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Horatio Nelson and the Adventure of the Golden Thingy

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Gelda Celt does not know why she’s friends with Horatio Nelson.

…Well, actually, she does. She’s been aware of him from about third year - when her friend, Will Beatty, developed a faintly unhealthy crush on his best friend, Tommy Hardy. And she’s known him personally since fourth year – when her boyfriend at the time accidentally smacked a bludger into Horatio’s face, despite them being on the same team, and she had to trail after him to the hospital ward as he apologized as best he could and then proceeded to eat all the grape flavoured Bertie Botts. It’s all sort of developed from there, really.

What she doesn’t know is why she continues to be friends with Horatio Nelson.

Okay, so that’s fairly unfair.

…A little unfair.

But she can’t help being uncharitable at times, especially when those times involve creeping into the darkest corners of the dungeons when her homework and a nice cup of tea are just waiting for her upstairs. It’s hardly like she’s alone in feeling that way. It’s hardly like she’s the sole figure that sometimes feels just a touch miffed by the general mindset of Horatio ‘Viscount’ Nelson. Will complains about him all the time, even more after they reached that odd ceasefire at the end of fifth year. Even Tommy sometimes admits that he can be a bit difficult, through gritted teeth and a helplessly guilty expression. And as for the Slytherins-!

…Well. It’s still fairly unfair of her, but the point still sort of stands. Horatio Nelson is a difficult man to deal with at the best of times. He is, somehow, easier to deal with at the worst of times – but even then he’s hardly a walk in the park. Horatio is puzzling and stubborn and sometimes so annoying that even the headmaster has once or twice expressed an urge to shake him. It is a fact. It is known by all.

She’s still probably just using it to justify her not all that fair thoughts, as she tramps through the depths of this dungeon with her poor homework and dreamy cup of tea waiting far above her. She feels all guilty now-

“Gelda! Are you dawdling back there again?”

…She feels guilty in spurts.

 

--

 

The reason for Horatio dragging her down into the depths of the dungeons is apparently very good.

“The reason for me dragging you down to the dungeons is very good!” Horatio beams by the lake the next day, a few hours after he allowed her to go back to Ravenclaw tower and finish her homework and drink her tea, “absolutely excellent, in fact. Wonderful, brilliant, many other joyous words that haven’t been invented yet-!”

“Right,” Will interrupts him, with a sour expression that seemed grafted to his face a few years back. He seems happier now, thankfully, but that doesn’t stop the expression from making the odd reappearance. Usually when Horatio ‘lord’ Nelson is around, and being his most Nelsonish, “is the reason for me having to explore the slightly less insane parts of the Forbidden Forest with Antony and Caesar just as good?”

“Yes-!”

“Absolutely excellent? Wonderful? Brilliant? Many other joyous words-?”

Yes,” Horatio glares, silences Will only briefly… Not that she knows that it’s only briefly for definite, but she does know Will. He’s bad at holding his tongue with people that he feels passionate love for. With Horatio his longest silence has lasted for about a minute, and that was only because he was finding a fork to throw, “and, before you ask, the reason for Hardy and his friend searching the astronomy tower was also very good. And the reason for Blenkinsop and Maltravers covering the kitchens tonight will be, likewise, very good. And…! Well, I’m not actually sending anybody else anywhere. But that’s only because Villiers has convinced James to go nowhere near me, the idiot.”

Everybody remains diplomatically silent.

…That, or everybody is too busy looking at Tommy’s friend that they’ve only just noticed. The one that’s sitting beside him, smiling just slightly, looking perfectly happy to be there in a way that only somebody who hasn’t really had any contact with Horatio Nelson can.

“I thought we agreed that we weren’t sending Albert and Frederick anywhere,” Tommy offers mildly after a good while of this, the only one presumably used to the presence of his sudden friend, “I thought we discussed it at great length, and eventually decided quite firmly against it.”

…His sudden friend looks nice, at any rate.

“Well, we didn’t.”

Very nice, in fact. Smiling and polite. A person who looks both kind and fascinating, in a way that is quite pleasing to the eye.

“I’m pretty sure that we did.”

She thinks for a long few seconds, and then decides that nobody else is going to do it. He looks nice, she can be nice in return. She fixes her eyes upon him and smiles slowly, encouragingly. Waits until he glances across at her and smiles in reply.

“Nah.”

“Hi,” she notices that he has a lovely smile, allows her own beam to grow even brighter at that. So many people have less than lovely smiles, she finds it rather a pity when there’s just so much to discover in the world, “I’m Gelda. Gelda Celt, Ravenclaw, sixth year. It’s wonderful to meet you…”

“Yes.”

“Marcus,” and he obviously feels the same. Or, if not exactly the same, at least close enough to please her in a way that makes her heart swell about six sizes… Well, not literally because that’d kill her. But metaphorically, absolutely pleasingly, “Marcus Roman, Hufflepuff, seventh year. And it’s lovely to meet you too, Ms Celt.”

Nah.”

“All my friends call me Gelda!”

“Tommy said it and don’t you even try to deny it, you-!” And Will explodes in the midst of them, and ends both sparkling conversations before they even have a chance to expand.

 

--

 

“I just hate him so much.”

“I know.”

“He can just be such a-“

“I know, Will.”

It’s the next morning, and Will is doing his usual morning trick of burying his head in his cereal and complaining about Horatio. He’s been doing it for about three years now, and she’s pretty much used to everything that he says. She uses this knowledge to assuage her guilt as she eats her own bowl of fruit and reads a newspaper instead of properly listening to him.

“I mean, he knew what Tommy had said!”

“Most probably.”

“He just knew it, and yet he wilfully forgot. Just as usual. Just as stupidly as ever. Because he’s Horatio ‘I’m going to assign myself arbitrary ranks’ Nelson and he thinks that he can do whatever he bloody well likes.”

“Mm.”

“Which is wrong!”

Mm.”

“Completely and utterly wrong. And I shouldn’t put up with it anymore and you shouldn’t put up with it anymore and Tommy certainly shouldn’t put up with it anymore-“

“You tell him, Will.”

“-And we should all just gather together and rise up and overthrow him and lead perfectly peaceful lives-!”

Indeed-“

“Is this seat taken?”

They grind to a halt about the same time, and glance up in unison. Marcus, of the lovely smile, is standing over them with a bowl of fruit-studded cereal in one hand and a spoon in the other. He is, proving his designation to be well deserved, smiling ever so brightly in a way that makes his cheeks dimple just a little. He must’ve heard at least a little of their discussion, but regards neither of them as if they’re insane.

…Well, Will maybe a little. But that’s probably down more to his general reputation than anything else.

“This is the Ravenclaw table,” and his general attitude, and his general demeanour, and his general… Well, everything. Will is just Will. And Will, as a result, has terrified most of the school into his thrall. Even some of the teachers look a little wary of him at times. Even the seventh year Slytherins, a thoroughly fearsome bunch, regard him with some trepidation, “the Hufflepuff table is over there.”

“Of course you can,” it’s best just to ignore him, really, and get on with life as happily as possible, “it’s lovely to see you this early. Did you have a good night’s sleep?”

Marcus smiles at her again, settles into his newly cleared space with a small stagger that somehow endears him even more. She’s inclined to call him almost as adorable as the animals she tended as a child, as he brushes his hair out of his face and turns to face her fully, “a fairly good one, yes. I had a dream about two doves flying together. I’ll have to ask Professor Diogenes what it means tomorrow.”

“Oh, do!” She immediately finds herself nodding. Facing her fully is just so encouraging, after all. Though Marcus is a thoroughly encouraging figure altogether – with his permanent smile and his brightness and his eyes and his shoulders… “Bird omens can be very important, as I’m sure you know. Just last week I had a dream about a lion playing in a beam of sun while an angry raven looked on – and, when I asked Professor Diogenes about it after he was done doing his business in his barrel-“

Will, who has never seen a single vision in his life, stares at the both of them for a long while and then pointedly clears his throat. When this has no effect he shrugs, just slightly, and decides to try for words again instead, “I mean, he’s not even that talented-“

Neither of them pay him a single bit of attention.

 

--

 

Despite Will’s general apathy, Horatio soon gathers them all together once again. After classes have ended for the day, outside the castle where the chances of getting into a screaming argument with a librarian are low… Not non-existent, considering that Horatio is around, but most definitely low.

This time pretty much everybody is sitting on the grass outside the castle when her and Will arrive from their Charms class. Horatio is bouncing around like he always does, yes, and Tommy is waiting to give Will a fond smile, indeed… But Mark Antony and Julius Caesar, two rather large Gryffindors with a certain talent for getting in absurd amounts of trouble, are also lounging on the grass. And Albert Blenkinsop and Frederick Maltravers, two fourth year Hufflepuffs who inevitably mean well but explode everything, are poking each other with flowers and giggling. And Marcus-!

Oh, Marcus.

She’s been looking forward to seeing him ever since they parted after breakfast, with bright smiles and happy hopes for wonderful days ahead. He doesn’t look like he’s had a bad day, at least. He’s sitting a little away from Tommy, watching their approach with keen eyes and a hopeful expression. When they come close enough he smiles a little, shifts cheerfully to the side to clear some space. She’s happy to take a seat besides him with a wide grin, a certain bouncing feeling in her stomach that’s been… Rare, ever since she broke up with Caiside.

Will blinks for a second at her sudden drop, and then coughs pointedly and walks around her until he can sit down by Tommy. She barely notices him, as she’s barely noticed the thoughtful looks he’s been shooting her all day. She barely notices even when the meeting starts, in fact – when Horatio bounds to his feet and clears his throat loudly and tolerates Will’s sudden glare with all the force of long and stubborn practice.

…Marcus has such lovely eyes, after all.

“Right,” Horatio starts, not seeming to mind her general lack of attention as Marcus keeps grinning at her, “I assume that we all know why we’re here?”

“For the mysterious shiny thing that has caught your attention this week,” Will sneers, his gaze finally away from her and fixed firmly upon Horatio – it tends to happen when the two are in a space together, they eat up all the air until only the fire burning between them is left, “I presume.”

She can pay little attention to such poetic metaphors at present moment. For Marcus is already leaning close to her, so close that she can actually feel his breath on her face, and murmuring a low whisper that she’s pretty sure is a hell of a lot more important than Will’s increasingly complicated vendetta, “hey, I’ve got a present for you.”

“You would presume correctly!” Horatio booms, not seeming to notice the deep and ever-present sarcasm in Will’s tone. She can forgive him for that, really. Will is constantly sarcastic – if you paid attention to it all the time you would entirely lose your faith in life, “Now. This shiny thing is very interesting and very, very shiny. It’s important that we find it as quickly as possible-“

“Is it?” Albert interrupts, gone all wide-eyed as he looks up from his giggling with Frederick. The two boys are always so close, as if joined at the hip. She’d be deeply shocked and slightly worried if she ever saw them apart.

…Well, at any time other than this. She leans closer to Marcus – trying to convey, in a complicated and silent way, that she wouldn’t mind him getting even closer than that, “a present? You really shouldn’t have, Marcus, you’ve only known me a day.”

“-And grasp it in our hands, high and heroic and to be seen by the world!” Horatio ignores everything, as is his habit. She’s surprised that he’s noticed anything at all, really, in his time at Hogwarts. Tommy has been good for him in that way – he’s regarding his sort-of boyfriend with a fond smile, even as his eyes register mild despair, “Who’s with me?”

“…I’m not sure,” Frederick murmurs, exchanging a quick and smiling glance with Albert before turning to the gathered group in general. His appeal probably won’t work, but he’s a boy very used to that. She’s often thought that the world would be a far better place if everybody was as good at dealing with rejection as Frederick Maltravers, “not really, at any rate. Are you sure, Tommy? Do you think that we need to use speed, Tommy? Tommy-?”

“Close your eyes,” Marcus tells her in an excited tone, also not paying attention to the proceedings but in a far more charming way. Her stomach has gone all fluttery again, nicely excited. She stares at him for only a moment, and then smiles and happily closes her eyes, “and open them again when I tell you… Or on the count of three, whatever suits you better.”

“Hush, boys, trust in Horatio ‘Admiral’ Nelson,” Tommy, used to the trust that the younger members of Hufflepuff place in him as the shoe-in candidate for the next head boy, absently calms their fears. She presumes that his eyes are still faintly despairing, but his voice seems to have calmed just a little, “I trust that you have some sort of plan, dear? It’d be a little embarrassing if-“

“Yes, yes. But the owl incident is forgotten by most people now,” Horatio deflects that smoothly, with a fast flapping noise that she assumes to be his good hand going as fast as humanly possible. She can’t spend that much attention on it, focused on counting and Marcus’ breathing as she is, “my main plan is… That we focus our search more intensely on the lands outside the castle. All of us together are nine, yes? So we split into one group of four and one group of five and use our combined might to win the day!”

“Okay,” Marcus says softly, reaching out to touch her hand with a faint laugh in his voice, “you can open your eyes now.”

“And that means…?”

“…You have got to be kidding me.”

And she does, paying little attention to the affront in Will’s voice, to see… Oh. An apple sits in Marcus’ palm, green and sweet. She’s never really admired fruit all that much, but this one seems absolutely beautiful. It’s fresh and brimming with life. She looks at it, and she can just imagine the fresh juice running down her chin as she bites into the ever so sweet flesh.

“Yes!” Horatio bellows over everybody. It’s not entirely clear if he’s heard anything, but that rarely seems to matter much. He charges into every situation no matter what. He’s the most Gryffindor-like Gryffindor to ever be sorted into the house, and he wears that title with absolute pride, “one group goes up to Hogsmeade, we get to go there this weekend, and the other group searches the Forbidden Forest again. Outside the castle is where Will reported seeing all those points of interest, after all!”

“The Forbidden Forest…” Mark finally muses out loud, and then gives his usual overenthusiastic grin and bounces in place. He’s always up for an adventure, is Mark. It’s simultaneously one of his best and worst traits, “sounds interesting.”

“Oh, Marcus,” she breathes, also paying little attention to Mark’s tendency to dive into absolutely anything head first, and then gasps a little when the man tips the perfect thing into her hand with a proud grin and faint blush, “it’s beautiful… And all for me? Really?”

“If slightly dangerous,” Julius, Mark’s slightly more cautious companion, chimes in from his side. He’s from a pureblood family, but has the noble urge to reduce all harm practically dripping out of his ears. It’s perhaps this that led him to be in Gryffindor, rather than any other house – though he’s as loyal as a Hufflepuff, as cunning as a Slytherin and largely acknowledged to be almost as smart as several Ravenclaws, “tell us, Horatio… Who do you plan to send in this time?”

“Well,” he’s also, to his credit, one of the few people able to still Horatio for more than a second. He blinks for a moment, and then returns to himself with a slightly smaller grin. He seems almost bashful, as he shifts from side to side, “I think that I should go this time, just to keep up the famous Nelson courage. I’d like Tommy to go with me, just to make sure that I can last long enough to make full use of the famous Nelson courage. And you, Antony and Beatty seem to know the area fairly well…”

“Who else?” Marcus answers her, and continues to watch her reaction as she lifts the apple up to her lips and takes her first deep bite, “I…Want to make you happy, after all.”

What?! Horatio Fucking Nelson you cannot be saying that you expect me to enter that hellhole again-!”

“…Does this mean that we get to go to Hogsmeade?”

The apple is just as sweet and juicy as she imagined it. She smiles at Marcus, and he smiles brightly back. She barely notices the ruckus around her, as the meeting breaks up with Tommy holding Will and Horatio quite firmly apart.

 

--

 

“So, what’s your favourite colour?”

The next weekend they went to Hogsmeade, a happy group of four. It was snowing, just softly, and the flakes clung to Marcus’ dark hair and made him look most attractive. They’d strolled into town just in front of a bouncing Albert and Frederick, and paused briefly in the square to quickly decide that their purposes would best be served by splitting up.

…There had been absolutely nothing of interest to Horatio ‘keeps stealing the snitch during the game despite being a chaser’ Nelson, or at least nothing that he’d described in explicit terms. They’d eventually split even further than they’d intended, and had ended up sheltering from the cold and ever falling snow in the Three Broomsticks. She’ll probably feel guilty about it later, as she sips at her warm butterbeer and formulates an answer.

“Er… Blue, probably. Apparently it goes well with my skin,” she laughs, a little bashful to admit such knowledge. She has three older sisters, all left Hogwarts by now – most of them were much more fashion savvy than she ever has any hope of being, “Alright, my turn. Favourite subject?”

“I’m rather fond of Muggle Studies,” Marcus admits, and looks equally bashful at her expression – she doesn’t know why, she never took the subject but she’s always been interested in what wizards have to say about muggles. Being half-muggle herself she has no doubt that it’s something very fascinating, “I… Want to work in muggle-human relations in the future, if possible. It seems like one of the better things to do with my life.”

She smiles at him encouragingly, trying to chase the bashfulness away after that wonderful answer. He seems a little brighter when he speaks again, at least. It’s most profoundly something, “Favourite professor?”

“Professor Brummel,” she answers instantly, and now it’s her turn to be bashful yet again as he gives her an interested look and she instantly remembers several years of incredulity dating from the last time she admitted such a thing, “he’s a little eccentric, yes… But he’s an excellent Charms professor. And have you ever seen him with the potions master, Professor Hanover? They’re just so sweet together.”

“I can’t say that I have. But, then, I need to force myself to pay a little more attention to Professor Hanover – I still remember being irrationally terrified of him as a little first year,” Marcus coughs a little, and then smiles. She could stand for days under the light of that smile, bask to her heart’s content. It takes effort, even now, to draw herself back from the edge and focus on his words, “you like Charms, then?”

“I’m not sure if it’s my favourite subject, since I’m also incredibly fond of Ancient Runes and Astronomy…” All she can do is give him a warm smile in reply, take another sip of her Butterbeer and focus on his lovely eyes, “but, yes, it’s certainly one of my favourites. I mean, it’s just so fascinating. There’s so much to learn! It’s not just the practical side, but the theory that has a thousand years of research behind it. I mean, have you seen the Charms section in the library? You could get lost in there for decades.”

Marcus is chuckling, and it takes her a long few moments to realize that he’s laughing at her enthusiasm. Before she can get embarrassed he’s already reaching out to gently touch her hand, “your joy for your subject is absolutely amazing, I don’t think that I’ve ever met anybody so happy to do what they do. Do you want to become a professor in the future?”

“Possibly,” she giggles a little in reply, pleased at his reaction. Even Will rolls his eyes sometimes at her enthusiasm, and Will is the one happy to sit up until five in the morning discussing potions made out of toenail clippings, “that, or a researcher. To be buried in books all day, learning so many new things… Doesn’t it just sound like a dream?”

“A wonderful dream.”

“A lovely dream.”

“A beautiful dream-“

But before the hyperbole can continue, for she’s not quite caught up enough in Marcus’ eyes to deny what it is, Albert and Frederick burst through the door. Panting and reeling, attracting disapproving looks from the other patrons as they grind to a halt right before their table, “we’ve searched everywhere!”

Marcus favours them with a kind look, so nice he is, and finally withdraws his hand. She misses its presence, but supposes that it’s for the best, “Everywhere?”

“Down the streets!”

“In the alleyways!”

“In Dervish and Banges and Dogweed and Deathcap and Honeydukes and Madam Puddyfoot’s Tea shop and Zonko’s and Honeydukes…”

“And even in the Shrieking Shack!” Albert finishes triumphantly, practically hovering above the ground. It’s nice to see such pure joy in life, she can’t help but admire it. Albert is going to change the world through his stubborn optimism, and she’s looking forward to being a witness, “we’ve gone everywhere that it’s legal for us to go! …And a few places that aren’t legal, just to be totally and completely and utterly thorough.”

“…Is that an actual term?”

“I think so.”

“Excellent!” Marcus says gently over them, sending a fond look to her – she can see why he and Tommy are friends, both have a soothing manner that tends to appeal to most people, “I must say, you’ve done a lot more than we managed. What did you find?”

“Absolutely nothing!” …The boys chime together, at the top of their lungs with big smiles and empty hands.

…Maybe there are a few faults with unbridled optimism.

 

--

 

“Oi, Gelda!”

It’s Monday, another day at school. She’s already had three classes, and is heading swiftly to her fourth, when she hears a familiar booming tone coming out from behind her. She sighs a little, and then smiles. Quickly turns on her heel and waits for the coming storm to… Well, come.

She dated Caiside Briton for fourth year and most of fifth. A Gryffindor in the year above her, they got along perfectly well but eventually decided that her desire to learn everything and his desire to batter everything with Bludgers were largely incompatible and amiably parted. They don’t talk to each other as much as they used to, but she’s still always happy to stop for a chat. It’s hardly a surprise, to see him stamping down the hall towards her.

“Hello, Cai.”

“Yeah, yo,” he’s never been one for pleasantries. It used to annoy her, when they were dating. Now, that she’s not forced to deal with it at close quarters, she can face it with a slight smile, “were you at Hogsmeade over the weekend?”

“Yes-“

“In the Three Broomsticks? With Blenkintravers and Malsop? And another dude, what’s his name… Martin Rome? Nah, that’s not it? Melvin Ruton? Mary Re-?”

“Marcus Roman,” she corrects him, with another soft sigh, and smiles as he immediately accepts that with a nod and returns to his fidgeting pose – Caiside has never been able to stay still, it led to her bribing far too many prefects with promises of help on their next big exam, “he’s a seventh year Hufflepuff, a friend of Tommy Hardy? …If you remember him, he’s quite good friends with-“

“He’s fucking Horatio ‘only slightly straight and should probably stop denying it’ Nelson,” Caiside takes over, causing several scandalized first years to stare at him and then scuttle on upon noticing his rather absurd height and rather threatening bulk, “and Will Beatty, apparently, so good for him. Is this Marcus bloke nice?”

“…We tend not to refer to it like that,” she says patiently, even if the truth of the matter is becoming clearer by the day. She hardly minds, a happy Will is probably a good thing when you consider all the factors, “and, yes, he’s absolutely lovely. He gets me fresh apples from the kitchens, and is happy to talk about any subject, and is very fond of Muggle Studies. He wants to work in Muggle-human relations, in the future.”

“Sounds as boring as fuck,” Caiside says bluntly, and scandalizes another group of first years trembling terrifiedly by. There’s a glint in his eye, though, and so she doesn’t mind so much. Her ex-boyfriend can be a bit nasty at times, but he’s never deliberately malicious, “but perfectly suited to you. Do you like him?”

She thinks of Marcus’ hair, Marcus’ smile, Marcus’ kindness, the way that his nose wrinkles up and the way that he laughs and the way that he drinks his Butterbeer like it’s slightly too sweet for him but he’s determined to stick with the taste…

“Yes,” she offers, with a small smile that she can’t quite help, “I really do.”

“Ugh, soppiness,” Caiside remarks to nobody in particular, but continues on nonetheless – there’s a grin playing around his lips now, that makes her forgive even more. She doesn’t want to date him ever again, but it makes her remember why she loved him in the first place, “and do you think that he’ll treat you right? Stay with you forever? Never hurt you unless you explicitly ask for it?”

“I do,” the smile remains on her face, she still can’t help it. She doesn’t want to help it, she feels possibly the happiest that she ever has, “Most definitely, with all my heart.”

And Caiside stares at her, for a long few moments as if trying to peer into her brain…

“Ok!” And beams happily, turns on his heel and marches back down the corridor like the head of the conquering army that he’ll probably end up leading one of these days, “sounds absolutely wonderful, and I hope you’re happy with each other! See you around, Gelda, hopefully not in the Daily Prophet or anything like that…”

She smiles after him for another fond moment, and then turns on her heel and quickly gets to class. There’s a certain feeling of happiness in her chest, buzzing just around her heart.

 

--

 

She’s sitting with Marcus at lunch, at the Hufflepuff table because they’re apparently far less judgemental, when two shadows fall over them. They look up, after a few moments where those shadows pointedly fail to move on, and are both rather surprised to find Mark and Julius standing there. Grinning. As if they’d rather be nowhere else.

…Or, at least, she assumes that Marcus is surprised. His eyes are wide enough, adorably wide enough. So adorably wide enough that she’d pinch his cheeks if that wouldn’t be creepy and weird.

“…Hi?”

“Hallo,” Mark, always the loudest of the pair, gives a huge grin – it makes him look about five years old, bouncing on his heels while waiting to receive a present on some grand occasion, “can we sit here? It looks like there’s space.”

The table is largely empty, most other people having already devoured their lunches and disappeared outside to enjoy the weather or poke the Giant Squid or do… Something. Her and Marcus share a glance, and then shrug awkwardly in time as Mark and Julius continue to tower, “Sure?”

And, without further ado, the both of them are straddling the benches and crowding in either side of her. It seems to be a Gryffindor trait, from those she’s known over the years. It’s a good thing that she doesn’t have personal space issues, or she’d have punched one of them long before now.

“…So,” Mark continues the train of conversation echoing inside his head, after a long few moments filled with a little too much staring.

“Er,” Marcus says across from her, before she raises her hand to let him know that everything is sort of alright and she can probably rescue herself from these twin dragons with personal space issues and enough nosiness to rival an entire rural village.

“So?”

“We saw you talking with Caiside today,” Julius, the quieter but slightly more intense one, drawls, accepts the food that has just appeared in front of him with a lazy hand and starts eating with his eyes still fixed in her general direction, “in the Transfiguration corridor. He wasn’t troubling you, was he?”

“…Um.”

“Because if he is we can totally fix that for you!” Mark breaks in, with a loud chirp that raises the heads of several people around them. Though that may just be the effect of Mark, he has the terrifying ability to attract nearly anything and then leave them with largely good feelings afterwards, “I mean, we can have a talk or take him outside or practice with him the next time we do Quidditch-“

“He wasn’t troubling me, thank you,” she interrupts, wondering at the unwise and deeply irritating exuberance of most Gryffindors, “he’s my ex-boyfriend, and we parted on good terms, so we were just having a nice conversation about various things. He was a complete gentleman… Or, at the very least, as close to a complete gentleman as Caiside can get.”

Mark and Julius and even Marcus, who has obviously heard of Caiside through hearsay and slightly terrified gossip, all look less than convinced. It occurs to her to be annoyed, but it really takes far too much energy.

“…Seriously.”

“Seriously,” Mark eventually repeats, rolling the world around on his tongue. He looks like he has no idea what it means, it doesn’t surprise her in the least “…What were you talking about, then-?”

“Faintly inappropriate, Mark,” Julius interrupts swiftly, before she can open her own mouth or Marcus can get his stuttered protest out across from her. His face is still fond, though, as he looks over at his… Well, at his Mark Antony. She would’ve said that she never knew two boys more loyal – but, well, she seems to know a lot of awe-inspiringly loyal people, “we don’t need to know that, Gelda, and I apologize. We only came over to check that you were okay-“

“Oh,” she says, only a little flustered, and takes a little bite of what remains of her own food, “well, I suppose that’s alright then.”

“-And see if you have any idea of what Horatio ‘slightly unprepared’ Nelson is planning to do with the information that we garnered from the Forbidden Forest” …A lot flustered, as Julius gives a small sigh that says more than words ever could and exchanges a brief glance with the now slightly more sober Mark, “and the information that you garnered from Hogsmeade. What he’s planning to do with both, if at all possible.”

…There’s a long silence, echoing between all four of them. It seems, after a short while, to be almost profound enough to take on human form.

“Does that answer your question?”

“Yes, Mark, it does,” Julius sighs again, a little deeper this time, and leans his arms on the table. He doesn’t seem despairing, but then Julius Caesar rarely seems despairing. He only looks a touch put-out, as if things are starting to trouble him and he doesn’t like it one single bit “…Do you know anything else?”

“Sorry, I don’t think so,” she answers softly, with a slight shrug and a glance over to where Marcus is shaking his head, “to tell the truth… I don’t know why he sent us to those places in the first place.”

“Neither do we,” Mark says darkly, sullenly rubbing at his arm as if it pains him – which is not entirely outside the realm of possibility, given the gnarled and terrifying paths of the Forbidden Forest, “do you even know what it is we’re searching for? The only thing that we know is that it’s apparently golden, and very-“

“-Very shiny,” she finishes for him, her forehead already wrinkled. She feels a little guilty, and knows that it’s irrational. Nobody can control Horatio – not her, not Will, not him, not even Tommy on his bad days, “but beyond that we have no idea. It’s just a vague shape, we don’t even know what it looks like.”

They pause for a long few seconds, and then slowly sigh together. Mark looks a little like he wants to grind his head against the table, she doesn’t blame him.

“…So we have not one idea?”

“No.”

“About anything?”

Nope.”

“…This is starting to look a great deal less hopeful than it did at the start,” Marcus sums up everybody’s thoughts, and finishes his own lunch in silence.

 

--

 

It isn’t a question that keeps her up all night, but it does lead to her lying on her back at about 11pm and studying the ceiling with a frown. It doesn’t really trouble her, but it does provide a faint and niggling worry – what could they possibly be searching for? Why are they doing this? What, exactly, does Horatio want?

…Well, she doubts that even Horatio ‘shut up and just get on with it’ Nelson knows what he wants. But the point still stands.

She doesn’t experience insomnia over it, but when she wakes thirsty from her dozing at about midnight she still decides that a brief walk might do her good. Something to clear her head, something to allow her to get to sleep fully instead of simply dozing there until all faint niggling feelings fade. She swings her legs carefully out of bed, heads for the stairs without waking any of the other peacefully slumbering girls in her dorm.

…It’s somewhat of a surprise to find a half-naked Horatio Nelson sitting in her common room, but she refuses to let that phase her the slightest bit.

The tiniest bit.

The very teeniest-

…Actually, that’s a lie. She leaps vertically into the air and lets out a yelp. Horatio quickly spins as if preparing for a fight, and then sees her face and gives a big smile – settling back into the couch like absolutely nothing is wrong, “hi, Gelda.”

“What are you doing in here?” She barely manages to get her breath back, as shocked as she is. When she does manage it she has the horrible feeling that her voice is still shaky – as in, so shaky that she sounds a little like she’s riding a Hippogriff just above a rather hungry Dragon, “how did you even get in? You’re in Gryffindor, Horatio-“

“I let him in,” a voice says, right in her ear, and leaves her scrambling across the room until she notices Will standing in the door to the dorms with a faintly guilty expression, “he said that we needed to… Talk, and so here we are!”

“Talk?” She asks breathlessly, and fights the urge to glare at them as they nod in unison, “Will, I’m pretty sure that that’s not allowed. Students from other houses aren’t supposed to be in our Common Room, not in the middle of the night. I’m pretty sure that it can lead to expulsion-“

“Well.”

“-Or worse.”

“There’s nothing worse than expulsion,” Will says, like a true Ravenclaw born and bred, “but there’s absolutely no risk of that. Nobody is going to find out! And, even if they do, it has a high chance of being overlooked. Everybody does it, the Gryffindors and Slytherins and even the Hufflepuffs… It’s not that bad!”

“Not that bad?” …Obviously she’s become a parrot due to shock, bound to mimic everything that Will says. She manages a faint glare at him for that, draws herself up and tries to become a completely calm and reasonable human yet again, “I’m not sure what you think you’re doing-“

“Thinking,” Horatio answers helpfully, looking the closest to guilty that he’s ever going to get.

Thinking,” Will repeats with relish, unfortunately usually unable to feel guilt even in the middle of the day after an extremely good night of sleep, “which, again, really isn’t that bad. Maybe you should try it sometime. Y’know, maybe with that mysterious Marcus Roman of yours…”

Will-!”

“Will! That’s rude!” …And, with Tommy quickly hurrying down the stairs behind Will, she is done. Completely done. Completely and utterly done in a way that has a good chance of lasting more than a day this time, “honestly, we have to let any relationships around us develop naturally. We can’t force them on! We can’t just say things like- Gelda?”

“I’m going for a walk,” she says, through gritted teeth as she marches for the door to the rest of the castle, “a long walk. I’ll see you all later.”

 

--

 

She’s taken five steps out of the common room when she senses a presence besides her, and so has just enough preperation not to scream the castle down when Marcus detaches from the shadows. She’s still too wound up, still too annoyed over Horatio ‘I will break into all the common rooms’ Nelson and Will ‘I will help him despite apparently hating him’ Beatty and Tommy ‘always there in a slightly nice way that you can’t really be properly annoyed with’ Hardy, to really manage any other kind of rage.

…Well, sort of.

The annoyance is starting to fade by the minute, really.

“Sorry!” Marcus yelps quietly, as she still can’t restrain herself from jumping a little into the air and making a shocked expression, “it’s just… I followed Tommy here, just to remind him that he probably should be sleeping instead of doing certain other things. And I was about to leave, because I realized how pointless and foolish it was, but then I saw you and-“

“It’s alright,” she smiles, already starting to calm down a little. She believes Marcus, when she’d believe few others. She hadn’t had a plan, when she’d stormed out of the tower, but she’s pretty sure that her feet would’ve led her to Marcus no matter what, “I understand… Even if it was definitely pointless and foolish.”

“…They’re actually-?”

“I didn’t stick around to make sure, but I think so,” she sighs a little, and then summons a smile at him – he smiles back after a few moments, a customarily bright thing that somehow makes her feel so much better, “they make a cute threesome, at least, and I’ve never seen Will so happy. It’s probably for the best.”

“Probably.”

“Mm.”

“…Though it is a little hard to sleep,” Marcus nails it right on the head, his smile growing to a cheeky little grin that’s somehow even more charming. She’ll have to ask him how he does that at some point, even if she’s pretty sure that he’ll only shrug modestly in reply, “knowing that they’re doing things to each other, just a few rooms – or beds - away.”

“…A little,” she admits after a little bit of thought, with a laugh that she can’t quite help. At least she knows how to laugh quietly, from previous experience of sneaking around with Caiside – it would be terribly awkward if they were to be caught here, and then give the new and prosperous threesome away just as swiftly, “and you can’t exactly stay in the Common Room, because what if they start doing things there?”

“Oh, the horror.”

“The terror!”

“The humanity!” Marcus thinks for a long few moments, and then slowly grins at her again. It’s one of the more charming faces that she’s seen, she has to admit. She’s not quite sure, but she thinks that she’d be seriously tempted to follow it to the ends of the earth, “would you rather do something else, then?”

…And so she does, with another helplessly bright smile of her own.

 

--

 

The library is dark and cold at night, but that’s good in its own way. If there were librarians or professors creating large amounts of light it’d be bad for them. Likewise, if there was a fire creating a lot of heat it’d also be bad for them. Things are slightly annoying, but they could be a lot worse. And at least Marcus is at her side!

…Marcus is at her side.

“What are we looking for?” She asks him quietly, smiling fondly at the very thought as they advance ever deeper into the library. She thinks that an entire world of horrors could be negated just by his smile, “I mean, I presume that we aren’t just here because you really want to appreciate the architecture.”

“Well, it does have wonderful architecture…” Marcus muses softly, and then grins as she pokes his arm. The shadows shift back a little, the world grows acceptably warmer as he shows his teeth, “no. I thought that we could maybe do a little research?”

“Research…?” It takes her a long few moments, a shameful few moments considering that she’s a Ravenclaw, before she realizes his meaning. And then she stops and stares at him approvingly, “about whatever Horatio is searching for?”

“Got it in one,” he grins again, the shadows almost crawl back under the bookcases before he finally reaches out to take her hand and guide her gently on, “I just think that it’d be a lot easier if we knew more about it. Such as its name, or what it looks like, or what it was made for, or where it’s likely to be, or…”

Of course. Horatio is a lovely enough person most of the time, but there is a reason why he’s known by most of the professors as Horatio ‘permanently vague’ Nelson. She smiles to herself, allows herself to be led for a few steps and then takes over as politely as she can, “come on, then.”

She discovered the library on her first day at Hogwarts, when she got lost at lunch and found herself in a huge room full of books instead of tables. Her family are a perfectly nice family, but none of them were much for such luxuries as bound paper. She had barely seen a bookcase before, let alone a whole room of them. She’d immediately started grabbing whatever had been closest to her, and had eventually had to be dragged away from her contemplations after almost missing her next lesson.

…As such, she knows her way around.

The section on rare objects is a small and obscure one, tucked away in the very darkest corner of the library and usually avoided by even the librarians. A thin film of dust covers it, and she has to brush away the occasional cobweb as they move deeper. The books on the shelves are old and heavy, bound in leather that manages that curious trick of being both fascinating and foreboding at the same time. Thick clumps of dirt come off on her hands as she goes up on her toes to drag the tomes down, she barely stops herself from hacking out her guts all over the library floor.

“Are you sure about this?” Marcus asks, with a slightly dubious expression. He also looks on the edge of a sneeze, as she grabs his arm and gently tugs him back to the library proper, “I mean, this seems a bit…”

“I know,” she offers, grimacing as she tries to wipe some of the muck off on her dressing gown. It doesn’t work very well, she resigns herself to a long trip to the baths tomorrow, “but the moment we find something proper we can tell Horatio, end the search and stop him from dragging our friends into various dangerous places forevermore.”

“…Forevermore?”

“Well, a girl can hope!”

By the time that the sun rises, and they simultaneously determine that scuttling back to their dorms before the librarians find them would be a good idea, they have about five possibilities. Five glowing, glimmering, totally legitimate possibilities.

…The only problem is actually narrowing them down.

 

--

 

In the end there’s only one option.

“Hey, James.”

“…And Steenie.”

“And Steenie, yes.”

James Stuart is a seventh year Ravenclaw that she knows a little in person, but mostly by reputation. He is, in truth, the most intelligent boy in the school. He’s a little bit shifty and awkward and with a strange tendency to dribble everywhere, but all of those traits are made worth it by how much he knows. And how often he’s willing to demonstrate that knowledge, especially when fellow Ravenclaws scuttle over with a request for help.

…Steenie, full name George Villiers, is another figure that she knows a little in person but a lot by reputation. He’s a sixth year Slytherin, and has been dating James for about two years (alongside another seventh year Ravenclaw called Anne, which is an arrangement that she doesn’t feel much like prying into). He’s also rather smart, but has a manipulative streak a mile wide. It’s rumoured that he has half of the school in his pocket, and she can well believe it. He’s draped over James in a way that shows complete and utter confidence in every aspect of life.

Their heads swivel up together, and their eyes fix at the same time. She tries not to wilt under their twin gazes, aims a brief elbow at Marcus besides her so he also avoids the urge “…Hello. Gelda, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Gelda Celt,” she grins at him, taking the fact that he vaguely remembers her as a good start, and waves her hand to Marcus at her side – he looks awkward, but seems to take it well. That’s the best she can hope for, really, “and this is Marcus Roman. We were wondering if we could ask you a question…?”

“A question?”

“Yes,” Marcus takes over, a slight squeak to his voice. He’s nervous, the sweet boy, she can’t stop herself from giving him a fond smile, “you see, Horatio Nelson is searching for something-“

“Horatio ‘bold adventures and annoying Slytherins’ Nelson?” Steenie interrupts boredly, flicking something invisible off his nail and fixing them with a gaze that’d make most people cower. She barely manages to hold her nerve, Marcus slumps slightly and tries to quite obviously hide behind her, “we’re busy, I’m afraid, extremely busy. If you come back at a more convenient time we’d be happy to dismiss you then-“

Most sensible people would respond with a glare at that point, but James is only regarding him with a fondness that verges on baffling. It’s time to bring out the big guns, the ones that only true Ravenclaws know how to use, “it’s an academic problem.”

…And everybody falls silent, James turning to look at her again as Steenie screws up his face in an odd mixture of impressed and annoyed.

And then James smiles a little, and James nods, and James looks the brightest that she’s ever seen him in a way that is most definitely encouraging, “an academic problem, you say?”

She lays out the situation as thoroughly as she can, and James listens with fascination to every single part. Eventually Marcus manages to recover himself, joins in as Steenie continues to watch on with that strange expression upon his face. They cover the first search with Horatio, the following searches and the mad plans that went with them. They describe what Horatio is looking for, as best they can with numerous hand gestures attempting to convey something that can’t be put into words. They go over every detail multiple times, trying to highlight the importance of the mission as best they can.

…And James continues to look fascinated, at least.

“-So we’ve picked out five possibilities,” Marcus eventually finishes, at her fond prompting. The smile is back on his face now, he looks happy in a way that is exceptionally attractive, “for whatever Horatio is searching for.”

“They all look likely,” she takes over, with a brisk nod that hopefully looks deeply professional instead of wildly desperate, “but we’re not entirely sure which one is the most likely. I know that you’ve studied the history of the school in great detail, so we were wondering if you could look at our copies and point out any things that you’ve seen…”

They made some copies of the old and rustling pages last night, half-asleep and trying not to be caught by early-rising librarians. She pulls them out now, presents them to James as soberly as she can. Watches, with some nervousness, as he slowly raises his reading spectacles on his nose and starts to browse.

…And browse.

And browse-

When she’s on the point of nervous collapse James finally gives a soft little cough, shuffles one picture to the front and passes it back to her. On first glance it looks like a rather unremarkable cup. On second glance it also looks like a fairly unremarkable mug. On third glance… Well, really it takes until the sixth glance for her to see the rather underwhelming runes around the top. The slight glitter that makes it appear slightly more than it is, “I’ve actually see this in person.”

“You have!” Marcus yelps, obviously thrilled.

…A pity that she has to be a little more rational, “that’s excellent! Where?”

“Deep in the dungeons,” James sits back, seems to give the question serious thought for a long few moments before slowly bursting out a wide smile, “go past Professor Hanover’s office, and just keep going. It’ll probably take a little exploring, but that’s enough of a starting point to be getting on with. I’m sorry that I couldn’t give you more help.”

“Don’t be,” she beams, and gathers her copies to her chest as her and Marcus step back in time. James continues to smile at them, Steenie… Continues to give them that strange look that he’s been giving them pretty much since they arrived, “that’s more than enough to get on with, thank you so much.”

“…You will tell me if you actually manage to find it, of course?”

“Of course,” she smiles, and takes another step backwards with Marcus still grinning his thanks from her shoulder, “you know, if Horatio doesn’t spread it all over the school before I can talk to anybody.”

“…Of course.”

Mm.”

“…Well, the best of luck,” James still says, and gives her a smile that actually seems genuine as they continue to back out of the room. She’s starting to like James, as scary as he seemed at the start, “and I hope to see you again in the future. I must say, this all sounds absolutely and completely fascinating-!”

Steenie just continues to stare strangely at them (her), as they finally exit the room.

 

--

 

“So. We know what we’re doing?”

“We know vaguely what we’re doing, yes,” she says as firmly as she possibly can, a big grin still threatening to spill across her face as she carries merrily onwards, “we have a probable object, we sort of know where that probable object is and we might even be capable of convincing Horatio to actually go find it.”

A long silence follows. When Marcus speaks again she can hear the slight smirk in his tone, has to use every single inch of her willpower to avoid spinning around and mooning over it, “Horatio ‘went back in time to invent selective hearing’ Nelson?”

“…Well, there’s a chance,” she has to admit, with a slight shrug, but is soon smiling again – Marcus’ smirks also seem to have that effect on her, he’s a remarkable man in that (and many other) ways, “and I’m willing to grasp any chance that we’re given. Once he finds this thing it’ll be over - and then Will can stop being shoved into the Forbidden Forest and Tommy can stop lecturing Horatio about manipulating the younger years into various unwise things and everything can go back to normal-“

Marcus falls silent for another long few moments, and this time she actually turns to check on his reaction. He looks a little lost, somehow, a little lost and a little sad and a little taken aback.

She smiles a little and steps into his space, lays her hand on his shoulder. She’s a Ravenclaw, after all, and she’s always been fairly good at working things out. She’s pretty sure that she knows exactly what to say, “for a given value of normal, of course.”

“…Of course?”

Indeed.”

…And Marcus starts to smile, in a way so tremulous and hopeful that her heart breaks a little at the very sight of it. And she starts to smile in reply, slight and encouraging and trying to convey that she’d probably be willing to let him try absolutely anything. And they start to lean together, just slowly and slightly-

Well.”

Ah.

Marcus has told her a little about Livilla Claudian, and the rest she’s learned from reputation. She’s a seventh year Slytherin, pureblood and proud. She’s used to doing things a certain way, and is rumoured to be in the habit of doing mildly terrible things to anybody who crosses that. She can be cruel and arrogant, but balances that with a certain sharp intelligence and stubbornness that has apparently accomplished many things.

She also, quite incidentally, dated Marcus for two years and only came to a largely amiable break-up at the end of last year. Far more terrifying is the fact of her presence, strolling down the corridor towards them at a speed that should be impossible.

“Livilla,” Marcus says, looking a little confused with his smile still upon his face, “I don’t think that I’ve seen you for a while. How have you been? Are you still enjoying Potions-?”

“Hi, Marcus, lovely to see you. Can’t talk now. Must catch up at some point. Hush,” Livilla dismisses him, comes to a halt before her instead with a certain close attention that is probably meant to dismay. She’d feel a little intimidated herself, if it wasn’t for long years of dealing with William Beatty and his profound sulks, “Steenie told me that he saw you two together, looking fairly close. I’m a little surprised to find that it’s true.”

“Livilla…”

“…That was five minutes ago,” she says, with a slight blink and a most probably confused expression of her own. She knows that the Slytherins have a reputation for speed, but honestly, “literally, five minutes ago. How?”

“Life moves fast when you’re on the ground,” Livilla explains with a slight flick of her hair, but an oddly impressed light shining in her eyes. She’s not quite sure what to make of that, she’s heard that gaining the mild respect of Slytherins is a good thing but she’s still not entirely sure what to do with it, “you’re an intelligent girl, Ginny, and so I won’t sugar coat anything. What are you intentions with my ex-boyfriend?”

Livilla…”

“My name is Gelda,” she corrects, a touch sharply, and raises her chin when Livilla arches one perfectly sculpted eyebrow, “and he’s your ex-boyfriend, and so that’s little of your business. All I can say is that I mean to make him very happy, in as many ways as I can.”

“Including sexual ways?”

Livvy!”

“That’s none of your business,” she gives, levelly, and meets Livilla’s eyes. She’s heard rumours of a girl that generally likes to make others awkward, but the faint glee on her face seems something a little different. Something a little more… Respectful, in a way that she still has no idea how to react to, “and I don’t think that it’ll ever be any of your business, unless you somehow become involved again in the future. Needless to say, we’re both going to try our best – and neither of us will ever need your assistance with that.”

“Are you sure?”

“I can’t believe this…”

“Positive.”

A long few moments go by… And then Livilla gives an actual smile and nods her head. She’s not quite sure how to take that, but the decision is soon snatched out of her hands. Livilla turns to Marcus, giving a cordial nod. Under both their stares she grins and says: “I think you two are going to be good for each other.”

…And then turns, and walks away.

Well, that was odd.

 

--

 

Three days later and they still haven’t managed to impart their information to the threesome.

“I hardly have the time for your strange new couple things now!” Will spat at them on the first day, when they hopefully approached him at dinner and ended up having to dodge various vegetables as he flailed randomly at things, “I have magic to do! And science! And sweet magicky science! Trouble somebody else with your problems.”

…Which, okay, was a little hypocritical. But should’ve been expected. Will gets a bit mean when he’s busy with something, and has the tendency to become even meaner when the stresses pile up. It was a natural thing, a little annoying but most certainly understandable.

“Can we talk after I’m done with this?” But then Horatio had continued with the theme on the second day, when they’d decided to approach him at breakfast instead and had found him… Busily levitating his plate off the table as a few first years crowded around him with wide eyes and gawping mouths, “it’s very important, you know! And I’m sure that it can wait!”

…Which was even more annoying, yes. But also should’ve been expected. Horatio ‘Shiny!’ Nelson somehow manages to combine brute determination and easy distraction. He’s a magpie with a stubborn streak a mile long, an odd combination that leads most people to have faint breakdowns upon meeting him. It’s a little less understandable, but she can at least show some mild sympathy.

“Terribly sorry, but little Stephen England – you know, that tiny first year? – has gotten into trouble with his cousin – Matilda England, I think she’s a Slytherin – and I have to sort it out again” …And then Tommy had protested softly on the third day, briefly confronted at lunch before he gathered up his stuff and swiftly hurried away, “you’re welcome to help, if you like. Both of you. It might be a fun activity together that doesn’t involve dear Horatio trying to accidentally kill everything around him!”

Which was more than annoying. And slightly unexpected this time. Tommy is the sane one, what were they to do if even he was being deeply irrational and quick and willing to disappear into the sunset at a speed that’d put a cheetah to shame?

“I’m starting to think that we should just take matters into our own hands,” Marcus mutters softly to her, as they watch Tommy disappear off into the distance in pursuit of what looked to be a first year with dark hair and a certain steely glint to her eye, “I mean, it might be simpler in the long term. And would save us the effort of pinning them all down in one place.”

“That might be an idea,” she sighs in reply – softly, possibly unexpectedly – and then turns on her heel and shuffles off into her own distance.

 

--

 

“So, do we all know what we’re doing?”

It’s about two days after she decided that something needed to be done, because that’s apparently the optimal amount of time to gather up a group of vague adventurers and make a battle plan. They’re all standing in a secluded area of the dungeons, grouped together and watching for any random professors that might scuttle by. There’s her, Marcus, Julius, Mark, Albert and Frederick massed together in a large but small group.

…It seemed simpler not to invite the main threesome.

“Yes!” Mark nods firmly, but he’s always been enthusiastic. His eyes show the shining glee of somebody who isn’t quite mad, but who may be tempted to consider it as an option at all relevant points.

“Largely,” Julius, of course, is the much more sensible benchmark. Wrapped in his cloak, staring at her with thoughtful eyes as he leans against the cold dungeon wall. He looks rather unlikely to rush into anything stupid, it’s somewhat soothing.

“…Not really, I’m afraid. Sorry, Gelda,” but everybody has to be tended to, and so she has to focus the most attention on the one that spoke last. Poor Albert, standing besides Frederick and looking both rather awkward and rather cold, “could you maybe-?”

“I’ll explain it again,” she says, kindly, and proceeds to do so. Not everybody can be like Mark, charging into unknown dangers with a wide grin – the world would be a great deal more foolish if that was the case, “as you all know Horatio has been searching for a thing with our loyal help. He is, however, rather busy and so has no time to actually pay attention to somebody else finding the thing. As such we, his loyal helpers, must retrieve this thing from the darkest dungeons and present it to him as quickly as possible.”

There’s a long pause, one that she waits out. She’s rewarded when Frederick slowly glances around, and then tremulously raises his hand “…Why?”

“So Horatio ‘bitey things are totally adventurous!’ Nelson will stop sending us into certain less than savoury locations,” Marcus takes over, even kinder, and proceeds to draw one of the copies they made out of his pocket. A sensible idea, and one that they agreed on beforehand. It would be terribly unfortunate to have six random teenagers wandering the dungeons with absolutely no clue what they were doing, Professor Hanover would probably throw the biggest fit of the century, “this is what we’re searching for. It looks like a mug, but is apparently much more important. See the runes?”

“If I squint,” Julius offers, largely good-naturedly, and leans back from his perusal. He looks largely fine with everything, it makes her happy to see, “where exactly is this fabled mug?”

“Deep in the dungeons,” she provides.

“…Do we know anything more?”

“Well…” She sighs, shrugs her shoulders and draws herself up. She can deal with this, Ravenclaws are supposed to be great at convincing other people to do things, “we go past Professor Hanover’s office, go as deep as we can go and search from there. That’s the only thing that James gave us, I’m afraid.”

“Sounds shiny,” Mark says, with a wide grin.

“Sounds scary,” Frederick contradicts, with a frown and a brief glance across to the ever present Albert.

“I promise you that everything will be fine,” Marcus goes over the both of them, with a soothing smile that makes her heart flutter – which is silly, really, but she’s somehow still totally down with it, “we’ll find the mug easily, get out in time for dinner and present it to Horatio tomorrow at the latest. And then we can all stop worrying and go back to our largely normal lives.”

There’s a long pause, the other four all exchange glances.

“Unless you have anything better to do…”

“Not really,” Albert offers softly, with a reassuring grin in Frederick’s direction.

“Well…” Julius sends his own glance in Mark’s direction, but then turns back to her with a small shrug and a smile, “Cleo can totally wait until tomorrow, I suppose.”

And so it’s settled. Sorted. Done in a way that is far speedier and more efficient than if Horatio had been allowed within a hundred yards of it.

They pop out of their secluded alcove and walk down the corridor. This isn’t too deep into the dungeons, actually fairly near the stairs and the path up to above. They pass the classrooms in good time, just keep going. There’s a certain feeling of calm, seeping from the walls. It’s like she’s walking through an ancient tomb, a place of peace and rest and a thousand terribly old things.

“This is a bit creepy,” Frederick offers, not sounding all that creeped out. His eyes are actually a little fascinated, tracing the starkly cold stones over Albert’s shoulder.

They keep going, because they’ve already established that they have little else to do (excepting Cleo, Cleopatra Ptolemy, who she is going to try to ignore as thoroughly as possible). Professor Hanover’s office is a little down the corridor, tucked into an area that once contained a secret passage to the kitchen. He’s either there, up in the castle itself or in his office and being distracted by Professor Brummel quite nicely. Any of those ways, they move past the door easily. Continue ever downwards in a way that feels inevitable.

“Bless our teachers and their romantic lives,” Mark says cheerfully the moment they’re a few steps down, possibly a bit loudly but she supposes that it doesn’t really matter, “so sweet, so nice, so easy to distract.”

They reach a corner and turn it. Come to a set of stairs that stretches down into the black. They all draw back for a second, slightly stunned, but then Mark shrugs and swiftly moves forwards and Julius does much the same and follows him. It takes only a few carefully exchanged glances before the rest of them are all giving their own shrugs, carefully laying their hands against the slightly slimy wall and following them down. Her eyes start to adjust soon enough, she’s still relieved when Marcus mutters a quick Lumos and makes the world light again.

“It’s a bit darker than I was expecting,” he confesses, with a slightly awkward grin that makes her want to pinch his cheeks, “silly, I know, considering that I live in the dungeons. But…”

They reach the bottom of the stairs as she’s grinning at him, pause briefly there to gather their bearings. It really is dark down here, certainly a level below the Hufflepuff common room and possibly even below the Slytherin one. Without Marcus’ quick spell she’d barely be able to see beyond her own face. The entire world would be dark to her, a shifting and threatening place where all her friends had simply disappeared into the echoing black-

…Julius and Mark have disappeared.

She lets out a soft groan and spins to the wide-eyed Albert and Frederick. They came down a few seconds before them, maybe used to the distraction of each other’s presence. She has little hope, but sometimes a little hope is all that you can really deal with, “did you see where they went?”

“…Caesar and Antony-?”

Yes.”

“We just got down here and they weren’t there,” Frederick offers, in a tiny voice under her totally justified annoyance – she’d feel guilty at any other time, but justified, “I don’t think they even cast a spell, they just disappeared. They must’ve been incredibly keen to find the golden thingy that Hor- Nelson is so desperate to get.”

“But I told them to wait…”

“Since when have Julius and Mark ever listened?” Marcus speaks before either Albert or Frederick can start babbling again. He steps into her line of sight, ever so gently touches her arm as if trying to radiate soothing energy through his hand. She appreciates it more than she can say, “come on, Gelda, they’ll be fine. They’re both older than us, and Julius is better trained. They’d probably eat any monster before it ate them.”

…And she can’t really deny that.

They keep going into the black, with Albert and Frederick trailing after them nervously. The dungeon keeps getting deeper and deeper, and she swears that the direction they’ve picked has the floor sloping. She hardly minds that much, simply gathers herself up and keeps heading on. Deep into the darkness. Deep into the black. Deep into the shadowed space that has her slightly unsettled, as much as she’s loathe to admit it.

They eventually come to a crossroads, deep within the dungeons. At any other time she’d firmly protest it as a bend in the corridor, but the term crossroads seems oddly… Apt for such a feature. It looks, not to put too fine a point on it, like a place where nefarious deeds often occur. Black magic and sacrifices and ill-advised dances to the goddess Hecate, those type of things. The kind of acts that make her skin crawl and her feet speed up without any conscious thought. She chooses to go left, after a brief glance at Marcus – it seems the sensible way forward.

…To them, at least.

It takes a few steps, but eventually she realizes that Albert and Frederick are most certainly not behind them. They have vanished, disappeared, been swallowed up into the black as surely as Julius and Mark. They are just gone - and the realization of such has her spinning around with her heart in her throat and her eyes wide.

“The boys!”

“The boys?” Marcus asks blankly, and then realization hits and his eyes go wide - beyond wide, a level of bulging that would be deeply unsettling at any other time, “the boys! Oh, no. Tommy is going to kill me.”

“And me, and possibly Horatio and Will into the bargain,” she mutters in pure terror, and takes a step back towards the crossroads – Tommy is possibly the calmest person that she knows, but it’s calm in the fashion of the eye of a storm. She has no doubt that he could be beyond terrifying if he so wished, an entirely new concept that hasn’t needed inventing yet, “they’re not Julius and Mark, they’re not highly trained. They’re sweet, but-“

“I know.”

“-Not entirely-“

“I know.”

“-Well.”

They stare at each other for a long few moments. And then, by mutual agreement, turn on their heel and hurry back down the corridor. As fast as a cheetah, as fast as light, as fast as anything. She’s never been all that motherly, at least in her personal opinion, but her mind is filled with images of Albert falling down and breaking his neck or of Frederick being eaten by a slathering beast with an unhealthy amount of claws or of the both of them getting swallowed up by the darkness and- and-

As such neither of them are really paying attention, especially when a slightly unsteady stone comes up.

One moment they’re hurrying along solid ground, the next her feet are in the air and she’s plummeting faster than they were running. Marcus’ wand goes out, and she hears his yelp in the dark. She has only a few moments to worry… And then she hits what feels like a grassy carpet hard, sharply enough to take the breath out of her and knock all thought from her head.

Ouch.

“…Gelda?” A small voice says, after what seems like a long time.

“Marcus?”

“Oh, thank the heavens. Can you see anything? Like stairs or a light or… Anything dangerous or helpful or anything?”

“I can’t see anything anything,” she jokes weakly, pushing herself up to a sitting position and barely holding back a wince – she doesn’t think that she’s broken anything, but her new bruises certainly have an awful lot to say about pain, “but I think I can see- Maybe… Oh, you have got to be kidding me.”

There, deep in the darkness where she was trying not to look, glints something gold. And as she leans closer it defines itself, turns into exactly the golden mug in the picture. At first glance it seems to be hovering in the air, as if by magic. On second glance it’s doing anything but, simply tucked into what looks like a small alcove as if somebody had thoughtfully picked it up from the floor. She has the strange feeling that it was James, she has a strange feeling like she wants to punch James.

She hears a muttered word behind her, and before she can even blink there’s fresh light. It highlights a small room, shadowy at the corners and somewhat ominous. Marcus comes up beside her, shakily clutching his wand – stares at the alcove in much the way that she’s staring at it, with a mixture of pure puzzlement and faint rage, “is that…?”

“It seems likely.”

“…The mug?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“Right down here?”

Mm.”

“Well, that’s…” Marcus considers what that is for a long few seconds, and then shrugs and sighs and passes his free hand over his face. She sympathizes, she’s experiencing much the same burst of emotion herself, “so, we have the mug-cup-thing. How do we get it out of here, though? How do we get ourselves out of here?”

…And, unfortunately, she has few answers. The room is, indeed, very small and seems to have no staircase to speak of. There are no large stone blocks to manipulate into any sort of platform, and she doubts that she’d have the energy for that anyway. Likewise on the energy front, she thinks that it’d be pretty much impossible to levitate a human being. They’re trapped down here, surrounded by darkness and flickering light and the mug-cup-thing that seems far less soothing than she ever dreamed-

“Gelda?”

It’s hopeless.

“Marcus!”

Absolutely-

“Gelda and Marcus!

…Hang on.

She stares at Marcus for a long few moments, and he stares at her in return. They slowly, ever so slowly and in time, creak their necks up to look at where the voice echoes. Two faces hover there, staring down at them with some concern – it takes a bit of focusing, but it soon becomes absolutely clear that it’s Albert and Frederick. Perfectly fine, perfectly happy, looking like the boldest heroes of the hour as they grin down.

“Finally!” Albert chirps, in a good-natured manner.

“We’ve found Julius and Mark!” Frederick takes over, deciding to be the more informative one for possibly the first time in his life, “they just decided to investigate a shiny thing, and everything is absolutely fine. They’re coming right now, and they’re going to get you out of there. Just hold on!”

“Or sit down!”

“Or relax!”

“…Do something, at any rate!”

She exchanges another slow glance with Marcus at their enthusiasm… And is surprised to find herself smiling, and then grinning, and then laughing. It bubbles out of her throat before she can quite stop herself, a burst of enthusiasm that Marcus soon joins in with and improves.

They have rescuers, they have the mug-cup-thing, they have a future free of Horatio ‘fun!’ Nelson’s adventures, they have each other.

…Life could definitely be worse.

 

--

 

She sleeps for a day and a night after they retrieve the mug-cup-thing from the dungeon, but that’s fair enough. She was lucky not to break anything, she still breathes cautiously through her bruises. Twenty-four hours of sleep is a tiny price to pay when the threat of shattered bones still looms over her head, when she awakes to the mug golden besides her on the pillow and Marcus’ soft voice in her ear.

It’s the first time that she’s ever broken the rules, even after two years of dating Caiside, but she hardly minds that given her current state of mind. They sprawl together for an hour longer than they should, trading whispered words and almost kisses, and when they finally rise she feels free, unburdened by the world ever pressing on her shoulders. They take turns to wash and get dressed, carefully respecting the bounds of modesty just for now, and then sneak down the corridor and out by the kitchens. It seemed a lot more sensible to head for the Hufflepuff dorms last night, she doubts that her bruised knees could’ve taken that many stairs.

Luckily their late night, and later morning, doesn’t seem to have affected anybody else. When they emerge to the dining hall they find all relevant folk engaged in either a late breakfast or an early lunch. Julius and Mark are sitting at the Gryffindor table talking with an absurdly self-possessed Slytherin. Albert and Frederick are bunched close together at the Hufflepuff table, giggling in high whispers. She feels somewhat reassured, as she drifts past them all.

…The absolutely relevant ones have taken over the lower end of the Gryffindor table, though. Horatio ‘always a morning person’ Nelson practically vibrating in his chair, Will ‘never a morning person’ Beatty and Tommy ‘probably capable of rolling with anything’ Hardy flanking him. They don’t notice their approach, even as they get ever closer – she supposes that that’s for the best.

“We’ve got a present for you,” it means that she can get Will to jump, at least, which is always a somewhat amusing sight. She drops down across from him, treats him to a wide grin as he gawps and splutters and eventually glares.

“…What sort of present?”

“A nice one,” Marcus chuckles, sliding into place besides her – a warm and stable presence at her side that she doesn’t really want to let go of, especially now that they’ve sort of shared a bed, “or, at least, we think so. It was a pig to find, but we got there eventually. And now it’s shiny and nice and perfectly fascinating-“

“Perfectly fascinating,” Tommy repeats, tone weary – she can’t really blame him, he has known both Will and Horatio for most of his school career, “that doesn’t really provide many clues, I’m afraid. Do you have it on you?”

Well…”

“Get to the point, Gelda,” Horatio huffs, staring at the both of them with a mock impatience that’s become his signature. She doesn’t mind it so much, since it’s him. To ask Horatio Nelson to change is to ask the sky to fall and the stars to become fluffy ducklings, “we haven’t got all day… Well, we’ve got most of all day. But the point still stands!”

“…Does it?” Marcus asks in a whisper, with a glance towards her.

“Barely,” she mutters in reply, and draws out the mug-cup-thing from one of the cavernous pockets in her robes. It shines at its best in the great hall, she’s pleased to see. The runes become clear and the effect of them makes the whole thing almost noble, almost as if it isn’t some battered thing found secreted in the deepest, darkest dungeon.

“Is that…?” Will looks fascinated, at least, and she supposes that that’s compliment enough. He practically snatches it from her hands, turns it in his with a focus that is both slightly creepy and rather amusing, “it can’t be.”

“It is,” Tommy chimes in, seeming equally fascinated. He leans to take in the shine, a small grin quirking his lips like he’s actually pleased with events, “somehow, I think.”

“But it can’t be.”

“But it is.”

“But you said that you only think it is. It might not be, it might be something completely different and completely weird and wrong.”

“…But it is, though.”

“It looks like it, yeah.”

Horatio, who has remained silent and staring between the two of them, finally focuses his attention on the mug-cup-thing again. He frowns a little, and bites his lip. He puffs and he huffs and he even looks like he could blow a few medium-sized houses down, he wrinkles his forehead and narrows his eyes and sticks out his tongue slightly, he almost manages to resemble a Ravenclaw for a long few seconds…

Only for those long few seconds, though. And then he’s banging the table again and getting right back to brave Gryffindor Nelson, off to a thousand adventures, “eh, it sort of looks like what I was thinking of.”

And Will’s head whips around to him, and Will’s eyes widen like he’s just been punched in the stomach by a magic talking lion, “sort of?”

“Isn’t that what I said? Honestly, Beatty, you have to stop repeating everything…”

“You mean that you didn’t know what you were searching for?”

“Well…”

“What the hell you were making us search for?”

Well…”

“Horatio Nelson I went into the Forbidden Forest for you and your stupid desires and this is how you choose to repay me-!”

Tommy gives them both an apologetic glance as his two boyfriends launch into yet another famous fight, and they take that as their cue to leave. They remove themselves smoothly, drift down and across until they find Albert and Frederick as thick as thieves. They spend the rest of their late breakfast-slash-early lunch there, smiling over inconsequential things as the fight rages on in the background.

 

--

 

“Hey, do you ever want your mug back?” Horatio asks, about three months later when they’re all starting to frenziedly prepare for various exams.

“My mug…?”

“Your cup,” Tommy offers helpfully, sliding down on her free side with a face made at Horatio and his hair all ruffled from either an all-night study session (acceptable) or an all-night Horatio and Will session (…Also acceptable, but possibly a little less appropriate for breakfast), “you know, the one you brought from the dungeons a few months back?”

“Your thing,” Will provides even more helpfully, forced to sit by Horatio with a faint roll of his eyes and a desperate tug of his fingers through his nest of curly hair, “that one with runes on it? It’s been sitting by Horatio’s bed for months, it’s starting to become a rather unexpected feature of the décor.”

…She slowly exchanges a glance with Marcus, sitting on her other side. His arm is warm around her, his smile is still absolutely gorgeous, there’s a certain look in his eyes that speaks of the weary humour all develop when faced with the permanent company of Horatio ‘hero of the hour’ Nelson. She grins, and turns back to the three with a tiny shrug, “we’re fine, thanks.”

“Are you sure-?”

“Perfectly, Horatio,” Marcus takes over, with his own fond grin – his arm remains warm and perfect around her and she can’t really think of anywhere else it should be, “I don’t really like it that much and Gelda has no space on her bedside table. You might as well keep it - we found it for you, after all.”

There’s a long moment of silence after that, and then Horatio grins and settles back into his bench. He seems pleased for some reason, happy in a way that can only foreshadow good news, “so you two…?”

“What?” Tommy asks quite clearly, with steadily widening eyes.

“Indeed,” Marcus answers, with a wide grin and faint tighten of his arm around her. He has such strong arms, it’s pleasing in numerous ways that she would’ve never even dreamed of a few years back.

“Excellent! And you both make each other happy?”

What?” Will spits, his head moving so fast that she half fears whiplash.

“Without a doubt,” only a little, though, for Will has always been pretty good at taking care of himself. She grins fondly at Horatio, settles back into the cradle of Marcus’ arms as the sudden splutters burst into life around them.

“Brilliant! I hope that you’ll be joyous together, and one day get married and have loads of kids and name at least three of them after me… Honestly, I really should search for more mysterious cups!”

“…What?!”

And, finally, Gelda Celt does know why she’s friends with Horatio Nelson. She grins at him, leans up to press a kiss against her Marcus’ lips as Tommy and Will continue to splutter ever so loudly.