Will Graham stood in line with the rest of his peers as he waited for his classmates to finish their summoning.
Summoning was a simple affair. All you needed to do was construct the magic circle - which the instructors had already done for them, find something that could act as a bridge between the human and spirit realm - the summoning stone - and then say the magic words.
Contrary to popular belief, the magic words were not a string of pseudo-latin words or phrases. They were all English. How convenient was that? Incantations in tongue-twisting languages where a single mispronunciation could cost the caster an arm were now a thing of the past.
In recent years, the need for an incantation for the summoning of spiritual familiars was removed altogether. Humans and spirits had had an agreement of sorts. Apparently, human technology had advanced enough such that a more direct means of communication between the two realms could now be established. So now...
You simply phoned them.
The booth - warded with silencing charms and covered in an opaque, blood-red cloth for privacy - had a phone in it. You simply needed to dial the number, and then chat with the spirit who picked up your call. Usually this was the time for contract negotiations. Negotiations could take anywhere from minutes, to hours. Some spirits were rather picky with their owners, so it was possible to get rejected by a spirit. If that happened, you would need to wait for twenty-four hours before attempting another call.
This was Will Graham's fifth attempt at summoning his spiritual familiar.
As his turn approached, he began nervously fiddling with the sleeve of his robe. Biting his lower lip, he anxiously waited.
One by one, students exited the booth with their familiar in tow. All of the familiars he had seen so far were animals - of the magical and non-magical variety. Will had heard stories about people getting hybrid animals, or even humanoids as familiars, but those were exceedingly rare. Spirits that could take on such forms were hard to find and bond with.
He was the last one in line. There was no else behind him.
"You will be fine, Mr. Graham. Everyone gets a familiar. You'll find your match eventually, don't worry about it," his instructor reassured him. Will Graham did not feel reassured.
When it was finally his turn, he ducked into the booth and the cloth fell closed around him, plunging the tiny space into darkness. The only light source came from the brightly-lit display screen on the phone.
Deep breaths. Okay. Let's do this.
Monotonous dialling beeps.
"The number you have dialled is not available-"
A generic female voice came through the receiver. Startled, Will almost dropped the phone. He could feel the panic rising in his chest. Without hanging up, he peeked outside the booth to ask his instructor for help.
But no one was there. The seat where his instructor had been sitting in just a few minutes ago was empty.
"-you have dialled is not available. Please press 'one' to access our index of services. Press 'two' for-"
Dear god. What was he supposed to do now? Should he just hang up and do this another day?
"-to reach Customer Services. Press 'nine' for General Inquiries and Help."
The message went on loop after that. 'Nine' seemed to be a valid option right about now. Will really didn't want to have to arrange for another timeslot to do this again. He could possibly fail this summoning course if he didn't manage to get a familiar by the end of this semester. He had only less than a week left - could he even get another timeslot? He couldn't afford to be held back by a year and risk losing his scholarship just because of this stupid course!
Mustering all the confidence he could, he pressed 'nine'.
"Please wait as we connect you to one of our assistants."
This time, there was actually music. Huh.
Goldberg Variations, Aria.
He didn't know spirits listened to Bach. Hell, he didn't know they were even aware of Bach.
When the dialling tone ended and he was finally connected, a flurry of words in an alien language came through the receiver.
"..." Will wisely remained mute.
God help him now. He should have just hung up earlier when he still had the chance.
"...I'm sorry, I don't understand." Why did he even bother replying?!
More garbled sounds. This was not a human language, that, Will was sure of. If it was a magical one, then it was one he did not recognise.
"I'm really sorry, do you speak Eng-"
The line went on hold - again.
Will sighed. More waiting, it seemed. Again, he toyed with idea of just hanging up - who knew where he was being re-directed now?
This time, it was Requiem in D minor. Lacrimosa. Mozart. Will took as much comfort from the music as he could - he desperately needed it. Any semblance of familiarity was an anchor for what little calm and composure he had left.
The line connected.
The line was still active, but no sounds were coming through. Should he say something?
He hadn't meant it. The words just slipped out. Fuck, fuck, fuck, he should hang up---
"...I beg your pardon?"
Will began spluttering into the phone. "Uh... I-I'm so, so sorry. This is a mistake. I... I dialled the wrong number. I'm sorry for disturbing you, goodbye-"
The stranger - who sounded distinctly male with an European-ish accent from the way he had spoken earlier - stopped him. "Please wait."
Will didn't know what made him listen, but he did.
"...How did you end up on this line, I wonder? There is no human number assigned to my personal line so you must have been re-directed here."
Fuuuuuuuuck. He was in trouble now, wasn't he? "...I was supposed to be summoning my familiar. I-I tried dialling the number, but it didn't work."
"May I ask what were the numbers you dialled?"
"Seven, seven, seven?"
Will was shocked when he heard laughter coming over from the other side. Quite literally, given his current situation.
"My dear child, you needed to dial 'one' for services first. Did your teachers not tell you this?"
"Oh." Will felt himself blush. "That explains the 'this number is not available' message that I got earlier..."
"What did you do afterwards?"
"I pressed 'nine' for help. But the... person... who got my call didn't speak a language I could understand and then, erm. I, uh..." Will trailed off, unsure of how to continue. "Well, you know what happened next."
The stranger hummed. "An error must have happened when they re-directed your call. Most unfortunate that it happened to you, I have to say."
"...Um... yeah, really unfortunate. I-I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm still here. I'll just let you get back to whatever you were doing-"
He sounded amused. "Yes, we should both hang up, shouldn't we? Are you feeling tired, by any chance?"
The non-sequitur took Will by surprise. "Erm... No?" What did this have to do with anything?
"Curious. How do you feel at the moment?"
"...I feel... well?"
"I'm glad to hear that. May I ask your name?"
"It's Will Graham-" He snapped his mouth shut, mentally berating himself.
Shit. That was a stupid, stupid, stupid thing to do. In the realm of summoning, names had power! Will didn't even know the stranger on the other side! Will tried not to think about the many possible things that could happen when a spirit knew his true name.
"Will," the stranger all but purred his name, his voice even and low. It sent shivers - not unpleasant - down his spine. "It is a pleasure to meet you, my dear Will. You may call me Hannibal."
Hannibal. Was that his full name? Will doubted it.
"Are you going to attempt summoning a familiar again?"
"Yeah, probably. I need to get one in order to pass Introduction to Summoning..."
"Hmm. It sounds like you have been facing difficulty in negotiating a familiar. Have you asked your teachers for advice?"
"I have. Their advice is hardly useful," Will honestly told Hannibal. He hesitated saying the next part. "I don't have a problem with the negotiations, it's just..."
"...You don't feel the blossoming of a bond with any of the ones that have picked up your call so far."
Hannibal stole the words straight out of his mouth. "H-How did you-" Will stuttered.
"I merely inferred based on what you have told me, and my past experiences with human-spirit relations. While most humans readily form a bond with a spirit, hence gaining them as a familiar, the bond is often not very strong, and easily breaks." Hannibal paused, letting his words sink in for a moment. "From what I have observed over the years, humans who do not form a bond as readily - like you, Will - typically form a stronger, more permanent bond, with a singular compatible spirit."
"...So basically I'm screwed." Will leaned back, letting his head fall against the back-wall of the booth with a soft thunk.
Will heard Hannibal sigh. "Discouraging you was not my intention. I had meant for you to realise that, somewhere, out there, there is a spirit who will be compatible enough to become your familiar. You should not give up so easily." This was Hannibal trying to cheer him up, huh? While he appreciated Hannibal's good intentions, it didn't change the fact that Will was running out of time.
"...I don't know how many tries I have left. The semester is coming to an end." His voice sounded so small.
Some shuffling sounds came through the receiver. Hannibal didn't reply. Will patiently waited for a minute or so.
"I am afraid I am going to have to cut this conversation short, my dear Will. Alas, duty calls."
Will tried not to let the disappointment show in his voice. "...Oh. Okay. No, no, it's fine. I'm the one who called you..."
"Until the next time I see you, do take care, Will." It sounded like a promise, to Will's ears. He shook his head at the outrageous thought - this was Hannibal just being polite. It was unlikely he was ever going to meet this spirit again.
Will licked his lips, fumbling for words. "I-I will. G-Goodbye Hannibal."
Hannibal chuckled. "Goodbye, Will."
Will put the receiver back on its stand. Slightly dazed by the series of events that had just unfolded, he stepped out from the booth.
"No luck, still, huh?" Oh. The instructor was back and he was talking to Will.
Will shook his head. "Can... Can I arrange another timeslot to try again?" Shoulders slumped, head tilted to one side, Will pulled off the best puppy eyes look he could. His grades - and hence his continued presence in this institution - were at stake here for crying out loud. He suppressed the disdain he felt for allowing himself to do this - he could afford to stoop this low, just this once...
His instructor sighed, tapping his wand against the clipboard he held in his other hand. "Fine. How does... tomorrow, five o'clock sound? You're the only one left who hasn't gotten one, you know."
"T-Tomorrow's fine! I-I will get one then, I promise!"
He sighed again. "Tomorrow's your last chance." He stood up and began tidying up his desk. "We were supposed to close the booth tomorrow for annual repairs. I'm afraid I can't push the repairs back any later than that."
One chance. His last chance.
"T-Thank you! I'm sorry for all the trouble..."
"Go back home and have a good night's sleep. You were in the booth for a really long time. You must be tired."
Will wasn't that tired actually, but he recognised the dismissal in his words, and so he nodded anyway. He picked up his bag and quickly left the classroom.
The next day came too quickly.
Sitting back down in the booth, Will picked up the receiver.
Hannibal's words from yesterday echoed in his mind.
My dear child, you needed to dial 'one' for services first. Did your teachers not tell you this?
Will made sure to dial 'one'.
The line eventually connected.
"Why, hello there. You're an exquisite little thing, aren't you?"
Will tensed up. Every fibre of his very being screamed at him to hang up then and there.
"...E-Excuse me?!" Will squeaked.
"Your soul is delectable. Us spirits can tell, you know. My, what a joy it would be to have you as my human..." the spirit on the other side practically purred as he flirted with him. Will paled.
"Oh, yes. I can picture all sorts of things in our shared future already. It would be glorious, don't you agree?"
"I-I have absolutely no fucking clue what you're going on about." Mad. This spirit was downright mad.
"Cute. Anyway, I'm just teasing you here, there's no way I'm actually going to be able to do anything..." His words contained a hint of regret and sorrow. Will arched a brow at that but did not comment on it. "I don't know why you called the familiar hotline again, but you should know better than try to-"
Will's thoughts came to a halt. What? "Wait, what do you mean by that?" Will interrupted him. "Why shouldn't I call the familiar hotline? I'm a summoner - I'm supposed to call the hotline to find my familiar!"
The spirit on the other side burst into laughter. "Oh, you mean you don't know?"
Will felt dread creeping up on him. It settled heavily in his gut. "...Know what?" he asked.
There were sounds of paper being shuffled around. "You're already taken."
Will's heart gave a lurch. "...No. That... That can't be right. W-Who-"
Hannibal? But that was impossible. Will hadn't felt anything---
"There's no record of a name here, so it's not official. But, your status here clearly says: claimed."
"Yep." He popped the 'p' at the end for emphasis. Will must have screamed that aloud.
"I... I don't- This can't be- I-I don't understand-" Will really wanted the earth to swallow him up right about now.
"The spirit probably put in a claim for you in order to reserve courting rights-"
"Courting rights?!" he squeaked. Will didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"-so that he can woo you into accepting his contract. You must have given consent in some way or another, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to submit the claim."
"You're making it sound awfully lot like paperwork."
"You'd be surprised," the spirit dead-panned.
"Oh god... What do I do now?" Why did this have to happen to him?
"Let the guy court you, silly."
"W-Why should I? I-I don't even know him!"
Well, clearly, Hannibal wanted to know him. Will cringed at how quickly his brain had turned on him.
"Darling, do you know how rare it is for spirits to put a claim on a human? The number of hoops you have to jump through just to get the claim processed is insane. It's bureaucratic hell. Most spirits would rather give up than waste time trying to persuade a human to agree to their contract, seeing that humans are the ones who are supposed to do the persuading in the first place."
"...I don't even know who the person is." That was a lie and a horrifically weak excuse.
"Well, you'll find out soon enough. That's the whole point of it."
"...Could you re-direct me? This is my last phone-call, and I need to reach someone."
"Sure." The answer came too quickly - the spirit had anticipated this. "Who do you want?"
"I don't have his full name..." Why was he even trying to delay the inevitable?
"Us spirits are pretty social. Immortality and all. We all know each other, in some way or another. Just gimme the name, sweetheart, and we can work from there."
Will gulped. "Hannibal," he whispered.
"...Oh sweet Morgana's holy tits," the spirit gasped on the other side.
W-What was that reaction?!
"Hannibal Lecter? The Hannibal Lecter? Oh my god, little summoner, you've just hit the metaphorical jackpot right there-"
Will rested his forehead against the display screen. He wanted this to be over and done with so he could crawl into his bed, curl up and die.
"Do you even know who he is?"
"...No, I don't."
"Holy fuck. Okay. I'm sorry about what I said earlier. The f-flirting and all that. And your soul being tasty and- Look, I meant nothing by it, okay?" The spirit began apologising profusely. "Don't tell Lecter that I said any of that. He will eat me. Pretend the earlier parts of our conversation didn't happen, okay? Please?"
"If you tell me who he is, then I won't say anything."
"Oh god. Okay. The thing is, I-I, erm. I can't. I shouldn't. The fact that you don't know means he probably deliberately kept that piece of information from you. If I tell you now, he will definitely serve me up the next time he has one of those fancy dinner parties of his..."
"What, exactly, can you tell me then?" Shock slowly gave way to righteous anger.
"...He's powerful. Very, very powerful. Ancient, noble lineage."
"Could you put me through to him, please?"
The line connected.
"You utter asshole," Will growled the words into the receiver.
"Good evening, Will."
Hannibal sounded too fucking calm for this. His words exuded a type of calmness that only served to enrage him even further.
"When exactly, did I consent to this?!" Will had replayed their conversation yesterday countless times in his head - he had not said anything that indicated him giving his consent---
"Your magic did. Yesterday, when we spoke."
Will knew Hannibal was not lying. One's own magic often dictated these sorts of things, much to everyone's frustration. Only Hannibal, had decided to use this to his own advantage - and that pissed Will off.
"Now, now, Will. There is no need for vulgarities." Will could hear his patronising smirk.
Will wished he could get over there and wipe that bloody smirk off his damned face---
"I didn't ask for this!"
"Neither did I. Yet... here we are."
"I'm going to fail this course because of you!"
"You will only fail it if you reject my contract. I assure you, my dear Will, that I am open to negotiations regarding the terms in our-"
"No," Will told him firmly.
"No?" Hannibal did not have the right to sound that flabbergasted, goddamnit. He was the victim of manipulation here!
"I'm not going to just sign my life away and bond with you!"
God, that came out wrong. Will had made it sound like marriage - fuck. The very image of them bickering about this over the bloody phone was ridiculous. Will was suddenly infinitely glad that the booth had silencing wards in place already.
"Is the idea of bonding with me so appalling to you, that you are willing to let all your achievements and effort you have put into obtaining and retaining your scholarship, go to waste?" Hannibal was going to go down that route now, was he?
"...I don't even want to know how you found out about that." Will shook his head in disbelief. "That just makes me wonder how much research you've done on me already, you prick."
"How do you see me, Will?"
"W-What do you mean?"
"Yesterday, you were willing to bond with any other spirit from the familiar hotline. What makes me any different from them?"
Oh, that was easy. "They didn't try to manipulate me," Will huffed, rolling his eyes.
"I am offering you the opportunity to rewrite the entirety of the contract that will bind me to you, Will. As long as the changes are within reasonable bounds, I am willing to accept any range of number of amendments."
"The contract will bind me to you, as well. How do I know you won't have something else hidden up your sleeve?"
How could he trust him? After all the shit he had pulled behind his back? Putting a claim on him like that... seriously. Inwardly, Will furiously stamped on the feeling of fluttering butterflies in his stomach.
"Oh, Will." Hannibal sighed, somehow turning the act of sighing into a condescending gesture. "Did Matthew not tell you?" Hannibal sounded way too pleased.
"The spirit with whom you were speaking earlier." Of course Hannibal would know.
"...What about it?" he asked, suddenly wary.
"You have a very enticing soul," Hannibal growled out, voice low.
That should not have sounded even the slightest bit sexual, yet, hearing it come from Hannibal, that was exactly what it sounded like.
"There exists a duality in your soul that I have not witnessed for a very long time. A seed of darkness, wrapped tightly in a protective cocoon of light, just waiting for the right moment for someone to-"
Will tried to fight down the blush on his cheeks. "So, I'm just a neat little experiment for you, am I?" Will prided on himself for not letting his voice waver.
Hannibal let out a small noise of annoyance. Oh, he didn't like being interrupted, did he? Will smirked with satisfaction.
"Of course not. You are beyond that. You do not deserve common spirits as your familiars. You deserve far better. You are a very strong summoner, Will, if you have not realised this yet, and you will only ever reach your fullest potential with an equally strong familiar by your side."
What sort of potential did Hannibal have in mind, Will wondered.
"What's in this for you, then? What do you stand to gain from this?"
"I gain you, of course," Hannibal murmured. "I will gain the right to call you as mine, the right to protect you, the right to nurture your still latent talents in the way they should have been cultivated, to help you pave the path to your own becoming."
"...Is this all you really are, Will?"
Will closed his eyes, trying to put a face to the spirit named Hannibal Lecter. He couldn't. He found himself desperately wanting to, but he simply couldn't.
"I want to see you," Will breathed into the phone.
It would be so easy to just give in. He hadn't quite decided yet.
"So do I, my dear Will." Will could sense the longing - it was burning fervently through his words. Will couldn't bring himself to shy away from it. He was helplessly drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
Will shook his head. No. That was not good enough.
"...I want to see you."
Hannibal. Do you see?
"...And I want you to see me, too."
He imagined Hannibal was smiling, now. Victorious.
"My dearest Will." Hannibal liked to call him that, it seemed. "How does dinner sound?"
A dinner date, already? Will laughed. He could imagine Hannibal smiling at the sound of his laugh.
His wildly active imagination was trying to piece together a mental representation of Hannibal Lecter, but Hannibal's profile kept being deconstructed and then reconstructed just as quickly - there were still too many unknown variables.
"Do spirits even have the concept of meal-times over there?"
"We do. Although we have different rules governing time here."
"How is this even going to work?"
Will wasn't referring to dinner.
"I can simply travel to your realm." The 'whenever' and 'wherever' parts were implied.
Spirits did not simply travel between realms. If all spirits could easily access the human realm, summoners would be out of a job.
"If you could do that, why do you need me?" He had a feeling Hannibal would have an answer prepared already.
"If I wanted an easy means of travelling to the human realm, I would have already gotten a summoner to work for me."
"Where do I even meet you?"
"A place where the space between our realms is thinnest, would be preferable."
"Where will we be going?" Somewhere along the way, he had agreed to this dinner date, apparently.
"We will be having dinner at my home. I will cook for you. Do you have a particular preference for certain foods?"
"Not really. Surprise me."
"I shall endeavour to do just that."