A low, fog-like white light rolled through the dark room and down a corridor. The room was seemingly devoid of life except for the withered plants in the murky window. Moth-eaten, dust-covered furniture was pushed to the peeling papered walls. For a moment, everything was still – only the flecks of dust moved in the stagnant air – then the ring of light peacefully circled back to the corner it had emanated.
Suddenly, three figures appeared seemingly from thin air, brandishing an overlarge cloak. A large cloud of dirt blew up from the matted rug, causing the visitors to break into coughs.
“Ugh, this is disgusting,” a woman muttered and held a hand to her nose. “Are you sure this is the right place?”
The man beside her cleared his throat and waved the dust away. “This is where the Ministry said to go. Their sources are never wrong.”
“Never say never, Grace” the woman said dryly. She knocked the hood of her cloak back, revealing dark hair in a single, long braid and piercing black eyes. “Remember what happened in Romania?”
The man took his hood off as well. His own hair was a dull blonde and his eyes so blue that they were nearly electric. A jagged scar ran down the corner of his mouth, which he reached up and touched gingerly. “I thought we agreed to never speak of that again.”
“I had my fingers crossed.”
The blonde snorted. “The ultimate reversal charm.”
“Reyna, Jason, shut it,” the third person snapped. He pushed his hood back and glared at the two others. His hair was blacker than the visible night outside the window-panes and his eyes were deep, dark, narrowed in annoyance. “Did you hear that?”
The other two ceased their bickering to listen, but no other sounds were heard.
The woman, Reyna, hummed. “Could have been a rat.”
Beside her, Jason nodded. “It’s an old place. It’s probably unstable. We’d better be careful.” He walked over and observed an old portrait hanging crooked on the wall. “Why? Do you sense something, Nico?”
The shorter man shrugged. “It’s faint, but something isn’t right. It’s like the walls are watching us.”
Jason immediately recoiled away from the painting with a grimace. “That’s a comforting thought.”
“We cast the charm,” Reyna interjected. “If there were anyone in here my spell would’ve detected them.”
“Anyone living,” Nico corrected her. “How well does that spell pick up on spirits?”
Jason wrinkled his nose. “We’re supposed to be hunting escapees, not ghosts. That’s a whole different department.”
“Doesn’t mean they’re not here.” Nico tightened his grip on his wand. “Stay close. Let’s start searching. They may have already moved on and we just missed them.”
Reyna immediately followed after Nico out of the room. Jason took another look at the painting, giving it a wary frown, before scurrying after them once Nico barked at him to hurry it up. The three Aurors walked down the corridor, the floorboards creaking beneath their boots. Nico led the way, eyes darting from side to side, alert and ready for anything. Reyna was on his left and raising her wand. “Lumos,” she muttered and a soft light filled the hall. On his right, Jason was flicking through a notepad, reading the scribbling thoughtfully.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “This can’t be the right place.”
“They were ex-Aurors,” Nico reminded him under his breath. “They know how to cover their tracks.”
“I still can’t believe it,” Reyna said. “Bryce Lawrence was one of us. Why would he go against the Ministry like this?”
“Octavian got to him.” Jason pocketed his notebook. “He was always a weasel. I wasn’t surprised at all when I heard what happened.”
“Well, whatever the reason, I won’t be going easy on them,” Reyna vowed. “He betrayed his own, and that is unforgivable.”
“Just watch your back,” Nico scolded, “and quiet down. They could still be here.”
They began to descend a grand staircase leading down to a large atrium. Reyna lifted her wand, still giving off a bluish light, at the ceiling. A chandelier, draped with cobwebs and old wax, hung above them. The ceiling itself was painted into a strange mural. The whole atmosphere was unsettling – everything too quiet – and Nico’s nerves were beginning to stir.
Suddenly, a sharp clanging noise sounded off from somewhere within the old mansion and the three Aurors immediately circled their backs to one another’s, still only halfway down the stairs. Nico’s heart picked up its pace and he could tell by the way their bodies turned rigid that his partners were just as on edge. Slowly, Nico waved his wand. “Homenum Revelio.”
Again, a ring of white fog fanned out in all directions. It expanded out of sight, and the wait was unbearable. Reyna pointed her wand to the bottom of the steps and narrowed her eyes. “Guys… wasn’t Bryce a registered Animagus?”
“Yeah,” Jason breathed back. “He was a rat. Literally. Why?”
“There. In front of the pillar.”
Nico and Jason turned to look. On the floor, sat a small black rat. Its beady eyes were staring right at them. A bad feeling surged through Nico.
Just then, the charm was coming back. As the ring passed over the rat, it turned a deep red and tightened around it, giving off an ear-shattering alarm.
Reyna wasted no time. “Homorphus!”
The rat gave a squeak as the spell hit it dead-on. In a flash of light, the rat grew and reshaped, spinning into the figure of a man. Just as Nico could make out a face, the man pointed his wand at the chandelier and shouted, “Diffindo!”
The chain holding the chandelier snapped and began to fall, its dangling faded jewels clinking. Jason raised his wand. “Glisseo!” The stairs beneath their feet morphed into a smooth slide and they immediately slid out of harm’s way moments before it smashed into the ground.
Nico regained his balance as he wobbled onto the floor, coughing as a cloud of dust rushed up from the collision. It made it hard to see their target. When it cleared a few moments later, Bryce was gone. “Bryce!” he shouted. “Show yourself!” The pillars would provide great cover, but it would only be a matter of time before Nico, Jason, and Reyna flushed him out. “It’s hopeless! Just turn yourself in!”
A hand suddenly jutted out from behind the column on Nico’s left. “Expelliarmus!”
Nico managed to deflect the spell in time, holding tight into his wand. Reyna rushed in with Jason close at her heels.
Bryce Lawrence rolled away from the hit. As he straightened up, he dealt out another blow. “Petrificus totalus!”
Reyna seized up, as if binds had wrapped tight around her body, and collapsed to the ground. Jason let out an angry shout and waved his wand, sparks appearing where Bryce Lawrence had just ran from. “Get back here and fight, you traitor!” Jason called after him.
Bryce hissed out, “Stupefy!” but Jason was too quick for him. He sent the same spell back. A small force-field projected in front of Bryce and bounced the red beam of light right back to Jason. It hit him dead in the chest.
Nico was already running after Bryce, wand held high and fury rising even higher. “Locomotor Mortis!” he yelled, aiming at his legs. Bryce darted to the side just in time and Nico cursed. He was fast, known as one of the quickest Aurors in the department. “Bryce!”
Bryce skidded to a halt and spun on his heels. Nico faltered at the charged look of intent in his eyes. “Everte Statum!”
Nico felt an invisible force thrust him back, as if he had just been thrown by a large bull, and he hit the wall, head smacking against the drywall forcefully. He crumpled to the ground, groaning and dizzy. He saw doubles as Bryce ran off and, a second later, apparated out of sight.
Nico groaned, rolling onto his side as he blinked his vision straight. What a miserable failure. Slowly, he pulled himself up to his feet and stumbled over to his teammates. He made sure he had a good grip on both of them before apparating all three of them to safety.
Nico had insisted that he was fine. He didn’t need to go to St. Mungo’s. If anyone, Jason and Reyna were the ones who needed treatment. Nico only had a few bruises. He’d gotten off easy compared to them. His boss, however, wouldn’t hear of it. “Go,” he said, “just to be sure. We can’t afford to lose any more Aurors.”
So, Nico found himself planted on a bed in the hospital, waiting for a healer to tell him what he already knew and send him on his way with a clean bill of health. He was worried for Reyna. Sometimes body-bind spells could go wrong and be hard to remove. Jason had also still been unconscious when Nico had last seen him. He wanted to know that they were all right.
The door suddenly opened and a young man slipped inside before closing it again. He was busy staring at the clipboard floating beside him, checking his records, to notice how Nico was gawking at him. He would know that stupid hair and face anywhere. The man was taller, tanner, and more grown up than the last time Nico saw him, but it was undoubtedly his old schoolmate. The light dusting of freckles across his handsomely proportioned face and the way his sky-blue eyes lit up when they finally rested on Nico proved that. “Oh,” the man blinked, “hello.”
Nico eyed the man up and down. Will Solace, a Hufflepuff one year his senior, had been the pride and joy of his House. He had played Keeper on the Quidditch team, had top-mark grades, and was always finding ways to start charities during his free time. He was a philanthropist, a naturally talented wizard with a knack for healing spells, and Nico would be lying if he said he hadn’t had a bit of a crush on the charismatic upperclassman during their school days. Nico shook himself. They had rarely talked beyond a few exchanges after a Quidditch game or that one time they had ended up in the same group to go to Hogsmeade. Nico had been so excited and so nervous that he missed his chance completely and nothing happened. Will was beyond his reach.
“Nico di Angelo, right? You may not remember me,” Will Solace said quickly, “but we went to school together. I was in Hufflepuff. I’m—”
“Will Solace,” Nico recalled easily, heart giving a faint flutter at being recognized. It had been years since Nico graduated from Hogwarts, but he never quite forgot the Hufflepuff.
Will smiled wide. “Hey, you do remember me!” He sounded a bit star-struck, though Nico wondered if it was a little sarcastic or maybe it was forced politeness. It had to be. “So, why does your chart say you’re Hannibal Gloom?”
Nico rolled his eyes. “My boss has us check in under false names to keep things on the down low. He also has a terrible sense of humor.”
“Oh yeah?” Will blinked as he walked over. “Where do you work, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Nico shrugged. “I work for the Ministry.”
Will hummed as he took out his wand and held it close to Nico’s eyes, peering concernedly into his pupils. “What department? Concealment? Accounting? Enforcement?”
“Actually, I’m an Auror.”
Will lowered his wand, eyes wide. He whistled low and shook his head. “I always knew you were the best in school with your magic but an Auror?”
Nico glanced away. “I wasn’t that good in school.”
“Are you kidding?” Will waved his wand and a quill rose to the floating chart and started to scribble down line after line. “I remember getting whooped by your Quidditch team every time we played each other. Now, hold still for a second, will you?” Will flicked his wand. “Ferula.” Bandages wrapped around Nico’s right wrist and a splint formed along his ring finger. “There. Now let’s do something about that concussion.”
Nico frowned down at his wand-hand. “What’s this? My hand is fine.”
“You have a hairline fracture in your right wrist. No heavy spells for a week until it heals up. In fact, I’d prefer it if you didn’t use your wand at all.”
Nico scowled, thinking of Bryce Lawrence. “I can’t afford a week off. I sort of have to catch dark wizards. You know, keep the public – that includes you – safe?”
Will Solace turned around with a determinedly unimpressed expression. “Yeah? And how capable are you going to be of saving your own life – or your colleagues’ – if you can’t wave your wand properly? You’ll get back to risking your life in a week. But, you’re in my house now and you’re just gonna have to get used to it.”
Nico didn’t remember Will being so stubborn in school. If anything, Will had always been the perfect gentleman. He always smiled and was polite and went out of his way to help people, no matter what year or House they were in. It was one of the many reasons why Nico had been so drawn to him. However, seeing Will take charge in his own work and not backing down was just as enthralling. Nico was surprised at how much he liked Will’s snark.
Nico raised an eyebrow and Will mirrored him, arms crossing sternly. “Fine then,” he muttered and sank back onto the bed. “You gonna keep me locked in here the whole time?”
Will gave a snort and whisked his wand once again. Two little bottles full of purple potion flew off the shelf and he caught them easily. “Here,” Will said, handing one to Nico. “Drink this. It’ll lessen that dizzy feeling.”
Nico took it carefully. “How did you know?”
“I’m a Healer,” Will said proudly. “It’s kind of my thing. Now, drink that and, in an hour, drink the other one and you should be fine. Just rest that hand, do you hear me? No spellwork unless absolutely necessary.”
Nico’s eyebrows furrowed. “That’s it?”
“That’s it.” Will took a step back, the floating chart and quill following him. Nico unpopped the cork of the potion and chugged it down in one gulp. He grimaced; it had an earthy and metallic taste that was not at all pleasant. Will grinned at him. “I do want to see you for a follow-up in about a week just to be sure everything’s healed up correctly.”
“Can’t you just heal this now?” He raised his hand.
“So eager to put your life on the line,” Will muttered. “It’s a pretty minor injury. Interfering with it magically could make it worse. Plus, it would make your bill a lot higher. Some R and R will work just as fine.”
Nico huffed but stood up too quickly. He swayed a bit and would have fallen forward if it hadn’t been for Will’s quick reflexes. He kept his hands on Nico’s shoulders, steadying him. His crystalline blue eyes filled with concern. “Easy there or I will make you stay. I mean it.”
It was like someone had transfigured his stomach into butterflies as Nico held Will’s gaze for a few too-long moments. Eventually, he nodded. “Thanks, I guess.”
Will pulled away and Nico was hit by the scent of his light cologne. Merlin’s beard, Nico thought quickly as Will searched through his chart. “I’m guessing the other two you were brought in with are your colleagues,” Will said. “The woman is on the fourth floor getting a body-bind curse removed. She should be up and out of here within the hour. The other has already been discharged.”
Nico sighed in relief. “Good. I’ll yell at them later.”
“Right, then I’ll see you next week. Tuesday work for you?”
“I guess I have no choice now. I can’t exactly go to work, can I?” He held up his bandaged hand.
Will nodded. “Glad you see it my way. See you later, then, Death Boy.”
Nico’s eye twitched. He hadn’t been called that since school, and it brought back some welcome memories. Will had probably meant it to be innocent teasing, but their old classmates hadn’t.
Suddenly, a Patronus of a fluffy cat poofed up beside Will’s head. “Second floor. Vanishing sickness outbreak. All available Healers needed.”
“Got to go,” Will said as the Patronus disappeared. “Sounds pretty serious. But, uh, I’ll see you next Tuesday.”
Nico nodded. “Sure. Right.”
“See you,” he said and turned to walk out of the room but failed to realize the door was shut. He crashed into it awkwardly and laughed in a bit higher of a voice than normal. Nico just waved back, trying hard not to laugh. Will’s hand searched for the doorknob desperately before opening it. “Bye,” he said quickly and disappeared around the corner.
Nico stuck the second vial of medicine in his pocket and walked to the front of the hospital to retrieve his wand, feeling as though he had a jelly-knee hex put on him. All in all, today hadn’t been a complete failure.
Tuesday came slowly. Nico spent the whole week going insane at his desk. His boss followed Will’s advice and refused to let him go out in the field or overuse his magic. “It’s for your own good,” he affirmed. “Once you’re cleared you can get back to finding Lawrence.”
“You just want to be the one to catch him,” Nico accused glumly.
Percy Jackson, Head Auror, grinned and stuck out his chest. “Maybe. With Jason and you both out, I actually get to have some fun.”
“I hate you,” he declared, not for the first time, and went back to stacking cards on his desk. A moment later, a magicked paper airplane dove right into his tower and it collapsed. “GRACE!” he cursed.
Jason held up his hands. “It wasn’t me!” he cried from his own desk.
Nico spun in his chair to glare at Leo Valdez, who threw his arms up with a serious expression. “Touch down!”
When he returned to St. Mungo’s, Nico was more than ready to return to work. He wouldn’t let any annoying Healers keep him grounded any longer. He waited in the same room from last week with his arms crossed and nose raised, fingers tapping on his sleeve impatiently. Fifteen minutes late, the door finally opened and in walked Will Solace. Upon seeing Nico, he flashed a smile. “Good afternoon!”
“Your eyebrows are smoking,” Nico responded.
Will cursed and rubbed them. “Someone had a nasty fire-breathing jinx on them,” he explained. “Anyways, let’s take a look at that hand.”
When Will took his hand, Nico wasn’t sure why he flinched. He hadn’t expected the lurching feeling in his stomach nor had he expected Will to react by holding his hand tighter and pulling him back. “Does it still hurt?” he asked.
Nico felt the back of his neck burn in embarrassment. “N-not really.”
Will nodded, working his fingers along Nico’s joints. It was almost like a massage. Nico slowly felt the tension leave him and relaxed into the motions. He was almost disappointed when Will stopped. “Seems like it healed up fine,” he piped and the quill started to scratch onto the clipboard on its own accord again. He lifted his wand and whispered, “Lumos. Okay, follow the light for me?”
Nico dutifully followed the little glow at the end of Will’s wand. Will nodded and lowered it again. “Great. I think you’re good to go.”
A dimple formed on Will’s cheek as he smiled. “That’s it! Was that so hard?”
Something akin to disappointment formed in Nico’s chest. He had expected Will to want extend his stay, or strike up a conversation at least, but the Healer was already pocketing his wand and stretching. “I’ll write up a note for your boss so you can get back to it. Happy hunting, and, uh, don’t take this the wrong way but I hope I don’t see you back here for a while.”
“Yeah,” Nico muttered. “Thanks.”
Will extended his hand, and there was a bit of sadness in his eyes. “It was really nice seeing you again, Nico.”
Nico took it tentatively. “Yeah. You, too, Will.”
Nico was horribly distracted. He barely heard Jason and Reyna’s bickering as they left the Ministry. For some reason, he kept thinking of the time he went on a school trip to Hogsmeade in his fifth year. He’d gone with his sister, Hazel, and Piper, who had been good friends with Will Solace. The Hufflepuff had tagged along. Nico remembered complaining quietly to his sister while she had only laughed and said, “Who knows what might happen? Just talk to him.”
Nico had ignored him the whole time, too nervous to so much as meet Will’s happy gaze. He’d kept himself distanced until they were in Honeydukes. As Nico had been distracted by the rows and rows of sweets, Will approached him and held out a Chocolate Frog card. “Want it? You collect them, right?”
“When I was eleven,” he had said in attempts to look as though his stomach wasn’t going through loops.
Will’s face had fallen and even the card in his hand seemed to droop. “Oh. Right.”
Nico had found that the sad look didn’t suit the Hufflepuff so he had huffed and plucked it out of Will’s surprised hands. “I never had this one, though,” he had muttered and stuffed it into his pockets. Will’s smile had returned full-force and continued to happily munch on his chocolate.
Neither of them had mentioned that it was the most common card in the game.
Nico shook himself from his thoughts. Why was he thinking about that? Why couldn’t he get Will Solace out of his head?
“Nico, what do you think?” Reyna spun around angrily. “Tell him I’m right!”
Nico blinked. “Huh?”
“Aha!” Jason pointed at her with a grin. “He hesitated! I’m right!”
“What are you guys even talking about?” Nico asked, rubbing his forehead. “I spaced out.”
“You’ve been doing that ever since you got off leave,” Reyna said. “Everything okay?”
Nico thought of Will Solace and suddenly felt a bit ill. “Yeah. I guess I’m just feeling a little rusty.”
“Then let’s get back out there,” Jason said, “starting with checking Lawrence’s account at Gringotts!”
“I’m telling you, it’s been cleared!” Reyna groaned. “There’s nothing in there!”
“It was cleared two weeks after he went on the run! He can’t have cleared it on his own with a bounty on his head!”
“Nico?” they shouted simultaneously, looking at the Auror expectantly.
He shrugged. “Let’s go to Gringotts, then. Best lead we’ve had in weeks.”
Reyna looked affronted while Jason shot her a smug look.
Gringotts had been a bust, to which Reyna gloated endlessly, but it gave Nico a chance to speak to his sister. She’d been working at Gringotts for about a year, and their schedules were both so busy they barely saw each other these days.
“Nico!” Hazel cried when she saw him and ran up to pull him into a tight hug. “What are you doing here?”
“Business,” he said, “but I figured I should say hello.”
She lightly punched his shoulder. “Yeah, you’d better! If I’d found out you came here without seeing me I would beat you up!”
“I’d like to see you try.”
Hazel laughed. “I’m not scared of you, Big Shot! I still happen to remember how you freaked out each time the staircases changed at school.”
“It’s confusing!” he defended.
She laughed again. “Oh! By the way, I heard you were at St. Mungo’s. What happened?”
“Who told you?”
“Frank. He’s still good friends with Percy.”
Nico hummed. “It was nothing. Just Percy being an overprotective moron.” He paused for a moment. “I saw Will Solace there.”
Hazel lit up. “Oh my God! I haven’t talked to him in a long time! He’s a Healer, right?”
“Yeah. An annoying one.”
She smiled as she shuffled the papers on her desk. “He had the biggest crush on you in school.”
Nico dropped the quill he was toying with and spun around. “What?”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “He asked me how to talk to you all the time.”
“Merlin’s pants,” he gasped. “The trip to Hogsmeade?”
“Planned to the last detail.” She winked. “I knew you liked him even if you didn’t say anything. Still, too bad things didn’t work out.”
Nico was gaping like a fish. He was pretty sure his face was as red as the walls. “You sure he liked me?” He pointed at himself. “Me?”
“Yes, you, you nit,” Hazel laughed. “I should ring him up. It’s been ages.”
“Will Solace had a crush on me,” Nico marveled. He thought of Will’s sad face last week and suddenly the feeling that had been building in his chest tripled.
“You should ring him up, too.” Hazel winked again.
“Shut up,” he muttered.
Two weeks later, they’d found their lead. A muggle report of seeing strange lights in the woods tipped them off. They scouted the area immediately, wands and senses ready.
Nico thought he heard a voice and spun around, but it was only Leo, who had poked his eye with a branch and was cursing softly in Spanish. Nico threw him a warning glare and held his fingers to his lips before creeping ahead.
He drifted farther and farther from the rest of the group when suddenly he saw a faint light. He headed towards it, tightening his grip on his wand. It was quiet – abnormally so for woodlands. There should be crickets chirping, animals scurrying about, wind shaking the leaves, but there was nothing. Pure, unfiltered silence.
He stepped on a fallen twig, the snap echoing loudly against empty air, and a moment later the light went out. He froze, barely breathing. Then, he heard a voice. As he spun around, raising up his wand, something heavy hit the back of his head and he fell with a choked gasp. He hit the ground with a thud, and darkness enveloped over him.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been unconscious but when he opened his eyes he was in a familiar room. Plain, clean, and dark. He was in a bed with white, scratchy sheets and, when he sat up, his body ached like it hadn’t been used it a long time. He groaned as his bandaged head spun and tried to make sense of his surroundings.
A hospital room. He was back in St. Mungo’s.
A soft snore startled him. He turned and immediately his heart leapt into his throat. Will Solace was seated at his bedside, slumped across the nightstand fast asleep. Nico wasn’t sure what to think. He didn’t remember how he got there, or what happened in the woods, but he could tell it had taken a number on his body.
He bit his lower lip as Will let out another little snore. He carefully lifted the covers and made an attempt to stand up, but his head stung with sudden, intense pain and he flopped back down with a groan. The medic lifted his head suddenly. “Huh? Wha-?” He saw Nico half out of bed and shot to his feet. “Absolutely not!” he ordered and forced Nico back into bed. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Nico most certainly did not pout. “What happened?”
“You were hit with a poorly cast Transmogrifian curse,” he said as he pushed Nico’s down again. “You could have died.”
Nico could hear the anger in Will’s voice. He bit his lip again. “Oh.”
Will snorted. “Oh? You nearly died and all you can say is ‘oh’?” Will let out an exasperated huff and moved over to the cabinets, fishing its contents for something. He came back with a vial of purple liquid and held it to Nico’s lips. “Drink.”
Nico did so and sighed in relief as his pain numbed. He rested his head onto the pillows and watched Will work. “Why are you still here?”
“You’re hurt,” Will responded.
“You’re hurt,” he repeated firmly.
“Don’t you have other patients?”
Will rolled his eyes as he mixed together two potions in a little bowl. “It’s supposed to be my day off, but someone had to go get himself murdered.”
“Nearly murdered,” Nico corrected with a wry smile.
Will didn’t laugh. He just handed Nico the bowl. “Take small sips,” he instructed and sat back down as Nico obeyed.
Nico kept glancing at him from the corner of his eye. Will was watching his own hands, looking lost in thought and feeling conflicted about it. Even in the low-light and making that grumpy face, he was handsome. Nico choked on the elixir, which garnered Will’s attention again. “I said small sips,” he sighed and ran a hand through his blond hair.
When Nico caught his breath, he offered Will what he hoped was a passive look. “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”
Will’s expression seemed to soften just a smidgen. “You must be a terrible Auror if you get hurt so much.”
“I’m a great Auror,” he huffed. “Excuse you.”
Will’s lips twitched. “Well, in any case, you’re stuck here for a few days. No complaining. And you can forget about returning to work anytime soon!”
Nico met Will’s gaze and bit back a smile. “I think I can manage that.”
Will broke into a small grin before realizing something. “Oh, your sister came by earlier. She dropped off a few things for you.”
The mention of his sister brought their latest conversation back the front of his brain. His eyes widened and his mouth ran dry.
He had the biggest crush on you in school!
Will picked up a few books on the table and turned to hand them to Nico. As he did so, something slipped through the pages and onto the floor. Nico realized what it was before Will even had the chance to pick it up and blanched. He wanted to melt into a puddle, or apparate to Egypt and never return. Maybe Will forgot about the whole thing, maybe he wouldn’t recognize what he was holding. But Will’s lips parted as he turned the card in his hand. “This is…” He held up an old faded Chocolate Frog card. “I gave you this at Honeydukes.”
Nico was biting his lip so hard it was hurting.
“You kept it all these years?” Will mused. He was smiling, but Nico still felt unbelievably vulnerable.
“Shut up,” was all he managed to say.
Will broke into hoarse laughter. “You know why I gave you this?” Nico shrugged. He scratched his cheek. “Hazel told me you collected them once. I remembered seeing you as a first year at the Slytherin table, waving them in everyone’s faces each time you got a new card. I thought it was really cute.” He laughed weakly, nervously, again. “I had a big crush on you for years.”
“I know,” he blurted out, and Will stared at him in shock. Nico resisted the urge to hide under his covers. “Hazel told me.”
“Ah.” He waved aimlessly. “Well then…”
“I, er… I liked you, too,” he ground out, “but I was too awkward to ever say anything.”
Will seemed to be frozen. He stared at Nico widely, mouth pursed in a confused frown, before blowing out a long exhale. “Wow,” he chuckled. “I didn’t think you even noticed me back then.”
Nico twisted the ring on his finger. “I did.”
An awkward silence fell over them. Nico was looking anywhere except Will while the old Hufflepuff couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of him. Will came and sat back down beside Nico before taking his hand and placing the worn card in it. Nico took it carefully.
They spent the rest of the night talking, and Nico was beginning to think that getting hit with a deadly curse was one of the best things that ever happened to him.
Nico stayed at St. Mungo’s for another week. Hazel and Frank visited him along with his fellow Aurors. Percy and Jason explained that, after Nico had been knocked out, they’d apprehended Bryce Lawrence and brought him into the Ministry while Reyna transported Nico to medical care.
“Lawrence is sitting in Azkaban as we speak,” Percy said proudly. He clapped Nico on the shoulder. “Without your head splitting open, we would’ve never found him, man.”
“Glad to help,” Nico said dryly.
When they got too loud, Will chased them away, going on and on about Nico needing rest and visiting hours ending. Will had rarely left his side the entire week, and all the old feelings from his teenaged years had definitely come back. But it was more than just a school crush. Nico could feel an actual connection between the two of them. His heart still sputtered in his chest each time Will flashed that smile at him, but it felt more concrete, more lasting. It was quickly evolving into something more.
“You’re being discharged tomorrow,” Will said casually later on.
Disappointment settled in. He had rather enjoyed being fawned over, and, for the first time in his life, he wasn’t in a hurry to return to work. “Oh,” he said simply.
“Don’t sound so excited,” Will teased, “you’re not ready to go back to work just yet. I’m ordering at least another two weeks of leave.”
“Great.” Nico sat up. “Two weeks of sitting around bored.”
A sly smirk appeared on Will’s features. “So then I’m guessing you won’t be busy Friday night?”
Nico glanced up in confusion. “No…?”
“I have the night off. We could get dinner or coffee or something and catch up.” Will’s face turned sheepish. “Y-you know, if you want.”
He stood there, fumbling with the hem of his shirt. “As in… a date?” Nico asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.
Will fidgeted. “Er – I made it awkward, didn’t I?”
“A little,” Nico teased, enjoying how dark Will’s cheeks became. “When do you get off?”
Will glanced up quickly. “Really? O-okay, uh, great! I mean, I get off around five. I could pick you up at, say, six?”
“That works for me, I suppose.”
“Awesome.” Will lit up. “My owl will see to your owl, then.”
“Right. I’ll have to actually check my mail.”
Then, the same Patronus of a fluffy cat from a few weeks ago poofed up beside Will’s head. “Second floor. Severe barfing jinx. All available Healers needed.”
Will grimaced and glanced at Nico. “And you think your job is dangerous?”
Nico laughed, which seemed to perk Will up a bit. “Go. I’ll see you Friday.”
“Yeah,” Will agreed. He winked at Nico before disappearing behind the door. “I’m looking forward to it!”
When Friday came, Nico met Will at a little muggle coffee shop in London, dressed in clothing he could have never picked out on his own. Will was already there, holding a small little box, which he promptly handed to Nico as he approached.
“For you,” he said cheekily.
Nico opened it and immediately had to hide his smile in his scarf. “Thank you,” he said, and really meant it. Will grinned and held out his arm, which Nico took as he led him into the little café.
A brand new Chocolate Frog card sat in the box.
The most common one in the game.