The problems: apple juice and an ill-timed Bludger.
A week before the highly-anticipated Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Slytherin, Dave Strider had been sitting on a plush velvet bed, tossing a rolled up parchment up and down, because he gave exactly zero shits. This particular Gryffindor dormitory belonged to his best friend, the notorious John Egbert, beloved for his adept Seeker skills and his apparently charming pranks. His winning dimple endeared him to the professors, though they may be covered in prankster goop. John and Dave had been mostly alone in the room, the exception being John’s familiar—Casey, the salamander that John loudly proclaimed was actually a frog, so he could smuggle her into the school.
“Your lazy butt would make a great Keeper,” John was saying, flopping down in front of his Divination tome. “Just imagine—what’s that in the sky? An owl? A broom? No, it’s Dave Strider, saving the day with his big giant butt! It’s a miracle, Professor, Dave Strider’s giant ass has stopped the Quaffle right in its tracks, the ball can’t get through his giant melons…”
“Shut it, dicknugget. I’ve got better things to do with my time than Quoddotch—”
“—and the stupid waffles keeping you from scoring a touchdown from first base but—”
“Quaffles, goals, hoops.”
“—if you don’t get your chump ass in gear, you’ll flunk your easy pass class.” Dave tossed the parchment at John’s head. John snatched the parchment in mid-air, rolling around on the bed with his legs half-kicked in the air and mussing up his hair and clothes. Dave found John to be the most accurate way to keep track of time—in the morning, John’s hair was painstakingly pressed down; by noon, his hair angled uneasily; by evening, his hair became a complex paradox space. John’s black robes and red tie would have been vulnerable to the same messy state, but Dave usually sighed elaborately and neatened them up when he came across the rumpled collars from the John storm.
“You get Quidditch so wrong,” John said, hanging from the edge of his bed. “I don’t get why you still go to the games. Rose always has to explain everything to you, and you still don’t get I just have to catch the Snitch.”
“Read the damn juice.” He shoved over the nearly-empty cup of apple juice over to John, who wiggled up from his bed like a flopping worm to peer inside the treasured caverns.
Dave understood one thing about Divination: John sucked Merlin’s left testicle at seeing into the future. Though Rose had passed with 200% and Jade always rattled off the strangest, but most accurate, predictions, they couldn’t save the star Seeker from bumbling through every single test. John had begun to guess wildly, and that had somehow been more accurate than his concentrated efforts. A miracle in itself, given Unfogging the Future had turned foggier, half torn to shreds from visiting Jade. She made an excellent apprentice gamekeeper, but her companions were often very hungry. In a last-ditch effort for honesty, John was determined to do the final project with as much honor as possible—though he surrendered to substituting tea for apple juice, which Dave said, was the shit.
“Okay, that puddle kinda looks like… a puddle, so that means…” John flipped through his tome frantically, each turn of the page tossing another charred paper into the wreck at his feet. “But if I turn it upside down, it kinda looks like a bigger puddle?”
While John was transcending apple juice physiology, Dave relaxed against the pillow. He never really thought about why he went to the Quidditch games—only John’s, though, because the others were boring as hell. It was nothing special, just a bunch of flashy colors flying through the air with the crowd making strange noises. But John’s matches were different, where he could actually follow John, even behind his shades. The thinking made him uncomfortable, and he turned over on his side, fast enough to catch John scratch the end of his nose with the quill, leaving ink smears across his face.
“All right,” John said triumphantly, “I’ve got it. You’ve got, erm, a splotch, so that means you’re going to… have a bunch of frogs falling down on you?” His brow furrowed, and he furiously consulted half of the tome again.
“Hell fucking yes. R.I.P Strider, died as he lived, terminated face first in a vortex of amphibious rump, tongues flapping faster than man balls on treadmills.” Dave pumped his fist in anticipation for his frog-filled fate.
“Wait!” John said, twisting the book around, “Or… you will find love?”
“You’re the one breaking the news to Tiny Tadpole Tim.” Dave finally sat up on his elbows, watching John scramble around the apple juice remnants.
“Shut it, frog humper, I was looking at it upside down?” John gnawed on his lower lip. “I am almost fifty percent sure that you will fall in love.”
“Same as your grade in that class, buttlicker.”
“Whatever, dumpwad. You are falling… in… love,” John said out loud, as he scribbled frantically on his essay, nearly spilling ink all over his sheets. “You know, that’s not a bad thing. It’s about time you actually started dating people and doing stuff. Kissy stuff. With your face.”
“Never knew they put Doctor Egbert in charge of resuscitating my love life.” Dave imitated a stethoscope, and was promptly rewarded with John’s strange little nose wrinkle that said he wanted to laugh, but was trying to hold onto his dignity.
“They did, and the doctor prescribes a whole heap of macking. It’ll be fun, once you got a girlfriend or something. Maybe if I got one, too, we can go on a double date? There’s the Yule Ball, that might be next year.” John lifted up his face to him with his smile, but there was something about the mood that shifted in Dave. Inside him, crankiness spread to his throat and cantankerous feelings gripped his joints, because he suddenly very much did not want to be in the same room as John Egbert. There was something about the way he grinned, his open upturned face, the way his robes spread messily, and their proximity on the bed, which all struck him as wrong and offensive.
“Like anyone would want to go dancing with your beaver face,” he heard himself saying, and there must have been an edge to his tone, because John’s smile faltered.
He felt a sudden pit in his stomach, like the Whomping Willow had gobsmacked him on the back of his head. He instinctively drew back like he had been burned, sliding off the bed and grabbing his black robe from the floor. He had to disentangle a pranking charm from his sleeve, and the fake mustache walked away.
“I’ve got to get back,” he mumbled to the floor, “I’ll see you at the game tomorrow.”
“Oh. Oh, okay. See you, Dave…”
The Fat Lady wasn’t there when the portrait swung shut behind him. It didn’t matter very much to him, but he still thought he would have felt better, if she had been there to reprimand him, as always, about his slouch, shades, anything.
As he expected, the day of the game emerged shouting from the calendars. The blinding red and gold battled obnoxious silver and green, and everybody was talking in a strange incomprehensible language involving Comets and Cleansweeps. He thought Jade must be in her element, with all the talk about space. She was the star pupil of Astronomy, or the dreamiest one. If she ever wandered into the Forbidden Forest, he was afraid he would find her amidst the centaurs, and they would all be speaking lovely bullshit about how Jupiter was bright today, like that meant anything more than the necessity to don on darker shades.
Though Rose wasn’t one for Quidditch, or one to engage in debates over the fireplace about the pros and cons of Firebolts, she was currently acting translator for the world.
“They’re names of broomsticks, not space elements,” she said, tugging neatly at her robes before she sat down in the stands. Dave sat next to her, jostled by a particularly enthusiastic boy who wore bright colors, ate a large amount of treacle tarts, and seemed to always threaten to spill butterbeer all down Dave’s front.
“I didn’t think you’d be attending this event,” she continued, just as the butterbeer tipped closer to Dave, and he uneasily inched towards her. “For the last fifteen consecutive matches, I have had to describe John’s role in the game in fewer and fewer words. Though ‘well-meaning lad chases golden ball’ remains my thesis for this event, I have trepidations about diluting that into the inevitable ‘boy chase ball.’”
“And it’s cold as balls,” he said, to which she gave a slight hum of agreement. Though she looked splendid in her pink earmuffs and warm rosy mittens, her cheeks glowing with warmth, Dave was vaguely certain he looked like Petrificus Totalus had been cast on him, and never quite lifted. His fingers were freezing, his nose felt strange, and the butterbeer tilted towards him again.
“John didn’t think you’d come,” Jade said from behind them. Her breath came out in little puffs, bundled in dark robes with flamboyant house colors striping her scarf. To support John, she had apparently stolen a first year’s homemade lion ears, the fur surprisingly realistic. She was burying her fingers into Bec, who sat at her heels with solemn appraisal.
Dave had a lot of choice words about Bec. The dog gave him dark feelings, perhaps stemming from how he could never quite stare into Bec’s eyes. Jade never pretended to pass of Bec as a familiar, given her rights training as the gamekeeper, but her honesty didn’t loosen any tufts of white fur from his mouth or from his robes. At least Rose never brought her familiar to the games—though, passing off Jaspers as a normal cat felt suspicious to Dave. No matter how John tried to convince him that Jaspers was a normal cat, there was still a stench of death on the feline.
“What’d he tell you?” he mumbled behind his scarf, turning in time to catch the butterbeer totter dangerously towards his side again.
“Nothing much, he just said he didn’t think you’d be coming… oh! There he is!” Jade waved frantically at the scarlet players, then turned her eyes dreamily to the sky. “Oh, I think Jupiter will be bright tonight…”
Rose applauded through her mittens, muttering from the side of her mouth, “Why wouldn’t John expect you to attend his glorious aim towards fame?”
Dave scowled. For all her dry wit, he knew that Rose sometimes came around to help polish John’s various awards and commendations in quiet glowing pride. He refused to answer her, either way. There was shame in telling her what had happened, especially since she would understand, and he didn’t want anybody’s understanding. Fortunately, Rose didn’t press on, likely because Jade was standing behind them. Instead, he applauded with the rest of them, and stuck his frozen hands back into his pockets when the players were safely in the air.
The game went as expected—nonsensically. Nothing made any sense, but Dave kept his eyes focused on John, watching him swoop around on the field. He thought John was probably the best Seeker from all the houses, and he trusted his own opinion, since he had good opinions. John easily outpaced the Slytherins, swooping in and out, hair sticking out everywhere as his red robes flapped behind him. Though he wasn’t sure what John exactly did (“Well-meaning lad chases golden ball, Dave—”), he knew John had deft talent in the air. He was undefeatable, swerving around the corners at a fast pace, twirling deftly around his opponents, and his prankster’s gambit roared its ugly head as he faked out the other Seeker at least three times by pretending to see the thingy. Or, he guessed that was the case, he couldn’t exactly figure out what John was doing half the time (“Boy chase ball, Dave—”), but he knew John was winning. He always seemed to know which way the wind would flow, floating easily along the drafts, guided by the currents, moving faster than Dave had ever seen.
As expected, as the points drew to a draw, John began to hurtle down to catch the Snatch (“Snitch, Dave, Snatch would make Quidditch quite another game—”) and the entire audience suddenly roared with noise. The other Seeker was too late, the fake-outs having tired the green figure out, and though they struggled to dive, John’s pull was sharper, and he stretched out his hand and—
Three things happened at once.
The first, John’s flung-out hand caught the Golden Snitch with eloquence, securing him as Gryffindor’s beloved hero.
The second, John rammed his face into the Bludger. Bludgers usually hit players. But in this case, John undoubtedly hit the Bludger, ramming his face into the ball with a sickeningly loud crunch.
Dave heard nothing for a moment; just a quiet white noise, a sudden deafening where it felt like his world had shattered, and John fell quietly from the air in the sudden vacuum. When he collapsed onto the ground, his crimson robes settled on his still limbs like a growing pool of blood. Dave thought he might have stood up—he might have yelled—he might have seen Rose whip out her wand, or Bec suddenly leap from the stands—but the cold on his hands suddenly slipped inside him, chilling his stomach into an ugly, worried chasm splitting inside him and scratching icicles at his chest. He couldn’t quite remember what happened next, except for the last thing.
The third, the boy’s butterbeer really did spill all down Dave’s front.
He heard the curtains get drawn, and when he turned to look, Rose was standing kindly above them with her book. The hospital ward was quiet, except for the occasional moan. A miserable boils patient rested a few beds down, a victim from a potions experiment gone wrong.
Dave leaned back on his chair, eating pumpkin pasties with reckless abandon. John was still asleep, nose bandaged with a faintly glowing white. The dim light cast shadows from his cheekbones, and his freshly bandaged arm was neatly arranged parallel to him. He would have suffered more damages if it hadn’t been for a few well-placed charms here and there. Dave thought he was all right with seeing John like this, now. The first few hours had been painful, but after he had wheedled to stay after-hours, he thought he stopped having the gaping pit in his stomach. He didn’t know how to feel, or if he felt anything—just that hours passed like minutes when he watched John sleep. The little twerp sometimes rustled and tried to roll over, though Dave forcefully stopped him a few times from crushing his spelled arm. In the end, contemplation over feelings didn’t befit him. He decided to eat pastries and spill crumbs over the white sheets while he played bodyguard. They called it an accident, but Rose had sharp, suspicious eyes and had gone to investigate.
“It wasn’t a hex,” she reported. “He merely ran into the Bludger, and He-Who-Is-Already-Here had no hand in this.” She wiped off the tufts of white fur from a chair, where Jade had been visiting earlier, and sat down with a smoothing of her skirt. She tucked her large book neatly in her lap, and though it burped discretely, Dave politely ignored it. He stopped questioning where Rose got her books, a long time ago. In the beginning, there were reports of books growling loudly from the Restricted Section. Later, the reports turned to books yelping.
“Are you sure?” he asked, sharing half a pumpkin pastry with her.
“I checked everything I could find, and Jade is running further calculations. She’s adept in these confounding times. I even managed to take a look at the Snitch before Professor Scratch removed it from the premises,” she said, accepting half a pumpkin pastry from him.
“And, shit, there’s nothing suspicious about Professor Scratch snatching Snitches.” Dave bit deeply into the pastry, leaving crumbs on his robes. Their current Defense against Dark Arts professor always had him slightly weary, though Rose always assured him that she had it under control. Under control, Merlin’s fine plush ass, Dave didn’t trust him for a moment.
“I checked for hexes before he took it. Nothing of heightened suspicion, and Professor Scratch promised to return the Snitch to John before the week’s end.” Rose leaned forward to stroke a tendril of hair off John’s face. “Are you all right?”
“Me?” Dave scoffed. “I’m not the one who slammed his stupid face into a bludgeon.”
“Surprisingly accurate on the sports terminology. But really,” Rose said, dropping her voice, “But I wouldn’t be surprised if this affected you.”
“I’m fine,” Dave said to the torn-apart pumpkin pastry. “Not the one in the hospital bed.”
“John often finds himself in hospital beds.” Rose quirked a small smile. “He’s rather careless, isn’t he?”
“Little goober probably has no idea what hit him. Broken nose, broken arm, missing teeth…” John looked small, lying in the hospital bed. They had plenty of sleepovers in John’s bed, large enough to fit two comfortably and four uncomfortably. He usually fell asleep long after John already nodded off, and he knew how John usually looked asleep—stupid mouth open, hair messy. Now, John had small upset lines on his forehead, a slight scowl forming around his lips.
It stirred a sad, uncomfortable feeling inside him.
“They’ve got a spell to grow them back in,” she said, gently lifting John’s lip to show the gaping space of his two front teeth. Dave thought the two teeth were excellent additions to the Quidditch field, lost within the grass. John, however, looked strange without them. Dave couldn’t tell if he looked better or worse, with the holes in his mouth. He looked different. But he wasn’t smiling in his sleep, and if he wasn’t smiling, Dave had no way of knowing how it would look.
That didn’t stop him from trying to take a picture to laugh at him later.
“Good. Enough of him whistling in his sleep all the time,” he said out loud.
“They’re even going to grow them into normal size,” Rose said, “Smaller than they used to be, but more fitting for his dental architecture.”
“Wait,” Dave said abruptly. “They’re not going to be beaver teeth anymore?”
“I wouldn’t quite associate his old teeth with a friendly rodent, but, yes, they will be smaller and different—”
“Holy shit.” Dave dropped his pastry onto the table, a strange feeling crawling up from his spine, sloshing around in his stomach. “Back the fuck truck up here, they’re going to fix his teeth? Shit, poor kid’s not even awake and everything’s going to change, Rip Van Winkle his little head, Tooth Fairy’s shaking her head somewhere at this grade-A criminal ass offense—”
“You’re strangely defensive for John’s personal autonomy. These pastries are simply delicious,” Rose said, dusting her fingers, “As much as I loath to interrupt your defense for John’s dentition, may I inquire where you purchased these delights?”
“I got them somewhere,” he said angrily, “Look, shit, where’s that matron? Someone’s got to lay down some hard truths on what not to do, fuck.”
“She’s in her quarters,” Rose said vaguely, “Really, these pastries taste divine, I’d like to know where you truly got them—” The miserable boils patient down the wing moaned again, and something clicked inside Rose. She sighed, putting away the remaining pastries neatly, likely to return them to their miserable owner sooner or later. On Dave’s part, he could care less. He had already signed their card with “I’m sure you look better now– D” after he had taken their pastries, and furthermore, he had a matron to discuss matters of the teeth.
They couldn’t take away John’s teeth. It made no sense. The gap in his teeth certainly made him look like a doofus, sure, like a collapsed bridge, but replacing his teeth altogether stirred him into a rage he couldn’t quite identify. They wouldn’t dare. They couldn’t dare, especially not to replace his stupid teeth with stupid normal teeth. John, with normal teeth? Ridiculous. It didn’t make sense, and he couldn’t imagine John’s stupid knock-kneed smile with normal teeth. Normal teeth. The words didn’t even sound like actual words in his head, and he gritted his teeth to hold back the flashes of red emotion gripping inside him.
Dave left the wing with sweeping robes, but he could hear Rose murmur in the background, “No, really, they’re scrumptious, when the boils allow you to open your mouth, please do tell me the recipe…”
If there was anyone who would be on his side, it would be Jade Harley, buckteeth bronco.
Though he knew she would be an adamant ally, he was reluctant to visit her. Nevertheless, when the matron refused to be moved by his third visit, fifth argument, and a compellingly drawn SBAHJ, he wrapped two scarves around his neck and trekked down to the hellish hole. He hated visiting Jade outside the school walls because she was always surrounded by eerie creatures, her dog being one of the eeriest. Not that he hated animals—he handfed his crow in the Owlery, and took personal pride in the crow’s well-being. He had no qualms in pretending to pass his crow off as an owl. It was the only way to send Howlers to John, at any rate.
He could see smoke spilling out from the chimney, and two figures behind the hut. Jade had a rifle, and Bec sat watchfully at her feet. She appeared to be scanning the Forbidden Forest, fingers ready across the white stock.
“Harley,” he said, and nearly fell into a snowdrift.
“Hey, cool kid,” Jade said, breaking out into a smile. She ran a few steps to steady his elbow, nearly dragging him back to her sentry spot. “Sorry! I didn’t see you. I was watching out for the spiders.”
“It always has to be spiders,” Dave mumbled, dusting the snow off his robes.
“It’s always spiders, when John gets hurt. It’s like they know,” and she dropped her voice conspiratorially at the last, drawn-out word. She mimicked a suspicious squint at the forest, and for the first time since John fell from the skies, Dave cracked a small smile.
“Your twelve mysteries of Hogwarts again?”
“Of course! Even Rose says they’re suspicious, and she thinks Hogwarts: A History is light reading.” Jade cleared her throat and began ticking them off, her recitation echoing in the light chilly air. “The giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest who watch John, the two shadows with the giant squid—and someone said they saw one of them walking around school—, and the Threshal with the broken neck, the stone cat in the hallway, the ghost in the tower, the ingredients of the Fizzng Whizzbees, the blind dragon in the mountains, the bard in the painting, the rumors about the vampires, aaaand the Minotaur in the caves.”
Her lips pursed. “Am I forgetting one?”
“Your friend, the crab,” Dave said, because he had heard the rendition of her story too many times to count. “Sorry, Harley, today I’m doing straight-up business. Came here to sign you up for the Buckteeth Brigade.”
“Ohhhh,” she said sympathetically, “They still won’t grow back John’s old teeth?”
“They’re not making it happen,” Dave confirmed, holding out the parchment and quill. The Bucktooth Brigade, alternatively called the Tenuous Toothiness, alternatively called the Dental Dissuaders, alternatively called, Give John Back his Stupid Teeth. Jade signed the lines with a flourish, curling her capitals elaborately and adding a small heart before handing it back to his frigid claws.
“I hope you convince them,” she said, “I’d hate it if I woke up and my teeth were different!” He thought the likelihood of that event occurring was high. He truly believed Jade Harley could sleep for years.
Instead, he said, “Probably stopping by Scratch’s office next. Rose thinks he has a lot of power, and power names are good. I’d get He-Who-Is-Already-Here to sign for this, but he’s not here, and Scratch is.”
Jade giggled behind her mittens, and Bec stirred in his sleep. “That’s a good idea, Dave. And when Dave wakes up, he’ll be so happy!”
“He’s still under whatever spell they cast on him. Out like a light most of the time.” Dave shrugged, noncommittal.
“That’s good,” Jade said more cheerfully than he expected anyone to react to discovering their best friend was still bedridden in a ward, “because I found his glasses—out in the field—here—” She stuck her hands in her pockets, and pressed shattered dark glasses into his hands. The bridge had been snapped and a frame bent out of shape, with both panes threaded with a spiderweb of cracks.
“They’re broken,” he said, rather stupidly. He felt something jagged hurt inside him, and staring down at the glasses repulsed him. John’s regular glasses were fine, but something about the way the shards fit into his cold fingers made him feel twisted and confused.
“Of course they’re broken. Are you a wizard or not? Oculus Reparo!” She waved her wand around, and the glasses zipped back into one piece. Dave snorted under his breath, but he felt himself relax to see the glasses back to their normal state. His own wand hadn’t been working well since it had snapped in half. He would have been more likely to set the glasses on fire if he tried any magic. Though his broken wand now signed his name as Dove Stroper, his SBAHJ comics had really increased in quality.
“Thanks,” he said, stuffing the glasses and parchment into his pocket.
“You really want things to stay the same, don’t you?” Jade grinned infectiously, smile splitting her face. “With John, I mean.”
“No,” Dave said, “He needs to wake up. While his ass is nestled between those comfy sheets and sick old ladies, all the first years are falling ass-first into his shitty pranks only he ever found hilarious.”
John was a mischievous prankster, who didn’t limit himself to time restraints. He charmed tiny rain clouds to appear in hallways at the mention of a certain phrase, and while many of the third years knew better than to mention codswallop, Dave saw many first years running frantically for their lives with rain splattering behind them. There were invisible walls raised at the mere cough resembling “poppycock” and rugs suddenly levitating at “corn syrup.” The word-sensitive prank spells were the worst, with John too busy sleeping to ward them off in time, leaving frightened young first years clinging to the levitating rugs for dear life until the professors pulled them down.
Dave didn’t miss John—that would be silly to think that—but he did find himself lacking in the food department. John used to try out silly new charmed items every week, his own inventions, like candy to vomit transparent butterflies or making earwax look like gold coins. He talked about running a store, when school was over, and he always spoke like Dave was the co-owner, though he never asked.
Only that doofus would forget to even ask.
“You’re smiling,” Jade marveled, her own fingers sketching the lines of her face. Dave quickly amended his mistake, putting on a stern mask, but the damage had already been inflicted. Jade laughed, a contagious peals of light laughter, as she doubled over her rifle. He could already see Bec stirring, and he began to back away before the all-seeing wonder woke up.
“You smiled! I saw you, Mr. Cool Kid!” Jade called from behind him, as he broke into a trot across the icy dirt path.
Dave had thought he would sleep.
He lay in his bed between the sheets, listening to the snores from the other beds. His bed by the window allowed him to see the moonlight steadily flow through the window, drenching his books and quills in light. Though the room was warm and relatively quiet, something unsettled inside his stomach.
The Bucktooth Brigade had been going well. He was getting signatures, and the headmaster had even agreed to meet with him eventually. After another squabble with the matron, he had eventually retired back to his room, but sleep would not rest on his thin eyelids. He wore his shades to bed, but suddenly, the protection over his eyes felt too dark.
He thought about John’s accident, the way he fell so quickly and softly from the skies. He always enjoyed spitballing expectations of John’s expiration at John, but they usually involved an explosion, a heroic death, a sacrifice. But the image of the falling red mark replayed in the darkness of his eyelids, beside the speckles of faint light, and so he didn’t sleep. He wouldn’t have nightmares—that would be silly. But he didn’t want to sleep, in fear of missing something. He needed to keep awake, because John could wake up any second from the hospital bed. And he wouldn’t have his teeth.
Dave sat up in the bed, and thought, John needed his teeth. John—would wake up, scared and confused without his oversized overbite. John was an idiot. He wasn’t like Dave, no. He’d be confused and likely run into walls. Without his teeth, he’d probably fall over and move around helplessly until somebody shoved him back in his bed. And he wouldn’t look the same. He’d look different. He wouldn’t have that stupid bucktooth smile when he saw Dave from across the hall. And he probably would have more trouble eating shitty food. Yeah. That was the problem.
John needed his teeth.
Rose answered the door at three in the morning with sharper eyes than he expected. In her dormitory, lit by a single wick, he could see a dark arts book lying open with some scribbled notes. She arched an eyebrow at his presence, but opened the door wider to allow him inside.
“Are you busy,” he said.
“Cool, let me borrow some ink.”
“Ink? What happened to yours?” She drew back to her cabinet, rustling through it quietly for her jars. A girl stirred in the corner from her bed, and Dave drew closer to the door, scowling. He had only managed to sneak out with John’s stupid invisibility cloak, inherited from John’s father, and he still felt a twinge of guilt for taking it. If he reminded himself of all the times John used the cloak to steal lollipops from his hand, though, he found himself easier to forgive.
“I used it,” he said shortly. “I borrowed your owl, too.”
“My owl,” she repeated dryly, passing him the ink. “What happened to your crow?”
“Does this have to do with John’s teeth?” She crossed her arms over her chest, back straight and eyebrows arched. He tucked away the ink in his bag underneath the cloak, and thought he heard a girl behind Rose mumble something about delicious fish.
“The headmaster won’t see me,” he said, adjusting his bag, “so gotta go above and beyond, up and up away, ollie the fuck outie, get the Ministry of Magic down here.”
“The Ministry. I’m not sitting here like goddamn Paddington Bear, waiting for someone to pick me up. We’ve got to get shit done.”
“And what, exactly, did you say to the Ministry of Magic, to take up their valuable time?” She leaned against the door frame, the candlelight silhouetting the thin stands of her hair crossing her face. She always had a sharp face, something appealing about her genuine soft smile and pursed lips, but he always sensed her judgment. Defensively, he shoved his hands in his pockets and thought how silly it must be for her to talk to a floating head in the hallway.
“Laid down the hard truth, that’s what. Shat out the cement bricks of honesty, that John can’t live without those teeth. He depends on that counter-weight, or he’ll fall face first on the ground. Again. Fuck, he’ll look ridiculous when he gives one of his dopey grins, you won’t even see his teeth at all.” Dave shook his head slowly. “Without those monoliths, nobody would remember his face. Instead of calling him Beaver Wonder Kid, he’ll just be Glasses Guy, and there’s loads of snot-nosed brats here wandering around with monocles hot gun glued to their faces.”
“Nobody calls him Beaver Wonder Kid. At least, not to my knowledge,” Rose said, tapping her finger on her wand dangerously, “But either way, I’m beginning to believe your overflowing penchant to protect John’s autonomous teeth may very well—reflect an overbearing concern?”
“Concern?” He lifted up his shades to peer at her. “Why would I even care about him?”
For once, Rose seemed to grasping for words. “You don’t… care, about John’s well-being.”
“Not really. He’s asleep, that’s fine. Probably having goober dreams, kick the sheets and everything. I don’t really care,” he said louder, enough that he could hear the girl behind Rose mumble something victoriously about catching delicious trout.
“You don’t care…” Rose murmured, something else lighting in her eyes. Dave knew that look far too well, and deciding against paying 22 knuts so the doctor could be In, he began to back away into the dark halls, where only the torches lit the way.
“Let me know if your owl comes back with a response,” he said, swooping on the cloak over his head. “I mailed them all, so someone should be putting feather to paper.”
“I’ll certainly inform you if the Department of Magical Transportation will take drastic measures for this occasion,” she called softly down the hall, and he could have sworn that she had her eyes on his invisible back, even as he jogged all the way back to the owlery to write more letters to the Department of Mysteries, involving a strong suggestion to incorporate John’s dental monoliths into their collection.
Rose’s implication was completely wrong. He wasn’t overdoing this at all.
“Dave, you’re really overdoing it,” Jade cried out, surrounded by small badges. She held out a crumpled parchment in her hand, and he accepted it with ink-stained fingers.
“Overdoing what?” he asked coolly, ignoring the feathers nesting in his hair.
“The Ministry sent me back a letter from your letter because you lettered them, and you signed it… Dove Stroper?” She squinted over his shoulder. “And the return address being to a Miss Jode Hodey?”
“Thanks, Hodey, but if that’s all, can’t talk. Juggling a lot of Rememballs at the moment.” He stuffed the parchment back in his pocket, and began to sketch out another badge.
“That’s exactly it! You’re going very, very, very overboard. I mean, the Bucktooth Brigade is a very bad name, and you’re making badges for it! And you tried to elicit help from SPEW?” She turned towards him with despairing eyes, her usually jocular face turned worried over him. Dave shrugged, finally putting down his quill. He wasn’t ashamed. John had friends with the house elves, anyway, despite being—John.
John’s first encounter with the house elves had been disastrous. In an act of flippancy, he had given away some socks to a few studious house elves, which had lead to a major uproar and required bartering from the headmaster to sort things out. To amend for his actions, John decided to be culturally sensitive and began to hoard his socks away from the house elves, leading to suspicious and hurt feelings for not being permitted to touch his socks. They had finally settled into a strange sort of agreement, which Dave couldn’t follow, and somehow John and the house elves became very good friends. They even left cakes on his bed as presents, to John’s absolute horror.
“You’re smiling again.”
“Dave,” she said, and she sat next to him on the floor. Her dark robes billowed out before descending beside her, thin hands moving over the badges. “Have you even gone to visit John since he went to the hospital wing?”
“No,” he said, “I can’t babysit him every second. Is he awake yet?”
“He’s still asleep, but, Dave!” Jade twisted her fingers. “You haven’t visited him, and you don’t look like you’ve slept at all.”
“I’ve slept,” he said, affronted. He’d even slept for a good half hour that night, which felt victorious to him. Still, he’d rather not tell Harley about the faint bad feelings residing within him, like the murky residue left after high tide.
How could he sleep, anyway? He was too busy. Far too busy. There were letters to send and badges to create, people to solicit, the matron to badger, the headmaster to bargain, the professors to gamble. John with absolutely plain, normal teeth felt bad to him. Like something had gone sour in his mouth.
“I know you’re worried about him, but—”
“I’m not worried about him. He can take care of himself.” Dave wasn’t an idiot. John was a good wizard, even though he sometimes got tangled up in his own cape in the air. He was quick on his feet in most classes, Divination aside. And he was the one who would fight on the front lines if He-Who-Is-Already-Here was actually already here. He knew this about John.
“Then why are you doing this, Dave?” Jade spread out her fingers like a blooming flower, cupping her face and resting her elbows on her legs.
“He needs his teeth.”
“I’m happy that you like my teeth so much, but—”
“Your teeth?” Dave realized, too late, what she meant. Even as he tore his gaze away from her teeth, he saw a realization flicker in her eyes, the same knowingness Bec seemed to have about all of them. He tried to backtrack, mumbling excuses about that’s what he meant, and of course her teeth, all buckteeth everywhere, but Jade’s knowing expression wouldn’t leave her face. She sat with her dress spilled out around her and watched him quietly fix a few more badges for the Buckteeth Brigade, but he knew she knew something that he had yet to know.
The end did not come with a bang, but a whimper and ten tons of chocolate frogs.
He could have hardly expected the stampede of chocolaty frog legs to use him as a leaping board, and even as he roared and sent fritzes of magic rebounding down the open courtyard, he knew this was the end. Every swing of his broken wand acted as a summoning for more candied goodness stomping onto his face, the amphibians taking revenge on their fallen Cadbury comrades. After a successful clean smack of the frogs, another one leapt into his mouth, and he thought, he truly died as he lived.
“Dave!” Jade ran up to him, another few boxes of chocolate frogs in her arms. “I’m so sorry! They just got out of control, and—”
“I told her John could not possibly consume so many frogs, but she did not heed my words.” Rose emerged behind her, swinging bags from Honeydukes. “As you might say, it—kept hapening?” Her earnest amusement behind her hand did not appease Dave, who crawled up from his chocolate sacrifice.
“You’re going to visit him?” he asked, catching another frog in mid-leap to pass over to Jade.
“Yes. And we would like if you came along.” Rose glanced at Jade, who nodded furiously, her hair beginning to muss.
“You’re not busy! You haven’t visited John at all, but you’ve been so—strange, about his teeth,” Jade said, stomping her foot and releasing another short barrage of frogs. “You’re avoiding him for some reason, and I want to know why.”
“Fine. You caught me. Take me in, officer.” Dave pushed his wrists together, mimicking handcuffs. “I got into a shitty fight with Egbert before the game. He wanted to double date at the Yule Ball and I called him Beaver Face because I’m an asshole. Now I’m living in the tenth circle of icy hell trying to pray to the Tooth Fairy that I’ll be a good little boy if she gives him back his beaver teeth so I don’t have to look bad. All right?”
“Beaver Face—” Jade started indignantly, but Rose rested her arm on her shoulder.
“I don’t think that’s quite accurate.”
“Great advice from flighty broads.” Dave crossed his arms defensively over his chest. “Or should I just tell you about my dream last night? I was at a sausage festival, and this hairy dude—super hairy, my son turned into a teenage werewolf kind of hairy—started sucking on one of them, before he turned into a giant pile of turd.”
“As much as I enjoy analyzing cigars, we have a different problem at hand. Did John say who he was taking to the Yule Ball?” Rose tilted her head. “Is that why you were upset?”
Dave stared up at the sky, where an owl circled around to deliver something to Jade. He could see her out of the corner of his eye, taking a few steps back to roll off the parchment from the talon. He didn’t like what Rose was asking. He liked less what he felt in his stomach for the answer.
“Didn’t care, don’t care,” he told the sky.
“He’d probably agree to go with anybody who asked,” Rose said optimistically, “Jade, for instance.”
“Jade’s like a sister to him,” he scoffed.
“Yes,” Rose said, draping her hand over his forearm with an exaggerated wink, “And I am like a sister to you.”
Before he managed to shake off the chills to whip back a coolly calculated result, Jade gave a loud cry, and lowered the parchment. She beamed at both of them, looking first at one, then the other, brimming with unspeakable excitement. Eventually, after two tries, she spoke.
“He’s awake! John is awake!”
“Dave? Is that you?”
John’s voice was raspy, likely from his decades of sleep. Dave stood behind the curtains, and took a deep breath until it felt like his chest would burst. John’s dim silhouette moved again, daylight twirling specks of dust to hit the cloth. The entire wing smelled like herbs and potions, and his fingers tightened on the curtain. He didn’t know why he couldn’t just enter, since it was only John. But since it was John, his chest ached, and he forced himself forward, like pulling off a band-aid.
“Nah. Got the wrong guy,” he mumbled, and shuffled forward to sit at the nearby chair.
John sat in the bed, some get-well cards opened with soft songs playing. Only that idiot would actually bother to read the store-bought cards with hasty signatures. The color hadn’t reappeared in his face, but he was less pallid than before, struggling warmth underneath his cold skin and stiff hospital pajamas. Though bags still rested under his eyes, he moved with a vitality that said he wouldn’t stay in the bed for long. His nose and arm were still bandaged, but he grinned, and Dave suddenly felt glad he was already sitting down, because they had given him—the stupid overbite—and he was glad.
“You’re smiling, Dave,” John said, talking with his stupid beaver teeth. The letters, the organization, the solicitation, the employment of the ghosts, they had all been worth it, because John had his stupid teeth.
“I’m not smiling,” Dave said, but John wouldn’t have any of that. He opened his good arm for a hug. Dave mumbled something else, but he gently gripped John’s shoulder for the awkward and hasty hug before shrinking back to his chair.
“I got your get-well card,” John said, holding open the card with enchanted bunnies hopping on the cover. One stayed still and stared into Dave’s eyes before hopping off the visible paper, into the terrain of green paint.
“Yeah.” Dave shrugged. “Just took it from the trash here.”
“I kinda figured. Unless I really am pregnant.” John closed the cards, sorting them back onto the stand. “Someone ate most of my candy, but I still got some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, if you want any. My teeth are still kinda sore, so I had to suck on a booger flavored one for hours…”
Dave didn’t ask why John didn’t just spit it out.
“Yeah,” he said to his hands, “Sorry about your teeth. Getting knocked out and shit.”
“It’s okay. At least we won the game, and maybe we can get House Cup and stuff,” John said, brightening. “I thought they usually fixed your teeth when they grew them back, though… The matron won’t really tell me anything, she just looks really annoyed.”
“Guess they couldn’t do anything about your mammoth teeth. Hard-working nurses probably worked around the clock, using their Omnioculars to stare into your gaping maw, twiddling around to shrink down those ginormous ivory elephants. It’s the end of the world scenario, holy shit, is that meteor the size of North Yorkshire, no, it’s the size of Egbert’s humongous enamels, grab your raincoats and your kids because you’re literally gonna be praying to the pearly whites. Probably thought your fangs were Erumpent horns, thought touching those tusks would send them straight-up into Hogwarts Heaven.” Dave ran his fingers over his tie, almost incessantly, while he was talking. He straightened out the tip before he raised his eyes imperceptibly behind his shades.
“More like Pigfarts Penitentiary,” John said placidly, lying back down on his pillows.
“Yeah.” Dave didn’t know what he was expecting, or why he was disappointed by the lack of response. He hadn’t wanted John to get angry, or to get that wretched little expression he had seen before the match, but the glib response wasn’t what he wanted, either. He just thought the sunlight felt bright against his robes, and the little treacherous Snitch sat golden on the stand beside the get-well cards. John had carelessly left his wand lying beside it (Alder, phoenix feather), still looking far better his own (Elder, dragon heartstring) even when half-buried in get-well sparkles. He neatened the cards, and began to neaten John’s collar on his pajamas, already mussed up from rolling around in bed.
“Are you disappointed?” John asked. Dave smoothed out the folds, stiffening the ends, and watched the lump in John’s throat move up and down.
“Why would I be disappointed?”
“I dunno. You probably forgot about it already,” John said quickly, stupid little teeth gnawing on his lip, “but before the match, we were talkin’ and stuff, and I don’t really remember what you said but I think you said you didn’t like my teeth or something?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I didn’t.” Dave neatened up John’s buttons. “I said you had a beaver face.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah, that’s what you said. But you meant you didn’t like my teeth, and stuff,” John said, crossing his hands over his chest to push Dave’s hands away. “You’re probably right, I do look kinda like a beaver… I wouldn’t really super want smaller teeth, but maybe I should think about it. They’ve got charms for that, nowadays, like Botox Dentalis or whatever.”
“Don’t change them,” Dave blurted out without thinking.
“Why?” John blinked owlishly at him. “You don’t even like them.”
“I never said I didn’t like them. Shit. I said—” Dave shoved his hands in his pockets, and stared at his Converse shoes. “I just said you looked like a beaver. It didn’t mean shit.”
John didn’t say anything. For being such a clever prankster, his expressions were usually transparent, written all over his stupid face. But for once, he only looked at Dave with a scrutinizing, unreadable expression. He shrugged once, briefly, shoulders thin under his given pajamas, and he returned to playing around with the cards from the chocolate frogs. Dave could see John got a third Merlin, and he could see the scars like lightning inside him. John didn’t deserve this.
But Dave—couldn’t say it. His tie felt too tight across his throat and his socks too warm, and he balled his fists against his thighs.
“I like your beaver teeth,” he said. His voice barely rose above a notch, but it was enough for John to turn, Merlin nearly sliding off the bed.
“Are you just saying that?” But John didn’t seem to mind either way, relief on his face, and Dave buried his face in his hands.
“No,” he mumbled, because he knew he liked the teeth. He liked John’s beaver teeth, the same way he liked John’s grin at him across the hall, John’s small smiles during the sleepovers, John’s cheeky laugh at his own stupid jokes. He liked John’s smile. He liked a lot of things about John.
“Oh,” John said, once, surprised, and then, “Oh,” warm, happy, pleasant, and suddenly knowing. Dave could have stopped there. He should have stopped there, but the darkness of his hands gave him courage, and the small slits of light gently pressed kisses to his cold skin. He thought that John hadn’t asked if he wanted to be co-owner of his stupid prank store, and he thought he didn’t need to be asked.
“Go to the Yule Ball with me.” Dave didn’t look up from his hands, because he knew the red staining his cheeks and ears would betray him. His voice somehow kept steady, and he held his breath, until it felt like he would burst.
Dave looked up, and John sucked on his chocolate frog. It took John another moment to look up again, hands full of chocolate.
“Okay?” Dave repeated.
“Yeah. Okay. I mean, it’s not for a really long time,” John said apologetically for the buffering months, “But if you don’t mind waiting, I’ll go with you. Oh, Merlin’s flabby buttocks, I got another of him. Hey, I’ll trade you Merlin if you get me Cliodna. You’ve got ten of her or something. And she’s scratching her nose in half of them, you gotta give me a non-scratchy one…”
“Cool,” Dave said, “and no.” He let his heart thump wildly in between his rib cage, leaning on the bed. John sulkily sucked on the frog, careful of his newborn teeth. Dave rested his chin on his hand, and watched John eat the frog like he was eating a corncob. He couldn’t trust, of course, if John actually knew he was agreeing to a date. It didn’t seem to matter as much anymore. It just felt better, since John had his stupid beaver teeth with the stupid little grin, and Dave liked the way John smiled at him.
“You’re smiling.” John grinned at him, like he knew a stupid secret only the two of them shared. Outside, the students still bustled around the hallways, magic leapt from wands, a train rumbled somewhere, and another Quoddotch game was being scheduled.
“Yeah,” Dave said, gently resting his wrist over John’s hand. “I guess I am.”