The covers were already pulled back, the bed staring at him so wonderfully invitingly when the knock came at the door, and Neville hesitated, looking from the soft crimson sheets to the lump in the other bed that was his roommate. "Will you get that?"
Seamus, of course, did not answer. Too much to hope that he would still be awake. The knock came again, this time followed by a whisper. "Neville, can I talk to you? Are you still up?" It was too soft to recognize the voice, but it was either one of the girls or one of the younger boys, and he sighed.
"I'll be right there." It was Dennis, and at the warring guilt and worry on the boy's face, the irritation faded, replaced at once with a surge of his own concern. Had something happened while he was gone that no one had told him about yet? Neville motioned into the dorm, indicating that they could both sit on the bed he was supposed to be sleeping in. "Everything okay, Creevey?"
"I just..." His smooth face crinkled into frown, and he shook his head, his cheeks suddenly flushing deeply. "I didn't know...I mean...there's stuff that I don't...I didn't want to talk to Colin, and the other guys don't really know, and...um...." Dennis' hands twisted in the fabric of his pajama shirt, then he took a deep gulp of air, pushing the rest out in a rush. "CanIaskyousomethingandyoudon'thavetoanswerifit'stoopersonalbutIreallykindofwanttoneedtoknow."
Neville's blood froze. Oh, Merlin, not this. This was not part of the deal. All right, sure, so most of what had happened this year was not part of the deal, but definitely not this. "I...uh..." He sighed, spreading his hands openly. "Dennis, I'll be honest; I don't know what's been going around, but I don't really think I can help you. I've never."
To his surprise, rather than seeming disappointed, Dennis tilted his head with a distinctly scoffing chuckle. "C'mon, Commander, everyone saw you."
At the time, he hadn't even considered the presence or absence of an audience, but now Neville felt his cheeks verge on bursting into flames of embarrassment as he realized what it must have looked like when he and Hannah were on the common room couch. True enough, they had just been kissing, but she had been up in the dorms alone, and he wasn't exactly fully dressed. "I mean it!" he protested. "Not Hannah, and not Parvati, either!"
The smug certainty changed at once to abject confusion, and Dennis frowned more deeply. "I meant what happened with you and Ernie."
"Me and MACMILLAN?!" Neville was too shocked to worry about raising his voice, but there was nothing more than a muffled grunt and a shift in blankets from the other bed.
"On the wall," Dennis insisted innocently. "If you don't wanna talk about it, that's cool, but...."
The relief was tremendous, and Neville couldn't help but laugh as he reached out to ruffle the fine blonde hair. "No, no! Go ahead! The wall...that's a whole different thing."
"Don't worry about it," Neville said firmly. "What did you want to know?"
The moonlight through the rain on the windowpanes cast a shimmering blue shift of light and shadow over the angelic face, making Dennis look ancient far beyond his years as he turned, pulling his knees up to hug them closely while he regarded the older boy. "How did you do it, Sir? When I get Cruciated, I yell. I can't help it. And I know Colin's not gonna do anything stupid over the Cruciatus, but if they really did something to me to make him tell, I've gotta be able to keep my mouth shut. So he won't know."
It had never really occurred to him before the weight of responsibility that Colin's role might have placed on the younger of the two brothers, and Neville looked down at his hands, unsure of what to say. "That's...really brave of you, Dennis."
The boy shrugged off the compliment as if it were nothing, leaning forward without uncurling. "Did it hurt as bad as it looked like?"
"Something like what Ernie and I did," he said quietly, "it's a lot different than being Cruciated. That takes you; it just hits your whole body and it's everything. Getting beaten…." Neville paused, struggling to find the words without remembering too much. The scars on his back and shoulders had begun to ache, as if they wanted to speak for themselves. "You can still think, so you feel each one at first, at least until you start to go into shock and it does hurt. Bad. It felt like he was trying to cut right through me."
Maybe he hadn't truly expected an answer, but Dennis' eyes were huge, his voice an awestruck whisper. "Then how come you two didn't scream?"
"I can't answer for Ernie; we've never talked about it," Neville admitted. "Me, I don't know if it was right, but I was angry. I hated Filch and I hated Snape, and I knew it was what they wanted. They wanted us to scream and cry and beg for it to stop, and I knew they wouldn't stop, so I just didn't let myself. It helped that Ernie was there too, but mostly, I just hung onto that. That no matter what they did to me, they couldn't make me do what they wanted."
"And if they hurt me," Dennis seemed to be testing each word on his tongue, drawing them out slowly. "They'd want me to beg Colin to make it stop."
Neville nodded, hating that it was true. "Yeah."
There was silence for what seemed like an age, then Dennis abruptly uncurled, getting to his feet and pulling himself to rigid attention with a toss of his head as he held out one small hand grimly. "Thank you, Commander."
He took it, shaking it firmly even as he saw how his own fingers closed entirely over the other boy's. "I…I hope I helped."
"Yes, sir." Dennis scampered over to the door, and his smile beamed back blue-white beneath the eerie web of shadows. "It's not about me, it's about not letting those bastards have Colin. That's easy."