No one had noticed that anything was wrong. Not that he would want them to, but the point still stood. None of them had bothered to notice his anger or his hurt or any of his feelings for all eight years they had been together, so he didn’t know why he expected them to do so now. Even though Vincent was now gone, Gregory and Draco were still in their own little world, and Blaise was, as always, a blundering idiot.
Well, not blundering. Nor an idiot. Blaise always knew exactly what he was doing.
Theodore snuck around these days, ghosting into and out of his lessons, sequestering away in the corners of the library, stealing his meals in the kitchen long after everyone had gone to bed. He spent days sometimes without returning to his rooms, not wanting to look at the symmetrical arrangement of four beds in their dorm instead of five, not wanting to feel the fear and paranoia that followed him around the halls of Hogwarts, not wanting… He didn’t want the last year to have happened at all, to be honest. He wanted it to be sixth year again, when his dad was in prison and he was left alone for once in his goddamn life. But instead he was stuck here, at 18, robbed of his coming-of-age year, left floating and alone in halls that he should feel safer in than anywhere else. And now he had lost his last—
Theodore wasn’t sure if he was ready to even think anything about—whatever he and Blaise had been. He could still smell Blaise on his sheets; sometimes he woke up feeling Blaise’s arm trailing over his shoulder or Blaise’s eyes resting heavy on the nape of his neck and Theodore was craving the contact that he had stupidly, forgetfully, obnoxiously allowed himself to sink into, grasping at the straws of comfort that were offered to him like a newborn who had never experienced rejection before in his life. But Blaise was, of course, who he was, and had done what Theo should have expected from the beginning.
Theodore Nott didn’t get lucky. Theodore Nott had a shitty father, a shitty personality, and a shitty attitude. He was, all at once, too privileged and too neglected to be ready to take advantage of that, too pushy and too quiet, too smart and yet not smart enough. And yet, at this point in his life, he just felt like an idiot. There were probably people laughing about him, if they cared enough. They probably didn’t. Blaise loved lording his conquests over the common room, to brag about the “untouchable” boys and girls that he’d dragged into his bed. Theo was probably a common room story by now, a way to forget the green and red screams that filled the corridors for an entire year.
The common room was always dimly lit these days. None of them could handle the brightness anymore, and even the first years had their hands hovering over their wands. They were eleven, he thought sharply to himself, staring at the rain barreling down the windows next to him. He had been like them, eleven and scared and cold and tired, too much and too little and not enough. Draco, Blaise, and Gregory had never been like that . They had owned the world, silver spoon in hand since they had first sat up. And it still showed, even after last year.
There was a difference, Theodore mused softly, between a life of terror and a year of it. With a year, you knew who you were outside of the fear, but if you had only ever felt it, who were you without it? You couldn’t “bounce back” from it, because there was nothing to bounce back to. He couldn’t joke around about what had happened, because it was—not normal, but not outrageous. He couldn’t accept triviality anymore, and Blaise had just—fucked with him, to be crass. His father would have hated that. Theodore Nott, Sr. had officially died in an accident involving a portkey and illegal dark artifacts. That was what the aurors had decided when they showed up to the manor the next day to collect the disgraced death eater for his trial. Theodore hadn’t seen the point in arguing, but had simply nodded and accepted his new title.
But Blaise’s mother was still alive, and he was still allowed a childhood at age eighteen. He still thought it was funny to play with people, to mess with them and manipulate them like marionettes. He still thought it was funny to pretend to like people, to make fun of them, to laugh at how attached they were compared to him. Had he not been there when they saw the bodies writhing on the floor? Had he not felt terrified of being next? Pure blood meant nothing to the Carrows, and Blaise hadn’t exactly been successful at endearing himself to them. How, after that, did he find satisfaction in emotional manipulation? It was small, petty even, and completely unproductive. And yet he did it to everyone.
Theodore cursed quietly at himself. He had fooled himself into thinking he was different, something special. Had fooled himself into thinking that Blaise would look at him and see something other than the exhaustion and bitterness and cynicism, perhaps even something beautiful or—or lovable oh god Blaise was—was such an asshole, fuck.
It wasn’t funny to lie to people about that sort of stuff. Not that Theodore was small or defenseless, and he should have known better, but trying to make people say things you can lord over them for personal enjoyment. Saying that you love someone was not something to do like that. Not when—not when you knew that no one had loved them before. Not when you had held them at age thirteen in your bed and rocked them for hours until their gasping sobs had subsided when they admitted this. Not—
Theodore was wrong. It was something to do. It was something he’d seen Blaise do before to other people and he hadn’t blinked. But he’d trusted Blaise. He’d thought that he was maybe special. And yet Blaise had retreated back into his shell of lies and false flattery and Theodore had thought that it was a defense mechanism. He’d allowed it. But this had gone too far. Theodore could handle the false flattery and the fake smiles because of the sincerity in Blaise’s eyes, the whispered truths in the early morning when Blaise thought Theo had finally drifted off, sent into the dark room to be stifled by unconsciousness. But telling Theodore that he loved him—not even that, that he was in love with him—had been too much. Theodore had run. Everyone in his life wanted him for their own goals. He refused to let himself be taken in by that, ever. Not again. He had promised that to himself when his mum had died, and he wasn’t about to break that vow.
He’d told himself that he didn’t want to talk about Blaise, but there he was, thinking about Blaise anyways. Why did Blaise have so much power over him? No, why had he let Blaise have so much power over him, that was the real issue. He turned his face back to the window, resting his cheek on the paned glass, feeling a strip of metal dig into his cheekbone. The cool glass was a welcome respite, and he could pretend that the tears he felt leaking out of his eyes were the rain coming inside. That was a good idea.
He rotated, violently flicking his hand at the windows. They slammed open, sending a gust of wind and rain into the library, probably damaging the now mostly empty shelves. The books had been burned last year—he’d seen it from the Dark Arts classroom, where he was overseeing a detention. The blaze had lit up the grounds a sickly shade of red. He would have snorted if he’d had the energy to—the Gryffindors would’ve been appalled if they’d seen the twisted application of their house color. All that was left of that was grass that grew slightly greener in the fire’s wake by now, although you couldn’t see that through the mud.
Hogwarts really did bounce back stronger, Theodore realized. They may not have everyone they did two years before, but they had a will to survive. Everyone was the same, on the inside. They had changed, sure, but inherently they were still who they’d been: hopeful and bright and children. They were healing.
Maybe Blaise was, too. Maybe Theodore was expecting too much of someone who’d never been all that mature in the first place. He took a second to acknowledge that as someone who hadn’t talked in two weeks and was sitting in an open window during a thunderstorm at three in the morning, he might not be the best person to judge maturity, before shaking his head softly. He was going to have another sleepless night, he knew. He should probably have been more upset about that than he was.
Theodore felt Blaise coming before anything, a fuzzy feeling in the back of his mind that expanded into a pulsing knot of magic as it grew closer. Theodore recognized it, knew Blaise’s magic very well. And he could hardly escape, in the corner like he was. And so he pulled his sodden robes up and swung his legs around, turning to face the boy—man now, he reminded himself, looking at the squareness in Blaise’s jaw and the long, jagged scar running down his cheek. His feet were bare, and his hair was dripping water into his eyes.
Theodore gently closed the windows behind him, stretching with his mind and being overly careful with his control. He needed to show Blaise that no matter what situation they were in, Theodore was more than capable of handling himself. He stared at Blaise, not willing to give up the upper hand silence lent him. Blaise pressed his lips together, looking nervous and ashamed. Blaise hadn’t looked ashamed since he was twelve and his mother had chewed him out in their chateau in France. Theo remembered; he’d been there. This looked like that—real, genuine apology, rather than the show Blaise put on for their teachers. It was a bit softening, if Theodore was honest with himself, but he couldn’t let that influence him.
“I’m sorry,” Blaise gritted out eventually, the words looking difficult to force out. Theodore laughed internally. What, did that hurt, you fucking asshole? Did that feel like you had your heart clawed out, like you couldn’t go on? Good.
But, instead, he stared at Blaise, measuring him up. “Why?” he asked calmly, cocking his head and raising an eyebrow. He had been given all the power in this situation, a decision that he was marveling at. What exactly was Blaise playing at?
Blaise scrunched his face, looking unsure. Theodore sighed in disappointment. Blaise was looking for forgiveness here, not to apologize. Theodore had no more use for this conversation. He went to jump off the ledge, ready to bypass Blaise and leave this doomed conversation.
“I know you’re not… used to affection. Not like I am. And I knew that boundary was there and yet I kept crossing it. And I’m sorry.” He said the words haltingly, rushing them but stopping abruptly. It was jarring, and took Theodore a minute to understand.
“Explain,” he said bluntly. He hated not understanding things. Knowledge was safety, and Blaise had just tried to reconstruct the entire situation. Theodore needed to understand what was going on better.
Blaise looked straight at Theodore, taking a deep breath. The bookshelves he was between framed him nicely, bringing attention to his shoulders and waist, although there wasn’t all that much light falling on him even now that the storm had abated and the waxing moon was peering into the library. He was backlit now, and Blaise could no longer see his face peering from the ledge he was seated on.
“You deserve everything. You deserve someone to tell you that you look nice, that you’re smart, that you’re an amazing conversationalist and the things that you say about Malfoy are, quite frankly, the funniest shit I’ve ever heard. You deserve the world, Theodore. And you, for some ungodly reason probably relating to that asshole father of yours-”
“You speak badly of the dead?” Theo looked down at Blaise, a slight smile on his lips.
Blaise snorted humorlessly. “I do when they were abusive dicks to you. Thank Merlin he’s dead. And yes, before you say it, I am entirely aware that Merlin was a Slytherin, and the next time you tell me that I swear to God I will make sure you can never find work again.” Theo huffed. They’d had this dialogue many times, and its familiarity was comforting. But it wasn’t what Blaise was here for, so he let the thread drop. Blaise understood this and continued. “You don’t think you deserve that. You don’t think you deserve affection. I get that. You’re allowed to have your hang-ups. I understand that, God knows I have mine. And I overstepped those limitations. And for that, I am very sorry. If there’s anything I can do to make up for that, please let me know.”
Theo narrowed his eyes at the man below him before speaking in a measured voice. “You lied to me.”
Blaise blinked, surprised. “I’m sorry, what?” He shifted his weight, a nervous tick Theo knew well. He was confused, caught off-guard. Was he startled that Theo had called out his falsity, or did he not understand? Theo chose his next words carefully.
“You do what you did to your… conquests. You’d take me out to, try to… woo me? And then you’d flatter me. And that was okay. I understand that you need some front, something to hide behind. I get that. But then you—” He took a shuddering breath before continuing, trying to get his emotions under control. “You said you loved me. That was too far. You can lie to me, about me, about what I do to you, sure. But—” His face completely crumpled at this, and he brought his hands up to it, smoothing his brow, trying to get his emotions back under control. When had he gotten so bad at this? A small voice in the back of his head said, when you stopped sleeping, but he ignored it. “But not that.” There. He’d said his piece. Let Blaise do with that what he would.
“I did—” Blaise stopped here, sounding choked up. Theodore thought, rather vindictively, that he was happy he wasn’t the only one struggling here. “But I did mean it. And I know you don’t believe me, and that’s okay. But I’m willing to wait until you do.”
“No one could ever love me, Zabini. Don’t be an idiot.”
“No.” Blaise didn’t sound defensive, or angry, or anything of the sort. Instead, he sounded tired, like he was convincing a small child of an obvious fact. Theodore wasn’t sure how to react to that. “I do. And if you don’t believe me, sure. If you don’t want me to, too bad. If you can’t ever love me back? I’m okay with that. But you needed to know.”
Theodore hopped off the ledge, letting the sodden weight of his robes carry him down to the floor. He brushed past Blaise, making his way down the aisle, feeling Blaise’s magic fade behind him as he drew farther out of sight. At the very last moment, Theodore turned around to wait for him, leaning against the shelf. He kept tabs on his awareness of Blaise’s magic as he started to try to dry his robes without moving. Eventually, Blaise turned away from the window to make his way out of the library.
When he passed by, Theodore fell into step beside him. Blaise looked at him and raised an eyebrow slightly. “Still here?”
Theo, almost entirely dry by then, smirked slightly. “Unfortunately. You took forever.”
Blaise snorted, and Theo closed his eyes, sensing his way into the dungeons and only walking into a few walls on the way. Blaise barely mentioned any of them.