's keen ears, and she gets an “I'll think about it" in reply.
“What's on your mind?” asks Theo, back in the common room. Blaise can tell he wants things to go back to the way they were before, but they have crossed too much distance, too many bridges have been burned. One day, Theo will wear that Mark on his arm and Blaise will have to turn from him.
“Nothing,” he lies.
After Neville's last partner ends up in the hospital wing, Slughorn pairs him up with Zabini.
“The surname is a technicality,” he always says. “Won't you call me Blaise?”
Neville sometimes gets the impression Blaise is flirting with him, but their exchanges lack heat, aggression. “Should I be chopping these?” he asks, pushing sundried slugs across the desk instead of answering. “Or are they sliced?”
“They go in whole, dear.”
Neville scoops them up and drops them into the cauldron. The mixture hisses and turns the appropriate sage-green. “Crisis averted,” he murmurs, and is surprised to hear Blaise laugh.
Winter brings unspeakable cold.
Blaise curls up on his bed, buried under a mound of blankets. “Are you coming to Hogsmeade with us?” asks Theo, his eyes cast to the floor when he speaks. He avoids Blaise whenever possible, but now that so few of them remain for the holidays, they band together for excursions into the icy landscape. Draco remains absent.
“Is that Longbottom?”
Blaise slides his eyes over the slope of the hill to the far-off figures. He recognizes Longbottom's assured stride and stalwart form. “Looks like it,” he says, shrugging.
A commitment of a different kind.
Neville stays Hannah Abbot's wand-hand. “Like this,” he urges, showing her how to cast Incarcerous. Warfare doesn't come easily to her. Sometimes he thinks about turning people against their nature, towards battle and violence. No matter what resolutions they strive to protect, he is still teaching his classmates how to draw blood.
“It's a good thing you're doing, Neville,” Ginny tells him, after the meeting ends and the two of them remain. He expects praise for defending the Good and preserving the Light. He braces himself for the guilt that follows. “It gives people hope.”
That shame never comes.
February dawns dark.
Blaise sits at one of those teakwood tables in the library, peering out the window at sheets of shale-colored rain. His Ancient Runes homework sits unfinished before him. Uncertainty and aimlessness have leadened his limbs.
“Studying? On a Saturday night?”
Longbottom (Neville, now) sits backwards on one of the hard-backed wooden chairs. A bruise looms over his eye, and one of his teeth is in the process of regrowing.
“We can't all be rebels,” Blaise replies.
He thinks about his oath of impartiality and wonders if joining Neville's cause would satisfy the yearning in his heart.
“Longbottom!” Amycus Carrow's leering face looms above his desk. “Won't you demonstrate for our class the proper casting of the Cruciatus curse?”
Neville stands, draws his wand, but he already knows he won't be casting an Unforgivable today. He strides towards the front of the room, towards the terrified fifth-year girl accused of trading contraband muggle texts. But how can this do justice? The wandcore resonates with his magic; Go do, it whispers into him. Righteousness is your north.
When he turns his wand on Amycus, Neville faces a near-lethal wrath, but he is glad to be the sufferer.
“It has come to my attention, Mr. Zabini, that you and Longbottom have something of a... friendship.”
Blaise avoids the gaze of his Head of House and his closes his mind not with skill but with desperation. The vulnerable, wilting emotion inside himself drives him into silence. Protect. Defend.
Is this anything like waging a war?
“We're Potions partners,” Blaise supplies in a wooden voice. “Right abysmal, that one.”
But Severus Snape will not be derailed. “Might I make a suggestion regarding your Potions partner?” He skips a beat, and Blaise feels his skin tighten. “Don't get yourself involved.”
When they first start hiding out, it isn't so bad.
Ginny knows how to crochet. The Patil sisters find wild mushrooms in the forest, and they cook them in a metal pot over a thorn-wood fire. Hannah's charm work adheres three House banners to the rough-hewn walls. Aberforth brings alcohol, sometimes, to dull the blade of the world.
But Neville misses the sun.
“Don't look so gloomy,” says Ginny, who practices her Patronus against the northern wall. He wonders about the memories she pours into that incantation. Are they fresh? “It'll brighten up soon.”
Skeptical, he mourns daylight lost.
Neville hides his people in the walls.
Blaise brings them news and food, always greeted by a chorus of hisses, though there are no snakes among them. The dim light reminds him of a tomb. Are these soldiers corpses? They play chess and cast runes at their own funeral.
It's easy for Blaise to lose himself completely. Sometimes Neville whispers go, go when they are alone together, but sometimes it's the opposite, sometimes it's stay, stay.
Blaise sometimes wishes he could make Neville come away with him, but he knows a Gryffindor will never be disloyal to his cause.
When battle comes, Neville doesn't think: he simply acts.
As soon as the sword of Gryffindor is in his hands, he feels compelled to action, toward his duty. He and his comrades lived in the shadow of evil for too long; now it is time to seek freedom or to die in the pursuit. Their bodies will not support that great white column of injustice. Their bodies will not serve the will of darkness.
Chaos erupts around him, as it has erupted for the past hour. The sword of Gryffindor feels heavy in his hands.
He beheads the snake.
In the dark, they search for the dead.
The heat of battle has dissipated. Scores of lifeless bodies remain as monuments to the fight. Harry Potter goes home, and Blaise watches the Malfoys cower together at one of the tables in the Great Hall. Pansy gone, Theo gone. Maybe they're dead. Maybe they aren't. He stands statuesque on the stair, afraid to search for truth amid ruin.
Neville comes to stand one stair below, the color drained out of his face. Blaise, compelled to reach out, clasps his arm, and tries helplessly to erase the gaze of those perished.
Neville goes to the funerals alone.
Each somber, cloud-covered occasion begins to bleed into its predecessor. He loses track of just how many days have passed. When he shuts his eyes, he sees Colin's body, lifeless and cold, staring up at him from the darkness of the earth. He has done so much, and yet, he has not done enough.
The Weasleys welcome him into their home, but Fred's ghost hangs heavy in the spaces between them. Ginny is mistrustful of him, and she stands whenever Harry Potter enters a room. Luna hardly speaks.
No, his path is solitude.
After the battle, Blaise goes home.
His mother writes from Italy to praise his ability to remain uninvolved. She phrases it like that: remain uninvolved. Blaise looks down at the letter in his freshly-scoured hands, which are clean and which would be clean even if he had fought the whole war himself. He scrubs them daily.
Uninvolved. He wishes he had been uninvolved. He wishes refusing to turn his wand on another human being meant he hadn't been scarred in the war. He should have left with the others, slithered out of harm's way when he had the chance.
Six months later, they meet unexpectedly in a pub in Glasgow, and go for drinks.
At first, they try not to talk about the war: they discuss Blaise's internship at Gringotts, Neville's ambitions as a botanist, the new paths their peers walk. But the conversation turns quickly to those who walk no longer and they find themselves drunk, but drunk together.
If they were different people, it would be sex, tangled and sticky and sad, that follows their departure from the pub. Instead, they lie quietly on Neville's couch, in his dreary Hogsmeade rental, struggling not to be alone.
“I'll make a go of it, if you will.”
Blaise is the sort who would never be tempted by the Mirror of Erised. He believes himself to be a realist — one who will make his desire a reality without even acknowledging its existence.
And yet, he's never expected this.
“A go,” he echoes. “Like a relationship?”
Blaise has had different names for these before. Friends. Best friends. The list is short and he tries to keep it from his mind, all those almost-lovers he has lost to someone else's bed, someone else's heart.
He says yes.
An entire year passes. Neville loses track of the season's steady progression. He tries to drown it with drink, until Blaise eventually starts throwing it out. “You're a terrible alcoholic,” he'd say, running his hands over Neville's back, smoothing him out. “Can't hold your liquor for shit.”
And it's true. He can't hold his liquor for shit. When Blaise pours the last bottle of Bailey's down the drain, Neville doesn't buy any more, and instead of spends a lot of time looking out windows at an industrial London. "I couldn't do enough."
“I know, love,” says Blaise. “I know.”
Blaise stands aslant the hill and looks down at the Forbidden Forest, on the anniversary of battle. Now, he wishes he had fought, that he'd done more than just come back to haul away the corpses of his yearmates. The dust has settled but so many have died; everyone remaining claims to know what justice means — he finds comfort in the impartiality of the wilderness, far removed from solemnizations.
Neville presses his forehead to the place between Blaise's shoulder blades. “Come home with me,” he pleads. His voice cracks. “I just...”
And together, they head for the north.