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darling, we both know

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Yuuri’s letter arrives while he’s at the Ice Castle for practice, working on his double flip. He doesn’t see the missed calls and texts from his okaa-san until he’s leaving the rink, thumbing at his phone to open the messages.

The owl’s in your bedroom!, it reads. It won’t let me take the letter, so please hurry home!

He sprints the distance back to Yu-topia as fast as his eleven-year-old legs can carry him.

When he bursts through the doors of the bathhouse, chest heaving with exertion, his otou-san sends him a thumbs-up and waves him to his room. “Don’t want to keep the school owl waiting!” he cautions, going back to stirring the katsudon curry.

Nodding, still trying to catch his breath, Yuuri runs the remaining distance to his bedroom, hurtling in to find a disgruntled brown-speckled owl perched on his desk.

“Sorry, sorry,” he apologises, gasping.

Wincing at the owl’s evil eye, he gingerly pries the letter from its talons, the cardstock heavy and fine. He sets the letter down on the desk, fishing around in a drawer for an owl treat. Holding it up to the owl, it shoots him a haughty look, snatches it from his hand, and takes flight out of the window.

Yuuri picks the letter up with nervous, eager hands, taking painstaking care when opening the envelope. It’s not a surprise to receive this letter, but he’s been waiting all summer for it, and when he unfolds the cream sheet of paper, he lets out a loud whoop.

Mari rushes in, banging the door open. He’d ordinarily be annoyed that she didn’t knock, but he grins and points at the letter in his hand, and Mari whoops too and swoops to pick him up and swing him around.

“Ma-ri,” he whines, because they’re not kids anymore - he’s eleven.

“Alright, alright,” she acquiesces, and makes grabby hands at the letter he’s holding. “Let’s see it, then.”

He hands it over to her, careful in the handling.

Yuuri’s shivering in excitement, young mind flying to thoughts of where he’s stowed his broom, should he take his robes out to wash again, he’s got to find Vicchan to tell him the news, and is now too early to start packing?

 

 

 

 

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魔法所学園

 

Dear Katsuki Yuuri-san,

 

We are pleased to invite you to board at the Mahoutokoro School of Magical Learning for your Fifth Year with us.

Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on 1 September. The storm petrels will depart from Tokyo Narita Airport, Terminal 3.14, at precisely 10am. Designated apparation zones are marked out on the map below.

We await your response by owl to be received no later than 25 July, and look forward to welcoming you back for another productive and magical year of learning.

 

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Professor Kawashi Sabe

Headmistress

Chrysanthemum Order, First Class

Grand Sorceress to the Imperial Throne

Distinguished Member, International Association of Wizarding Academics

 

 

 

 

_____

 

 

 

 

His parents throw him a small party the night before term starts, making him and Mari the largest katsudon bowls he’s seen in his life - and trust him, he’s seen a lot. Yuuri didn’t know they even made bowls that big that weren’t pots.

His okaa-san sighs happily at the sight of him wolfing down his meal, her eyes misty.

“It feels just like yesterday when you were starting your First Year as a day student,” she says. “And now you’re already boarding!”

Mari snorts, but her tone is light and there’s a proud smile on her face. “I’m so glad Yuuri can finally stop ferrying packages for me from you guys. He always drops them, and they’re damp and wet when I get them.”

Indignant, Yuuri forces down a bite of the pork to answer. “I’d like to see you balance one of okaa-san’s packages while on the back of a petrel!”

She smacks him lightly on the head. “That’s why I’m on the Quidditch team and not you, stupid.”

“Only because First to Fourth Years can’t try out!”

His otou-san cuts in then, chuckling. “Enough, enough. Focus on eating or one of you might choke and not make it back at all,” he teases.

When dinner’s done, and all the dishes washed and put away, okaa-san follows him back to his room, rattling off a list of things to check that he’s packed.

“And jumpers?” she says, “You need to bring more of those, Yuuri-kun, you know how cold you tend to get. And stationery? Did you pack enough pens? What about notepads?”

Yuuri hugs her tight around the middle, cutting her off.

“I’m going to miss you, okaa-san,” he says, and breathes in her scent, comforting and safe and home.

Her arms come up to wrap around him, and he’s enveloped in her warmth. “I’m going to miss you so much too.” She sighs, forlorn. “It’s going to be so quiet without you and Mari.”

Hands coming up to ruffle his hair, she tugs back to look at him. “You’ve grown so much so quickly, Yuuri-kun. I’m so proud of you.”

Ducking his head, bashful, Yuuri smiles boyishly at her. “I’ll be fine, okaa-san.”

There are tears in her eyes. “I know you will be, but let a woman fuss over her youngest, won’t you?” she sniffs, tone affectionate.

So he does. Yuuri goes through the entire contents of his trunk with his okaa-san, packing three extra jumpers and a whole pack of pen refills, and refolding his shirts just the way she likes it.

It’s past ten at night by the time she’s satisfied, and Yuuri’s exhausted, but the smile on her face as she tucks him in and bids him goodnight makes it all so very worth it.

 

 

 

 

_____

 

 

 

 

The first day of term is a familiar routine he can recall having seen Mari do for years, having participated himself for the last four.

It’s worse this time round, though, because as a day student he’d only needed his schoolbag and equipment for the day, but now there are two trunks between them, Mari’s kneazle, Yuuri’s Vicchan, and the family owl Pizu. There aren’t nearly enough hands to hold on to everything and still hold on to their parents for side-along apparation to the designated zones at Narita.

They make it to Terminal 3.14 by nine-fifteen in the morning, joining the throng of harried parents and bright-eyed students making their way as inconspicuously as possible through the maj-less Terminal 3.

“Do you think they suspect anything?” he whispers to Mari, eyeing the people around them with their rolling suitcases and passports.

She rolls her eyes at him. “Of course not, MinMagic’s cast a notice-us-not for the maj-folk around the Terminal. They wouldn’t let us through here if it weren’t safe. We’re here, though, so get ready.”

Mari nudges him ahead of her towards a nondescript pair of white doors, now held open, which look like they lead into an ordinary service room.

Heartbeat speeding up, Yuuri takes a deep breath and adjusts the grip on his trolley.

He grits his teeth and rolls the trolley forward, feeling the familiar split-second jerk as he passes through, and then the trolley rattles as it hits a small curb and he’s looking up at a massive hall.

The soaring glass ceilings of the storm petrel eyrie open up to perfectly blue skies, and even now, he can see the petrels docked in numbered stalls on the ground for boarding, more circling overhead and coming in for the landing.

Yuuri’s doing this for the fifth time in his life, and the awe never abates.

Mari’s just stepping in behind him, cursing softly under her breath when her trolley catches on the small curb like his did. “Damn Greater Teleportation spells,” she complains. “They never get the doorways to line up right.”

Their parents come through, okaa-san holding Yurio, Mari’s kneazle, otou-san carrying Vicchan and Pizu’s cage.

“Ah,” otou-san grins. “It never stops being pretty, does it?”

Two boarding passes come hurtling towards them then, a paper ticket crashing into Mari’s forehead and the other into Yuuri’s arm, the passes animated and then stilling when they manage to get ahold of them.

“Argh!” Mari cries, swatting at and grabbing for hers. “These things are vicious, can’t they tone that down a little?” She peers at Yuuri’s pass, comparing both of their tickets. “Oh, you’re in Dock 8,” she says, and then waves at the pass in her hand. “I’m in 5.”

“Okay,” okaa-san says, shooing them towards the docking stalls. “Let’s get Yuuri onboard first, then you, Mari.”

The four of them troop over to the docks, slowly navigating through the crowd. It’s as overwhelming and thrilling as Yuuri remembers, the eyrie a whirl of sound and bright haori and all kinds of magical pets, school robes of every colour swirling past them.

Yuuri’s own robe is a deep forest green, a fact he’s incredibly proud of. He’s worked hard to get it to this colour, spending late nights forcing himself through textbooks and pouring over essays. If he keeps it up, he thinks he can get it to buttercup yellow by the end of the year.

Mari’s is burgundy, which she’s blasé about. “I’m going to help out at Yu-topia anyway,” she’d told him. “I don’t need perfect grades. I’m happy with this.”

The thing is, Yuuri knows she genuinely is happy, so he’s happy for her, too. It’s also a relief to know that his parents won’t have to keep on shouldering the burden of running the bathhouse between the two of them.

Dock 8 is fairly empty when they draw up to it, the only other people in the stall a tiny Amaterasu student in red robes, probably a second or third year, with his family. Spotting a fellow Housemate, Mari grins and goes over to talk to the boy, the Amaterasu lapel pin shiny on her robes, sword and jewel inlaid on a glinting mirror.

Otou-san helps load his trunk onto the carrier compartment on the storm petrel’s flank, okaa-san petting it on the head and cooing at how cute it is. The giant bird preens under her attention, nipping at the sleeves of her yukata in affection.

Baggage loaded, his parents come to stand in from of him, Mari recalled from her chat. Okaa-san brushes a hand down his robes, tugging it so it sits just right on his shoulders, her hand rubbing at the Mizuchi house pin on his lapel.

“Alright, now,” she says. “You be good. We love you. If you need anything, we’re just an owl away, and Pizu knows how to get to us.” She draws him into a tight hug, and then his otou-san hugs him too, and Mari’s rolling her eyes and telling him she’ll see him at the palace when they arrive.

Yuuri clambers onboard the petrel, the carriage magically strapped to the bird’s back. The Amaterasu student’s already inside, and he smiles at the boy - tiny and blond - as he takes a seat by the window and waves at his parents until they disappear in the crowd in the direction of Dock 5, off to get Mari on her way.

The silence in the carriage is awkward as they wait to depart, the Amaterasu boy alternating between fidgeting and sending Yuuri looks.

After five minutes, Yuuri clears his throat uncomfortably, asking, “Are you alright?”

The boy looks stricken at being caught staring, and he nods furiously before blurting, “You’re Katsuki Yuuri!”

Yuuri’s taken aback by the fervour in his tone. “Yes?” he responds, nervous.

“I saw all your Frost Wielding performances last year!” he says, face flushed. “I’m - I’m going to be a Frost Wielder like you too!”

Blushing down to his roots, Yuuri tries to sink further down into his seat.

“Th-thank you? That’s very kind. Good luck,” he wishes, now furiously dreading the rest of the journey to Mahoutokoro, hoping for a distraction, any distraction.

“I’m Minami Kenjirō!” the boy announces, and offers an eager hand in introduction.

Embarrassed by the recognition and praise, Yuuri reluctantly takes his hand and shakes it. He heaves a huge internal sigh of relief when another student bustles into the carriage, a Tenth Year in royal blue robes, green Fuujin house scarf looped around her neck. She nods to the both of them already in the carriage and sits by the window across from Yuuri, pulling out a pen and notebook to scribble in.

Taking this as his chance, Yuuri fishes his iPod out of his backpack, slotting his earbuds in. He’s caught up in the music of Dean Fujioka when their final carriage companion arrives just minutes before ten, an out-of-breath Amaterasu girl who Minami recognises and launches into an animated chat with.

At ten exactly, the storm petrels call in unison, and parents and family members at the docks move back to stand clear of the massive birds. They take off one at a time, each slowly spiralling upwards towards the eye in the distant ceiling, and with a lurch, their storm petrel launches into the air and they join the ascending spiral.

Yuuri spots his parents below and waves at them for as long as they remain in sight. Their storm petrel breaks from the cover of the glass dome of the eyrie and they’re gliding out into the balmy Tokyo morning, sunlight gentle and bright, skies clear and perfectly blue.

The journey to Mahoutokoro takes an hour and a half, two if the weather’s foul. Yuuri spends the time listening to the music on his iPod and reading Murakami’s latest, doing his best to ignore his carriage companions and avoid further conversation.

The formidable Storm Gate of Raijin comes into view in an hour and twenty-five minutes, and the four occupants of their carriage cluster around the windows on either side to catch the first glimpse of their school.

The petrel forges on, past the cloud cover that shields the inner gates and school grounds proper, and the Fuujin girl smiles excitedly at them when the Typhoon Gate’s visible in the distance, carved out of slate grey stone, the imposing form of Fuujin on its pillars, bag of wind held aloft in massive hands.

They’re getting closer now, past the magical barrier that keeps prying maj-less eyes unaware of Mahoutokoro’s existence atop the island’s peak. The winding school path extends further up the mountain, the petrel descending in gradual increments, and when the Great Wave Gate of Mizuchi comes into view, the dragon god carved in a silent, ferocious roar, Yuuri can’t help the swell of House pride in his chest.

They pass the final Sun Gate, Minami and the other Amaterasu girl enthusiastically shrieking and comparing their house pins, pointing out the jewel, sword, and mirror on the structure far below.

The path on the ground widens, the petrel gliding even lower, and they soar through a cluster of clouds, the moisture damp and cool on their faces.

The Jade Palace of Mahoutokoro is nearly blinding in the morning light, the pearly mutton-fat jade of the terraces and roof flawless, carved stonework resplendent with writhing dragons and soaring phoenixes.

The gardens of the Palace are pristinely manicured, the sakura trees lining the paths kept in full bloom throughout the year, rosy petals falling in constant gentle, languid swirls. The Golden Bridge shines just below, extending gracefully over Lake Kamuito, waters placid and calm.

There’s an awed, subdued silence in their carriage as they take in the sight of their school, quiet and reverent. The Palace has stood for centuries, unchanged and unmoved, peaceful and unsullied.

If the legends are true, the great beings Izanagi and Izanami themselves mined the very jade that formed the structure, Izanagi bringing the pristine stone to the island, Izanami weaving the pieces together to form the Palace. Yuuri’s almost inclined to believe the myth true, the jade on the Palace seamless and without join, impossible to envision being wrought by human hands and joinery spellcraft.

Their storm petrel lets out a call, shattering their moment of rapture. They scramble to gather their belongings as they begin the final descent to the landing paddock, Yuuri tucking his iPod and earbuds into his bag and looping his Mizuchi scarf around his neck. The petrel lands them deftly in a neatly-marked lot, barely jostling its passengers, and they hop out one by one, pausing to retrieve their trunks. Vicchan seems to have weathered the journey fine when Yuuri bends to check, his tail wagging and excited.

The carriages to take them to the Palace proper are awaiting their boarding up on the path, and the members of their petrel carriage disperse to find their own friends for the next leg of their journey. Minami yells an enthusiastic farewell, and Yuuri flushes but nods at him all the same.

Yuuri spots Guang Hong twenty feet away, attempting to juggle his trunk and owl cage. He calls out and Guang Hong looks up, waves, and his owl cage nearly tips over and onto the ground, inhabitant hooting furiously. He yelps and saves it with a wingardium leviosa, catching it just in time.

“Yuuri!” Guang Hong greets, smiling and wiping his forehead with relief just as Yuuri draws up next to him. “It’s so good to see you, how was summer?”

Side by side, they both trek to the nearest empty carriage. Vicchan bounds around and between them, practically vibrating out of his small body with excitement.

“Pretty boring,” Yuuri replies. “I couldn’t get much Frost Wielding practice done, but I did have a lot of time on the ice to just skate.”

Guang Hong nods. “Ah, yeah, that’s right, you live in a maj-less town.” He winces in sympathy. “That must suck, especially with the school team tryouts this year.”

They pile into the carriage, already occupied by three other students deeply engaged in their own conversation. Yuuri hauls the door shut behind them, and the carriage coughs into motion, picking up speed and joining the line of other carriages ferrying students to the Palace.

“Nothing to be done for it,” Yuuri shrugs, then gestures at Guang Hong. “What about you? Are you going to go for it?”

Guang Hong’s expression uncertain, he see-saws a hand and says, “Maybe, I don’t know. Leo said I should, but it’s a lot of time and my parents says I should work to get my robes to blue by the end of the year.”

Yuuri nods in understanding, then smiles when he recalls Guang Hong’s American pen pal. “That’s right, how’s Leo doing?”

Guang Hong brightens at the question, pulling out his latest letter from a pocket. “He’s really good! Leo’s taking his L.L.A.M.A.s this year, though, but he says he’s going to keep at Frost Wielding.”

At Yuuri’s baffled expression, Guang Hong shows him the letter. Lower Level American Magical Assessments, Leo explains in uneven and boyish handwriting.

“Oh, yeah,” Yuuri says, rubbing at his neck. “I forgot they had those over there.”

“It’s so unfair.” Guang Hong bobs his head, enraged on Leo’s behalf. “Can you imagine if we had to take national exams next year?”

They shudder in collective horror.

In the distance, the bells of Susanoo Shrine begin to ring, signalling noontime, its peals rising in pitch with each of its five tolls, then descending. The chiming of the bells puts an end to the conversations in their carriage, all of them looking forward to their arrival and welcoming banquet at the Palace.

When they disembark, Yuuri and Guang Hong levitate their trunks up the jade steps of the main entrance, pausing to greet Kawashi-sensei by the grand doors before drifting to the Mizuchi common room, spread out over a portion of the ground and lower ground floors of the Palace.

The common room is exactly as Yuuri remembers, and he smiles in contentment when they enter, the painting of Hokusai’s Great Wave - the original, mind you, not the maj-less copy - swinging shut behind them.

Yuuri inhales deeply, the faint smell of saltwater lingering in the air comfortingly familiar, and takes in polished wooden floors, the shoji screens by the windows, and the sea-blue armchairs and sofas that litter the expansive room. The sun filters in gently, casting the room in a soft, tranquil glow, the calligraphy and ukiyo-e prints on the walls subtly illuminated by the lambent light. Taking pride of place are the remaining thirty-five prints of Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, each moving gently in their own frames.

“It’s good to be back,” Guang Hong declares from behind him, smile in his voice. They dump their trunks in their shared room before flopping down on one of the cosy sofas by the window, view overlooking Lake Kamuito.

It’s not long before their House Student Councillors are rounding them up for the welcoming banquet, making sure everyone has their Mizuchi lapel pins securely fastened and robes straightened before pronouncing them ready.

“Remember, we represent our House with pride!” Haruka Nanase reminds them, herding the lower years out.

When they get to the Chrysanthemum Hall, two of the three other House tables are already occupied. They take their seats at the Mizuchi table, students all round craning their heads and calling out to friends they’ve spotted. Yuuri sends a quick wave at Mari when he finds her.

Next to him, Guang Hong spies Seung-Gil at the Raijin table and waves excitedly, Yuuri sending a smile along. Seung-Gil rolls his eyes, but after a beat, waves back at them, and Guang Hong pumps a fist in victory when he looks away.

“He’s always so aloof,” Guang Hong complains, dropping back down into his chair. “He waved at us, though, so he must be happy to be back, I guess?”

Fuujin files in then, the final House to arrive, and once the scrape of fifty or so students taking their seats dies down, Kawashi-sensei taps her wand on the Head table, calling them all to attention. Her speech and short and to the point, and quick welcome back for old students and a warm welcome to the new. The Student Council President for the year is announced - Ise Nanao, from Mizuchi - and Yuuri cheers loudly along with his Housemates.

The Sorting Cup is brought out, the First Years nervously going up to sip from it, the Cup declaring their Houses after. Mizuchi gains eight new members, and Yuuri claps enthusiastically for each one.

Sorting over, the food appears, startling several of the First Years. The Mizuchi table is laden with all kinds of sushi, sashimi, teriyaki, and steaming bowls of ramen and don. Yuuri helps himself to a pork katsudon, thinking fondly of the ones back in Yu-topia. On his right, Guang Hong piles his plate with kushiyaki, happily munching as he reaches for more.

The rest of the day is a flurry of running into old friends, making new ones of the Mizuchi newcomers, unpacking, and making sure all their equipment is in order for the next day’s classes.

At ten, Yuuri collapses in his cubicle and on his bed, blocked off from Guang Hong behind a sliding shoji screen. The clamour of the common room is muted and subdued, the House winding down and expended after the energies of the day.

In the corridor outside their room, he can hear the hushed bantering of Kurasaki and Abarai as they make their way into the room across them. There’s the soft sound of a door sliding open, and their voices fade as it shuts. If he tries hard enough to listen, Yuuri can make out the faint chirps of crickets.

The scent of saltwater lingering in the air,  Yuuri shuts his eyes to the sounds of home, the eddies of magic that permeate the ancient stones buoying him gently across a dreaming sea to deep, restful sleep.

 

 

 

 

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By late October, the competitive season is nearly upon them, and Yuuri can hardly keep up with his classes, practicals, essays, and training. Juniors is a month away, and Yuuri’s barely managed to complete a full run of his routine without mistakes.

Yuuri glides to a stop, chest heaving. Celestino-sensei shakes his head in dissatisfaction. “More height on the triple axel, less force on the takeoff for your double flip, and watch the ice - your landscape was melting towards the end. Again, Yuuri, from the top.”

Disappointed in himself for his lacklustre performance, Yuuri nods, and skates back to the centre of the portion of Lake Kamuito that they’ve frozen over. 

The tripping, hopping music starts, projected from Celestino-sensei’s wand and a sonorous, and Yuuri breathes in deep. He steps into his routine with a smooth, curving glide, feeling and weaving the magic in the ice, moulding the flat surface into a snowy landscape, flurries whirling around him, the highest mountain coming up to his chest.

“Good,” Celestino-sensei calls. “Focus on the snow, don’t let it ebb.”

Yuuri launches into a triple axel and botches the landing, wincing when he notices the brief stutter in the gentle falling of the snow. He calls the magic back, coaxing it to bend to his direction, and the snow resumes, the landscape shifting around him. The mountains give way to a forest, animated deer and squirrels dashing through the scenery, and tiny robins dart about in the branches.

The music swells, and he leaps into a triple toe loop, nailing the jump.

“Great job,” he hears Celestino-sensei say, and Guang Hong cheers.

Music reaching a crescendo, Yuuri focuses on shifting the ice, the forest serenely folding into a bank, two miniature figures strolling along, a glistening, perfectly round moon of ice hanging in the air above. Sliding into a sit spin, he grits his teeth. The moon is heavy and magically challenging to keep aloft, and fresh sweat beads on his brow.

When the last, final note dies, Yuuri falls out of position, hands coming to rest on his knees as he bends over, panting.

“Alright, Yuuri, good work, that’s enough for today.”

Nodding in thanks, he skates back to solid ground, and Celestino-sensei unfreezes the Lake behind him. Joining Guang Hong and Seung-Gil, the former sends him a thumbs-up while the latter graces him with an short incline of his head.

They gather their training gear and trudge back to the Palace, Celestino-sensei calling out reminders that the next practice would be tomorrow at 7.30am sharp, yes, that’s looking at you, Guang Hong.

Exhausted, the day barely even begun, Yuuri and Guang Hong hit the Mizuchi boys’ showers, changing into their school robes.

Guang Hong flops down on his bed, the shoji screen on his cubicle left open.

“What do we have next?” he groans, hand thrown over his eyes.

Glancing at the timetable taped to the wall by their desks, Yuuri sighs. “Arithmatical Science in five minutes, Elementology at ten, Magical Ethics after, and then lunch.”

Guang Hong makes a disgusted noise, but gets up to gather his supplies, Yuuri doing the same. “Who do we have AS with?”

Yuuri peers at his schedule. “Uh, Raijin, I think. So we should see Seung-Gil.”

Guang Hong smiles, pleased, and then his expression falls comically when he remembers they have three hours of classes to get through before lunch, and there’s still half of the day left after.

 

 

 

 

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The weeks both drag and fly by, and before Yuuri knows it, it’s mid-November, Juniors a scant two days away. Mahoutokoro is a flurry of activity, banners strewn up in cheerful support, all the Houses adorning their common rooms with pennants and flags bearing the school crest.

Yuuri returns to the Mizuchi common room that afternoon, classes over, to the sight of two Seventh Years precariously balanced on a two chairs on either side of the room, Nanao calling out directions as they work to hang even more bunting, school crest proudly displayed. One nearly overbalances, the bunting’s 16-petaled Chrysanthemum kikumon, with wand and open book to either side, smacking him in the face and causing him to sputter.

Feeling embarrassed by the fanfare, Yuuri asks if he can help, and Nanao waves him away. “No, no, I’ve got it under control.”

She then frowns, as if suddenly remembering something. “Oh, right, before you go to your room - ” she hops down from her perch, “ - you should probably know it’s been Expanded in anticipation of the inter-school unity initiative.”

Vaguely recalling Kawashi-sensei addressing the Mahoutokoro Frost Wielding team about it, Yuuri nods along.

Nanao accios a list to her, finger scanning the paper and tapping when she finds what she’s looking for. “There we go, you’re with - ” she adjusts her glasses and narrows her eyes at the list, squinting, “ - Victor Nikiforov?”

Yuuri inhales sharply, stunned. “You-you’re sure?” he asks, voice quavering.

Concerned, she lowers the sheet of paper and peers at him. “Do you know him? I can see about switching the pairings around if he makes you uncomfortable.”

“No!” Yuuri hastens to assure her. “It’s really fine! It’s great! I’m sorry I worried you.”

If anything, his zealous assertions serve to make her even more skeptical, but she eventually relents.

Yuuri walks to his room in a daze, heart pounding. Victor Nikiforov.

Even at thirteen, Victor’s broken records and sent shockwaves rippling throughout the Frost Wielding community, his performances flawless and masterful and pure poetry in motion. He’s taken home the championship title every year since his debut at the Juniors at eleven. At thirteen, everyone’s already talking about the history he’ll make when he makes his Senior debut.

It’s enough to make Yuuri dizzyingly envious and nervous all at once.

It’s not that it never occurred to him that Victor would be attending the Juniors as well, or even that he wouldn’t see him in person, what with Mahoutokoro playing host to the competition this year. It’s just that Yuuri never really thought about what it might truly mean to compete on the same ice as him, Victor always an ephemeral, distant legend.

Now, faced with the reality of Victor Nikiforov appearing in the flesh in scant hours, faced with the thought that he’d be rooming with Yuuri, sleeping and living next to him over the course of the next three days, Yuuri feels faint.

He’s lying on his bed, starting up at the ceiling, door of his cubicle drawn open, when Guang Hong bursts in.

“I got Leo!” he cries, dancing around their room in delight. “I can’t wait, I was so worried Nanao would forget to pair us together - they’ll be here in three hours, oh my god.”

Pausing midway through his elated spiel, Guang Hong sends him curious look. “Wait, who did you get?”

Yuuri flops onto his stomach to bury his groan of frustration in his pillow. Plopping down on the bed next to him, Guang Hong pokes him with an insistent finger. “Tell me,” he whines.

“Victor Nikiforov,” he mumbles into his pillow, hoping Guang Hong won’t catch it despite the fact that the boy in person would be shortly rooming with them.

Guang Hong gasps. “You’re joking.”

Resigned, he shakes his head, and Guang Hong cheers. “This is great! You’ve always wanted to meet him, and I can’t wait to actually get to know him!”

Geared up for the arrival of their guests, Guang Hong festoons their Expanded room - their two cubicles lining either wall now magically pushed further apart, an extra futon on each side - with a handmade banner and pennants magicked to display the three school crests of Mahoutokoro, Durmstrang, and Ilvermorny. He even gleefully brandishes two extra Mizuchi House scarves, unearthed from his trunk, and prods at Yuuri until he pockets one to gift to Victor at the welcome banquet.

At six-twenty, they join the stream of students heading to the Chrysanthemum Hall for dinner, the excited chatter of their Housemates stirring the anxious roiling in Yuuri’s gut.

All Houses present and seated, Kawashi-sensei taps her wand to quiet the din, and asks that they please be patient for the arrival of their guests. She reminds them of the school code - Integrity, Honour, Courage, and Curiosity - and to be mindful of cultural traditions and differences.

At precisely seven, the grand doors to the Hall are drawn slowly open, the athletes from Beauxbatons having arrived. Yuuri instantly recognises Christophe Giacometti, preening at the attention and welcome, a grinning Michele Crispino to his side. The lustre of their blue uniforms are illuminated to a sheen under the light of the bobbing lanterns of the Hall, and even someone like Seung-Gil would be hard-pressed not to admit that the Beauxbatons students look stunning.

Madame Maxime nods politely at Kawashi-sensei, her students curtsying and bowing in greeting, and they take their place at the front, waiting for the arrival of the rest.

The Ilvermorny contingent make an appearance shortly after, Guang Hong hopping about excitedly in his seat as Leo spots him and waves, the both of them grinning wide. There’s a brunette next to him, cocky and satisfied smirk on his face, and Yuuri assumes that must be Jean-Jacques Leroy.

Headmaster Calleron Boot bows at Kawashi-sensei in greeting, and his students wave and yell enthusiastic hellos, their cranberry and blue robes rich and deep in colour, the gold gordian knots fastening their robes glinting and catching at the corner of Yuuri’s eyes, even when he looks away. Greetings done with, they drift over to stand with Beauxbatons, and Yuuri notes the way Jean-Jacques and Christophe begrudgingly nod at each other in acknowledgement.

At seven-nineteen, Headmaster Yakov Feltsman strides through the doors, the white of his robes a stark contrast to the sombre brown of his students. There’s a buzz in the Hall and among the Beauxbatons and Ilvermorny contingents, a great deal of heads craning and twisting to glimpse the new arrivals.

Yuuri spots the shine of his hair first, the unique silver gleaming under the amber light.

He’s not going to say something as lame as their eyes meeting across the room, but their eyes catch briefly, and his breath is taken away by glacier blue irises that sear his young, impressionable soul. Even at the age of eleven, Yuuri knows Victor is stunningly beautiful. Victor wears the severe Durmstrang uniform like haute couture: the sharp cut complimenting delicates wrists, the heavy fabric framing the strong line of his shoulders. It’s as intimidating as it is entrancing.

The taller boy next to Victor must be Georgi Popovich, Yuuri concludes. The Durmstrang students stand together with straight, stiff backs, but Yuuri catches Victor glancing curiously around the Chrysanthemum Hall, wonder in his eyes. Headmaster Feltsman grunts a greeting, and they stride over to stand by Ilvermorny and Beauxbatons.

Arrivals finally over with, Kawashi-sensei stands, tapping her wand twice on the Head table. When she speaks, her voiced is magically carried by sonorous.

“Thank you for your patience, everyone. Mahoutokoro extends a warm welcome to all our guests from Ilvermorny, Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons,” she says, nodding at the Heads in turn, “at the momentous occasion of the 125th Junior Frost Wielding Championships, beginning tomorrow. Now,” she continues, smiling a little, “I know we’re all hungry and tired, so I’m not going to lecture you about the origins of the sport, except to say that Frost Wielding is a very challenging and demanding discipline that combines magical power, control, and physical prowess, and all the athletes competing over the next few days should be very proud of themselves for being here.” She claps warmly, the rest of the Hall joining in the applause.

“Without further ado,” she adds, gesturing at the guest schools, “I’d like to invite our Mahoutokoro students who’ve been chosen to take part in this inter-school unity initiative - President Ise-san should have been informed you who you are - to join your partnered student up at the front of the Hall.”

Glancing uncertainly at Guang Hong, Yuuri can feel the sweat forming on his palms. Guang Hong shrugs at Kawashi-sensei’s instructions, turning to nudge at Yuuri to stand. At the Raijin table, Seung-Gil gets to his feet, and a handful of other students from Fuujin and Amaterasu join them in making their way to the front. As he walks between the Mizuchi and Amaterasu tables and past Mari, she shoots him a thumbs-up.

Yuuri drifts towards the Durmstrang group, barely avoiding Guang Hong launching himself at Leo for a bear hug that has the Ilvermorny student staggering back and laughing.

He tiptoes, trying to locate Victor in the sea of students.

There’s a light tap on his shoulder, and Yuuri whirls around, overbalancing and smacking into a chest, hurting his forehead on a hard, brass button.

“Ah, sorry,” a voice says, hand coming up to steady him. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Yuuri glances at the owner of the voice, eleven-year-old self too awestruck at the sight of Victor Nikiforov to form words. “It’s-it’s okay,” he eventually manages to say, stammering.

“I think you’re my partner?” Victor says, smile bashful. He’s holding a scrap of paper in his left hand, Katsuki Yuuri written on it in kanji. “I recognised you from the Castelobruxo Invitationals last year,” he adds, and Yuuri squeaks at his admission, face flushing with mortification.

Remembering that Mari’s watching, and knowing that he’ll be mercilessly teased for being a chicken if he wusses out of his partnership duties, Yuuri takes a determined breath and puffs out his chest in boyish bravado. “I am,” he says. “You’re in Mizuchi House with me now, so I got you this.”

Yuuri digs the House scarf from the pocket of his robes, and Victor’s eyes light up when he spots the sea blue of it. “Is that for me?” he exclaims, arms coming up to clutch at Yuuri in delight. At Yuuri’s nod, he loops the scarf around his neck with a flourish, turning to show it off to an exasperated Georgi.

Kawashi-sensei shoos them to their seats for the start of the banquet, the Heads of the various schools joining her at the Head table. Victor gasps in wonder when the heaping plates of food appear, taking bites of everything and declaring each one the best with loud proclamations of vkusno!

It’s fun, and Yuuri’s enjoying himself. He decides that Victor’s not that intimidating, even if he’s two years his senior, and when Guang Hong introduces Leo to them, they all end up talking about the Castelobruxo Invitationals, laughing their hearts out when Leo recounts how he’d hid behind a pillar to scare Mila Babicheva, the girl shrieking when he’d popped out and toppling over into a nearby bin.

“Oh!” Victor pipes up towards the end of dinner, gesturing at Yuuri’s robes. “I’ve been meaning to ask - why are all your robes so colourful? Do you get to pick which you like?”

Yuuri, mouth full of mochi, waves at Guang Hong to answer. “I wish,” he sighs, picking at a loose thread on his purple robes. “It depends on your grades. We start off at pink, and if you do well, you move to red, then burgundy, purple, blue, green - ” he points at Yuuri, “ - then yellow, bronze, and gold.”

Leo, listening in, sits back in his seat, blinking dazedly. “That’s a lot to remember.”

Swallowing his mochi, Yuuri shrugs. “We get used to it. Plus it sort of makes sense, when you think about it.” Victor agrees, nodding along.

The next three days are a whirl of activity that Yuuri can barely keep abreast with, shoving in practice alongside Victor insisting he show him around the grounds, hastily scribbling essays, wolfing down meals, and actually competing.

Yuuri doesn’t medal that year, but he comes in a respectable fourth place out of eight, given that this is his Junior debut.

If you asked him, years later, what he does remember of the Championships that year, he’d be able to recount to you, in minute detail, the entirety of Victor’s performance.

With words his younger self doesn’t yet have, he’d tell you of the way he’d stood, transfixed, at the way the ice itself seemed to shiver in Victor’s presence, eager and willing and malleable under the soft touches of his magic.

He’d tell you about the way Victor had leapt and danced and bowed in perfect grace, the gentle whip of his hair floating behind him through effortless spins and curves.

He’d tell you of the way Victor had the absolute, commanding attention of everyone in the crowd, his performance pure rapture.

But for now, he’s eleven years old, and he can’t tell you any of that.

Victor wins the gold, of course, and Yuuri leaps to hugs him amid the cheers of the students, the press clamouring for interviews with Frost Wielding’s golden boy.

The night before he departs, they make promises to keep in touch, and Yuuri takes Victor to the Owlery to visit Pizu. Vicchan bounds into their room that evening, finally gracing them with his boisterous puppy presence after having fooled the cooks out of numerous treats, and Victor coos and fawns over the poodle.

Yuuri and Guang Hong teach their guests to play butanoshippo, and after getting the hang of it, the four of them play long into the night, sitting in a circle and leaning on each other to stifle giggles.

They fall asleep in a heap of blankets and pillows on the two spare futons in the middle of the room, rolled and piled together in a snoring bundle by morning.

Right before they leave, Victor presses a scrap of paper into Yuuri’s hand containing his address, and makes Yuuri promise to owl over summer - and during termtime to Durmstrang, Yuuri-kun, don’t forget!

Guang Hong sniffles as the schools depart, and Yuuri’s lucky only his lower lip trembles.

Mari notices, because of course she would, but she doesn’t make fun of him, which is nice. She wraps him in a crushing hug that has him squirming to escape, ruffling his hair when he does.

“Don’t be silly,” she chides. “You’ll see him next year.”

It’s as good a prediction as any.

 

 

 

 

_____

 

 

 

 

The next two years pass in much the same fashion, the Mahoutokoro team travelling to Beauxbatons, where he comes third and wins his first Championship medal, then Uagadou, where he wins silver.

Yuuri and Victor exchange a flurry of letters, several times a week during term time and nearly daily over the holidays. Yuuri amasses a pile of memorabilia from Victor, an animated photo of him holding up a peace sign behind Georgi’s back, another of him smiling companionably next to Mila, and one of Victor crushing a disgruntled, sulking blond boy that Yuuri doesn’t recognise in a bear hug.

For his birthday in his Sixth Year, Victor sends him a stuffed toy dog that looks exactly like Vicchan, and Yuuri makes Guang Hong take a photo of him hugging it to owl back.

In the summer before his Seventh Year, Victor invites him to Russia.

You’ll love it here, his letter reads. We have a pond out back we can freeze over to skate on, and Volskaya Arcade has the best ice cream parlour in the Wizarding World, I don’t care what they say about Fortescue’s. Mother says she can’t wait to meet you, and with you around, I won’t have to suffer through all of Father’s boring events alone!

So Yuuri asks his otou-san if he can go, gets directed to ask his okaa-san instead, and she pats him on the head and tells him they’ll miss him, and to be good.

Before he leaves, his okaa-san’s struck by a sudden thought.

“Yuuri-kun, are Victor’s parents magical?”

When he confirms that they are, his parents work themselves up into a tizzy, okaa-san proclaiming that him just showing up won’t do, there are traditions to be kept, and his otou-san is sent all the way to Tokyo’s Arizawa High Street to pick up the proper materials.

When Yuuri finally stumbles through the fireplace of Nikiforov Manor’s entrance foyer, it’s with a heaving backpack on his back and a carefully clutched bottle in his arms.

Mrs. Nikiforov - call me Anya, please - accepts the bottle of sake with delight, announcing that they’ll have it with dinner, and that his parents shouldn’t have gone to the trouble, really.

Puzzled, Victor questions him on it on the way up to his room in the North Wing. “Did your parents really make that homage brew?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri sighs, put out at the memory. “No cut corners, either - we were up the whole night to watch that. Eight hours of magical fermenting with a careful wand to get that bottle,” he says, jerking a thumb back in the direction of the entrance foyer. He bites his lip. “I hope your parents like it, though, I want them to like me.”

“They will!” Victor exclaims, fervent. “No one really thinks to bring homage brews to visit any longer, so Father will definitely love that. Plus you’re you, they can’t not like you.”

They pass a portrait gallery, and it’s clear from the innumerable paintings that Victor’s delicate features are inherited, the glacier eyes of his ancestors peering at them curiously as they walk through.

Victor’s long hair swishes behind him as he pushes open a set of double doors, bowing dramatically and ushering Yuuri in with a flourish, grin on his face. His room is expansive, light streaming in from the bay windows, four-poster bed against the far wall. The windows are drawn open, and the gentle breeze that flutters in shifts the green of his day curtains, the fabric rustling in slow, rippling movements.

“Oh, wow,” Yuuri breathes, impressed and not bothering to conceal it.

“Do you like it?” Victor pipes up, expression earnest. “Father had this room set aside for me when he found out Mother was pregnant. It used to be my nursery, but they re-did it when I was five.”

“It’s great,” Yuuri beams. “We live in a maj-less town, so I don’t have anything like this.” He nods decisively, twelve-year old head bobbing. “It’s cool.”

Victor shows him the Manor grounds, and they get bread from one of the house elves to feed the ducks at the pond. It starts to rain around midday, and they race back to the Manor, laughing, drenched by the time they arrive.

Anya sends them to dry off, and they sit with her in her parlour for lunch, Victor eagerly piling Yuuri’s plate with syrniki and pirozhki and various colourful and cavity-inducing pastila, insisting that he needs to try them all. Anya watches them with a bemused eye, hiding a chuckle behind an elegant hand while reminding Victor to let Yuuri finish chewing, please.

She asks after Yuuri’s parents, perceptibly curious. “I’m afraid I don’t know any Katsukis,” she apologises, “But we do have a relative who married into the Waseda clan, if you might happen to know of them?”

Yuuri perks up. “Yeah!” he exclaims. “Okaa- ” he catches himself, “ - my mum’s a Waseda.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Anya says, pleased. “I must write to your Mother, then, to establish the connection.”

“What about siblings?” she asks, “Do you have any?”

Victor helpfully answers. “A bigger sister, Mari!” he grins at Yuuri. “I met her at the 125th Juniors, she goes to Mahoutokoro too. She’s scary.”

Yuuri nods along in serious confirmation.

The conversation switches to Yuuri’s upbringing in Hasetsu, Victor chiming in occasionally with questions of his own.

“Yuuri says he lives in a maj-less town, мама, can you believe that?” Victor addresses his mother, wide-eyed.

“It’s not uncommon, darling, you know your Uncle Evgeni and his family live in maj-less St. Petersburg,” she chides.

“But how do you cook? And clean? And what about your house elves?” Victor cries, fourteen-year-old self bewildered at the thought.

“We run an onsen,” Yuuri explains. “It’s like - it’s a Japanese bathhouse? You go to visit the springs, and there’s a restaurant too. We just use a dishwasher to clean, or a washing machine, or sometimes we just do it by hand, since we don’t have house elves.”

“A dishwasher?” Anya repeats slowly, the unfamiliar word rolling strangely in her polished, cultured voice.

“It’s a - ” Yuuri struggles to explain, “ - a maj-less invention that washes your dishes for you. You just put your dirty dishes and cups in, and you press some buttons and add the right kind of soap, and when you shut it it’ll wash it all for you in an hour or so.”

“But they don’t have magic,” Victor asks, baffled, Anya nodding along in befuddlement. “How does it run?”

The rest of lunch is spent by Yuuri attempting to explain electricity to the two perplexed Nikiforovs to the best of his young ability. Anya sends for a house elf to bring paper so Yuuri can illustrate, and when Yuuri pulls a ballpoint pen from his pocket, the conversation turns to wonder at that invention instead, ending with Anya resolving to order some and do away with quills.

That evening, they have a proper dinner in the dining room, Yuuri glad his okaa-san thought to pack him a set of formal robes. He trails Victor into the grand, opulent room, intimidated by the sight of the table with chairs and space enough for thirty people, and the epergne at the centre, a beautifully wrought dragon coiled in battle with a small band of warriors, all magically animated and moving.

Yuuri watches as Victor throws himself into a hug with a distinguished older man, their eyes and shade of hair too similar for it to be anyone but his father.

Count Nikolai Nikiforov is domineering man, his shoulders broad and thick where Victor’s have favoured the slight frame of his mother. His hair is long and flowing, something Victor must have sought to emulate, and there’s no doubt that when Nikolai walks into a room, he commandeers all its attention through sheer force of presence. He’s still in his Ministry robes, cane - adorned with an ornate dragon at its head - in hand when he spots Yuuri by the door to the dining room.

“You must be Yuuri!” he booms, smiling widely, beckoning at him to join them.

Yuuri gulps and nods, and Nikolai pats him on the shoulder with a massive hand.

Victor, practically hopping with excitement, chirps, “This is my dad, Yuuri!”

“Now, now, you must call me Nikolai, da?” he says to Yuuri, who tries for a tentative smile in response. “And you have met my beautiful wife, Anya?”

The Count looks around, his face crinkling with joy when he spots her, sweeping in through the garden doors.

Moi sladki!” he exclaims, sweeping her into a hug and lifting her in a circle.

Yuuri can’t help the smile that creeps across his face at the sheer love and warmth of the Nikiforovs, and dinner is a cosy and affectionate affair, the dining table laden with steaming bowls of borscht, tender skewers of shashlik, hearty klotski, and as a treat, heated glasses of sweet and flavourful sbiten.

That night, Yuuri tucked into the huge four-poster bed next to Victor, he tells him that he really likes his parents, and he’s glad he’s here for summer.

Victor beams at him. “I’m so happy you’re here too,” he says, and then picks absently, almost nervously, at the Egyptian cotton sheets. “I’m kind of worried we won’t see each other next year,” he confesses.

Yuuri frowns. “Why won’t we? You’re going to Hogwarts for Juniors too, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know,” Victor replies, mouth drawing down into an unhappy line. “Yakov says I should make my Senior debut since I’m going to be fifteen.”

‘Oh,” Yuuri says, at a loss for words. After several minutes of silence, the only sound the rustle of the trees and their breathing, he adds, “I’m going to miss you if you go.”

He’d have said I don’t want you to go, but even at thirteen he knows that isn’t fair.

“Me too,” Victor sighs. “But you’ll write and visit, won’t you?”

Before he can check the impulse, Yuuri surges forward to wrap him in a hug. “Of course,” he promises.

The next day, Victor asks his mother to freeze the pond over for them, and they spend hours just skating and playing on the ice.

Yuuri moulds a miniature ice Vicchan, making it chase a laughing Victor across the length of the pond, and in retaliation, Victor pulls up an owl, perfectly shaped and meticulously moulded, to distract Vicchan and swoop low over Yuuri. The casual display of such fine magical control takes Yuuri’s breath away, and not for the first time, he’s reminded just how good and powerful a Frost Wielder Victor is.

The two weeks Yuuri spends with the Nikiforovs pass in a blur of roaming the grounds with Victor in the morning, skating and Frost Wielding to their hearts’ content, then joining Anya for tea and lunch. In the afternoons, when their parents allow it, they escape to Volskaya Arcade for ice cream that melts sweet and cool on their tongues, arriving back in time for exuberant dinners together, giggling and sneaking around the Manor before bed.

It’s pretty perfect.

 

 

 

 

_____

 

 

 

 

 

Yuuri’s Seventh Year dawns quicker than he expects, the idyllic summer months flying by. In no time at all, he’s back in the Mizuchi common room, going over mundane chore of choosing his N.E.K.O. - National Examinations, Ordinary Category -  subjects with Guang Hong.

His robes are buttercup yellow now, and their room has significantly more personal mementos strewn about. On the wall in his cubicle, Yuuri’s magi-tacked up an assortment of photos, the one of him and Victor on the Manor pond, laughing into the camera and waving before skating off and flinging ice at one another, taking pride of place in the centre. Around it, there’s a maj-less polaroid of his okaa-san and otou-san in the Yu-topia kitchen, a photo of him, Victor, Guang Hong, and Leo at the Uagadou Finals, and another of him and Phichit at Castelobruxo. There’s a letter by his pillow from Victor, describing the nascent rampant popularity of ballpoint pens at Durmstrang.

Yuuri’s pouring over the subject guide and choice form at his desk, Guang Hong slumped in his own cubicle bed, lazily tossing a pen up in the air, catching it when it drops, and then tossing it again. Vicchan’s curled up in a ball on the floor by Yuuri’s feet, keeping him warm.

“What about Symbology?” Yuuri offers, knowing Guang Hong’s having a hard time pinning down what he’d like to do.

Guang Hong wrinkles his nose. “Is that useful?” He sits up to rifle through his copy of the subject guide, pausing when he finds the page on the subject.

“I don’t know,” he says, uncertain, “I’m not sure I’ll ever end up being a runemancer, cursebreaker, magi-inventor, or mediwizard.” He makes a frustrated noise and tosses the guide aside. “What are you going to take?”

“Uh,” Yuuri says, consulting his choice form. “Probably Cryomancy, Geomancy, Symbology, Magical Ethics, Transmutation Magicks, and Arithmatical Science.”

Guang Hong lets out a low whistle. “That’s going to be brutal, you know that, right? I know we have to pick six subjects, but you’re taking both Transmutation and AS, and that’s pretty crazy.”

“I’m aware,” Yuuri sighs, leaning back in his chair. He taps his wand on the desk for the time. 3.42pm, the projection from his wand tip reads. “We’ve got till five to submit the form, you really do need to decide soon, Guang Hong.”

“Okay, okay,” he relents, grabbing his subject guide and getting up from his bed to join Yuuri at the desk. He peers down at subject list. “So Cryomancy’s a definite yes because Celestino-sensei will kill me if I don’t, then probably Potions? I did okay in that last year, and Kuchiki-sensei’s fair, if strict.”

His finger trails down the guide. “I liked Herbology, so I’ll take that, and I guess Transmutation, Wizarding History, and Magical Ethics. There. Done.”

As Guang Hong lists off his choices, Yuuri helpfully ticks it off on his choice form for him.

“Huh,” Yuuri says, slightly disappointed. “We’ll only have Transmutation and Ethics together this year, then.”

“It’s okay, we’re still roommates, we’ll still see each other all the time,” Guang Hong reassures, smiling.

They hand their forms over to Student Council President Haruno - Nanao having graduated - and head for dinner, the listlessness at being back at school dissipating in the face of good food and the buoying company of their friends.

True to his worst fears, Victor makes his debut at Seniors in November, and Yuuri doesn’t see him at the 128th Juniors at Hogwarts. He is, however, reunited with Phichit, the two of them thick as thieves for the duration of the competition.

Yuuri wins his first gold that year, and Victor sends him an exuberant letter, complete with enchanted floating party horns that follow him around and toot in cheerful congratulations.

Back at Mahoutokoro, competitive season over, Yuuri struggles with the load of his demanding subjects, breathing a hefty sigh of relief when results are announced the day before the school year ends and his robes remain yellow. At his side, Guang Hong whoops with joy as his robes shift from blue to a deep, forest green, and Yuuri sends him a huge grin in response.

That night, Guang Hong snoring softly behind the shoji screen of his cubicle, Yuuri sits at his desk and pens yet another a letter to Victor.

I passed everything! he writes, drawing a smiley face. I’m not sure when your term ends, but we’re all going home tomorrow. I’m going to ask my parents if we can have you over for summer this year! I know Mari’s just dying to see you again, and my mum will feed you so many pork cutlet bowls, you won’t be able to move. I hope term ends well for you. I’ll write again when I get home!!!

He stuffs the sheet of paper into an envelope, making the trek to the Owlery to have Pizu deliver it. Realising he’s forgotten to address it, he fishes a pen from his pocket to quickly scribble Victor Nikiforov, Durmstrang Institute on the envelope. He has no idea where  Durmstrang is - no one does, actually - but Pizu’s been ferrying letters between Victor and him without trouble, so Yuuri fastens the letter to his talon and sends him on his way with an owl treat.

Which is why, when Pizu returns the next morning amidst the last-minute packing rush, letter still clutched in his talons, Yuuri can’t help the creeping sense of worry that shivers down his spine.

Guang Hong notes his distress and tries to allay his fears, offering plausible reasons. “They might have done something to the magical barriers, you know how paranoid Durmstrang is,” he says, waving his chopsticks. “Or Pizu might have gotten turned around in a storm.”

“Yeah,” Yuuri agrees, frowning and reluctant. The final tumult of packing helps to keep the worry at bay for several hours, but even as they board the storm petrels bound for mainland Japan, there’s something Yuuri can’t quite shake.

Elbow on the arm rest by the window, watching the Jade Palace as it grows smaller with increasing distance, Yuuri remains pensive. His thoughts turn to the words of his okaa-san, the memory of her words faded with age but perfectly recalled.

“Yuuri-kun,” she’d said, bending to guide his six-year-old hand to gently stroke Pizu’s feathers, “If you ever need to talk to us and don’t know where we are, remember that you can always ask Pizu for help.”

At the mention of her name, Pizu swivels her head and blinks slowly at them.

“Magical owls aren’t like you or I, or any other animal - they’re special. Wherever we are, no matter the spells or runes, as long as you tell them who to look for, they’ll find us.”

He’d nodded earnestly then, promising he understood.

In her cage on the floor of the carriage, Pizu hoots, then settles, tucking her head down into her feathers and blinking drowsily.

Outside their carriage, the clouds are grey and heavy, and thunder rumbles in the distance.

There’s an electric feeling in the air, a tangible tenseness that presses at something visceral in his throat, an unquiet stillness that rolls his stomach and snaps noiselessly at his magic.

Yuuri tells himself that he’s being silly.

Staring out at the sky, splitting open to spew forth rain, something prickling under his skin, he’s not quite sure he believes that.

 

 

 

 

_____

 

 

 

 

Two weeks later, when the letter comes, Yuuri hears the news from his okaa-san, her hands trembling and face pale.

He knows about the five stages of grief, the denial through to acceptance.

She wraps him in a hug and tells him that they’re there for him if he needs anything, Yuuri-kun, anything at all, before leaving him to his thoughts in his bedroom.

Yuuri’s just numb.

There’s a link on a Russian maj-less news site that he translates with the help of Google.

Count and Countess Voytolovo, Nikolai and Anya Nikiforov, Dead in Car Crash!

He doesn’t read the story.

And for all that he adores - adored - Nikolai and Anya, Yuuri can’t help but think, over and over: oh, god, Victor.

He writes and sends a letter that night, Pizu returning the next day, letter still clutched in her talons.

He tries again.

And again.

And again.

Seven letters return to Yu-topia, each as unopened and untouched as the last.

Mari tries to comfort him, telling him maybe Victor needs space, you doofus.

Yuuri waits a month, and then sends another letter.

When even that returns with Pizu, Yuuri cries quietly into his pillow, and at dinner that night, okaa-san wordlessly sets a katsudon bowl down in front of him.

The special treat fails to lift his mood, but he hugs her tightly in thanks.

He spends most of the summer before his Eighth Year skating slow, listless circles at the Ice Castle, avoiding concerned letters from Phichit, Guang Hong and once, Seung-Gil.

There’s no magical moment where the sting of Victor’s silence and the heartbreaking loss of the Nikiforovs suddenly starts to fade. But the aridness of summer gives way to the encroaching chill of autumn, the leaves turn yellow and red on their stems, and the Yu-topia yard slowly fills with the brittle detritus of the season.

The winds change, the tide ebbs and flows, and time inexorably marches on.

 

 

 

TBC