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like a hell-broth boil and bubble

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like a hell-broth boil and bubble

 

Chapter 1

Peter shows up just a minute after the door closes after Derek. He pulls a map from somewhere for Stiles to show him the location of his home town. They walk out of the castle, and across the yard. Peter's got Stiles school trunk over one shoulder, like it's made from foam. It's a cold day, there's a fresh layer of snow on the ground.

“I think it's safe to assume the teacher Derek's been seeing is Kate Argent, then.”

Oh, that's so unfair. Lightly, Stiles tell him, “If it isn't true, your assumption will make you look like an ass.”

Peter smiles, tight-mouthed. “I'll take that risk, small as it is. Derek's own inability to hide anything once her name came up, your dislike of her is rather telling.”

Stiles swallows the first impulse to tell him he's been disliking Kate since well before he knew. “What's your point?”

“I am curious. Do you think she's done this?”

Stiles stumbles in his effort to take a good look at Peter's face, check if he's seriously asking. “I'm – I don't want to think that anyone I've ever met is capable of this.”

“But?”

But... “This morning, I was so sure she was behind the poisoning. I'd still believe that, easily. But what if that was just a distraction to grab the kids and... What if someone was counting on everyone looking first at Kate?”

“So you don't think it's her.”

“I don't know. I wouldn't hang her just yet.”

“We don't have to wait for the verdict on the murders for that. I'll hang her – claw her open – just for putting her filthy hands on my nephew.”

It'd be nice to be able to pretend it's a joke, but Stiles can't. He can feel in every calm, carefully chosen word that this is exactly what will happen to Kate, if Peter gets to her.

He says, “But not before you find out if it was her or not.”

“Really,” Peter says softly.

“Your nephew – and your niece – are still supposed to come back to Hogwarts after the break. And if Kate wasn't the one who did this...” They'll be in danger. They will all be in danger. “Have you seen her? After we met her this morning?”

“No. Unfortunately.”

Well, the fortune of it is questionable. “From what I know about Kate Argent, she's a little – impulsive, I guess. And mean. But she's not stupid, and whoever did this, whoever killed these kids – this was planned. It would mean she chose the distraction that could be connected to her family on purpose and I'm just not sure she'd do that.”

“Depends on the end goal,” Peter says thoughtfully. “Depends what these sacrifices were offered for.”

“So they are sacrifices.”

“Yes, I believe so. What kind, for what purpose – I'll have to look through my library. But there is no doubt that the murders are symbolic and ritualistic in nature, and that powerful magic happened in that theater early this morning.”

“It has something to do with Hogwarts. It's like, it's tied to the very foundation of it.”

“Curious choice of words,” Peter says. They’re beyond the wards, on the road to Hogsmeade. “This is far enough. Hold onto me and think hard of a secluded place near your house you think might be convenient to materialize to and involves the least fuss.”

This is actually easy enough to do, because Stiles' house opens in the back into an old orchard. He's a bit nervous his focus will slip, but he's read about this spell. It's quick, if very hard to do.

He takes Peter by the arm and closes his eyes, thinking as hard as he can manage about the dark wood and reflection of his window, the angle of it, the way it looks like from the orchard. A personal earthquake unsettles his stomach and makes him lose his footing for a second, and then Peter is talking again.

“Right place?”

Stiles looks around, then up at his house. They're exactly where he's pictured them. “Yeah. Yeah, this is me.”

“And your trunk,” Peter says, lowering it from his shoulder with amazing ease. “I'd like to meet your father, if that's possible.”

“I'm not sure what shift he's on, but we can go in and check,” Stiles offers.

They walk up to the house. “He's home,” Peter announces before Stiles can dig up his key. “In - the kitchen, I guess.”

Dad comes to the door to answer the bell in pajamas and with Stiles' huge cocoa mug filled with coffee. He grabs Stiles into a hug – this is officially the day Stiles has got the most hugs in history – forehead crinkled in that way that means he's worried and hates that Stiles is so far away most of the time.

“You okay, kid?” he asks quietly. “Trouble?”

Stiles swallows against his shoulder. “Sort of, yeah. I mean, not with me. Just trouble at school, so we get to start the break early.”

“You've grown taller,” dad says after he takes a good look at him. “How'd you managed that? You've only been away for three months.”

“Magic,” Stiles says, wiggling his fingers, because dad always smiles when he does. “Dad, this is Peter Hale. He was kind enough to take me home – through a shortcut. No train.”

They shake hands, eying one another warily.

“Shortcut?” dad asks.

Peter says, “Side-apparition,” like he's seriously expecting that'll mean anything to John Silinski.

“Like teleportation,” Stiles explains. “Star Trek style – it's grown-up magic. They don't let me do that on my own.”

“Good, I don't fancy getting you back home from Nigeria, where all the chances are you'd wind up. Come on in, Mr. Hale. Coffee?”

Peter decides to risk it despite Stiles frantic head shake. They go into the bright, clean kitchen – obviously dad hadn't bothered to occasionally fry even an egg in there. Stiles whispers, under his breath, “Told you so” when Peter makes a startled, inelegant noise at the first sip of coffee. Come on, like he couldn't smell how strong that killing brew is before they've even entered the house.

“You wanted to see where your daughter will come to stay, I guess?”

“His daughter is only, like, ten,” Stiles interjects immediately. “Too young for Hogwarts. Cora is his niece, dad.”

“Niece, then.”

“I wasn't aware Cora was planning to spend time here, though I don't see a problem with that. If anything, I was worried about Derek.”

This is so on purpose, Stiles can't help but gape at Peter. What the heck is he up to?

“Derek,” dad repeats slowly, obviously trying to remember.

“Yes,” Peter says, sipping the coffee without a change in expression now. “My nephew. Your son's boyfriend.”

Dad raises his eyebrows. He doesn't look upset – not that Stiles has expected him to be - just I'm missing something here puzzled. Stiles hurries to reassure him, “It's new. Very new. Like, today new, okay? I would have told you.”

“Alright. I think I need – real pants for this conversation.”

Dad goes out of the room with a slight frown, and Stiles turns to Peter. “If he starts on about condoms and – and lubricants, I swear to God, I will burst your eardrums. I know how, I'll do it.”

“Knowing about lubricants is never a bad idea, Stiles,” Peter tells him.

“Which is why there are books! And the internet! And also, you butt your head in where it doesn't belong, okay? When and how I talk to my father about Derek is my choice.”

“As long as you do. But you obviously haven't yet.”

“When, exactly, was I supposed to find the time to talk to him, are you nuts?”

“The bite you're carrying is several weeks old, at least.”

“Only, no one's bothered to explain to me what it means that it's not healing, okay. And while your werewolf mojo is all fine and helpful, I'm human. I'm gonna need a human kind of acknowledgment before I go around announcing a relationship to my dad!”

“A human kind of acknowledgment? Like what?”

“Like, I don't know! Well, kissing comes to mind!”

Peter leaves his empty mug on the table, frowns. “What, exactly, were you two doing when that bite happened?”

“Um, arguing,” Stiles admits. Peter's assumption they'd been doing something more intimate makes perfect sense, though. It's not hard to imagine a bite like that happening accidentally in the heat of the moment, control and teeth slipping. It’s probably what all the Hales think has happened. A make out session that went too far.

“Arguing,” Peter repeats, like he's not quite sure how, exactly, that word fits into the conversation.

“Well, it was for his own good!”

“I see,” Peter says, still somewhat blank. “May I take a look at the bite?”

The very thought of showing it off to Peter makes Stiles blanch a little, irritation running up his spine , but he grits his teeth. It's on his neck, not on his butt. It's not exactly painful to just point your chin to the side.

Peter doesn't touch him, but he inhales deeply near Stiles' neck before retreating. “That's – barely a scrape.”

Feeling a little defensive, Stiles says, “But it's not healing.”

“No, it's not. And it smells ripe.”

“Ugrh, way to make it sound disgusting. Derek didn't make it sound like it's something bad.”

“You don't understand,” Peter says gently, seriously. “There's nothing bad in a start of a courtship, even at your age. It doesn't even matter if it works out or not in the end. The process still brings a lot of joy to the pack. And for the bite to take on so little between the two of you, it's rare. Not unheard of, just rare. It makes me think it'll be epic to witness, whichever way it goes. That's all.”

“Epic,” Stiles repeats. Nothing about his crush on Derek has ever seemed epic to him. So many people are on the same boat. And it's not like Derek took one look at him and dropped Kate instantly. He shakes his head. “You're wrong.”

“We'll see,” Peter says evenly. “Your father is coming back.”

Dad indeed comes back, dressed in his uniform. “Just to make sure – we're talking about the guy who saved you from the fire on Halloween?”

“He didn't save me from it, I didn't need any saving, okay, it was only a tiny little fire!” At his father's raised eyebrows, Stiles gives up. “Yeah. Him.”

Dad nods, asks, “The guy who made the blackberries?”

“He didn't make the blackberries, dad, he found them. But, er, yep. That's him.”

“Well, I guess you can do worse than someone who can take care of you if you two ever get lost in the wild.”

Stiles snickers. Derek could feed him, and carry him home if needs be and fight off all the wild animals that come after them while he's in the middle of those two. Though he wouldn't have to, because Stiles would have his wand. “I'm glad you approve. I guess.”

Peter leaves soon after that, but not before making sure to personally invite dad to crash the Hales' Christmas. Stiles wants so badly to show real magic to his dad that he doesn't even care much that they'll be maybe ruining their day – but Derek's dad also said it's okay. Once Peter is gone, dad sits at the table and patiently waits until Stiles makes himself warm cocoa. When there's nothing left to procrastinate with, Stiles takes the place across the table.

“So?” Dad asks. “What happened at school?”

Mindful to tame the story just a smidgen where Cora is concerned, Stiles tells him about the previous night and that morning.

*

Scott lives too far away to visit on holidays, and neither of them has an owl, which means they usually exchange gifts before they board the train. Stiles has left early this time, so they haven't done that. Fortunately, Cora's owl, Arlene, keeps coming back to Stiles' house like it's her home. She hunts her own food, just flies out in the night and comes back sated, which is also fortunate because Stiles isn't sure how would his small town take it if he suddenly started buying dozens or however many mice every week.

Stiles spends a lot of his time combing through his small collection of books for any and all information on human sacrifices and Hogwarts founders. There's barely any info on it, but he keeps looking for it, obsessively, because the faces of those kids keep flashing in front of his eyes. He can't wait to get back to Hogwarts and go through the library there.

The aurors come to ask him questions on his second day at home. There's two of them, a man and a woman. Both are dressed flawlessly like muggles – in identical black suits. In fact, they are two pairs of sunglasses from being able to pass as extras in the Men in Black movies. The questions they ask are short and few. Mostly they want to know if Stiles and Derek cast any magic that could mess with their investigation, and if they'd moved anything. The whole thing doesn't take more than five minutes altogether. It's underwhelming.

The only somewhat exciting thing that happens before Christmas is Lydia Martin. She lives at the other end of the street, in a large white house. Stiles had a huge crush on her when they were together in school. She's in her second year of high school now, beloved and on the top of the food chain – or so Stiles imagines.

Last winter break, she threw a huge New Year's party. Stiles was invited, he found his printed-out invitation in the mailbox about a week in advance. Everyone who is anything in their little town was invited – plus a bunch of people from her school in London - and being the son of the local police chief has its merits. He went, for the lack of anything else to do and for the chance to maybe get to know Lydia. It got boring quickly. He didn't know anyone there well enough to talk to and she was busy, so he was in his own bed long before midnight.

The first time he got a chance to actually talk to her since their science project from back when they were eight – and which they rocked without any help from parents – was last summer. They were both at the local pharmacy, waiting in line. She spoke to him first, asked him to remind him where he went to school now. The last thing Stiles expected that day was a conversation with Lydia Martin, so he told her 'up north' and ran. Hogwarts is hard to explain away, especially to people how have the access to the Internet and might try to google it.

And now Lydia's here, on his doorstep.

Dad's at work, so Stiles answers the door himself. One look at her perfectly put together appearance makes him look underdressed in his plain, loose clothes, but Lydia just smiles her very pretty – and very fake – smile at him.

“Hello, Stiles,” she says.

“Lydia. Hi.”

She hands him a white envelope. “You ignored my invitation last year, so I've decided to come by and personally invite you this time. I'm throwing a party on the 31th. You should come.”

A thing Stiles knows about Lydia from worshiping her from afar is that while yes, she gets everything she wants, it's not because it falls into her lap. It's because she works doggedly until it's in her hands. What she wants from him, he's not sure. But it's something that's been on her mind since last summer, when she spoke to him first, so she'll be very determined to get it.

He doesn't correct her about not showing up last year. He didn't stay very long, after all.

“Okay,” he says, opening the invitation on the spot. “Thanks.”

She gives him another smile and turns to leave. He's not sure if he'll go or not, so he doesn't promise he will. Cora might be over, anyway.

Huh.

“Hey, Lydia,” he calls her back. “A friend will be staying with me for a part of the break– can she come along?”

“Of course,” Lydia says. “Girlfriend?”

“A girl, definitely,” he laughs, remembering fondly Scott and Allison's teasing that's now stopped. “But just a friend.”

“Well, that might change at the party,” Lydia says. It's – she's teasing, joking with him.

Stiles grins, rubbing his neck, “That'd be super weird, since I'm sort of dating her brother.”

And he's managed to stun Lydia Marin into gaping like a fish – albeit a very attractive fish – for a second before she finds her words. “Sort of dating?”

“There haven't been any, uh, actual dates yet. Just...” the biting, but Stiles is happy enough to let Lydia assume he means other things, waving his hand vaguely.

Lydia gives him another smile, this one a lot closer to honest. “Bring him along, too, of you want. But Stiles, don't be anyone's dirty little secret - it's not worth it.”

With that piece of ironic advice, Lydia leaves.

*

Late last night, after the modest, meat-free Christmas Eve dinner, Stiles sent Arlene out with the gifts. Now that he's had an owl at his disposal, he's managed to figure out how the owl order works – though they keep sending him their catalogs now. The gifts are tragically plain, but he likes to think they're at least playful and/or thought out. A Quidditch book for Scott – because let's face it, that's the only way he'd ever read a book. It's about obscure, old-fashioned chaser tactics, so it should keep him entertained. He's sent along chocolate pills for Melissa. They're perfect to carry on her at work at the hospital and an instant gratification snack for after a hard patient. They're even coffee flavored – Stiles thinks it's pretty good, for the budget he's had to work with. Allison gets an actual book, Starship Troopers, because it's a classic, a great way to introduce her to science fiction, and he's pretty sure she'll like it.

To Cora, he got an adorable mug that says 'my best friend has paws' which is basically a proclamation of friendship disguised as a werewolf joke. She'll dig it. He put in a card for the rest of the family with her gift, honestly wishing them all the best.

To Derek, because Stiles is a fifteen year old virgin with a lingering grudge, he's sent an instruction manual. It's called, How to Have Public Sex (And Not Get Caught), which the cover isn't ashamed of proclaiming in bold red letters. He hasn't had the time to look through it, so he isn't sure how much of it will actually apply to Derek, but the point is in the title, anyway.

Derek really should have used his chance and kissed the leftover bad feelings about Kate all better and away. Stiles rubs his neck, where the tiny cut is still itching a slightest bit. There's time, apparently. He'll learn better.

On the Christmas morning, Stiles gets out of his bed earlier than ever, before it gets light out. He makes French crepes for breakfast and fills them with melted raspberry Honeydukes chocolate. Magic or whatever has kept the fruit inside fresh, so it's like it was just picked from the bush.

Scott and Allison have sent a packet late last night, and Stiles tears into it over the kitchen table, as dad makes lazy morning noses shuffling to the bathroom and back. The two of them seemed to have pooled funds and made Melissa join in, to buy him a foe-glass. There a lot of worry behind that gift, probably because they think Kate killed those kids and they know about his argument with her. It couldn't possibly be cheap – despite all the best he's sure Scott and Melissa wish for him, Allison must have bore the brunt of the cost.

“What's that?” dad asks sleepily.

He sticks his finger into melted chocolate and licks it off, so he's obviously not wondering about the crepes. “It's a dark-detector. It's supposed to show me the faces of my enemies.”

“And? Does it?”

The glass is blank at the moment. “Nope. I guess I have no enemies.”

“Or that thing doesn't work?”

“I don't know, dad, Allison got it. Her dad is a magical artifacts dealer, if anyone can find a working magical item, should be her.”

Dad takes the glass, looks at it. “Huh. No reflection.”

They inspect it further between the bites, fascinated with how the glass catches reflection of the furniture, but not the two of them. A shadowy figure shows in it only at one point, when both of them are holding it at the same time, but it's too murky to make out – a man, though, definitely, tall and slightly hunched. Stiles thinks it must be an enemy of his dad's, maybe a criminal with a grudge or something, but the glass needs his magic to show it. It worries him, but what cop doesn't have an enemy? Anyway, it's just a distant shadow – there's no immediate danger.

A small owl comes through the unhatched window first. It's a simple card from Erica. Stiles has forgotten about her, in all honesty – not that he could have afforded to buy another gift. He has a set of empty Christmas cards he's bought in the post office last winter, issued by Unicef for a Christmas charity. He picks the one that looks the least like printed out child's drawing – it's a close-up of colorful tree ornaments. He'll have to find out when her birthday is and make up for this misstep.

“Where's mine?” Dad asks after the little owl flies away and Stiles presses the window against the frame without hatching it. Dad's present consists mostly of sweets Stiles' managed to pick up on the weekends. It's because he knows they are extra delicious just because they are made with the help of magic but don’t require any from the person consuming them, so it's a benefit of having a magical son that his father can actually enjoy.

Stiles got an idea from Cora for the other part of the gift. More accurately, from her talk about her brother Nate. He went back to Hog's Head Inn a few weeks ago and wasn't too surprised when the bartender sold him a bottle of mead without a second glance.

Dad uncaps it and sniffs it curiously now. It's too early for alcohol, even on the Christmas day, so he doesn't pour it, but he looks intrigued, so it's all good.

It's not Arlene who brings gifts from the Hales, it's their family's huge eagle owl. It looks larger and more dangerous in their small kitchen than it ever has in the Great Hall. Stiles smartly lets it inspect their breakfast for anything edible as soon as he unties the packages. Dad gets up to pour it some water.

There are three packages addressed to Stiles and one for his dad.

“Well,” Dad says. “I'm glad you listened to my advice and found yourself a rich boyfriend.”

“When did you ever give me that advice?” Stiles wonders, a little nervous. He's suddenly having second thoughts about sending Derek that book.

Dad doesn't have an anxiety attack, so he opens his present first. There's another bottle in there, but unlike Stiles', it looks old and foreign – and he's pretty sure the label is gilded. He itches to grab his wand and check if it is, because it's a spell he actually knows.

Dad doesn't open this one, just puts it inside the glass cupboard under the window. Anyone who walks into their kitchen can see it, wonder why they have something that looks made in the eighteenth century. Dad's usually careful with what he puts on display, in case someone barges in unannounced, but he's making an exception now.

There's also a note that's come for him, and he reads it aloud for Stiles. Peter's sent it, announcing he'll come pick them up at eleven if they are still on for today.

Stiles first rips into Cora's package. There's a pair of seeker's gloves inside – what's happened to the omnioculars? Perhaps they were too expensive. It doesn't matter, the gloves are awesome. They’re super thin, so the seeker can feel around for the snitch, but warm enough to keep fingers from freezing up at great heights. The label claims that they're made from vicuna silk. What that means, Stiles has no idea. They’re dark brown and probably the finest piece of clothing Stiles has ever owned.

Cora's note says:

Derek's opened your present in front of everyone – mom snorted juice through her nose! It's open season on him right now, so if he's a little grumpy today, you've no one to blame but yourself.

Love my mug, though.

Stiles is bright red in the face when he finishes reading, he can just feel the heat stretching across his cheeks. It's a scenario he hasn't thought of. It hasn't been his intention to embarrass Derek, not like that. He touches the bite; makes sure it's still there, that it's still itchy.

He opens the package Peter has sent him next. There are three books inside – one of them is a signed copy of Werewolf to The Wise, by – Peter Hale. Which, okay, Stiles can see Peter as a published author. And it's gonna be useful. The second book is Brewing with Muggle Plants – which also sounds dead useful and Stiles has a sneaking suspicion that Ministry can't forbid him to make potions with regular plants. The last books is an in-depth account of the lives of the Four Founders and the description of the process of the founding Hogwarts.

It's a not-so-subtle nudge of Stiles' curiosity, toward the murders of children at the school. He's not sure why Peter wants him to dig into it, but it's not like he hasn't been planing to look for a book just like this one as soon as he got back to Hogwarts. So he's grateful for it, and for the other two books, too.

Cora was completely wrong on Peter's gift-giving. He knows what he's doing.

Derek's package contains two presents. One is a wand holster, with an adjustable strap. You're supposed to attach it to your left forearm, so you can get to the wand just by reaching under the sleeve at the wrist. Like the wands, the holsters seem to come in different sizes, so Derek had to take a good look at Stiles wand to pick the right holster.

Um. Moving on.

The second part of the gift is a book. It's an overview of wandless wards. There's a section on herbology in warding, which Stiles has read a lot about, but there's also a section which explains how you can use various items you can find in nature, such as trees, tree branches and stones, to make wards without the help of the wand. That's also amazingly useful and thoughtful.

There's no note, and Stiles uselessly wishes he's sent anything but that damn book. A damned chocolate frog would have been better.

“So?” Dad asks.

Stiles sums it up, pointing, “Cora sent magically warm gloves, Peter sent these – this one is the book he wrote himself, this one will let me do some magic during summer without anyone butting in and this one is a grown-up version of Hogwarts: A History. And Derek sent a wand holster and a book on wards, on,” how to explain this? “on magical protective barriers I can make if I don't have my wand with me. They're all very useful.”

“And a fairly good prelude into my present,” Dad says, stands up. “Come on.”

Stiles curiously follows him upstairs. Dad takes a key out of his robe pocket and unlocks the main bedroom. They haven't been using this room much since mom died, it was hard for dad to sleep on their huge bed without her, so he took over the tiny guest room and settled there. They don't usually keep it locked, though, this must be so Stiles wouldn't see his present before time.

When they go in now, all the familiar furniture is gone. The room isn't empty, it's – it's a library. A library that still needs to be stacked with books, but the shelves lining the walls are unmistakable.

“Dad...”

“I've been meaning to do it for a while, it can't be healthy to sleep with so many books around your bed,” dad says, looking satisfied and smiling. “But when I got my hands on this beauty, I knew it was time.”

He's pointing at the large desk made of heavy wood. It's old, antique, and well made – just like something you'd find at Hogwarts. There's a row of drawers, it's decorated with beautiful carvings on the sides and the top is well preserved, shiny and smooth, with only a few dents.

“Where did it come from?”

“That old mansion at the bottom of the hill,” dad says. “The owner came back just long enough to organize a sale before putting the house itself on the market. I'm lucky no one else wanted this, so he let me pay it off in installments.”

Stiles cringes. “It was expensive.”

“Well, it's perfect for you. Also, I got all the shelves from the library when they brought in the new, metal ones, for free, so it evens out. They need a fresh splash of paint, but I think I'll leave that to you. A project for the next summer, and you can pick the colors yourself.”

It's amazing. The window in this room is huge, there's a lot of light from this angle even on a winter day like today. It needs an armchair or two, some lamps – hell, bring in a couch and a laptop, and Stiles will never leave it.

He gives his dad a heartfelt hug. They spend the morning exchanging anecdotes over the cheery sounds of the tv in the background. Dad seems a little nervous about the upcoming day – they both are. But at eleven, when Peter comes knocking, they're both in their Sunday best, ready to go.

“We'll take the bus,” Peter says. “If I take along both of you, I'll only be good for a nap for the rest of the day. Also, for future reference, Stiles, it's an efficient way to bypass the anti-muggle charms.”

Stiles has heard of the Knight Bus before, but never used it. Peter holds his wand up in the air – on the path behind the house. The bus comes along almost immediately, somehow fitting into the space between the first trees and their run-down picket fence. Dad takes in this magic the way he does all Stiles' trinkets and moving photos – with calm curiosity.

“Go sit down,” Peter instructs them, then says to the driver, “Knockturn Alley.”

Dad doesn't take notice, watching an older witch trying fruitlessly not to nap under her huge fur hat. She startles when the bus moves suddenly. Dad more elegantly than Stiles slides into one of the front chairs. Peter comes along and takes the seat across from them.

“Knockturn Alley?” Stiles hisses at him, quietly.

“You didn't think a werewolf would be allowed to set up a shop in Diagon Alley, did you?”

Unlike Stiles', his voice is not discreet. It's meant for the other people on the bus, but it grabs dad's attention, too. “Why not?”

Peter half turns to look at him, blankly, “Because we're dangerous.”

Dad looks up through the window like he's expecting to see the full moon there, through the sky is overcast and gray. Then he looks at Stiles, who shrugs, “Don't ask me, I can make people go mad with pain with a flick of my wand. Apparently. And you can make holes in people with a pull of a finger. Anyone can be dangerous, if that's what they want to be.”

Dad makes a face that promises a discussion later, and Stiles is pretty sure it'll be less about the dangers of hanging out with werewolves and more about making people mad with pain.

The bus halts to a stop twice before it's their time to get off. The street it leaves them on is cobbled and narrow, but there are only a few people on it. They're snuggling into their winter clothes, just like people anywhere, hurrying after their own business.

Dad shudders. Peter says, “You can do magic here, Stiles.” Then, with a smirk, “Well, you are not allowed to, but no one can trace a single spell to a minor out here.”

Dad is frowning at Peter for encouraging Stiles to break the law, but he's still shivering in the cold. His best coat, the one he's wearing for the occasion, isn't very warm. And Stiles really wants to show magic to his father, how useful it can be.

So he takes out his wand - tries out his new holster, which works beautifully. He ignores the slight flinch his dad can't stop when Stiles points it at him and casts his best, most balanced charm. It's almost visible, right there on dad's face, as every tense muscle relaxes in relief.

“Well, that's useful,” Dad comments after a few seconds of looking at his fingers, which are rapidly returning to their normal color.

“It'll wear off in a few hours,” Stiles informs him, after casting one on himself. “Tell me when it does, so I can redo it?”

“Everyone is waiting,” Peter says, turns to lead them to the right direction.

“So, this place...” Dad says as they follow Peter, shoulder to shoulder.

“It's got a bad reputation. I haven't been here – I've only been to Diagon Alley, and it's very different there.” They pass a store with the entire window blackened out. There's a sign that says it's closed, but not one to inform potential customers of what they're offering. “Definitely not as grimy.”

Peter opens a door that seems almost at random, not very different from all the other shops. There's a wooden board that reads HaleCakes – which, what?

“Wait a minute, is this a – a bakery?”

It is, it turns out. It's cheerful and cozy inside, and full of color that the Knockturn Alley so desperately needs. The sweets smell like heaven. And it's full of people, most of them familiar.

“What did you think it was?” comes Laura's scorn, but it's not too effective as she seems to be wrestling a toddler. No, two toddlers, two identical toddlers. Nate's kids, right.

“Um,” Stiles says, turns to his father. “So, dad, the Hales – all two hundred of them.”

“Arithmancy too much for you to take on in your third year?” Peter murmurs.

“Please, I rock that class,” Stiles manages before Derek's mom and dad come to meet his dad. Unlike Peter, Stiles trusts them to be kind and helpful, so he leaves them to it.

Well, he tries to leave them to it, but they stop him to give him a hug each. Stiles doesn't mind all the hugging, he takes after his mom in the sheer tactility he needs to function properly. It's confusing with werewolves, though. Do they hug because they like hugging, or because of the scent mixing? He'll have to start on that book as soon as he comes home.

As he goes further into the room, the hugs continue to come. Nate greets him first and introduces him to his wife, Maya – who is very pregnant and very pretty. The Hales don't even marry ugly.

Maya gets to her feet to give him a hug.

“Huh,” Stiles says, startled. “You're human.”

She laughs, “What gave me away?”

It's a joke, he can tell from the few laughs, but he honestly doesn't know. Still, he grins, “You're way too pretty, obviously.”

“Exactly,” Nate says sagely. “That's what I always say.”

“What?” His wife demands. “I don't remember you saying it ever.”

“Stiles,” the woman sitting at the small round table with them says mildly. She's – she's not beautiful. Maybe once upon a time she was, but now she only looks sick. Her hair is colorless, shapeless – eyes sunk. Her smile is kind, though. “It's a pleasure to meet you.”

She is trying to lift herself up, but frankly, she looks too tired to pull it off. Stiles bends over to give her a hug, says, “Violetta,” because he's been listening to Cora and so he knows that this can only be Peter's wife.

When he lets go of her, she says, “Malia.” Stiles looks around, but he can't see Peter's daughter anywhere.

“Malia,” Talia Hale says with a quiet kind of authority from the front of the room. The werewolves are looking a little shocked – the girl must have said something Stiles couldn't hear. “Come out of there right now.”

Out of...? Ah. The question answers itself when a small, light-headed girl stands up from under one of the tables in the back. The way she looks at Stiles – he feels lighter for a layer of skin. She's flaying him with the power of her eyes – which are glowing amber, actually.

Sensing this is the one Hale that'll give him no hugs any time soon, Stiles waves, “Hi.”

She snarls. Stiles blinks at her, but that's all he has the time to do before she's gone under the table again.

“Here, try this one,” Laura says, forcing a toddler into his hands before giving him a hug . “It's Caleb, he's been sniffing in your direction – the other one is Collin.” She grins a wicked, wicked grin, winks at him and gives him thumbs up. Stiles thinks it might be about Derek's gift, but she doesn't say a word about it.

The kid – Caleb - easily slips under his arm, then swings over it - uses Stiles' elbow to climb right on his shoulder, where he balances himself with no trouble. “Well, there's always a future for you in the circus,” Stiles mutters, hand wrapped around the tiny leg just in case, looking for Cora and Derek.

Cora is laughing at him openly when she puts his arms around him – and it feels different than the other hugs. Stiles can't remember how long forming a pack bond with someone is supposed to last, whether it's too early for him to feel it, but he does. There's been a sense of emptiness in him, just a tiny – a tiny wrongness. He hasn't even been aware of it until he's felt Cora's solid, warm presence, and the feeling is now gone.

“Missed you,” he says honestly, exactly like he would to Scott.

“You're wearing the gloves,” she murmurs into his shoulder.

“They're brilliant – I don't even feel them on.”

“Which is the point,” Cora tells him smugly.

“Dad says it's okay, if you still want to come over for a few days. We don't have an extra room anymore, though – someone will have to take the couch.” He'll have to take the couch and let Cora use his room, but it'll be worth it.

Talia must have been following his progress through the room more closely than she's given it away so far, but Stiles hears her tell his dad now, “You're sure Cora can come? She can be pushy, I don't want you to feel like you have to invite her over.”

“To tell you the truth, I'm looking forward to some noise around the house,” dad tells her, all relaxed and friendly. God, but this is going well so far.

“I know what you mean. Sometimes, my office is so quiet, I have to come home to be able to get any work done. The silence can be unnerving.”

Stiles isn't sure it's the same thing – she's a pack creature, of course she'll feel better when she's in the middle of her pack.

Then again... humans are pack creatures, too, in their own way.

“I, on the other hand, work much better where there are less willing tasters around,” says Mr. Hale – whose name Stiles will have to learn soon. Everyone laughs.

Stiles tunes them out when Cora takes Caleb off his shoulder – with some struggle, the kid seems to like it there. He looks over her shoulder at where Derek's sitting on one of the tables in the back – in the back, where it's semi-private. He resists wiping his hands off his jeans, makes his way there.

Cora was wrong about Derek being grumpy, though. He's almost smiling, eyes shining, more relaxed than Stiles has even seen him. Even before this Kate-awful year, he's never been like this. Like – he's at peace. Like he's just so happy.

If he hasn't been too much of a coward to imagine how this'll go, Stiles'd have expected to feel lost and awkward. Especially with Derek just sitting there and waiting for him. But it's easy to walk over there, as close to the edge of the table Derek is sitting on as he can get and put arms around him. It's just like any other hug he's given and received today – it just feels completely different.

Derek spreads his large hands over Stiles' back and waist to draw him in, inhales deeply and makes a humming, content sound in his throat. Stiles is planning on staying right there for as long as he can get away with, just let Derek breathe him in like this. It's – it's really good, and Derek's breath is hair-raisingly hot against his skin.

It's only a few seconds before Derek says, “You're a very helpful gift-giver.”

But he's not letting go, so Stiles lowers his head until his nose is against Derek's shoulder, where the soft fabric of Derek's sweater tickles his nose, and whispers, “It was a tossup between that book and an old shirt.”

“I'd have preferred an old shirt,” Derek says dryly, inhales again. “Especially if you've been wearing it beforehand.”

Just because he feels like he can, Stiles pushes his nose to the side, into Derek's neck. Fingers make a small spasm against his back, but Derek even tilts his head a tiniest bit, giving him permission. Stiles murmurs, “At least tell me there are some useful tips in there.”

Derek snorts, “There better be.”

Stiles drags his nose out. “Come on, let's put my dad out of his misery.”

“Any advice?” Derek asks, with a nervous look across the room.

“Uh, don't look predatory?” Derek raises a sardonic eyebrow at him. “Well, how am I supposed to know? I've never done this before. Smile – but not too much, that just makes people look deranged. Hold my hand, I'm pretty sure he won't try to shoot you if I'm that close.”

Stiles has meant it as a joke, mostly, but Derek easily wraps fingers around his.

Dad's cool, though. He shakes Derek's hand with just a heavily inquiring look – it's good Stiles had the foresight to give Derek all the credit for those blackberries and the saving from the fire.

“We're going to Quality Quidditch Supplies,” Derek announces. Stiles opens his mouth, but Derek rolls his eyes before he can say anything. “And I'll show Stiles where all the bookstores are.

Dad snorts into his mug of whatever the Hales bribed him with to be so mellow. But hey, Stiles is willing to look at Quidditch stuff in exchange for Derek's company and bookstore locations. He catches a glimpse of Cora, holding one of the toddlers upside down by the legs and glaring after them.

Out on the street, he asks Derek, “Should we, uh, invite Cora?”

Derek squeezes his fingers, “She'll be spending a good chunk of her break with you, so no.”

Well, that much is true. Stiles has so many plans for Cora and her visit, they'll have so much fun, this is barely even making him feel guilty.

They take a different route from the one Stiles has come by. There's a lot of stairs, some going up, some down, some end with nothing on the other side, just a stone wall. Warding of some sort, perhaps. The buildings are tall and looming, they hide most of the dull sunlight. There are windows, sparse and closed, looking at the alleys, but no balconies. No Christmas decorations, no laundry spread to dry. It's all very – somber and gloomy.

But this backside is hiding a lovely little bakery back there, so Stiles is pretty sure that it's only on the outside that way. On the inside, there must be plenty of cheer.

They come across a window that actually has a display. “Is this an apothecary?"

Derek sniffs the air, like he needs to check with his nose. Actually, that just might be exactly what he's doing, the window could be some sort of decoy. “Yeah.”

“So this is where you buy illegal potion ingredients?”

“No, you don't buy illegal potion ingredients anywhere, because they're illegal and dangerous.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, “Right, but theoretically. If I needed a – a – I don't know. Something illegal and dangerous. This is where I'd come?”

“No, you'd go to Peter. No one will sell you anything illegal just because you asked for it.”

“From what I've heard of this place, there should be peddlers offering to sell me human bones wherever I turn,” Stiles complains, looking at grimy bottles and jars in the window with a resentment. “Hey, would they sell it to you?”

Derek frowns at him like he doesn't understand the question. “To me?”

“Yeah. Like, if you went inside and asked for something – something bad – show them a bit of teeth, claw at their front desk with a glint in your eye? Would they sell it?”

“For someone so determined to buy illegal potion ingredients, you're finding it unusually hard to provide an example,” Derek says, starts to drag him away from the window. “Yeah, I suppose I could convince them. Don't put us in that situation, though. My mom would kill me if she found out.”

“I would never,” Stiles promises, looking back at the window, trying to determine if that’s a root of some sort or a tentacle in that jar before Derek drags him around the corner.

“Uh-huh,” Derek says, stops so Stiles has to look at him in the face. “But when you do, make sure you do come to me and not to Cora. Okay?”

“Er, or I'll just go to Peter?”

“Even better,” Derek says. “Come on, this leads right into the Diagon Alley.”

Stiles remembers well enough his short experience of buying his wand, though Prof. Sinistra didn't let him linger too much. It wasn't anything like this. They come out into the busiest street he's even seen in his life. There are people everywhere – and window by window full of lights and merchandise. It's like an explosion of colors and noise, and Stiles finds himself laughing aloud.

Derek waits for him to adjust, then gets a better hold of his hand, entangles their fingers. “Hold on,” he says, “I'll never track you down in this crowd.”

“I'm not five, Derek.”

“Just don't wanna lose you,” Derek tells him with a grin, tugs him into the street. “And here, we'll go into a bookstore first.”

They walk past a few windows – there's a pet shop unlike anything Stiles has ever seen in his life. It's like a mini zoo, but so underfunded it has to cram together even the most exotic of the animals. Cages with all kinds of owls are lined up on crates and boxes. Stiles stops to take a close look. There are a few snakes in one of the boxes, in colors bright and clear like crayon sticks. There are spiders and scorpions, lizards and so many different types of rats and mice, there's no way to see them all, crawling over one another. In a different cage, there are two, well, two dogs. Or something.

Stiles reaches through the bars to pet them. The smaller one leans right into his touch, endearing and soft. The other one, the one that looks almost like a small ferret, opens its mouth and what comes out is, “Ass!”

Stiles barks a laugh, even as Derek takes a hold of his elbow to drag him back, “You don't really want those two.”

“Ass! Ass!”

“Is it really swearing at me?”

“Yeah, and it's still a kit. It only gets worse.”

They start walking again, at the very edge of the crowd. Derek doesn't take his hand again, but he's walking very close. “The other one is cute, though. The puppy?”

“The pup would try to eat your dad for not having magic, Stiles.”

“What? Why?”

“Because that's what they're bred for. Come on, in here.”

The sign above the door says Obscurus Books, which Stiles has actually heard of. They've printed a lot of his textbooks, and some other books he's read.

The inside is – God, these bookshelves go on forever. In height. There are ladders to help you reach the top rows and Stiles feels dizzy just looking at people climbing them.

“Anything in particular you're interested in?” Derek asks.

Stiles narrows eyes at him over his shoulder. “Just to be clear, I haven't said anything about wanting to go to a bookstore. That's all your personal prejudice against my house.”

Derek says, very dryly, “Right, my bad. But?”

“Buut, while we're here, I'd like to look at their selection on first aid?” At Derek's blank look, he amends, “Healing. Basic healing.”

Derek shakes his head, but he's smiling a little. “Is there anything out there you don't find fascinating?”

“Your sense of humor,” Stiles informs him seriously. “I don't find that fascinating at all.”

Derek laughs, because he can literally sense that fat lie for what it is, and pushes him further inside and out of the way of people trying to get in. “Come on, there's a hint of that terrible hospital stench coming from over there.”

The section on healing is, predictably, huge. It's hard to find a book like the one he's imagined. They are either too advanced, or too wand based. Most focus is on one area of healing, like poisons, or curing hexes. Some are so terribly expensive he almost drops them at the sight of the handwritten price.

Stiles hands Derek those that are acceptable, and by the time he done with the rows low enough to reach on foot – because let's face it, he is not climbing those wonky ladders – Derek's hands are full. Like, Stiles can barely see his face full.

“Oh my God, I'm sorry – you could have put them on the top of the shelf.”

“It's okay,” Derek says, but he doesn't protest when Stiles takes half of the books to put aside. “Are you going to buy all of these?”

Money situation is always sensitive, but Stiles has to admit, “I can barely afford one. That's why it has to be perfect, you know?”

Derek nods and opens one of the books left in his hands, as if to help Stiles look for just the right one. Their criteria aren't likely to match. It's sweet of Derek to try, though.

“Uh, thanks for being patient about this,” Stiles says after ten minutes of flipping through the books. He's narrowed it down to top three, at least, but it's taken forever.

“I have to earn some credit before we walk into the Quality Quidditch Supplies,” Derek says with a smug smile. Stiles cringes a little. That's gonna be a trial. And now he won't even have the heart to try and demand they finish early. He's been manipulated into spending a few hours in a Quidditch shop. By a Gryffindor.

“Stilinski!”

Stiles startles, looks at the figure approaching from behind Derek. He can't help the slow burn of dread, even though this particular Ravenclaw has never been antagonistic toward him.

“Talbot,” he greets back evenly.

“Hale,” Brett says with surprise when Derek turns a little to look at him. From the way Derek frowns, just a bit, and sniffs the air with all the subtlety of a curious puppy, Stiles is sure he has no idea who Brett is. He's seen that expression before on Derek's face, when it was aimed at him.

“Revenclaw Quidditch Captain,” Stiles mutters under his breath, leaning over to put one of the books back in its place.

Derek's frown turns to a huge smile so fast, Brett looks dizzy. Like, I'm gonna swoon now dizzy.

“You wanted something, Talbot?”

Brett blinks in the face of Derek's smiling face a few times before he manages to turn away and answer Stiles' question. “Ah, actually, it's lucky Hale is here, too. I wanted to ask you if you've heard anything about him playing Quidditch again, now that...”

Brett cuts off that sentence with a grimace, but Derek picks up easily. “Prof. Sinistra says I can.”

“Oh, good,” Brett says. “That kid replacing you isn't too bad, but we want to beat you this year at your best.”

“Fat chance,” Derek snorts with a smile so big, it shows his blunt human teeth. They're, um, very white and adorable. If only the smile isn't so completely over the top.

“We'll see about that,” Brett smiles back, like answering an invitation.

Stiles sighs, “Anything else, Talbot?”

It's come out more annoyed than he's meant it. Brett doesn't drop that smile completely before he looks between Derek and Stiles. “Right,” he says. “No, not really. See you at school, guys.”

When he leaves, Derek's teeth are behind his very tightly pressed lips. Stiles demands, “What the hell was that?”

“What?”

“The, God, the – creepy-ass charm, turned up to twelve?” Derek shakes his head. “The fake smiling, Derek, what was that for?”

“It wasn't fake,” Derek says, offended. Stiles raises his eyebrow as far up as they'll go, and he huffs. “Well, he couldn't tell it was fake. Could he?”

“No, he was too busy swooning over you,” Stiles snaps, which causes Derek to make the funniest face – somehow he's insulted, flattered and amused at the same time. Stiles rolls his eyes, “No, I'm not jealous,” and adds, before Derek can comment on how that statement reflected on his heartbeat, “You're not gonna tell me?”

Derek shrugs, “You can't keep sleeping in that hallway when we go back to Hogwarts, Stiles.”

“So, what, you're gonna charm my way back up to the Ravenclaw tower?”

“If I have to.”

“That's – disturbing.” Yet oddly sweet. “And if it doesn't work?”

Derek's slow smile showcases every last bit of his lupine nature. “I'll change tactics.”

Stiles doesn't know about Brett Talbot, but he personally finds this Derek – this kind, protective creature all edged up by his predatory instincts – much more attractive than that cheery, friendly guy from earlier. Stiles hides his face in the bookshelf, which must be splotched red with the train of thought he's following right now, before he clears his throat and says, “There's an easier way to accomplish that, anyway.”

“Enlighten me,” Derek urges dryly.

“You could always just, uh, come up to my dorm and stay with me.”

When there's no answer for several long seconds, Stiles dares to glance sideways. Derek looks – well, it seems like he's somehow managed to floor Derek. His mouth is hanging open and everything.

Stiles quickly turns back to blindly go over the book spines with his finger, scoffs, “Come on, don't look at me like I'm the first person to ever invite you into their bed.”

Because he's not. And everyone knows it. Like, it's actually been in the papers. Also, he's pretty sure they talked about sharing a bed before, up in that little room Stiles has been using before.

Derek moves closer, so close Stiles doesn't have any room left to wiggle out. He says, quietly, with chin lightly pressed against Stiles' shoulder, “Not in the middle of the Diagon Alley. Not when anyone can hear it.”

Which, heh. It's not just about who's had sex and who hasn't. Why and where and how counts for something, too. If Kate's stupid games and plots broke Derek somehow, Stiles is gonna... dislike her even more. Like, he's gonna dislike her violently.

He admits, “I kind of forgot where we are.”

Derek's hands come to rest at his hips like large patches of heat. “We're in the middle of a bookstore, where at least three other patrons are listening to every word we say.”

“Oh. I'd, I'd demand we give them a bit of a show right now, but,” Just like with the money issue, Stiles doesn't want to say this, but Derek pretty much needs to know. “I'd prefer my first kiss happens somewhere a little more private.”

If that's any sort of turn off, Derek doesn't show it. He moves the tall collar of Stiles jacket out of the way, exposes the neck there just enough so he could bend over and nose at the bite mark. Every thought of audience leaves Stiles' head immediately, and when Derek finally opens his mouth and swipes his tongue over the itching cut, he doesn't even try to stop the noise that bubbles up.

“Shh,” Derek whispers, the ass, before doing it again. His hand is steadying on Stiles' hip, so at least he doesn't end up trying to hump the bookshelf. Or trying to press back against Derek – though, God, that does sounds very satisfying.

Derek puts his collar the way it was, steps away. “Come on, find your book. I want to look at Quidditch equipment for a while. It's Christmas for me, too, you know.”

Stiles randomly picks one of the books from the two that are left, tries to will away the blush and the insistent, embarrassing arousal that's causing it. “Please, like I don't know you're – that you were in consideration for the Head Boy next year.”

Derek's grades aren't the best in his year, but it takes more than that to be chosen. He's well liked, people listen to him. He'd have been good at it.

They make their way toward the register. “I wasn't,” Derek tells him. “I never was. Laura was the Head Girl last year, and Prof. Sinistra can't make it look like she's favoring werewolves.”

“That sucks.”

“Not really,” Derek says with a shrug, points at the book in Stiles' hands. “Let me see that.”

There's a line, but it's going quickly, the clerk is efficient. Stiles gets sidetracked by some books from the last minute change of mind pile on the side of the register and when he lifts his head, the clerk is processing his purchase and Derek is digging out his wallet.

“Oh, hey, you don't have to do that – don't do that!” The last thing he wants is charity.

Derek wipes out a small hand-made card, waves it for just a second in front of Stiles' face. “I've got twenty percent discount here.”

Stiles opens his mouth to argue, but then what he's seen on the card reaches his brain and he throws both hands in the air and leaves the store.

He's the hugest asshole in the world. Derek's discount card doesn't have a picture to distract people, so what catches the eye just after the listed name is the date of birth. And it says 25 th of December.

It's Derek's birthday, today, and Stiles has sent him the worst, most thoughtless, rudest present in history.

He needs to fix this.

Derek comes out of the store in a hurry. He relaxes when he sees Stiles hasn't gone far, hands him a lovely silvery shopping bag with animated falling snowflakes.

“Thank you,” Stiles says, aiming for gracious and coming out frustrated.

“I'm sorry.”

“No, it's my fault.” Derek doesn't believe him, clearly, so Stiles pushes, both with words and his body language, coming to stand really close. He's great friends with Scott, surely he can pull off earnest.“I fucked up, but I'll make it up to you. Okay? And thanks for the book. Really.”

Derek is still unsure, but he quirks a smile, “You having this book, it's more a present for me, anyway.” He shakes his head, widens his smile. “I keep thinking you'll get distracted by something shiny and walk straight off a balcony.”

“I'm not – I pay more attention than that!”

“It's endearing,” Derek says, though he obviously means embarrassing.

Stiles huffs, and considers it Derek's first gift when he drops the subject. “Come on, let's go look at Quidditch stuff.”

The Quidditch shop is crowded and terribly expensive. And boring. All the gloves, all the cleaning kits, all the balls, all the brooms – they’re all the same to him. But they keep Derek entertained, so Stiles has the time to think, even as he follows closely through the aisles. He needs money, that's what he needs. If dad had any extra, he'd offer it on his own, so what Stiles needs is to find a way to make money. But yeah, the only way that'll happen is if he sells one of his kidneys. That's all he's got that's worth anything.

No, wait, that's not true. Only this morning he's re-shelved Hermione Granger's schoolbooks into his new library. Peter implied they're worth something. Maybe he knows someone who'd buy them.

Stiles has been valiantly ignoring his hunger until his stomach started growling loudly. He'd ignore it some more – he can make it for at least a half an hour longer – but Derek hears it. He doesn't say anything about it, just wraps up quickly, pays for his junk – a water bottle with a strap for the thigh and new rain-resistant goggles – and leads them out of there.

Stiles exaggeratedly inhales the leather-free air of the outside, and Derek shakes his head, “You really don't like Quidditch, do you.”

“Not really, though I guess I'd like it just fine if I could play it. I'm not actually that bad at sports.”

“You can't fly?”

“I can, just... You know, you say you're scared I'll walk off a balcony. What do you think a shot focus does to flying?”

Derek hisses with a flinch. “Okay, I get it.”

They turn into one of the alleys that lead into the Knockturn Alley. The atmosphere immediately changes, like there's a ward that prevents the cheer and noise to spill from the Diagon Alley. There's no crowd to get lost in, but Derek is still firmly holding his hand as they walk down a set of stairs that cut into a side of a building. It feels more personal, more intimate than before.

Stiles wants to cut Derek some slack, for the day at least, but they're about to return to the bakery full of the Hales and Stiles' father, and Stiles isn't sure when he'll get to see Derek again, so he stops walking just before they reach the bottom. Derek turns to frown at him, vaguely worried. Stiles isn't sure how to ask for this, how to put it into words. He steps away from Derek, just for a moment, hoping it'll come to him easier if he doesn't have to look at him.

“This, okay,” his voice is hoarse from sheer anxiety. “All the sniffing and the biting - the werewolf stuff, you know – it's fine, it's,” More than fine, really, it's exciting and hot and oddly fitting, but Stiles can't say that last part, not yet, “but I'm human, Derek, and I think – I need...”

Derek doesn't wait for him to finish. He steps closer and crowds him back, back into the stone banister, hands on Stiles' hips. He whispers, “I'm at least half human myself.”

Stiles opens his mouth – to talk, to ask again – but he gives up on it when he feels their noses bump together, they're so close now. Derek's breath is sizzling hot, hitting his face like that - so hot that Stiles, for a whole second, doesn't even notice Derek's lips when they press in the wake of it against Stiles' mouth.

It's a terrible start, Stiles dreads, closing his eyes, but Derek distracts him from the awful train of thought. His lips are a sliding pressure of warm wetness, so soft. Stiles isn't sure what he should do, so he does what seems like it'd be pleasant – he opens his mouth and bites into that softness, not very gently.

Derek growls. It's loud enough to make Stiles let go and flinch back a little – he's feeling weightless, suspended in air – but that lasts only a moment, before his ass lands on the banister. Derek's picked him up and perched him there, and Stiles is opening his legs to let him close, let him in, like he's done it a hundred times before.

When Derek puts his mouth back against his, there's no caution, no delicacy – it's wet and good and deep. Stiles does the best he can to keep track of what they're doing, for future reference, but it's so hard to focus under the surge of Derek against him. His large hands hold Stiles in place firmly, fingers dig in, like he's scared Stiles will slip away. It's maybe even necessary, though the only way Stiles is going is down, weighted by a mass of heat that's dropping ever lower in his gut.

He's getting noisy, right there in the middle of the street, and he wants Derek to be noisy with him, so Stiles gets his hands on Derek, finally, wraps one around the back of Derek's neck and tangles the other one in Derek's hair. The sheer intensity and solidness of Derek at the moment is like a permission not to be gentle, so Stiles channels some of the tension that's coiling between them through his fingers, presses, twists. He's yanking Derek's hair, basically, this time barely even registering the growling that he's causing.

Then Derek's suddenly off him. He hasn't moved far, hands still around Stiles, on the banister, but there's no connect between their bodies. Derek is breathing harshly, head bent a little, all tense like he's just barely stopping himself from jumping.

Which is nonsense, so Stiles leans in to grab his sweater to pull him in again, murmuring, “Sorry, sorry, okay? I won't pull, just...”

Derek comes easily, kisses him again, shortly and softly this time, hands wrapping around him. “It's okay, just, it makes me think you wouldn't mind if I shifted and that – it's tempting. Hard to fight off.”

“Why would I mind?” Derek looks at him like he's insane. “Okay, the teeth, I get it – but you'd be careful? Right?”

Derek is shaking his head, but it's not denial. “I'd never... It's not like that, I wouldn't... It just, it's not...”

“Pretty?” Stiles attempts to help him find words, because it's getting painful. “I hate to break it to you, buddy, but you're not that pretty even without your werewolf on.”

Derek snorts, “Shut up, let me think a moment.” Stiles pointedly gets his mouth busy exploring Derek's jaw and neck. Derek lets him, even moves his head to the side to give him a better access. He says after a few minutes of occasional gasps and sighs, “It takes a lot of trust.”

Stiles scoffs against the warm, delicious skin. “So you don't trust me enough.”

“Don't be stupid, Stiles, trust on your side. If I scare you – we may never be able to fix it.”

Stiles removes his mouth off Derek's neck to look at him in the eye. “Your sister actually tried to kill me. Teeth, claws, the extra hair, glowing eyes, charging at me and my best friend with the intention to tear us apart. And I'm inviting her into my house, not even two weeks after the fact. So when I tell you it's okay to shift if you want to, then I mean it. And I'm telling you... it's okay.”

Derek licks his lips, unconvinced. Okay.

“Now, I'm not gonna lie and tell you that if I suddenly feel huge, sharp teeth against my neck, my heart won't go into overdrive. But only, like, fifty percent of it it's gonna be fear. At least forty will be just good old lust - because let's face it, I'll never be not turned on with you so close, no matter what you look like.”

It seems like he's getting through, Derek lets his mouth upturn on one side, “And the remaining ten percent?”

“Oh, that,” Stiles coughs, a bit wary of saying the next part a loud. “That part will be sitting there, wondering how it would have felt like if you actually gave me that claiming bite. Teeth in deep, blood.” He swallows under the intensity of Derek's stare now, licks his lips which feel bruised. “The works.”

Derek carefully moves away, face blank, completely out of reach. “We need to go before you drive me completely insane.”

Stiles gets off the banister, winks, “Hey, we're only just starting here, okay? Just imagine how insane I'll drive you in two months.”

Derek snorts, “Or in two years.”

And because why not, Stiles says, “Or two decades.”

But Derek just takes his hand, pulls him along. “Surely I'll get used to it by then?”

“Yeah, you might need to talk to my dad about that. I don't think it's going too well for him, but who knows...”

Laura is waiting them at the door of the bakery, a twin in each arm. Derek explains she got saddled with them for the day and therefore couldn't go spend time with friends, as she originally planed. He's laughing openly at her, but takes one of the kids off her hands – Stiles has no idea which one.

Inside, there's no question, the adults are a little drunk. Dad as much as Talia and her husband and Peter and Nate. How does alcohol get processed by a werewolf, anyway?

More importantly, there's food. They pull together several tables in the middle of the room, spread the obviously home-cooked meat in the middle of it, salads, potatoes, pies and drinks around it. It's chaotic and both Stiles and his dad quickly learn that if they want to eat something, they have to take it without hesitation. There's plenty of food anyway, and Mr. Hale's pies and cakes are amazing.

No one comments on any sort of smells coming off Derek and Stiles. Whether it's because there's too many people in close quarters or because they haven't been expecting anything else from them in the first place... well, it's something Stiles will try and figure out, for future reference.

Malia throws food at his head. Which wouldn't be so bad if she wasn't so strong that even potato puree kinda hurts when it hits his cheek. Peter sends the girl to sit by herself on a table in the corner as soon as it becomes clear she won't listen to their instructions to stop.

Before Stiles takes dad to the bus station in Diagon Alley – with the intention to show him some of that amazing chaos over there, he pulls Peter a little bit to the side and asks him about the Hermione Granger books. Peter tells him he'll drop by the next day to check them out – he can't make an evaluation without taking a good look at their condition.

“It's a little red sign, right next to the ice-cream parlor,” Derek tells him again as dad buttons up.

“And if you get lost, you can just stop anyone and ask,” Cora adds.

It's like they think he's not capable of finding his way home. Stiles has had to refuse a chaperon no less than five times.

“Want me to leave you a sock so you can track me down? Just in case?” He's sarcastic, complete with an eye roll, but they both look tempted. Like they would even need a personal item for a spell with their noses. “Look, guys, no one's gonna steal me, ok? See you in a few days, Cora?”

And so the circle of hugging begins again. It ends with Derek, of course, and Stiles might be holding on just a little tighter, but then he has to go. It's getting dark already.

The crowd in Diagon Alley is not quite as thick as it was when he was there with Derek. The windows are illuminated in the dusk, hovering candles and lanterns like overgrown fireflies above their heads. Dad is trying to look in three directions at once, all the movement and color attracting his attention. He scratches his head at the sight of the bank, frowns deeply as they walk by the menagerie – Derek was right and that small pup almost bites right through the bars in the attempt to eat him alive. For the first time that day, dad looks a little overwhelmed.

They find the ice cream parlor and the bus stop easily enough and even though the ride is super short, by the time they arrive home it's completely dark outside.

“So,” Stiles asks dad after they take off their winter gear. “What do you think?”

“About magic or about Derek?”

“Um, both?”

“Magic is warm, shiny and tastes very good,” dad says after a few seconds of thinking over it. “And you forgot to tell me that Derek was seeing a teacher until recently.”

“Ah. But that's ancient history. Should I make some coffee?”

Dad nods, follows him into the kitchen. “Still. Stiles. You have to take it seriously. It's not a small thing. It's been going on for a while – Talia and Ethan are very worried about how hard he was trying to protect this woman.”

“So he's loyal.”

“To the woman who apparently poisoned four children and killed other four?” Stiles shrugs helplessly – it's not like Derek knew what she'd do. “Where the two of you involved while he was still seeing her?”

“Uh, just a tiny – very very tiny bit? And he stopped seeing her right after that, so...” Stiles serves the coffee, his mug barely one third full. “I'm curious, though, have the Hales told you that Kate's – that's her name, Kate Argent – her father went to prison for something werewolf related?”

So it's not just him that finds that completely suspicious right off the bat. Dad raises his eyebrows. “Did Derek know that?”

“Yeah, some. He didn't know the whole story. Peter told us.”

Stiles repeats the story about werewolves in the war, the Feral children and Gerard's fall from grace. Then he adds the part about finding out about Kate (without the wall slamming, because he doesn't want dad to hate Derek), following her to Hog's Head and telling Derek what he found there. And the bite bit, because if all the Hales are taking it seriously, his dad should know.

Dad finishes his coffee. “It doesn't add up.”

“Right? The distraction is too obvious. Most people know about her father and of course everyone would look at her first for any harm that happens to them.”

“I'm also worried about her apparent non-reaction to Derek breaking things off with her. If it was part of an elaborate plan to get back at Talia, she invested a lot of time and effort. Just letting him go like that, without a fight – it doesn't ring right.”

Stiles hasn't thought of it being suspicious, just unnerving. “Do you – I don't think Derek told her anything about me, but do you think she might suspect I've been snooping?”

“I don't know, Stiles, I don't know what kind of tools that woman has at her disposal. On one hand, I'm not even sure she's done anything more serious than sleeping with a student – Derek is sixteen, so it's not even statutory rape by our laws. On the other hand, you're my only kid, so I'll occasionally send some colleagues to keep an eye on you while I'm working. Cooperate, you hear?”

Spooked a little, Stiles hasn't even thought not to. “And I'll start working on the wards first thing. Now, though... Uh, Derek is not sixteen any longer. It's his birthday today, which I had no idea about.”

Dad shakes his head. “Well, I'm gonna watch some television now, take a nap maybe.”

Arlene is up in Stiles' room when he goes there, like she could sense he needed her. He uses some leftover paper from dad's last birthday. It's appropriate – if not new – with tiny cakes and balloons. Stiles wraps a shirt and a book. The shirt is an old orange one that says don't text and drive, which will mean next to nothing to Derek. But it's the shirt Stiles has been sleeping in for the last three nights, so it should smell a lot like him. Scent sharing and all. Derek's gonna appreciate it.

The book is a high school coming of age drama. It's not Stiles' most favorite because it's a little too angsty, but it's amazing anyway and should give Derek some insight into how muggle teenagers live on the other side. If Derek likes it, Stiles will buy a more cheerful book later on, maybe. This is all that he has that's not dystopian or full of someone's dreamed-up magic.

The note is simple. Happy Birthday! it says and, Don't forget to tell me if you liked the book!

There'll be time for letters and notes later on. This is only a beginning.