A moment too late

Chapter 1

School and Theme: Hogwarts - Darkness: Write about how a character reacts to the unknown.

Mandatory Prompt: [Plot point] Being late

Additional Prompt: [Quote] "If we want the rewards of being loved, we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known."

Year: 1

Word count: 2284

Additional Information: Seventh Year AU, mentions of torture

We got to the finals, babyyy! IWSC has been such a surreal experience and I owe everything to my Hogwarts team. They've been by my side for my doubts, my last-minute reworks and, most of all, they've put up with my crazy for about 4 months now? Wow, time does fly by when you keep good company.

I wanted to finish the competition the way I started: Blinny angst! This round has been tough but I'm satisfied with the final result. Win or lose, I'm proud of my work. Or I will be, once I stop being petty. I just hope everyone enjoys this too. Here's to a wonderful season!

All the beta hugs to my incredible Hogwarts family: cheesyficwriter, cutewithaCapital-Q, be11atrixlestrange, smjl, adenei, Selene Blackburn and our Mum, accio-broom!

Blaise did not expect his final year of Hogwarts to be shrouded in the air of fear and the stench of war. He had presumed his pure-blood status would spare him of any problems, leaving him to watch on from the sidelines.

Oh, how life loved to laugh in his face.

War wasn't gentle and didn't favour a particular side. And the bloodthirsty monsters that had taken over the school didn't either. Slytherins and Gryffindors, pure-bloods and Muggle-borns, all of them were fair game.

He was grateful to them though, in a weird sort of way. If they hadn't tortured him to the brink of passing out and abandoned him bloody and gasping in an old classroom, he would have never happened upon Ginny Weasley. Or, more appropriately, she would never have happened upon him. The witch had been the one to hear his pitiful whines while breaking curfew with Longbottom and some other Gryffindor fools.

That was the night his life had changed.

"I can hear something."

The hairs on his arm still stood up to this day at the memory. The voice had been soft and quiet, making it impossible to distinguish if it was a friend or foe approaching. What if Alecto had decided she'd rather finish the job than let him breathe another moment? The careful footsteps had echoed like a stampede in the quiet of the night, only overshadowed by the blood pounding in his ears.

And then, where he had awaited death, life had appeared.

Perhaps it was a pain-induced hallucination, but she'd looked like divinity incarnate. The moonlight from the large windows made her skin glow white and her hair, a distinct shade of rusty gold, framed her face like a halo as she rushed to his side, only blind courage in her eyes and concern on her face. The princess and the knight in one.

"We can't just Episkey him and leave him here, Nev."

He never expected anyone to fight for him, especially not a Weasley. Not when it would put her and her friends in danger. Not when he'd always been a prick to them.

"I know he's a snake, but we're all pawns. They don't seem to be treating him any better than they do us."

A squeal of pain from the corridor outside quickened Blaise's pulse, bringing him back to the present. The noises were too common these days, but they always made him jump, first from trauma and then from worry. Her words still played in his head over and over as he counted down the minutes. They jumped around in his mind as he waited with bated breath, nails digging into his leg to stop it from bouncing.

She was late.

She had never been late before. Not once since they started meeting in that old, dusty classroom three months ago. His chest constricted, as if he was holding his breath until she arrived, although for what reason, he didn't know. Slowly, he'd come to accept the fact that he cared for her, not that he would ever admit it out loud. No, he could never show such weakness as to admit a Gryffindor had crawled her way under his skin like that, to the point where he could barely go five minutes without thinking of her.

Blaise was as terrified of Ginny as he was in awe of her. Meeting week after week in that same classroom had started out as a necessity, an exchange of information to keep the student body safe, but it had built into something unfathomable. It was like someone had taken a scalpel and cut him open from the throat to the crotch, rearranging his internal organs to make just enough space for the Gryffindor witch. It was dreadful in a way he couldn't describe with words, how every part of him only seemed to work for her. How his heart beat to the rhythm of her steps when she walked away, how his lungs only allowed him air when he was in her presence.

He'd never liked a girl before, not like this. Witches had always been a means to an end for him. They fawned over him, and he had his pick to entertain himself whenever he got bored, but it was never more than that. There had been no one like the fiery redhead with a taste for senseless courage.

The fiery redhead who was late.

In any other circumstance, he might have been miffed at the thought of her ditching him, his upbringing dictating such an act to be distasteful.

But they were in the middle of a war, and being late held so many secret dangers.

Did one of her friends get sent to the Hospital Wing again? Had one of her family gotten captured or murdered? Had the Carrows found her alone? Was she being tortured for her insubordination as he sat there and pondered? Was she that squeal of pain from before? Or wasn't she even able to scream, breath stolen from her chest by a cruel Crucio? Was she…

Merlin, I need a Firewhiskey.

Blaise was never good at being in the dark. His foot tapped along with the staccato beat of his heart, creating a haunting soundtrack that only heightened his tension more and more until he couldn't take it anymore and he started pacing. The sound of his steps reverberated on the stone walls until it filled his ears with a rhythmic tap tap tap as he tried the stupid calming method Ginny had wanted him to use for his anxiety.

Try to identify five different things, one for each sense.

Tap tap, breathe in. Tap tap tap, breathe out. Tap tap, the suffocating smell of dust, old chalk and old wood. Tap tap tap, the heavy clouds reflecting his gloomy mood. Tap tap, the fabric of his slacks, wet from the sweat on his fingertips. Tap tap tap, the taste of bile in his throat.

Maybe she forgot. Perhaps she got held up with homework.

Should he reach out to Longbottom?

No, he would not resort to that. Longbottom didn't know they kept seeing each other after that first night. Nobody did because of Blaise's insistence. Ginny was very vocal about her displeasure at being a dirty secret, and her frustration left a sour taste in his mouth, but he never let it show. They weren't anything, after all. He couldn't allow them to be. He couldn't afford the weakness that was… whatever this was.

His thoughts did not get the memo, though. They kept on coming, bombarding him with picture after picture of Ginny laying on a cold, sterile bed all bandaged up; her face contorting in a silent scream as a curse hit her square in the chest; her hair sweaty and matted to her face, the fine copper strands darkened by the blood dripping from her parted lips as glassy eyes stare empty into nothingness.

One after the other, each scenario grew progressively worse until Blaise was tempted to take his wand to his temple and Obliviate himself. And so he paced, hoping to dispel this nervous energy by burning a hole into the stone floor.

From the east wall to the window to the west wall to the door to the east wall to the window to the west wall…

Maybe he could fool Longbottom? The boy wasn't known for his brain. Blaise could play it off with a homework question or something. Perhaps he–

The door creaked open, and Blaise jumped, drawing his wand to defend himself. Ginny stared at him with wide eyes, a letter clutched to her chest. He pocketed his wand and took a step back, shoulders still drawn high and tense, his heart pounding with residual fear. Every inch of him called out to her but the disaster scenarios still plagued his head.

What had taken so long?

"You're late," he stated, trying his best to sound nonchalant and unaffected.

She couldn't know he'd been worried. He would not show weakness.

It worked a little too well as her eyebrows crossed in a frown and she drew her mouth into a scowl. "I'm sorry, your Highness, I got distracted by the fact that my life might be in danger."

"This is a war, Weasley. All of our lives are in danger." His eyes widened, but he rushed to school his features back into an indifferent mask.

"I'm not coming back after Easter."

The words pulled a plug free as Ginny deflated, throwing herself in Blaise's discarded chair. She sniffed back unshed tears, the furrow in her brow a clear indicator of distress. She was usually so vibrant and lively, and now she looked grey and bleak. Blaise itched to go to her, to comfort the distraught witch, but he couldn't risk it. If he gave in once, he could never uncross the line. This was dangerous, and it was going against every self-preservation instinct he had.

He didn't know how to handle the sudden rush of emotions, so he shoved his hands in his pockets and walked to the opposite wall, turning his back on her. He couldn't look at her without his heart aching in his chest. What was going on with him? Why had she been the one to unlock this part of him? Why now, in the middle of the worst time of their lives?

"They know Ron is with Harry. Mum just owled, it's not safe to be out in the open anymore. I don't… I don't know what will happen. I don't know if I'll ever be back."

Each word was an arrow to his chest, the sharp points lodging into his heart, tearing it open with every pump of blood. Blaise was glad he was facing the stone wall because he doubted he could keep his face blank under the light of this revelation. He had come to depend on the witch and her company, and now she was going away?

Where would she go? Would she be safe? He couldn't bear the thought of being unable to check on her and make sure her stupid bravery didn't get her killed. Bile rose in his throat, and he felt as if he would be sick. His legs shook, and he grabbed the edge of the teacher's desk for support. His witch could die and he wouldn't even know.

No, not his witch. Just a witch. There was nothing special between them; there couldn't be.

"Don't you have anything to say to that?" Her voice was but a hurt whisper.

The tide of emotions almost pulled him under, a lump forming in his throat and a shiver racing down his back. He yearned to step forward, to comfort her, to yell at her that he needed her to stay. But no, he would be stronger than that.

They'd been dancing around this subject for months now. It had taken her a while to trust him, but Gryffindors always led with their hearts exposed. Slytherins were taught from such a young age that everyone was out to get them; if they could live without a heart in their body, they would lock them in the deepest Gringotts vaults. Ginny kept scratching away at his walls, but he refused to let them come down, much to her very vocal disappointment.

"What do you want me to say? It's a good idea. Nice to see not everyone in your family is as reckless as your brother."

"It's a good idea," she parrotted back. "Is that the best you have? After all this time?"

He turned to look at her then, expecting indignation and righteous anger. But all he got was a mystifying look and a slight frown, almost as if he was a stray puppy she pitied.

"If we want the rewards of being loved, we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known."

Blaise did not care for how the hidden meaning behind the words made his heart skip a bit. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Ginny shrugged and hoisted her bag over her shoulder, pocketing the aforementioned letter from her mother. "Doesn't matter if I tell you, since you refuse to hear me."

The tension suffocated him as they stared each other down. Struggling to keep himself from making a move, he clutched his hands into tight fists, nails digging into the soft skin of his palms in hopes that the pain would keep him grounded. He couldn't help his eyes wandering as he studied her, though. Her dainty fingers tugging at her bag strap, nails bitten down to the cuticle. The guarded wariness in her espresso coloured eyes, the irises flitting around like a Snitch trying to escape the Seeker.

He was usually good at reading people, but Ginny Weasley had always posed a challenge. Perhaps that was another reason he found her so attractive.

No. No, he decidedly did not. There was no attraction.

Ginny broke the silence first. "Stay safe, Blaise."

The dejected look in her eyes would be forever burned into his memory like acid. He'd had one last chance, and he blew it. By the time he managed to form the four-letter word that weighed heavy on his tongue, the door closed behind her and the witch was gone.

Maybe for good.

He didn't know when he'd see her again. He didn't know if he'd see her again. And for the first time in his life, Blaise didn't bother hiding the tears of regret that trailed down his cheeks. They were supposed to have more time. If only things had been different.

If only he hadn't been so late to find her.