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Solidarity (And Some Kind of Integrity)

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The First Year

 

 Esca strains his neck to try and catch one last glimpse of his mother. A strange, foreign feeling of aching desperation suddenly grows in his chest, spreading and spreading until it feels like it’s choking him. Grappling with the overwhelming urge to cry, he clambers onto the seat in his compartment, struggling with the window for a moment, before forcing his head and shoulders out of it, casting a frantic look back at the platform.

 

It takes him a moment, but he finally spots her in the crowd of waving parents, just picks out her dark hair and thick-rimmed glasses. She spots him almost as soon as he sticks his head out the window, and her mouth falls into a small, worried ‘o’. She waves both hands at him, trying to get him to go back in. He can just about hear her cry of “Esca! Get back inside!”  over the sound of the crowd, and the sudden, deafening sound of the train’s horn, the growing, churning sound of the train as it begins to move, slowly at first, but almost instantly gathering speed.

 

He waves at his mother, craning his neck as much as he can to see her for as long as possible. She waves back, her hands enthusiastic, but her face marred with the sadness of sending off her son. He stays that way, head and shoulders out the window, even after the station is out of sight. The wind is cold and sharp on his face, whipping through his hair, stinging his face and drying the tears that he’d tried so valiantly not to shed. He’d tried to be calm, almost blasé, on the platform, tried to make out that he wasn’t bothered about leaving home, that he wasn’t fussed about going to the other side of the country, all on his own. It had been easy, that pretending, while he had been surrounded by people. But, now that he was alone, the sorrow and fear of leaving his family had crept upon him.

 

He slowly pulls himself back into the compartment, glum and silent. He pushes the window shut sharply, settling in the corner of the seat with his arms pulled tight around himself. He feels uncomfortable suddenly, the compartment felt too big, too cold, too quiet, and he shifts his weight to try and shake off the feeling. It doesn’t help.

 

Sighing, he stands quickly, wavering a little as his vision blurs for a second before settling once more. The compartment door is slightly stiff as he turns the handle and slides it open and the noise of the corridor hits him like a wave – shouting and screaming students hurry up and down, slamming compartment doors and shoving each other out the way. An elderly woman pushes a trolley weighed down with piles and piles of colourful food, calling out “Anything from the trolley?” as she goes. He briefly wonders if he should buy something – his stomach rumbles its approval – but he hesitates, hand in his pocket in search of the unfamiliar coins, when she approaches and he spots what’s on offer.

 

He doesn’t recognise anything. Not a single thing. The bright packaging proudly declares the names of its wares – ‘Fizzing Whizzbees’, ‘Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum’, “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans’, “Chocolate Frogs’ – but it doesn’t help. He stands awkwardly in the corridor, staring at the trolley, panic rising in his chest as she gets closer and closer. What should he do?! He can’t slip back into his compartment now – she’s spotted him and has assumed he’s waiting for the trolley, a warm and inviting smile on her face. He forces a smile back, trying to be polite, hiding the growing fear that he’s harbouring. There’s nothing for it though, as, when he’s finally steeled himself for running off in the opposite direction and hiding until she’s gone, she stops in front of him.

 

“What can I get you, love?”

 

“Um.” He hesitates, trying desperately to think of anything, an excuse to get out of having to choose something or face the embarrassment of having to tell her he hasn’t got a clue what he wants. “Um.”

 

She smiles at him, understanding and sympathetic, leans in close and whispers, “Try the Pumpkin Pasty, love.” With that, she presses one into his hand. “That’ll be a sickle, please.” He eyes the brown paper packaging warily, digging into his pocket to pull out some money. When he takes some time to stare blankly at the heavy coins in his hand, she chuckles good-naturedly. “One of the silver ones.” He hands her one silently, embarrassed and sheepish. She places a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, it’ll make sense in time.” And, accompanied by the quiet rattle of her trolley and her faint call of ‘Anything from the trolley?’, she’s gone.

 

Silently, he returns to his compartment and settles back down, the pasty heavy in his hand. He takes his time opening the paper, folding the top back carefully so he can inspect the golden-brown pastry. It flakes when he touches it and he frowns in vague frustration as it instantly crumbles everywhere, his attempts to brush it off the seat only seeming to grind it further into the weave of the material. He gives it up as a lost cause, turning back to the pastry. It smells fantastic – the enticing, familiar scent of freshly baked pastry, mixed with the sweet, unfamiliar smell of what he assumes is the pumpkin and herbs he doesn’t recognise.

 

His first bite is tentative, mainly consisting of pastry, with the faintest hint of filling. He takes his time chewing, swallowing heavily. After a moment, he feels the uncertainty and apprehension begin to lessen as he savours the taste – perhaps the Wizarding World isn’t so bad, after all.

 

*****

 

Marcus is pretty sure he’s about to die of shame. He’s stood with the rest of the first years, waiting to be sorted, a little apart from the others. Not because he’s uncomfortable in crowds, or he prefers to be alone, not by choice, but because the rest of the students had quietly and surreptitiously taken a few steps away from him, so that they don’t have to be near him, or so that people don’t associate them with him. It’s awkward and unendingly embarrassing, and he’s not really sure what to do with himself. He pulls the sleeves of his jumper over his hands to ward off the cold from their icy stares, eyes fixed on his feet. The separation is probably worse than the name-calling.

 

“Marcus Aquila!” There’s a moment of silence, tense, awful silence, as he moves toward the front of the hall. He can feel every pair of eyes fixed on him, watching him intently. His foot catches on the edge of his robes, and he stumbles, not quite falling. The silence is swiftly broken by a few stifled giggles from the other first years and he feels his face flush red. Whispers start up as he approaches the stool, not quite loud enough for him to make out words, but it’s not long before they’re rippling across the hall, spreading from student to student until it’s just a dull thrum, like white noise. McGonagall clears her throat and silence instantly falls again. She offers him an encouraging smile, a gentle hand on his shoulder as he takes a seat. His eyes are fixed on his knees, his hands in his lap. There’s a small cut on the back of his hand from where it caught it on something sharp back home, and he picks at it, trying to distract himself from the accusing stares.

 

The Sorting Hat is heavy when it’s placed on his head, and it slips forward, almost over his eyes. McGonagall straightens it quickly, and he can hear the ripple of laughter as it shoots across the hall. He’s not sure he’s ever been this ashamed – not even that time when his new child minder refused to let him in her house when she saw who he was, or when his childhood friend had to take back the birthday invitation because his dad said he didn’t want sons of traitors in his house.

 

He barely even registers when the hat begins to talk, only taking notice when it coughs indignantly. He mumbles an apology and he can almost hear it frown.

 

“I can remember the day I sorted your parents, you know,” It begins. An all-too-familiar pang of pain and shame grips as his chest, threatening to smother him. He shifts, uncomfortable, trying to dislodge it. It’s almost as embarrassing as tripping on his robes – he doesn’t want the hat to think he’s weak. “Weak? You are many things, Mr. Aquila, but weak is not one of them. Quite the opposite. It takes a very strong, very brave sort of person to stand up to their family’s tarnished name and all the trouble and strife that comes with it.” He takes a quick look at the rest of the hall, catching the gaze of another student. They sneer at him, and he quickly looks down again. He doesn’t feel very brave right now. The hat tuts, “Bravery is not staring down the first person who looks at you askance, Mr. Aquila, you should know that.”

 

It pauses for a moment, as if thinking it over. Marcus can feel his hear pounding, forcing its way up his throat, crashing against his chest. “No need to worry, Mr. Aquila,” It says cheerfully, after what feels like an age. “I’m never wrong. The only place for you, dear boy,” It adds, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Is Gryffindor!”

 

Oh God no.

 

*****

 

Marcus wants to go home. He spent the entirety of dinner in complete silence, picking at his food and keeping his eyes fixed on his plate, trying not to draw attention to himself. After a while, the whispers had died down and the attention of those outright enough to stare at him had been drawn away by friends or by dinner. By the time dessert came around, it was as if he wasn’t even there. He wasn’t sure which was worse.

 

No one had taken much notice of him when they were led to the Common Room and shown around. The three boys he ended up sharing a dormitory with had kept their distance, watching him with guarded, vaguely hostile expressions; but they said nothing, which Marcus was grateful for. He wasn’t sure if he could deal with anything more than glares right then. His roommates were quick to go back to the Common Room after unpacking, determined to stay up as late as possible now that they were free from the clutches of their mothers.

 

Marcus took his time unpacking his things, carefully folding all of his clothes into the allocated chest of drawers. Anyway, He thought, staring glumly at the fiery colours of his Gryffindor scarf. It’s not like I’m going to be welcome down there. Running his fingers over the soft wool, he bit his lip, trying to force down the deluge of emotions that threatened to break loose. The colours blurred as he tried to blink away the tears, mixing together into a watery, mocking orange. With a quiet sound of disgust, he threw the scarf to the back of a drawer, slamming it shut with as much force as he could.

 

Marcus was still awake when the other boys stumbled into the dormitory in the early hours of the morning, laughing and triumphant. He listened, for a while, unbearably jealous of the friendship they’d so quickly developed. As they blew out the last candle, muttering quiet goodnights, Marcus was glad of the curtains around his bed – he didn’t want them to see him crying.

 

*****

After the feast is finished, and Esca is convinced he’s eaten more food than he’s ever eaten in his entire life, a tall, dark-haired boy stands up, declares himself to be the Ravenclaw prefect, and kindly asks the first years to follow him to the Ravenclaw Tower to be shown to their rooms. They follow him, close and cautious, anxious not get lost in the dark depths of the castle.

 

It’s the biggest building that Esca’s ever been in, and the high, domed ceilings, large, arching doors and the never-ending twist of dark, endless corridors is intimidating and thrilling all at the same time. He sticks close though. He doesn’t want to get lost on his first day – that would actually be the most embarrassing thing ever.

 

He tries to make a mental note of all the twists and turns and corners that they’re led down, tries to learn it so that he doesn’t get lost in the morning, tries to get his head around the shadows, but it doesn’t take long for him to lose his bearings completely. They’ve turned down so many corridors, gone round so many corners and through so many doors, his head is spinning and a part of him is convinced they’re going in circles. For all he knows, they could be.

 

He’s out of his depth here, he’s sure of it. He has no idea what any of the other students are talking about, he has no clue where he’s going, the staircases are moving above his head, and that portrait just bloody waved at him! And yet no one is bothered. He’d turned to the girl walking next to him, frantic and concerned to tell her. She’d just stared at him blankly, said ‘I know. That’s what they do.’ And that was it. She hadn’t jumped like he had, hadn’t thought he’d gone completely bonkers, like he was convinced, she hadn’t done anything.

 

He could hear her as she tried to be surreptitious, whispering and giggling with the girl next to her. “He didn’t even know!” She murmured, trying to hold back a laugh. “How could he not know?”

 

“He must be a Mudblood.” The other girl replied, the word falling off her tongue with an air of distinct distaste. He flushed a deep shade of red, angry and ashamed. He could feel their eyes on his back as he made a point of walking away from them, hands deep in his pockets. They were still giggling. He’d heard that word a lot over the past few hours, mainly aimed at him. He had no idea what it meant, but from the way they’d said it, he’d decided it probably wasn’t a good thing.

 

Silently, sullenly, he drifted after the group, only half listening to what the Prefect was saying. Something about passwords and riddles. He blindly followed the others up a large, winding set of stairs, which, apparently, lead to the Ravenclaw Common Room where, if the Prefect had heard right, there was a smashing tournament of Gobstones going on, carried on from the previous year. Esca scowled, scuffing his shoe against the floor angrily. What even was Gobstones? And who the bloody hell said “smashing” anymore?

 

He hated this place – the tower, the uniform, the bloody portraits and the people. He hated it. As they reached the top of the stairs, waited for the Prefect to answer the riddle and hold open the door with an air of over exaggerated elegance, ushering them into the Common Room, Esca sighed, his heart and feet heavy. He didn’t belong here. Everyone had been quick to point that out to him. He just wanted to go home.

 

*****

 

Marcus is up and showered and dressed before anyone else in the Gryffindor tower. He’s always been an early riser, but this is something different; he’s barely slept all night. The frustration and the exhaustion were too much – he couldn’t lie in bed any longer. When he got out and peered out the window, he wasn’t surprised to see the sun was still dragging itself above the horizon, weakly casting rays of watery light across the landscape.

 

It had rained in the night; the sort of heavy, relentless rain that comes and goes suddenly, but drenches everything and makes you wonder how it didn’t wake you in the night. It must have only recently stopped when Marcus had looked out, because it was still dripping off the trees, still running off the eaves just above the window. He was desperate to open it, to lean out and feel the cool morning air on his face, to reach out his hand to feel the icy water on his fingers, his palm, his wrist.

 

He didn’t. He thought he better not; the running of the water would be loud on the slate roof beneath the window, the birdsong would be piercing and the cool air bracing – he imagined his roommates wouldn’t appreciate it, and he didn’t want to make them resent him even more than they already did; it was only the first morning of term after all.

 

Instead, he’d taken his time showering and dressing, savouring the warmth of the water cascading over his shoulders and his back, easing the tension that he hadn’t noticed building. He’d enjoyed the silence of the bathroom as he’d dressed, spending an age in front of the mirror debating whether he should fasten his top button or not.

 

He’d left it undone in the end, deciding that he’d have enough time to adjust it on the way to breakfast if the others had done theirs. Besides, he’d never really felt comfortable in shirts and ties; he’d only ever worn them to weddings and funerals. Well. One wedding and more than his fair share of funerals.

 

He couldn’t really remember them, the funerals, because they were so long ago and he’d been so young, but he could recall a few things; the discomfort of the tie around his neck, his Uncle’s too-tight grip on his hand, and the confusion as to why no one else was there.

 

He’d spent the morning curled in a window seat, half-hidden by the thick, heavy curtain, his forehead resting on the cool glass, just looking. He’d watched the grounds wake up; watched the sun continue to rise, the smoke begin to curl out of the Gamekeeper’s chimney, the birds stretch their wings and begin to flit from tree to tree. Enthralled, it took him a while to notice that he was no longer alone.

 

He looks up as he hears voices, male voices, and ones that he doesn’t recognise. Probably older students. They sound happy, teasing each other good-naturedly about the state of their hair and mimicking what he assumes is a professor, chastising each other about their untucked shirts and their badly done ties. It should be light-hearted, and it is, to an extent, and Marcus wants to smile, but he doesn’t, because, hearing them, only makes him sad, makes his breath hitch and an empty pain flare in his chest as he realizes that he’s never going to have anything like that. Not while he lives in the shadows of his parents’ name.

 

He waits until they’re gone, until the portrait has swung shut behind them and silence has fallen on the Common Room, before he moves. He’s stiff from sitting still for so long, and, when he trips and stumbles as his knees protest, he’s glad there’s no one there to see him.

 

He leaves the Common Room silently, hands deep in his pockets. There’s no one else in the corridors, and he briefly wonders if he’s late, but when he reaches the open doors of the Great Hall, it doesn’t matter; as soon as he moves to step over the threshold, a hush drops over the entire room, sudden and painful. Everyone turns to look, to stare, to whisper and to judge. It doesn’t matter anymore because the accusing stares and the vicious whispers have started again, and Marcus has lost his appetite.

 

Like a coward, shamed and embarrassed, Marcus turns and runs.

 

*****

 

Marcus has spent most of his life trying to force his way out of the shadows that are cast by his family’s name. School has been no different. Over the last year, he’s tried his hardest to throw off the cobwebs by working hard, keeping out of trouble and trying to be as nice to others as he can, even when he only ever gets sneers and horrible names in return. It’s been difficult, possibly the most difficult thing he’s ever done, because it’s constant and relentless and no matter what he does, or how hard he tries, he never seems to be any closer to acceptance than he was when he started.

 

He hasn’t been able to walk down a corridor, walk in a classroom, the common room without somebody saying something, without someone whispering or pointing or laughing or hissing a horrid name in his direction. He’s been shoved, shouldered, as people pass him in the corridor, by people he doesn’t even know, people he’s never seen before; it doesn’t seem to matter, whether the people know him or not, because they recognise his face, they know his name, they know the stories and it hasn’t even entered their mind that he might not be the same as his parents, might not be a traitor, might actually be his own person.

 

There’s a part of him that wonders whether he’d be better off living up to everyone’s expectations; that maybe, using his fists would have more of an effect on those who call him names than indifference would, or if it would be better if people avoided him because he terrified them, rather than how it was now, when they avoided him because he disgusted them. He’s not sure what to think. He thinks about it, about everything, while he packs and while he makes his way to the station, even while he sits on his own on the train home. When they pull up in Kings Cross, he’s no closer to an answer.

 

He’s grateful when Uncle Aquila leaves him to his own devices on the day he returns from Hogwarts. He’s not in the mood to answer the inane questions that he knows are going to be asked, sooner or later. He’d much rather later. The questions will be bland, textbook, almost, the sort of questions that Marcus knows his Uncle already knows the answer to, but he’ll ask anyway for politeness’ sake. How was it? Are you looking forward to going back after summer? Do you have lots of homework? Will you need my owl to send letters to your friends? The last one will most likely be the worst. He doesn’t want to tell his Uncle that he has no one to write to. He doesn’t want him to know that he doesn’t actually have any friends.

 

He spends the majority of the summer inside, hiding behind the relative safety of his mountains homework and the prospect of extensive wider reading. His Uncle says nothing, not even when Marcus turns down the invitation to attend the yearly archaeological dig run by the University (it’s been a tradition, of sorts, for Uncle Aquila to take Marcus to act as a sort of assistant while he leads the group. Normally, Marcus is keen, really keen, but this year, he can’t bring himself to be keen about much.), but Marcus can tell, from the concerned glances and the surreptitious enquiries after his health, that he knows something is wrong. He watches from his bedroom window, sullen and forlorn, as Uncle Aquila packs his car for the dig and, after sending him one last wave, drives away. He leaves Marcus in the care of the housekeeper for the week, and asks her to call him if she finds out what it is that’s making Marcus so upset. She doesn’t phone.

 

Before he can really register it, just when he’s getting used to his routines and the freedom of being at home, September comes charging, quickly snuffing out any contentment or vague happiness. The last week of the holiday is spent in almost constant silence, as the stomach-churning nerves come flooding back. He leaves his packing until the last moment, the last day even, much to his Uncle’s barely concealed frustration, reluctant to let go of the safety of his Uncle’s company, the quiet of the village, the peace of solitude.

 

Marcus makes his own way to the station, in a pre-ordered cab, as his Uncle has an important meeting at the University that he can’t miss. Their goodbyes are quick, stilted from Marcus’ side, worried from his Uncle’s. He feigns nonchalance as his Uncle’s face creases in concern when Marcus slides into the back of the car. The driver is impatient to leave, murmuring in the front seat in frustration, as Uncle Aquila asks him, once more, if he’s sure he wants to go back, if he’s sure he’s okay.

 

He wants to scream, shout, no! No! I don’t want to! But, instead, he shrugs, sure, yeah, he’ll go back, and by the time he has finally built up the courage to speak his mind, to tell the truth, the taxi is already pulling out of the drive way, gathering speed. He can just see his Uncle, just about, through the rear window, one arm raised in a gesture of farewell. Please, don’t make me.

 

*****

 

The Second Year

 

Esca wakes early. Far earlier than the other boys in his dormitory, and far earlier than anyone else in the Ravenclaw Tower. He lies in bed for a long time, until he can see the sun rising through the gap in the heavy blue curtains of his bed. His nerves rise with it. He’s shaking a little as he gets out of bed, finally, when the other boys begin to stir and wake, shivering as his feet hit the cold stone floor. The cold seeps through him, through his body, worms its way into his bones. It lingers, persistent, even after a scalding shower and a mug of tea so hot he burns his tongue. The tortured muscle rasps against the inside of his mouth every time he swallows, distracting.

 

It’s the morning of the Quidditch trials, and Esca’s sure he’s never been so nervous in his entire life. Not even that time when he auditioned for the lead in a school play as a young child, or when he had to go to hospital to have his tonsils removed and they had to put him under anaesthetic. No, not even then. He barely eats anything; he can’t bring himself to stomach any more than a single slice of toast, and even that sits heavy and uncomfortable when he’s finished.

 

On the pitch, he lines up with the rest of the potential players, all dressed in borrowed blue uniforms – Esca’s had to roll up the sleeves several times because they’re far too long, but, he wasn’t expecting anything different. He’s used to things being too big. Even after growing several, glorious inches over the summer, all the other boys still tower over him, almost ridiculously so. They’re asked, one by one, what they’re trying out for. When the Captain reaches Esca, his eyebrows rise slightly, surprised and dubious, and, when Esca says, loud and clear and strong, ‘Beater’, his lip quirks in barely contained amusement. He says nothing though, and moves on. It makes Esca furious.

 

His hands are stiff, cold and uncooperative as he grips the borrowed broom and the heavy bat, his legs slow and ungainly as he kicks off the ground. The bat is heavy in his hand as he weighs it, the rubber grip sticky and worn as he turns it in his hand. There’s no part of it free from dents and knocks, and an entire chunk is missing from one part where a previous Beater must have smashed it into a bludger. Esca thinks for a moment about how strong you’d have to be to hit it that hard; he channels the thought, uses it, feeling the strength spreading through him. He nods when asked if he’s ready. He grits his teeth and levels the bat. Let’s do this.

 

He makes the team. He’s greeted by awed, surprised applause as he dismounts the broom, legs weak beneath him. His face is flushed red from excitement and cold and adrenaline, his arm heavy and sore from the weight of the bat. His heart is racing, pounding against his ribcage, taking his breath away. The captain claps a warm hand on his shoulder, shaking his head in amused disbelief.

 

“I can’t believe it,” He says, laughing. “I actually can’t believe it! How did you learn to do that? You are so on the team.” He lets out a bark of excited laughter. “Wait until Gryffindor see this! Their beaters won’t even come close!”

 

Esca takes a seat in the stands after showering and dressing in his own clothes. He’s completely buzzed, shaking from excitement now rather than the cold. He’s never really flown before, only in the few lessons they were given as first years, but that doesn’t really count. It’s like nothing else he’s ever done. The power of the broom, the weight of the bat, the rush of adrenaline, success, as the bat connects with the bludger is like something he’s never experienced. After only one try, he’s hooked.

 

The Gryffindors have their trials next, around ten o’clock. Liathan Crag, his new captain, tells him it’s because they’re too lazy to get up any earlier, that apparently, they take after their namesake far too much, It takes Esca a moment to understand, to get the reference to lions and cats, but he laughs, loud and elated. He’s happy, sat there in the stands, grinning like a loon, happier than he’s been ever since he came to Hogwarts.

 

There are more Gryffindors trying out than there were Ravenclaws, Esca notices, and he briefly wonders why. He’ll have to ask Crag. They line up, just like they did before, all red and gold and shining. They seem to be huddled together against the cold, anxious to start moving and warm up, all except one. Esca can’t really make him out from as far away as he is, but he can just about see he’s tall, very tall, as if he’s just gone through a growth spurt, he’s stood stock still, hands shoved deep into his pockets, broom cradled in the crook of his arm. Esca thinks he recognizes him, but he can’t be sure. He’s stood apart from the others, quite a way apart, actually.

 

Crag lets out a low whistle. “I didn’t think he’d have the guts.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Aquila.” Crag points at the boy stood apart from the others. “I’m surprised they’re letting him try-out to be honest. I wouldn’t want him on my team.” He turns his head suddenly and spits on the ground, barbaric and grotesque. Esca wrinkles his nose in distaste but says nothing.

 

Esca frowns, “Why?” Crag’s head whips around to look at him, shock spreading across his face, his eyes searching, as if to see if Esca’s joking. When he sees he isn’t, his eyes widen.

 

“You don’t know?”

 

“Know what?”

 

“About the Aquilas.”

 

“Clearly not.” Crags shakes his head, disbelieving – a habit, Esca notes. He says nothing more though, refusing to tell him why the Aquilas are so taboo, what the boy has done. It’s frustrating, not knowing. He’s had enough of not understanding things over the past eighteen months. It makes him angry, but determined; He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, trying to get a better look. Sure he’s big, bigger than the other second years, bigger than Esca could ever dream of being, but he doesn’t look dangerous.

 

But, Esca remains cautious. He knows better than most that looks can be deceiving.

 

*****

 

They first meet in the library, one Saturday in late September of their second year. It’s cold outside, the wind is howling, the rain is heavy and relentless. The wind buffets the rain around as if it were nothing, forcing it against the castle, beating constantly on the roof and the windows. It’s quiet in the library, as usual, and the quiet hush and the enveloping warmth are welcome to Marcus as he enters. The rain is quieter here, probably due to some kind of charm to preserve the silence.

 

The librarian barely looks up as he strides past her, aiming for his usual desk in the furthest corner of the library. He likes it there, next to a large window, hidden by bookcases. It’s the quietest part of the library, not often frequented by other students – it’s in the furthest folds, surrounded by bookcases weighed down with the oldest, most obscure books – and that’s why Marcus chose it. Being stared at constantly is unbelievably distracting when you’re trying to study.

 

He turns the final corner, narrowly missing being smacked in the face by a book that the librarian has charmed to put itself away, and stops suddenly. Someone’s sat at his table.

 

This “someone” is small, with a shock of unruly dirty-blonde hair. He must be Marcus’ age – he looks younger, but he can’t be, if he’s here. He’s sat hunched over a book, face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, seemingly completely engrossed in the text. Marcus isn’t sure what to do. This has never happened before! The boy moved suddenly, stretching his arms above his head and yawning, sending Marcus scuttling back around the corner, pretending to look for a book while he tried to work out what to do. A book floats past his head, sliding into its place, mockingly calm. He glares at it for a moment, shifting uncomfortably as he tries to build up the courage to walk back out.

 

He moves to approach, set on silently sitting at the edge of the table and pulling out his books as if nothing is wrong, but the boy coughs almost as soon as he moves, making Marcus jump. He ducks his head back around the bookcase.

 

Come on Marcus! A quiet voice in his head chastises, mortified. You can do this! You’re twice the size of him, for heaven’s sake – you could crush him if you really wanted to. Before the voice can finish it’s tirade, the boy sighs, and, without looking up from his book, calls out,

 

“Sit down, fer Christ’s sake, and quit dith’rin’, man. I won’t eat yer.” Marcus freezes. Is he talking to him? Surely not. No one ever talks to him! “I mean you, by the way. Yeah, you behind the bookcase.” Cautious and vaguely convinced its all some horrible joke, Marcus steps out from behind the bookcase once more, slowly approaching the desk. He clutches at the strap of his satchel desperately, trying to calm himself frown. Even if this was some kind of prank, he was sure he could overpower this guy – he was so small. And, if that didn’t work, he knew his way around the library well enough to escape and hide, he thought.

 

Really? The voice pipes up again, this time incredulous. You’re really going there? The boy invited you to join him! Man up and sit down already! Slowly, cautious and on edge, he slips his satchel off his shoulder and lowers himself into the seat furthest away from the boy. The chair creaks, loud and obnoxious, crashing through the tension that had begun to smother him.

 

He takes his time taking out his books, setting up his quill and ink, aware that the boy is watching his every move with an intensity that reminds Marcus of a wolf eyeing up its prey. It’s not a comforting thought.

 

“I’m Esca, by the way. Esca MacCunoval.” Marcus looks up sharply. He hadn’t expected that. He hadn’t expected the boy to keep talking to him, not now that he’d had a good look at him. The indifference on his face suggests he hadn’t recognized him, which makes Marcus slump with relief, but there’s confusion and something that’s difficult to place in his eyes when Marcus catches his gaze. He’s being watched expectantly though, so he responds with a quick, vague,

 

“Marcus.”

 

“Aquila. I know.” Wait. He knows? Marcus’ stomach drops. He looks around desperately for someone waiting to leap out and ambush him, but there’s no one. There’s nothing. He’s not quite sure how to respond as Esca continues to watch him, casting a confused look over his shoulder, trying to see what Marcus is looking for. Unbelievably confused, starting to panic, Marcus moves to gather his books and leave, but quickly, as if he knew what he was going to do, Esca shrugs. “I don’t mind. About you, you know, being you.”

 

Marcus is completely flummoxed. This is the first time that anyone’s gone out of their way to speak to him, not without insulting him. He has no idea what to say. The boy’s still watching him, but this time, now that the boy has proved himself indifferent, Marcus can’t bring himself to mind. Esca smiles, wide and encouraging.

 

His heart lighter than it’s ever been, feeling as though a great weight has been lifted from his shoulders, Marcus smiles too.

 

*****

 

They fall into an unspoken routine, sitting in the library, mostly in silence. It’s nice, this easy companionship, the lack of awkwardness. Marcus starts to look forward to the hours they spend there, in the depths of the library, particularly the way that Esca’s face lights up into a grin whenever Marcus appears, or the way he cranes his neck to see if Marcus is already there, and then strides over, happy and eager. They don’t talk often, they don’t need to, but when they do, it’s good – Esca is more than happy to regale him with stories of his family, especially the pranks he’s played on his brother over the years, and he always asks about Marcus, his Uncle, what it’s like living in the country and such. Marcus finds out, eventually, that Esca doesn’t really know what happened to make his family so taboo, but he insists that he really doesn’t mind, honestly, whatever it is, and never asks about it. And for that, Marcus is unendingly grateful.

 

Esca’s from Durham, he says (Marcus has no idea where that is, but Esca assures him it’s the best place ever, so he takes his word for it), and lives with his ‘mam’, who’s a nurse, and his brothers; Eoin, the eldest, is a professional Rugby player (Esca goes to explain, extremely patronizingly, what Rugby is, but Marcus knows, thank you very much. Esca laughs.), and Rickon, the youngest, who’s really annoying, is still in Primary School. Their Dad, he says, is an army doctor, and spends the majority of the year shipped out to the four corners of the Earth (Germany at the moment, apparently), training other army doctors and saving lives.

 

Esca tells him, excited and in barely suppressed awe, how one time, they were in town when his dad was on leave, and then, this guy got hit by a car, and he wasn’t breathing, so his dad had to cut a hole in his chest, and stuck this plastic straw thing in it, and the guy lived and it was awesome. Marcus has to agree, it is pretty awesome.

 

Even out of the library, much to Marcus’ surprise, Esca is nice to him. He goes out of his way to smile and wave or say hello when he sees him in the corridor, and one time, he saw Esca shove and chastise another Ravenclaw when they called him an awful name across the classroom. He’d smiled, sad and apologetic, after he’d done it, to try and make Marcus feel better. And, he realized, it did. It really did.

 

*****

The Third Year

 

As soon as Marcus gets on the train, he knows something is wrong. He meets Esca by chance as he’s looking for a compartment, and Marcus asks him what’s going on, but he doesn’t know. There’s a strange hush throughout the train, which is odd – normally, Marcus can barely hear himself think over the din of all the other students. And, normally, it’s a complete nightmare trying to find a compartment, or even a seat, but today, the train is well, pretty much empty. Which is slightly worrying.

 

Esca wanders off to investigate, eyebrows knotted in confusion and slight concern, and Marcus waits with their stuff, leaning back into the seat to watch the platform. There’s the usual stragglers, those who almost miss the train, who have to run to catch it, and the usual crowds of milling parents. It’s easy to pick out the parents of the new first years – the ones trying not to cry, waving frantically.

 

Esca returns, after a good ten minutes, and he looks calm, almost indifferent, as if the thing he found wasn’t worth the effort of looking. “What was it?” Marcus asks, and Esca shrugs, flopping down into the seat opposite him.

 

“Everyone’s crowded down one end, tryin’ to get a look in one of the compartments.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Some new kid. I asked Crag and he said something about him surviving an attack that killed his parents or whatever.” He taps a finger on his forehead, “He’s got some kind of scar here or, apparently. Marcus? What’s wrong?”

 

Marcus clears his throat quickly. “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. Did he er, say anything else?”

 

“Just that he’s sat with one of the Weasleys. Ron, or something.”

 

Marcus isn’t really listening anymore – he’s too busy panicking. He knows exactly whom Esca is talking about. Harry Potter. The boy orphaned by Lord Voldemort. Orphaned by the man his parents turned coats to. This, Marcus decides, is definitely not good.

 

It gets worse. As soon as Potter is sorted, directed to the Gryffindor table (And really, Marcus shouldn’t have expected anything different, but a part of him hoped.), sits a few seats down from Marcus on the other side of the table, it gets worse. The new Weasley points at him, trying to be subtle, whispers something to Potter, and the boy instantly looks up, directly at him, staring and staring and then glaring. Marcus tries not to look up, really tries, focusing on his dinner and attempting to distract himself by listening to Wood going through the plans for the Quidditch team this year. He’s got high hopes, apparently, and a lot of plans that will get them the Cup for sure this year. Marcus nods, in all the right places, struggling to keep down the food he’s eaten, and Wood keeps talking, but Marcus isn’t really listening anymore, because he can see Potter putting down his fork, pushing his plate away.

 

He can feel the glares, the horrid looks, he’s being given, as if they’re burning, burning straight through him, and it takes all his self-control not to just bolt from the room right now.

 

The new Weasley, Ron, he thinks Esca said his name was, says something else, and Marcus can’t hear what he says, but just catches the disgusted curl of his lip, the shake of his head, and then, the sudden, unexpected jerk back as Fred, whose sat opposite him, expertly flicks a spoonful of peas into his face and hisses, “Would you shut up, Ron?” He watches, and can feel his heart pounding, as Ron opens his mouth to retort, but Fred cuts him off again, and Marcus is taken aback by the sheer venom in his voice as he says, “You know nothing, Ron. Absolutely nothing, so shut up, yeah? Aquila’s not like that.”

 

Oh. Oh. Marcus feels a sudden lump stick in his throat, and he struggles to keep himself in check. He’s never really gotten to know Fred, or his brother, but they’d formed a sort of working relationship on the Quidditch Pitch when they’d realised how good a Keeper he was, but Marcus had never thought they’d got on that well, for Fred to defend him. In truth, he’d thought he still hated him. Potter is still watching him, intently and relentlessly, and Marcus keeps his eyes trained on the plate, watches as his concentration makes the food blur in his vision.

 

He glances up, an involuntary reaction, when there’s a sudden burst of laughter from the other end of the table, probably some sort of prank or joke from the Weasley twins, and he instantly finds himself locked in Potter’s gaze. They make eye contact, just for a second, and Marcus doesn’t understand – there’s no hatred in his eyes anymore, only confusion, and more than a little curiosity.

 

*****

 

“Marcus?” He brushes past, shoves almost, shakes his head furiously, roughly brushes tears from his eyes. He doesn’t want to talk, can’t talk. God, why now, of all times? Why this particular time, just as he was starting to shake it off, to move on? Why now that he was finally becoming happy? “Marcus!” Esca is persistent, hurries after him, steps quick and quiet on the stairs out of the castle, compared to Marcus’ loud and heavy and desperate ones. “Marcus!”

 

Esca’s hand reaches out, grabs Marcus’ sleeve, just brushes his arm, and he pulls, sudden and sharp. Marcus spins, angry and furious and about to spit something he knows he’ll instantly regret, but he can’t seem to stop himself, but falls short, when Esca looks panicked and points over Marcus’ shoulder. He looks, and then understands. He’s gone further than he thought, crossed more ground than he realized, right to the peripheral of the reach of the Whomping Willow. The guilt is quick to wash over him, make his breath catch in his throat, and he bites his lip, struggles to hold back tears.

 

“Can I ask – what did he say? Dumbledore I mean?” His voice is quiet, cautious, but Marcus shakes his head, I can’t. Dumbledore had asked Marcus to come to his office, that morning, to discuss something of unparalleled importance and significance. Marcus had instantly known what it was about. How could he not? “I think I know,” Esca continues, his eyes bright and searching. Marcus shifts, uncomfortable, under his gaze. “I heard that Potter kid talking about someone, someone bad. Really bad. I don’t know their name, and I don’t know who they are, but it’s something to do with them, right?” Marcus nods. “And something to do with your parents?”

 

Marcus nods again, and suddenly, he loses the fight against the tears, and they force their way down his face, leaving faint, anguished trails on his cheeks. “It’s alright,” Esca murmurs instantly, as if by reflex, or by habit; perhaps its something you’re meant to say when someone’s crying, and normally, It works, as much as an empty phrase can. “It’s alright, Marcus.” Except this time, it doesn’t.

 

Marcus jerks away from him, shaking his head fiercely. “It’s not alright! It’s not alright at all!” His voice cracks, loud and shameful, and he bites down hard on his lip to try and regain some kind of control over himself. It shakes, desperate and persistent, under the firm hold of his teeth. “It’s not alright.” He repeats, quieter, almost too quiet for Esca to hear.

 

“Marcus, please-“

 

“No, Esca, you don’t understand! I’m not like you!”

 

“Well, I know that-“

 

“No, you don’t know! You don’t know anything!”

 

“Then let me know! Tell me!”

 

It takes a while, as Marcus hesitates, and battles with himself and his inner demons over what he should do, but, eventually, halting and unsure, Esca is told the truth.

 

Marcus tells him about the Order of the Phoenix, the order that his parents were a part of, tells him their intention – to fight back. He explains his parent’s role in the group, his father as an auror, a protector, of sorts; his mother as a teacher, which sounds less important, but the knowledge she brought, of Herbology and Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts, was indescribably vital.

 

“They were making progress,” Marcus says, as they take a seat on the soft grass over looking the willow, “Making progress toward finally making a difference, toward finally defeating Voldemort.” But then, suddenly, his parents stopped going to the meetings, stopped seeing the other members of the Order, stopped talking to them. They just seemed to disappear. No one knew what had happened to them, where they’d gone, whether they were even alive or not, until, one day, news reached the Order – The Aquilas had been seen leaving a known hideout of Voldemort’s, been seen shaking hands with Lucius Malfoy, were rumoured to have been speaking with the Dark Lord himself. No one knew what to think, how to react, and even then, when they’d been discovered, they wouldn’t speak to the Order, wouldn’t make contact.

 

“And that was that, for a while. The Order resigned itself to the fact that two of its members had been”, Marcus struggles for a moment, and Esca lets him take his time, “had been traitors. They accepted it, to an extent, as much as you can, I suppose, and tried to move on from it. Until, one day, not long after, they received some information that Voldemort had finally called a mass meeting with his followers, providing a perfect opportunity to cause some damage to their numbers. So, they went to the rumoured meeting place, to sabotage the whole thing, except, they found something entirely opposite to what they were expecting. It wasn’t a meeting at all, not like they thought, but rather, an execution.”

 

Esca places a hand over Marcus’ in what he hopes is a comforting gesture, some form of encouragement, and assurance that he’s there, and Marcus blinks away the tears, breathes through the sudden lump in his throat, and presses on. Before they could do anything, step in, save them, anything, he slaughtered them, in front of everyone.

 

“He killed them, my parents, and I just – I’ve tried, really tried, but I just don’t understand!” And then, Marcus is sobbing, tearing, painful, heart-felt sobs, and rushing forward into Esca’s open arms, clinging to his jumper, his face buried in his neck. It’s uncomfortable, and Esca’s hips are twisted oddly, and Marcus is leaning most of his weight on him, but Esca doesn’t mind – Marcus needs him, right now, right here, and that’s all that matters. He rubs warm, slow circles into his back, one hand resting on his head, tries to soothe the heaving of his chest, and whispers, it’s alright, Marcus, it’s alright, even though it isn’t, it really isn’t, and feels his heart breaking.

 

*****

The Fourth Year

 

“How good are you at potions?” Marcus grimaced, attempting to shrug in a way that suggested modest success. Esca saw through it instantly, sighing heavily and rolling his eyes. Do exactly as I tell you, alright? And try not to touch anything.” Marcus nodded. Right. Yes. He could do that. Folding his hands resolutely in his lap, he leant back in his chair, watching as Esca set up the cauldron. He was completely focused, sleeves rolled up, pencil tucked behind his ear, and biting his lip in that way he did whenever he was concentrating, which happened a lot and which made Marcus’ heart flutter in his chest, his face flush-

 

“When you’ve quite finished daydreaming, Marcus, read us the instructions, would you?” Esca’s voice cut through his thoughts, a smirk spreading across his face. Marcus cleared his throat awkwardly, moving to grab his textbook with shaking hands. “What do I do after the cauldron is set up?”

 

“Erm. Mix in ginger root until lime green.”

 

“Right.” Esca nodded, serious once more. “Pass me the ginger root.”

 

“I thought I wasn’t meant to touch anything?” Esca shot him a dirty look, scowling at Marcus’ wide grin.

 

“Just give it here.” Obediently, Marcus passed him the pot. “Thank you.” They progressed like that, with Marcus supplying instructions and ingredients, Esca mixing the potion and doing the work that required steady hands and concentration that Marcus could only dream of possessing, until the potion was almost finished. The time passed quickly, efficiently, and almost completely in silence. Marcus had learnt quite some time ago that Esca worked best when it was quiet, that his mind worked with silence, so he didn’t try to interrupt, or ask questions. Marcus is just about to hand over the last ingredient, to pass over the last instruction, finally, when a shadow is suddenly cast over their desk, ominous and oppressive. He doesn’t have to look up to know who it is.

 

“Mr MacCunoval,” Snape drawls, glaring across the desk. “As you seem to have perfected the art of completely taking control of this partnership, perhaps you would like to allow Mr Aquila to participate?” Esca looks desperate, and possibly a little frightened, at the prospect of handing over the glass rod and the measuring scales. Marcus doesn’t blame him. “No?”

 

“Well, sir, you see, Marcus isn’t-“ He suddenly falls silent as Snape raises an affronted hand. From the corner of his eye, Marcus can see that every one else in the classroom has stopped and turned to watch. From the small flicker of dark amusement in his face, Marcus can tell Snape has noticed too. Oh no. That does not bode well.

 

“I assure you, Mr MacCunoval, I have no interest whatsoever in what Mr Aquila is not, but rather, I have an obligatory interest in whether or not he actually possesses the vaguest of abilities to pass his examination with. And how, pray tell, do you expect him to do so without having taken part in the creation of even the most basic of potions?”

 

If the situation were any different, Marcus might have laughed. Most basic? If this was basic, then, well, things didn’t look good for the rest of his education.

 

“That’s not what-“ Snape raises his hand again, raising his eyebrows meaningfully. With a huff, and a look that screams I hate you and you are so going to regret this, Esca hands the glass rod to Marcus, moving to take over the role of ingredient supplier. He’s about to pick up the pot of Armadillo Bile when Snape shakes his head. Confused, Esca pulls his hand back.

 

“No, no, let Mr Aquila do it all. Let’s see whether he has been paying the slightest bit of attention.” Marcus can feel his heart leap into his mouth, his stomach drop. Surely not? He’s got to be joking, right? He looks to Esca, desperate for some sort of help, but only receives a weak smile of what he assumes should be encouragement, but looks more like fear for his life. “Come on, Mr Aquila, we don’t have all day.”

 

He swallows heavily, his hand shaking as he slowly reaches for the pot that Esca had been forced to abandon. The smell from it is vile, and it makes Marcus’ stomach churn, his breath catch in his throat. His palms are suddenly sweaty, and he grips the glass rod tight enough in his free hand to leave dents in his palm. You can do this. Come on, you can do this.

 

Aware of the whole glass watching him, and Snape glancing not-so-surreptitiously at his watch, Marcus tilts the pot, gently and slowly. A trickle runs into the cauldron, and it’s great, and both he and Esca let out a heavy sigh of relief. Except, Snape chooses that moment to clear his throat loudly, and Marcus jumps, and promptly drops the whole thing into the cauldron, pot and all.

 

Marcus can almost hear the way that Snape rolls his eyes, sighing exasperatedly. “What a shame, Mr Aquila, that you have shown a complete lack of competence and have entirely ruined Mr MacCunoval’s hard work. It would appear that you yourself would have benefited greatly from a draught of the Wit-Sharpening potion you have destroyed, if that is the level of skill you are going to display.”

 

“I- I don’t- Oh my God!” Marcus doesn’t have time to try and explain himself, to save himself from the humiliation, to stop the raucous laughter from his classmates, because, after having apparently marinated long enough, the mess of a concoction is suddenly gushing across the desk and onto the floor, hissing and steaming and spitting, having apparently burnt its way through the thick pewter base of the cauldron.

 

And then, without warning, it turns into complete chaos. Before he can even begin to register what on Earth he should do, Esca is leaping up from his stool, cursing and shouting, desperately trying to get out of the range of the spreading puddle, almost tripping over the poor, confused student behind him as he wrenches off his shoes. Marcus is momentarily flummoxed – what the hell? What a weird thing to do! And then, it hits him. Oh shit.

 

Half an hour later, sheepishly lingering in the corridor outside of the Hospital Wing, Marcus is worrying. Out of guilt and shame and a ridiculously large amount of embarrassment, Marcus had supported a constantly cursing, limping Esca to the Hospital Wing to treat the scalded skin of the base of his feet. The potion had, whilst spreading across the floor, eaten entirely through the base of Esca’s shoes, disintegrated his rather interesting socks (green with sheep on), and burnt the soles of his feet. Snape had, at this point, intervened and, with a rather lazy, put-upon flick of his wand, neutralized the angry, hissing river of all-consuming potion. He’d told an exceptionally mortified, bordering on traumatized, Marcus to escort Esca to Madame Pomfrey before he could do anymore damage, and, after practically carrying him the entire way, Marcus was waiting to hear the news.

 

It took a while longer, another half an hour or so in fact, until Esca resurfaced. He was barefoot, carrying the mangled remains of his shoes in one hand. When he spotted Marcus, he looked a little shocked. “You’re still here?”

 

“Of course I’m still here. I’m so sorry, Esca-“ He cut off quickly when Esca shook his head, a small, fond, smile tugging at his lips. “You’re not mad?”

 

“I was a little mad,” He admitted. Marcus visibly flinched, flushing a deep shade of red, so he quickly added, “But not so much now. Mainly because you look so bloody miserable, and it would be mean to hold it against you.”

 

“Really?” Marcus brightened instantly, hope and relief fluttering in his chest.

 

“Yeah. Well, it wasn’t exactly your fault – Snape was being a dick. And besides,” He said, beginning to wander toward the Ravenclaw Tower in search of shoes, or a spell to repair what was left of the ones he had. “I’ll get you back at some point.” He winked at Marcus over his shoulder, grinning when Marcus looked deeply concerned. “Chin up, Aquila, it’s not the end of the world. You won’t even notice.”

 

“That’s why I’m worried!” Esca laughed loudly, happy and amused. Just before he disappeared around the corner, he shot Marcus a wide, forgiving grin, and then, was gone. And, just like that, with that small gesture of kindness, of friendship, fresh in his mind, Marcus grinned too.

 

*****

 

Esca,

 

So, you told me to write to you, so here’s a letter.

 

How are you? What’s it like being back with muggles and not doing any magic?

 

Um. I’m rubbish at writing letters and stuff (You’ll be amused to know my Uncle has actually completely written off all my social skills), so yeah.

 

Write back?

 

Marcus.

 

P.S. My Uncle lent me the owl for the summer, so you can send replies (if you want) through him. Be careful – he bites.

 

~

 

Marcus,

 

That owl is a nutter! It tried to eat me! I had to fend it off with Rickon’s gummy bears (He thinks Eoin ate them. Haha!), so if he comes back in like, a sugar rush or something, it’s not my fault.

 

Being home is good, yeah. Although, Eoin won’t believe me that I’m not allowed to do magic outside of school, and he keeps pestering me – he thinks I just can’t do it. I offered to hit him with a jelly-legs curse to see how he liked that, but he just laughed, the bugger. You wait, Marcus, soon as I’m 17, he’s not gonna know what hit him.

 

How much homework did you get? I swear they’re trying to kill me – I made a tower out of all the books and stuff I’ve been given, and the damn thing is taller than Rickon. There’s something completely wrong there.

 

How about you? How’s Silchester, or wherever it is you live?

 

Esca.

 

~

 

Esca,

 

Ha! Clearly he’s a good judge of character. Either that, or he knew you were a pushover and would give him what he wanted. What did you do to him, by the way? He came back even grouchier than normal – seriously, I’m currently nursing a huge gash in my hand from where he attacked me. Thanks for that.

 

I feel I should probably take the moral high ground and tell you not to do anything stupid, or that you’re brother isn’t worth it, or whatever. But. Might I suggest the “Anteoculatia” jinx? It gives a person a very fetching pair of antlers.

 

Not much is going on here, to be honest. To the point where I’ve been so bored, I’ve already done all of my homework. I know. It’s THAT bad. Although, I went with my Uncle to this archaeological dig that the University he works for runs every year, and we found loads of stuff. Like, really cool stuff – I only found pottery and boring stuff to start with, but then, right at the end, I found an arrowhead. An actual arrowhead! How cool is that? It’s Roman, or something, or so my Uncle says.

 

Marcus

 

P.S. Just thought. Didn’t you say Rickon was really short?

 

~

 

Marcus,

 

Oops. Sorry about your hand.

 

And of course you would’ve done all your homework, you bloody goody two-shoes. I plan on being utterly traditional and leaving it all to the last week.

 

That’s so cool! I wish we had cool stuff like that here. What other stuff did you find?

 

My grandparents and aunts are coming over next week. I may actually kill myself. If I don’t get arrested for killing one of them first. Apparently, they’re all convinced I go to some military boarding school. They approve of this because, according to them, I need “straightening out” and am “in desperate need of some discipline”. I don’t know what they mean.

 

Esca

 

P.S. Did some research into that jinx you suggested. It looks AWESOME.

P.P.S. Shut up. The tower is big.

 

~

 

Esca,

 

HA! Is all I can say to that. Besides, it’s probably what you deserve for all those things you did to them when you were a kid. I vaguely remember you telling me about that time you put a newt in your aunt’s glass of water because you knew she hated them, and that time you deliberately trailed mud through your grandmother’s house because, well, just because. I’m sure there are more. MANY more.

 

Please don’t kill anyone. I won’t visit you in prison.

 

Marcus

 

~

 

Marcus,

 

You are a terrible friend. You’re supposed to feel sorry for me. And, actually, it wasn’t even me who got mud on her new carpet (although the thought did cross my mind), it was EOIN. And, despite the fact that I wasn’t even there she blamed me for it. She just thinks I look suspicious. It’s not my fault.

 

And, please, give me some credit. They would never know it was me. I’m far too good for that.

 

Esca

 

~

 

Esca,

 

You have no idea how disturbed I am by that statement. NO IDEA. Seriously.

 

My Uncle’s taking me into London to go to Diagon Alley to get all the stuff for next year. Might see you there? If you haven’t been arrested and charged with murder, that is.

 

If not, I’ll see you at school.

 

Marcus

 

P.S. The owl seems to have gained a lot of weight. Seriously. He’s really fat. And, he seems to have developed a taste for gummy bears. Is that your doing?

 

*****

 

The Fifth Year

 

Marcus is pretty sure he’s about to die of boredom. Either that, or go completely insane. Whatever happens, it doesn’t look good for him. He’s sat, or rather slouched, in History of Magic, and has been for all of about twenty minutes, pretending to listen to whatever it is that Professor Binns is saying. Something about Horgar the Frightful, or Terrifying, or something. Whatever. Marcus lost interest almost as soon as he sat down.

 

Not long after Binns has finished the story of Horgar the Really Scary and his equally petrifying friends and moved on to Alrick the Hideous, Marcus can feel himself drifting, feel his eyelids being weighed down, his thoughts beginning to creep toward dreaming, his head drooping. He struggles, in a way that’s beyond futile, and he knows it, but, eventually, he gives up. He’s just about to nod off, blissful and peaceful, when there’s a knock at the door, and a soft, yet firm, call of,

 

“Professor Binns!” The professor stops talking, reluctant and a little affronted, and his pale, ghostly eyes fix onto Professor McGonagall, “Ever so sorry to interrupt,” She says, and Marcus struggles to find any hint of apology in her tone, “Could I borrow Aquila for a moment, please?”

 

Marcus is instantly awake. What? What’s happened? What on Earth has he done now? Then, almost instantly, and completely naturally, his thought process changes – Is it Esca? He looks up, desperately searching for answers in her face, but it looks passive, almost pleasant, as Binns waves a faint hand in dismissal, and returns to his teaching. However, when McGonagall turns her gaze on him, his blood runs cold. She’s angry, he can tell, but trying not to show it – her brows are creased, her jaw tight, her mouth a thin line. Oh shit.

 

Almost as soon as he stands and gathers his things, she’s sweeping out of the room and down the corridor, her shoes tapping out an infuriated rhythm on the stone floor. He has to hurry to keep up with her, and by the time they reach her office, he’s out of breath.

 

“Sit.” She orders, and he obeys instantly. He can feels nerves and tension and a little bit of shame curling in his stomach. He has no idea what he’s done, if anything, but he feels awful all the same. It’s her expression, he decides, as she takes a seat behind her desk; it’s enough to make anyone feel guilty. “I assume you know exactly why you’re here, Mr Aquila.”

 

“I don’t-“

 

“Don’t play ignorant with me.”

 

“I’m sorry, Professor, but I don’t.”

 

She looks furious for a moment, and she opens her mouth as if to snap a retort at him, but then she stops, and her expression slides into confusion. “You don’t know?”

 

“No. Honestly.”

 

“Well,” She clears her throat, “I have been informed,” She begins, serious and meaningful, “That you have not been attending the scheduled Quidditch practices.”

 

“What? I have-“

 

She holds up a calm hand to silence him. “If you are not showing commitment by attending the sessions, what other choice do I have but to remove you from the team?”

 

Marcus can feel his heart sink. “Professor, please, listen-“

 

“I’m sorry, Mr Aquila, but there is no other option.”

 

Please, just listen. I think I can explain.” She raises her eyebrows slightly, gesturing for him to continue. “I have been going. Honestly. I go to the pitch every time to practice, but the rest of the team is never there.” She looks vaguely incredulous, and definitely disbelieving, and he can feel himself start to panic. “I do. I go every Wednesday evening and every Sunday morning, and they’re never there.” Marcus has been thinking about this for some time, actually, the strangeness of the whole thing. He’d double-checked with Placidus, the captain, when practices were, just in case he’d got the times wrong, but he’d been assured he was right. He’d started to suspect something was wrong when he’d asked some of his teammates, and they’d all looked shifty and uncomfortable, casting desperate looks at each other.

 

“Wednesday evening and Sunday morning?”

 

“Every week.”

 

“But, Mr Aquila, practice is held Tuesday evening and Saturday morning.”

 

“That can’t be right. Placidus said-“ He stops himself, suddenly and awfully, as McGonagall’s expression shifts again, this time to what he assumes is horrid realization, and more than a little bit of pity. “Right.” He says, “Right.”

 

 He runs to the Great Hall, after McGonagall has finally let him go, angry and frustrated and so embarrassed. They’ve made such a fool of him, probably been laughing about him, at him, behind his back, at his misfortune, his stupidity. God, he feels like such an idiot. He’s out of breath by the time he gets there, his chest heaving, his heart racing, but he doesn’t notice it, doesn’t want to notice it, and his strides are sure and strong as he approaches the Gryffindor table, approaches Placidus and his group of friends. One of them nudges Placidus as they see him approach, grins widely and points at him, and Placidus turns, smug and proud to stare him in the face, the bastard.

 

“Ah, Aquila, how nice of you to join us! I’m ever so sorry about McGonagall’s judgment, you know, about removing you from the team. It’s such a shame.” He stands to greet him, and looks around briefly at his friends, smiling when he sees them sniggering at his words, and he moves to open his mouth, to say something else, something horrid and mean and downright nasty. But he doesn’t get the chance, because Marcus is suddenly lunging forward, and his fist is colliding with his face, hard and fast and strong, and Placidus doesn’t look quite so smug now that he’s sprawled across the floor.

 

“You bastard!” Placidus whines, pressing a shaking hand to his bleeding lip, “How dare you! God,” He spits, “You Aquilas are all the same! Filthy traitors!” Marcus lunges forward again, and Placidus flinches away, but before he can reach him, reach to kick him, punch him, hurt him, strong arms are wrapped around his chest, and he’s pulled back, suddenly, swiftly and there’s nothing he can do but be forced out of the Great Hall, away from a now sniveling Placidus.

 

“That’s enough, Marcus,” Someone says, and it takes Marcus a moment, through the haze of his burning anger and the shame that follows, for him to realize who it is. The arms are removed when Marcus stops fighting against them, and it’s merely the presence that guides him away from the Hall and toward an unfamiliar office. “Sit. Please.” Lupin’s face is calm, his expression neutral, but his tone is firm, and, reluctantly, Marcus sits. “Tea?”

 

Marcus frowns. Sorry? He watches as Lupin moves to boil a well-worn kettle of water over the roaring fire in the corner of his office, and he can feel his impatience mounting as he takes his time adding tea leaves to a pot and pouring the steaming water out of the kettle. When he finally pauses, to allow the tea time to brew, Marcus can barely sit still.

 

When Lupin perches on the edge of his desk, arms folded, watching Marcus with a searching gaze, for a whole minute without saying anything, Marcus snaps.

 

“Why am I here, Professor?” His tone is sharp, frustrated and entirely disrespectful and inappropriate for talking to a teacher, but he actually can’t bring himself to care. Lupin doesn’t react, instead, merely continues to watch him. “Seriously, why am I here? Placidus’ll be gone before I-“

 

Lupin smiles, sad and thoughtful, “And that, Mr Aquila, is why you are here.” Before Marcus can even process what he’s just said, let alone think of something to say, Lupin is moving to tend the tea. He says nothing else until he hands a reluctant Marcus a mug of tea. Even then, all he says is, “Careful – it’s hot.”

 

Marcus grips the handle, hard enough to leave angry dents in his palms, burning almost as hot as the tea. He grips it, mainly in an attempt to keep himself from having to hold the mug itself and scalding his hand, but also to keep him grounded enough not to fling the damn thing across the room. Lupin seems to notice his growing agitation, and smiles, that damn smile, leans back in his chair, and says,

 

“As a teacher, I know I shouldn’t take sides, but, I have to say – that was a nice shot. I have no idea what he said, but I’m sure he deserved it.” Marcus lets out a surprised splutter of ungainly laughter, and Lupin grins. “I’ve never liked him. Always whining about something or other.” He sighs heavily, suddenly, the mirth instantly draining from his face. “Just like his father. “ He takes his time sipping his tea, the steam curling around his face, before he speaks again. “Can I ask, Marcus, what was it he said to you that made you hit him?”

 

Marcus hesitates, avoiding Lupin’s searching gaze, instead focusing his attention on running his fingers around the rim of his mug, slowly, feeling the vapour condense on his hand. It drips, slow and unbearably loud in the sudden tension, back into the tea. “He said,” He begins, and coughs, a sudden lump rising in his throat. “He said I was a traitor, just like my father.” He looks up, desperate and defiant, and is momentarily taken aback by Lupin’s expression – he’s angry, and so, so sad.

 

“Your father,” He says, a little too loudly, punctuating each word with a jab of his finger into the battered wooden surface of the desk. “Your father was-“ He stops, his mouth a thin line. “Look. No one, no one, knows what made your parents do what they did. Not a soul. But I knew them, I knew them, and they never would have done it willingly.”

 

He ignores Marcus’ attempts at protesting, shaking his head. “Trust me, Marcus, they were good people, honest people, and there will have been a reason, a legitimate, serious reason for what they did. Believe me, or don’t, I’ve said my part, and now it’s up to you to decide what you believe.” And, at that, with an indignant sip of his tea, the conversation is over, and Lupin doesn’t say another word.

 

He mulls it over, as he quickly finishes his tea and is finally allowed out of Lupin’s office. He passes Placidus, on his way to the library to meet Esca, like he always does after History of Magic, but he’s not interested anymore. The older boy shouts something, something horrible no doubt, but Marcus barely hears him, too caught up in his thoughts to notice much of anything.

 

He’d never thought about it before, why his parents did what they did, why they’d betrayed everything they’d stood for, but rather, he’d just, and he’s ashamed to admit it, written it off as cowardice and fear. His Uncle refused to talk about it, shutting up like a clam whenever he asked, and so he’d had to make his judgments, however wrong they might be, on the reactions of those around him when they realized who he was. And really, who could blame him if that was all he had to go on? Only when he’d seen the way Lupin had reacted, the sheer anger and the unexpected sadness, had Marcus begun to wonder whether he was wrong; so, so wrong.

 

As he enters the library, feels the familiar hush and warmth welcome him in, and sees Esca at their usual table, sees him grin and raise a hand in greeting, Marcus reaches a decision – it’s about time he made his own judgments, his own decisions. Maybe, like Lupin had said, there was so much more to it than he thought. The sudden wave of relief and the swift unprecedented lifting of a weight from his shoulders surprised him, but he welcomed it, with open arms, and he felt at ease, truly at ease, and truly ready to work out what he believes in, for the first time in, well, as long as he can remember.

 

*****

 

“Oh God, I’m not stuck with you, am I?” Marcus looked up at the sound, momentarily confused. When he spotted the familiar face, grinning and joking as the owner sauntered down the corridor, he feigned hurt.

 

“You wound me, MacCunoval.” Esca laughed, looking more than a little smug. He ducked Marcus’ attempts to ruffle his hair, just moving out the way at the last moment. Marcus still towered over him, even though Esca was almost as tall as the other boys, and twice as fast. Marcus was big, much bigger than everyone else in their year, and quite a few of the older boys as well. Much to his secret amusement, and Esca’s less than subtle appreciation, he was as tall, if not slightly taller, than Professor Snape – it made standing up to him and staring him down in Potions that bit easier. Esca thought it was glorious.

 

Esca aimed a punch at his arm playfully. “I think it’d take more than a few words from me to hurt you, Bruce Banner.”

 

Marcus blinked. “Bruce who? I don’t get it.”

 

Esca looked horrified for a second, and opened his mouth as if to chastise him, but after a moment’s deliberation, let it fall shut, waving his hand dismissively. “Forget it. I can’t be bothered to explain.”

 

“Is it a muggle thing?” Esca nodded. “Ah. Okay. Should I take it as an insult?” Esca smirked.

 

“Possibly.” Before Marcus had a chance to reply with something undoubtedly witty and wonderful (in his dreams), Professor Lupin poked his head around the corner of the door, and, with a broad, welcoming smile, beckoned them all in. They all filed in slowly, spreading out into the strangely empty classroom. At their confused muttering, Lupin grinned, a little wolfishly.

 

“We’re not doing theory today.” He proudly declared, to the unanimous appreciation of the class. He raised his hands calmly when the noise became too much, satisfied when everyone instantly became silent. “Instead, we’re going to be dueling, of a sort. Now, before you get too excited,” he said pointedly, eyes focusing on Esca, who was currently bouncing on the balls of his toes, repeatedly shoving at Marcus’ arm in barely controlled excitement. At Lupin’s glance, he smiled, innocently and a little sheepishly, but settled all the same. Marcus could almost feel the tension, the sheer excitement, the buzz, emanating from him. Apparently, Esca loved to duel. Knowing his skill with spells, and his ruthlessness on the Quidditch pitch, Marcus was more than a little nervous – no doubt Esca and he would be partners. Sure, Marcus was good, but Esca was far better. Marcus didn’t stand a chance.

 

“We’ll be doing it in pairs, with basic spells.” Lupin cast Esca another meaningful look, and Marcus briefly recalled that time in a previous lesson when Esca had tried to use a spell on his partner to disarm him (a fortunate migraine had saved Marcus that time), missed, and blown up the tank of a very grumpy Grindylow when the spell had been stronger than he’d expected. When asked what on Earth he thought he was doing, Esca had calmly replied that he’d read the spell in a book, an advanced book, and had wanted to try it out, and, besides, the tank needed cleaning anyway. “Now, I’ll need two people to demonstrate how this is going to work. As you seem so keen, Mr. MacCunoval, perhaps you would be so kind as to volunteer yourself? Yes? Excellent. Grab a partner, and come up here.”

 

Ruing the day that he ever met Esca, Marcus was ceremoniously dragged to the front.

 

“Ready?” Lupin’s voice was quiet, distant, a little apprehensive, as he made his way to the back of the classroom, well out of their way.

 

Esca grinned at him, wide and happy. His hair was tousled, definitely in need of a trim, his jumper discarded, shirtsleeves rolled up, tie loose and free. “Ready to lose, Aquila?”

 

Marcus snorted, with more confidence than he felt. “In your dreams.”

 

“Okay, on my count. One, two, three!”

 

With an almost lazy flick of his wand, Esca cried, “Expulso!”

 

Just as Marcus roared, “Bombarda!”

 

There was a huge flash of blinding light, a deafening crack, and both boys were forcefully thrown backwards. They both landed on their backs with a pained grunt. “And this,” Marcus could vaguely hear Lupin saying, voice muffled by the obnoxious ringing in his ears. “Is a perfect example of what you don’t want to happen! Both of their spells,“ He continued, moving to offer Marcus a hand up. He accepted, shaky and a little dizzy. He was slightly appeased when he saw Esca look just as fazed as he did, especially when Lupin had to place a steadying hand on his shoulder when he swayed dangerously.  “Were of a similar strength, far too strong for the classroom, by the way, boys,” He cast them a withering look. “The spells collided, releasing an enormous amount of energy, which is why they were blown backward. Please try and avoid this.”

 

Marcus screwed his eyes shut for a moment, shaking his head to try and clear his vision. He felt as though he’d just been dealt a monstrous blow to the back of the head, or as if he’d drunk far too much. The ringing in his ears was growing, to the point where he couldn’t even hear what Lupin was saying, instead just seeing his mouth moving. He stood still for a while, one hand supporting his forehead, to try and give his head a chance to sort itself out, and was relieved when it began to dissipate, just in time for him to hear Lupin tell the amused class,

 

“They may experience several side effects: headaches, dizziness, ringing ears or nosebleeds being the most common.” He cast a glance back at the pair, shaking his head. “I believe Mr. MacCunoval is feeling rather dizzy.” Marcus turned to look at his friend, only to be greeted by the sight of him sat on the floor, head between his knees, looking as if he was struggling not to throw up. “And, ah, Mr. Aquila seems to have acquired a rather serious nosebleed.”

 

Wait. What? Marcus dabbed his fingers against his nose, surprised when they came back coated in blood. Oh. Looking down, he noticed the extent of it – blood was dripping all down his shirt, a few drops having escaped to the scuffed wooden floor. He stared at it blankly for a second, before looking up at Lupin, confusion and a little fear clear on his face.

 

“Fear not, Mr. Aquila. It’s not as serious as it looks.” He smiled encouragingly. “Right. Class dismissed. I’ll escort these two to the Hospital Wing. Here,” he said to Marcus, offering him a clean handkerchief. “Hold that against your nose. Are you alright to walk there? No dizziness, headaches? Good. I don’t know about you, but I think Mr. MacCunoval may require a hand.”

 

Esca was now lay on the floor, spread-eagled on his back, both hands clutching at his hair. From what he could see, Esca was pale, frightfully so. When Lupin approached, asking after his health, Esca merely grunted, a pained and uncomfortable sound. Marcus snorted.

 

“Get up, you wuss. You don’t see me swooning on the floor and I’m bleeding.” In response, Esca merely removed one hand from his hair to allow him to give Marcus the finger.

 

At Marcus’ splutter of laughter, and Lupin’s amused huff, Esca groaned. “Shut it, Aquila. I’m dying.”

 

“I don’t think it’s quite that serious, Mr. MacCunoval.” Lupin’s tone was light, amused.

 

“It is, sir. I don’t think I’m gonna make it.”

 

“Well, if you’re planning on dying, could you please wait until we get to the Hospital Wing? You wouldn’t believe the paperwork for deaths in a classroom.”

 

When Esca was eventually persuaded to allow Lupin to pull him to his feet, they made their way toward the Hospital Wing. Lupin was keeping a close eye on the smaller boy, a very close eye, as Esca refused to let him support him down the many staircases. He’d insisted he was fine, he could walk, honestly, he was fine, but every now and then, whenever they turned a corner, or the staircases moved beneath them, his face paled, and his hand instantly moved to his head, occasionally swaying ominously on his feet.

 

Marcus’ nose had bled right through the handkerchief, much to Lupin’s morbid interest and Esca’s sickly amusement, and, when they finally reached their destination, thick blood was still oozing out, persistent and relentless.

 

Madame Pomfrey had very little sympathy. She reluctantly ushered Esca to a free bed to lie down until his dizziness passed, muttering the entire time about the sheer stupidity of students these days, and how he was taking a bed from someone who may really need it. When Esca made no move to react, to talk back, to respond, Marcus frowned. He must feel really bad – that wasn’t like Esca at all. And, suddenly, like a switch being flicked, Marcus felt really guilty.

 

It weighed on his mind, heavy and oppressive, while Madame Pomfrey gave him a quick, sulky once-over, before declaring him completely fine. She watched him, clearly not pleased, when, as soon as she freed him, he moved to Esca’s bedside, perching awkwardly on the seat reserved for visitors. Esca was sprawled across the bed, possibly a little dramatically, one arm thrown extravagantly over his eyes.

 

“You’ve killed me, Aquila.” He stated, matter-of-factly, indifferent and very much alive.

 

“Clearly.” There was a pause, as Marcus bit nervously at his lip. “I’m sorry, you know, sincerely sorry, for, um, breaking you.”

 

Esca let out a huff of laughter. “I assure you, Marcus, it will take more than one of your half-arsed spells to break me.” Marcus huffed in indignation, drawing a smile from Esca’s weary face. “But honestly, it should be me apologizing to you – I made you bleed. How is that, by the way?”

 

Marcus shrugged. “Madame Pomfrey says I’ve just got to wait for it to stop. It’s not as bad as it was. Are you sure you’re alright? You know, not dying, and all.”

 

“Yeah. Quite sure. Oh, no, I take that back. You’ve broken me, Aquila! The whole world just shifted!” Esca groaned, screwing his eyes shut. “What the hell just happened?”

 

“That would be me putting my feet on the bed.”

 

“Oh.” There was a pause. “Bastard.”

 

Ignoring Madame Pomfrey’s furious glares, Marcus laughed, loud and free. Cursing his existence, his bones, his bloody cheek, his everything, Esca began to laugh too. And, just like that, they were good – the guilt was gone, the weight of it lifted from Marcus’ shoulders. They stayed there for a while, even after Esca had fully regained his balance and Marcus’ nose had finally stopped bleeding, just laughing and laughing, content in each other’s company.

 

*****

 

It’s Marcus’ fifth Christmas at Hogwarts, the fifth year of the lush, green trees straining under the sheer amount of decorations, the fifth year of carol-singing suits of armour, snowball fights, the fifth end of the term feast is looming, and it’ll be the same as last year, and all the years before it, but it never gets old. Marcus still loves every part of it, the happiness, the Christmas cheer, the growing excitement at the prospect of two week’s holiday, the sudden, wonderful, contagious joy at waking up to find the grounds buried in ridiculous quantities of snow. Marcus loves the snow the most. Esca had been horrified and unendingly pitying when Marcus had told him that they don’t get much, if any, snow in Silchester, compared to the reliable, substantial quantity they get in Durham every year.

 

The days go quickly, in the run up to the last day of term, in a blur of colour and excitement, and before he can really register it, it’s the day before they’re due to leave. Esca approaches him at breakfast, plonks himself down at the Gryffindor table, and, ignoring the affronted tuts and huffs from the other students, filches a slice of toast from the platter and proceeds to nibble at it, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. Marcus barely bats an eyelid, so used is he now to Esca’s disregard for social expectations – this is mild for him.

 

“Mornin’, Marcus.” He says, scooping a glob of raspberry jam onto the bread with Marcus’ spoon. “Ready for the holidays?”

 

Marcus nods, polishing off his own toast, making a point of wiping his fingers on the supplied napkin. Esca merely grins wickedly, and makes an equal show of brushing crumbs from his hands by wiping his hands on his trousers. When Marcus pretends to be shocked, tutting loudly and shaking his head, Esca laughs, and grabs Marcus’ napkin and promptly lobs it in his face.

 

“Well,” Marcus says, throwing down the napkin dramatically. “If you’re going to be like that, I won’t give you your present.” He can’t help but smile when Esca instantly perks up. “Ah, so easily bought.”

 

“Shut it, you. Where is it?”

 

“In my bag. Which is in my dormitory.” Esca sighs long-sufferingly, “If you’ll be patient for once in your life, I’ll go and get it. Sheesh.”

 

“Alright – I’ll go get yours then. Meet in the library in ten?” And, with a last grin, and the quick pinching of another slice of toast, he’s gone. The girl he’d sat next to, some Sixth Year whose name Marcus can’t even begin to remember, suddenly rounds on him, eyes narrowed,

 

“That boy,” She sneers, “is a menace. You’d do well to tell him to remember his manners.”

 

“And you,” Marcus says, standing suddenly, startling her, he notices, a little smugly, “Would do well to mind your own bloody business.”

 

“And what did she say to that?” Esca sniggers behind his hand, wary of the librarian shooting him warning glances across the room.

 

“Something like, ‘Well, I never!’, and then flounced off.” Before he can stop himself, Esca lets out a bark of laughter at Marcus’ haughty impersonation, and can do little more than clap his hands over his mouth and try to control the shaking of his shoulders when Madame Pince slams a book down onto her desk and glares meaningfully in their direction.

 

“Shall we do this then, before you get us thrown out?” Esca nods, grinning widely, and reaches into his well-battered satchel to pull out an A4 sized envelope. It piques Marcus’ interest instantly, as he searches for Esca’s counterpart (a simple box); what on Earth could be in there? They exchanged gifts, and, while Marcus takes his time peeling open the envelope, taking care to be gentle, Esca has no such reservations, and, simply tears off the paper as quickly as possible. Before Marcus can even think about finding out what he’s got, Esca is opening the box, grinning, and he breathes,

 

This is so cool.” It’s the Roman-era arrowhead that he’d discovered during the archaeological dig the previous summer. He’d been at a complete loss as to what to get him, and, when Esca began to profess an interest, going as far as to ask Marcus if he could borrow some of his Uncle’s books on Roman history, he’d thought it was perfectly fitting.

 

“You like it?”

 

“Yeah!” Esca winced, lowering his voice. “Yeah, it’s awesome! Mine looks pathetic compared to this,” He looks glum for a moment, but it’s quickly replaced by intrigue as he turns the arrowhead over in his hand, holds it up to the light, inspects it’s surface. “Well go on then,” He says, reluctantly tearing his eyes away from his gift to look at him. “Open yours.”

 

Marcus turns his attention back to the envelope and, careful and cautious, slips his thumb and forefinger into to pull out the contents. It’s paper, he can tell instantly, but the sort of shiny, almost waxed, paper that you get in magazines, crisp and new. When he finally pulls it, them, there’s three of them, out, he catches sight of a note pinned to the front, written in Esca’s familiar scrawl:

 

This is that Muggle thing I told you about.

Enjoy (or else).

-       E          

 

He takes his time reading the front of the one on top of the pile, comic books he notices, and smiles-

 

“The Incredible Hulk?” Esca grins wickedly at him, placing his gift carefully, almost lovingly, back in it’s box. “I think I understand now.”

 

“Well,” Esca says, “I thought it was about time you were educated.”

 

“Thank you, Esca,” Marcus says, and really, truly means it. “Thank you.”

 

“No, thank you. This arrowhead? Coolest. Thing. Ever.” Marcus can feel himself flushing, proud of himself and unbelievably relieved that Esca liked, possibly even loved, his gift.

 

“Merry Christmas, Esca.”

 

“Merry Christmas, Marcus.”

 

*****

 

Marcus,

 

Merry Christmas! And a happy new year!

 

How’s your holiday so far? And your Uncle? Can you thank you for letting me borrow those books? They’re actually awesome. What did you get for Christmas?

 

Anyway. The point of this letter (other than showing you I care, like the wonderful friend I am), is this: This summer, do you wanna come to mine for a week or so? I spoke to Mam about it, and she thinks it’s a great idea (She’s desperate to meet you. It’s a bit weird, actually.), so yeah.

 

Don’t feel you have to though – I’d understand if you’re worried they’re all nutters. I’m not a very good poster boy for my family’s normality, am I?

 

So yeah, see you back at school!

 

Esca

 

*****

Marcus is feeling vaguely apprehensive as his train pulls into Durham station. The journey from Silchester had been smooth, with no complications (if you don’t count nearly leaving his suitcase at home, and having to go back for it, ending up with Marcus nearly missing his train. He tries not to.) He’d been anxious about making the journey by himself, having only travelled to school and back without his Uncle before. Sure he was old enough to travel on his own now, and really, being the size he was, he wasn’t likely to get any trouble from anyone, but still. It was odd, travelling into the muggle world, travelling away from everything that was familiar and everything he recognized, rushing forward into the unknown. Well, sort of unknown.

 

Marcus and his Uncle lived in the Muggle village of Silchester, seemingly perfectly integrated with the muggle society and way of life. Uncle Aquila read muggle newspapers, wore muggle clothes, and went to the muggle pub. He even went as far as having a job in the Muggle University that wasn’t too far away. Marcus couldn’t help by think it a little odd, the lengths he went to to blend in, the way he insisted that Marcus ate muggle food and played with muggle children and went to muggle preschool when he was a child. Uncle Aquila assured him it was necessary. But necessary for what, Marcus couldn’t tell.

 

He’d been thrilled, possibly overly so, when Marcus had asked him if he could go to Esca’s for a week. He’d been enthusiastic, agreeing almost before Marcus had even finished asking, bombarding him with questions about Esca, his family, where they lived, what they were planning on doing while he was there. His interest was vaguely endearing, and ceaselessly embarrassing. Ever since then, every time he sent Marcus a letter at school, he would ask after Esca, every single time. He always put it at the end of the letter, as if as an afterthought, but Marcus knew it was one of the first things he thought about.

 

The platform is crowded when Marcus finally piles off the train, having paused to help a rather desperate looking woman carry her bags and her screaming baby’s pushchair onto the platform. She’d been gushingly grateful, all tired smiles and weary thanks, and it had taken some time for him to escape her ministrations.

 

“Marcus!” He looks up sharply, scanning the crowd for the source of the sudden sound. He just catches a glimpse of a mop of unruly dirty blonde hair and a grinning face before Esca is upon him, flinging his arms around him in a tight hug, laughing and loud and happy, vaguely out of breath after having to force his way through the crowd against the tide. “You alright, mate?” He looks good, relaxed, dressed in scruffy jeans, a simple green t-shirt and sunglasses.

 

“I was gonna wait over there,” He waves toward the other end of the platform, toward the exit. “But I thought you might get lost.” It’s meant to be a jibe, a joke, Marcus knows, but it’s true. The station is big, not quite as big as King’s Cross, but big all the same, all open ceilings and bustling crowds. Knowing him, it would be a miracle if he didn’t get lost.

 

“Your concern is moving, Esca, thank you.” Esca laughs, clapping a hand on his shoulder. He squeezes it for a moment, warm and affectionate.

 

“You’re welcome. Now, shut up and follow me. Mam’s waiting with the car outside.” With that, Esca grabbed Marcus’ bag before he could protest, and rushed off into the depths of the crowd. Hurrying to keep up, trying to keep the tousled mop of hair in his view at all times, Marcus follows, and, eventually, they make it out of the crowd and out of the station. With a cursory glance to check if Marcus was still following and hadn’t been eaten by the crowd, Esca strides off toward the car park, nimbly dodging small groups of people, side-stepping small children excited to be going on a holiday, and the occasional abandoned luggage trolley, carrying Marcus’ bag as if it were nothing, as if it were his school bag or something equally as insignificant.

 

He stops suddenly; so sudden that Marcus almost collides with his back, with only his quick reflexes stopping him from bowling over the smaller boy. “Right,” He declares, “Here we go.” More than a little confused, Marcus peers around his shoulders to see what exactly they’ve reached. They’ve stopped at the back of a small, blue car, so small in fact, that Marcus is quite surprised that people can actually fit in it. A slim, dark-haired woman is climbing out of it, and from the startling similarities, Marcus assumes this is Esca’s mother.

 

“You must be Marcus!” She says, moving around the car to greet him, enveloping him in an unexpected hug. “I’m Esca’s mother, but please, call me Evelyn.”

 

It takes him a moment to regain some sort of control over himself, to put himself back on kilter after the indulgent, but wholly welcomed, show of compassion. “It’s um, a pleasure to meet you.”

 

She smiles widely, beckoning him toward the car. As Esca hefts his bag into the boot and Marcus attempts to fold himself into the ridiculously small back seat, he just catches,

 

“You never said he was that good-looking, Esca! And posh too!”

 

Mam! Seriously? He’s right there!”  Evelyn laughs, a soft, lovely sound, slipping into the driver’s seat. When Esca has finally moved into the passenger seat, and finally finished fiddling with the seat, the air conditioning, the radio, and whatever that dial in the corner does, they pull off.

 

“How was your journey, Marcus?” She’s watching him in the mirror, smiling faintly.

 

“Um. Good, thank you.”

 

“You didn’t end up next to a screaming baby or someone snoring, did you?” He sees Esca shudder, as if from experience, and smiles.

 

“No, thank God. I managed to get a seat in the Quiet Zone.”

 

“That’s good. Did you eat anything on the train?”

 

Marcus shakes his head, nose wrinkled in disgust. The food on trains was, at the best of times, only just edible, and on a hot day like this, Marcus hadn’t dared to see what sort of sorry state it was in. Evelyn grins, broad and amused, and in a way that looks so like Esca that it catches Marcus by surprise. “You must be hungry then? Silchester isn’t exactly close.”

 

“A little, yeah.” In truth, Marcus was starving. He’d eaten before he’d left, a small lunch to appease his Uncle, but one that Marcus hadn’t really wanted – he’d been nervous, to the point of losing his appetite, about meeting Esca’s family. But now that he was here, he realized how much of an idiot he’d been – he had nothing to be nervous about.

 

“If you can hang on a bit, we’re gonna order a takeaway for dinner, if that’s okay?” When Marcus nodded she continued. “The boys have voted for Chinese, I’m afraid, and Esca assured me you’d eat anything?”

 

Marcus flushed a deep scarlet, and from the front seat, Esca grinned wolfishly, shooting Marcus a playful wink over his shoulder. “Is there anything in particular you like?” Marcus shrugged, noncommittally, and she smiled. In truth, Marcus didn’t have a clue. He’d never actually eaten Chinese food before, having been brought up by his Uncle who preferred the more mundane palate of English food that contained things he could grow himself or buy locally.  It had been nice, very healthy, if a little unadventurous. He’d spent his childhood yearning for the glorious spices of Indian food, or the subtle mixture of sweet and sour of Chinese that he’d caught short, wonderful smells of as he’d walked down the high street of Silchester, staring forlornly into the restaurants and the takeaways. He’d been slightly disappointed when, as he got to Hogwarts, he found that the House Elves seemed to have similar principles to his Uncle.

 

“Alright then, boys.” Evelyn said suddenly, dragging Marcus out of his reminiscing. “Home sweet home.” They’d pulled onto the driveway of a well-kept, red-bricked terraced house. Everything about it sung welcome, the red door, the well-tended garden, the warm, yellow light spilling out from the bay window of what looked to be a living room. It was mid-evening by the time they arrived, the sun well on it’s way to setting, almost disappearing below the horizon, and a cool summer breeze had just begun to blow, rippling through Marcus’ hair, cooling his skin.

 

The hallway was small, bordering on cramped, mainly due to the multitude of coats hung on the wall, and several well-used bikes leaning against the far wall. Evelyn tutted on seeing them, shooting Marcus an apologetic smile over her shoulder. “You’ll be sharing with Esca, Marcus,” She said, resolutely shoving past the large amount of debris that only several teenage boys could leave, kicking several pairs of shoes out the way as she went. The thought of sharing with Esca, being that close to him, sent shivers of an inexplicable nature down his spine, making his heart race. He quashed it instantly, confused and embarrassed. “Cup of tea? Esca’ll show you around, and then we’ll order, okay?”

 

Marcus nodded slowly, taking in the room – it was simply decorated, with white walls adorned with many family photos, and scuffed wooden flooring, and despite being very clean, it was still beautifully cozy, homely even.  The staircase was narrow, dressed with a tasteful red runner.

 

“Come on, Marcus! We haven’t got all day, mate. I’m starving. “ He hurried after Esca’s voice, careful not to trip over the abandoned football on the landing. “Here,” He said, leading Marcus into the first room they came to, tossing his bag onto a bed. “You’ve got my bed. I normally share with Rickon, but he’s in with Eoin this week.” Esca sat down heavily on the other bed, sprawling back against the pillow. “Sorry about the mess.” He said, not in the least bit sorry.

 

Mess was an understatement. The floor was strewn with what looked like the entire contents of Esca’s schoolbag, along with half of the library, with piles of books and stacks of paper piled dangerously high. His school trunk was shoved, forgotten, in one corner, his freshly washed uniform hung from several hangers on the front of a very full wardrobe. A pile of washing that Marcus assumed Evelyn had lovingly ironed and placed there to be put away was hanging desperately to the edge of the desk chair on the opposite side of the room. The desk, well, the desk was difficult to describe – all Marcus could see was a pyramid of ink wells (possibly built whilst procrastinating over homework), rivers of parchment and the occasional mountain of even more books.

 

“The bathroom’s across the hall. Eoin’s room is next to this one; Mam’s is opposite his. Got it?”

 

“Um. Yeah.”

 

“Great!” With sudden enthusiasm that made Marcus take a step back in surprise, Esca leapt up from the bed, grinning broadly. “Follow me, and I’ll introduce you to the monsters.”

 

Marcus snorted. “I assume you mean your brothers?”

 

“Yeah. Don’t worry,” He said, just as he left the room. “They don’t bite too often. Although,” He called over his shoulder as he bounded down the stairs. “Look out for Rickon when he’s in a strop. He get s a bit violent.”

 

“I do not! And I never have a strop!” A voice suddenly called out from the living room. They sounded annoyed, and more than a little stroppy. “Stop spreadin’ lies, Esca!”

 

“Oh, shut it, Rickon.” Esca led Marcus into the living room, where two boys were slouched on the sofa, video game controllers in hand. “Marcus, this charming little sod here is Rickon, my younger brother.” Rickon scowled at Esca, shoving his hands away when he attempted ruffle his hair. He can’t have been more than eleven years old, the spitting image of Esca when he was that age, except for dark brown eyes in place of Esca’s steely blue. “And that one is Eoin, the eldest. Far too old to be living at home. Isn’t it about time you buggered off and got a real job or something?”

 

“Fuck off, Esca, you’re never here anyway.” Eoin grinned across the room. He was tall, much taller than Esca, even taller than Marcus, and where Esca was slight and fair, Eoin was broad and dark, all thick muscles and jet-black hair. “Nice to meet you, mate. You’re just in time to watch me beat Rickon. Again.”

 

“No he ent! We ent finished yet!” Esca beckoned Marcus into the room, patting the space on the sofa next to him.

 

“Eoin always wins.” Esca informed him, sinking into the depths of the sofa. Marcus nodded, smiling, when Rickon shouted something unintelligible in despair, throwing the controller in Esca’s direction when he, as Esca and Eoin predicted, loses spectacularly. Marcus has no idea what’s going – video games are a mystery to him, as is TV, and most things muggles consider normal (his Uncle wasn’t that dedicated to fitting in – he’d declared TV monstrous and incomprehensible when he’d purchased one a few years back, and couldn’t work out how to turn it on) – but it’s nice, the good-natured teasing, the laughing and joking, the happiness. By the time Esca’s mother returns with several mugs of steaming tea, they’re all engrossed in the game, Marcus more so than the others, watching Esca and Eoin playing against each other, Rickon having given up in a sulk. From what he can tell, Esca is winning.

 

“Tea, boys.” Esca merely grunts in acknowledgement, earning himself a sharp flick on the back of his head. His grumbles of feigned pain and disapproval are quickly replaced by loud shouts of joy, of success, as the level finishes and he ends up the winner.

 

“Take that, Eoin!” He cries, grinning widely. “Did you see that, Marcus?” His enthusiastic search for Marcus’ approval, his praise, takes him slightly by surprise, but he doesn’t have long to linger on it, as, just then, Evelyn hands him a mug of tea and a takeaway menu, smiling when he thanks her.

 

“Esca said you didn’t take sugar?” Marcus nods. He didn’t know Esca had noticed, let alone remembered his drinking habits. He’d been surprising him quite a bit today – the heart-felt, enthusiastic greeting at the train station, the need for Marcus’ approval, the remembrance of small details. It’s a little odd; Esca’s never seemed to be one for noticing such things, but it’s nice. He’s not complaining. Especially when Esca turns to give him a triumphant grin, laughter sparkling in his eyes, eager to share this small moment of glory with him. No, he’s not complaining at all.

 

*****

 

“Marcus. Marcus! Oh fer God’s sake – Marcus!”

 

Marcus wakes suddenly, painfully, as something slams down onto his face. He sits up sharply, spluttering and confused and desperately looking around for the source of the attack. His eyes quickly lock on Esca, sat innocently on the other bed, grinning widely. “… the hell?” He looks around himself, and quickly finds a pillow on his bed that he swore wasn’t there before. A quick glance to Esca’s bed confirmed it – it was his. “Seriously? You couldn’t think of a better way to wake me up?”

 

Esca shrugs, running a hand through his hair, and Marcus’ breath suddenly catches in his throat – his hair is tousled, obscenely so, and he’s wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of boxers, exposing far too much skin. “I called, but you wouldn’t wake up. Desperate times, yeah?” He grins wickedly as Marcus scowls at him, and easily catches the pillow that Marcus throws back at him. “’Kay then, time to get up, sleepin’ beauty – come on, up. Up.” He says, grabbing at Marcus’ arm to drag him out of bed. He pauses for a moment when Marcus stands, and he swears he sees Esca swallow heavily, eyes flickering over his bare chest, lingering on the sharp jut of his hipbones not quite covered by the low waist of his pyjama trousers. Esca clears his throat awkwardly, dropping Marcus’ arm suddenly, “Go on. Quick shower. Breakfast’s waiting, then we’re going out.” He shoves Marcus’ bag into his arm, ushering him out of the room.

 

“Where’re we going?”

 

“Somewhere.” At the look Marcus shoots him over his shoulder, Esca tuts. “Somewhere. It’s a surprise. Now go on. We ent got all day.”

 

Almost as soon as Marcus is finished in the shower, before he’s even had the chance to finish pulling on a shirt, Esca is barreling him down the stairs and into the kitchen. He just about has time to pull the damn thing over his head before Esca is pushing him down into a chair.

 

“Eat.” He’s ordered, and is offered a mountain of toast. Rickon is already at the table, sleepily spooning cereal into his mouth. He looks up briefly when Marcus sits down, offering him a weak smile. “Come on, Marcus!”

 

“Leave the poor boy alone, Esca.” Marcus smiles gratefully as Evelyn places a mug of tea in front of him, but he doesn’t dare stop eating – Esca is watching him pointedly over his own toast, and he reckons that if he stops, or even slows, Esca might explode. “He’s convinced we’re going to be late,” Evelyn explains, moving to wipe a small smudge of butter from the corner of Esca’s mouth with her thumb. Esca squirms away with a fierce, ‘Mam! Leave it alone!’, but she insists, and Esca flushes a deep shade of scarlet.

 

“What are we being late for, exactly?” Marcus asks, deeming it safe to speak now that Esca’s distracted.

 

“Did Esca not tell you?” Marcus shakes his head and Evelyn tuts, shooting Esca an exasperated look. “Why not? Now he won’t have a shirt to wear.”

 

Esca grins wickedly. “That was the point.” Evelyn lets out a huff of laughter, swatting the back of Esca’s head with her tea towel. Marcus is beyond confused – shirt? Why does he need a shirt? What’s wrong with the one he’s got on? It’s then that he notices that everyone else, including Evelyn, is wearing Rugby shirts – yellow and blue striped Rugby shirts, to be specific. Right. He gets it now.

 

“City or County?” He asks, and Esca grins, triumphant.

 

“Told you he’d work it out eventually!”

 

“Durham City,” Evelyn supplies, “Eoin’s playing today; his first match as scrum-half.” She’s clearly proud, smiling broadly, and Marcus can’t help but smile back. “Esca, make sure Marcus gets a shirt – one of Eoin’s should fit. He can’t go to a game without one.” Esca nods and instantly shoots off to find one. It fits almost perfectly when he gets it, and clearly well worn and well loved. As soon as he’s switched shirts, Evelyn grins, tells him it suits him, and then ushers everyone back upstairs to brush their teeth with a call of, “Be down in five minutes, or I’m going without you!”

 

The car ride to the game is short, but quite uncomfortable – he’s piled in the back with Esca, whose all excited energy and elbows, grinning like a loon, eyes shining with excitement as he tells Marcus again, how awesome this is gonna be, and how amazing Durham City are and how the other team don’t stand a chance.

 

It’s only when they finally pile out of the car, and Marcus starts to look around, that he realises that something’s not quite right. “Who are they playing?” He asks, with mounting horror, as a man walks past them, wearing the all too familiar dark green and white shirt, and he really hopes Esca doesn’t say-

 

London Irish.”

 

“Oh my god, I hate you so much.”

 

*****

 

Marcus has actually eaten more food that evening than he has in any of the other fifteen years of his life, put together. He’s also very drunk. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration – he’s only kind of drunk, but he has eaten a monstrous amount of food though. It’s not his fault – Evelyn made him. Although, all the food was amazing, so it hadn’t taken that much persuading.

 

After the Rugby match, and the crushing, humiliating defeat that Marcus had had to sit though, an impromptu celebratory party had been staged at Esca’s, and, within about half an hour of them returning home and an exultant Eoin digging out a barbeque from somewhere, the house was buzzing with what appeared to be the entire Rugby team, their families and pretty much everyone from Esca’s street. They’d begun to spill out into the garden almost instantly, milling and laughing and drinking.

 

People had brought huge amounts of food, and even more drink, and by the time the sun had begun to set, almost everyone was outside in the garden to enjoy the lingering sunshine. Marcus couldn’t remember how much he’d had to drink, he only knew that every time he finished one beer, someone always seemed to be pressing another one into his hand, ignorant of his protests. He was starting to feel the effects of them, starting to notice his head going a little fuzzy, his movements a little sluggish, his words a little difficult to produce.

 

It’d been a while since he’d seen Esca; he’d gotten dragged into a very animated conversation with Eoin and another player from the Rugby team (Lucius? Lutorius? Something like that.) about the proper scrum formation, when he’d last spotted the other boy, but by the time he’d managed to escape (a little desperately after Eoin had wanted to demonstrate to Marcus what a proper scrum was like), Esca had disappeared. He’d wandered for a while, strolling around house in search of him, but after twenty minutes, he’d given up – he was feeling a little woozy anyway.

 

Deciding what he really needed was a moment of relative peace (the people were lovely, but God, they were loud), Marcus had drifted upstairs to his and Esca’s room, and had only narrowly missed sitting on the very person he had been looking for.

 

“Esca!” The boy in question was, for reasons entirely unknown, sprawled across Marcus’ (Well, Esca’s) bed, one arm slung over his face. “I’ve been looking for you. You alright?”

 

Esca made a small hum of acknowledgement, “One of Eoin’s mates challenged me to a drinking contest.” He said, by way of explanation.

 

“I see.” Marcus said, sitting heavily on the other bed. “And you couldn’t say no?” Esca snorted. “Of course not. Did you win?”

 

“Of course I won! What d’you take me for?” As Esca slowly sat up, carefully, scrubbing his hands through his hair, Marcus grinned.

 

“You look like shit.”

 

“Wow. Thanks, Marcus.”

 

“You’re welcome.”

“You hardly look great yerself. How much have you had to drink?”

 

Marcus frowned, trying desperately to remember. There was that one he’d just had, and that one before that Eoin had made him drink, and one, or was it two before that and two- “Um. A lot?”

 

“Yeah. Me too.” Esca swung his legs around so he was facing Marcus, planting his feet on the floor. He leant forward with his elbows on his knees, presumably for balance, and suddenly, all Marcus could think about how close they were, how he could pick out each individual eyelash, see every freckle, even catch the lingering scent of his shampoo, and if Marcus were to just lean forward ever so slightly, they’d practically be kissing. When Esca’s lips parted slightly, Marcus started, and he realised, suddenly and awfully, that he actually had been moving toward him. He’d gone to move away, prepared to laugh it off, blame the alcohol, but before he could, Esca was rushing forward, pressing his lips to Marcus’.

 

Oh. Esca pulled away almost instantly, blushing deeply, trying not to meet his eye. Before he could fully pull away though, Marcus was moving again, closing the distance between them, one had in Esca’s hair for leverage. It was awkward and stilted and the angle was uncomfortable, but the sudden rush of emotion, the small sound of surprise, the feel of Esca underneath his hands was perfect.

 

Esca tastes like beer and something sweet and he smells vaguely like cigarette smoke (that’s why Marcus couldn’t find him then – he was outside), and something so familiar, something so Esca.

 

Marcus doesn’t notice the sound of people walking up the stairs, doesn’t hear the voices, the laughing; he’s too engrossed in Esca, too focused on the way he feels under his hands, the taste of him, the way his mouth feels on his. He’s too taken in by the way Esca is pulling him in, one hand scrunched in his t-shirt, the other gripping at his hip, to notice the knock on the door, the handle turning. It’s only when someone enters, calls their name and says,

 

“Quit being pathe’ic and – Oh.” And then Marcus is pulling away, desperate and frantic and horrified, eyes wide, face scarlet as Eoin takes in what he’s just seen. He’s taken aback, so confused, when Eoin merely snorts, and says, “Really, Esca? You have to do it here?”, before shaking his head and telling them to get downstairs, they’re missing dessert and Jane from down the road made sticky toffee pudding. And then, just like that, he’s gone.

 

“Um,” Marcus begins, articulately. “What the hell just happened?”

 

Esca sits up slowly, runs his fingers through Marcus’ hair to flatten it, presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “Not sure. You alright?” It’s a simple enough question, everyday even, could be meaningless, but when Marcus turns to look at him, sees the worry in his eyes, the panic, he realises it’s much more than that. He grins, nods, and is relieved to see Esca’s face relax, a smile break out on his face. Marcus presses a quick kiss to his lips, stands, pulling Esca after him.

 

“Now, Eoin said something about sticky toffee pudding? I love sticky toffee pudding.”

 

Esca snorts, shaking his head and ushering him toward the door. “You’re a bloody nutter, you know that, right?”

 

“Shut up, you love it.”

 

“Yeah, sure.”

 

*****

 

The Sixth Year

 

Marcus grows in the holidays. Well, actually, Esca thinks, grows is a bit of an understatement. He’d noticed it when Marcus had visited, noticed the way Marcus towered over, the way he’d started to bulk out, all broad shoulders and long limbs, he’d noticed the way Marcus’ muscles had moved, flexed, as Esca had kissed him, felt the strength of him as he’d moved. But this is something entirely different.

 

Marcus is, well, huge. He’s grown again, to the point where he’s got to be at least six foot, if not more, and he’s clearly been working out or something. When Marcus had reached up to put his bag on the rack in the compartment of the train, Esca had pretended not to notice the way his t-shirt had ridden up a little, revealing a small slither of tanned, olive skin, strong, toned muscles, the sharp jut of his hipbone as his jeans slip obscenely low, and it’s all he can do not to reach out, run his fingers over it, press a kiss to it.

 

When they arrive at school, Esca realises he’s not the only one whose noticed. Everyone is suddenly fawning over him, girls and boys, suddenly obsessed with the good looks they’ve never taken the time to notice, the height, the muscles. The attention they give him makes Esca sick. Only last year, a mere few months ago, they were avoiding him, calling him names, making snide comments, judging him, and now, it’s as if that never happened, as if they never hated him. The evening of their first evening back, Esca overhears two girls in the Ravenclaw Common Room talking about him,

 

“But I thought you hated him? You know, ‘oh, he’s a traitor, I’d never be seen dead with him’?”

 

“Yes, but he’s gorgeous now. None of that matters when you look like that.” They look up, shocked and more than a little put-out when Esca slams his book closed and storms from the room. He just catches one of them ask what his problem is, and the other mumbles something, and their laughter chases him up to his dormitory. Esca hates them. Who do they think they are? They don’t know Marcus like Esca does, in fact, they don’t know him at all. They’ve been bought over by Marcus’ sudden appeal, the sudden attraction of the possible popularity his looks could give them. Their fickleness, the arrogance and the shamelessness make Esca so goddamn angry.

 

He decides he’s had enough when, one evening after Quidditch practice, he’s just leaving the changing rooms after showering, looking forward to dinner and well-deserved rest, but suddenly, finds himself confronted by the two girls from the common room. They look uncomfortable, as if they’re not sure this is a good idea, and that really cannot be good.

 

“MacCunoval,” One of them says suddenly, taking a step toward him. The other girl follows, and, intimidated, Esca takes a step back, trying to surreptitiously reach for his wand, just in case. “We need your help.”

 

“What could you possibly need my help with?”

 

“You’re friends with Marcus, right?” They both smile at the mention of his name, and Esca briefly feels angry – they’ve known Esca for six years and still call him by his surname, yet they’ve never even met Marcus and she’s grinning like some love-sick loon at the way his name sounds as she says it.

 

“Yes,” He says shortly, “Yes I am. Why?”

 

“We need you to introduce us to him.” Esca splutters out a disbelieving laugh. Are they serious? They stare at him, faces blank, clearly not understanding why he’s laughing.

 

“You’re kidding, right?” They continue to stare, and their expressions turn more than a little predatory. “You’re not kidding.”

 

“Will you do it?”

 

“No way!”

 

“Why not?” She sounds a little desperate, and sends a nervous, worried glance at her friend over her shoulder.

 

“Why not? Why not? Seriously? You weren’t fuckin’ interested in being introduced to him last year, when you thought he was a traitor! But now that he’s bloody ‘gorgeous’,” The girl at least has the decency to wince at his impression of her words the previous evening, “you’re all over him! I can’t believe this – you really think I’d introduce you, both of you, to him?” He shakes his head, “No way. He deserves so much better than the likes of you.”

 

“MacCunoval, please-“ He starts to move away and she reaches out, as if to grab his arm, and he recoils, quickly and suddenly, pushing past them.

 

“No, you’re disgustin’, both of you.” He shakes his head in disbelief, hurrying toward the castle. How dare they? How dare they? Can’t they see that Marcus is his?

 

*****

 

Snape has, this time, really outdone himself. He’d decided, suddenly, and without provocation, that Marcus and Esca were not to sit with each other anymore, and promptly moved them to opposite ends of the classroom, facing each other. Marcus had been placed next to a Ravenclaw girl, Pamela “Call me Pammy” Carraway, and Esca next to none other than Fred Weasley (Snape had also had to split the twins after they’d managed to blow up one too many cauldrons for Snape’s patience). Neither were in the slightest bit pleased.

 

Pamela “Call me Pammy” Carraway was clingy. Ridiculously clingy. She swooned over Marcus for the entire lesson, deliberately brushing her hand against his, batting her eyelashes at him, and, on more than one occasion, he felt the flutter of her fingers on his thigh. It was unbelievably awkward, and Marcus spent the majority of his lessons trying desperately to move away from her, only to have her follow, smiling in what he assumed was supposed to be seduction. It wasn’t working.

 

Esca, on the other hand, physically had to fight with Fred over their cauldron. All Esca wanted to do, for God’s sake, was make the potion! That wasn’t too much to ask, was it? Apparently so, as Fred was purely preoccupied with, when Snape wasn’t looking, slipping ingredients into his pocket for, no doubt, another one of his and George’s hair brained ideas. When he’d reached for the Lacewing Flies and, for the third time, found they were currently half-way into Fred’s bag, Esca snapped, and thwacked him over the back of the head with his textbook.

 

They went on like that for quite some time. Until, Marcus started to notice Esca watching him, in particular, watching him trying to fight off Pamela’s advances. He looked away each time Marcus looked up, but, quite a few times, he thought he saw a flash of a mixture of anger, frustration and something he couldn’t quite place in his face. When, after Pamela had leaned in close, very close, and whispered something inappropriate in his ear, he heard Esca slam his book closed forcefully and mutter, “Has she no shame?” rather angrily to an utterly confused Fred, Marcus frowned. Had that been jealousy he’d seen in Esca’s face? Surely not? Why would Esca be jealous of Pamela? Unless –

 

He looked up sharply, catching Esca’s gaze across the room. The expression on his face, the sheer intensity of his eyes, made Marcus blush. He looked interested, intrigued, even, and then, when he saw Marcus look at him, he smirked, and his expression changed so that he was looking at him like that, the pink tip of his tongue just darting out to wet his lips, and oh. Oh.

 

He continued like that, for the remainder of the lesson, going out of his way to catch Marcus’ eye as he did frankly obscene things with his fingers on the glass rod, as he bit the end of his pencil, as he smiled, subtle and wicked and so, so bad. Marcus could feel his face flushing, and he shifted, uncomfortable and embarrassed beyond belief, when he felt his sudden erection, tight against the inseam of his trousers. Oh God. When Esca grinned, triumphant and very smug, Marcus groaned, letting his head drop onto the desk.

 

Esca was so going to pay for this.

 

*****

 

Esca continues to torture him for the remainder of the week, looks at him like that, quickly flicks his eyes up and down and smirks, making Marcus hot under his collar, as if embers are being pressed to his bare skin, scorching under the crisp fabric of his shirt, makes his breath catch in his throat. It drives Marcus mental when Esca strokes the glass rod lovingly, obscenely, between his elegant fingers, strong and lean like the rest of him. He grits his teeth, muscles in his jaw twitching to the point of pain every time Esca bites at the edge of his pencil, absent-mindedly suckling at the end of it every so often. By the time Friday comes around, Marcus is well and truly done for.

 

Potions is the last class of the day, and by the time it’s finally over and he can, thank god, get away from Pammy’s persistent ministrations, it’s dark outside, the sun having set long ago. The classroom is freezing, what with it being down in the dungeons, and Marcus’ teeth are chattering. It does nothing to subside the completely mortifying erection he’s been sporting for the last twenty minutes, and it’s almost painful, pressed up against the inseam of his trousers, hot and heavy.

 

He practically leaps out of his chair when Snape finally proclaims them free to leave, follows the eager group out of the room, only to linger impatiently in the corridor, jumper strategically pulled down in front of his hips, for Esca to emerge. He’s taking his time about it, and Marcus briefly wonders if he’s doing it on purpose, as if he knows Marcus is waiting.

 

When he eventually appears, the last one to emerge, Marcus pushes himself off from the wall, fists a hand in Esca’s jumper, tugs him close and growls, “Come with me.”

 

“…The hell, Marcus? What’s wrong? Hey!” He splutters indignantly as Marcus turns, stalks off without a backward glance, as if he expects Esca to follow. He does, of course, confused and more than a little flustered. Marcus has never looked at him like that before; predatory, feral even, all dilated pupils and gritted teeth, as if he’s sizing Esca up, taking stock, desperate.  His feet are moving, quick to catch up, before Esca even knows what he’s doing.

 

They move in silence for a few moments, Marcus always a couple of steps in front. He’s looking around, a little frantically if the constant moving of his head is anything to go by. And then, suddenly he stops, and Esca doesn’t have time to react before he’s crashing unceremoniously into Marcus’ back. Before he has a chance to ask what the hell is going on, Marcus yanks open the door and shoves Esca inside the room. He follows instantly, shutting the door behind him.

 

“Marcus?”

 

“Shut up.” Is all he gets before Marcus is crowding him against the wall, and Esca has no choice but to move, herded back against what feels like a shelf, sharp and uncomfortable as it presses against the small of his back. Marcus has that look in his eyes again, intense and piercing. Esca can feel himself blushing under the scrutiny, can feel a small trickle of cool sweat slide down the back of his neck, making him shiver. It’s hot in the room, close and still, and Esca swallows heavily. He can feel the heat radiating off of Marcus, feel the heat of his gaze. When Marcus reaches up to gently brush his fingers over Esca’s cheek, he feels as though he’s been scolded.

 

“Marcus…” He tries to avoid his gaze, looking over his shoulders, down, away, anywhere, until his eyes settle on something just behind Marcus’ head. “The potions cupboard? Really, Marcus?”

 

“Shut up.” Marcus growls, making Esca’s breath catch in his throat, before he’s leaning forward to kiss him, quick and frantic and eager, hands fisted in Esca’s hair. Esca goes pliant, keen, tilts his head back almost instantly. He curls his hands tightly over Marcus’ hips, feeling the sharp jut of the bones digging into his palms. He’s triumphant, far too smug, as he shifts his hips just so, dragging them against Marcus’. He groans, low in his throat, nips at Esca’s bottom lip. God.

 

Marcus’ hands are shaking as he pushes them underneath Esca’s jumper, pulls the shirt so that his fingers can slip underneath it. The skin is smooth, soft even, and Marcus can just about feel the taut stretch of his muscles, the ridges and grooves of them. Esca shifts, keening, as Marcus presses his fingers into his hips, feeling the muscles twitch and move under his hands.

 

“Marcus, please…

 

He hums in acknowledgement, his hands lingering for a moment before he helps Esca out of his jumper, pulls the clothing over his head. His tie is next, the silk smooth and cool in his hands. He lets it slip from his fingers, slither to the floor. He can feel Esca watching him, the sound of his heavy, if steady, breathing the only sound. He doesn’t look up, doesn’t catch Esca’s eye while he slowly undoes his shirt, button-by-button, careful of the delicate thread. Esca’s breath hitches in his throat every time Marcus’ fingers brush against his skin, fleeting and then gone almost as soon as they make contact. When he’s finished, he pushes the shirt from Esca’s shoulders, hears it fall with a faint rustle of cloth.

 

The previous insistent press of Marcus’ fingers against Esca’s hips has left the skin red, flushed and angry and Esca breathes in sharply when Marcus brushes his fingers over the sensitized flesh.

 

Marcus.” He hisses, suddenly moving, pulling desperately at Marcus’ clothes, sharply pulling his jumper over his head, tugging at his tie. “Come on.”

 

When Marcus is slow to respond, Esca curses, and his hands are quick, efficient as he unbuckles Marcus’ belt, pulling at the leather with growing frustration when it catches. He yanks it, hard, until it comes loose. He fumbles with the button, the zip, until they do as he wants, and then, he pulls Marcus’ trousers, hooking his thumbs into the waistline of his boxers so they fall too. The sudden movement makes Marcus hiss, uncomfortable, but Esca’s hand is quickly on him, warm and insistent and all thoughts of discomfort and suddenly gone.

 

All he can think about is Esca, the slight flick of his hand, the brush of his thumb over the head, movements confident and without any hint of hesitation. It shouldn’t surprise him, really, that Esca does this with the same reckless abandon he does everything else.

 

Esca’s hand stills when Marcus groans, feels tight height coiling low in his stomach. He says nothing, but Marcus understands what he means, what he wants, from the look in his eye, the way his pupils dilate as Marcus makes eye contact, the way his reddened lips part just slightly. They kiss, sloppy and a mess of teeth and tongues as Marcus moves his hands down, down, between Esca’s legs, makes quick work of his trousers and briefs (tight, so tight, and Marcus can see the length of him straining against the fabric), and Esca steps out of them, kicks them away. The sound of metal on stone is loud as his belt drags against the floor, sharp and shrill. Esca smirks as Marcus winces. “Sorry.”

 

Marcus isn’t really sure what he’s doing. He’s never done this before, with anyone, but he’d read about it once, in the library back in Silchester, hidden behind the safety of a bookcase, flushed with embarrassment and unprecedented excitement.

 

The first press of his fingers has Esca hissing, but he nods in encouragement when Marcus pauses. Esca is tight, too tight, even with just the one finger. He’d sucked on his fingers before he’d pressed in, and made Esca groan with anticipation, in the hope that it would help. It does, to an extent, but Esca looks uncomfortable, head thrown back, jaw tight. His mouth falls open as Marcus moves his hand, adds another finger, careful and slow, trying to stretch him. He grips at Marcus’ shoulders, one hand fisted in his hair; He tugs at it when Marcus pauses, mutters go on.

 

When Esca begins to move against him, pushes back on his finger, three now, eyes screwed shut, skin flushed and hot, Marcus pulls his hand away. Esca lets Marcus lift him, strong hands at his hips so that his legs wrap around his waist, so that they’re in line. He pushes in, slowly, so slowly, trembling with the effort of controlling himself. He’s so hard, bordering on desperate, but the way Esca grips his hair, bottom lip trapped between his teeth, keeps him grounded.

 

“Alright?” He pants, and feels, rather than sees Esca’s quick nod. “You sure?” He presses a kiss to Esca’s lips, leans his forehead against his, their noses brushing.

 

“Yes! Just move, fer Christ’s sake!” He complies, a slight shift of his hips, barely moves at all, but Esca is hissing in barely constrained pain. He groans when Marcus presses an open-mouthed kiss against his neck, lets his lips linger against the flushed skin. The skin is damp, salty, the lingering scent of his shower gel is almost indiscernible, mixed with sweat and the heady scent of something that’s just Esca.

 

He tugs at Marcus’ hair when he shifts, again, more insistent, more noticeable. Marcus takes the sudden flutter of lips against the side of his head as encouragement, moves again, this time pulls out a little before pushing back in, slow and gently, and Esca’s mouth falls open, a shameless moan tumbling from his lips.

 

He thrusts, slowly at first, tentative and cautious, with intermittent pauses to give Esca the chance to adjust, to give himself the chance to get his nerves under control. The position is awkward, and Marcus is aware each movement of his hips has Esca moving back, hard, against the sharp edge of the shelf behind him, rattling the many nameless bottles and vials, but the way Esca moves against him, the way he grips at Marcus, his shoulders, his arms, his hair, is enough to make him forget about that, all of that.

 

It’s not long, an almost embarrassingly short amount of time, before Marcus can feel the tension build low in his stomach again, feels Esca tighten around him. He comes with a groan, a few sharp, quick thrusts of his hips, face buried in Esca’s neck. There’s a sudden warmth, a wetness against his stomach, and Esca slumps, panting against him. The unexpected shift of weight has Marcus stumbling, knees weak and it’s all he can do not to fall completely. He hears Esca hiss, spit out a curse as his exposed back is dragged against the uneven wood of the shelf. “Sorry, I’m sorry.”

 

Esca is shaky on his feet as Marcus places him down, gently so that he can get his balance. The flush is slowly retreating from his skin, revealing an angry red mark on the pale expanse of Esca’s neck he hadn’t realised he’d created. It’s just under his ear, just where a shirt collar won’t cover it, and Marcus smirks as Esca runs his fingers over it accidentally as he dresses, winces when it smarts.

 

“Did you do this?”

 

“Apparently so.”  Esca huffs, pulling his jumper over his head. He debates for a moment over knotting his tie again, but decides against it, carelessly shoving the silk into his pocket. His shirt collar is left open, the few top buttons undone. The mark is clear to see, clear for everyone to see, and Marcus feels an inexplicable swell of pride, of possession, as he realises that everyone will know what they’ve done, that everyone will know Esca is his.

 

“Quit starin’ at me and get dressed, Marcus. D’you reckon we’ve missed dinner? I’m starvin’.”

 

Marcus snorts, “Is food all you think about?”

 

“Most of the time,” Esca admits, grinning widely. He moves toward the door when Marcus has finished dressing, his hand lingering on the handle. “Come ‘ere.” He leans up to kiss him, hard and eager. He pulls away when Marcus moves to grip at his hips again, smiling. “Easy tiger. Dinner first.”

 

Marcus can feel a grin spreading across his face, and he follows Esca out of the cupboard into the thankfully empty corridor.  It’s dark, gloomy, even, but Marcus barely notices. “And after?”

 

*****

 

It's beautiful, this sudden new relationship with Esca, beautiful and wonderful and something he didn't know he'd been yearning for. He's started looking out for him everywhere, the corridor, the great hall, the Quidditch pitch (which has got him in more trouble than he'd like through getting distracted when Esca sits in the stands and looks at him like that), even where he knows he wouldn't be. Esca seems to do the same, and he does it better than Marcus, if the way that it's always Esca who sneaks up behind him, does unendingly embarrassing things (which usually involve Esca's hands and Marcus' arse), is anything to go by.

 

Esca's usually in a hurry, made himself late to some lesson, some Quidditch practice to sneak up on him, but he always, always takes enough time to press a quick, confident, completely breathtaking kiss to Marcus' lips. It always leaves Marcus reeling, speechless, red in the face, And it's all he can do to stop himself from running after Esca, and shoving him in the nearest empty room, cupboard, whatever, he's not fussy, and having him there and then. It's that bad.

 

The kisses in the corridor, the brief embraces whenever they get the chance, the nights they spend together, are perfect, utterly perfect. And he knows Esca thinks the same because, well, he says, or rather breathes, it to him, both during, and after. Marcus knows he shouldn't be, because it's unbelievably childish, but he's always more than a little smug and possibly far too proud of himself.

 

Except, and Marcus should know this more than others, all good things must come to an end. And it does, suddenly and sharply, when, one day, after Esca has hurried off down the corridor to a lesson he is exceptionally late for, and Flint, the burly, thuggish captain of Slytherin's Quidditch team, slides up next to him, and claps a hand on Marcus' shoulder, and says,

 

"Wow. I never knew he was a fag. He looks happy though; how much are you paying him?" And, just like that, the peace, the calm, the happiness is gone, shattered into a million little pieces.

 

And from then on, it's not the same. Whereas before, he didn't care that people watched them, some judgmental, when they kissed in the corridor, the eyes on them are all he can see now. The shaking of heads, disgusted turning away, pointing and whispering of horrid words, usually just aimed at Marcus, are now intended for Esca too. And, when he realises what he must do, to save Esca from the pain, the hurt that he's faced ever since he can remember, it breaks his heart.

 

Esca's confused at first, and then angry, understandably furious, when Marcus avoids him in the corridor, makes excuses not to meet him after lessons, tilts his head, just so, to stop him from kissing him. The hurt in Esca's eyes almost kills him, and each time he does it, each time he lies, or avoids him, or moves out of his way, his heart breaks a little more, and he wants, needs, to wrap Esca in his arms, tight and relentless and apologise and apologise and never let go. But he doesn't, and Esca hates him for it.

 

They stop speaking soon after, and it quickly becomes Esca that's avoiding Marcus, moving out of his way and shooting him angry, painful looks that make Marcus atop in his tracks whenever he approaches. The distance, he decides, is worse than silence. He can't sleep, and he doesn't want to eat, because every time he moves to, guilt and self-hate coils quick and angry and heavy in his stomach, and all he wants to do is cry.

 

A major Quidditch match is coming up, the first match for the cup - Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw. Marcus is dreading it. The thought of facing Esca, after what he'd done is, well, it sends Marcus' heart racing, and he breaks out in a cold sweat, panicking and pale and so ashamed. It comes around quickly, the date of the match, and the school is awash with excitement, all happy faces flushed with excitement, loud laughs, wide grins and good-natured jibes. Nobody notices Marcus, wallowing in the sorrow that he created, and nobody notices Esca either, and the fact that they've left him alone, no matter how much it hurts, makes it worth it.

 

Marcus plays badly that day, and he knows it, and really, it's bordering on dangerous. He misses throws, just dodges bludgers and somehow, miraculously, pulls off a frankly horrifying hairpin turn to avoid crashing into the Ravenclaw stands that he hadn't even noticed. He's distracted, really distracted, and it's showing.

 

Bell pulls up next to him halfway through the game, shouting and screaming in his face over the roaring of the sudden rain, but Marcus can barely hear her - she pulls away almost as soon as she appeared next to him, shaking her head as she chases after the Quaffle that he's been letting in the hoops all morning. As a keeper, he's pretty shit today. Ravenclaw are destroying them.

 

It happens as he's lingering in front of the hoops, squinting through the rain at the game, trying to make out the difference between the red and blue uniforms. They all seem to blur into one. He’s so focused on that, on finding the Quaffle, that he doesn't notice one of the Ravenclaw beaters swing their bat with so much force, but he hears the crack as the bat hits the bludger, and when his head snaps around to look, his hair sending water in all directions, he just picks out the bludger as it comes shooting through the air, directly at him.

 

It's a low blow, an illegal move, taking out the keeper deliberately, and it briefly crosses his mind as it collides with his shoulder. He shouts out in pain, feeling something crack, and he swerves sharply to side, can feel himself slipping, tilting, falling. The outraged roar of the crowd is nothing compared to the pounding, screaming pain in his shoulder, the roaring of blood in his ears as he scrabbled uselessly at his broom for purchase. He ends up hanging from his broom, clinging on with the hand of his newly ruined shoulder, and it's the most painful, the most agonising thing he's ever done. He struggles to stay conscious, fights to keep his eyes open, his fingers clenched.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he just spots the bludger coming again, zooming straight for his chest, and he thinks, this is it. This is it.

 

But suddenly, just before the bludger hits him, just as he’s closed his eyes in anticipation, resigned himself to the fact he might not survive this, someone, someone swoops in front of him, swings their bat, and, with a deafening crack that Marcus barely notices, sends the bludger in the opposite direction. Just before his hand finally gives way, his fingers slip and he starts to fall, he just catches sight of a blue uniform, a familiar head of tawny hair, beautiful blue eyes, and just hears their anguished cry of,

 

"Marcus!"

 

Esca.

 

*****

 

When Marcus wakes, the first thing he notices is that there’s no ceiling. Or rather, there is a ceiling, but it’s just very far away. And then, the world is tilted ever so slightly to the right, which is odd, because he’s pretty sure that the world isn’t normally like that. His eyes are gritty, as if there’s sand under his eyelids. He’s convinced that rubbing them will make them feel a lot better, but his hand feels unnaturally heavy, as if something were holding it down. It’s slightly disconcerting, and if it weren’t so much effort, he’d be concerned.

 

Suddenly, something small and hard whizzes past his eyes, soaring over the bed to land somewhere and roll off into the distance – he can hear it skittering off into the unknown. He’s not quite sure what to make of it, mainly because he’s convinced he’s still in that limbo phase between sleep and being awake, so it is possible that he may have imagined it. Almost as soon as he’d decided that it didn’t even happen, something collides with the side of his face. After contact with his cheek slowed its progress, it falls onto the pillow before rolling down into his collar, quickly becoming warm and sticky from the heat of his skin. He wrinkles in nose in disgust. That is so gross.

 

Before he can do much in response, another just skims his nose, startling him. Confused, and slightly annoyed, he turns his head in the direction that the missiles are coming from, only for one to hit him directly in the eye. What the hell?

 

The connection of the missile with its target is accompanied with a quiet cheer of success, and Marcus frowns. Who is that? He blinks several times, screwing his eyes shut and opening them quickly to try and focus his vision, he just catches a view of Esca slouched in the visitor’s chair, feet on the bed, crossed at the ankles, with a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. He’s got one resting on his knee, his hand poised to flick it, when he notices Marcus is awake. And then, he promptly throws it, and the rest of the box of beans, at him, forcefully.

 

“Don’t you ever do that to me again!”

 

“Ow!” Marcus cries, suddenly very awake. “What the hell?”

 

“You,” Esca hisses, chest heaving, unbelievably angry, “Are in so much trouble!” He shakes his head furiously when Marcus moves to speak, “Don’t even go there. First, you act like a complete dick, and really, what the fuck was that about? And then, and then, you go and nearly die.” Marcus tries to explain, tries to justify what he did, why he did it, for Esca’s sake, and really, nearly dying wasn’t actually his fault, but Esca shakes his head again. “No, shut up. I know exactly why you did it – because you had some misplaced idea that I needed protecting from the shit that those fucking morons come out with, and honestly, you should know me well enough by now to know that I don’t care what other people say about me, you thick shit. And, even though I have every right to beat the crap out of you and never speak to you again, I forgive you.” He leans back heavily in his seat, folding his arms heavily.

 

“Wait,” Marcus says, trying desperately to wrap his head around what Esca has just said. “You forgive me?”

 

“Yes. Although I’m not entirely sure why.” Oh. Oh. Marcus’ heart suddenly swells in his chest, full and happy and so relieved. “Oh, and Marcus?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Hide something like that from me again, and I will kill you, understand?”

 

*****

The Seventh Year

 

In their seventh year, each in turn, they’re pulled in front of their Head of House to discuss their future. It’s s tense time, as people desperately try to find out what they actually want to do with the rest of their life. Marcus is one of those people, well, sort of. He’s set his heart on being a Healer, to help people, make a difference and all that, but, besides the fact that he’s completely hopeless at Potions, he’s embarrassed. He knows he shouldn’t be, it’s a very honourable profession, but, putting it bluntly, people don’t think it’s particularly manly. Only girls become Healers, apparently, and, as a young man, a very manly young man, everyone’s expecting him to declare his intentions of being an auror, or a professional Quidditch player, or something equally as butch.

 

Esca, on the other hand, is one of the lucky ones. He knows exactly what he wants to do (Auror training, of course), and even if he didn’t, his grades are high enough for him to be able to do anything. It’s incredibly unfair.

 

When it’s Marcus’ turn to have his meeting with McGonagall, he’s unbelievably nervous. She’s smiling, which is beyond not normal, and when she offers him a cup of tea and insists he have a biscuit, Marcus decides he’s totally out of his depth.

 

“So, Aquila,” She says, opening what he assumes is his file. As she skim reads the front sheet, the grade sheet, the biscuit suddenly becomes heavy in his mouth, difficult to swallow. He takes a desperate gulp of tea and struggles not to choke on it. She watches him for a moment, eyebrows slightly raised, and, when she deems he’s unlikely to drop dead in her office through asphyxiation, she continues. “Have you had any thoughts about what you want to do?”

 

“Well, I thought – I don’t know.” She watches him, silently and expectantly, as if she can tell he’s holding something back – Marcus has always sworn she can read minds, and this, he decides, proves it. “I thought that- I – IwantobeaHealer.” He says, all in one breath, as if saying it quickly will make it easier. He’s expecting a smirk, a laugh maybe, and for her to tell him he’d be better of sticking to what he’s good at and playing Quidditch. Except, she doesn’t. She merely nods, slowly and thoughtfully, and flicks through his folder.

 

“Well, you Herbology grades are, frankly, perfect.” Here, she smiles at him, “Professor Sprout tells me you’re very keen, and a wonderful student. I’d even go as far as to say you were her favourite.” Marcus blushes, and takes an uncomfortable sip of his tea. “And your Charms grades are more than adequate. As for your Potions,” Marcus tenses, waiting for the bad news. “The situation really isn’t that bad.” Really? At his incredulous expression, she smiles, “According to this, you’re currently two grades away from what they expect from potential Healers, but with a little tutoring, and a lot of determination, I don’t see why you shouldn’t get those grades. You’re a hard-working student, Marcus, you’re doing well.”

 

There’s a pause, as she closes his file and puts it away, and Marcus downs the rest of his tea. He’s shaking, he can tell, quite visibly, but not in nervousness now, instead, in relief. He can’t help but grin when McGonagall turns her attention back to him. “As for the tutoring, I’m sure if you ask him nicely, Mr MacCunoval will be more than willing to assist you.” She smiles, and there’s something he can’t quite make out in her expression, something like amusement, mirth, and something undeniably happy.

 

He realises, as he leaves her office, what it was – she knows exactly what’s going on between them. Well, shit.

 

*****

 

When their exams are finally, finally, over, and when the end of their very last term is suddenly upon them, there’s a sudden sadness that falls over all of the seventh years. The thought of leaving, never coming back and moving on with their lives is unbelievably scary. It’s terrifying, not knowing what’s going to happen, what they’re going to do, where they’re going to be this time next year. It’s particularly hard when the time comes to pack suitcases for the last time, and things are discovered, objects and trinkets that are inexplicably tied to memories from years ago, long since forgotten about. It’s not uncommon for someone (not just the girls, Marcus notes) to suddenly burst into loud, nostalgic tears in the middle of the Common Room.

 

He goes to the library, one afternoon, for the last time, and automatically walks toward the back, to find the desk settled between the bookcases, hidden from view. He’s not quite sure why he does it, because all he feels is sadness at the thought of leaving all this behind, the only place he’s ever felt truly welcome, his home. He takes his time wandering amongst the shelves on his way, running his fingers along the familiar spines, breathing in the familiar, comforting smell, letting the hush fall around him, envelope him until he reaches his destination. When he finally gets there, he smiles, and suddenly wants to cry.

 

Esca is already there. He looks up as Marcus approaches, and smiles, wide and sad. He stands to meet him, and lets Marcus wrap his arms tightly around him. They stay like that for some time, content in each other’s embrace, nostalgic and slightly miserable and so, so afraid of what the future may bring for them.

 

They go to the Quidditch Pitch together, to watch the last practice of the year. It’s an odd feeling, sitting in the stands and watching, rather than taking part, but it’s nice, spending the last few hours of their schooldays together in a place that means so much to them. They stay, quiet and thoughtful, even when the team have left. Even when they’ve left the changing rooms and made their way back to the Castle, they’re still there, in complete silence, until, eventually, Esca says, simply but full of so much emotion, so many unspoken words,

 

“I’m going to miss this place.”

 

And that, Marcus decides, sums up everything, everything he wanted to say but couldn’t, everything he’d wanted to do but hadn’t, the sudden deluge of unprecedented emotions, the unexpected tears, the years they’ve spent here, and the wonderful, amazing memories, absolutely perfectly.

 

*****

 

Two years later – 12 Grimmauld Place

 

They’re already there when Harry arrives, sat in the kitchen with everyone else, and they both wave, grinning when he enters. Esca is wedged in between Lupin and Mr Weasley, nursing a steaming mug of tea between his hands, Marcus between the two twins. They can’t have been there long, he realises – Esca is still bundled up in multiple jumpers and his Ravenclaw scarf and a hoodie that is so big on him that it can only be Marcus’.

 

They’ve hardly changed in the two years since he last seen them, he notices; Esca’s hair is still as tawny and messy as it always was, his grins as mischievous as he remembers, still as small as he recalls; Marcus is still huge, if not more so, all toned muscled and broad shoulders. They must make an odd sight together, he thinks; where Marcus is tall and broad, Esca is small and slim, but they look happy, really happy.

 

“Marcus is a healer,” Esca tells him later, when everyone has been assigned different chores to do. He and Esca had been enlisted by Mrs Weasley to carry everyone’s cases upstairs to their rooms, while Marcus, inexplicably, had been employed to chop vegetables for dinner, which, considering Marcus’ size, and the frankly monstrous weight of the cases, makes no sense. They’re taking a break, a long break, perched on the top step of the staircase, trying to ignore the constant muttering of the infamous portrait in the hallway. “Head healer of Magical Maladies and Injuries,” He continues, smiling and so proud. “The youngest person to have that position, you know. God knows he deserves it.”

 

Harry wants to asks why, but stays quiet when he sees the way Esca’s face hardens, sees the way his jaw twitches, how his eyebrows knot together in barely constrained resentment. Harry’s heard the stories, he’s heard the names Marcus still gets called, even now, after all he’s done to prove his worth. It doesn’t seem fair, the way he’s still persecuted for something he didn’t even do.

 

When they’ve finally finished carting suitcases upon suitcases around the house, Mrs. Weasley decides they’ve worked hard enough to be let back in the kitchen for a cup of tea. They take their seats with the Weasley children, smiling gratefully when Mrs. Weasley pours their drinks. There’s childish outrage, however, when she lovingly attempts to flatten down Esca’s hair and hands him a “well-deserved” Honeyduke’s lollipop, which, really, he’s far too keen to unwrap. Ignorant of everyone’s grumbling, and their insistence that they’ve all worked hard too so where’s theirs, he sticks it in his mouth, contentedly quiet.

 

Until, when a particularly heated discussion starts about which Quidditch team is better – Chudley Cannons or the Yorkshire county team, and Esca can’t help himself, and has to say something, pulling the lollipop from his mouth with the intention of pointing it accusingly at Ron, who clearly knows nothing, only to have it suddenly and stealthily disappear from his hand.

 

Marcus holds it just out of reach as Esca lunges for it, cursing loudly and profanely, and Harry thanks his lucky stars that Mrs. Weasley is no longer in the room.

 

Marcus!”

 

“Think of your health, Esca! What did we say about too much sugar?” Marcus asks, taking a seat next to him.

 

“I don’t care if it’ll rot my brain, Marcus, I want it. Give it back.”

 

“No.” Marcus says simply, grinning as he pops it into his own mouth. Esca huffs, sits heavily back into his seat.

 

“Hypocrite.”

 

“Child.”

 

“I hate you.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

*****

 

After dinner, and after everything had been cleared away, and everyone has moved off to do their own thing, Marcus and Hermione sit at the far end of the table, closest to the fire, huddled over a frankly monstrous book that Marcus had brought back to Grimmauld at Hermione’s request. He’s explaining something, something that Harry can’t quite hear, or even begin to understand, all gesturing hands, and wide, excited smiles, and Hermione is completely enchanted, nodding vigorously and practically hanging off of his every word. It’s nice, he briefly thinks, that she’s finally found someone with the same enthusiasm and endless passion for knowledge that she has.

 

Esca is at the other end of the table, leaning with his back against the wall, legs either side of the bench. He’s sprawled in such a way, eyes closed as if in sleep, that makes him look much bigger than he is. His wand is out on the table, his hand resting over it, ever the auror, ever ready to strike. His head is leant back, resting against the bare stone of the wall, which can’t be comfortable at all, but he looks so relaxed, so at peace, that Harry could almost believe he was actually asleep. Except, when Marcus says something, unendingly enthusiastic and possibly a little too loud, a small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth, fond and affectionate, instantly giving away his game.

 

His eyes flicker open for a second, just a second, as Marcus stands and leaves the room, assuring Hermione that he has a book about that somewhere, just to check what’s going on, to take stock of the room now that someone’s left. Then, as if it hadn’t even happened, they flicker closed again. But, Harry can tell, as he looks closer, Esca doesn’t seem quite so relaxed now that Marcus is gone, as if he can’t quite settle without knowing where he is, as if he’s worrying, protective.

 

Almost as soon as Marcus has left, Mundungus Fletcher slithers into the kitchen, most probably in search of a drink. Harry watches as the man looks around the room, noticing how Hermione instinctively moves away from him, nose wrinkled in quiet disgust. Harry doesn’t blame her.

 

Fletcher, now with a goblet of mead in hand, slides onto the bench next to Harry. He takes a heavy swig from it, leaning back against the wall with a loud sigh of relief. He reeks, of stale clothes and unwashed bodies and alcohol, and just out the corner of his eye, Harry catches Esca’s lip curl in distaste. Fletcher smiles at Harry, wide and full of rotting teeth, slapping a hand on his shoulder. They exchange pleasantries, and if he notices that Harry’s are more than a little forced, he says nothing. Not long after, Marcus returns, book in hand. Hermione perks up instantly, smile lighting up her face.

 

Marcus falters slightly as he catches sight of Fletcher, his smile quickly fading. He sits back down slowly, eyes flickering between Fletcher and Esca, absent-mindedly beginning to open the book. Confused, Harry wonders what it means, that look, the concerned and vaguely frantic stutter of a gaze, and, when Fletcher looks up to see who has entered, Harry understands.

 

Fletcher’s filthy face wrinkles in disgust, and he downs the rest of his drink in a manner that suggests he’s decided he needs it to face the man who has just returned. He leans in clothes to Harry, all stinking breath and sickening aromas, and whispers, loudly and in a tone that suggests he knows everything,

 

“Treachery runs in the family, you know. I wouldn’t want him in my house. You’d think you-know-who could’a done it proper and finished ‘im off too.”

 

Almost as soon as the words are out of his mouth, Esca is up, leaping over the table to wrench Fletcher from his seat and pin him against the wall, wand jabbed against his throat, all snarls and shouts of “Shut your mouth, scum!”

 

Hermione shrieks, clapping her hands over her mouth, instantly sending everyone else in the house rushing into the kitchen. They’re greeted by the sight of Fletcher slumped against the wall, coughing and hacking and clutching his throat, and Marcus trying to hold back a struggling, fighting Esca. Harry can see how much effort Marcus has to put in to keep a hold of him, and he’s momentarily surprised – Esca’s so small.

 

Mr Weasley is the first to speak, with a simple cry of, “What on Earth is going on?”

 

“I’ll kill ‘im! I’ll fucking kill ‘im!” Esca spits, momentarily breaking free of Marcus’ hold, instantly lurching forward to the man still reeling on the floor. It takes all of Marcus’ strength, and the calm intervention of Remus, to rein him back in.

 

Fletcher slowly gets to his feet, pale and shaking. He points a grubby finger at Esca. “’E’s mad! Completely mad! ‘E could’a killed me!”

 

“I will do if you ent careful!”

 

“’E’s dangerous! A bloody nutter!”

 

“I’ll show you dangerous, you cocky shite!”

 

“Enough!” Finally having forced her way into the kitchen, Mrs. Weasley stares them all down. “Not in my bloody kitchen, you won’t! If you’ve all quite finished standing and doing nothing, would somebody please escort Mr Fletcher out of here before Esca tears him to pieces?”

 

Esca watches, seething, as Fletcher is led out of the kitchen, away from him, still struggling to break free of Marcus’ hold. It’s only when Fletcher is safely upstairs, safely out of Esca’s reach, that Marcus lets him go with a grunt of exertion. The smaller man instantly moves to follow, raging and angry, but Marcus moves in front of him, quicker than Harry thought possible for a man so big, and places a gentle hand on Esca’s chest. He moves to brush it away, his eyes fixed on the door, but Marcus, persists, murmuring, so quietly that Harry almost misses it,

 

“Please, Esca.”

 

And just like that, Esca stops trying to push past him, stops trying to follow. His shoulders are still tense, his wand still clenched in his fist so tight his knuckles have gone white, but he stops all the same.

 

“Look at me.” Marcus continues. “Esca, look at me.” It takes a moment, but to Harry’s, and everyone else’s surprise, he obeys, blue eyes locking onto green. Something inexplicable passes between them, fast and quick and silent, then suddenly, Esca is rushing forward into Marcus’ open arms, clinging and desperate and frantic, clutching at his jumper, as if searching for some kind of footing. Marcus pulls away, framing Esca’s face with his hands, brushing hair out of his eyes, off of his forehead, surveying his face with such intensity, searching and concerned. “Alright?”

 

Esca gives a quick nod. “Good.” Marcus smiles, pressing a kiss to Esca’s forehead. “You’re a nutter, you know that, right?”

 

Esca lets out a splutter of surprised laughter, pushing at Marcus’ shoulder. “I’m the nutter? What was it you were getting far too excited about a minute ago? Moss, or something?”

 

Algae.” Marcus insists, exasperated and long-suffering, but he’s smiling, broad and happy, and that’s all it takes. The tension in the room is gone, swept away as if it never happened. He wraps Esca in a tight hug, and whispers, close to his ear,

 

“I love you, you know that, right?”

 

Esca smiles. “I love you too, you great oaf.”

 

For a moment, Harry watches them, so comfortable, so at ease, in each other’s embrace, before, like the rest of the group, leaving the kitchen. His foot catches on something as he reaches the door, and he looks down, briefly catching a glimpse of the shining silver of Fletcher’s abandoned goblet before it rolls away underneath the table. It’ll stay there, until morning, and Mrs. Weasley will complain about the stains that will be a terror to scrub off, but Harry leaves it. He takes one last glance at the two men, and smiles, taking in the sense of solidarity and some kind of integrity that he doesn’t quite understand.

 

He leaves them there in each other’s company, and thinks about what Fletcher had called them earlier, before they arrived, when he’d heard they were staying – the Mudblood and the Traitor. It didn’t seem to fit them, not at all, he thought, not even in the slightest. They were too loyal, too noble, too good for that. He thought about it all the way up the stairs, while he sat with Ron and Hermione, and while he listened to them talk until the early hours of the morning, until he thought of something better.

 

The lion and the eagle, he decided, was much more fitting.

 

*****

 

One year later – The Battle of Hogwarts

 

Esca stumbles, bleary and confused, through the rubble. He trips, unsteady, on something, and looks down to see what it is, and wants to retch – it’s a body. A Death Eater, angry and snarling and hideous, even in death. He moves on quickly, stepping around them, resolutely looking ahead of him. His vision is blurred, by dust and ash, and he can just about make out what’s in front of him. Just about.

 

He’s filthy, he can tell, smeared with ash and dirt and sweat and so much blood, that he can’t tell what’s his and what isn’t anymore. There’s blood on his knuckles, his hands, his arms, his face and his head is pounding, screaming and protesting at being moved. His hearing his muffled, as if he’s got cotton wool jammed in his ears, as someone tries to talk to him, to get his attention. They’re screaming in his face, crying and desperate, but it sounds like whispering, he can’t make it out. And then, just as suddenly as they appeared, they’re gone again. He must look dazed, stumbling around, and, in truth, he is. He’s struggling to remember where he is, what just happened.

 

He can just about remember a deafening crack, the creaking and moaning of breaking stone, and he can just about remember trying to move people, students, himself out of the way before something, something, fell. It all goes blurry after that.

 

His wand is still clutched in his hand as he moves, slowly and carefully, through what he thinks is what’s left of the main entrance hall. There’s not much around him, in terms of movement, of life, only the shattered remains of the statues, the prone form of another Death Eater, beautifully living up to their name. And then, suddenly, someone shoves him aside, rough, uncaring, and he falls, lands hard on the crumbled stone. He feels something crack, a rib perhaps, and pain blossoms, sharp and relentless. He may have gasped, it feels like he did, but he can’t hear it, and he struggles to pull himself up, struggles to get his breath, to raise his wand, to protect himself, but he stops, a spell half formed in his mouth.

 

It was a student, the person who shoved him, rushing forward to meet someone he didn’t notice before, a sibling, a friend, a lover, maybe, he’s not sure. But they’re crying, both of them, clinging and desperate and so, so relieved. He briefly notices, with a twinge of nostalgia and of love for times gone by, that they’re wearing uniforms, one in blue, one in red. And then, suddenly, almost as sudden as the cracking of the rock, the falling of the ceiling, Esca remembers.

 

Marcus.

 

Automatically, instantly, he’s moving forward, stumbling, running, desperate, so desperate, toward, well, he’s not sure, Marcus could be anywhere, but toward something, the way he can see people moving. He can feel his heart pounding in his chest, hammering and constant, his head is screaming with pain, agony, his ribs protesting and stabbing, but it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t notice. He moves through it, through the corridor, past the wandering people, until he reaches the doors of the Great Hall, and his heart begins to break.

 

Rows and rows of bodies, of good, honest, wonderful people are lain out on the floor, at peace now in death, their loved ones crowding around, crying and sobbing and grieving. He looks around, slowly, as he walks in, slow and unsteady and panicking, eyes flickering from person to person, both living and dead, unseeing, looking for one, just one, face, a head of dark hair, broad shoulders, tall, taller than the others. Surely he should be easy to see? Easy to notice? His breath catches, a lump rises in his throat, his eyes sting, because he can’t see him, he can’t see him stood up, moving, like the others, healing, like he should be, and that can only mean one thing.

 

His heart splitting, breaking, he rushes forward, blinking through a sudden onslaught of tears, dragging trails of grief down his filthy face, looking at each of the bodies in turn, looking for one he doesn’t want to see. And then, and then, he sees him.

 

He’s placed at the end, in the weak, sorrowful light of the rising sun, next to Lupin and Tonks. And it’s fitting, he thinks, through his agony, that he should be laid there. Someone tries to stop him, tries to hold him back, tells him, you don’t want to see, but he pushes them out the way, hears them land, loud and painful, too loud to his recovering ears, but he doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Not now.

 

The stone floor is cold as he falls to his knees; the sun’s mourning warmth hasn’t reached it yet. Marcus’ face looks calm, so calm, his eyes closed, his mouth slightly parted as if in sleep. His skin is marred though, with ash and dust and blood, oh God his blood, like Esca’s, but beautiful all the same. It takes Esca a moment, a horrid, heart-wrenching moment, to reach out to him, hands shaking, body shaking, chest heaving with sobs, to brush the hair away from his eyes, from his face. It had grown longer, recently, so that it curled around his ears, endearing and adorable, and he’d meant to get it cut before, before. He’d hated it long, said it made him look like a kid, and Esca had said that at his size, he’d never looked like a kid, and they’d laughed, and laughed and it had been wonderful.

 

This is it, he thinks, this is the end. The end of him, of me, of us. The victory, the defeat of Voldemort, the restoration of peace, means nothing, nothing, now that he’s gone. It means nothing, and it’s worth nothing and he’s so angry, furious, and so, so sad. He can’t even bear the thought of living without him.

 

He tells him so, leaning his forehead against Marcus’, hands gripping his hair, for support, for security, for reassurance. He can’t live without him, he won’t. He stays like that for some time, just being with him, in his presence, close to his side. It’s a small comfort, having him present in the beginnings of his grief, but it’s just a drop in the ocean compared against how he’s feeling, the tearing, wrenching pain of loss and despair and loneliness. Marcus was his lover, yes, his boyfriend, his other half, but he was also, more importantly, his best friend. And he’s not sure what he’s going to do without him.

 

The sun rises fully in the sky, and Esca watches as the rays of watery sunshine move across the floor, slow and steady, casting a weak, wistful light on each of the bodies, the people, in turn. It reaches Marcus, full and bright and hopeful, and it lights up his face, banishes the shadows from his features and he’s so beautiful, so perfect, that it’s almost too much to bear. Esca leans in, over, and presses one last heartfelt, tear-stained kiss to his lips, shaking with the effort of holding back sobs, and suddenly jerks back, shocked and startled and wide-eyed.

 

His eyes are open.

 

For a moment, Esca is horrified. His first thought is that it’s some grotesque reflex after death, some contraction of muscle or something, but then he watches as they flicker closed, and then open once more, and his lips part slowly and he breathes. It’s a stuttering, pained, quiet breath, not nearly enough to fill his lungs, to keep him conscious for long, but he breathed.

 

“Marcus?” He’s tentative, cautious, more than a little wary, but hopeful, so hopeful, and so relieved. “Marcus!” His heart is pounding, a lump rises in his throat, and he lurches to Marcus’ side, framing his face with panicked hands, pushing back hair, trying to make eye contact. When Marcus’ eyes blearily lock with his, and suddenly become clear, his pupils dilating, a desperate, painful sob is wrenched from Esca’s throat. “Can you hear me?” There’s a small groan in response, so quiet that Esca almost misses it. “You’re alive,” He breathes, and his heart soars.

 

“Help! Please, somebody! He’s alive! He’s alive!” Someone is instantly at Esca’s elbow, checking Marcus’ heart rate, his breathing, his wounds. He’s still bleeding, quite heavily, but nothing they can’t handle, nothing that matters, not now. All he can think, as more people, healers, flock to them, administering medicine and helping, is that it’s a miracle. He always knew Marcus was tough, never one to give up, but coming back from the dead? He can’t help but be a bit impressed. It’s chaotic, almost as soon as he shouts, and he’s pushed away as they try to move Marcus to a stretcher, to get him to the Hospital Wing, and someone’s shouting for Madame Pomfrey, and it’s loud, so loud.

 

But, through it all, through the chaos, the desperate move to save him, Esca hears, and he’ll never know how he did, just hears, Marcus’ hoarse whisper of,

 

Esca.”

 

There are complaints as he shoves his way through the people, elbowing them out the way, to take Marcus’ hand, to grasp it between his own, intertwining their fingers, but he doesn’t care. Marcus needs him, and that’s all that matters. “I’m here, Marcus.” He murmurs.

 

“Please,” Marcus’ voice is dry, cracked and painful, and he swallows heavily, screwing his eyes shut in discomfort, “Please, Esca. Don’t leave me.”

 

Esca smiles, wide and free and happy, and he catches Marcus’ eye, tries to convey all that he feels in one solitary gaze, and says, more wholehearted and honest and sincere than he’s ever said anything in his entire life,

 

“I’m not going anywhere.”

 

 

FINIS.