“You again?” Malfoy drawls, and Neville sneers at him, not answering. “Can’t say that I’m surprised, Longbottom, not after that trick your lot pulled with the staircases.”
Malfoy sets the book to the side and Neville lifts his chin, defiant and unafraid. “Can’t take all the credit,” Neville says, thinking of Terry and his Sticking Charms, Mandy and her well-placed Confundus. Malfoy slides down from the desk and leans against it as nonchalantly as he can, reaching up to scratch at the back of his neck. Neville can see his Dark Mark where his shirtsleeve is rolled up to the elbow, the ink black and stark against the fair skin of his arm.
Malfoy’s presence is as cool and dark as the lake beyond the castle and he watches Neville with a light of feigned disinterest in his eyes, equal parts curiosity and dread. Neville has not been alone with Draco Malfoy since their fifth year, the fight in Umbridge’s office, and he remembers that scuffle particularly well: Ginny and her bat-bogeys and Ron clocking Crabbe in the jaw, Luna setting a Trip Jinx on the doorway to give them time to find Harry and Hermione. He remembers falling in his struggle with Malfoy, rolling on the stone floor and Malfoy’s knee in his gut, the deep scratch of nails against his skin as he pried their wands out of Malfoy’s clenched fist. He carries a scar from it, small and unnoticeable by anyone but him, on his ring finger as a reminder.
They don’t speak for a long time; Neville follows the line of Malfoy’s profile down to the wand clenched in the hand at his side, the knuckles white around the handle, and it is right then that he realizes that this will be no ordinary detention. Neville keeps an eye on the clock, fingers the wand in his pocket, and tries to count through all the curses he could cast, the places his friends are hiding. He is so lost in himself that he misses it the first time – Malfoy asks him a question, and Neville fixes him with a puzzled expression only to get an arrogant roll of the eyes in return. Malfoy stands across from him with his arms over his chest, his face half in profile as he stares out the window at the darkened grounds, and he asks again, “Do you believe in reincarnation? Karma, and all that.”
Neville can only blink at that, taken aback by the depth of the question.
Parvati’s talked about karma before, reincarnation, curled like a cat before the fire with Lavender and her tarot cards, reading the palms of terrified first years. Neville doesn’t know if it’s true, or even what he believes; most wizards don’t think there's anything past the end of their wands, but even before this past year Neville could never give himself that much credit. There’s no appeal for him to believe in something that curses you before you’re born, crimes you don’t even remember committing bleeding through and coloring your present situation; even still, there is something to be said for the possibility of finding atonement throughout it all, of finding the same problems – the same feelings, the same people – over and over again.
“I don’t know,” Neville says, holding Malfoy’s steady gaze, Draco pointed and pale, drawn and thin to Neville’s beaten and bruised, shadows dark and heavy under both their eyes. There’s no warning when Draco pushes away from the desk, his movements surprisingly hesitant as he draws closer to Neville; there’s a look of longing in Draco’s eyes that Neville has never seen before – something vulnerable, something real, that makes Neville's stomach drop in fear, anticipation. Malfoy stops within a foot of him and Neville can only stare, his entire line of vision tunneling down to the plane of Malfoy’s shoulders, the hair curling over his eyes, the way he wets his lips and parts them.
He tries to speak and is cut off by Amycus’s entrance, striding into the classroom with his robes billowing out behind him, a terrible grin already playing around his mouth as he locks eyes with Neville. He crosses the room in three long steps and drags Neville away from the desk by his ear, twisting it as he pulls him up to the front of the classroom and slams him into the chalkboard. “Had more ‘n enough of you,” he says to Neville, waving a dismissive hand in Draco’s direction, allowing him to leave. He stays, frozen, in front of Alecto’s desk. “Waste of good, pure blood, that’s what you are, Longbottom, and I’m gonna make sure you understand how the Dark Lord –”
He never finishes his sentence: out in the hall something bangs with all the force of a dozen suits of armor exploding and Neville and Draco and Amycus all turn at the noise at the same time, three sets of heads snapping toward the door in a perfect synchronicity that Neville almost laughs at. Amycus turns back to them in a rage, his face turning purple at the obvious attempt at distraction, sparks already twitching out of his wand as he levels it at Neville, who falls back against the wall and holds his eyes open against the incoming Crucio.
The curse never comes: Amycus hisses out a Cru– but it’s only followed by a hollow thump, like a pumpkin (a boy) being dropped from a high window, and Amycus’s eyes widen, his mouth falls slack, as he crumples to the floor at Draco Malfoy’s feet. It isn’t until Draco drops the hated Muggle Studies textbook to the ground beside him that Neville realizes what happened.
This is the moment that Neville will keep coming back to, hiding in the Room of Requirement, lying in bed beside his wife, spending years turning the memory over and over in his mind like a stone made smooth from a river: the two of them staring at each other for a long, heated moment, Neville turning to flee from the classroom and Draco not giving chase. It is a moment where Neville fully realizes the cost of what they’ve done to each other – done to themselves – and when he moves forward to thank him Draco leaps back as if he’d been burned, shaking like a leaf about to fall. Neville casts no glance behind him as he runs out of the room but there aren’t any footsteps in his wake, no call to Alecto or another guard. There is only the sound of his shoes on the stone floor, the thudding of his heart in his ears as he races up the passage to the seventh floor.
No one asks how he managed to get away, not during and not after, and he never tells them. Some things are better left unsaid. Karma always circles back to you, he thinks, and Neville builds his garden and his greenhouse and buries that moment with Draco under the earth, lets it grow with each new season. There is so much he owes to that one fleeting moment, that one choice of kindness, and Neville carries it with him until the end, until the grass he’s laid under sprouts wildflowers, red poppies, tall and unbent by the breeze.