Author's Notes: As you may have noticed by my lack of output, I have been struggling for the first time in my life with writer's block. I hate it. Loathe it. All the framework is there, I know everything that I want to/need to have happen, but the words. Won't. Come.
So I've decided to take a step back and write something else, still in the DAYDverse so that my head stays in that same species of plot bunny, but with characters completely not involved in AP, and I have further tried to stretch myself and do something different. But then again, what's the point of being able to be this closely observant of reader reaction and fan opinion if you're never going to listen? I'm trying to do just that…listen, and be open-minded. They may have started out as JKR's Michael and Terry, but then they became mine, and now they have become yours, and so I guess everyone should have seen this coming.
"And now Gwen won't even speak to him, which, you know, I understand, but this is getting ridiculous. I've tried talking to him as his Sergeant, but it doesn't seem to be making that much of an impression." Colin threw up his hands, then let them both drop against the table, shaking his head in frustration. "I hate to say I've failed, but I have."
Neville reached across the conference table, knowing that the younger boy couldn't feel the reassuring squeeze of his hand, but hoping the gesture was recognized all the same as he smiled sympathetically. "It's not failure; this is why we have a chain of command. Sometimes it makes things easier to have them handled by someone in the same year, and sometimes there needs to be a little more authority."
He sighed, glancing to the new Lieutenant at his right. This wasn't exactly what he'd had in mind for a first real test of command, but even if it trod dangerously near matters of tact, he supposed that he should have seen it coming as an inevitable side-effect of a mixed teenage army. And even if Seamus' handling of it was a disaster, it surely couldn't be that much worse than the convoluted melodrama Colin had already described over the last ten minutes. "The root of the problem is a Gryffindor. Do you want to take this, or should I?"
Seamus leaned back in his chair so far that it tilted off the floor, lacing his hands behind his head and kicking his feet up onto the table with an easy grin. "Oh, I can handle it, Fearless Leader."
Ernie and Hannah exchanged a long look, and one fair eyebrow raised skeptically as he cleared his throat. "He's already shrugged off both me and Hannah after he notched Sally-Anne and Janice onto that dangling bedpost of his, and not to be insulting, but I am generally considered at least marginally more physically intimidating than yourself. You actually think you can get Sloper to keep his trousers on?"
"Absolutely." Seamus nodded confidently, a glitter appearing in the blue eyes that Neville found distinctly unsettling. He pulled his wand from the holster he'd taken to wearing inside his sleeve, spinning it deftly as the grin widened. "You're a big bastard, true, but I got me own style. We'll just be havin' ourselves a bit o' a talk, we will."
"Make sure he can see your lips," Colin scowled, crossing his arms over his chest. It should have been a petulant gesture, even childish, but there was a hardness to the set of his mouth that held it back. "I get the feeling he can turn those things off at will and just let himself be deaf when it's convenient."
"I'll pantomime," Seamus shrugged, sitting up again. He looked across the table, locking eyes with Colin, then mimed first at himself, then the Secret-Keeper, establishing not only his attention, but the fascination of all the assembled officers.
The wand was raised next, and Seamus pointed to it, then made a series of gestures that were more explicit than Neville had ever realized mere fingers could possibly convey. He knew he should have said something – he was the Commander, after all – but his mouth was hanging open with no particular apparent ability to form words as the freckled hands cheerfully expressed an astonishing range of potential sexual acts between witches, wizards, various combinations of same, and what he hoped he had misunderstood as some form of waist-height farm animal…or possibly a house-elf.
The rest of the officers thankfully seemed no less stunned, but just as Neville managed to relocate the power of speech, the grin turned dangerous, wicked, and Seamus' fist jerked, the wand slashing down. Even the witches winced, and every wizard there hunched involuntarily forward as if they had all been punched. The gasps and hisses seemed exactly the reaction Seamus had desired, and his expression was beatifically innocent as he settled back once more, looking around casually. "Reckon he'll get the gist?"
"Um…" Neville coughed uncomfortably, willing himself to sit upright and place both hands deliberately on the tabletop. His face was burning, he knew he must be the same color as his robes, and he was very, very careful to make eye contact with no one but Seamus himself. "Yeah. I'm pretty sure he will."
"So…that's covered. A little Irish diplomacy like that, and I think you'll be coming to us next complaining that Sloper won't undress to shower, Sergeant Creevey." Parvati said airily, then checked the notes she had made on their meeting thus far, her quill moving rapidly as Neville wondered how exactly she was going to put that on the record. A final flourish, and she looked up, motioning invitingly with the ink-stained tip. "Anyone else having problems, or do we move on to scheduling this month's meetings?"
Several heads shook, there were a few muttered negatives, then Terry raised his hand. "Not a problem, per se, but rather in the same vein as young Mr. Sloper's motivations."
Hannah grimaced, letting her head drop into her cupped palms and shaking it slowly. "Oh, Merlin…don't tell me there's a Ravenclaw shagging their way through the ranks, too?"
"No," Michael admitted, "but from what I understand, his principle method of persuasion is to remind the witch in question of our imminent mortality, and thus inspire her to think of whether or not she wants to die without having…er…experienced life fully, so to speak."
"Aye," Seamus gave a brief snort of a chuckle. "But fair's 'nuff, he ain't the only one thinkin' that way. 'Fess up, if you will…" He raised his hand, sweeping the table with a pointed, challenging look. "How many o' us here've parted ways with our virginity this year, or's makin' best effor --?"
"No one answer that!" Neville cut in quickly, grabbing his Lieutenant's wrist and yanking his hand down with a reproachful glare. "Seamus, that's not appropriate!"
No remorse appeared forthcoming, and Seamus only tilted his head curiously at Neville, then tipped it in Hannah's direction. "Done it yourself, aincha?"
"That's none of your business," Neville retorted frigidly. Apparently, given the right motivation, he discovered he must have inherited something from his Gran after all, because Seamus' mouth snapped shut instantly, and he actually winced.
There were a few moments of heavy, awkward silence, then Terry spoke up, the lightness of his tone only slightly forced. "The reference was merely to not wanting to leave things regretted. Which is why Mike and I think we should probably admit that…well…you see…we haven't been entirely honest with you lot."
Colin laughed. "If you're referring to your Legilimency, Terry, we've all figured that out by now."
"He's quite right, dear chum," Ernie agreed, leaning over to drape one thick arm companionably across the blue-robed shoulders. "There's closeness with a friend – goodness knows Justin and Hannah and I could finish one another's sentences often enough – but what the two of you manage does exceed that, and considering that Corner has been tutoring us in Occlumency, it doesn't require the biggest leap of logic."
Terry shook his head patiently, ducking out from under Ernie's arm to spread his hands towards the others. "It's a little more than closeness."
"Well, that goes without saying," Neville pointed out, a bit bemused by the need for such clarification. "If you can actually communicate mentally as clearly as it seems, that's bloody near –"
"We mean something else," Michael interrupted, casting a significant look at Terry. His dark eyes seemed to glaze for an instant, and Neville knew that once again, something had passed between them unheard by the rest.
It usually was something he ignored completely as not his concern, but if they were going to make such a point of it, he found it suddenly almost rude, and he wasn't surprised to hear the thick sarcasm and annoyance in Parvati's voice that matched his own feelings. "Who do you think he meant, Snape? Merlin's beard, Boot, does everything have to be a puzzle with you?"
Terry sighed, and there was another instant of distance in his eyes before he rolled them mournfully at the ceiling. "Discretion is simply lost on them, isn't it, Mike?"
"Considering the rumors," his friend agreed coolly, "you'd think they wouldn't be this dense."
"Rumors?" Ernie scowled.
"That Mike and I…." Terry waved a hand between the two of them, and Neville felt his eyes widen in sudden understanding, the annoyance vanishing.
"If you'll tell me who's spreading them, I'll talk to them myself," he said firmly. "What happened to you guys last week was bad enough without people making it into some kind of –"
"There's no need for rash action," Michael cut in hastily. "We're not offended. But if we're going to be trusting each other with our lives, we can at least trust you with this. It's been such a year…a lot has changed. We've all discovered things about ourselves that maybe we didn't realize before."
Seamus crossed his arms, his confused expression mirrored by a half-dozen others. "What t'hell are you gettin' at?"
Another moment of wordless conversation, and then Neville's jaw nearly hit the polished surface of the conference table as the two wizards moved as one. Chairs scraped the stone floor deafeningly, and now Michael was almost in Terry's lap, their arms locked around one another, and they were kissing.
Not just kissing, snogging. Bloody near trying to suck one another's tonsils out.
Mouths crushed together, eyes closed, hands sliding up under robes and gripping shoulders, moving over backs in the most passionate, almost desperate embrace that Neville had ever seen. The tendons corded tight on Terry's neck. The flutter and fan of dark lashes against Michael's still-pale cheek. Breath sucked quick and fervent between teeth and around tongues, as if any moment it wouldn't, couldn't be enough and they would either have to go further or burst from the pure intensity. It was the kind of kiss that was uncomfortable and voyeuristic to watch, even if it hadn't been two wizards, and he had to look away, staring at the ceiling and wondering what…wondering how…?
"Well now…if that don't bugger me dead uncle's cat with the leg o' a cross-eyed pig."
Seamus' dumbfounded whisper broke not only the stalemate of shock, but also the kiss, and as Neville nervously allowed himself to dare to look again, he saw Michael grin, swollen-lipped and flushed, still breathing hard as he pushed the hair back from his forehead. "You know, Finnigan, you have a singular talent for imagery."
Neville took a deep breath, knowing that it was definitely the duty of the commanding officer to say something at this juncture. "I…uh…so…um…." Although his mouth did manage to work this time, his brain was still reeling, and although he could see the two young men looking at him with perfectly matched, perfectly mild expressions, his mind still only managed to present the now permanently burned-in image of them entangled together.
Words. He needed words, damn it. "Er….I…you….uh…."
Terry smiled sweetly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "It wouldn't have been right to let it go by without doing anything."
Michael nodded, and although they kept talking, they seemed to not quite be looking at any one person, flowing seamlessly in and out of each other's words with an ease that only increased Neville's already dizzying disorientation. "So we just wanted to tell you –"
"—after all the speculation –"
"—all the awkwardness –"
"—all the dancing around the matter –"
"—whispering behind hands—"
"—uncertainty about what we are to one another —"
A pause, matching grins, and their eyes cleared to a vividly mischievous gleam as they leaned forward, folding their arms on the table serenely and finishing the statement together. "—that you're all quite thoroughly April fooled."
Neville would have liked to credit his own command skills, to claim that he handled the moment with poise and leadership. The truth of the matter was that all he could think of was a single, vivid obscenity, and the continued survival of the Ravenclaw officers was entirely due to Ernie's Quidditch reflexes and superior size when Seamus attempted to vault the table.