Extraordinary. Unheard of. Novel. Unprecedented.
These were the words tossed about to describe the first international exchange programme to be held at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A select number of students from Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbatons Academy of Magic were to stay with chosen Hogwarts students and take classes with them for one semester. Never before had the wizarding schools gathered together for an event beyond the Triwizard Tournaments. With the defeat of You-Know-Who, the heads of each school had thought it pertinent to hold a cultural exchange as a way to promote friendly relations among the regions, especially because of the rather unsavoury reputation of one particular school that shall not be named.
As Hogwarts prepared to receive their guests, the entire school was abuzz with excitement; it was all anyone could talk about in the days leading up to the programme.
To Yuuri Katsuki, it would probably just be another semester in his life at Hogwarts.
When he said as much to his roommate, Seung-gil rolled his eyes. "Well it better be, we have O.W.L.s to study for."
Yuuri chuckled. Good old Lee Seung-gil. He had found the Korean boy's reception of his arrival to be lukewarm, bordering on cold even, and had resigned himself to tense, awkward silences for the rest of his school life. A year of interactions quickly taught him that the frigidity was merely frozen onto Seung-gil's expressionless face; the other boy did have a warm heart deep down.
"C'mon, guys, lighten up," Leo said, flopping limply across Yuuri's bed. "Some celebrity might show up, you know."
"Like players from the Russian team," Guang Hong supplied.
"You just want Viktor Nikiforov!"
Guang Hong's cheeks tinted pink ever so slightly. "I don't want him, I only want to meet him."
Yuuri watched as Leo sat up and tugged Guang Hong over to poke at his cheeks. Leo de la Iglesia and Guang Hong Ji: fast friends practically joined at the hip. Despite the fact that they were from different houses and in different years, they always managed to show up as a pair; one was rarely without the other. Idly, Yuuri wondered how the Mexican-American boy could possibly be so oblivious; Guang Hong's blush every time Leo touched him lit up like blinding neon signs that screamed, I really, really, really like you!
Leo ruffled Guang Hong's hair– somehow missing the shy curve of the other boy's lips –and turned to face Yuuri. "Do you want to meet Viktor too?"
Startled, Yuuri spluttered. That was not a question he wanted to answer and he was not a good liar. "I- uh, well…"
"Yuuri's got a muggle background so he doesn't follow Quidditch," Seung-gil said absently, flipping a page of the textbook he was reading.
Yuuri shot his roommate a grateful smile. "Yeah, yeah, I don't."
"That's too bad," said Guang Hong. "Viktor is wicked. He's the youngest seeker to play for a national team and it's a pioneer team for Russia and they were League Champions last year. All thanks to Viktor."
"You fanboy," Leo teased. "What are you gonna do if he's assigned to someone in my house instead?"
Seung-gil looked up from his book. "You know, this is a Ravenclaw dormitory," he said pointedly.
"I'm Ravenclaw," Guang Hong said with a pout.
"I was talking to him," said Seung-gil, nodding his head at Leo.
"Seriously, Seung-gil, I have a name," Leo said with a good-natured grin.
"Seriously, Hufflepuff," said Seung-gil. "Go back to your tower."
A warm heart, thought Yuuri. Very deep down.
Yuuri halted in his steps and turned in time for his best friend to crash into him, nearly bowling him over. "P-Phichit!" he yelped as his books fell to the ground around them.
"Sorry, sorry," Phichit said with a laugh. Helpfully, he grabbed one of the fallen books and shoved it at Yuuri. "I'm just too excited!"
"What about?" said Yuuri, bending down to pick up the rest of his books.
Phichit Chulanont was his oldest and dearest childhood friend. They had met on Yuuri's family vacation in Thailand. Yuuri still recalled the memory of sobbing loudly over losing his family in a crowd of tourists, only to have assorted toys and sweets shoved in his face by a friendly little boy. The boy had stayed with him until he was reunited with his family, after which they exchanged contacts and, soon after, letters upon letters upon letters. He remembered their shared delight at discovering their magical abilities– Phichit had, literally, exploded his instagram feed (and consequently his cellphone); Yuuri had somehow animated a broom into spanking the bullies trying to shut him in the janitor's closet –the enthusiasm over their school acceptances. Phichit was Yuuri's human manifestation of a ray of light when Yuuri transferred to Hogwarts. With the state Yuuri was in at the time, he would have spiraled into an abyss without his best friend. Helped that Phichit was muggle-born too, just like he was.
Yuuri was just rising back up, books in arms, when hands clasped him tightly by the shoulders and shook him hard enough to rattle his glasses off his nose.
"Yuuri, Yuuri," said Phichit. "Yuuri, he's coming."
"Who?" said Yuuri, peering over the top of his glasses.
"Him. The guy. The one and only. Your idol."
Yuuri felt his heart skip a beat. Or it might have stopped working completely; it was getting hard to breathe. "You mean…"
"Yes," said Phichit.
"And I can help," Phichit continued. He puffed his chest out with pride, showing off the polished badge on his lapel. "Privileges of a prefect. I can work you in."
Oh god, oh god.
"Of course it'd be weird, considering I'm from Gryffindor and you're not, but I'll find a way, you know I'm good at that kind of stuff—"
Oh god, oh god, oh god.
"Uh, Yuuri? Are you breathing?"
Right, breathing. Yuuri inhaled. "Maybe. Kinda. Not really."
Phichit grinned. "So? Shall I do it?"
"Sorry, do what again?"
"Get Viktor Nikiforov assigned to you."
"No," Yuuri snapped. At the look on Phichit's face, he flushed. "No," he repeated in a softer tone.
"Yuuri," said Phichit gently. "That happened a long time ago."
"Not that long ago," Yuuri murmured, eyes lowering to his shoes.
A pause, then, "At least come to the welcome reception?"
Yuuri looked up into Phichit's earnest face and his heart squeezed tightly. "Thanks Phichit, but I'd rather not."
Phichit sighed, but he nodded understandingly. "I'll share the photographs, shall I?"
"I know you will."
Classes were cancelled on the day of the welcome reception, much to Seung-gil's disdain. Tittering among themselves, groups of students lingered near the entrance of the Great Hall, no doubt hoping to catch a glimpse of certain celebrated Russians from Durmstrang Institute. Leo and Guang Hong were probably in the crowd, cameras at the ready.
Yuuri heard the screams before he looked out the window to see the great Durmstrang ship break through the surface of the lake. Above, the Beauxbaton carriage soared across the sky, leaving shimmering silver trails in its wake.
"Barmy, the whole lot of them," said Seung-gil from his study desk.
"So you're not attending the welcome reception either?"
Seung-gil shot him a withering stare.
"Sorry," said Yuuri, laughing.
They settled into a comfortable silence; Yuuri gazing out the window, Seung-gil's head bowed over another textbook.
"Why aren't you going?" Seung-gil asked after a moment.
Yuuri turned to him, eyes wide. "What?"
"Why aren't you going," Seung-gil repeated.
"Same reason as you," Yuuri said, whipping his gaze back to the window.
Silent, Yuuri kept his eyes firmly on the sky outside.
"Look, everyone makes mistakes," Seung-gil started.
"I'm uh, going for a walk," Yuuri said quickly. Snatching his robe off the top of his chair, he sprinted out the door before his roommate could get in another word.
Yuuri was thankful for his friends' support, he truly was. But he wasn't ready. Not for the memories that had haunted him day and night; the traumatic flashes seared into his brain. It was on one of those sleepless, anxiety-filled nights that Yuuri discovered it: his own private room at the top of a tower; a room that, for whatever reason, only appeared when he wanted to be alone and hidden from the rest of the world. It became a place where Yuuri came to unwind, to meditate – and to dance.
Ballet gave him the freedom to express himself, to relieve the burden off his shoulders every time his feet took flight. Minako-sensei always told him that he "danced like a girl", which was quite a compliment coming from a former prima donna of the Japanese ballet world.
And so, tonight, Yuuri danced.
With twirls and twists and graceful arches, he poured his sadness, worries, his fears, all of it flowed through his body, moving silently to an imaginary tune. On an impulse, he raised his wand and breathed a spell. Wisps of silver flowed out to take shape; a shape that circled him in a gentle arc and joined him in his little impromptu performance.
Yuuri was proud of his Patronus. Not simply the fact that he was likely the only fifth year student who could summon one without much effort, but also its form. It inspired him; an animal recognized for its elegance and grace. Even now, it soared above him with all the majesty of a reigning emperor, an embodiment of the confidence he wish he had. Spinning on his toes, he joined his Patronus in the air for a final jump, before landing softly on the balls of his feet. With a raise of its wings, the charm dissipated in a small shower of silver sparkles.
As he tried to regain his breath, he heard a vague sound before he slowly realized – it was the sound of someone clapping.
Yuuri's neck snapped around so quickly, he could have sworn he felt something crack. Then he stared. Squinted. Then squinted some more. No. It was impossible. This was a private room, one that only he could seek out.
There was no way that International Quidditch star, Viktor Nikiforov, could possibly be standing at the door, decked out in full military Durmstrang attire, and giving him a warm applause.
No, it had to be a ghost from his hallucinating mind.
"Bravo, bravo," said the apparition, complete with a lilting accent to its English. "That was wonderful!"
Stunned, Yuuri didn't respond.
Drifting over– oh it had to be a ghost; no human could move quite so smoothly –the apparition stretched its hand out towards Yuuri. "I'm Viktor Nikiforov."
Yuuri blinked, owlishly, before taking the hand. It actually felt warm. "I know," he blurted out then promptly flushed.
The apparition laughed; a warm, open sound. "So you do ballet?" it asked, tilting its head to the side. Silvery hair flowed over its right eye with the small movement, blending just so with bright, turquoise irises.
Half-Veela, thought Yuuri, vaguely aware that he was staring. "Yes?"
"Are you not sure?" said the apparition, laughing again. His hallucination sure laughed a lot. Before Yuuri could react, the apparition closed the gap between them and took Yuuri's chin in its thumb and forefinger, raising it ever so slightly. "My mother was a dancer in her youth and I can very much assure you." It leaned forward, warm breath ghosting against Yuuri's lips. "You do ballet."
Yuuri felt the flush in his cheeks spread almost painfully down his neck. "Okay," he said breathlessly.
"And that was your Patronus?"
Yuuri nodded. "A crane. Symbol of longevity and good fortune in my country."
The apparition looked like it had more to say, but angry yells from outside caused it to pause. Among the punctuated Russian words, Yuuri recognized "Viktor", "where" and what sounded like a string of very crude expletives.
"Ah," the apparition sighed dramatically. "It seems I must return to give a thank you speech for my beloved school."
"Okay," said Yuuri, unsure of what else to say.
"I will see you again, my pretty balerina."
Pressing its lips to the back of Yuuri's hand– so very warm –the apparition turned and left.
Yuuri stared at the door, mind still whirring in an attempt to process the past few minutes. Why would a ghost feel so warm? Why now, of all times, did his brain decide to conjure up a very credible image of his Quidditch idol?
And why would a hallucination need to open a door to leave a room?
Slowly, Yuuri sank to the ground.
There was no denying it: he had just met the real Viktor Nikiforov.
Seung-gil, of course, was unperturbed by the turn of events.
"Sleep it off," he said simply. "You'll process it better tomorrow."
So Yuuri did just that. Or, at least, he tried.
"I had no idea he was half-Veela," Yuuri whispered from where he lay on his bed, heart pounding and wide-awake.
"I don't care," Seung-gil whispered back in the darkness.
"God, he's gorgeous, Seung-gil."
"Isn't it weird how he found that room? Phichit's been trying and he's never found it."
"What about 'I don't care' did you not get?"
"Sorry, I'm just," Yuuri pressed his hands to his face, feeling the thrum of adrenaline under his skin, "So excited."
Seung-gil paused. "About time I suppose," he grunted. "Now go to sleep."
Yuuri woke up the next morning with a sudden realization: he had never introduced himself to his idol last night. He had no reason to do so, after all, having thought the other boy was a mere physical projection of his own desires. Bubble thoroughly burst, Yuuri decided to spare his roommate by shuffling down the stairs to the common room for a long sulk in one of the armchairs.
Except the common room was filled to the brim with students. Guang Hong's petite figure was noticeably climbing up a shelf, camera hanging from a strap around his neck. What was going on?
At the sound of a very familiar lilt on his name, Yuuri paused at the middle of the stairs.
Amidst a group of giggling girls, Viktor Nikiforov rose regally from an armchair, hand outstretched. "From today onwards, I will be your exchange student for the rest of the semester!"
Poor Seung-gil, was Yuuri's last rational thought, before the common room exploded into raucous cheers.