The Sorting Hat gives Chris Colfer a choice: Ravenclaw or Slytherin.
He wants to choose Ravenclaw but he remembers his last primary school teacher telling him that his marks are too low, that he can’t write well enough, that he’ll need tutors if he wants to make anything of himself.
Ravenclaws are smart. He knows that, everyone knows that. They’re clever and Chris isn’t sure if he’s clever enough, so he closes his eyes and thinks really hard: Slytherin.
The hat sorts him into Slytherin.
The Sorting Hat gives Darren Criss a choice, too: Gryffindor or Hufflepuff.
He thinks sort of longingly of wearing gold and black, about how badgers have always been his favorite animals, and how he’d really like a room close to the kitchens because, come on, who wouldn’t?
But his dad was a Gryffindor, and Chuck was a Gryffindor, and he knows they wouldn’t say they were disappointed but he’s also pretty sure they would be.
So he takes a breath and bounces his leg up and down and waits waits waits until the voice booms in his ear.
The hat sorts him into Gryffindor.
Though Chris and Darren have known each other since they were first years, they’re in their fourth year at Hogwarts before they have more than a passing conversation.
They’re paired together for an assignment in their double potions class. Neither of them, unfortunately, are particularly proficient at potions. Chris has better attention for detail but this sort of thing isn’t intuitive for him and he’s constantly undercut by Darren’s lack of regard for following instructions.
Darren, it seems, just likes to make things bubble and see what pretty color combinations he can come up with.
Chris would definitely be asking for a different partner if not for the fact that Darren is sort of...
Well, he’s hot. He’s hot and Chris is shallow because he doesn’t have a lot of friends at Hogwarts and the ones that he does have aren’t exactly his type. Darren might be ridiculously hyper and talk too much and occasionally forget to think before he does something, but he has this curly hair that bounces and he’s a Quidditch player so when they have to hover in close enough to count the first seconds of a potion bubbling Chris can feel the solid muscle of his thighs.
Sometimes it makes him squirmy in the pit of his stomach in and he always blushes so hotly that he’s sure Darren will call him on it, but Darren never has. Luckily their robes are loose and either Darren is oblivious to the other cues and doesn’t realize or he doesn’t care.
He usually does something stupid enough to distract Chris before it gets too bad, anyway. There’s nothing like watching your partner turn his already somewhat triangular eyebrows into slightly singled bushes to kill an impromptu erection.
Darren is nice enough to him during class, and once in a while he manages to get Chris talking to him without Chris even realizing it, but as soon as the class period has ended Darren is always swarmed with friends ready to steal him back.
He rarely gives Chris a second look as he leaves.
Darren plays quidditch because he’s good at it and he likes the praise it gets him, but deep down inside he’s pretty sure he be happy if he never stepped foot onto the pitch again.
He plays guitar because he doesn’t think he could stop doing it any more than he could stop breathing, and the end result would probably be the same both ways.
He loves being a wizard. He loves being at school. He loves his friends and he can’t imagine what his life would be if he hadn’t gotten his Hogwarts letter. He can close his eyes and see his future laid out for him. His grades aren’t the best but he’ll study for the OWLs and the NEWTs and if he needs help, he has people willing to give it to him. In a couple of years when he’s close to finishing school he’ll really buckle down and see if he can get into the Auror training.
Joey says he should just ride the Quidditch thing and try to play for the Cannons but Darren isn’t quite sure he’s that good, and even if it turned out he was...
Well, he’s only a fourth year, it’s not like he has to decide now.
Chris watches Quidditch because he has to.
He writes for the Hogwarts Oracle, founded when some of the parents gathered together and decided that the Daily Prophet wasn’t always the best reading material for impressionable young minds. It’s a constant source of irritation to Chris that half of the articles are summaries of various Quidditch-related happenings. Each House has their own insider column, each game is front page news, each “star player” gets their own highlight articles.
Chris wants to write, but he doesn’t want to write this. He wants to be writing an expose on how most of the professors are biased toward Gryffindors or maybe a nice informative study on what percentage of Hogwarts students go on to have non-magical careers or even a gossip column on Professor Vertigans and Professor Crenshaw are definitely hooking up.
(It’s not exactly the picture of esteemed journalism, but it would be fun to stake out the astronomy tower and get pictures of them kissing.)
But he can’t do any of those things, so instead he sits watching the Gryffindor vs. Slytherin game. These are his least favorites, because it doesn’t matter how very little he cares about the sport he’ll still get Gryffindors shouting names at him just for daring to be on the opposite side.
His own house isn’t that much better, but at least they save their abuse for private. They might have a multitude of insults stored up but he can be confident that as much as he’s disliked by some of his own house, it doesn’t begin to skim the depths of the animosity they have for Gryffindors.
It’s freezing cold and Darren is already grumpy because he was totally in the zone with a new song he’s writing when Joey had come in to remind him that it was time to get his gear on.
He hopes the snitch makes an appearance early on. He knows that everyone enjoys the drawn out matches, but just for tonight - just for tonight, he wants a short one. It’s extra motivation to keep alert for the little flash of gold.
Something else catches his eye, though.
Chris - his potions partner - scribbling in his notebook. It makes him smile because Chris always uses a muggle pen instead of a quill. He knows Chris doesn’t come from a pureblood family - even if he hadn’t heard it from someone else that Chris’s father was a muggle, he’d have known by how Chris acts, the pen and the other strangle muggle idiosyncrasies that he tends to slip into.
It’s kind of adorable.
Actually, there’s no ‘kind of’ about it. They are adorable and Darren has been noticing more and more lately.
Out of the corner of his eye there’s a brief flash of gleaming motion and his heart jumps in his chest then starts to pound like it always does when the moment hits him. He leans forward on his broom and takes off after the snitch.
Chris is working on his latest short story about a muggle detective solving a magic crime when he hears the crowd go wild. He looks up and blinks, wondering if the game is over. There’s usually a bit more fanfare as the seekers whiz and swoop around each other.
But no one is in the air. He sucks in a breath when he sees that the team captains and most of the Gryffindor players are hitting the ground and hovering around a fallen figure on the field. In a shockingly sickening moment, Chris knows that it’s Darren.
He gets to his feet and charges forward onto the field, pen clutched in his fingertips. “What is he-”
The Gryffindor captain shoots him a withering glare. “Off the pitch. Now.”
Chris spots Darren with his face twisted into a grimace. Someone else shifts and suddenly Chris can see more - the awful angle his leg is at. It makes Chris’s stomach turn and he takes a few more steps back.
He’ll have to cover this for the paper, but he can wait and get the story from someone else later. No one needs him here any more than he needs to be here.
The next four hours are decidedly some of the most unpleasant of Darren’s life. The potion they use to help his bone mend faster is promised to work "in a heartbeat" but in actuality makes him feel like someone is setting his leg on fire and the feeling won't fade for a couple of days. They won’t give him anything to help with it, not that he actually asks. He’s just had enough Quidditch injuries by now to know what they’d say if he did. His leg is broken in two places from the idiot Slytherin seeker shoving him off his broom when his competitive spirit got a little unruly.
They finally release him to head back to his dorm and he’s happy to see a group of his friends waiting for him to make sure he’s okay. Walking is a painful task even though the bone is technically mended, so he's extra glad for the help back up the stairs and into the Gryffindor house dormitories.
He gets the typical fuss and commotion made over him, and it's kind of nice. Who doesn't like a bit of pampering? They’re all up past curfew until head of house shoos them all away. They don’t lose points and Darren is pretty sure that’s because of him - who wants to punish a fallen hero of the sports field?
The Slytherin common room is all abuzz with talk of how the clumsy Gryffindor cost them a game that the Slytherins surely would have won. Their seeker is applauded for his efforts in a way that makes Chris feel a bit ill.
It’s not all of them, of course. Some of them are more like Chris - they just don’t care. Some of them are friendly, sometimes, and some of them keep to themselves.
But enough of them aren’t to make it sort of miserable. Chris still wonders if he’d made the right decision when he got the letter and told his parents that he wanted to go. He wonders if he wouldn’t be better off at home, going to a normal school and doing normal things and helping his parents take care of his sister.
He leaves the common room earlier than everyone else and heads into his dorm, crawling into the bed that his trunk sits in front of and pulling the curtains closed. He can hear a couple of other boys already in here - they’re sort of obvious about what they’re doing, and ugh, really, in the dorms? That’s what the showers are for, Chris thinks... then he stops thinking about that all together because the star of own typical masturbatory fantasies is lying somewhere on the other side of the school hurt.
He sits and picks up his notebook. He can’t focus enough to work on his story, so he decides to write a letter to Hannah instead.
Darren tries to get out of classes today, but his head of house isn’t having any of it. He’s sent on his way with light restrictions in place; not to carry any heavy books, no running or jogging, no excessive stair use.
He and Joey have the first two classes of the day together but he’s on his own after Potions.
Chris is obviously surprised to see him there. “I would have thought you’d still be receiving well-wishers on your sick bed.”
“Reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated.” Darren drops stiffly onto the bench seat beside Chris, wincing at the jarring of his still tender bone. “Okay, slightly exaggerated. I hope the graceful descent was at least entertaining for you.”
“I’m not sure you can still call it graceful if the end result is broken bones,” Chris points out. His voice is still sharp but his eyes hold just a hint of concern.
It makes Darren grin but he can’t say anything else because class starts. The lecture portion is a full half hour, but Darren barely pays attention. Chris is sitting closer than he normally does and every few minutes he glances over at Darren then hastily looks away so he won’t be caught.
Definitely adorable. As he scribbles names and shapes into the edges of his parchment he starts to steal his own looks. He thinks Chris might be gay, but he’s never really been able to figure out what was just student gossip and slander and what was truth.
Darren isn’t gay. He’s fourteen; he’s old enough to know what he likes and he knows that girls are fun to kiss and there are a few he’d even probably date but he’s never had the sort of fluttery feeling about a girl as he does Chris.
He wonders if Chris has ever been kissed. He thinks, maybe somewhat rudely, that he probably hasn’t. He thinks he could show Chris how much fun kissing is.
“Darren,” Chris snaps. “Are you even listening?”
Darren shakes his head. “Sorry. Take pity on me? I’m an injured man.”
Chris rolls his eyes. “You are a boy who is too used to everyone fawning over you for no discernable reason.”
Okay, ow. That stings a little. But Chris has said worse to him. He’s probably said worse this week.
The class period goes by and they both manage to avoid incurring any injures. (The same can’t be said for Corey, who might be brilliant in a number of ways but who truly, truly sucks at potions.)
Chris doesn’t make any more rude remarks and by the end of the class Darren has even managed to coax a smile or two from him. He’s feeling sort of cocky when he limps to his feet. “Hey, want to do me a favor?”
“What is it?” Chris is wary instantly, but he doesn’t say no outright, so Darren charges ahead.
“Carry my books? I’m not supposed to and these fuckers are heavy.” He looks down at the books that Joey had carried in for him.
“Why would I help you?” Chris asks, posture tensing.
“Because you think I’m cute.” Darren winks. “You do, don’t you?”
And then realizes it was a mistake because Chris looks stricken. There’s a flash of something - something that almost might be hurt, and then it’s gone, the window slammed down and replaced with cool disdain. “There are a lot of people here that think you’re cute. Why don’t you get one of them to help you?”
And then he’s gone, robes swishing behind him.
His heart pounds as Chris walks out of the classroom. He feels humiliated and he just wants to go hide somewhere. He doesn’t think twice about skipping his next class to go hide out in his favorite little spot in the entire castle, a dusty little passageway he found that goes from the main libraries to to the kitchens.
Once he’s there he pulls his knees up close to his chest and rests his head against them. He hadn’t really thought he cared that much until Darren mocked him. He hadn’t thought he’d really given anything away, but he must have, if Darren knew. Darren knew and Darren teased him - like Darren would really let some pathetic scrawny bullied Slytherin walk around the castle with him.
Even if - if - Darren liked boys, he wouldn’t like Chris.
No one likes Chris. Even his own parents had bigger concerns - and he gets it, he knows why, but it’s so hard being away for so long at a time and they can only use the muggle post to write him letters so while the other students get them weekly for Chris it’s more like once or twice a semester.
Last time he’d gone home, he hadn’t even had a room. Hannah had taken it over for her stuffed animal collection. Sharing the bed with a multitude of frogs and pandas and bears hadn’t been that bad, but he’d looked at the posters on the walls that covered over his own and the toys and books jammed in alongside his own and he’d felt even more displaced.
He just wants some place in the world where he doesn’t feel like he’s alone. He’d been stupid to even harbor the tiniest fantasy of Darren liking him, really.
Tears well up hot in his eyes and he wipes them away furiously. It’s not worth crying over. He’ll get over this, he’ll get stronger and better, he’ll work harder in classes and he’ll be the best fucking wizard in this entire school, and he will be okay.
Darren doesn’t skip class.
Darren gets Meredith, a cute little Hufflepuff to help him carry his books and she doesn’t mind at all because she can spend the entire walk trying to very un-subtly find out whether Brian, one of Darren’s dorm mates and a fifth year, has a crush on her.
He sits through Transfiguration in a daze, feeling more upset than he probably should, because he hurt Chris’s feelings somehow and he doesn’t know how but he wants to make it better.
As soon as the class is over he goes back to his room and leaves his things there. It only takes a minute of restlessly sitting on the bed for him to give in and drag his trunk over so he can lift open the torn open lining along the top and pull out the well-worn paper there.
His eyes scan along it until he sees the tiny writing that says Chris Colfer and then he frowns because according to this map, Chris is... hiding in a wall?
It must be a passage, but there’s no way he’d be able to crawl anywhere with his leg still healing. He groans and flops back onto the bed, map still loosely clutched between his fingers. The thing is more of a blessing than a curse really, something he’d found tucked into a heavy dust-covered volume called Songs a Wizard Lad Would Sing along with a scrawled note with the right phrasing to make it come to life and then fade back into just a length of paper of no abnormally useful purpose.
He folds the map up and tucks it into his pocket, and then hobbles out into the common room to see what his friends are doing.
Chris skips dinner and uses the meal time to sneak back into his dorm, glad no one else is there. He changes from his dust covered robes into jeans and a t-shirt and sneaks back out again.
The nice thing, really, about flying under the radar (even when he tries to soar above it) is that he’s gotten pretty adept at sneaking. He has his spots to think, his spots to feel, even the spots that he can go and howl at the top of his lungs and no one else can hear.
Right now he just wants space though. He wants big, wide open space where no one is boxing him into categories and no one is suffocating him with their obliviousness or judging eyes.
He doesn’t at all think that he only started going to the Quidditch pitch at night sometimes after he met Darren. He doesn’t sit on the grass and think about how much it must have hurt when Darren had fallen, and he definitely doesn’t close his eyes and imagine what it might have been like if Darren had been serious.
Then he hears footsteps and shoots to his feet, prepared to turn and defend himself against a professor if he’s been caught out so close to curfew.
But it’s not a professor...
Darren holds up both hands in a surrendering gesture. “I just want to talk to you, okay?”
Chris crosses his arms over his chest. “Why?”
“Because... I don’t know. You took off earlier. I wanted to make sure - hey, can we sit down? I don’t want to just be a weirdo and sit while you’re standing but I walked all the way here and my leg really hurts.” There’s a pinched look to Darren’s face that lets Chris know he’s telling the truth.
And Chris doesn’t actually want Darren in pain, so he reaches out and helps Darren lower himself to the ground. “Thanks.”
Chris pulls his hands back as soon as Darren is seated, but Darren reaches out and grabs his wrist to keep him from going too far away.
“What do you want?” Chris asks. “Haven’t you already made fun of me enough today?”
“I wasn’t- I didn’t-” Darren fumbles for words, a rare occurrence. He looks at Chris - young and kind of awkward with his hair flopping over his forehead and his eyes downcast. Chris just kind of looks like a puppy waiting to be kicked and Darren hurts to think of why he might feel like that. “I just like you, okay?”
“No, you don’t.” Chris sounds so confident that Darren actually has to stop and think.
“Yeah, I do. Why do you think we’re partners?” He asks.
“Because you got the short straw.” Chris is petulant but it’s still obvious that he absolutely believes this.
“Uh, no? It’s because I made Nick switch seats with me so I could be by you when I realized that he was about to split us up into pairings with people from other houses. Because I thought you looked like one of the most... the most interesting kid in the room.”
Chris pulls his knees up and looks down at the ground by his shoes. “Why would you ask me to carry your books?”
“Because I couldn’t,” Darren answers truthfully. “And you were right there and... I thought if we talked outside of class you might stop hating me.”
“I don’t hate you.” Chris glances up very quickly and then down again.
Darren feels lighter than air all over. That’s better than almost anything, just hearing Chris say that. “Really?”
“I just don’t get why you don’t hate me. Everyone does.”
Darren shrugs. “Everyone else is stupid then.”
He has a feeling Chris is exaggerating, but he won’t call him on it. If Chris feels like that’s true, it must suck almost as much as if it really were.
“Says the boy who barely has passing marks in potions,” Chris answers, once he’s recovered himself enough to.
Darren just smiles. “So what are you doing out here? I mean, it’s a nice night and all, but um...”
“I just like to be alone.” Chris says it definitely. “Is that okay?”
“Cool with me. Do you want me to go?” Darren asks. “I’ll go if you want me to. And I won’t tell anyone you come out here. Or about that passage in the library.”
Chris gives him a shocked look. “How did you-”
“I have my ways...” Darren smirks. He hasn’t told anyone about the map since he found it, not even Joey, but he almost tells Chris.
Maybe he will eventually. He’s pretty sure he could trust Chris with just about anything. He’s not sure how he knows, but he does.
“You don’t have to go,” Chris says after a moment. He looks over shyly. “If you want to stay... you can stay.”
“Really?” Darren gives him a wide open smile, eyes crinkling with it.
Chris just can’t help but smile back. “Yeah. You can stay”