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Proposition No. 2

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When Blaise Zabini was sixteen, he fell in love with the worst person imaginable.

A bloke. A Gryffindor. A mudblood. A reckless idiot.

It wasn't even Potter, who he could've been forgiven for falling in love with, since Potter had a pureblood name and fortune if not blood. Instead, he fell for a no-name lowerclassman with an irritating propensity for taking photos and a nearly obscene hero worship of the golden trio.

.

It all began with good intentions, as these things usually do. Early in his sixth year, when the Dark Lord was still just gathering his forces and the Zabini family was firmly, unquestionably neutral, Blaise began to practically live in the Hogwarts library. He searched every book he could get his hands on for spells to protect his home, himself, and his mother in the upcoming war, since no one with at least half a brain could deny that it was coming, and coming soon. One part of the war had already reached his dorm, as his Slytherin year group had drawn their lines in the sand. One was already a Death Eater, three would join him when they finished school, one was a sympathizer but wouldn't be able to join the misogynistic boys' club, four including Blaise were neutral, and two he thought were covertly aiding the light. Personally, Blaise didn't care either way about his peers' choices, but he couldn't deny that their careful backstabbing was going to drive him to early onset insanity.

It made for a tense atmosphere during their year-wide study sessions in the common room, though they all tried not to talk politics. All except for bloody Draco, who waved his Dark Mark around like one of his peacocks waved their tail feathers. Bloody unsubtle git. Sometimes Blaise wondered how it was like in Gryffindor, where everyone except a select few was going to join the good ol' light.

Speaking of Gryffindors, Blaise thought, looking over his book at the person who'd sat down one table over. Colin Creevey, fifth year Gryffindor and one of the many people in the school who Blaise would happily feed to the Dark Lord's snake, was mirroring Blaise in peering over the top of a book at someone. Creevey, unlike Blaise, was focused intently on the most famous one-third of the unholy trio sitting three tables across from them.

Blaise didn't dislike Creevey because he was a Gryffindor, and he didn't hate him any more than he hated other mudbloods because of their blood. He hated him on the basis that Creevey had absolutely zero tact, and was probably one of the most hopeless people in the school. His crush on Potter was infamous in certain circles, and the Slytherins had a betting pool on who'd be the first to witness Potter's rejection of Creevey sending the kid into tears.

Just as he was about to go back to the historic defenses handbook he'd picked up from the medieval literature section of the library (there was a very, very slight chance the book would have anything good in it, but he'd take it), Creevey stood up with a determined expression on his face. It was one of his few expressions that almost made him look almost attractive, not that Blaise would ever say it aloud. It was also an expression the kid would wear only when about to encounter Potter, so Blaise put his book down and got ready for a good show.

"Hi, Harry!" Creevey exclaimed, ignoring the 'shhh' sound someone nearby made. He moved out the closest chair to Potter's and plopped down. Potter would probably never notice, but one of Creevey's legs was shaking so obviously that Blaise could see it from two meters away.

"Hullo, Colin," Potter replied in a much less enthusiastic tone. "What's up?"

"Nothing much, just doing homework. Um. I was just wondering if you needed any help. You look kind of nervous about something, and—" Creevey stopped for a moment. Blaise imagined he had been about to say exactly how many hours Potter had been in the library in the past few days, or how many books he'd gone through in that time, but thought better of it. Maybe he wasn't as hopeless as he could've been. "I just wanted to say I'm a pretty good researcher."

"Thanks?" Potter ruffled his hair. Blaise wondered if Creevey had noticed it was one of Potter's nervous tics. Practically everyone who paid him any attention knew, and one couldn't avoid paying attention to one of the people who might change the tide of the war later, if the prophesy business was true. "But it's okay. Just homework."

A lie, but probably a white lie. Creevey's smile fell just a little all the same.

"Want to talk about it?"

"Nah." Potter checked one of the many grandfather clocks in the library. "I'd better be going, anyway. It's almost dinnertime. See you around, Colin!"

"See you," Creevey replied, helping Potter gather all his books and papers. He watched Potter walk out of the library, staring until Potter's back left his vision completely. Then his, his head down, his face shadowed, he went back to his seat near Blaise.

The kid wasn't sobbing, so Blaise wouldn't be able to win to win the bet, but he looked upset enough that it was close. But soon enough, Creevey went back to staring at his book and sighing despondently at Potter's empty spot.

Some might feel sympathy for him, but all Blaise could think was how stupid Creevey was to let himself feel so much for someone who obviously wasn't about to return his feelings. Potter probably knew all about Creevey's crush by now, and was just nice enough to ignore it. (Though if Potter really was oblivious to it all, the light's chances for winning the war with such a clueless savior were zilch.)

Turning his attention back to his own issues, Blaise sat back, wishing he had more resources available to him. He didn't need just spells, but information. Information that would be good for blackmail or for getting out of sticky circumstances. But he'd already pumped his friends and allies as much as he could for information on the dark side, and there was no one he could talk to who'd willingly give him correct information about the light. Factual, important information was the difference between life and death in times of war. That was something anyone who'd fought in the first wizarding war could agree on.

For all that the Zabini family had been neutral in wizarding conflicts for centuries, Blaise was still a Slytherin, and no one was stupid enough to trust him. If he were a little more Slytherin, he might try to seduce a pureblooded, socially acceptable Gryffindor in order to get information, but that was too much trouble by far. Blaise wasn't cut out for a long-term scam like that; besides, having to snog a blood traitor would do nothing for his libido. Not to mention, there was too much risk from his own housemates if he announced he was dating one of their enemies.

Glancing at Creevey, who looked like he was finally coming out of his lovestruck haze and into a more studious mood, Blaise had the sudden realization that he didn't have to date someone to get information. There were other forms of love, other ways of faking emotion to get information. Ways that, if he planned things correctly, wouldn't drive him crazy in the long term.

Not even Creevey would believe him if he said he wasn't planning to betray anyone, but if Blaise phrased things the right way, Creevey might think Blaise was completely harmless.

Hoping he didn't look like an utter idiot, Blaise walked over to Creevey's table.

"Hey, Creevey," Blaise said, willingly speaking to a Gryffindor for the first time in his life. He considered staying standing, since it really would be rude of him to sit down when this was their first ever conversation, but Blaise knew he looked a lot more intimidating while standing. He had almost a whole head on Creevy, and looming over him wouldn't help things. So he sat down, conscious of Creevey's total bewilderment. "I have a proposition for you."

"The sexual kind? No," Creevey immediately said. "Go away." Then, as if deciding the conversation was over, he went back to his books.

"Of course not, Creevy," Blaise replied with a small shudder. If Creevey had been a Slytherin, Blaise's pride would've been wounded a bit. But as Creevey was a filthy mudblood, Blaise was just disgusted. Sex with one was almost unmentionable in its repulsiveness. As soon as this conversation was over, Blaise was going to take a long shower. Maybe he'd even use a sanitizing charm on himself for good measure. "Look, I know you're one of Potter's groupies. I just wanted to know if you'd mind telling me a bit more about him."

"I'm not about to betray Harry to a Death Eater—"

"I'm not a Death Eater. Or even dark. I'm neutral. Look. This is embarrassing, but," Blaise glanced down and spelled his cheeks and ears to become slightly red. He'd learned the charm ages ago, since people would do a lot for a cute, abashed young teen. "I like him, okay?"

They were in a secluded section of the library, and most people had already left for dinner. Hopefully, no one he knew would notice him talking to the Gryffindor. Hopefully no one (other than Creevey, of course) would have the bad sense to actually believe him.

Creevey stared back, gobsmacked. "You like him?"

"Yeah. You know the feeling, right?"

Creevey blushed and stuttered out, "N-no."

Blaise almost rolled his eyes. Did Creevey seriously not know how obvious he was? What with trailing after Potter with a camera all day? He stared pleadingly at Creevey, wishing there were a spell to fake sincerity. "Please?"

"How do I know you're serious?" Creevey asked.

Oh, if only Creevey were a little more gullible. Weren't Gryffindors known for thinking the best of people? Why was Creevey so damn suspicious?

"I can't prove anything, but if you want, you can check me for a Dark Mark before you tell me anything."

Creevey still didn't look convinced, replying with, "You could still be a sympathizer."

Blaise should have gone to the female Weasley with his plan. She probably wouldn't have been as suspicious.

But Creevey continued with, "But, fine. I'll believe you. I'm only telling you things like his favorite color. And only because I know how it feels, to… to like someone who won't like you back."

Oh, cue the violins. Blaise wanted to sneer at Creevey's terribly obvious feelings. How did he ever let himself fall in love with someone who'd never give him the time of day? It was obvious Potter had a thing for the female Weasley.

"Thanks. I owe you one."

.

Click!

Blaise pulled his wand out, aiming it at the mudblood, but all Creevey did was take another photo. Trying not to seethe with anger, Blaise conjured chair for himself and sat as far away from Creevey as was socially acceptable for a conversation. Then he scooted back another few centimeters.

"Creevey, I never said anything about letting you take photos of me. If someone sees them, it's going to be hell for both of us."

It had been a long enough day of hoping to Merlin no one had seen his and Creevey's conversation in the library, or heard of their arrangement to meet every Wednesday in an abandoned classroom in the North Tower, near the Divination classroom. Blaise had snuck out of his dorm room, and that hadn't been easy at all. He could only hope that the information Creevey had would be worth it. Worth the secrecy and the embarrassment of having to show his arm to prove he wasn't carrying around a Dark Mark.

Creevey didn't even blink at Blaise's cold tone. "I send these over to my Da to be developed. He's a muggle; he's not going to tell on us." Creevey probably noticed Blaise's reflexive scowl when he said muggle, because he continued with, "You know, Harry's mum was a muggleborn. His grandparents were muggles. So are his only living family."

Blaise made a token attempt at molding his face into a more neutral expression. "So, tell me about more about him and this muggle family of his."

"Well," Creevey began, settling into his chair. "He really likes pancakes for breakfast, but only if there's strawberry jam on the table. If not, he'll eat…"

And on he continued, for four long hours.

At the end of Creevey's lecture on the various insignificant bits of Potter's life, Blaise was both nearly half-asleep from boredom and oddly satisfied. The information Creevey shared wasn't so insignificant as to be useless. In fact, if Blaise ever tried to poison Potter, he was pretty damn sure he'd be able to succeed. The picture Creevey painted of Potter was also detailed enough that Blaise, with a few more sessions with Creevey and some discrete following, might be able to impersonate the bloke for a short time. But the fact that he had to listen to minute details about someone who he didn't care about in the slightest made Blaise want to petrify himself rather than meet with Creevey again.

"So? What did you think?" Creevey asked.

"I think… You're a lot more observant than I am," Blaise replied. It was true, in fact. Creevey probably knew more about Potter than even his best friends, since Granger and Weasley weren't the type to study and memorize their friend's every action. "Also that you're a stalker, but there are worse things to be."

Creevey shrugged. He looked less hurt by Blaise's stalker comment than Blaise would've thought. "I just notice things, that's all. I don't… I don't stalk him. I just have more of a reason to remember things I notice about him than the things I notice about everyone else."

Blaise snorted softly. Of course Creevey wouldn't own up to his stalking habit.

"I know there's something wrong with your mother."

Blaise froze. That wasn't possible.

"There's nothing wrong with my mother. Other than her taste in men. The latest one actually thinks his mustache is attractive."

"Look, at first, I just wanted to find out more about Harry. Then I tried to help him out with whatever I could find out. When I found out Harry's suspicious of Malfoy, I tried to find out everything I could about him and the other Slytherins. So I know there's something up, ever since Malfoy and you had that that conversation about your mothers in the courtyard."

Blaise rubbed his temples, slowly, not caring that Creevey now knew exactly how aggravated he was. No one should know about his mother. Even her own husband was under oath to not reveal anything about her condition. A person with a fortune the size of hers couldn't be seen as weak, especially when Blaise wasn't there to help out.

The conversation between him and Malfoy had been innocuous, but he could see how Creevey could've guessed. Even more evidence was how uptight he'd been acting last week, before he got his mother's delayed letter.

"Who have you told?"

Potter, probably. Would anyone notice if he tried to obliviate them? Probably. Not to mention, he wasn't very good at the spell. Someone would get suspicious fast if Potter and Creevey started walking around more brainless than usual.

"No one. I wouldn't actually tell anyone. It's your business, not anyone else's."

Blaise squinted at Creevey, trying to figure him out. It was useless. "Do continue not telling anyone, thanks."

"I won't. I promise," Creevey replied. "I didn't know it was that much of a secret. Do you want me to swear an oath?"

He did, actually, and they spent the next half hour setting up and swearing the oath. Blaise was surprised Creevey didn't want to add in a clause about not telling anyone about what Blaise learned from Creevey about Potter. It was baffling. Creevey kept switching between suspicious and open and sincere. Blaise knew he'd get a headache from it all soon.

Later, after both he and Creevey had snuck back into their respective dormitories, he wondered at Creevey's talent at noticing things about everyone. Wondered what else Creevey knew about people at school. Wondered what else he'd guessed about Blaise.

Maybe Creevey wasn't an utter idiot after all.

But now, Blaise would've preferred Creevey were the dumb Gryffindor Blaise had assumed he was.

.

On second thought, of course he was an idiot. He was a Gryffindor. Gryffindors were incapable of being anything but idiots. It was in their blood. Two months had gone by since his first meeting with Creevey, and Blaise had found that arguing with Creevey was a lot more amusing than just listening to him in silence.

"You can't be serious. There's nothing even remotely legitimate about Granger's house elf campaign. It's a blight on the proper order of things. Just like she is."

Creevey's face turned amusingly red in his anger. "You can't tell me you really believe that!"

"Of course I do. One, because—"

Needless to say, Blaise didn't finagle much information on Potter that night. When Blaise left for his dorm at close to two in the morning, he wasn't sure if he'd won or lost the argument, but he knew without the shadow of a doubt that Creevey had a hero complex almost as bad as Potter's. The kid owned six SPEW badges, pestered his parents to donate yearly to four charities on his behalf, and wanted a career in law enforcement or healing. If Blaise didn't know he also had a stalking problem, terrible hair, and the worst Astronomy grades of the past decade, he'd have thought Creevey was the second coming of Saint Mungo.

He knew too much about Creevy, almost as much as he knew about Potter, and that hadn't been part of the plan. He wished he could separate his knowledge of the two, make his and Creevey's acquaintanceship a business affair, but the idea was absurdly unappealing.

Slowly, he climbed into his own bed, hoping no one had heard him leave or come in.

"Back from visiting your girlfriend?" Draco drawled quietly from his bed next to Blaise's. Blaise cursed silently.

"What girlfriend?"

"The one you meet every week. Come on, you're going to our old hangout spot. Of course I'd notice."

In fact, he hadn't been going to their old hangout spot. But the spot where he and Creevey met was uncomfortably close to it. They'd have to move, and soon. "Can't get anything by you."

"Course not. Though be careful – I noticed that annoying Gryffindor sniffing around over there a couple times."

"Potter?"

"No. Creevey."

Dammit.

"It's fine. I'm always disillusioned, anyway."

Blaise felt Draco's eyes on him even after they stopped speaking. He had to wonder if this was Draco's way of telling him he knew about his meetings with Creevey. If this was a warning, telling him he had to stop the meetings or else. Instead of asking Draco what he wanted, Blaise turned away, his back to Draco, and tried to fall asleep.

.

Draco gave him shit all the time after that, about his secret Gryffindor girlfriend (Gryffindor, because that was the worst insult Draco could give him without Blaise pulling out his wand). On a good day, Blaise thought it was hilarious how right Draco really was. On a bad one, he wondered if Draco had told the Dark Lord about how one of his roommates was consorting with a muggleborn.

Blaise gave him shit in return, of course. The shit he had on Draco – the haunted look in his eyes, the obscure theory books he left lying around on accident, the way he didn't flaunt being a Death Eater anymore – was smellier than the shit Draco had on Blaise.

They used to be friends of a sort, but these days there were too many secrets and lies for Blaise to feel anywhere near comfortable around Draco. It was probably the same on Draco's end.

Loneliness (on both their ends, Blaise thought, since Creevey had a few friends but no best friend, one he could share everything with) must have been why, when Creevey asked if he wanted to hang out twice a week instead of once, Blaise agreed. It must have been why Blaise told Creevey they might as well start meeting earlier in the day if they were going to stay up so late. It must have been why Blaise conjured soft couches for their new room and made them as permanent as he could make them. Why they warded the room as best they could to keep prying eyes away. Why, when Potter turned down another of Creevey's advances, Blaise went to the kitchens and brought Creevey's favorite foods to their little room.

There had been something brittle about their truce in the first days, a magicless trust between a Slytherin and a Gryffindor, but as one month turned into two, three, four, five, it strengthened into steel.

Blaise learned more than he ever wanted to know about the wizarding world's savior. He learned that Potter liked chocolate frogs, that he hated Snape even more than he let on in class, that he considered Creevey a younger brother of some sort. (Blaise had wanted to remark that it was terribly pureblood of Creevey to like a pseudo-relative, but refrained.) He learned more than enough to be successful in poisoning Potter thrice over.

He also learned enough information, in the things Creevey said and didn't say, that if the Dark Lord came calling, he would have something to give him. Something to prevent his and his mother's unfortunate deaths, since the Dark Lord had no love for neutral parties or idiots.

But of all the things he learned, the one of the things that really stuck with him was that Creevey was likeable, despite his blood status. Despite his blood, his parentage, his lack of knowledge or culture, and his love of Potter, he was a better conversationalist than Blaise had expected.

He wasn't unattractive, either, a fact that Blaise got good at ignoring as their budding friendship lasted over months instead of weeks. He ignored that Creevey's hair turned red-ish in a certain light, that his better qualities held an undeniable charm, that when they would both leave school for the summer, Blaise would actually miss their conversations.

Surely it was a sign of brain damage, but after a certain point, Blaise couldn't care less.

.

Even if Creevey hadn't slipped him a note as they passed each other in the hallway, its contents only a terse meet me, Blaise would have waited half the night in the Divination Tower. He'd heard the big news – Potter and Weasley, the new golden couple – and his first thought had been that their kids would be cursed with unbearable ugliness. The second thought was just Creevey.

Creevey was already in tears when Blaise entered their room, already hideously grief-stricken. Blaise wanted to both hug him and send him away to someone who could deal with his tears better than Blaise. Blaise had won the bet, seen Creevey in tears because of Potter, not that he would ever tell anyone. Unlike the amusement he would have felt a year ago, he only felt an awful sense of sympathy for Creevey and anger at Potter's lack of tact.

"You heard, I guess?" Creevey asked, sitting down next to Blaise. He curled up like a cat in the other corner of the couch, arms around his legs and head resting on his knees.

"I'd have to be deaf and blind not to have heard," Blaise said. The feeling of needing to comfort Creevey was uncomfortable, but he tried. "They could still break up."

He had a feeling he wasn't doing a very good job of it, especially since Creevey only started looking more upset.

"No. They're good for each other. They get along well, and Harry's already friends with her brothers, and her family likes him, and they've liked each other forever and… He wasn't ever going to like me back, anyway," Creevey replied, sniffling.

"Creevey, you can always just find someone new to obsess over. You're not hideous—" He waited for Creevey's usual snort and retort, but nothing came. "—attractive, even, for a Gryffindor. There's a good chance you could get a date if you really wanted one."

"But I don't. All I want is Harry."

Harry doesn't care, Blaise wanted to yell. Harry isn't interested. Harry hasn't talked to you for half the night twice or thrice weekly. Harry doesn't know your favorite dessert or your favorite book. What would you even do if Harry expressed interest in you?

But Blaise was self-aware enough to know that jealousy (and jealousy over Potter – wasn't that just the dumbest thing) never lead anywhere good, so he forcefully squashed those thoughts into the deepest part of his mind. He had a feeling they'd come up again, late at night when Blaise couldn't sleep, but for now he had bigger things to worry about.

"Look… You know liking him isn't healthy for you anymore, right?" Blaise carefully asked.

A slow nod.

"And you know that I'm not saying that because I like him too."

Another nod, this time faster.

"So believe me when I say, from the bottom of my little black Slytherin heart, you have to let go. You're a hell of a lot better than this. Potter isn't worth getting depressed over, no matter how much light magic shines out of his arse."

And then, he sighed, and reached over, wrapping Creevey up in a hug. Creevey hugged back tightly, sobbing and mumbling into Blaise's robes. As he rubbed Creevey's back and held him, Blaise wondered at how little he wanted to let Creevey go.

.

Although Blaise was sure Creevey still had feelings for Potter, Creevey's mood slowly picked up in the weeks following Potter's new romance. He stopped sounding sad whenever Potter's name came up in their conversations, stopped staring into space whenever Blaise had the bad tact to mention dating, and most importantly, stopped altering between ignoring Potter's existence and not being able to take his eyes away from him. As they settled back into their friendship, Creevey's updates on Potter grew less focused, but Blaise could only consider that a good thing.

By late May, not even Blaise could delude himself into thinking he and Creevey met to exchange information on Harry Potter. In their last few meetings, they had barely even mentioned him, and their most abundant topic of conversation was Blaise's reluctance to read Creevey's muggle books and Creevey's exasperation of the matter. Blaise had even taken to complaining about his friends in Slytherin, giving Creevey more information than he meant. Not that he believed Creevey would do anything with that information. He was undoubtedly a Gryffindor inside and out – brave and loyal to the point of idiocy. Blaise could barely remember a time when he'd considered Creevey a mudblood. The word was foreign to him now.

"I'm off to the loo," Creevey said suddenly, breaking from his current rant about the portrayal of women in fantasy novels. "You obviously didn't hear a word I said, anyway."

Blaise casually flipped him the bird. "I was just thinking. Obviously getting to know you was the worst mistake of my year. I've actually gotten out of the habit of saying mudblood. It's awful."

Creevey rolled his eyes. "You don't think you've changed for the better?"

"If I have, it's your fault," Blaise replied. Creevey's resulting smile was all his fault too, he supposed. He couldn't even bring himself to be mad. It was good, having someone he could talk to about things without worrying everything he said might be turned over to the Dark Lord.

But that wasn't it, not really. He liked the way Creevey never tried to hide or fake his emotions, even going so far as to encourage Blaise to show his. He liked that Creevey had a sarcastic sense of humor when Blaise would coax it out. He liked Creevey's boundless enthusiasm about things Blaise couldn't have cared less a few months ago, but now had a reluctant interest in. He liked that Creevey really was good at research, and was happy to practice defensive spells with him.

He liked Creevey. He even sometimes thought Creevey felt the same, though he never knew for sure. Creevey had stopped talking about Potter like he'd hung the sun in the sky, but that didn't mean he'd suddenly fallen in love with Blaise instead.

Shaking irrationally jealous thoughts from his head (because they were just friends, not in the illicit relationship all his Slytherin year mates thought he was having) Blaise opened Creevey's favorite muggle fantasy book, deciding he might as well try reading it. If it was too scarring, he'd just throw it aside. But as he opened the book to the first page, he noticed the back cover of the book was a bit too stiff. Flipping to the last pages, he saw a picture glued to one of the last pages.

It was of Creevey and himself, taken only last month. It was only picture of Creevey's that featured both of them together. Usually, Creevey just snapped pictures of whatever Blaise was doing at the moment. Blaise had gotten used to it, and barely even noticed Creevey's camera anymore. But that day, Creevey had sat next to Blaise and turned the camera around, pointing it at them both. Blaise had scowled into the camera at first. Getting used to the pictures didn't mean he actually liked them. Creevey had poked him in the side, and he'd reluctantly adjusted his face into a smile.

But it was obvious that the picture had been taken a moment too late, or Creevey had taken multiple pictures, because his picture self was turned toward Creevey, saying something silently, while Colin grinned into the camera.

It was a good picture. Better than good. Blaise couldn't even be mad that Creevey carried around a picture that could be discovered – no one would look inside Creevey's muggle book, and he almost always kept it with him.

Blaise bit his lip, thinking quickly, and called himself a sentimental idiot as he duplicated the picture and stuffed the copy into his Potions book.

.

Too soon, their peaceful Hogwarts existence was disrupted by Death Eaters storming Hogwarts. Blaise wasn't harmed; he hadn't even noticed the invasion until it was too late, as Draco had cast a sleeping charm over his roommates. (One day, Blaise would get him back for that, but for now he wondered if Draco was even alive, after taking off with the Death Eaters.) Creevey wasn't harmed either, but Blaise only found that out a day after the attack, when he finally saw Creevey eating in the Great Hall.

Hogwarts was on high alert for the last few days of the year, so he and Creevey only passed notes on occasion. Blaise carried a note in his pocket daily, for the off chance that he and Creevey would pass by one another in a busy or empty hallway.

Dumbledore's death changed the atmosphere of the school. No one could be sure they'd be safe. Especially not too-young mudblood Gryffindors, Blaise thought with something like despair. He returned to his manor and his mother when the term ended, but his thoughts, and maybe even something else, stayed with Creevey.

.

Dear C,

I have no doubt you've heard about the ministry's collapse. If you haven't, it is because you've gone into hiding, a path I greatly approve of. Please do so immediately. Forget about Hogwarts – if the ministry has fallen, Hogwarts is next, and no one with muggle blood is safe. You know this.

Blaise refused to worry about Creevey, even though he hadn't gotten a response to his last few letters. There was nothing good that came out of worrying. He had no idea where Creevey was or what he was doing – Blaise just hoped it wasn't preparing for Hogwarts as an act of silent rebellion.

Absently, he thought that the C in the header might be seen as for Colin instead of for Creevey. First name terms with a Gryffindor – how low he'd fallen. But the idea of being on first name terms with Creevey wasn't as mind-boggling as he'd expected. Creevey wasn't some random Gryffindor. He was nights spend quietly talking about prejudice and traditions and magical instruments; he was days spent passing notes about Potter's odd behaviors; he was mismatched socks and sloppy ties and stupid, happy smiles reserved only for his Gryffindor friends, Potter, and Blaise; he was a mousy-haired kid who was good at Charms and bad at Potions (though all Gryffindors were bad at Potions, really, and without Snape there they couldn't even blame it on him); he was a warm feeling in Blaise's chest, half exasperation, half something else. Blaise was charmed by him, and it wasn't any sort of magical charm. (His mother had him use protections against that sort of thing since age five; he'd know if it were.)

Hands still, a litany of dear Colin and please be alright running through his mind, he finished with,

My best,

B

He sent the letter off immediately, lest he try to change his words another half a hundred times.

.

A shabby, brown-feathered owl-for-rent brought Creevey's response a week later.

Dear B,

I'm sorry, but I can't. I won't go to school – I'm not dumb enough to do that – but there's still so much I can do to help. I've joined L's network. I don't know how often I'll be able to send you mail. The place where I'm at has a lot of repelling charms. I won't say anything more. I'm safe.

I don't think you should go to Hogwarts, either. I don't think, if Hogwarts really will be taken over, your neutrality will be respected.

Yours,

C

.

The daft Gryffindor was smuggling muggleborns out of the country through Lee Jordan's network safe houses, Blaise realized. He fought the impulse to smuggle Creevey into his manor and outfit him with a few dozen protection wards. He also fought the impulse to find Creevey and help him in his foolhardy plans; he was neutral in this war, and he couldn't change that now.

.

Against my better judgment, I care about you. Try not to get yourself killed.

My best, along with a page of spells you should memorize,

B

.

It's not against my better judgment to care about you. (Though I know you never had a crush on Harry.) But you were there when I needed a friend, and you never made fun of me even when I know you thought I was an idiot at times.

(At times? Try all the time, Blaise thought, but his heart wasn't in it.)

That means the world to me.

I'll be fine. Take care.

Yours,

C

(I don't have any borderline dark protection spells for you, but I do have this coin. It's a charmed copy of my own and it's linked to H's DA coin. It'll warm up and show the time next DA meeting. If I'm called to help, you'll know.)

.

I hadn't realized you knew about that. I never did anything with that information.

.

I know. You wouldn't.

.

I'm still fine. I've been approached by some, who've been wondering why I'm not attending school, but I've told them I'm stepping up to take care of my estate due to my mother's upcoming death. It's a good excuse, since it's unfortunately true. She's in the final stage of dragon pox now. It won't be long now.

.

I'm fine too. I'm glad you can be with your mother right now. I've been seeing so many families torn apart, just to keep them safe, but some are taken by the Muggle-Born Registration Commission anyway. They don't come back, afterwards. My own family's as safe as it can be. I'm American on my Dad's side, so everyone's over there now, even my brother, who doesn't understand why I'm still here. I know you think I'm a daft Gryffindor, too, but there are so many people who I can help. I think you'll be proud of me – I've gotten good at the portkey charm, and my apparition's almost soundless now. I'm practically a sneaky Slytherin.

.

Of course I think you're daft. You're also so damn brave. I guess Potter will also be proud of you, too.

.

Oddly enough, that's not as important to me as it used to be.

.

What made you change your mind? Blaise wondered, running his thumb over Creevey's words. The parchment they were written on was rough, cheap, and the other side held an advertisement for hair-coloring potions, but it was still the best thing Blaise had seen all week. Wondering if Creevey had fallen out of love with Potter, and maybe even noticed Blaise's subtle feelings, was better than worrying over his dying mother all day. The only company he'd had in the past month was his mother, her husband, and her personal Healer; before that, he'd only occasionally seen his mother's neutral and dark friends, as well as a scattering of Blaise's own friends.

"Another letter from your beloved?" his mother asked from her bed, breaking into a coughing fit as she finished speaking.

"He's not my beloved. We're not even dating."

"That never stopped me," she croaked, a familiar smirk on her pale lips.

Blaise kissed her brow, suddenly unable to speak. Nothing had ever stopped his mother. Not her family, not her peers, and certainly not something like propriety. Estelle Zabini had led her life exactly the way she wanted, never caring what other people thought. She'd been disowned from the Zabini family twice, brought back into the fold twice as well; she'd been married seven times – once to her fourth cousin, the only one of her marriages approved by her parents, the only one she'd had a child from – and each time had been for love; she'd outlived all of the relatives until she and Blaise were the last two Zabinis left; she'd created her own medical supplies business while her pureblood contemporaries sniffed and relied on their family's money and stocks; she'd gotten a disease everyone had thought had been eradicated two decades ago, and lived three years past the time her Healers had given her.

If Blaise had a life half as full as hers, he'd die a happy man. But that didn't mean he wanted her to die. He barely knew what to do without her watching over him.

"Stop looking so sad, silly boy," Estelle said, patting Blaise's hand.

Blaise swallowed and asked, "Should I call for Maximus?"

Her eighth husband was around somewhere, lurking uncomfortably in a family home that denied him access to most of its rooms. The house had been Blaise's as soon as he'd turned seventeen. Too soon, the house, the family money, the money his mother had earned and been left by her husbands would all belong to him.

"No. Bring me my memory book."

Blaise carefully brought the book to her and let her take it from him. Her hands shook just a little, so he helped her prop it up. His own hands shook as well. He hoped she wouldn't notice.

The first photograph was of her and Don Zabini, her first husband, the only one whose name she took (because they shared the exact same name).

"You look just like him. Same hair, same nose. Same look in your eyes when you're in love." She smiled at Blaise's discomfort. "Have I ever told you about how we met?" she asked, stroking the picture's face. The picture of Blaise's father waved at them both before putting his arms back around Estella and resting his chin on her shoulder.

"Please do, Mother."

.

She died the week after, and Blaise wrote a hundred unsent letters to Creevey, ignoring the fact that he should've been writing them to his best friend instead of someone he'd only known for a year. But at that point, Blaise was too drunk to care. Drunk on firewhiskey, drunk on grief, drunk on the terrible feeling in his chest that might just be love. That night, he distracted himself with counting sheep and hippogriffs and stars, but all he could think of was that he'd never gotten to introduce Creevey to his mother.

They would've hated each other, but it would've been worth it, having his two favorite people in the same room.

.

He studied all he needed to know to manage his mother's business and estate, avoiding Death Eaters and light-siders alike, until the charmed coin Creevey had sent him grew hot. He'd gotten used to carrying it around like a talisman, always keeping it in his robe pocket.

The time on the coin was fifteen minutes into the future.

Knowing Creevey had likely already apparated there, Blaise found his old school robes and apparated as close as he could, hoping to enter under the guise of a lost student. To his surprise, the main entrance was open, and Creevey was waiting for him there. It was the first time they'd seen each other since the end of the school year. Creevey looked well, though he was too skinny and had aged faster than Blaise would have thought. Blaise aged too fast as well, when Creevey pulled him into a closet and told him about the upcoming battle.

"You wouldn't be you if you didn't go, I suppose," Blaise said, closing his eyes to Creevey's determined face.

"Look. I'm not going to die," Colin replied.

"No. You're not."

Slowly, Blaise took off the Slytherin tie he'd worn to sneak into the school and slid off his silver, green-lined gloves. If he wasn't outwardly Slytherin, maybe the other side – his side, now, he supposed – wouldn't try to kill him.

"Since, I, having gone completely insane, have decided to defect. From being neutral. Not dark."

There was something bright in Creevey's eyes, but soon he wiped a hand over his face and it was gone.

"Are you sure?" Creevey asked.

"I reserve the right to hex you if you die," Blaise said instead of answering. Because Merlin, he wasn't sure. He would never be sure. All he knew was that he was betraying generations of his neutral ancestors by choosing a side, all because he couldn't live with himself if Creevey got himself killed for his stupid bleeding heart. Because he was in love with a mudblood Gryffindor. His mother would disown him for it if she were still alive, if he weren't the last Zabini on the planet. (His mother have been so terribly, beautifully angry. Blaise thanked the gods that he hadn't told her who exactly he was in love with before she passed.)

But the least Blaise could do to honor his mother's legacy was to live his life as he wanted – and the first step was to live it with the person he wanted. The only person who had ever been able to change his mind about muggleborns; the only person who could've caused him to fight for Potter's side. The person Blaise had to first keep alive in order to have a life with him.

"I – same to you," Creevey replied.

Blaise grasped Creevey's hand tightly, wishing it would convey everything he felt but couldn't say. He wanted to kiss Creevey, just once before the battle, just have one short moment to remember in case one of them died, but it would distract them both too much. Especially if Creevey pulled back, shocked, exclaiming that he wasn't interested in Blaise like that, and ew, wasn't it gross that a Slytherin had kissed him? (The real-life Creevey would never do that; he was much too kind. But the Creevey in Blaise's head explained with a nasty detachment that he was now in love with Ginny Weasley, because he had a thing for girls and red hair and his love for Harry had just been hero worship after all.)

They left the broom closet hand in hand, releasing one another only when, an hour later, someone aimed a curse straight at Creevey's unprotected back.

.

"He's going to be okay," Madam Pomfrey had told Blaise, mirroring the Healer Blaise had called in as soon as he'd realized that Creevey's wound was too serious for a rudimentary healing charm. Called in, though, was a misleading phrase. Later, Blaise was sure he'd be glad that the Healer was charmed by Blaise's devotion to his friend, instead of angrily filing kidnapping and endangerment charges. "I've placed him into a deep sleep while his body takes in the healing potions. He's going to wake up in a week or less, depending on his progress."

But sitting there in the Great Hall, watching Colin's slack face, Blaise wasn't so sure Creevey was going to be alright. He was so pale and still, so unlike his usual self.

Since the Final Battle ended a day ago, practically the entirety of Hogwarts had been converted into a hospital for the wounded. Healers from St. Mungo's and all over the country had been called in. People who'd been wounded earlier in the war came also to be healed or checked over, as they slowly heard the news. Blaise had seen every Gryffindor in his class running around like headless chickens, trying to make things better for every patient.

Unlike the rest of the students, who'd probably lost or almost lost many people, Blaise was only concerned about one. His friends from Slytherin had all survived, due to luck (Draco), idiocy (Pansy), and neutrality (all the rest). The only newly deceased person he'd known somewhat well was Crabbe, and he hadn't liked the bastard anyway.

"I didn't realize you guys were friends."

Blaise turned around, not letting go of Creevey's hand, and saw Potter standing awkwardly behind him. He could've snorted. Potter was the last person he wanted to see, even if Blaise had reluctantly joined Potter's side of the war.

Instead, he shrugged and conjured a chair for Potter. The man looked dead on his feet. "We are. Did you need something?"

"Thanks," Potter said, dropping into the chair like a puppet with its strings cut. "I've been helping out around here, and the ministry, too. Um. First things first, I guess. Does Colin need any sort of medical attention? I know we don't have enough staff, but that doesn't mean people should go without help."

"It's fine. He doesn't. Madam Pomfrey saw to him earlier, and I have all the potions he has to take hourly," Blaise replied.

"Good. I'm glad you're looking out for him."

Potter wasn't even slightly subtle in wanting information, Blaise thought, exasperated. How anyone liked him was a mystery to Blaise.

"We became friends early last school year, and wrote to each other since school ended," Blaise explained. "I came because of him. I'm hardly a threat, Potter."

"No, I saw you. Fighting for us. That was good, what you did."

"I didn't do it because I'd had a change of heart."

Potter glanced down at Blaise and Colin's joined hands. Blaise could've cursed him.

"A change of heart about my ideals, anyway. This dark and light business is nonsense. Both sides are flawed, anyway."

Potter shook his head, but he was smiling. "If you stick around for the next school year, I'll be happy to debate that with you. But first," he pulled two medallions out of his bag. "Here. Order of Merlin, Third Class, for everyone who fought in the battle. Give his to him when he wakes up, yeah?"

Blaise nodded, put one in his pocket and slipped the second medallion over Creevey's head. All there was left to do was wait for Creevey to wake up.

.

"I have a proposition for you," Blaise announced, coming over to Creevey, who was cleaning debris on the banks of the Black Lake. It was two weeks after the Final Battle and one week since Creevey had woken up from his magical healing coma, healed completely except for a long, ugly scar across his back. There had been funeral arrangements and trials and rebuilding to do, so they had barely gotten the chance to speak.

"Oh you do, do you?" Creevey asked with a mischievous smile, turning around to face Blaise. "Is it the sexual kind?"

Blaise took a breath.

"Only if you want it to be."

For a second, Creevey only looked shocked, and Blaise had to wonder if he'd buggered up their friendship completely. Thank Merlin he hadn't started with some sort of gaudy declaration of love. But then, slowly, Creevey's shock evaporated into a wide, brilliant smile.

Creevey's smile could have lit up the world. "I do."

Not even Potter, Man-Who-Lived-To-Kill-The-Dark-Lord, and, secretly, Man-Who-Got-A-Slytherin-And-A-Gryffindor-Together, could have stopped them from pressing against each other, their lips meeting for the first time. For the first time, but by no means for the last.