Author's Note: This story is written for the "My Other Half" challenge on the HPFC forum. My pairing was Zacharias Smith/Blaise Zabini, with the song prompt "The Call" by Regina Spektor, and word prompts "run" and "bells." I hope you enjoy the outcome, and if you do, please leave me a nice note telling me why (especially if you favorite!). I'm always up for constructive criticism as well, if you see something to comment on. Anyway, I don't own these characters, as the lovely J. K. Rowling thought of them first.
"It's getting close," Blaise says as he lights up a muggle cigarette. The red glow illuminates his face in the darkness, and the scent of tobacco smoke quickly fills the closed-off area created by the heavy curtains of Zacharias' four-poster bed. Blaise gets rid of it with a quick wave of his wand, which he digs out of the mussed blankets.
"I wish you wouldn't smoke," Zacharias says, leaning up on one arm to look at him critically.
"Wish you'd stop changing the bloody subject." Zacharias doesn't have to see Blaise's face to know that he's frowning. Not at him (never at him, because Blaise doesn't like to look at him after sex) but at the closed curtain. "We can't avoid it forever, Zach. You know that."
"Put that out before Ernie wakes up."
And somewhere in the distance, a bell is tolling; getting louder, drawing nearer. But it's still a ways off, and they are content to ignore it, for now.
The Hufflepuff common room has always seemed too whimsical to Blaise. Too comfortable. The chairs try to swallow him when he sits down, so he prefers the floor. He doesn't touch Zacharias – not in public like this, even though it's so late in the evening that the rest of the House is asleep.
"Binns is mental," Zacharias complains, chewing thoughtfully on the tip of his as of yet un-inked quill. "If he had a mind to lose, I'd say he was losing it for sure. How the hell are we supposed to relate the second Goblin War to the First Wizarding War, anyway? And he wants three rolls of parchment for it, no less! Some of us have better things to do than write essays for some crackpot old ghost who can't leave because he's too caught up in the bloody past." Sometimes it's really a wonder that Zacharias isn't in Slytherin; he speaks like one, at times. But that might come from spending too much time with Blaise.
Blaise says nothing; he just smiles that dark little half-smile and stares into the fire. He likes history, and talking of wars. He says that, as a pureblood, it's his duty to know the stories of his ancestors and the like. Dark Wizards (especially the purebloods) are very mindful of their lineage, Zacharias reflects. His own family is much the same, but their only true claim to fame is one ancestor in particular – the founder of the very house in which Zacharias resides: Helga Hufflepuff.
Although presumably occupied with schoolwork, Zacharias' mind is not concentrated on Goblin Wars. However, it does linger on a wizarding war (but not the first). This war cannot be discovered in any modern history book (though one might hear whispers of it in the papers) as it hasn't happened yet. The bells of war are drawing closer, ever-closer. Time is running out, and sides must be chosen.
It's evident that the subject isn't far from Blaise's mind either. Troubles mirrored in the firelight, reflected in his dark eyes, Blaise states slowly, "You ought to join up with us, Zach. You're pureblood, you could do it. Your family. Just until after the war-"
"My family is sworn to Light, Blaise," Zacharias says shortly. "We follow Dumbledore."
"Dumbledore is dead!" Blaise's usual calm, calculated demeanor is disturbed as he rounds on Zacharias, who meets his gaze. Tries to ignore the way his stomach flips at the worry he finds there.
Zacharias swallows and looks at him evenly. "Then we follow Potter."
Blaise scoffs and turns away, glaring at the flames crackling merrily in the hearth. They don't speak again for a while, and the flames have diminished, dwindling down to mere embers casting a faint red glow about the room.
"You're choosing death, Zach," Blaise says as he stands up. He looks at Zacharias, stubborn-faced as he lounges on the sofa, and meets his defiant gaze. "You are. And I'm sorry for it." They don't kiss, because Blaise doesn't touch Zacharias in public, but he does lay a hand upon his shoulder for the briefest of moments. Zacharias closes his eyes and feels the warmth leave him. When he opens them again, Blaise is gone.
When he finally falls asleep there, on the sofa, in front of the dying fire, he dreams of bells that toll louder and louder, and Blaise's words echo in the caverns of his mind: You're choosing death.
The castle smells like smoke. The halls are nearly unrecognizable for all the debris. Thank Merlin, the younger students are gone and are (hopefully) being kept safe. Zacharias moves through the mess as quickly as he can with his wand drawn. Screams and yelled curses echo off the walls from every direction at once, and he feels surrounded. Death Eaters have invaded Hogwarts. Perhaps it was inevitable, but Zacharias never thought he'd see the place like this; so destroyed and broken – violated. This isn't Hogwarts anymore; it's a battlefield.
It's a battlefield, and already he's seen too much. He's seen Ernie Macmillan felled by a severing charm. A girl in the year below him lost two fingers fending off a man Zacharias remembers Blaise identifying as Mulciber when they read about him one day in the Daily Prophet. He barely avoided a similar curse himself, scraping past with only a gash across his cheek, which is now bleeding freely.
He rounds a corner and barely has time to toss up a shield with a cry of, "Protego!" before a Cruciatus Curse is sent hurtling his way. He draws his wand, prepared to fire back, when he sees who cast it. His arm drops instantly.
Blaise looks back at him, arm raised and wand pointed, but his eyes betray him. His hand is shaking, his stance is uncertain. He looks terrified. "Zach," he breathes, and takes a step forward. Zacharias flinches back, not lowering his shield.
"I told you," Blaise says. "Your side is losing. It's not too late – you still have a choice. The Dark Lord, he said-"
"What, are you two on speaking terms now?" Zacharias demands, sparks shooting from the tip of his wand. "I hadn't realized you were on such good terms with You-Know-Who!"
For a moment, Blaise looks injured. "You know that isn't how it is, Zach. You're a Hufflepuff. You of all people should understand loyalty. But you could save yourself. You could! Fight with me," he implores. "Please."
"You're right; I do understand loyalty. And you should understand that's why I can't." Zacharias is firm in his answer, and watches as Blaise gives up. He can see it in his eyes. They both know they can't fight one another. Stalemate. Zacharias' shield flickers, then fades. Blaise could take the shot.
"So what do we do, then?" Blaise asks, voice barely carrying over the battle being fought all around them.
Zacharias hesitates, then speaks, the answer seeming simple, yet impossible.
And he does. He doesn't know if Blaise follows, because he never looks back. He ducks as a wall collapses when he runs past it. Casts Stupefy at a cloaked figure that tries to hinder him. He runs until his side aches, past countless gruesome scenes that will haunt his dreams for years after: Colin Creevey, a young Gryffindor, body broken, mangled and lifeless in a corridor; an anguished cry of despair that could only come from a mother losing a son, and he catches a fleeting glimpse of red hair; numerous scenes like this that make his stomach lurch, but he doesn't stop. Someone calls his name as he bolts through the Great Hall, but he doesn't stop for them. Doesn't stop for anyone. Doesn't stop. He isn't sure where he's going – just that he has to get out of there.
And somewhere inside the castle, bells are ringing, building up to a crescendo that Zacharias doesn't care to hear.
"I wish you wouldn't smoke."
Blaise sits at the cracked window in the muggle inn, smoke curling away from his lips when he exhales. He doesn't look at Zacharias, because he doesn't like to look at him after sex. He stares out into the early morning, still dark, as Zacharias' lips graze his bare shoulder.
"I wonder who won," Blaise whispers, as if he's afraid the wooden walls of their small room might hear and betray them – the deserters.
"We'll know in the morning."
And morning comes, creeping over the horizon like a newborn baby opening its eyes for the first time. It looks hopeful, but Zacharias freezes, his heart skipping. "Listen," he says close to Blaise's ear. "Do you hear the bells?"
Both quiet, they listen hard and intently for what feels like forever. Then Blaise, stubbing out his last cigarette with a slow sigh, says, "No."
The bells have stopped.
They will, in time, start again, but for now they hang silent, and do not disturb the peace of the morning – of the new day.