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i need someone like you to lighten the load

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A loud crack echoed over the quidditch pitch, louder than the cheers across the large sports arena similar to a muggle football field, as Lance slammed his bat into the Bludger, watching it with a satisfied smirk as it raced through the air in the direction of Gryffindor chaser Keith Kogane. He was sure that the hit would land this time, after all, Keith was currently distracted as he tried to keep the Quaffle out of the hands of one of the Ravenclaw chasers. So what if he had never managed to get a hit on Keith? This was Lance’s year. He was killing it on the quidditch pitch, and even though it was only a few weeks into the school year, Ravenclaw was already the current favorite to win the quidditch cup.  

And… Keith ducked down on his broom just in time to avoid the Bludger that Lance had aimed at his side.  

Of course he did.  

Lance’s smirk quickly changed to a scowl as he watched the Bludger soar off until one of the Gryffindor beaters slammed their bat into it and the ball went ricocheting back towards Lance.  

“And that’s another 10 points to Gryffindor!” The familiar voice of Matt Holt came over the pitch, “Although I must say that was a valiant effort on Lance Álvarez’s part to take down Keith Kogane-”  

“Alright, that’s enough, Matt,” one of the teachers said. Lance was pretty sure it was Shiro, but he didn’t dare turn around to check, cutting off Matt’s rambling.  

“Right, Professor, so that brings the score to Gryffindor: 50 and Ravenclaw: 30. It’s still anyone’s game. Especially Ravenclaw’s, after all they proved in their last game against Slytherin…” 

“Matt!” 

“Right! Sorry! Oh, and now Romelle Pollux has the Quaffle for Ravenclaw!” 

Lance let his gaze travel across the field quickly, lining up his next shot. There. One of the Gryffindor chasers was closing in on Romelle, no doubt in an effort to attempt a steal.  

Lance held his breath as the Bludger he had aimed towards Keith earlier continued in his direction, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. As soon as it was within reach of his bat, he slammed into it, sending the metal ball careening into the side of the Gryffindor chaser and allowing Romelle the precious time she needed to approach the Gryffindor goal.  

On the other side of the field, Lance could see Keith racing towards Romelle on his Firebolt. And sure, Lance could admit that Keith could fly, but he was far enough back that he’d never catch up to Romelle in time. 

Lance rolled his eyes before nudging his own Cleansweep Seven across the pitch, drawing up next to Keith.  

“Almost had ya that time, Mullet!” Lance shouted above the wind.  

“You wish!” Keith shouted back, without turning to face Lance. “We both know you can’t get a hit on me, Álvarez.”  

Lance let his broom trail backwards, glaring at Keith’s stupid black mullet and stupid red quidditch robes.  

“10 points to Ravenclaw on that amazing shot from Romelle Pollux!” Matt cheered, his voice magically amplified to carry across the field.  

Even with the distance Lance had just put between them, he could still see the way that Keith’s shoulders tightened at the mention of Ravenclaw’s goal. All they would need was one more shot to tie up the match. 

A Bludger whizzed past Lance’s face, and he mentally cursed himself for getting distracted from the game.  

He leaned forward on his broom, chasing after the Bludger so he could cut it off before it slammed into Romelle. Luckily, his Cleansweep was fast enough to get him in front of the magical metal ball and Lance swooped up from below it to slam his bat against it. The ball went flying off towards the opposite side of the pitch, and Lance heard Romelle let out an audible sigh of relief from behind him.  

Just like that, Lance found himself zipping across the pitch as he tried to defend his team from the Bludgers and send (almost all of them) flying back at Keith.  

The score was tied, 70-70 when Lance heard an announcement that made him freeze his broom in midair.  

“Gryffindor seeker Thace Marmora has just captured the snitch! I’m afraid that’s the match everyone. Although, really, no one can deny that Ravenclaw put up quite the fight -” 

Matt!” 

“Right, anyways, so congratulations to Gryffindor, I guess.”  

“No!” Lance groaned, flying over to Romelle. “We totally had them!”  

“No thanks to you,” Romelle snorted, “I swear to god, Lance, every time we play Gryffindor all you do is try to rile up Keith.” 

“That is not all I do!” Lance said, taking both arms off his broomstick to cross them defensively, “I totally saved you from that one Bludger.” 

“Yes, thank you, Lance, for doing your job,” Romelle rolled her eyes. “Come on, let’s go get cleaned up. Matt’s right. It was a good match.” 

“Fine,” Lance agreed, uncrossing his arms to grip his broomstick between one of his gloved hands, still holding his bat with the other.  

He was halfway to the ground before the Ravenclaw seeker, Pidge Holt, caught up to him.  

“Curse my stupid short arms,” they groaned. “I was right next to Thace when he caught the snitch. I was this close to winning the match for us.” 

“Don’t worry about it, Pidge,” Lance said, moving his broom in close enough that he could let go of his broomstick and reach over to ruffle their hair. 

“Stop that!” Pidge snapped, although they sounded more teasing than annoyed as they batted Lance’s hand away from their hair.  

The pair continued down towards the locker rooms in silence, before Lance found himself compelled to break it. “You know, Pidge, you better tell that brother of yours to watch his comments when he’s announcing. I thought Shiro was gonna lose his shit.” 

Pidge shrugged, “It’s not really Matt’s fault that he favors Ravenclaw, since it is his house. Professor Shirogane knows that.” 

“Still,” Lance warned as his feet finally touched the ground and he climbed off his broom, “Matt’s the best quidditch announcer we’ve had. It would be, like, a total bummer if Shiro made him quit.” 

Pidge opened their mouth to respond, but before they could, a black and yellow clad figure came barreling towards them. 

“Dudes,” Hunk panted, as he skidded to a stop at the edge of the quidditch pitch, “that was a great game! Sucks that you lost, though,” he said as he reached out to pull both of them into a bone-cracking consolation hug. 

“Ah… Hunk… buddy…” Lance gasped, “can’t… breathe…”  

“Oh, sorry,” Hunk said, as he hasily set Lance and Pidge back down (Lance hadn’t even noticed that his own feet had risen off the ground, but it was no surprise that Pidge had been dangling in the air).  

“So,” Lance said, as he led the way towards the locker rooms, “we totally would have kicked Gryffindor’s asses if Marmora hadn’t caught the snitch, right, buddy?”  

Hunk frowned, and glanced away from his friends, “I mean… there’s no way to know for sure…” he babbled, and Lance skidded to a stop. 

“You expected us to lose!” He cried, pointing a finger at Hunk dramatically. That traitor. He had probably been cheering Gryffindor on as well.  

“Well, I mean, Lance, buddy, no one can get a hit on Keith. He’s the best chaser Hogwarts has seen in years,” Hunk said, as he wrapped an arm around Lance. “But it’s okay because it’s his final year. Maybe Ravenclaw can win next year.” 

“Oh my god,” Lance whispered. “You don’t think that we can do it.” 

“Yeah, not cool, Hunk,” Pidge added, crossing their arms across their chest. “Everyone knows that if Lance could just stop staring at Keith long enough to actually play the game that we might have a chance.” 

“I do not stare at Keith!” Lance sputtered, feeling his face growing warm. “He’s my rival, I’m trying to beat him.”  

“Sure, man,” Hunk said, “whatever you say.” 

 

< < < > > > 

 

“So apparently Matt said that there was going to be some kind of announcement at dinner tonight,” Pidge said as they caught up to Lance in the hallway outside of Transfiguration class.  

“What kind of announcement? Oh, man, I hope we didn’t lose another Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. I actually like Shiro,” Lance sighed, as he remembered the plethora of teachers that had come and gone in his short time at the school. Shiro was the only one who had come back for a second year in a row.  

“I don’t know, Matt only found out because they told all the prefects to make sure everyone goes to dinner tonight. Dad wouldn’t even tell Matt what it was about.”  

“Weird,” Lance said, as he adjusted his grip on his bag. Sam Holt, Matt and Pidge’s father, was the Headmaster of Hogwarts, but apparently not even that was enough to earn the pair preferential treatment. Not that they needed it.  

Still, even after five full years at Hogwarts, the school never ceased to surprise him. There was always some sort of dangerous creature or forbidden room or staircases that tried to kill you. And, while Hogwarts was easily one of Lance’s favorite places on earth, the ache in his chest from missing home and Varadero beach and his mother’s garlic knots never really went away.  

“So have you finished your potions homework yet?” Pidge asked, and just like that the conversation was swept away from the latest in a long line of Hogwarts oddities and back towards safer topics. 

“Of course not,” Lance replied. “We both know that I didn’t get any work done after Saturday’s quidditch match. And yesterday I had to finish my report for Care of Magical Creatures.”  

“Can you believe that Professor Coran is actually going to bring in a hippogriff next week for us to study?” Pidge asked.  

“Maybe he’ll let us fly on it,” Lance sighed. “Could you imagine how cool that would be?” 

Pidge shuddered overdramatically. “No thanks. I’ll stick to the broom that I have full control over rather than a wild magical beast.”  

“Do you want to go to the library until dinner?” Lance offered, “You can help me work on my potions assignment.” 

“You mean I can write your potions assignment for you,” Pidge grumbled. “But fine. But only if you let me practice my divination tea-reading on you. It’s a waste of a class, really, but…” 

Lance tried to follow along with what Pidge was talking about, but he didn’t really care about whether or not tea leaves were an effective way to predict the future. Instead, all Lance could think about was what kind of announcement could possibly be so important that Headmaster Holt had forewarned the prefects about it.  

Would it be like the time pixies had gotten loose all over the castle and students had to avoid the fourth floor or risk having their hair pulled or tied in knots? Or maybe it would be like that time Peeves had gone missing (he turned up eventually).  

Or maybe it really would be that they were losing yet another Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. It would hardly be surprising. It really had seemed to good to be true when Lance had strolled into Defense Against the Dark Arts two weeks ago for the first time this school year and Shiro had been writing information about stunning spells on the board.  

Lance followed Pidge as they led him into the library, still babbling on about something, which earned them a sharp glare from the librarian. He had a feeling that he wouldn’t be getting a lot of homework done until after he found out what this mysterious announcement was.  

 

< < < > > > 

 

“Silence!” Headmaster Holt called, raising his wand to his throat to magically amplify his voice.  

Lance froze, his mouth hanging open. He was turned around in his seat to talk to Hunk at the Hufflepuff table, but he redirected his attention up to the front of the Great Hall.  

“By now, I am sure that many of you will have heard that I have an announcement to make tonight,” the headmaster said, and Lance instantly straightened in his seat.  

Even after mulling the news over for the better part of the afternoon, Lance still had been unable to decide what the news was going to be. A part of Lance couldn’t help but wonder if all this build-up was for nothing. Maybe the Headmaster was just supper excited about getting new torches in the dungeon. Or something super lame like that.  

“We have recently received word that Hogwarts is going to have the honor of hosting a time-honored tradition in the wizarding world. This event has not taken place in over a century, but after rewriting some of the rules regarding the safety of its participants, the ministry has voted to reinstate the Triwizard Tournament!” 

Beside him, Pidge sucked in a gasp of air. Similar gasps and low murmurs began to spread around the Great Hall, until the room was a roar of voices. 

“What’s the Triwizard Tournament?” Lance whispered. 

“It’s… a contest between the different wizarding schools,” Pidge whispered back. “It’s supposed to be really dangerous.”  

“For those of whom are not aware of the details of the Triwizard Tournament, allow me to explain,” Headmaster Holt continued. “The Triwizard Tournament is a contest of wit, skill, and bravery between three of Europe’s schools of wizardry; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, and Durmstrang Institute. One champion will be chosen from each of the schools to compete in three magical tasks. While the Tournament was originally canceled due to the high death tolls among the contestants, our friends in the ministry and the Departments of International Magical Co-Operation and Magical Games and Sports have worked hard over the summer to guarantee that no student should find themselves in mortal danger.” 

Mortal danger? High death tolls? This is what wizards do for fun!?!” Lance hissed to Pidge.   

“The selection for Hogwarts’ champion will occur on Halloween, just over a month from now. It will be up to the Goblet of Fire to determine which student will be the most worthy to compete for the Triwizard Cup, the glory of their school, and a thousand galleon personal prize money.”  

“That’s a lot of money,” a third voice added, and Lance glanced over to see Hunk leaning across the aisle between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables.  

“I know all of you are probably very eager to compete for the glory of your house and your school, I must inform you that as part of the safety measurements added by the ministry, there has been an age restriction placed on those who may enter the Tournament. Only our most mature students, that is to say the sixth and seventh year students currently completing their N.E.W.T.s, will be able to compete.” 

“Merlin!” Pidge cried. “That’s not fair!” 

Similar cries of outrage echoed around the Great Hall.  

“While I know that this is disappointing to many of you,” Headmaster Holt continued, raising his voice to be heard above the noise, “the safety of our students is the most important factor we must consider. The tasks will still be incredibly difficult, and very likely dangerous. Please, do not try to enter the contest if you are a student below Sixth or Seventh year, as the Goblet of Fire will be impossible to fool.” 

“Finally, the delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be housed here at Hogwarts for the better part of the year. I expect all of you to extend every courtesy to our foreign guests while they are staying with us. I also encourage you to give your wholehearted support to the Hogwarts champion when they are selected. Thank you, students, for your attention. Now, if you would please return to your meal.” As he finished speaking, Headmaster Holt stepped away from the podium he had been standing at. Professor Shirogane quickly stepped up to his side and began whispering something to him. Probably something about the Tournament, Lance concluded as he turned his attention back towards his friends. 

“This blows,” Pidge said, letting out a huff of air. “I’m only a fourth year. I’ll never get to compete. Dad probably designed it this way on purpose.” 

“Um, dude,” Hunk said, “didn’t you hear him? The ministry is involved. I doubt your dad had much say in the matter.” 

“Hunk is right,” Lance agreed, “and anyways, would you really want to participate in life-threatening tasks?” 

Hunk shuddered, before giving up all pretense of sitting at the Hufflepuff table and quickly slipping on to the Ravenclaw bench beside his friends. “I know I wouldn’t.”  

“You aren’t going to enter?” Lance asked Hunk, a little surprised. Sure, he knew that his friend wasn’t the bravest of the bunch, but who wouldn’t want the glory of being the Triwizard Champion?  

“You are?” Hunk asked, his eyes widening.  

“Of course I am,” Lance scoffed. “I’m obviously the bravest, toughest, handsomest guy at Hogwarts.” 

“Handsomest is so not a word,” Pidge muttered.  

“You guys are just jealous,” Lance sniffed.  

Pidge rolled their eyes and Lance could practically hear the mental jealous of what? that seemed to be written on their features. And, okay, Lance knew that he wasn’t actually the bravest, toughest, handsomest guy at Hogwarts as much as he might like to pretend otherwise, but would it really kill his friends to just agree with him for once? 

“So what do you think the other schools are going to be like?” Pidge asked, swiftly changing the subject.  

“I’ve heard some pretty scary stories about Durmstrang,” Hunk admitted quietly, “those guys are supposed to be really intense.”  

“Well I’ve heard that everyone who attends Beauxbatons is stunningly beautiful,” Matt added, making Lance jump. He hadn’t even realized that the older boy was listening to their conversation. 

“Don’t start.” Pidge warned him.  

“Just stating the facts,” Matt said, but the twinkle in his eye was anything but innocent. “The students are going to be staying with us here at Hogwarts almost all year, after all. Attending classes with us, sharing meals with us. There’s no shame in wanting to befriend some of them.” 

“Your Dad pretty much encouraged it,” Lance added, sharing a conspiratory grin with Matt. “So who's to say the fair ladies and gents of Beauxbatons wouldn’t be open to a little romance?”  

“You two are the worst,” Pidge groaned, slamming her head down onto the table. “How did I end up with two of you?” 

Lance reached across the table to give Matt a high-five.  

 

< < < > > > 

 

“Did you hear that Keith Kogane is going to enter the Triwizard Tournament?” One of the Slytherin girls sitting in front of Lance and Romelle during potions class whispered.  

Trying to be subtle, Lance tilted his head forward, hoping to catch the rest of what they were saying. He was supposed to be working on a Pepperup Potion with Romelle, but, well, Romelle tended to do most of the work anyway since she didn’t trust anyone else to do it, so Lance was fairly certain that she wouldn’t mind him abandoning his work in favor of eavesdropping.  

“The Goblet Of Fire will never pick him,” the second girl, a blonde that Lance recognised as Nyma, replied. “Everyone knows that his mother worked with… was a member of the Galra.”  

Lance bit his lip. He had heard the rumors, of course. Everyone at Hogwarts had. It seemed to be common knowledge amongst the students how Krolia had turned against her own family when she brought information on the Dark Lord Zarkon to the Ministry of Magic. She had been instrumental in causing the collapse of Zarkon’s supporters. But that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. All that they cared about was that she had been a known member of the Galra, and now her son was forced to carry that burden as well. And maybe Lance didn’t exactly like the guy, but even he could admit that it wasn’t fair

“But the Goblet is supposed to be an impartial judge,” the first girl whispered back. “And everyone knows that Keith has the top marks in Defense Against the Dark Arts.” 

Lance wrinkled his nose. That was another thing the whole fucking school knew about Keith Kogane. It was hardly a secret that Professor Shirogane had approached Keith and offered to give him advanced private lessons. At first, it had made Lance’s blood boil. Why did Keith get such preferential treatment over the other students? What about him was so special? Sure, Keith was a year older than him and had the best marks in Defense Against the Dark Arts in his year, but so did Lance! That was, like, one of two classes that Lance studied his ass off for. And why? So Keith could get offered private lessons? 

So sure, it had made Lance furious at first. And kind of jealous because he wanted Shiro’s individual attention. But then Lance had joined the duelling club, the duelling club that Keith dominated the same way he dominated the quidditch pitch. And Keith had kicked his ass maybe more than a few times. Which was… embarrassing, at first, except no one else could beat Keith either. And, maybe, just maybe, Lance had realized that Keith had some kind of freakish natural talent that Shiro was trying to harness.  

So maybe he wasn’t so upset about Keith’s top marks in Defense Against the Dark Arts anymore. 

“It doesn’t matter,” Nyma continued. “Headmaster Holt will never allow it. The champion will be someone from a respectable family. Hell, it will probably be his own kid.” 

“Katie isn’t old enough to enter. You really think Matt will be the Hogwarts champion?”  

Lance frowned, his eyebrows creasing as the Slytherin girl used Pidge’s dead name. Not cool, man. 

Nyma shrugged. “Rolo is going to enter, so of course, I hope he gets it. Slytherin deserves to have the champion be from our house. Maybe then we would finally get the respect we deserve.” 

“I heard that Lance Álvarez is going to enter, too,” the other girl said, shooting a glance back behind her towards Lance. 

Lance quickly busied himself with chopping the mandrake root needed for the potion, trying not to look like he was listening to the girls’ conversation even though that was impossible because it was about him.  

“Really?” Nyma asked, sounding skeptical as she followed the other girl’s gaze. 

Lance mentally begged himself not to blush.  

“I don’t know why he’s going to bother,” the first girl continued. “Everyone knows that muggleborns are weaker than purebloods.” 

Lance felt himself bristle. He had been hearing similar comments from classmates ever since he started at school. There wasn’t any actual differences between muggleborns and purebloods or half-bloods. But that didn’t seem to matter to the members of purebloods families. If you were tainted by muggle blood, then you would never be as good as them. It was a belief that Zarkon had exploited to gain pure-blooded followers. 

“Don’t listen to them,” Romelle said softly beside him.  

Lance snapped his head up to look at her. “I wasn’t,” he said with a nervous chuckle. 

Romelle gave him a look that seemed to imply that she knew he was full of shit. 

“Thank you,” Lance said a minute later, quieter.  

Romelle shook her head softly, but it looked like maybe she was smiling. 

“Well I hope Rolo gets chosen,” the first girl sniffed.  

“Who do you think will get chosen?” Romelle asked in a low voice, without looking over at Lance.  

“Honestly?” Lance asked. “I’m not sure.”  

Well that was a flat out lie, but he wasn’t about to admit that he was sure his rival would be the one chosen. 

“Well, I hope you get chosen. It would be nice for Ravenclaw to earn some respect from the other houses. But my money is on Thace Marmora. He’s Gryffindor, the most likely house to get chosen. He doesn’t have the controversial parentage like Kogane.” 

“Interesting choice,” Lance agreed, perching his chin on his hand.  

“There’s a betting pool going on already,” Romelle said, as she stirred their potion while Lance added the mandrake root.  

“Of course there is,” Lance chuckled. “What’s the pot up to?”  

“Almost a hundred galleons. Do you want in?”  

“Nah. I know someone who might though,” Lance answered, sure that Pidge would have her own feelings as the most-likely to be chosen as Hogwarts’ champion.  

“Sorry, class, am I interrupting your conversations?” Professor Iverson snapped from the front of the room. 

Lance quickly snapped his mouth shut and turned back to add more mandrake root to the potion. Silently. The last thing he needed to do was piss off Professor Iverson. That guy was scary. 

 

< < < > > > 

 

“Hey, Kogane,” someone shouted as Lance watched Keith stroll into the mostly empty Great Hall. It was early Saturday morning, so the only people in the Great Hall were members of the Ravenclaw quidditch team before their practice and the few students who cared enough to wake up early to study.  

Lance didn’t recognize the kid shouting at Keith, and apparently the mullet man didn’t either, since he didn’t even look up as he headed in the direction of the Gryffindor table.  

“Heard you want to put your name in the Goblet of Fire,” the voice continued, and Lance glanced behind him to see who was speaking.  

He didn’t recognize the Hufflepuff who had spoken, they looked like they were maybe a few years younger.  

“So what?” Keith snapped. “Practically all the students who can participate are planning on putting their names in.”  

Lance paused with a spoonful of cereal halfway to his mouth, watching as Keith seemed to forcibly push his shoulders back before continuing on towards the Gryffindor table. 

“Well most of the students aren’t the sons of known Galra,” the Hufflepuff boy shouted, drawing the attention of everyone who wasn’t already watching the exchange.  

Keith froze before abruptly pivoting on his heel and stomping over to the Hufflepuff table.  

“You want to say that to my face?” Keith snapped. 

The Hufflepuff kid, probably a fourth or fifth year, stood and pushed away from the table. “Filthy Galra scum shouldn’t be allowed to represent Hogwarts,” the boy said, clenching his jaw. 

Keith shoved his hand into his robe and oh shit! He was reaching for his wand.  

Lance jumped up from the table, his spoon clattering onto the floor as he quickly closed the distance between Keith and himself. Before Keith could draw his hand back out from his robes to reveal his wand, Lance was there, curling his fingers around Keith’s arm.  

Duelling outside of the Duelling Club was strictly forbidden. Everyone knew that. 

“Keith, buddy, you okay?” Lance asked, the question enough to make Keith tear his gaze away from the Hufflepuff to meet Lance’ eyes. 

“Fine,” Keith managed to say through gritted teeth, even though Lance could feel the tension still hanging in the air.  

“Some people just don’t know when to keep their mouths shut,” Lance muttered, as he tried to tug Keith away from the Hufflepuff table. 

“That’s right!” The Hufflepuff kid cried. “Let the baby Galra and the dirty mudblood run away. That’s what you do best, isn’t it?” 

Lance felt his hands clench around Keith’s arm.  

Okay. That was enough. 

“Why don’t you just shut the hell up?” Lance snapped, glaring at the Hufflepuff kid. “Keith can’t help who his parents are, and neither can I. But it doesn’t matter. Who fucking cares? Everyone knows that Zarkon’s organization couldn’t have been dismantled without Krolia’s intelligence, so why don’t you get off your high horse and realize that she single-handedly did what the Ministry never could. Keith has every right to enter the Triwizard Tournament. So take your petty grudges and shove them up your ass.”  

“Lance,” Keith whispered, and now it was his turn to tug on Lance’s arm.  

Funny.  

Keith had never called him by his first name before. 

Dimly, Lance was aware that the few students in the Great Hall were staring, so he let Keith tug on his arm until the giant wooden doors were closed behind them.  

Lance leaned against the stone wall, suddenly grateful for the support as his legs began to shake, the full weight of his actions beginning to catch up to him.  

Keith let go of his arm (Lance hadn’t even realized that he was still holding it) and took a few steps closer, resting against the stone wall beside him.  

“I’m sorry for causing a scene,” Lance said quietly, not wanting to be overheard. “But I saw you going for your wand and… duelling is forbidden. You would have been in so much trouble. They probably wouldn’t have let you enter the Tournament.”  

Keith let out a huff of air. “I know. It was just… instinct.” 

A few seconds of silence passed between them, and it wasn’t quite comfortable but it wasn’t uncomfortable, either.  

“Thank you,” Keith said at last, and when Lance glanced over he thought that he could detect a faint dusting of pink across his pale cheeks. “For… saying what you said.”  

Lance rolled his eyes, eager to establish some sense of normalcy between them. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. You won’t be thanking me when I knock you off your broom in the next quidditch match.” Lance aimed his voice for light and teasing, but it came out a little more strangled than he would have liked.  

Now it was Keith’s turn to roll his eyes. “You’re saying that like you’ll actually manage to get a hit on me.” 

“One of these days, Mullet Man,” Lance warned.  

“You need to let go of your freaky fetish with my hair,” Keith warned, but Lance could see the small smile fighting its way onto his face as they eased back into their bickering.  

“You love it,” Lance countered, making Keith shake his head, the aforementioned black mullet falling into his eyes. 

Lance had to fight with the urge to reach out and brush the hair off of Keith’s forehead, wrestling it back down into the dark recesses of his mind where he shoved most of the thoughts he had about Keith that weren’t directly related to their rivalry.  

“Are you going to enter the Triwizard Tournament?” Keith asked, his voice suddenly turning serious once again. “I… ah… heard that you were.”  

“Aw, you listen to rumors about me? I’m flattered, Kogane. And here I thought the only person you cared about was Shiro,” Lance said, his voice full of fake sincerity. 

Keith scowled. “Forget it,” Keith muttered, as he started to push away from the wall. “If you’re just going to be an ass about it…”  

Shit, no, rewind quickly.  

“Keith, wait,” Lance said, reaching out to grab Keith’s elbow with a gentle grip. “I won’t be an ass. I promise.” 

Keith raised a skeptical eyebrow, but he relaxed back against the wall.  

“I am going to enter the Tournament. It’s like you said, isn’t it? That almost everyone who can enter is going to. I mean, Hunk isn’t. So obviously there are some people that don’t want the glory or the fame or to, y’know, to fight in deadly trials,” Lance cut himself off, aware that he was rambling. Self-consciously, he reached up to rub at the back of his neck. 

“I want to enter, I told Shiro I would enter,” Keith said. 

“You should enter,” Lance said. “You deserve the chance to be the champion of Hogwarts just as much as anybody else.” 

Keith bit his lip. “Not everybody sees it that way.”  

“Screw them. Not everybody thinks muggleborns should have the chance to enter, either.” 

“Who said that?” Keith asked, his head snapping up to face Lance. 

Lance shrugged, his shoulder dragging against the wall. “Some of the Slytherin girls. It doesn’t matter. They don’t get to decide that for us.” 

Keith let out a long breath of air. “You’re kind of alright, you know that? When you aren’t constantly trying to one-up me.”  

“Don’t get used to it,” Lance warned, before clapping Keith on the shoulder. “I have to get down to the pitch. Quidditch practice started, like, ten minutes ago.” 

He’s not sure, but Keith might have called something after him that sounded suspiciously like “Good luck.”  

Huh, maybe Keith could be alright sometimes too. 

Chapter Text

Lance gripped his broomstick in his hands as he trailed behind Pidge out onto the Quidditch pitch. While it wasn’t an official match, the Gryffindor team had agreed to practice with them, making today more into a scrimmage than a usual practice. After their match last week, Lance supposed that was probably a good thing. They needed to come up with a defense that would be more effective against Keith. If the Bludger couldn’t hit him, the chasers couldn’t steal from him, and the keeper couldn’t block his goals… Ravenclaw was going to have a problem.

“Remember,” Romelle said, to the members of the Ravenclaw quidditch team that were gathered around the grass of the pitch, “this is just a practice match, so I’m expecting a clean game.”

The Ravenclaw quidditch team nodded their agreement, before beginning to mount their brooms.

Lance paused, his eyes drawn across the pitch to where the Gryffindor team were mounting their own brooms and beginning to do a few laps around the pitch. Keith was still on the ground, retying the laces on one of his shoes, so Lance let his feet carry him over towards the other boy.

“Ready to face my mad beater skills?” Lance asked, once he was close enough that Keith could hear him.

Keith glanced up, before pushing off the ground. “I don’t know,” he teased, shooting a small smirk at Lance, “you really think you’re going to land a hit on me today?”

Lance scoffed. “I know I will.”

“You’re on,” Keith said, as he quickly swung a leg over his broom. “Race you to the starting positions,” he called as he quickly lifted into the sky.

“That’s cheating,” Lance called, as he swung onto his own broom and took off after Keith.

Keith was laughing from his starting position in the sky as Lance drew up across from him. Lance rolled his eyes, before he turned his attention to Romelle and Thace who were still down on the ground to release the balls into the air. Once the Bludger and the Snitch were flying around, Romelle flew back up to join her teammates. Once she was in position, Thace threw the Quaffle up in the air, starting the practice match, before he climbed onto his own broom.

Lance watched as Romelle dove for the Quaffle, Keith beating her to the ball by mere inches.

And just like that, the match started.

The first few goals occurred quickly, a whirlwind of back-and-forth between Romelle and Keith. The score was 30-40 Gryffindor, when Lance finally saw an open shot against Keith.

He lined up the shot, before swinging his bat through the air, the metal bat slamming into the Bludger with enough force to shake his arm. He watched as the Bludger sailed through the air, straight on a collision course for Keith, who, of course, dipped sideways at the last possible second, allowing the Bludger to sail over his head and collide with Thace who had been behind him.

“Sorry, Thace!” Lance called, “I was aiming for Keith!”

Keith glanced down at the Quaffle he was holding in his hands for a minute, before whipping his arm back and tossing it at Lance. The large leather ball slammed into Lance’s chest, and Lance brought his hands up to catch it before it could fall to the ground.

“Like that?” Keith teased, smirking.

“Oh, it’s on,” Lance called, as he darted closer to Keith to toss the Quaffle back at him.

Keith laughed as he dodged Lance’s clumsy throw (what? He just wasn’t used to the weight of the Quaffle, okay?). The Quaffle sailed past Keith, and Romelle zipped up to catch it before it could fall to the ground.

Lance froze, sure that his quidditch captain was going to scold the two of them for joking around instead of taking the match seriously. Keith appeared to have a similar look of slight fear on his face when Lance glanced over.

“It appears some of our teammates are a little distracted, Thace,” she called to the Gryffindor captain. “It’s a good thing this isn’t a real match,” and with that, she tossed the Quaffle directly at Lance. “I hope you’re a better chaser than you are a beater, Lance,” she teased as she zipped away before Lance could retaliate for the throw.

Keith started laughing. Full on laughing. And Lance was sure it was at the shocked expression on his face.

“Not cool, Ro!” He recovered enough of his dignity to shout at her. But his attention wasn’t on his captain. Instead, it was on the way Keith’s eyes crinkled and his whole mouth seemed to hang open when he laughed.

Lance wasn’t sure that Keith had ever laughed before. At least, not while Lance was around. Surely Lance would remember the dorky sound of it, and the way that it made him seem a little more like a kid and a little less like a stoic old man trapped in the body of a seventeen-year-old.

And half of Lance wanted to fall back into their normal rivalry, demand that Keith shut up, and toss the Quaffle at him, but the other half of Lance just wanted to give in and laugh alongside him.

So that’s what he did.

Somehow, being kinda-friends with Keith felt even better than being rivals with him. Which… was kind of a new concept, because Lance and Keith had been rivals since Lance’s second year when he first joined the quidditch team. And, sure, maybe lately it had been less fighting and more teasing, but this? Sharing smiles and laughs instead of aiming smirks and insults at each other? It was different.

But maybe different wasn’t always a bad thing.

< < < > > >

“Attention, students,” Headmaster Holt said during dinner a few days later. As it always was when the Headmaster spoke, the loud conversations around the Great Hall settled into quiet whispers.

Lance glanced over to Pidge, raising an eyebrow to silently ask if they knew what this was about. Pidge shrugged, looking just as confused as Lance was sure he did.

“I have just received news from the Ministry today with regards to the Triwizard Tournament. The Department of Magical Games and Sports has decided that the stress of both the Triwizard Tournament and the N.E.W.T.s will likely be too intense to allow students to safely focus on anything else. As a result of this, the Ministry has voted to cancel Hogwarts’ Quidditch Cup this year.”

Loud exclamations of disappointment echoed around the hall, and Lance felt his own jaw drop open.

“What?!” Lance heard himself exclaim. He couldn’t not play Quidditch this year. It was Keith’s final year at Hogwarts. He finally had to prove that he could take down the Mullet Master, himself. If the Quidditch season was cancelled…

“You can’t do that!” A voice boomed over all the others.

Lance followed the direction of the voice to see Keith standing at the Gryffindor table, his wand held to his throat so that his voice would be magically broadcast across the Great Hall.

“This is the seventh years’ final chance to play,” Keith continued, and wow okay. Keith definitely didn’t like to be the center of attention. If he was willing to stand up in the middle of the Great Hall and yell at the Headmaster, then he must be even more upset than Lance was.

And no surprise really, since it was actually Keith’s seventh year. This really would be his last year to play Quidditch unless he went on to play pro.

“I understand that you’re upset, Mr. Kogane,” Headmaster Holt said calmly. “But I assure you that this decision is beyond my control.”  

Keith tore his wand away from his throat, crossing his arms before dropping back down into his seat at the end of the Gryffindor table. Even from the opposite side of the Great Hall, Lance could see the red flush that was steadily spreading across his face.

“I am very sorry to inform you of the Ministry’s decision. I am just as upset as many of you. However, I hope this will not affect your excitement for the Tournament itself. The other schools will be arriving in a few weeks. I trust you will treat them with the same kindness and courtesy you would show them if the quidditch season were continuing as planned.

“This sucks,” Lance groaned, sinking down on the table to rest his chin in his hands. “This was finally going to be my chance to show Keith that I’m a better quidditch player than he is.”

Pidge stifled a chuckle, so Lance narrowed his eyes at them.

“Aren’t you upset? You’re missing out on a year of quidditch, too.”

Pidge shrugged. “The Triwizard Tournament is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I can play quidditch again next year.”

“I mean, yeah, the Tournament sounds cool,” Lance allowed. “But only one person from the school gets chosen so it’s not really the same, y’know?”

“Are you saying that if you get chosen for the Tournament you want to deal with that, and with getting ready for our N.E.W.T’s next year, and competing for the Quidditch Cup? The ministry is right, that’s too much.”

“Well, yeah” Lance agreed. “But only for the person who gets chosen.”

“Wrong,” Pidge said. “We’re all going to watch the trials, and I’m sure there’s going to be all kind of events since the other schools are visiting. This year is about to get crazy.”

“I hate it when you’re right,” Lance informed them, reaching across the table to poke Pidge on the nose.

They batted his hand away. “I’m always right.”

“Still,” Lance let his gaze wander back across the room towards the Gryffindor table. “You feel bad for the seventh years that don’t get to play Quidditch their final year here.”

Pidge followed his gaze. “Keith seemed to take it pretty hard,” they commented.

“I don’t care about Keith,” Lance said quickly. Too quickly.

“Sure you don’t,” Pidge rolled their eyes.

“I don’t, it just sucks that I won’t get the chance to prove myself against my rival. That’s all,” Lance snapped as he flickered his gaze back to face Pidge, feeling his face heat up against his will.

“Okay,” Pidge said, holding up their hands in surrender. “Sorry I said anything.”

Lance grumbled something under his breath about how annoying little fourth years could be, but he still let his eyes get drawn back across the room towards the Gryffindor table.

< < < > > >

Lance was walking down to his Care of Magical Creatures class when he saw Keith and the other Gryffindor seventh years emerge from the Greenhouse.

Lance slowed down, adjusting the strap of his leather school bag on his shoulder while he waited for most of the Gryffindors to pass him. Keith was, as always, by himself at the back of the group. A few of the other Gryffindor seventh years shot Lance weird looks, which made sense as he was just loitering on the grounds outside of the Herbology Greenhouse, but Lance ignored them.

“Hey there, John Stamos,” Lance greeted, falling into step beside Keith even though that meant that he was headed in the wrong direction. He had been early, anyways.

“John Stamos?” Keith echoed. “I don’t even know who that is.”

Lance waved a hand lazily. “Muggle actor. Famous for having a mullet on an old TV show.”

Keith rolled his eyes. “Of course. What do you want, Lance?”

Lance sucked in an overdramatic breath, as he placed one of his hands over his heart. “Keith, buddy, my man, why do you think that I need to want something to talk to you?”

“Because you’re supposed to be heading down to Care of Magical Creatures right now, and instead you’re walking back to the castle with me,” Keith stated.

And, wow, okay. Keith knew his schedule.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Lance said.

“There it is,” Keith nodded.

“It’s not about anything bad,” Lance snapped, feeling defensive. “I just wanted to check on you, since you seemed pretty upset yesterday.”

“Oh,” Keith said quietly, and it seemed like maybe he was blushing but it was hard to tell with his black hair hanging into his face.

“And, I mean, it totally sucks that we don’t get to play quidditch this year,” Lance continued. “Because this was finally going to be the year that I proved I could knock you off your broom.”

“You say that every year,” Keith said, but he was grinning.

“And now we’ll never know if it would have been true,” Lance mourned. “And sure, Ravenclaw will probably be able to win the Quidditch Cup next year, but it doesn’t mean anything if the only reason that we won was because you’re gone.”

Keith stopped walking, before turning to face Lance. “Do you really mean that?” He asked, and he didn’t seem like the cool-and-collected rival that Lance had come to know and expect. He sounded… almost nervous.

“Of course I do,” Lance said, slinging one of his arms around Keith’s shoulder. “Don’t let that go to your mullet though.”

Keith shook his head, before reaching up to push Lance’s arm off of him. “Go to class, you’re going to be late.”

“Like Professor Coran would care,” Lance scoffed. “I’m his favorite student.”

“Well then let me go to class,” Keith said. “Because I’m going to be late.”

“To your free period?” Lance asked, and okay, maybe he knew Keith’s schedule, too.

“Some of us have to study for our N.E.W.T.s,” Keith said, not looking all that surprised that Lance knew that he didn’t actually have another class after Herbology.

“You have all year to worry about them,” Lance said, “why start now?”

“Get to class,” Keith said again, “and leave me and my study habits alone.”

“Fine!” Lance called, as he started to walk back down the hill in the direction of the outdoor animal pens.

“Hey, Lance,” Keith called after him, causing Lance to stop in his tracks.

Lance shoved his hands into the pockets of his school robes and turned around, closing the small distance that had formed between them. “Yeah?”

“I’m gonna miss playing quidditch with you, too,” Keith admitted, kicking at the ground softly with one of his shoes.

Lance felt a smile creep over his face.

“Really?”

And he probably looked like an idiot, fucking beaming at Keith, but honestly, who cared?

“I’m not going to say it again,” Keith warned. “But yeah. Really.”

“Aw, Keith, I never knew you were such a softy,” Lance teased, but there was no malice behind it.

“Shut up,” Keith grumbled. “I’m just… not very close to a lot of people. So, you know, it was cool to, like, be friends, or whatever. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it.”

And Lance’s brain just about overloaded. Keith thought they were friends? The great Keith Kogane, quidditch star and Defense Against the Dark Arts protégée, thought that they were friends?

And sure, they hadn’t really been the enemies that Lance claimed they were since before fourth year, but Lance hadn’t realized that Keith thought of him as a friend. Let alone that he might be one of the only friends the other boy had.

Lance could be a much better friend if he actively was aware of the fact that he was said-person’s friend.

“You know, just because we can’t play quidditch anymore doesn’t mean that we can’t still be friends,” Lance offered.

Keith looked up from the ground that he had been burning holes into with his eyes. “Wait, seriously?”

“Yeah, dude, of course,” Lance said.

“Okay,” Keith said softly. “So, I’ll see you around?”

Lance chuckled, “Yeah. See you around.” Lance turned on his heel, making sure to give Keith one last little wave over his shoulder before he continued back down the hill. By now most of Ravenclaw were probably already down waiting with Professor Coran. Hell, class might have even started.

But Lance couldn’t find it in himself to care.

Keith, Keith, thought that they were friends. He wanted to be friends with Lance.

Lance found himself whistling to himself as he drew up next to Pidge, who shot him a weird look.

“What’s with the good mood?” They asked with a frown. “I thought you were, like, all bummed out about quidditch.”

“It’s a good day today,” Lance answered honestly.

The song he was whistling might have been the Full House theme song. Whatever.

< < < > > >

“Did you just see that?” Hunk asked one day while they were sitting in the courtyard playing Exploding Snap.

“Nice try, buddy,” Lance said, as he lined up his next shot. “But I’m not that easy to fool.”

“No, seriously,” Hunk said again. “Do you see that?”

“It looks like -” Pidge started, and okay, if Pidge was talking about it, then Lance knew it was legit. Lance looked up, following Hunk’s and Pidge’s gazes right up to the sky where, sure enough, something was descending from the clouds.

“No way,” Lance muttered. “It can’t be.”

And it couldn’t be, but sure enough, the flickering shapes that Hunk had spotted darting through the clouds were drawing close enough to make out their body shape: long, thin legs that ended in delicate hoofs, feathered wings spread wide and they soared closer to the castle, silver manes and tails blowing in the wind.

“- are those Pegai?” Pidge finished.

Lance pushed himself off the ground, joining the dozens of other Hogwarts students that were racing to the opposite edge of the courtyard, where the towering stone walls gave way to open-aired windows that faced the Hogwarts grounds.

Because they had already been in the courtyard, Lance, Hunk, and Pidge were among the first to arrive at the windows, just in time to see the team of winged horses pull a large, majestic blue and silver carriage into view.

“Merlin’s beard,” Pidge said with a quiet whistle. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Lance hadn’t either, and the same giddy feeling erupted in his chest as it did every time he encountered something amazing and unexpected in the wizarding world. It was like being chosen by his wand at Ollivander’s, having the Sorting Hat placed on his head, and playing quidditch for the first time all at once.

“That is… crazy!” Hunk said, crowding closer so that Lance was forced to grab on to the edge of the window or risk falling out of it.

“I heard that’s the Beauxbatons student envoy,” someone said, and Lance glanced backwards just in time to see Nyma cutting her way to the front of the crowd.

“Some people know how to arrive in style,” Lance commented.

The team of winged horses swept past the window, each of the horses easily the size of an SUV. They appeared to be heading down in the direction of the grounds. Straining his eyes, Lance made out the small, ginger-haired figure of Coran as he danced across some sort of homemade runway with the paddles used to guide muggle aeroplanes in his hands. Ridiculous.

The pegai glided down, until their feet connected with the earth and they continued to run forward, dragging the carriage along behind them until all of its wheels were safely nestled on the ground.

The Hogwarts students around Lance let out a series of cheers, laughter, and clapping.

“Uh… everyone?” Someone, Lance was pretty sure it was Shay’s brother, Rax, said. “There’s something coming out from the lake.”

Immediately, everyone sprinted across to the opposite side of the courtyard, where the windows opened up to look down the rocky bluffs to the lake below.

Lance fought his way through the crowd of students, until he was torn away from Pidge and Hunk by a few overzealous third years.

“Hey!” Lance said, as he yanked his school robes out of their grip, “Watch it!”

He stumbled forward, colliding with the person in front of him when someone shoved him from behind.

“Sorry!” Lance apologized, but he never even saw who it was that he had bumped into because suddenly a hand was wrapped around his arm and someone was tugging him through the crowd.

“Hey! I’ll have you know that Lance Álvarez doesn’t appreciate being manhandled,” he said, just as he was yanked up onto a small stone bench set against the outer wall of the courtyard.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” a familiar voice commented dryly.

“Keith!” Lance exclaimed, finally able to actually see the person who had dragged him through the crowd. “I thought you were, like, some weird stranger.”

Keith rolled his eyes. “Of course you did. Now, turn around, or you’ll miss it.”

“Miss what?” Lance asked, but he followed Keith’s advice and turned around on the stone bench he and Keith were standing on so that he could see out of one of the windows.

The lake stretched in front of him, but it was British water, all choppy waves and navy blues, not the calm, silver waters of Lance’s childhood.

“Do you see it?” Keith asked, pointing over Lance’s shoulder to something in the distance.

Lance squinted, peering through the morning fog.

There.

Something was rising from the waves.

At first, all that could be seen was a large, brown piece of wood, like a tree without any branches. But this was shortly followed by the rest of the ship, itself, which burst from the water suddenly. Startled, Lance took a half step backwards, coming close enough to the edge of the bench that Keith reached up to grip his arm again.

The ship looked like something from a pirate movie. And the way it burst from the water was giving Lance major Pirates of the Caribbean flashbacks. Like, this ship could have definitely belonged to Davy Jones.

The ship settled back down into the waves, releasing a large white sail that curled open to reveal the image of a red dragon.

Wicked.

“Man, I don’t know which entrance was cooler,” Lance gushed, as he hopped back down from the bench. “We better get down to the Great Hall, it’s almost time for dinner. I bet the other schools will be joining us.”

“Probably,” Keith agreed, as he jumped down from the bench and landed beside Lance. “But is it really that big of a deal? It’s just more people.”

Lance laughed at the way Keith wrinkled up his nose as he spoke. Cute, his brain supplied unhelpfully. Not cute, he corrected silently. Former rivals were not to be found attractive.

(Okay, yes, there had been that… thing that Lance had for Keith back in fourth year, but he didn’t like to talk about it).

“You say that like it’s a bad thing, Mullet,” Lance said.

“Isn’t Hogwarts crowded enough? How are we even gonna fit more people into the Great Hall?”

“I guess we’ll find out,” Lance shrugged.

“Well, let’s go meet the competition, I guess,” Keith said with a sigh, as he followed Lance back into the castle.

< < < > > >

Keith followed Lance into the Great Hall before they had to separate to go to their separate tables. Two extra tables had been brought into the Great Hall, and they faced horizontally across the front of the room before the raised platform that contained the teacher’s table.

Lance dropped down into his usual seat on the side of the table that shared an aisle way with the Hufflepuff table so he could talk to Hunk, and he waited for the rest of his friends to arrive. Pidge, Hunk, and Shay came rushing into the room shortly after he had sat down, so Lance waved Pidge over.

“Did you see the ship?” He asked, as Pidge plopped down next to him.

Pidge nodded. “Yeah, we lost you in the crowd, though.”

Lance shrugged, “It’s okay, Keith managed to find me.”

“Oh, did he?” Pidge asked, looking entirely too pleased with the information.

Lance rolled his eyes, but he was saved from responding by Headmaster Holt stepping up to the podium at the front of the hall.

“Attention, students,” he declared. “I have some exciting news to share. Today, our friends from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and Durmstrang Institute have arrived. So please join me in welcoming the lovely students from Beauxbatons Academy and their Headmaster Alfor Altea.” As he finished speaking, Headmaster Holt held out his hands, gesturing towards the doors to the Great Hall.

Lance turned around in his seat, leaning out into the aisle.

The doors leading into the Great Hall swung open, revealing a few dozen students wearing beautiful blue and silver silk robes. The girls were wearing dresses that ended above the knee, light cloaks tossed over their shoulders, and cute little blue pointed hats perched on their heads. The boys were wearing blue and silver buttoned waistcoats with tails over simple charcoal pants.

And the worst part? Or maybe it was the best part?

They were all stupidly attractive.

Lance instinctively found his gaze drawn to the girl walking in the front of the group. She was beautiful, her long white hair loose and flowing down to the center of her back, the color startling against the offset of her dark skin. She was stunning. None of the other Beauxbatons students managed to capture Lance’s attention in quite the same way, despite being some of the most beautiful people he had ever seen. It was like there was something about her that kept calling his attention to her.

The Beauxbatons students strolled down the center aisle way towards the front of the Great Hall, close enough that Lance got whiffs of their perfume and cologne as they swept past his table.

Once the Beauxbatons students were halfway through the Great Hall, they spread their arms open like they were wings, delicate blue butterflies springing into existence from their gloved hands. Wandless magic. Amazing.

“I think I’m in love,” Lance whispered to Pidge, as the Beauxbatons students drew to a stop at the front of the room before sweeping into low bows and curtsies.

“Of course you are,” Pidge muttered.

Trailing behind the Beauxbatons students was an older man, who looked similar to the girl that had lead the procession. He shared her dark skin and white hair, his was cut so that it hung around his shoulders, and he had a close-trimmed white beard. For being a middle-aged man, Lance had to admit that he looked pretty damn good.

“Sam,” the older man, Headmaster Alfor Altea, Lance remembered, greeted, as he stepped up to clasp Headmaster Holt’s hand.

“Alfor,” Headmaster Holt said, before gesturing towards one of the open seats at the teacher’s table. “Please, have a seat.”

Alfor gestured with his hands to his students, and the Beauxbatons students stepped up neatly to one of the open tables and sat down delicately.

“And now,” Headmaster Holt continued, “Please welcome our guests from Durmstrang Institute and Headmistress Haggar Daibazaal.”

The doors to the Great Hall swung open again, this time to reveal two neat rows of stern-faced students clad in red and black militaristic robes. Each of them was holding a tall metal staff the size of their body, and many of them were wrapped in fur cloaks.  

The twin rows of students stomped into the room, sparks flying every time their staffs connected with the stone floor. They passed by the house tables without even glancing down at the Hogwarts students, keeping their eyes directly ahead.

Lance watched as they walked past him, and it was easy to see why so many Hogwarts students were already predicting that the winner of the Tournament would be a member of Durmstrang Institute.

Two figures brought up the rear, a woman draped in so many robes that it was difficult to see her face aside from her pale hair and sharp chin, and a tall young man with long white hair and tan skin. His features were sharp and delicate, almost elfin, but the wicked grin on his face seemed to promise that there was more to him than meets the eye.

“That’s Lotor Daibazaal,” Pidge said quietly. “It’s rumored that he’s already being scouted by quidditch teams from across Europe. He’s one of the best seekers of our generation.”

The Durmstrang students reached the front of the room, and one of them, a girl with bright red hair, dropped down to her knees and pulled her wand up to her lips. Just as Lotor and the Headmistress reached the front of the room, she let out a breath and the air escaping from her lips transformed into the form of a brilliant, fiery dragon that seemed to open its mouth and roar before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Lance clapped his hands together, joining many of the other Hogwarts students who were clapping excitedly at the magic display.

“Haggar,” Headmaster Holt greeted, stepping down from the raised platform at the front of the Great Hall to offer her his arm.

“Samuel Holt,” she returned. “It is a pleasure, as always.” The older woman took the arm that Headmaster Holt offered her, and allowed him to lead her up to her seat at the teacher’s table while the Durmstrang students settled themselves at their own table.

Once he had settled the Headmistress, Headmaster Holt returned to his podium.

“Welcome, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students to our fine school. I hope you will enjoy your stay with us for the year, and please remember, while the Triwizard Tournament is a very exciting event, it should not interfere with your studies. We are dedicated to providing you with the best education that we can while you stay here at Hogwarts. Now, with regards to the Tournament, I have some news to share that I am sure you will all be dying to hear.”

Headmaster Holt paused, and turned to gesture for Shiro to step forwards.

Professor Shirogane raised his wand to his throat, amplifying his voice. “As many of you are already aware, only students above sixteen years of age - that is, sixth and seventh years - may participate in the Triwizard Tournament. To ensure this, the champions will be chosen by… the Goblet of Fire!”

As Professor Shirogane finished speaking, Professor Blaytz stepped into the room from the trophy room in the back of the Great Hall, levitating a large stone chalice that was emitting a soft blue flame. He carefully lowered his wand until the chalice’s base settled on the ground in between the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang tables.

“To ensure our students' protection, the Goblet of Fire will be placed in the trophy room for any eligible students to enter. And, as an added safety measure,” Headmaster Holt said, “I have drawn an age-line of my own creation around the Goblet. Should someone underage try to fool the Goblet, there will be consequences.”

“He did that just to stop me,” Pidge mourned.

“To enter the Tournament, one must only write their name on a slip of parchment before casting it into the flame before this hour next week. But I must warn you, do not do this lightly! If chosen, there is no turning back. As from this moment, the Triwizard Tournament has officially begun.”

< < < > > >

Lance studied the Goblet of Fire. Up close, it was easy to see how impressive it was. The Goblet, itself, was taller than he was. The blue flames flickering over the trophy room cast an eerie glow, bathing everything in the unnatural color.

“There must be a way past the age line,” Pidge was muttering, scowling as they scribbled something into a piece of parchment.

“Can I borrow a piece of that?” Lance asked, as he stole a piece of parchment and quill from Pidge’s bag. “Thanks.”

“You’re seriously gonna enter, dude?” Hunk asked, chewing on his fingernails.

“Of course!” Lance replied, as he glanced back at the Goblet. So far, none of the other students loitering in the trophy room had crossed the age-line to enter their names.

And as much as Lance liked being the center of attention, in this case, he would really rather not be the first to put his name into the creepy blue fire.

Finally, someone seemed to grow tired of waiting, because they stomped across the room and stopped right in front of the age-line.

Keith.

Of course. Of course it would be Keith to be the first to enter the Tournament. That was just so like him.

Although, they were supposed to be friends now, so maybe Lance should try to be a little more supportive.

Taking a deep breath to steel himself, Lance scribbled his name onto the corner of the parchment before ripping it off and strolling over to Keith. “Haven’t lost your nerve yet, Mullet?” He asked as he stopped so that he was standing directly next to Keith, both of their faces turned towards the Goblet.

“No,” Keith said, without turning to look at him. “I was just thinking about something that Shiro always says.”

Lance felt a pang of jealousy stab through him, but he quickly forced it down. “What does Professor Shirogane usually say?”

“‘Patience yields focus’” Keith said, in a low voice that was obviously meant to sound like Shiro, despite sounding nothing like Shiro. “He wants me… to stop rushing headfirst into everything. So I’m trying to really think about this before I put my name in. It’s like Headmaster Holt said. Once you’re chosen, you have to compete.”

“Right,” Lance agreed, “but we both know you’re gonna end up putting your name in. So I don’t think Shiro will get mad if you’re the first one to enter.”

This time, Keith did turn to look at him, raising an eyebrow. “You don’t want the glory of being the first one to enter?”

“Um… actually, I think we’re both about to lose our chance at that,” Lance muttered quietly as one of the Durmstrang students, the one that Pidge had recognised, stomped up to the edge of the age-line with a scrap of parchment in his hand.

He lifted one of his feet carefully, and was about to cross the line, when Keith muttered “Hell no,” and stormed through the age-line before Lotor could cross.

The blue age-line flickered as it registered Keith’s presence, but it didn’t do anything to him.

Keith lifted his scrap of paper in his hands and held it gently towards the flame. Unlike normal fire, the blue flames didn’t reach out to catch the paper in their grip, instead the paper vanished entirely. Almost as if it had never been there.

Keith smiled smugly at Lotor as he spun on his heel and headed back towards Lance. Lotor frowned, but otherwise gave no indication that Keith had just beaten him to be the first to enter the Tournament as he crossed the age-line and submitted his own name.

“Okay,” Lance said, rubbing his hands together once Lotor had exited the circle created by the age-line. “Here goes nothing.”

Lance stepped forward, feeling the magic of the age-line brush against him. Once again, the blue flickered slightly as it registered his presence, but it did nothing. Maybe the anti-age line was just a joke to keep the younger students away from the Goblet.  

This close, it was easy to tell that the blue fire was magical. Not only was its color unnatural, but the fire, itself, gave off no heat.

Lance lifted his scrap of paper, holding it close to the flickering flame until it vanished into thin air the way that Keith’s had.

Now, it wasn’t up to him if he would be chosen as Hogwarts’ champion. And, realistically, Lance knew that the Goblet probably wouldn’t pick him. It would pick someone who was worthy of being chosen. Someone amazing at everything they tried to do.

Someone like Keith.

But at least he had tried.

Right?

Chapter Text

Pidge leaned closer to Lance during their free period the next morning. “I think I might have figured out how to get past the age-line,” they whispered, keeping their voice low since they were in the library.

“Seriously?” Lance asked, raising an eyebrow skeptically. “I’m sure your dad would have thought about anything you might come up with.”

“Not so,” Pidge protested. “My dad severely underestimates me. An anti-age line.” They shook their head with a quiet scoff.

“So how are you gonna get past it?” Hunk asked, leaning across the table to join in on the whispered conversation.

“An aging potion. It’s the perfect solution. It will temporary age my body, fooling the age-line into thinking that I’m old enough to enter. I’m a genius.”

“Very humble, Pidge,” Lance said. “Do you really think your dad wouldn’t have thought of that, though?”

“The age-line is a threat. Honestly, I’ve toyed with the idea that it’s a decoy and it doesn’t actually do anything. I was thinking of asking one of the first years to try and cross it for me…” Pidge muttered, as she scribbled something onto the parchment in front of her.

“Pidge!” Shay scolded, finally looking up from her Herbology essay. “What if they got hurt?”

“That’s why I ultimately ruled it out,” Pidge confessed. “There were too many unpredictable variables.”

“You’re evil,” Lance informed her.

“An evil genius, maybe,” Pidge allowed. “So are you going to help or not?”

“Depends,” Lance shrugged. “What do you need?”

“I need some ingredients from the potions storage room. I think I’ve already found the perfect place to make the potion. There’s a girls bathroom that everyone completely avoids,” Pidge said.

“You need someone to steal ingredients from Iverson?” Lance asked, disbelief heavy in his voice. “You’re actually insane! Well, count me out!”

“Hunk,” Pidge pleaded, “you’ll help me, right?”

Hunk sighed, glancing at Shay out of the corner of his eye. “I guess,” he agreed.

“Perfect!” Pidge cackled. Literally cackled. Like a demon.

Even though they were friends and he was used to this from them, Lance shuddered. Pidge could be scary.

“Well, good luck, I guess,” Lance said, as he stole the piece of parchment from Pidge and scanned it over. A list of ingredients, notes on someone named ‘Myrtle’ who apparently frequented the bathroom they were planning on using to brew the potion, and observations on how the age-line had reacted when different students had crossed it.

Pidge snatched their parchment back, before ripping off the half of it that contained the list of ingredients and handing it across the table to Hunk. “That’s what I need. Try not to get caught. Iverson already thinks I stole ingredients earlier this year to brew hangover-relief potions.”

“You did!” Lance cried. “And you sold them to the upperclassman for ten galleons a piece! That shit was expensive. You didn’t even give me a best friend discount,” Lance pouted.

Pidge rolled their eyes. “Why would you even need a hangover relief potion, Lance? You don’t drink.”

“Well, maybe someday I’ll get invited to a super cool seventh year party. You never know, Pidge.”

“Sure, Lance,” Pidge said. “But best friend discounts only go to those who help me with my work.”

“You’re punishing me because I don’t want to steal from Iverson for you? Not cool, Pidge!”

Pidge shrugged. “Hunk is willing to help me.”

Hunk’s crazy!” Lance exclaimed, earning their library table a sharp glare from some of the nearby students. “No offense dude.”

“I’m not crazy!” Hunk defended. “But Pidge scares me more than Iverson.”

Which… was a fair statement, actually.

Pidge pushed their glasses up on their nose. “So are you going to help me or not?”

Lance shook his head, pushing his chair away from the table. “Count me out of this one, guys. I’m heading back to the dorms.”

“Suit yourself,” Pidge said with a shrug, as they returned to their notes. “But I’ll be in the girl’s bathroom on the second floor if you decide you want to be useful for once in your life.”

Lance took a steadying breath. He loved his friends, but sometimes Pidge knew just what to say to cut him down to his core. He gave Hunk and Shay a tiny wave over his shoulder, before he scooped his school bag off of the floor and made his way towards the library exit.

The door swung open just as he was about to grab the handle, and Lance jumped back a step so that the person entering the library didn’t run him over.

It was the Durmstrang seeker, Lotor, who sneered at him as he shouldered past Lance into the room.

Lance swallowed back an audible complaint. Something about the guy seemed to promise pain to anyone who questioned him, and Lance had already had quite enough of verbal insults for one day.

Lance followed Lotor’s back as he dropped down at one of the tables that already contained a few Durmstrang students, all girls - including the red-haired one who had created the fire dragon the night before. There was a pile of textbooks on the table, although none of them were open.

One of the girls, the one with short dark hair, glanced up and narrowed his eyes when she caught his gaze.

Trying to look nonchalant, Lance quickly averted his gaze and made his way hastily out of the library.

< < < > > >

Lance had good intentions of returning to his dormitory, maybe finishing his Charms essay, and then meeting back up with Hunk, Shay, and the other Hufflepuff sixth years for Transfiguration. Of course, all of those good intentions went out the window when he passed an empty classroom and heard voices coming from inside.

“Your stance is good,” someone was saying, “but you need to adjust your grip on your wand. You don’t want to clutch at it like it’s a knife, you need to relax your hand.”

Lance stopped walking, backing up a few steps until he could peek through the cracked door.

Shiro and Keith were standing inside, facing each other across a mat, both of their wands raised and at the ready.

“Come at me again,” Shiro instructed, as he silently cast a shield spell. The yellow glow flickered around him, proof that even if Keith hit him with something, Shiro wouldn’t feel it.

“Flipendo!” Keith cried, as he flicked his wrist, a stream of white light shot from his wand, sparking as it collided with Shiro’s shield.

“Better,” Shiro said with a smile.

Once again, Lance felt the familiar pang of jealousy that only Shiro’s mentorship of Keith could inspire in him. He shouldn’t watch. This was obviously a private moment.

Lance leaned against the stone wall so that he could see through the small crack in the door better, he could see Shiro’s profile, and some of Keith’s.

“I just don’t understand why you’re making me practice this spell,” Keith complained. “I mastered it years ago.”

“I know it seems like a simple spell, Keith,” Shiro said calmly, “but sometimes it’s the simplest spells that have the most effect. This could prove very useful to you in the Triwizard Tournament.”

“You say that like you know I’m going to get in,” Keith said in a quiet voice. And wow, okay, Lance had never heard him sound so… unsure of himself.

“You’ll get in,” Shiro said. “I believe in you.”

Lance closed his eyes briefly. Keith was awesome, and yes, he deserved to have Shiro believe in him. But there he was complaining about reviewing a simple spell when dozens of other students would kill to be given private lessons from Shiro. When Lance would kill to be given private lessons from Shiro.

“But what if I don’t?” Keith asked, his voice cracking. “I want to live up to what you see inside of me, but I just… don’t see it. I’ll never be as powerful as my parents were.”

“Is that what this is about?” Shiro asked quietly. “Keith, your parents would be so proud of you. You’re doing amazing in your schooling, you want to follow in your dad’s footsteps and become an auror. How can you not see that?”

“I don’t know!” Keith cried. “I just… feel like I have something to prove. All the time.”

“Is it because of what that Hufflepuff student was saying the other day?” Shiro asked.

“How did you even hear about that? Never mind, I know you know everything that goes on here. I don’t know. Maybe it is… a little,” Keith admitted.

“Keith, your mother is a hero.”

“I know that,” Keith snapped. “But not everyone sees it that way. Is it so bad if I want to help her clear her name?”

Lance peeled himself away from the wall. This was about Keith’s past. He didn’t have any business listening to it. Sure, he had heard the stories about Keith’s parents. About how his mom had betrayed Zarkon’s trust and told Galra secrets to members of the ministry. But he didn’t need to have those stories confirmed. If Keith wanted him to know any of that stuff, he would tell him.

“Of course it isn’t,” Shiro said.

Lance swore he was about to leave when he heard Shiro start to speak again.

“I heard that Lance stopped you from fighting the Hufflepuff,” Shiro said.

That… that was his name. Professor Shirogane just said his name. While talking to Keith.

“Yeah. It’s probably a good thing he was there,” Keith admitted. “I was going for my wand.”

“You can’t solve all of your problems by duelling them out of your system, so I’m glad that Lance was there. Despite your… differences, it’s nice to see that he has your back.”

“Lance is alright,” Keith replied, and Lance was suddenly struck by the wish that he had his phone, because of course Muggle technology wasn’t allowed at Hogwarts, so that he could record audio proof that Keith had just said that. “He’s been… we’re getting along better this year.”

Hold up. Go back. Rewind. Keith had just said they were getting along better this year. Implying that Shiro already knew they hadn’t gotten along in previous years.

Did Keith talk about him to Shiro?

Did Lance want Keith to talk about him to Shiro?

“I’m glad to hear that,” Shiro said with a fond smile. “I’m glad that you’re making friends.”

Despite their conversation the other day, despite the fact that Lance had agreed to be Keith’s friend... a huge part of him expected Keith to deny it.

“Me too,” Keith said, and he sounded a little hoarse.

Lance took a few hasty steps away from the door. He had already heard too much. He shouldn’t have been listening to their private conversation in the first place.

But Keith’s words echoed in his ears the whole way back to the Ravenclaw common room.

Me too. Me too. Me too.

< < < > > >

“This is kind of weird,” Lance whispered to Romelle as he watched Beauxbatons students file into the Charms classroom. It was his first class that he was sharing with any of the foreign students, and seeing the silver and blue uniforms mixed with the black Hogwarts school robes was jarring.

“It kind of is,” Romelle whispered back.

Lance returned his attention to the classroom door, watching the last of the students trickle in when his attention was captured by the beautiful Beauxbatons girl he couldn’t take his eyes off of in the Great Hall. The whole room seemed to collectively hold its breath as they took in her long, white curls that hung in loose tendrils around her shoulders. It seemed almost like there was a faint, silvery glow around her, but Lance was sure that he must have been imagining it.

“You’re drooling,” Romelle teased from beside him.

Lance ignored her in favor of staring at the beautiful creature as she crossed the room and… was she coming in his direction?

“Sorry,” the girl said as she stopped at the desk next to Lance’s, “is this seat taken?”

Lance put on his best grin, the one that seemed to make his teeth sparkle, as he rested his arm along the back of his chair.

“Sorry, but do you have a pencil? Because I want to erase your past and write our future,” Lance said, making sure to sound as flirty as he could, and throwing in an eyebrow-wag for good measure.

The girl paused, her hand resting on the top of the chair as if she wasn’t sure if she could pull it out or not. “Um… what’s a… pencil?” She asked, a small smirk on her face. “Is it like a quill?”

Lance groaned, dropping his face down into his hands. Stupid wizarding world. Who didn’t use pencils?

“He meant to say that the seat is open,” Romelle said, as she reached over to pat his back comfortingly.

“Thanks,” The Beauxbatons girl said, her accent pleasant to the ears.

She settled into the chair next to Lance, and he tried to recover his pride from the failed flirting attempt.

“So,” Lance said, as he sat back up and turned to offer the girl another wide grin. “The name’s Lance.”

“It’s a… pleasure to meet you.” The girl said, “My name is Allura Altea.”

“Altea?” Lance gulped. “Like the Headmaster?”

Allura nodded, “He’s my father.”

“Right. Cool. That’s cool.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Allura,” Romelle interrupted. “My name is Romelle. I hope you’re enjoying your stay at Hogwarts so far.”

“Your school is very beautiful,” Allura said, “although, I must admit, it is much colder here than back home in France.”

“Are you going to enter the Triwizard Tournament?” Romelle continued, and Lance wasn’t sure whether to be grateful for her aid with the small talk, be happy that she was obviously getting somewhere with her, or to resent her for not letting him have a conversation with Allura.

“I already have,” Allura confessed.

“I entered the Tournament, too,” Lance said, taking the opportunity to jump back into the conversation.

“Did you?” Allura asked, raising an eyebrow.

She was probably just impressed by how super-awesome he seemed. That definitely had to be it. If he thought that enough it was definitely true, right?

Lance nodded. “Of course I did.”

Allura brushed her white hair over her shoulder. “Did you enter as well?” She asked, leaning around Lance to address Romelle.

Ouch.

Romelle nodded. “Although I doubt the Goblet of Fire will select me as the champion.”

“Is there a favorite from your school? Someone expected to get chosen?”

“He’s sitting right next to you,” Lance said, but both girls ignored him.

“A lot of people think a Gryffindor student named Keith Kogane is going to be chosen as the champion,” Romelle explained.

“Traitor,” Lance hissed under his breath.

“Attention, class,” Professor Blaytz said, “we have some guests joining us today. Welcome, Beauxbatons students. I hope you’ll enjoy your time studying with us.”

Lance dutifully reached for his quill and parchment, preparing to take his notes. Even though he would much rather spend the class staring at Allura and trying to commit her beauty to memory, he really needed to get good marks in Charms.

After all, he wanted to go on to become the next Charms Professor at Hogwarts. It was his favorite subject, and Lance had always known that he wanted to be a teacher ever since he was little. One of the perks of having lots of little nieces and nephews was that he realized pretty early on that he was good with kids.

“This semester, we will mostly be working with casting non-verbal spells,” Professor Blaytz explained, as he stepped up to one of the blackboards at the front of the room. “Does anyone know what the benefit of casting a non-verbal spell is?”

Lance shot his hand into the air, and he felt Allura’s puzzled gaze land on him before she hesitantly raised her own hand.

“Yes, Álvarez?” Professor Blaytz said.

“Non-verbal spells give you an advantage in combat because the person you’re fighting doesn’t know what to expect from you, if they can’t predict the magic you’re casting, they might not know how to defend against it.”

“Very good, ten points to Ravenclaw.”

Lance beamed.

“For now, I would like each of you to practice casting a simple spell non-verbally. To start with, we will be levitating feathers similar to the exercises we performed in your first year. However, this time I would like you to perform the spell without uttering the incantation. Feel free to begin.”

Lance pulled his wand out from his robes, pointing it at the feather sitting on his desk. If he just concentrated hard enough on this, he could prove just how cool he was to Allura.

< < < > > >

“Are you ready to be amazed?” Pidge asked, holding up a vial filled with a nasty-looking green liquid.

“That’s never going to work,” Matt said, his tone light and airy.

Lance raised an eyebrow, surprised that Matt agreed with him. Usually, if Matt didn’t think that something was going to work, Pidge wouldn’t go through with it, either.

“And why not?” Pidge asked, as their dropped down onto the bench next to Matt.

“Dad drew the age-line himself, you really think that someone as brilliant as our father didn’t anticipate that students would try to use aging potions?”

“But that’s why it’s brilliant!” Pidge exclaimed. “It’s so simple!”

Matt shook his head, laughing under his breath.

Lance folded his arms and leaned back against the wall. He wasn’t sure why Pidge was being so insistent on going through with this terrible plan. Was it because they were the youngest in the friend group and felt left out? Hunk and Shay weren’t entering the Tournament. Maybe it was different if you actually had the option to enter and chose not to, rather than not being allowed to enter.

“Alright,” Pidge said, as they hopped off of the bench and approached the age-line. They stopped right before it and popped the cork off of the glass vial. “Bottoms up!” They exclaimed, raising the bottle in Matt’s direction before they lifted it to their lips and drained it.

Ugh.

Almost instantaneously, Pidge seemed to sprout up a few inches. Carefully, they lifted one of their legs and stepped over the age-line. When nothing happened, they stepped over with the other leg, as well.

They turned back to face their brother and Lance, raising an eyebrow at them.

Pidge slowly closed the remaining distance between the Goblet of Fire and themself, pulling a slip of parchment out from the pocket of their robes.

Pidge lifted the parchment up to the blue flame, and it disappeared from between their fingers as if it had never existed.

“It worked!” They cried. “I told you, Matt!”

Suddenly the blue flame of the Goblet shot upwards towards the ceiling, small streaks of light darting around the room like missiles.

One of the small balls of blue light slammed into Pidge, knocking them out of the circle of the age-line. They let out a squeak of surprise, right before they landed on the stone floor.

“Pidge!” Matt cried, pushing off the bench and running over to check on them.

Pidge pushed themself up into a sitting position, reaching up to gently touch the back of their head.

Lance could do nothing but watch as Pidge’s hair slowly grew longer, the brown fading to a gray, and wrinkles, crows feet, and age spots formed across their face.

“Oh my god, Pidge!” Lance said, a breathless laugh escaping him. “I don’t think that your aging potion had the effect you wanted it to.”

“Shut up, Lance!” Pidge scowled, crossing their arms over their chest.

But the stern look on Pidge’s face only served to make Lance laugh harder, as he doubled over.

Matt helped Pidge stand, but it looked like he was stifling chuckles of his own. “Come on, Sis, let’s go to the hospital wing. I’m sure we’ll be able to get this straightened out.”

“Pidge, Pidge, I’m sorry!” Lance called after their retreating forms, he reached up to wipe the tears of laughter that were streaking down his face away.

He knew Pidge well enough to know that they were probably more upset about their failed experiment than being laughed at, but the fact that he had laughed at the failed experiment was still probably enough to earn him the silent treatment for a few days.

Lance pursed his lips. He’d bring some chocolate frogs to the hospital wing later and hopefully earn his way back on to Pidge’s good side.

“Did I miss it?” Hunk asked as he walked into the trophy room. “Pidge said they were going to try and enter the Tournament this morning.”

“Just missed it, buddy,” Lance said, walking over to clap Hunk on the shoulder. “It probably goes without saying, but it didn’t work. Matt took Pidge to the hospital wing.”

Hunk’s eyes widened. “Are they okay?”

“The aging potion was a little too effective, but I’m sure that Pidge will be fine. Headmaster Holt wouldn’t make the age-line hurt any of his students. I was gonna go steal some chocolate frogs from the Ravenclaw common room before I visit the Hospital wing.”

Hunk raised an eyebrow. “Why do you need to bribe Pidge with chocolate?”

Lance shrugged, “I might have laughed a little.”

“Lance! You know how sensitive Pidge is about their experiments,” Hunk scolded gently.

“I know,” Lance groaned. “But you should have seen it! It was so funny. And in my defense, Matt was trying not to laugh, too. I totally saw him.”

Hunk shook his head.

Ugh, Lance hated ‘disappointed Hunk’.

“I know,” Lance said, rolling his eyes at the look on Hunk’s face. “I’m going to apologize later. Once I have chocolate. And you to be my human shield.”

“So I guess Pidge isn’t going to be one of the options for Triwizard Champion, then,” Hunk said, as they made their way out of the trophy room. “Matt entered yesterday, though.”

“I was talking with Romelle in Charms yesterday and she said that she entered as well,” Lance said, recalling his conversation with Romelle and Allura.

“Some of the Gryffindors in Defense Against the Dark Arts with Shay and I were saying that Thace Marmora entered as well. It sounded like he was who they wanted to get in,” Hunk said.

“Romelle seemed to think Keith is who’s going to be chosen, at least, that’s what she told Allura,” Lance said.

“Allura?” Hunk asked, sounding confused, “Is she one of the foreign students?”

Lance nodded, “She’s from Beauxbatons. She’s beautiful and I’m in love with her.”

“Sure you are, buddy,” Hunk said, patting Lance on the back. “Now come on, let’s go find you some chocolate so you can get back onto Pidge’s good side.”

< < < > > >

“Attention students,” Headmaster Holt called, effectively silencing the chatter that was echoing around the Great Hall. “As all of you are aware, tonight the Goblet of Fire will be selecting the Champions for the Triwizard Tournament.”

His statement was met with claps and cheers from the six tables of students, as the excitement spread across the Great Hall.

“I can’t believe this is really happening,” Lance whispered to Romelle. Pidge was sitting across from him on the other side of the table. They had mostly gotten over their anger at Lance for laughing at them, but Lance didn’t want to push his luck. Not today, during the selection of the Champions, when Pidge would surely still be feeling the raw hurt at being unable to enter the Tournament.

Romelle nodded, her blonde hair bouncing across her shoulders. “This is it,” she whispered back. “After this, it will all be up to however is chosen to win the Tournament for Hogwarts.”

“So without any further ado,” Headmaster Holt said, “please, Professor Blaytz, if you would be so kind.”

Professor Blaytz pushed away from his seat at the teacher’s table, making his way into the trophy room. He emerged a few minutes later with the Goblet of Fire hovering in front of him, a few inches off the floor. With a flourish, Professor Blaytz lowered his wand, allowing the Goblet to land onto the stone floor at the base of the teacher’s table.

Headmaster Holt stepped up to the Goblet of Fire, resting his hands on it briefly. From as far back as he was, Lance couldn’t tell if Headmaster Holt was casting a non-verbal spell on the Goblet, or if he was just trying to be dramatic. Maybe it was a little of both.

“Now,” Headmaster Holt said, as he took a step backwards. “The selection of the Champions.”

Lance felt as though his eyes were glued to the Goblet’s blue flickering flame, but the feeling of eyes on him was enough to make him turn around in his seat. On the other side of the Hufflepuff table, Lance could make out the Gryffindor table, and the familiar black haired boy who was staring directly at him.

“Good luck,” Keith mouthed.

Lance smiled, watching as a small grin spread across Keith’s face. “Good luck,” he mouthed back, making sure to over exaggerate the shape of the words with his mouth, as he lifted one of his hands gave Keith a thumbs up.

Keith echoed the movement, lifting one of his own hands, before turning his attention back around to face the front of the Great Hall.

Lance followed Keith’s lead, and turned back around to face the front of the room before he missed anything important.

Lance could see the professors sitting up at their table, Shiro looked like he was on the edge of his seat, a goblet clutched in his grip. Professor Smythe was chatting excited with Headmaster Altea. Professor Iverson was scowling, of course. And Headmistress Daibazaal was muttering something to herself, maybe hoping that her son would be chosen as the Durmstrang Champion.

Suddenly, with a flash and a pop, the flames changed color - abruptly glowing a brilliant red as a piece of parchment shot out from the flame.

Headmaster Holt reached up and caught the paper before it could fall to the ground, holding it up to his glasses. “The Hogwarts Champion is… Keith Kogane.”

The Gryffindor table erupted into loud cheers, the other houses clapping their hands politely, and Lance turned in his seat to wolf-whistle at Keith. There was a pang of disappointment in his chest, but Lance forced it down.

Keith looked embarrassed by the attention, a red flush spreading across his cheeks as he said something to Thace Marmora.

“Congratulations, Keith,” Headmaster Holt said. “I’m sure you’ll make Hogwarts proud.” As he spoke, Headmaster Holt returned to the Goblet of Fire, standing in front of it.

Lance let his eyes trail back over to Keith, a part of him - a large part of him, the part of him that had declared Keith his rival back in second year - was jealous that Keith had been chosen, because it was Keith and it was always Keith and it was always going to be Keith. But the other part of him, the part of him that had become friends with Keith over the past few weeks, was proud of Keith.

The swirl of emotions in his stomach was confusing, and slightly nauseating.

Keith glanced up, pushing that impossible mullet out of his face as he caught Lance’s eye.

Lance grinned at him, “You’ve earned this,” he mouthed to him.

Keith looked relieved, some of the tension draining from his shoulders, as he mouthed back “Thank you”.

Lance glanced back towards the front of room, surprised that another name hadn’t been announced yet. Headmaster Holt was still standing in front of the Goblet of Fire, a slight frown tugging at his usually gentle features. It looked like Headmaster Holt shared a confused glance with Professor Blaytz, just as the Goblet’s flame flickered red once more and another scrap of paper came flying out.

“The Champion from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic is… Allura Altea,” Headmaster Holt announced.

Once more, the hall burst into polite applause, with a notable lack of noisy outbursts from the Gryffindor table.

Lance glanced over to the Beauxbatons table. Allura was positively beaming in the direction of the teacher’s table, likely at her father, while the other students smiled at her.

“Congratulations, Miss Altea,” Headmaster Holt said.

Lance tore his gaze away from Allura to look back at the front of the Great Hall. Only one Champion left to select. After another lengthy pause, the flame flickered once again and the final piece of parchment flew out and into Headmaster Holt’s awaiting fingers.

“Finally, the Durmstrang Institute Champion will be… Lotor Daibazaal,” Headmaster Holt announced.

Everyone in the Great Hall clapped, although it was much less enthusiastic than Allura’s reception had been. Apparently, Lotor had done little to win friends from the other schools. In sharp contrast, the Durmstrang table stomped their feet on the ground and reached across the table to grip Lotor in what Lance assumed was some sort of congratulatory symbol.

“Excellent,” Headmaster Holt said, with an easy grin. “We now have our three Champions. If they would please rise and make their way to the trophy room.”

Allura, Lotor, and Keith all stood, pushing away from their seats at their tables to make their way to the front of the room. Headmaster Holt stopped each of them as they walked past him, shaking hands with Allura, Lotor, and finally Keith.

Headmaster Holt released his grip of Keith’s hand, turning to follow the three Champions into the trophy room when Professor Shirogane took a step forward.

“Today, three champions have been chosen,” Shiro said, and Lance thought he could hear Shiro’s pride for Keith in his voice. “But only one will go down in history as the winner of the Triwizard Tournament, and only one will hoist the vessel of victory - the Triwizard Cup.” As he finished speaking, Shiro swept a simple black sheet off an object that had been resting on the teacher’s table.

The Triwizard Cup was beautiful, It was some kind of chalice created from a shining blue glass, with twin handles resembling dragons curling around it. It was like any muggle trophy Lance had ever seen on steroids.

So much cooler than his participation trophy from the football team he had played on in primary school.

Professor Blaytz stepped up besides Shiro, raising his wand to his throat. “The Triwizard Cup was created before the first Triwizard Tournament, which was held in 1294-”

“Headmaster,” Shiro said suddenly, cutting off Professor Blaytz, sounding concerned.

Lance followed Shiro’s gaze, surprised to see the man looking once more at the Goblet of Fire.

The Headmaster paused, turning around and taking a few steps back into the Great Hall. “Shiro?”

Shiro took a few steps down, away from the teacher’s table, and the Headmaster followed his line of sight to the Goblet of Fire.

The Goblet… which was currently glowing with a red light once again.

Another scrap of parchment shot out of the cup, a fourth scrap of parchment, which made no sense at all, and the Headmaster grabbed it from the air, unrolling it and reading it quietly.

The entirety of the Great Hall remained silent. It was as quiet as a tomb.

“Lance Álvarez?” The Headmaster whispered, and then again, louder. “Lance Álvarez.”

Wait, what?

Chapter Text

Lance felt as though he was frozen in shock. There was no way that Headmaster Holt had just announced his name. It just… wasn’t possible. Keith was the Hogwarts Champion. Keith.

Keith.

Not… not him.

The whole room was silent. It felt like everyone was holding their breath. Lance wasn’t entirely sure if he was breathing, himself. It was eerie. He had never heard the Great Hall this quiet before. There was always something going on, students laughing or joking, the Headmaster making some announcement or another, the ghosts scaring the students with their half-missing body parts. But there was nothing. No laughing, no whispering, no exclamations of shock or surprise. It was just… silent.

“Lance,” Romelle hissed into his ear, “Lance, you have to go.”

Lance blinked at her.

“Lance, you have to go with the other Champions. Come on,” Romelle said, as she all but pried Lance out of his seat and shoved him out into the aisle.

Lance glanced backwards at his friends. Hunk was frowning and tapping his fingers nervously against the Hufflepuff table, his head whipping back and forth between Lance and the front of the hall. Romelle used her head to subtly gesture towards the front of the room, before sharing a concerned glance with Shay. Matt had his eyes narrowed and his arms crossed across his chest, and Pidge… Pidge wouldn’t meet his gaze.

Shaking his head slightly, Lance walked down the aisle between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables as if he was in a trance. He could hear the students murmuring and whispering, but he couldn’t tell what they were saying.

Probably nothing good.

Probably about how he didn’t deserve to get in to the Tournament. That was fair. They probably weren’t saying anything that Lance wasn’t already thinking.

The Headmaster stared at him as Lance drew closer, but he didn’t offer to shake his hand like he had done with the other students. That stung more than Lance would have liked to admit. He knew Lance. Lance had visited his house over the summer.

Lance continued past the Headmaster, making his way to the trophy room, which unfortunately meant he had to walk directly past the teacher’s table.

Headmaster Altea was frowning at him, as if he were a particularly troubling math equation. Headmistress Daibazaal openly scowled at him, but Lance was pretty sure that was just her face. Shiro had a look on his face that Lance couldn’t decipher, maybe it was disappointment that Keith wasn’t the only Hogwarts Champion, or maybe it was pity.

Professor Blaytz reached out, laying a comforting hand on Lance’s shoulder as he passed him, and Lance appreciated the word-less encouragement.

All too soon, he was pulling open the door to the trophy room and stepping inside.

Allura, Lotor, and Keith were gathered in the room. They were all standing around awkwardly, evidently none of them eager to start small talk with one another. However, they all glanced in his direction as the door squeaked open.

“Lance?” Keith asked, frowning, “What are you doing back here?”

“The.. uh…” Lance started, his voice failing. He coughed weakly, before trying again. “The Goblet of Fire… I don’t know… chose me? I guess. The paper with my name on it came out.”

“What?” Keith asked quietly, but whatever else he was going to say was quickly overshadowed by Lotor, who stomped across the room and grabbed Lance by the front of his school robes, slamming him back into the stone wall.

Lance grunted at the force from the impact, his head colliding painfully with the stone.

This close, Lotor seemed much more intimidating than he originally had, his long pale hair falling forward as he narrowed his amber eyes.

“You’re lying,” Lotor said, his voice deadly calm despite the tight grip he had on the front of Lance’s school robes.

“I’m not,” Lance insisted. “The Headmaster-”

“I don’t care what your Headmaster had to say,” Lotor hissed. “It’s the Triwizard Tournament. Tri stands for three, in case you didn’t know that. Hogwarts cannot have two participants. Obviously you cheated your way into the competition.”

“I didn’t!” Lance insisted.

“Get off of him,” Keith growled, grabbing Lotor’s shoulder and hauling him away from Lance.

Lance slumped against the wall once Lotor’s weight was removed, taking some quick breaths to try and slow his racing heartbeat down.

Keith shoved Lotor away, giving him a glare, before he stomped right up to Lance.

“Thanks, buddy,” Lance said, but the rest of his words died in his throat, because Keith turned that murderous glare onto him.

“What the fuck, Lance,” Keith hissed.

Lance blinked in surprise. The last thing he wanted was for Keith to be mad at him. They had just started to become better friends. Keith was supposed to be the only Hogwarts champion.

Lance had resigned himself to that.

He would gladly have that now.

“I thought you had gotten over your constant need to prove that you could be better than me,” Keith spat. “I thought that we were past that, you said that we were friends.” Keith paused, shaking his head slightly. “I guess I was wrong.”

“Keith, no,” Lance said, desperation creeping into his voice as he grabbed onto the sleeve of Keith’s school robe. “I didn’t cheat. I promise. I was happy that you won-”

But the rest of Lance’s words were cut off by the pounding of heavy footsteps and a loud squeak as the door to the trophy room swung open and a small army of teachers piled inside.

Keith used the distraction to tug away from Lance’s grip, the smooth school robes gliding past his fingers. The expression on Keith’s face was still furious, a look that Lance hadn’t seen directed at him since his third year.

Lance swallowed, turning to watch the teachers as they entered the room instead of looking at Keith.

Headmaster Holt was leading the others, while Professor Shirogane closed the door behind everyone. Headmaster Altea and Headmistress Daibazaal both looked upset, but before they could say anything, Headmaster Holt stopped directly in front of Lance.

“Lance,” he said softly, his voice calm. “I’m going to ask you a few questions and I need you to be honest with me.”

“Of course,” Lance said with a nod, his eyes wide. He was suddenly grateful for the cool wall at his back. Otherwise, he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to remain standing.

“Did you put your name in the Goblet of Fire?” Headmaster Holt asked.

Lance nodded. “I entered right after Keith did. Pidge was there, you can ask them.”

“And did you, in any way, cheat to ensure that you would become a Champion?”

“No!” Lance exclaimed, before trying to take a deep breath and calm his erratic breathing. “No. I would never do that.”

“Headmaster,” Shiro said, stepping up beside Sam. “The Goblet of Fire is an incredibly powerful artifact. It would take a powerful Confundus Charm to fool it. Something far beyond the reaches of a sixth year student.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about that,” Haggar sneered. “Trying to ensure that your favorite student gets in, are we?”

“In case you’ve forgotten, Headmistress, my position as Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts ensures that I should have a thorough understanding of the way dark wizards think. After all, I have to train my students to defend themselves.” Shiro’s voice was calm, but Lance watched as one of his hands clenched into a fist, his gaze darting over to Keith.

“That’s enough,” Headmaster Holt scolded. “We have larger concerns, at the moment. Once a student has been selected by the Goblet of Fire, they must compete.”

“Surely not,” Headmaster Altea insisted. “There may be a… loophole for an instance such as this.”

Headmaster Holt frowned. “The rules of the competition are clear.”

“But if the child has cheated…” Alfor said slowly.

“Father!” Allura hissed quietly.

Obviously he cheated,” Lotor said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Or someone helped him cheat. Either way, it would not be fair to have him compete.”

“Yes, Sam,” Haggar sneered, “perhaps one of your teachers aided the boy, so that Hogwarts has a greater chance of winning the Cup.”

“Lance, did anyone, to your knowledge, aid you in ensuring you would be chosen as a Champion?” Headmaster Holt asked.

Lance shook his head, “No. No. Of course not.”

“Stop lying!” Keith shouted, and several of the teachers whipped around to stare at him. Keith wasn’t one for emotional outbursts.

“I’m not lying!” Lance shouted back, his frustration leaking into his voice.

“The chance that the boy is telling the truth and the Goblet of Fire selected four champions instead of three with zero outside influence is extremely unlikely,” the divination teacher, a tiny half-goblin named Slav, spoke up suddenly. “In this reality, there is a 0.00000008% chance that the Goblet has the error without any outside interference.”

“Shut up, Slav,” Shiro hissed, his voice harsher than Lance had ever heard it.

“If I may, Headmaster,” Professor Iverson interrupted smoothly, stepping forward. “There are ways to confirm whether or not he’s lying.”

Lance swallowed, his chest tightening. If Iverson was suggesting something, it couldn’t be good.

“He’s a child!” Shiro interrupted, “Surely there’s no need for such extreme measures.”

“I beg to differ,” Headmistress Daibazaal sniffed.  

Lance let his eyes trail back over to Keith, who was standing at Shiro’s side with his arms crossed and his eyes glued to the ground. He looked pissed, but worse than that, he looked almost sad.

“I agree with the Headmistress,” Lotor said, “we cannot trust the boy without more… concrete evidence.”

“No one asked you,” Allura hissed at him, and Lance was suddenly grateful for her support. At least it didn’t seem like everyone in the room completely hated him.

“But he doesn’t deserve it!” Keith snapped suddenly, making Lance flinch.

Hearing the truth stung, even if Lance had already accepted the fact. Of course he didn’t deserve to be chosen. Did Keith really think that he didn’t already know that? Did he think that Lance really wanted to be the subject of his scorn?

“Hogwarts already has a Champion,” Keith continued. “The Goblet of Fire chose me.”

“Keith,” Shiro said quietly, resting one of his hands on the other boy’s shoulder, “no one is challenging your right to compete in the competition.”

Keith shrugged off Shiro’s hand. “Hogwarts can’t have two Champions,” he insisted. “Historically, none of the schools have ever had more than one Champion. This is supposed to be my thing. I’m supposed to-”

“I’ll back out,” Lance said, surprising himself. Keith’s head shot up, his indigo eyes staring at Lance with enough force that Lance wondered if he was trying to shoot lasers out of them. “Obviously it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have been chosen. I didn’t want to be chosen as a second. So I’ll back out.”

Headmaster Holt shared a glance with Professor Blaytz, who shook his head slightly.

“You cannot simply back out of the Triwizard Tournament,” Headmaster Holt said quietly. “Once you have been selected as a Champion, it is required that you compete.”

Fuck.

“Then I’ll do… okay, I’ll do whatever Professor Iverson is talking about. The way to prove that I’m not lying. I’ll do it,” Lance said, despite the fear he could feel churning in his stomach.

Headmaster Holt looked back at Professor Iverson.

Professor Iverson nodded gruffly, “I have a bottle of Veritaserum in my stores. Wait here.”

Lance heard Keith suck in a gasp of air, but he kept his eyes trained on Iverson’s retreating back so that he didn’t have to look at the other boy again.

“Father,” Allura said softly, “you can’t possibly agree with this.”

“I see no other option, Allura,” Headmaster Altea responded just as quietly.

“Well, I, for one,” Lotor started to say, before Allura quickly cut him off.

“Don’t,” she said, her voice sharp. “Don’t even start, Lotor.”

“Headmaster,” Shiro said quietly. “Don’t you think that the use of Veritaserum seems a bit… intense for a student?”

“The boy volunteered,” Headmaster Holt answered just as quietly.

“Headmaster, it’s illegal to use Veritaserum on a student,” Shiro murmured, making Lance shudder.

“I don’t see another option. Alfor and Haggar refuse to believe the boy is innocent.”

Lance had heard of Veritaserum in potions class. It was a powerful truth serum, hardly ever used outside of official ministry business. And they thought they needed to use it against him.

It was only a few minutes until Professor Iverson reappeared, but it felt like it took ages. The teachers filled the time with whispered conversations and arguments, but Lance tuned them out. He could see Shiro and Keith standing off in one of the corners of the room discussing something in hushed voices, continually glancing back over to him, but Lance couldn’t make out what they were saying. Lotor stood across the room, glowering at him, while Allura paced back and forth, her heeled shoes clicking on the floor.

Lance felt his legs give out from underneath him, as he slid along the stone wall until he was sitting on the floor. He drew his knees up to his chest to rest his head there, trying to zone out the arguments, the accusations and even the stilted silence spreading through the room. He merely remained sitting, not looking at anyone in fear, silently shaking.

The door to the trophy room finally opened, and Professor Iverson entered the room, a small glass vial held gently between his fingers.

Professor Iverson pressed the vial into Headmaster Holt’s awaiting hand, and Headmaster Holt took it before dropping down into a crouch in front of Lance.

“Do you know what Veritaserum is?” He asked, holding the small vial up for Lance to examine.

Lance nodded. “It’s a… we’ve learned about it in potions.”

“So you know that three drops of this are all that it will take to ensure that you are telling the truth?”

Lance nodded again.

“Okay,” Headmaster Holt said, as he unscrewed the lid from the glass vial, revealing a dropper similar to the muggle droppers that Lance’s parents used to put ear-drops in his ears when he got infections from swimming underwater all the time.

Headmaster Holt held the dropper out expectantly, so Lance stuck out his tongue and let the Headmaster squeeze a few drops of the truth serum out.

It didn’t taste like anything, but Lance swallowed it just the same.

“Okay,” Headmaster Holt said, “are you ready to answer a few questions for us?”

“Yes,” Lance answered honestly.

He could feel the effects of the truth-serum beginning to kick in, the urge to tell the truth burning in his chest. Words gathered behind his lips, urging to come forth. He wanted to tell Sam everything he was thinking, from his confusion and fear at this situation, to the guilt he felt about breaking a vase at his house in the summer between third and fourth year, only to blame it on their dog.

“Did you willingly enter your name into the Goblet of Fire?” Headmaster Holt asked.

“Yes,” Lance said.

“Did you take any steps to ensure that you would be chosen over any of the other Hogwarts students?”

“No. No, of course not! I don’t even know how you would go about doing that, I would never do something like that,” Lance answered, and Headmaster Holt looked relieved.

Lance thought that he heard someone let out a quiet breath of air, and it sounded suspiciously like Allura.

“Did you ask anyone to take any steps for you, to ensure you would be chosen as Hogwarts Champion?”

“Absolutely not, no, I wouldn’t do that!”

“That doesn’t prove that someone didn’t do it, anyway,” Lotor sniffed. “Just because the boy’s an idiot…”

Headmaster Holt ignored him. “Do you have reason to believe that anyone might have helped you get in without your knowledge or consent?”

Lance shook his head. “I don’t know why anyone would want me in the competition,” he answered honestly. “I’m not an outstanding student, I’m not some kind of protégée like Keith is, I’m just… I’m just Lance, a muggleborn from Varadero. If someone put me in, then it was probably just meant to be a joke,” Lance said sadly.

Headmaster Holt turned to look at Alfor and Haggar. “Do you believe the boy now?” He asked.

“I suppose we have no choice,” Alfor allowed. “It appears as though the boy is innocent.”

“Alfor is correct,” Haggar said. “It’s obvious that the boy would not willingly cheat his way into the competition. Especially since he apparently lacks the talent to cast such a complicated spell.”

Lance grimaced at what Headmistress Daibazaal was saying, but he couldn’t find it in himself to disagree with her, either. He slumped back against the wall behind him, the cool of the stone a comforting presence behind him.

“Headmaster, I’m confused,” Lance confessed. “I don’t understand why I can’t just back out of the Tournament.”

“The Goblet of Fire was created by powerful magic. And once it selects a Champion, there is no turning back. It would appear that there are going to be four Champions competing for the Triwizard Cup this year,” Headmaster Holt said, as he grabbed Lance’s arm and helped him stand.

Lance let his eyes slip past Headmaster Holt’s shoulder, catching Keith’s eye. The other boy had stayed silent while the Headmaster was questioning Lance, and he didn’t say anything now, either.

Keith was frowning, like he didn’t know what to make of the situation.

That was okay, Lance wasn’t too sure what to make of it, either.

< < < > > >

Lance let out a sigh of relief as the door to the Ravenclaw common room shut behind him. He could feel the effects of the Veritaserum beginning to wear off, the urge to tell the truth fading.

He reached up to rub at his eyes, already exhausted despite the fact that it was barely past eight in the evening. Luckily, the common room was mostly empty, probably because everyone was still too wired up by the events of the day to imagine going to bed.

Lance took a few more steps into the room, debating whether to collapse on one of the couches or head down to the dorm room he shared with the other Ravenclaw sixth years. He was halfway to the spiral stairs that led down to the dormitories when the common room door slammed open.

Please, please, don’t let that be annoying first years.

Lance glanced over his shoulder, hoping that he wouldn’t know whoever it was that had just come into the room and that he could still escape down to his dorm to relax in the peace and quiet.

Unfortunately for Lance, it was an all-too-familiar figure that stomped through the open doorway.

Okay, he’d take the first years now, please.

“Would you care to explain what the hell is going on?” Pidge snapped as they stepped further into the common room, and Lance winced. This was definitely not a conversation that he felt like having right now.

Giving up all pretense of heading to bed for his much-needed beauty sleep, Lance turned around to face Pidge, and apparently Matt, who was following his younger sibling into the room.

“I don’t know,” Lance groaned. “No one knows what’s going on.”

“I just… I can’t believe that you wouldn’t tell me,” Pidge continued, ignoring him. “You knew how much I wanted to enter the Tournament, you knew, and when you figured out a way to make sure that you got in… you didn’t even tell me about it?”

“Pidge, what are you talking about? I didn’t figure anything out!” Lance said, throwing his hands up into the air. “I put my name in the Goblet, you saw me. That’s all I did.”

Pidge scoffed. “I was there, Lance. We all were. I heard my dad call your name.”

“Pidge,” Matt said softly, “maybe we should talk about this in the morning, when everyone’s had a chance to calm down?”

“No!” Pidge snapped. “We’re going to talk about this now. Because apparently Lance’s need for constant validation has reached a new low.”

“Fuck you, Pidge,” Lance growled, anger churning in his stomach, he could feel his hands shaking at his sides, and he clenched his fingers together to try and stop it. “You aren’t listening to me. I didn’t do anything.”

“Don’t talk to them like that,” Matt snapped, his usually calm voice sounding uncharacteristically tight.

Pidge chuckled darkly. “I heard you,” they said, “I just don’t believe you.”

“Dad will find out if he cheated, Pidge,” Matt said.

“No,” Lance said, “he already knows that I didn’t cheat. You’re one of my best friends, Pidge, why don’t you believe me?”

“I couldn’t find my way past the age-line, you laughed at me when it didn’t work. Was that because you had already figured out how to hoodwink the Goblet?”

“Hoodwink the… are you hearing yourself right now?” Lance asked, “You sound like a crazy person.”

How the hell did Pidge think that Lance had succeeded in doing something like that? When they hadn’t even been able to figure it out?

“I wouldn’t have to sound like a crazy person if you would just stop lying to me!” Pidge shouted, and Lance thought he could see tears of anger prickling in their eyes.

And maybe Lance should have let it go, Pidge was obviously upset, but he was so sick of everyone assuming that he was a liar and a cheater and a fraud.

“I’m not lying!” Lance snapped. “You’re just jealous.”

“Lance,” Matt said, “the statistical probability that the Goblet of Fire actually released four names instead of three without any outside manipulation is… slim to none.”

“Heard that one already, Matt. And guess what, I don’t care. I don’t care about the statistical probability,” Lance said, reaching up to tug angrily at his hair. “You two are my friends. You should trust me.”

“You’re making that really hard to do,” Pidge sniffed. “Seeing as you insist on sticking with your ridiculous story. There’s no way you managed to fool my dad with that crap. So what did he say? Did he kick you out of the competition?”

“No, of course he didn’t,” Lance said. “He can’t. Once the Goblet of Fire selects the champions they have to compete.”

“So you get everything you’ve ever wanted, all the fame and glory of competing in the Triwizard Cup, while I’m stuck on the sidelines. Again. Just because I’m younger than everyone else? That isn’t fair!”

“You think that this is what I wanted?” Lance asked, quieter. “I’m pretty sure Keith hates me now. And your dad… fuck. He looked so disappointed in me. The Headmasters of the other schools think I’m a fraud, and I’ll never be able to impress Allura now…”

“I’m not saying it’s a well-thought-out plan,” Pidge muttered, crossing her arms against her chest. “Maybe you just didn’t anticipate the consequences.”

“Whatever,” Lance said, spinning on his heel, “you’re obviously not listening to me, so I’m going to bed.”

“Excuse me for not wanting to listen to your lies and excuses,” Pidge said.

Lance froze, before turning back around to face them. “I’m pretty sure I’m not lying,” he said, “especially since that’s probably still impossible considering the fact that the Veritaserum hasn’t fully worn off yet.”

Matt sucked in a surprised gasp of air, twin shocked expressions on the Holt siblings’ faces.

“Dad wouldn’t use Veritaserum on a student,” Matt muttered, “its illegal.”

“I volunteered,” Lance said, “but I’m sure that you won’t believe me no matter what I say, so why don’t you just wait to talk to your dad about it. You can come back to me when you have all the facts.”

“Maybe we will,” Pidge said. They sounded like a child about to tattle on their sibling, a little threatening and a little smug, but Lance could hardly find it in himself to care.

He was so tired. All he wanted was to crawl into bed and forget that this day ever existed.

“Good!” Lance shot back, falling into the old, childish habit of bickering that he had picked up from his older siblings and mastered in his early years at school when he fought with Keith. “Maybe then you’ll realize that not everything is about my ‘constant need for validation’!” Lance said, using air quotes to emphasize his point.

Pidge reaches up to push their wire-rim glasses further up their nose. “You wanted the attention, Lance. Don’t even try to deny it, because I know that you did. That you still do. So congratulations. The whole bloody school is talking about you.”

“Pidge,” Matt said, placing a hand on their shoulder. “That’s enough.”

“No!” Pidge shrugged Matt’s hand off. “Deny it, Lance, I dare you.”

Lance opened his mouth, ready to spew off a dozen different comebacks, but his tongue felt like lead. And no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t deny that he had wanted the attention. Because he did want it. Maybe not in this way… but he still wanted it.

Damn Veritaserum.

Lance snapped his mouth closed, knowing that there was nothing he could say.

“I knew it,” Pidge replied smuggly.

“So what if I wanted the attention?” Lance asked, “I didn’t want it like this.”

Pidge shrugged, “Maybe not, but I guess that doesn’t really matter anymore.”

They walked forward, brushing past Lance to head towards the spiral staircase that descended down Ravenclaw Tower to the dormitories. They paused at the top of the staircase, their hand resting on the banister. “I hope that Keith wins the first trial. Matt and I will be rooting for the real Hogwarts champion.” Satisfied with themselves, Pidge disappeared down into the staircase.

Matt followed them, but Lance reached out to stop him.

“Seriously?” Lance asked him, “You know that I didn’t cheat.”

Matt shrugged. “Pidge is family. I’ll talk to Dad tomorrow. Maybe he’ll get through to them.”

Lance lowered his hand from Matt’s shoulder, and watched as Matt disappeared down the staircase. He reached up and dragged his hands across his face, wiping at his eyes.

This day just needed to end.

Once he was sure that Pidge and Matt were in their dorms, Lance headed up the stairs to his room, slipping inside the sixth year boys room. He shared this particular room with four other Ravenclaw sixth years, but Lance had never bonded with them the way he had become friends with Pidge and Hunk. It looked like one of the boys was already in bed sleeping, but the other beds were empty.

Lance collapsed down onto his bed face-first, groaning into the pillow. Without looking, he pulled out his wand and flicked the curtains around his bed shut, adding an Imperturbable Charm to soundproof the area around his bed for good measure.

Lance rolled over so that he was staring up at the blue canopy above his bed. Everything about this day had gone all wrong. No matter what he said, the Goblet of Fire was never supposed to pick him. He was supposed to watch the trials from the audience with Pidge and Hunk, and he would complain that the Goblet had chosen Keith, and he would probably try to find a way to squeeze in a few insults about the other boy’s hair, and everything would be normal.

This wasn’t what he wanted.

< < < > > >

In the morning, Lance cursed himself for falling asleep without doing his skincare routine and still wearing his school robes. Now, in addition to being the center of attention, he was going to look like a slob.

Great.

Lance quickly changed into his spare set of robes, tying his blue Ravenclaw tie around his neck. Luckily, he had always been a late riser, and the dormitory was already empty.

If only he could make it out of the common room without anyone noticing his puffy face or slightly red-rimmed eyes.

Of course, Lance couldn’t get that lucky.

Romelle was waiting on one of the blue loveseats in the common room, but she jumped up when she saw him.

“Lance!” She said. “Are you okay? What happened after you went back to the trophy room?”

Lance shrugged. “I’m okay. The teachers just questioned me. They wanted to know if I had found a way to force the Goblet into choosing me.”

“What did you tell them?” Romelle asked, as she led the way out of the common room and out into Hogwarts’ hallways.

“The truth,” Lance answered, already tired of the questions. “I have no idea why the Goblet chose two Hogwarts champions, let alone why it picked me,” he confessed quietly.

“But the other day you seemed so sure that it would pick you…” Romelle said, sounding confused.

Lance rolled his eyes. “Ro, come on, everyone knew that Keith was gonna be the champion. Even me.”

“So what are you going to do? Are you going to compete?” She asked.

Lance shrugged again, “Apparently I don’t have a choice. I have to.”

“They can’t make you,” Romelle protested.

“If the Goblet of Fire chooses you, then you have to compete in the Triwizard Tournament. That’s that Headmaster Holt said. But, hey, maybe I’ll surprise everyone and do really good,” Lance said, forcing a smile onto his face.

“Maybe,” Romelle agreed. “I’ll be cheering for you, at least.”

“You’ll be the only one. Well, you and Hunk. Pidge told me last night that they think Keith is the real champion.”

“I heard them talking with some of the other Ravenclaws this morning,” Romelle confessed. “They sounded pretty upset that you had gotten in.”

Lance nodded, “They think that I cheated and didn’t tell them how I did it. But I didn’t cheat! They just refuse to believe me.”

“Pidge will come around,” Romelle said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” Lance grimaced.

“You’re gonna be okay, Lance,” Romelle said softly.

Lance gave her a grateful smile. “I really hope that you’re right.”

Chapter Text

Lance felt like everyone in the Great Hall was staring at him as he followed Romelle over to the Ravenclaw table. There were whispered conversations echoing around the room, and Lance could hear snippets of what was being said. He felt his breath catch in his throat, his lungs constricting painfully. Was everyone looking at him?

He felt like everyone was looking at him.

“That’s him-”

“Álvarez, the Ravenclaw-”

“The muggleborn who-”

“-I heard he cheated…”

“Trying to steal the spotlight-”

“-if I were Keith,  I would make him-”

Lance shook his head slightly, trying to tune them out. He dropped down onto the bench next to Romelle, grateful that he still had someone to sit with. He glanced around for Pidge or Matt, but they were both suspiciously absent from their usual seats across from him.

“So is it true?” Someone drawled, and Lance looked up to see Rolo approaching from the Slytherin table before he dropped onto the bench across from Lance.

“Is what true?” Lance asked, already having a pretty good idea as to what Rolo was hinting at.

The Slytherin boy smirked, crossing his arms across his chest. “That you still get to compete in the Triwizard Tournament.”

Lance hesitated, before nodding slowly. “It’s true.”

Rolo looked impressed. “Nice. I didn’t believe Nyma when she told me.”

“Well, it sounds like she’s already told the whole school,” Lance said, gesturing towards the Great Hall. “How did she find out, anyways?”

Rolo shrugged, “How does Nyma do anything?” He asked.

Lance scowled.

“I’m impressed,” Rolo admitted. “Didn’t think you had it in you. Maybe the sorting hat should have put you in Slytherin.”

Lance crossed his arms, “I didn’t cheat.”

“Sure, buddy, you gotta stick to your story, I get it,” Rolo said as he stood to head back to his own table.

Lance shook his head. Why wouldn’t anyone listen to him?

“Just for the record,” Rolo added, “I hope you do good in the trials. These stuffy, old traditions needed someone to shake them up.”

Lance let out a huff of air as he watched Rolo retreat back to the Slytherin table. “I’m pretty sure Rolo is the only person in the whole school who doesn’t hate me now, bar you, and maybe Hunk,” he told Romelle.

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Romelle frowned.

Lance shrugged, reaching across the table to grab a slice of toast. He buttered it generously before resting it on his plate while he filled his goblet with orange juice.

“I heard that Keith was really upset about it,” someone, one of the Ravenclaw fourth-years, said in a low voice down at the other end of the table. “The Durmstrang students were saying that he pried Lotor off of Lance just so he could yell at him.”

Lance winced. Like he needed another reminder of that particular moment.

Romelle grimaced, apparently she had heard the fourth-year as well. “Is that true?” She asked, as she poked at the scrambled eggs on her plate with a fork.

Lance nodded. “We were finally getting along, too,” he confessed, knowing that of all his friends, Romelle had been witness to the transformation from aminosity to friendly rivalry on the quidditch pitch. “Now, I’m pretty sure he hates me again. No, I’m positive that he hates me now.”

“Merlin, that sucks, but at least you don’t have to worry about playing quidditch together anymore,” Romelle offered.

Lance rolled his eyes, “You’re right. Instead I have to worry about competing against him in three deadly trials.”

“Right,” Romelle said, biting her lip. “That’s not better. Sorry.”

“At least you’re trying,” Lance said, picking up his toast and shoving it unceremoniously into his mouth.

“It will get better, Lance. It’s just… hot gossip right now. It will die down, eventually.”

Lance sighed. “I really hope that you’re right.”

“Hey, Álvarez,” someone called, and Lance looked up to see a kid from Slytherin approaching his table. “Heard you think you’re better than the Gryffindor Champion.”

“I never said that, Griffin,” Lance groaned. He recognised the kid, a seventh year who played as a Beater on the Slytherin quidditch team. They had gone toe to toe (or… broom to broom?) more times than Lance would care to admit.

James Griffin crossed his arms across his chest. “You didn’t have to. Everyone is saying it for you.”

Lance swallowed nervously. At least up in the air they were pretty evenly matched, but here… here with Lance sitting down at the table with toast crumbs still on the front of his school robes, and James towering above him with his bad haircut...

The guy was pretty freaking intimidating.

“Listen, man,” Lance said, his voice rising in pitch, “I don’t want to start any trouble.”

James scowled. “You should have thought of that before you tried to steal attention away from the real pureblood Champions.” He made some kind of motion with his hands, three other students appeared as if out of thin air, flanking James.

“We just thought that maybe you needed a reminder that muggleborn scum should stick to what they know.”

“Nope, no reminder necessary,” Lance insisted, holding up his hands in surrender. He felt his chest ache at yet another reminder that his blood made him different from most of his other classmates, that there were people in the school who wouldn’t accept him purely because of his muggle heritage.

“And maybe you should shut your mouth,” Romelle snapped.

“Aw, does the little mudblood need his girlfriend to fight his battles for him?” One of the cronies, a Gryffindor, asked. Lance thought her name was Nadia Rizavi, the tone of her voice mocking, usually she stayed quiet compared to James.

“Don’t call me that,” Lance snapped, his blood pounding underneath his skin. He clenched his hands into a fist in the pockets of his school robes, letting his nails carve crescent moons into his palm.

He half-expected Romelle to jump in with some kind of retort about how she wasn’t his girlfriend, which would undoubtedly set off another round of brutal comments, but she didn’t.

“Come on, Lance,” she said, as she stood from the table. “Let’s go to class.”

Lance followed her lead and pushed away from the table, feeling a little bit more secure now that he was the same height as James and his friends.

“Running away?” James asked. “If you’re scared of us, I’d hate to see what you have to face in the trials.”

Lance ignored him, trying to step past the four students.

One of them, the Slytherin boy standing to James’ right, stepped out into his path as Lance tried to get around him.

“Seriously?!?” Lance spat, “How old are you?”

The Slytherin boy smirked, as he stepped in front of Lance once again when he tried to step around… oh what was his name… Ryan Kinkade or something… again.

“Get out of my way,” Lance muttered, as he tried to shove past the older boy.

The boy brought his hands up, slamming them into his chest right as Lance tried to make his way past him, Lance’s own momentum working against him to send him flying backwards onto the ground.

He landed painfully on his wrists, but even the sharp stinging wasn’t enough to distract him from the laughter echoing around the Great Hall.

Romelle crouched down to help him up, but Lance shrugged her off.

He pushed himself off the ground, and glared at James and his friends.

The Great Hall was ringing with laughter, the kind of laughter only a crowd with a common enemy they’ve just seen humiliated can muster.

“Did that hurt?” The Ravenclaw girl, the Icelandic girl, Ina Leifsdottir, beside James asked with a smirk. “You might want to go the the hospital wing. Maybe you won’t be able to compete in the Triwizard Tournament…”

“We wish!” Someone from the Slytherin table hollered. “Mudbloods don’t deserve to represent Hogwarts!”

“And Álvarez doesn’t deserve to represent Ravenclaw,” one of the boys in his year added. Lance snapped his head towards the boy, his chest aching. They were roommates, he thought they were at least kind of friends. Oh Merlin, he would have to share a dorm with him afterwards.

“Yeah,” someone agreed. “We want a Champion who actually knows what he’s doing!”

“And not just a dumb, dirty cheater who faked his way into the tournament!”

“Right!” Someone at the Gryffindor table agreed, drawing Lance’s eyes across the room. He stared back at the crowd of people who looked at him with so much contempt or anger or amusement.

He didn’t realise how much everyone hated him.

“More like faked his way into this school!”

His breath shortened as he took a step back, panic beginning to cloud his vision. Why wouldn’t they all stop staring at him? He looked around the room again, eager to find a friendly face, but his eyes landed on Pidge and Matt.

They sat at the far end of the Ravenclaw table, eyes firmly looking down. Lance felt his chest ache more at the sight of two of his best friends refusing to come to his aid.

“Place your bets now everyone, mine is that he doesn’t make it five minutes in the tournament. Merlin knows he isn’t smart enough for it.”

He could hear faintly the sounds of three dissenting voices over the constant laughter, sneers and taunts. Romelle, lovely Romelle, was arguing with James. Lance found Hunk, trying to stop some of his fellow hufflepuffs from shouting more cries of ‘mudblood’ and ‘cheater’. And there was Shiro, the only teacher present, trying to call the great hall to order again. Lance could see the anger and concern written on his face as he stomped forward, shouting at people taunting him, his gaze instinctively flicking over to the Gryffindor table.

That was the cherry on top of the cake. Lance couldn’t help the way he focused on a familiar mop of black hair that was angled down, his eyes on his empty plate in front of him. So Keith was here, too. Great. He really did despise him now. Perfect.

“Aw who cares! We all know that he’ll never amount to anything anyway, there’s no way in hell the mudblood will ever be as good as Keith.”

Okay, that was enough. Lance could feel the tears prickling in his eyes, but he fought them back. He would not cry in front of all of these awful people. He wouldn’t.

Trying to ignore everyone, Lance shouldered past the Gryffindor girl, who stepped aside and let him past this time, as he raced from the room.

He thought that he could hear Romelle calling out for him, but with the still constant insults being thrown and Shiro shouting at the students for doing so, Lance didn’t bother to turn around to check.

< < < > > >

A soft knocking on the door to the boys’ dormitory interrupted Lance’s peace and quiet. Lance paused, his quill resting above the potions essay he had been working on just long enough for a large blob of ink to drip down and ruin the page.

Great.

But the knocking… that was weird. Because if it was any of the other boys, they would have just stormed in.

The doorknob turned, and Lance watched as the large oak door eased open just far enough for Romelle to slip inside.

“Hey, Lance,” she said quietly, like she was speaking to a wild animal that was easily spooked. “Is it okay if I come inside?”

“Sure,” Lance answered with a shrug. He was kind of surprised to see her up here; while it wasn’t strictly forbidden for girls to be in the boys dormitory, it wasn’t exactly encouraged, either.

Still, Lance placed his ruined potions essay and quill on his nightstand, scooting over on the bed so that there was room for Romelle.

“How are you doing?” She asked, as she climbed up onto the bed and sat down gingerly on the edge. She toed off her dress shoes and brought her legs up in front of her, resting her chin on her knees. “It’s been two days, Lance.”

Lance sighed, closing his eyes as he let his head drop back against the headboard. “I know. I just… can’t, Ro. I can’t go out there and have them all laughing and staring at me.”

“You need to go to class, Lance,” Romelle said sadly. “We really have to study for our N.E.W.T’s this year, you can’t afford to let your grades slip.”

Lance chuckled darkly. “What does it matter? Apparently no one in the wizarding world even wants me here. I should just go back home to Cuba.”

“That isn’t true,” Romelle protested, “and I know that you know that isn’t true deep down inside or you would have already demanded for Headmaster Holt to let you floo home.”

Lance didn’t answer, letting the silence settle between them. It wasn’t a bad silence, not like how the silences with other people could be, where Lance would find himself rushing to fill them without thinking of the words spilling out of his mouth, but it was still taut with the tension of their subject matter. The Triwizard Tournament was looming in the room like an unwanted houseguest.

“You know,” Romelle said, after a few minutes had passed, “Professor Shirogane has really been cracking down on the people making all those mean comments about you. He gave James and his minions detention out in the Forbidden Forest. The threat of that has shut down a lot of the others.”

“For now,” Lance said. “Until I show my face again.”

“You can’t hide in here forever,” Romelle said, reaching out to place a hand on Lance’s knee. “We miss you, your friends miss you.”

“I… I’ll try,” Lance allowed at last. “I’ll go to Charms this afternoon.”

Romelle smiled, “Good.” She paused, before reaching down and producing an all-too-familiar shaped box from her school bag. “Do you want a chocolate frog?” She asked, “I thought you might need more convincing.”

“So you were going to bribe me into going to class?” Lance asked. “You know me so well!” He leaned forward, snatching the chocolate frog away from her.

“Well other than breakfast the other day, I had no idea if you’d eaten,” Romelle defended, as she climbed further up onto the bed so that she was sitting beside him against the headboard.

“It’s kind of weird, something has been bringing me food,” Lance admitted. “I never see what it is, but when I leave to go to the bathroom and come back, there’s a plate of food sitting on my bed. It’s actually pretty great.”

He unwrapped the chocolate frog, “I always feel weird eating these,” Lance confessed as the frog hopped out of the box and onto the blue blanket he and Romelle were sitting atop of.

Romelle scooped up the chocolate frog before it could escape. “Really?” She asked, “They’re my favorite.”

Lance shrugged, “I could never get over how they moved.” He shuddered as Romelle bit into the chocolate frog. “I did always like the cards, though.”

He pulled out the card that had come with the frog, tipping it from side to side. “Hey, look, it’s Headmaster Altea.”

“Allura’s dad?” Romelle asked, leaning over to look. “That’s awesome. You should show her in Charms, later.”

Lance froze. He had completely managed to forget that Allura and the other Beauxbatons students were in Charms class with him. Shit.

“Lance, it will be fine,” Romelle assured him, dropping her head down onto his shoulder. “And if it isn’t, then I will personally kick all of their asses.”

“Do you promise?” Lance asked.

Romelle grinned. “Absolutely.”

< < < > > >

Okay, Lance thought to himself as he followed Romelle into the Charms classroom. I can do this.

Professor Blaytz smiled at him encouragingly as Lance dropped into his usual seat. He and Romelle had arrived early, so that hopefully they wouldn’t have to deal with all the attention of a late arrival. In fact, they were practically the first two in the classroom besides a few of the Beauxbatons students.

Lance sunk down into his usual seat, eager to avoid drawing any additional attention to himself. He pulled his Charms textbook out from his bag and flipped it open to a random page, pretending to read so that he wouldn’t have to make eye contact with anyone.

The other Ravenclaw sixth years filed into the room as it drew closer to the start of class, a few Beauxbatons students arriving as well. All too soon, the chair next to Lance was drawn away from the table, and Allura slipped into the seat she had claimed as her own.

Lance watched her out of the corner of his eye, noticing the way that her gaze flickered over to him before settling on the blackboard at the front of the room.

“Lance,” she greeted quietly, her accent rolling over the syllables of his name. “It’s good to see you.”

Lance stiffened in his seat. “It’s… uh… good to see you, too, Allura.”

Allura turned to face him, and the weight of her eyes was enough to make Lance look up from his textbook to meet her blue gaze.

“I just wanted to tell you,” Allura said, dropping her voice so that Lance was the only one who could hear her. “That I think it was wrong the way everyone else reacted. Especially Lotor,” she spat the name, and Lance found himself wondering how they obviously seemed to already know one another.

“It’s fine, Allura, you don’t have to apologize for them,” Lance said.

Allura shook her head, her pale hair falling around her shoulders. “It was unnecessary and cruel. You obviously had no control over the situation, something that you went out of your way to prove. I spoke to my father about the way that he reacted, and he wishes to extend his sincerest apologies.”

Lance felt a faint blush creeping across his cheeks at the thought of Allura talking to her dad about him. “Tell him it’s fine. Really. Out of everyone, he hardly had the worst reaction.”

Allura scowled. “Yes. I heard about what happened in the Great Hall the other day. I’m so sorry, Lance. While many of the Beauxbatons students are upset with the selection of an additional Champion, they would never be so openly cruel.”

Lance turned his eyes back down towards the book in front of him. Great, just what he needed to hear, that the other schools were unhappy with him competing.

“I, for one,” Allura continued, “am looking forward to having another person to compete with.”

Lance snapped his gaze back up to look at her. “What?” He asked, flabbergasted. “Seriously?”

“Of course,” Allura said with a small smile. “After all, that’s just one more person that I can say I beat when I win the competition.”

Lance grinned at her, “I wouldn’t be too sure, maybe the underdog will surprise you.”

Allura wrinkled her nose. “Under… dog?” She echoed.

“The person not expected to win,” Lance explained. “So… me.”

Allura shook her head. “I would say the person not expected to win, at least from my perspective, is Lotor. I plan on taking him down as quickly as possible.”

“Do you know him?” Lance asked. “Sorry! Maybe that was too personal, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“You’re fine,” Allura replied. “And to answer your question, yes, I know him. My parents used to be very close with his mother, Haggar, and we were… inseparable, for a while.”

Lance studied Allura, “You mean you dated,” he supplied.

The girl shrugged, “And we did not part on the best of terms. I am looking forward to taking his pride down a few notches.”

“Want any help?” Lance offered, “I’m always down to help a pretty lady kick some ass.”

Allura smiled, “I would… appreciate the aid.”

Lance stuck out his hand, “Win or lose, Lotor comes dead last, agreed?”

Allura wrapped her fingers around his, shaking his hand. “Agreed.”

“Hey guys,” Romelle whispered, interrupting them, “if you’re done with your little teamwork strategy session, you might want to start paying attention. Professor Blaytz started class, like, ten minutes ago.”

Oops. Lance pulled out a piece of parchment and quill from his bag, quickly copying down the notes that Professor Blaytz had already added to the board.

< < < > > >

At first, Charms class had seemed like it was going to be relatively uneventful. Sure, there was his talk with Allura, but she was cool, and they had decided to work together to take down that jackass Lotor… so that was progress!

But, of course, nothing could ever be that easy.

About halfway through class, Professor Blaytz had them split up into small groups to practice the shield charm that they were working on, and Lance ended up separated from his friends (was Allura a friend? Lance wasn’t sure, but after today, he thought that maybe she was). He was in a group with Hira, one of the Ravenclaw sixth years that he knew roomed with Romelle, and Olia, a quiet girl with glasses almost as large as her face.

“Okay,” Olia said, pulling out her wand. “Do you want to do the shield or the offensive spell first?” She asked.

Lance shrugged. “I’m fine with either.”

“Lance, you do the shield,” Hira instructed. “Olia and I will cast the offensive spells first.”

Lance took a few steps backwards so that there was enough room for them all to practice their footwork.

Lance slashed his wand through the air in front of him, “Protego!” He shouted, watching with satisfaction as a glowing blue barrier appeared in front of him.

Olia flicked her wand and muttered the incantation for the Jelly-Legs Hex, which bounced harmlessly off of Lance’s shield.

“Good job, Lance!” She said, giving him a thumbs up. “My spell couldn’t pierce your barrier.”

“Watch out,” Hira snapped, shoving Olia off to the side. She jerked her wand up, flicking it through the air. The bright blue light of a Full Body-Bind spell came streaking through the air towards Lance just as Hira shouted out “Petrificus Totalus!”

The blue energy crackled against Lance’s shield, which flickered slightly against the onslaught, but managed to maintain its shape.

“Your shield is weak,” Hira commented. “It only took two spells to weaken it considerably. Shoddy spellcasting like that is never going to hold up in the Triwizard Tournament.”

Lance blinked at her. “The shield charm is an incredibly difficult spell,” he said, confused. “Most adults can't even cast it. I just successfully cast it on my first try and you want to complain about how it barely lasted through two spells in a row?”

“Yes.” Hira snapped. “Because you’re representing Ravenclaw now, and I don’t want you to be a complete embarrassment to our house.”

“Hira,” Olia whispered, sounding shocked.

“Our reputation is resting in the hands of this idiot,” Hira said, crossing her arms. “Excuse me for trying to make sure he’ll at least last past the first trial.”

“Well you could be a little nicer about it,” Lance snapped, anger rising up in him. It wasn’t enough for people to pick on him in the Great Hall, but now they had to do it in class, too? “Whatever,” Lance muttered, storming past her, “I’m out of here.”

He had left his school bag on his seat back at his desk, but Lance could hardly bring himself to care. Hopefully Romelle would grab it for him.

Fuck this. He shouldn’t have come to class today.

The Ravenclaws hated him for embarrassing them, the Gryffindors hated him for taking the attention away from their Champion, the other houses just hated him, the other schools hated him for giving them a disadvantage against Hogwarts. This sucked. This whole situation sucked.

“Lance!” Professor Blaytz called, “Class isn’t over for another twenty minutes!”

But Lance ignored him, slipping out the door and letting it fall shut behind him.

He traveled through the familiar hallways that led back to the Ravenclaw common room, which would at least be blissfully empty since everyone was supposed to be in class.

He could feel tears forming in his eyes, and he reached up to wipe them away before anyone could see them. Not that there was anyone around to see.

Lance paced the third floor hallways, heading in the direction of the stairs that would take him up to the Ravenclaw common room. He was so distracted by his own thoughts that he didn’t realize anyone else was in the hallway with him until he felt two warm hands reach out to grab onto his shoulders.

“Lance! Aren’t you supposed to be in Charms class right now?” An all-too-familiar voice asked.

Lance blinked quickly, trying to clear the remaining tears from his eyes, before he looked up to see Professor Shirogane looking down at him, a concerned expression on his face.

“I… I- uh… I was just in Charms?” Lance offered.

“Are you alright?” Shiro asked, and he sounded so genuinely concerned that Lance almost started crying again.

“I’m fine,” Lance insisted, reaching up with one of his hands to rub at his eyes.

“Lance,” Shiro said slowly, before shaking his head. “You didn’t come to class yesterday.”

Lance bit his lip. “I know.”

Shiro studied him, before sighing. “Well, come on, let’s forget about that. I’ve actually been waiting to see you. Let’s go up to my office, okay?”

Lance nodded, and he trailed behind Shiro into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Shiro led him up a short flight of stairs to a balcony against the far side of the room, before opening the door and letting Lance inside.

Lance had never seen Shiro’s office before. It was neat, with bookcases full of leather-bound volumes pushed against the walls. A large mahogany desk took up the middle of the room, and posters of the wand movements for defensive spells covered the walls. A cage with some kind of magical animal in is was resting on the ground near the door, and Lance wasn’t sure, but he was pretty sure it was a Niffler.

“Have a seat,” Shiro said, waving a hand towards the comfortable armchair on the front side of the desk, while he made his way around and sat on the opposite side of the desk.

Lance followed Shiro’s lead and sat down, silently praying to whatever god there was that his face wasn’t red and blotchy from crying.

“So, Lance,” Shiro said. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Lance lied, glancing away from Shiro’s steady gaze.

“Lance, you don’t have to pretend to be okay if you aren’t,” Shiro said.

But that wasn’t something Lance was used to. He came from a big family, and part of coming from a big family means that people are usually too distracted to notice if something is wrong with you, especially when you’re gone for nine months out of the year.

“I’m fine,” Lance insisted, making Shiro frown.

“Do you want some chocolate?” Shiro asked, pulling open one of his desk drawers and taking out a muggle chocolate bar. He pulled the wrapper down, breaking off a piece of the chocolate and handing it to Lance.

Lance accepted the candy eagerly. It had been too long since he had chocolate that didn’t move when he tried to take a bite of it.

“So are you going to tell me how you really are?” Shiro asked, “Or are we just going to sit here in awkward silence? Because I’m fine with either.”

Lance smiled despite himself, Shiro really was the best teacher Hogwarts had ever had. “I left Charms class early,” he admitted.

“I figured as much,” Shiro said. “How come?”

Lance shrugged. “It was my first class back after… hiding… in my dorm for the past few days. And I thought it would be fine. Allura was being really nice about everything, but then Professor Blaytz had us split up into groups to work on our defensive spells. One of the girls in my year told me that I’m an embarrassment to our house. So I just… couldn’t take it anymore.”

Shiro nodded slowly, “I thought it might have been something like that, especially after what happened in the Great Hall the other day.”

“Romelle told me that you gave James detention out in the Forbidden Forest,” Lance said, biting his lip. “Thank you. For that.”

Shiro scowled, “If it were up to me I would have suspended him, but I figured detention in the Forbidden Forest was almost as good.” Shiro broke off another piece of chocolate and passed it over to Lance. “So it’s clear that you haven’t been feeling well ever since the incident in the Great Hall, then.”

“Am I that obvious?” Lance joked, but it fell flat. “Yeah, no. I’ve pretty much just been avoiding showing my face anywhere.”

“You shouldn’t have to do that, Lance, you haven’t done anything wrong.”

Lance shrugged. “I think the majority of the school would disagree with you on that one.”

“And what do you think?” Shiro asked.

Lance frowned. “What do I think about what?”

“About the Goblet of Fire choosing you.”

“I think it made a mistake,” Lance admitted. “There’s no way that I’m supposed to be the Hogwarts Champion. I mean, Keith is… Keith is Keith. He’s your star pupil, he’s gonna be an auror. Everyone knows that he was the right choice.”

“But, Lance, as much as I am loathe to agree with him, you heard what Professor Slav said. The chance that the Goblet made any kind of error is extremely slim. The Goblet of Fire chose you for a reason, Lance. It didn’t just choose Keith. It choose you as well.”

”I know,” Lance admitted.

“And is that really how you feel? That Keith deserves this more than you do?” Shiro asked, frowning slightly.

“Isn’t it?” Lance grimaced.

Shiro shook his head. “Lance, you’re one of the best students in your year when it comes to Charms and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Professor Blaytz and I have talked about whether or not you should be offered the chance for some advanced studies next year, and we both agreed that you could handle it.”

“R-Really?” Lance asked, blushing. Two of his favorite teachers had talked about him. To each other. Right. Okay. Cool.

Shiro nodded. “Really. But, with everything that’s going on with the Triwizard Tournament, I think it might be a good idea to move some of our plans up.”

“What does that mean?” Lance asked, leaning forward in his seat.

“It means I think you should join Keith and I once a week for a private session on offensive and defensive spells,” Shiro explained.

Lance sucked in a surprised breath. “I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” Shiro asked, “I think that it would be good for you, Lance.”

Lance bit his lip. He couldn’t just blurt out hey I’m pretty sure Keith hates me and if I show up to his private training session with his mentor he might actually kill me. Right? “Keith and I are competing against one another,” he finally settled on. “I’m not sure that it would be… appropriate for us to train together.”

Shiro waved one of his hands, “I’ve already spoken to Keith about it. He’s fine with the plan.”

Lance felt like his eyes were about to pop out of his head. “Oh… well… then…”

“Then you’ll come,” Shiro declared, as if Lance’s hesitation had settled the matter. He smiled, and Lance wasn’t quite sure, but he thought that the expression on Shiro’s face was almost… proud.

And there was no way that Lance would ever be able to say no to that face, so he found himself nodding. “I’ll come,” he agreed.

“Why don’t you meet Keith and I here next Monday after dinner?” Shiro asked.

“S-Sure,” Lance said, rising from his seat. “I’ll, uh, see you then.”

Lance practically shot from the room, giving Shiro a tiny wave over his shoulder, before he reached the safety of the Hogwarts corridor.

He was blushing, he could feel the heat burning his cheeks, as he stopped just outside of the classroom door and rested his back against the wall.

What the fuck.

Had he really just agreed to train with Shiro and Keith?!

< < < > > >

After his conversation with Shiro, Lance found that he was too restless to return to the common room. Everyone else was still in class, so he could wander the hallways in peace without the fear of anyone interrupting his quiet thoughts. Lance wasn’t typically a fan of the quiet, preferring to fill it with mindless chatter, but after the events of the last few days, it was nice to feel welcome in Hogwarts again. Even if the only people around were the enchanted portraits.

He found his feet carrying him downstairs and out of the front gate before Lance had really decided where he was going. Maybe he would wander down to Professor Coran’s hut, he hadn’t seen the older man in a while. Coran was practically an uncle to Lance at this point. Maybe he would have some friendly advice about the Triwizard Tournament and everything else that was going on…

And that’s probably what he would have done if a couple of older Hufflepuff boys on their way back to the castle from the Herbology greenhouse hadn’t stepped into his path.

“Sorry, little Ravenclaw,” one of them, who Lance recognized as Shay’s brother Rax, said in a low voice. “But we need to have a little chat.”

The other Hufflepuffs continued on towards the castle, shooting curious glances back towards Rax.

Rax crosses his arms across his chest. “Hunk has been causing some trouble in our house by defending you,” he stated simply. “My family does not approve of troublemakers. We like to avoid any additional attention.”

“So shouldn’t you be talking to Hunk?” Lance asked, “I didn’t ask him to stand up for me.”

“I have tried speaking to both your friend and my sister, but your friend is stubborn and my sister is blind to his faults,” Rax said coolly. “But make no mistake, if this behavior continues from your friend, the Balmera family will never fully accept him as Shay’s partner.”

“So you’re telling me if Hunk doesn’t back down, your family won’t let them date?” Lance asked, reeling backwards. “You’re crazy! This isn’t the eighteen-hundreds, people are allowed to date whoever they want to!”

“Maybe in your world, muggleborn,” Rax said. “But pureblooded families have different beliefs. The fact that your friend is a half-blood is already working against him. I would advise you to not cause any further trouble for him. Tell Hunk to let you handle yourself, which should be no problem for a Triwizard Champion,” Rax sneered.

“Leave Hunk and Shay alone,” Lance snapped. “I’ll tell Hunk to stay out of it.”

He would never be able to forgive himself if he was the reason that Hunk and Shay couldn’t be together...

Rax nodded, looking entirely too satisfied with himself. “Good luck in your Tournament, muggleborn, I have a feeling you may need it.”

Lance stiffened, but didn’t say anything as Rax turned and walked away.

Once the older boy wasn’t looking, Lance flipped him off. “Fuck you, Rax,” he muttered.

Ignoring the path that split off and headed down to Coran’s cottage, Lance followed the path that lead down to the lake instead.

Suddenly, he didn’t think he would be very good company.

Because this? This was almost worse than the people that were being assholes to him. He could take it, sure he might hide out in his room for a few days to avoid the worst of it, but he could take it. But threatening Hunk? Probably the nicest guy on the planet Hunk? That was an all new kind of low.

Lance dropped down onto the grass, far enough away from the edge of the water that the ground was still dry.

He pulled at the grass around him, yanking it up by its roots.

He would have to talk to Hunk about what Rax has said, he didn’t want his friend sacrificing anything on his account. But that was something he could worry about later. He had other issues on his mind right now. Like Shiro and private lessons and Keith. And the fact that those private lessons taught by Shiro were with Keith.

Lance let out a huff of air.

This was crazy. Shiro was crazy. He couldn’t have actually talked to Keith about it, there was no way that Keith would agree. Especially not after how he had reacted when the Goblet of Fire had chosen Lance as well as himself.

It just… didn’t make sense.

He could feel tears prickling in his eyes. God, this was so stupid. He should have never put his name in for the freaking Tournament.

Lance sniffled, tossing the handful of grass back down onto the ground.

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there, staring out at the surface of the lake, watching the giant squid break the surface a few times. He could feel the tears tracing paths down his cheeks, but he didn’t bother to wipe them away. It’s not like there was anyone around to see.

“Is anyone sitting here?” Someone asked, making Lance snap his head up. Crap. So apparently there were people around to see.

He wiped hastily at his eyes when he saw who had approached him without him noticing. Keith stood, awkwardly shifting his weight from one foot to the other, his hands shoved into the pockets of his school robes.

“N-No,” Lance said, hoping he didn’t sound as flustered as he felt.

Keith dropped down so that he was sitting on the grass next to Lance, just a few inches of space between them. “Are you okay?” He asked.

Lance chuckled darkly, wiping at his cheeks. “Do you even care?”

Keith stiffened beside him. “Of course I care,” he muttered.

“That’s not what it seemed like the other day,” Lance said.

Keith let out a long breath of air. “I know,” he admitted. “That’s partially why I’m here.”

Lance turned his head, so that he could study the older boy. “If you’re here to shout at me some more, could you please just get it over with? I’m really not in the mood.”

“I’m not going to yell at you,” Keith said, sounding flabbergasted.

Lance raised an eyebrow.

“I’m not,” Keith insisted. “I’m here to apologize.”

Wait. What?

“What?” Lance asked aloud.

“The way I reacted the other day was… terrible,” Keith said softly. “I shouldn’t have said those things.”

Lance shrugged. “Why not? They were true. At least, the whole ‘Lance doesn’t deserve to be the Champion’ part.”

“Actually,” Keith said quietly, averting his gaze, “I actually do think that ‘Lance deserves to be a Champion’. I was pretty sure that you were going to get it.”

Lance stiffened. “Seriously?” He asked, unable to tell if Keith was being serious or not.

Keith nodded. “I think that’s why I lashed out at you. Because everyone expected me to get in, but I was so sure that I wouldn’t. And then I did. But you did, too, and suddenly I didn’t know what to think. All I’ve ever wanted was to do something that would make my mom proud, and this was my chance. So when it seemed like there was a possibility that might have been taken away from me… that me being chosen was just a mistake and you were taking my place, I.. I took it out on you. You didn’t deserve that, Lance. It wasn’t right or fair for me to do that. I’m sorry.”

Lance shrugged. “It’s fine, Keith.”

Keith whipped his head around to stare at Lance, his gaze fierce enough that it made Lance flinch. “It’s not fine!” He exclaimed. “You can’t just shrug it off like that, Lance. I was a complete dick to you.”

“Honestly, it’s whatever,” Lance said tiredly, “I’m dealing with this whole situation. You shouldn’t have to deal with the fact that I can’t withdraw from the Tournament.”

Keith blinked at him. “You still want to withdraw?” He asked sounding surprised.

“I wish the Goblet had never fucking chose me,” Lance admitted. “Everyone is right when they say that I don’t deserve it. I’m nothing special.”

“Lance…” Keith said quietly, but Lance ignored him.

“I would have supported you, y’know,” he admitted. “I was happy when you were chosen. And Pidge was right when they said I only entered because I wanted the attention, but… I didn’t want it like this. I didn’t want to be treated like an outsider.”

“Pidge said that?” Keith asked, frowning. “I thought they were your friend.”

“They were, but they’re upset with me about getting into the Tournament. Pidge and Matt both think that I cheated and that I won’t tell them how I did it.”

Keith raised an eyebrow. “But you went under Veritaserum. You didn’t cheat. They’re two of your best friends, Lance, they shouldn’t doubt you like that.”

“I know, but that doesn’t seem to matter to anyone,” Lance said sadly. “I mean, I thought you were my friend, too, but you still thought that I had done it.”

“And I can’t apologise enough for doubting you for even a second, Lance. After all, I’ve known you for years now and I know logically you would never have cheated.” Keith admitted. “And,” he added, “it mattered to me. That you took the Veritaserum, I mean. It made me realize how much of an idiot I was being.” Keith paused for a second, looking away briefly before continuing. “Ever since we were escorted out of the room after you took it, I’ve been kicking myself. Lance, I don’t know if you could ever forgive me for how I treated you, but I just… I need you to know that I didn’t mean a single word that I said. I’m so sorry.”

The look on Keith’s face was so open, so earnest. Lance wasn’t sure that he had ever seen Keith look like that before. And he had definitely never seen that kind of look directed at him.

And… besides, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have a friend right now.

“Look, I’d love to differ with you,” Lance teased, trying to fall back into their more comfortable banter. “But we both already know that you’re an idiot. You didn’t need to give me a speech for me to know that. I’ve known that since second year.”

“Shut up,” Keith said, but he was obviously biting his lip to keep from smiling.

“And… I accept your apology. Thanks, Keith.”

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness.”

Lance shrugged. “Maybe not, but I’m giving it to you anyway. I… I’m not saying you’re fully forgiven Keith, but I can see how much you mean what you say and what more can I ask for? You’ll just have to make it up to me, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Keith agreed, with a nod. “Okay, I can do that.”

“Okay,” Lance said, tipping his head up to look at the sky.

After a few seconds of quiet, Keith let out a long breath. “I heard about what happened today.”

Lance stiffened. “How?” It was already spreading around the school?

“Shiro told me,” Keith admitted. “After you guys talked, he saw you down here from the window in his office and thought you looked upset so he came to find me.”

Oh. Well that made sense.

“Because he thought you should apologize?” Lance asked, suddenly wondering if everything Keith had just said was because Shiro had said that he should apologize. Or maybe not everything because Lance could see that Keith wasn’t lying… but… some of it?

Keith shook his head. “Because he knew that I wanted to apologize.”

“Oh,” Lance said softly.

“And I also wanted to say that I’m sorry I didn’t step in when all those kids were picking on you in the Great Hall the other day, I just… sat there. I just sat there and let them say all of those terrible things about you. I mean, afterwards I realised what I’d done, or rather hadn’t done, and confronted Rizavi about it in the common room. She and the rest of Griffin’s cronies should never have said that stuff about you. She in particular won’t be saying much of anything else for a while.”

“What do you mean by that?” Lance exclaimed. Because no way had Keith managed to get one of the biggest assholes in Hogwarts to stop being said asshole.

“Well…” Keith paused, all of a sudden looking way too pleased with himself. “She won’t be saying anything until the langlock jinx I cast on her wears off. She tried to duel me after I politely told her to fuck off and leave you alone, as well as stop saying all of those awful things, and so I shut her up before she could start anything. It’ll only last another day or so, but she can’t go to the teachers about it because she was the one who started it.” Keith gave a small, dark chuckle, before composing himself again. “I just… needed to get people to at least stop treating you like that. Make up for treating you like that myself in a way, I guess. Yeah.”

“That’s…” Lance couldn’t help but snort. “Keith, this apology was already enough, you didn’t need to duel a girl for my honour or anything stupidly reckless like that, you dumbass Gryffindor. Besides, it’s not like she said anything outrageous or anything. Still, thank you for sticking up for me. Looks like you’ve already been making it up to me, and I didn’t even know it.”

“What do you mean nothing outrageous?” Keith shouted, all too suddenly looking way too incensed. “That’s insane, Lance. Rizavi shouldn’t have said what she did. None of them should have.”

“I mean... they were right,” Lance said, picking at the grass next to his leg. “I should never have been chosen. No one wanted a dumb, pathetic, worthless mudblood as the Hogwarts Champion.”

Keith’s shoulders stiffened. “Never call yourself that again,” he said sternly.

Lance reached up and wiped tears away from his cheeks, he wasn’t even sure when he had started crying again. Probably at some point when he realised how genuine Keith was being. “I won’t,” he agreed, his voice cracking.

“I’m serious, Lance,” Keith said, his voice cold and dangerous. “I don’t… you shouldn’t think that about yourself. Your blood status isn’t something to… to be ashamed of. It doesn’t make you weaker. Or any of that other bullshit that people say. Okay?”

“Okay,” Lance said shakily. “I know… I know that you’re right. It’s just… people have been saying stuff like that since first year. But it was never directed at me, you know? And it feels different when people are saying it to your face, rather than whispering about you behind your back. But… I won’t say… it… again. I promise.”

Keith nodded, looking satisfied. “Good.” He pushed himself off the ground, holding out a hand to Lance.

Lance wrapped his fingers around Keith’s, letting the older boy pull him up to his feet.

“So can we go back to being friends now?” Keith asked. “I really want to be friends again. Being friends was great.”

Lance nodded. “I’d like that. I’d really, really like that.”

Friends seemed to be something he was in short supply of lately.

It wasn’t until they were almost back to the castle that Lance realized Keith still hadn’t let go of his hand.

Chapter Text

Lance paused outside of the door to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Was he seriously about to go in and have a private training session with Shiro and Keith?

He took a deep breath, before pushing open the door.

He hadn’t been able to eat anything at dinner, too nervous about tonight’s private session, but at least the anticipation had been a welcome distraction from the icy treatment he was receiving from the other students. Well, things were a little better now that he and Keith were back on speaking terms, the Gryffindor students were laying off of him, at least.

It wasn’t enough, however.

He couldn’t just ignore the fiery glares, the whispered insults and the hushed conversations happening around him. Sure, no one had insulted him to his face since the Great Hall fiasco, but was this really any better?

Lance shook his head, trying to clear his mind. It was no use dwelling on that now. He had a bigger problem to deal with now.

Shiro and Keith were already inside the room, Both of them in dueling stances at the front of the room, but they both dropped their stances when they noticed him.

“Lance,” Shiro greeted, “I’m glad that you came.”

“Hey,” Keith said, ever one with words.

“So, um, what are we working on today?” Lance asked, as he joined them in the front of the room, which was clear of desks and chairs.

“Since we still have no idea as to what the first trial is, Keith and I agreed that we should probably practice some basic defensive and offensive spells.”

“We’re working on shielding in Charms,” Lance offered.

Shiro nodded. “Perfect. Lance, you work on defending then, while Keith casts offensive spells at you.”

“Sure,” Lance agreed with a nod, sliding his wand out of his robes.

He and Keith positioned themselves so that they were across from one another, while Shiro stepped off the the side so that he could observe.

“Whenever you’re ready, Lance,” Shiro said.

Protego!” Lance exclaimed, the blue barrier flickering to life in front of him.

“Excellent!” Shiro said. “Maybe just adjust your footing, slide your back foot back and rotate it.”

Lance did as Shiro instructed, positioning himself so his body was slightly turned to the side.

“Now you’re a smaller target. Okay, Keith, let’s see what you’ve got.”

Incendio!” Keith said, as he pointed his wand directly at Lance.

A streak of red-hot flame slammed into his shield, the energy crackling from the blow.

“Are you trying to light me on fire?!” Lance screeched.

Keith shrugged, “It’s my favorite offensive spell,” he said as if that explained everything.

“Of course it is,” Lance said, shaking his head slightly. “You’re just an insane person. Got it.”

“Maybe stick with hexes and jinxes,” Shiro said, sounding rightly concerned, “I don’t want my classroom to catch on fire.”

Keith nodded, before adjusting his grip on his wand. “Are you ready, Lance?” He asked.

“I was born ready,” Lance said, although he couldn’t help but be impressed by the fact that he was still holding up the shield.

Flipendo!” Keith shouted, a stream of white light emerging from his wand.

The spell slammed into Lance’s shield, the force hard enough to send him skidding backwards, the shield spell dropping. “I always lose my connection on the second attack,” Lance admitted,

“That’s still really impressive, Lance,” Shiro said. “Shielding spells are incredibly difficult.”

Lance felt himself flush. “Thanks,” he said quietly, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck.

Ha, take that Hira.

“Not to mention shielding spells are usually used a a reflex against an attack,” Keith added with a shrug, “so they really only need to withstand one spell.”

“Okay,” Lance said with a small smile.

“Do you guys want to go again?” Shiro asked. “And then I’ll have you switch so Lance can practice his offensive spells.”

“Sounds good,” Keith agreed.

“Sure,” Lance nodded.

He took a deep breath. “Protego!”

< < < > > >

“You two did good today,” Shiro said later, when Lance and Keith were both sweaty and tired and had collapsed into twin heaps on the ground at the front of the DADA classroom.

“I’m so hungry,” Lance groaned.

“We just had dinner,” Keith said, raising an unimpressed eyebrow.

Lance shrugged. “Yeah, but I didn’t eat anything.”

“Always eat before training,” Keith said seriously. “Always.”

“Well I know that now!”

“Alright you two,” Shiro said, shaking his head. “Get out of here before you start bickering again. I can’t listen to any more of it.”

“Sure thing, Shiro,” Keith said, standing. “Come on, Lance, let’s go down to the kitchen and see if we can talk the staff into giving us food.”

“Seriously?” Lance asked, jumping up, his exhaustion forgotten.

“Seriously.”

“Bye, Shiro!” Lance called, as he followed Keith out of the room. “See you in class tomorrow!”

The door shut behind them, cutting off the sound of Shiro’s chuckles.

“I don’t know how you do that all the time,” Lance groaned, leaning against Keith. “I’m exhausted.”

Keith pushed him away. “You’re sweaty.”

“So are you,” Lance shot back.

“And you’ll get used to it,” Keith added. “The training, I mean.”

“You’re really good,” Lance admitted. “I don’t even know some of those hexes you were using.”

“Probably no one does,” Keith admitted. “Shiro created them himself.”

“Seriously?!” Lance exclaimed, his eyes widening. “That’s so cool.”

Keith nodded. “I have a training journal full of them. You can borrow it if you want to practice them.”

“That sounds incredible!” Lance said. “But, wait… you have a training journal? Is that like a diary?”

“Shut up, Lance,” Keith groaned.

“Oh my god, it totally is! Keith, you keep a diary? That is so cute,” Lance teased.

“If you keep this up, I won’t let you borrow it,” Keith warned, poking Lance.

“Fine,” Lance held up his hands in surrender.

Keith rolled his eyes. “Come on, I know a shortcut to the kitchens.”

“Seriously?” Lance asked, trailing behind Keith as the other boy led him to a portrait of a knight in full armor atop a horse. The knight bowed his head to them, and Keith reached up, tugging the portrait away from the wall to reveal a small stone staircase that descended down into the darkness.

Lumos,” Keith whispered, his wand igniting to fill the secret passageway with light.

Lance stepped down into the staircase, shivering from the sudden chill in the air, while Keith carefully closed the portrait behind them.

“How did you find this?” Lance asked, fully aware of the fact that he sounded more than a little awed.

“I get bored, and I don’t sleep well, so I spend a lot of time exploring,” Keith said.

“And you don’t get caught?!”

“No… no. I’m really good at not being seen,” Keith said slowly.

“You must be,” Lance said with a whistle. “One time, Pidge and I tried to sneak down to the Hufflepuff dorms to hang out with Hunk but Iverson caught us and gave us detention for a week. I still shudder anytime I have to clean a cauldron.”

He thought that Keith gave a quiet chuckle, but he couldn’t be sure.

“Okay, see that crack of light in front of you?” Keith asked, suddenly much closer than he had been before, his breath ghosting across Lance’s neck.

Lance swallowed. “Yep,” he said, his voice coming out uncharacteristically high.

“That’s a tapestry, just pull it to the side and we’ll be on the basement near the kitchens. Nox,” Keith said quietly, his wand’s light disappearing, plunging them into darkness.

Lance reached own, and sure enough, he found his fingers brushing against the soft fabric of one of the many tapestries that adorned Hogwarts walls. He pushed it away from the wall just far enough to slip through, and then held it away from the secret passageway so that Keith could slip out as well.

Lance glanced around at the hallway they had just entered. Sure enough, he recognized it as being just around the corner from the kitchens and the Hufflepuff dorms.

“That is so cool,” he whispered.

“If you think that one's cool,” Keith said, sounding smug, “you should see the one that takes you to Honeydukes.”

“Seriously?! Man, you’ve been holding out on me.”

Keith shook his head softly, his hair falling forward over his forehead, and Lance had the strangest urge to reach out and brush it back.

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his school robes instead.

Keith led Lance confidently around the corner and directly to a large, food-themed painting that was only making Lance more hungry.

Keith reached up, lightly running his finger along one of the pears in the painting.

The pear let out a soft giggle, and Lance would be surprised except that a giggling fruit was probably one of the more normal things at Hogwarts, before turning into a green handle.

“After you,” Keith said, as he pulled the door open.

“Do you need midnight snacks often?” Lance teased, as he stepped into the room.

And, wow, okay. The room that he had just entered was the same size of the Great Hall, with huge, vaulted ceilings. Five wooden tables identical to the ones in the Great Hall were placed around the room, and the opposite side of the room was almost entirely occupied by a large stone fireplace. But perhaps most surprising of all was the hundreds of little figures bush at work around the room, rolling dough, shaping pastries, cooking, or washing dishes.

“Hey, Mullet,” Lance whispered. “You mind explaining what I’m looking at right now?”

Keith blinked at him. “You’ve never seen House-Elves before?”

Lance shook his head, unable to tear his eyes away from the creatures. They came to about the height of his knee and many appeared to be dressed in rags or towels. “No,” Lance admitted. “Should I have?”

“Oh… well.. I guess not,” Keith replied. “Since you’re a muggleborn, I guess you wouldn’t have grown up around any, but House-Elves are really common in wizarding homes. They help with the cooking and cleaning and stuff.”

“I’ve been to the Holts’ house before, but they didn’t have one,” Lance said, keeping his voice quiet in case any of the weird little creatures were listening.

“Not everyone does,” Keith said, as he moved further into the room.

Lance followed him warily, flickering his eyes around to study the tiny creatures. They were kind of cute, he decided, in a weird way. Still, he almost jumped out of his skin when one stepped up beside him.

“Can Klaizap help the young masters?” The creature asked in a squeaky voice.

“They can talk?” Lance hissed to Keith.

Keith rolled his eyes. “Of course they can talk.”

Keith crouched down so that he was level with the small House-Elf. “My friend didn’t have dinner, would you mind making us something to eat?”

The creature nodded its head. “Wait here,” it instructed, before scampering off.

“Come on,” Keith said, gesturing towards one of the benches that ran along a mostly-empty table. “Klaizap will be back in a second with more food than you can imagine.”

Lance said down on the bench next to Keith. “I didn’t even know that students were allowed in the kitchens.”

“Strictly, I’m not sure that we are,” Keith admitted, “but the House-Elves love company.”

“This place is insane,” Lance said. “I’m never going to get used to it.”

“So you’ve seriously never seen a House-Elf before?” Keith asked, “Not even when they brought you dinner?”

Lance blinked at him. “They’re the ones who were feeding me when I wouldn’t leave my room?”

Keith nodded. “Of course.”

“Wait a second,” Lance narrowed his eyes. “How do you know that someone was bringing me food?”

Keith opened his mouth, before closing it again. “Uh… what do you mean?

Lance gave him an unimpressed look, arching one of his brows.

Keith flushed. “I… I felt bad. It’s at least partially because of me that you were hiding up there, and don’t even try to deny it, so I… um… I asked? Ugh, shut up, Lance,” Keith said, dropping his face down into his hands.

“I didn’t even say anything!” Lance protested. “And besides, I was going to say thank you. That was really cool of you.”

Keith lifted his head from his hands, his cheeks still flushed bright red. “Seriously?”

Lance chuckled, “Yes seriously. Thank you.”

“Oh,” Keith said softly, smiling down at the table.

“I mean, dude, they were my favorite foods too! Like it was almost as good as my mamá’s cooking. Almost.”

“Oh, well, the House-Elves know what people like…” Keith said, picking at his school robes. “What, ah, what are your favorite foods?”

“Oh, man, garlic knots for one. My mamá makes the best garlic knots. And empanadas,” Lance moaned. “I miss Cuban cuisine. No offense, but English food sucks.”

Keith blinked at him, “What’s an… empanada?” He asked, totally buterching the pronunciation.

“It’s, like, fried dough folded over stuffing. I didn’t even know that anyone could make them at Hogwarts, but I guess the House-Elves figured it out.”

“That’s good,” Keith said.

A few minutes pass before Klaizap scampers back over to them, carrying a tray full of pastries that look fresh from the oven.

Lance moans when the smell of cinnamon hits him, reaching for one of the fresh pastries eagerly. “Oh my god, Klaizap, this is amazing,” he said as he took a large bite.

“Is there anything else I can get for the young masters?” The House-Elf asked.

“I’d kill for some coffee, but something tells me that you aren’t hiding a Starbucks down here,” Lance said, peeling off a layer of his cinnamon roll, the sticky goo covering his fingers.

“Starbucks?” Keith echoed quietly.

The House-Elf frowned, before smiling. “We have hot chocolate,” they offered.

“Yes!” Lance enthused. “Hot chocolate sounds perfect.”

The House-Elf scampered away, leaving them alone once more.

“What’s a Starbucks?” Keith asked, as he picked up a blueberry muffin from the tray of pastries.

“Man, you haven’t lived until you’ve been to a Starbucks,” Lance said. “I dream of Frappuccinos.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Keith admitted.

“Okay,” Lance said, “so Starbucks is, like, a chain of coffee shops that is really famous for the funky drinks they serve. A Frappuccino is, like, a frozen coffee.”

Keith nodded slowly.

“I’ll take you sometime,” Lance promised, blushing slightly.

“I can’t believe that Professor Kolivan has never mentioned it in Muggle Studies,” Keith said.

Lance blinked at him in surprise. “You.. wait, you take Muggle Studies?”

Keith nodded, his eyes lighting up.

“I didn’t know that,” Lance admitted quietly. “That’s cool. Do you, ah, do you mind if I ask why?”

“It’s just really interesting,” Keith said. “There’s this whole other world that most wizards know almost nothing about. I guess I just can’t help but be curious about it.”

“Really?” Lance asked raising an eyebrow, “But so many people in the wizarding community think that the muggle world is, I don’t know, not as important or something.”

“I think muggles are amazing!” Keith said, “The feats that they’ve accomplished without magic are insane.”

“That’s cool,” Lance said with a smile, “that you find it so interesting.”

Keith nodded. “I always try to ask Kolivan about the references you use,” he admitted quietly. “He didn’t know who John Stamos was, either.”

“You seriously pay attention to all the little muggle things I say?” Lance asked, his eyes widening.

Keith nodded, a faint blush spreading across his cheeks. “Of course I do.”

“Everyone else just tunes me out,” Lance said softly. “It’s nice to know that someone actually listens, I guess. Do you know why I say those things? The… references to my muggle life?”

Keith shook his head. “I just always thought it was habit,” he admitted.

“It makes me feel less homesick, like, at least this way I remember it. Otherwise it gets lost underneath all of the wizarding stuff,” Lance said, feeling the familiar pang in his chest that he felt whenever he thought of home.

Keith smiled slightly, turning in his seat slightly to make eye contact with Lance. “You know, you could tell me more about it. If you wanted to.”

Lance grinned. “Seriously?”

Keith nodded. “Sure. I’m a good listener.”

“What do you want to know?” Lance asked.

Keith shrugged. “Everything.”

< < < > > >

Keith said he wanted to know everything, so Lance told him about home, about Cuba and Varadero beach, and the ropa vieja that his grandmother made whenever he and his siblings stayed over at her house. He explained how his full first name was Leandro, but that the only one who still called him that was his mamá. He talked about how much it sucked that he couldn’t have a cellphone at Hogwarts because his family never really got used to the owls. He told Keith about how Marco taught him to play guitar, promised to play for him sometime, and how Luís taught him how to swim in the shallow ocean waves just minutes away from their house. He told him about watching trashy American television shows with Veronica, how Ronnie was the only one to indulge him with watching reruns of Friends and Full House. He told him about his twin sister, Rachel, and how Lance taught himself to braid hair so that he could do hers before her dancing competitions.

Keith didn’t get any of the pop culture references that Lance made, but that was okay, because Lance explained them carefully.

For the first time since he can remember since he came to Hogwarts, Lance didn’t feel homesick.

< < < > > >

The next day, Lance followed Romelle out into the courtyard. Romelle was supposed to be meeting up with Hunk and Shay so that they could finish a herbology assignment, and Lance had reluctantly agreed to tag along. He would rather be training with Keith and Shiro, but Shiro had gotten sucked into some kind of teacher meeting with a member from the ministry and canceled their lesson, and it wasn’t like he had anything better to do.

Not to mention he had a lot of work to catch up on after missing a few days of classes.

“Oh, Merlin,” Romelle said, “I left one of my plants down in the Greenhouse. Tell Hunk and Shay that I’ll be right back,” and with that, Romelle turned on her heel and disappeared.

Lance watched her go, before glancing around the courtyard. He couldn’t see Hunk or Shay. Although he did see Rax and some of his Hufflepuff buddies playing Exploding Snap across the way.

“Hey, Lance!” Someone called, and Lance glanced over his shoulder to see that Nyma was waving him over to where she was sitting on a stone bench with a box clutched in her hands. “Can I interest you in a button?” She asked, holding the box out in front of her.

Lance closed the distance between them. “A button?” He questioned.

Nyma nodded. “They’re enchanted. I made them.”

She shook the box slightly, drawing Lance’s eyes down to the buttons inside.

There must have been dozens. They were bright red, and proclaimed SUPPORT KEITH KOGANE - THE REAL HOGWARTS CHAMPION in bold letters.

He arched an eyebrow at Nyma. “I think I’m good, thanks.”

“You haven’t even seen the best part, yet,” Nyma pouted, reaching into the box. She poked one of the badges and it swiftly changed so that it was neon green with the words ÁLVAREZ STINKS written across it.

“Really classy, Nyma,” Lance said. “Let me guess, all your friends are wearing them.”

“And most of the Gryffindors,” She added. “Sure I can’t interest you in one?”

“Fuck you, Nyma,” Lance said, pivoting on his heel and stomping away from her. A few of the Slytherin girls that had been sitting nearby broke out into a chorus of giggles, followed shortly after by Nyma’s breathy laugh.

He didn’t get far before two of the Hufflepuffs that hung around Rax stopped in front of him, holding out their robes so that the buttons they were wearing (on the ÁLVAREZ STINKS side) were proudly displayed.

“Out of the way, Álvarez,” one of them said, as they shoved past him. The other stuck out his tongue at Lance, before following his friend.

Ignore them. Ignore them. Ignore them. Lance chanted silently to himself, praying that he would spot Hunk somewhere in the courtyard.

Of course, he had no such luck.

Instead, Rax abandoned his game of Exploding Snap and crossed the small courtyard to approach Lance. He was wearing a large ÁLVAREZ STINKS button on the front of his robes, because of course he was.

“My little sister and your little friend won’t be meeting you down here today,” he said. “Associating with a known cheat won’t be good for their reputation.”

Lance drew in a sharp breath through his nose. Forget this, he’d go find Romelle down at the Greenhouse and they’d go somewhere else to study.

He ignored Rax, spinning on his heel and making his way back towards the castle. A first year Gryffindor ran past him shouting “Keith rules!” while the Courtyard exploded into laughter.

Lance was already sick of the Triwizard Tournament and it hadn’t even started yet.

< < < > > >

By the end of the day, the whole school seemed to be wearing the ÁLVAREZ STINKS buttons (aside from Romelle, Hunk, Shay, and most likely Keith). Lance had debated whether or not to go to dinner, but Romelle had told him that she had heard from Olia who had heard from Matt who had heard from his dad that there was going to be another big announcement tonight, so Lance had figured he should probably go.  

After all, it would probably be something about the fucking Triwizard Tournament.

Lance trailed after Romelle into the Great Hall, trying to ignore the flashing green and red buttons he could see decorating the robes of students he had once thought were his friends.

Movement at the closest end of the Ravenclaw table caught his eye, and Lance glanced over to see Matt and Pidge whispering to one another.

A bright green pin was stuck to the front of Pidge’s school robes.

Lance blinked back the tears that suddenly assaulted his eyes. He and Pidge had been friends for years, were they really willing to let their jealousy take them this far?

A few students hollered things like “Álvarez stinks!” or “Kogane is the real champion!” as Lance took his seat at the Ravenclaw table, keeping his head down. He could practically feel Romelle bristling beside him.

A quiet hush suddenly fell over the room, and Lance found himself following everyone else’s gaze.

It was Keith, strolling through the open doors of the Great Hall. Lance hadn’t seen him since they said goodbye outside of the kitchens yesterday, hadn’t seen him since he told Keith about everything that was dearest to him. He hadn’t felt vulnerable at the time, but he did now, knowing that he had basically handed Keith a fully-loaded gun. Oh, look at the pathetic, home-sick muggleborn. It was easy to trust Keith when they were alone, or when they were with Shiro, or when he was apologising, but it was harder to trust Keith like this - when it felt like the whole school was trying to tear them apart.

“Hey, Kogane!” The familiar voice of James Griffin called, and Lance turned just in time to see the boy rising from the Slytherin table. He watched as James cut through the crowded Great Hall, brushing past the red haired girl from Durmstrang who was holding hands with a girl Lance didn’t recognise, clearly on their way to their table at the front of the room.

Keith froze, scowling when he saw who had called his name, and Lance couldn’t help but wonder why James was approaching Keith.

“I got you something,” James said with a smirk, as he closed the remaining distance between them.

“This better not be something from the prank store again, Griffin. I’m not in the mood,” Keith said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I think you’ll like this one,” James said, holding out one of his hands, a familiar looking pin resting in the center of his palm, although it was set to the red SUPPORT KEITH KOGANE - THE REAL HOGWARTS CHAMPION side.

Keith arched an eyebrow. “Merlin. What is that?” He asked, his voice sharp.

“Oh, you haven’t even seen the best part!” James said, as he tapped the button and it transformed into the green ÁLVAREZ STINKS side. “The whole school is wearing them.”

“The whole school is… bloody hell,” Keith muttered, his voice dangerously low. “Where did you get this?”

James held up his hands, “Woah, cool down, man. I thought you’d think they were funny.”

“You think this is funny?” Keith asked, snatching the button out of James’ hand, tossing it down onto the ground.

“Well, yeah,” James said. “Álvarez is gonna make Hogwarts look bad, the whole school knows that, even if it wasn’t the right choice, you’re supposed to be the real champion.”

“We don’t know that,” Keith bit out.

James smirked. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure we do. Álvarez is nothing but a filthy mud-”

He never got to finish speaking, however, because Keith’s fist connected squarely with his jaw.

“Merlin’s beard,” Lance heard Romelle say softly from her place beside him, but the pounding in his ears was so loud he could barely hear her.

James reeled backwards, collapsing down onto the ground from the force of the blow.

Keith lunged forward, as if he was going to keep swinging.

That was enough to launch Lance into motion, as he quickly swung around and bolted towards Keith. He reached the older boy just before he could drop down onto James, and Lance wrapped his arms around Keith, pulling him backwards. “Keith, Keith, it’s fine. He isn’t worth it!”

Keith resisted, tugging against Lance until the words sunk in, when he finally relaxed, the tension draining from his body.

“Did you know about these things?” Keith asked quietly, never taking his eyes off of James, who was sprawled out across the floor of the Great Hall rubbing his jaw.

Lance nodded, releasing his arms from around Keith once he was sure the other boy wasn’t going to jump James again. “Yeah. I… found out about them in the Courtyard this morning, but it’s not like anyone is trying to hide them. They’re kind of hard not to notice.”

Keith frowned, but before he could reply, James jumped up from the ground.

“You’re crazy!” James spat at Keith, still rubbing at his jaw, where a bruise was already forming.

“And you’re a dick!” Keith shot back.

“Keith!” A stern voice, one that was all too familiar, called. “What have I told you about getting into fights?”

Keith raised his eyes to meet Shiro’s gaze. “Technically you told me not to duel anyone,” he offered with a slight wince.

Shiro narrowed his eyes, Lance hadn’t even noticed Shiro and some of the other teachers approaching. “I figured you would know that the same rules applied for fighting with your fists.”

“Yes,” Professor Iverson said, his voice low. “Fighting with another student. That will cost Gryffindor fifty points, young man.”

“But James started it!” Lance protested, “Keith was just trying to stand up for me!”

“And that will be ten points from Ravenclaw. Do you want to continue, Mr. Álvarez?”

“No, Sir,” Lance muttered, kicking at the ground softly with his foot.

Shiro glanced over at Iverson. “And James Griffin has just cost Slytherin thirty points for his behavior. Obviously no one was entirely innocent in this situation.”

Well, Lance was pretty sure he hadn’t actually done anything, but at least James lost points, too.

“James, return to the Slytherin table,” Shiro instructed, not even sparing a glance for the other boy. “I need to have a chat with our Champions.”

James pouted, but he let Professor Iverson lead him back to the Slytherin table.

“Are you two okay?” Shiro asked, sounding concerned. “Lance, I’ve seen the buttons, I’ve tried to re-enchant a few of them, but it only seems to make the insults worse.”

Lance scowled. Of course. “Oh, she’s good,” he muttered under his breath.

Keith’s gaze snapped over to him. “Do you know who did this?” He demanded.

“Um…” Lance said, flickering his gaze nervously between Keith and Professor Shirogane. Sure, Nyma wasn’t his favorite person, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be the one to rat her out either. “We’ll talk about this later,” Lance promised Keith.

Shiro frowned, but he didn’t press. “The two of you should take your seats. Headmaster Holt has an announcement for the Champions after dinner tonight.”

Lance nodded. “I heard.”

Keith frowned. “About what?”

“It’s about the first trial,” Shiro said. “That’s partially what my meeting with the ministry was about today.”

Keith smirked. “Oh, yeah, how is Adam?”

Shiro blushed faintly, “He’s fine. Although he won’t be happy to hear that you’ve been fighting again. Go to your seats, I expect to see both of you in class tomorrow.”

With that, Shiro turned on his heel and headed back towards the teacher’s table, leaving Lance standing with Keith.

“Who’s Adam?” He asked, trailing after Keith.

Keith ignored him.

Keeeeeeeeeith,” Lance whined. “Who’s Adam?”

“I’ll tell you if you tell me who made the buttons,” Keith said, glaring at the Gryffindor students sitting at their table in the Great Hall, as though the green buttons on the front of their robes personally offered him. Maybe they did.

“I’ll tell you after dinner,” Lance pouted, separating from Keith so that he could make his way towards the Ravenclaw table.

< < < > > >

Dinner passed relatively uneventfully after that, except for some quiet commotion from the Gryffindor table. When Lance had glanced over, he had seen the Gryffindor students taking off their buttons and placing them in piles on the table, Keith frowning at all of his housemates with his arms crossed over his chest.

Lance hardly ate, picking at his food as he pushed it around his plate, letting Romelle reach over and steal his dinner rolls for herself.

It seemed like dinner lasted forever, and by the time dessert finally arrived, Lance felt like he could scream.

The silence of the Ravenclaw students around him was stifling, and Lance, always one for conversations and gossip, didn’t even try to talk to Romelle, knowing that everyone around them would eavesdrop on their conversation.

Finally, finally, Headmaster Holt stepped up to the podium at the front of the Great Hall and cleared his throats. “Attention students, today I am pleased to announce that we are officially announcing the first trial of the Triwizard Tournament.”

Lance stiffened in his seat, instinctively glancing around at the other Champions.

Allura and Lotor were both sitting at the front of the room, their spines straight and their eyes locked on Headmaster Holt, but Keith was already looking at Lance. Lance raised his eyebrows, and Keith shrugged, before turning his attention back up to the front of the room.

Headmaster Holt stepped to the side, revealing four scrolls that were floating in the air behind him, each of them tied with a different colored ribbon: sky blue, purple, navy blue, and red.

Headmaster Holt cleared his throat as he wrapped his fingers around the scroll with the sky blue ribbon. “The first task will occur on November 24th, giving our Champions just a few weeks to crack the riddle inside these scrolls. Now, the riddle is a clue for the events of the first trial, and any Champions who solve the riddle will have a distinct advantage over the others.”

A riddle. Okay, Lance was a Ravenclaw, he had to solve a riddle just to get into his common room every day. He could do this.

“Allura Altea,” Headmaster Holt called.

Allura stood from her seat, smoothing down her skirt as she crossed the room and stepped up beside Headmaster Holt, accepting the scroll from him with a small smile, before she returned to her seat.

“Lotor Daibazaal.”

Lotor stood, his cape spreading out behind him dramatically as he crossed the short distance to the front of the Great Hall. He didn’t smile like Allura had, as he accepted the scroll with the purple ribbon, but Lance thought that he saw the boy’s gaze flicker towards the Beauxbatons table before he returned to his own seat at the Durmstrang table.

“Keith Kogane.”

Lance watched as Keith stood and approached Headmaster Holt. Keith didn’t look like he had just decked someone in the face, his school robes and Gryffindor-red tie smooth and neat. There wasn’t even a hair out of place in that ridiculous mullet of his.

Keith’s eyes flickered over towards the teacher’s table - Shiro - before settling back on Headmaster Holt.

Headmaster Holt grabbed the scroll with the red ribbon, offering it to Keith.

Keith wrapped his fingers around it, before turning and making his way back towards the Gryffindor table, the serious expression on his face never wavering.

“Lance Álvarez,” Headmaster Holt called, and Lance took a deep breath to steady himself.

He felt Romelle place her hand on his knee, squeezing slightly before she released him, and Lance pushed away from the table. He could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on him, and he schooled his face into a steady expression.

The Great Hall felt longer than it ever had, and it seemed to take forever until Lance reached the raised platform at the far end of the room, stepping up the few steps to bring him level with Headmaster Holt, who offered him the scroll wrapped with the navy ribbon with a small smile.

Lance smiled gently in response as he accepted the scroll. The parchment was rough against his fingers.

Lance headed back towards his seat, keeping his eyes locked on the ground in front of him and not the flashing green buttons that seemed to surround him. Once he reached his seat, he sunk into it gratefully, running his fingers along the rough paper of the scroll.

“The Champions must solve the riddle on their own, without the aid of students who are not participating in the Tournament. Any outside help is strictly forbidden.” Headmaster Holt announced seriously. “Now,” he said, clapping his hands together, “let’s wish our Champions good luck!”

The Great Hall broke out into applause, with some hooting and hollering from the rowdier students.

Lance studied the scroll in front of him, wondering what on earth the first trial was going to be.

< < < > > >

Poison spreads throughout the water

A vile beast dead-set on slaughter

A breathless quest will take its toll

Serene beasts under its control

Beat or distract with chosen fight

To free and end your tiring plight

Weaknesses you must utilize

First to find a pearlescent prize.

Chapter Text

Lance followed Romelle and the other Ravenclaw students as they trickled out of the Great Hall, still running the scroll, the scroll containing the riddle for the first trial, between his fingers carefully.

A part of him couldn’t wait to get back to the privacy of his dorm room so that he could open it and try to figure out its contents, but the other half of him was terrified of what it was going to say.

Suddenly, warm fingers wrapped around his arm, and Lance felt himself get tugged backwards, away from the sea of Ravenclaws.

“Hey!” Lance protested.

“Shut up,” Keith muttered, as he tugged Lance down a side corridor. Once they were out of earshot of the other students, Keith let go of his grip on Lance’s arm. “Are you going to tell me who made the buttons now?” He demanded.

Jesus Christ, Keith,” Lance said, rubbing at his arm. “Fine, yes. I’ll tell you who made the buttons.”

“Jesus Christ?” Keith echoed.

Lance waved a hand. “He’s from a muggle religion, and if my mamá heard me take his name in vain like that she’d stick a bar of soap in my mouth.”

Keith frowned, “Oh yeah, sorry, I remember Kolivan telling us something about that,” his eyebrows drawing together and giving him cute little wrinkles in the center of his forehead.

Not that Keith was cute… just…

Oh, nevermind, Lance had stopped pretending he didn’t find Keith attractive back in fourth year. He wasn’t blind.

Keith shook his head. “Okay, we’ll get back to that later,” he said. “Who made the buttons?”

Lance sighed. “It was Nyma.”

Keith swore softly. “Of course it was.”

Lance shrugged.

“I’ll tell her to stop,” Keith said, sounding deadly serious. “We don’t even know that I am the real Champion, they shouldn’t be putting it on buttons and passing them out for people to wear.”

“Keith, it’s fine. Nyma is going to do whatever she wants to do, and you’re not going to be able to make her stop like you did with the Gryffindors.”

Keith blushed faintly, the pale pink barely visible in the low light of the corridor. “You saw that?” He asked.

Lance nodded.

A few seconds of silence passed between them before Lance spoke up again.

“Thank you. For decking James Griffin in the face.”

Keith scowled. “He deserved it.”

“Yeah,” Lance agreed. “I’ve been trying to nail him with a Bludger since second year.”

“Just trying?” Keith asked, a small smile playing at the corners of his lips. “I’m pretty sure you’ve gotten some decent hits on him. And hey, are you trying to tell me that I’m not the only one you’ve been relentlessly trying to hit?” Keith teased.

“You know you’re the only one for me,” Lance replied, leaning back up against the wall.

Keith rolled his eyes. “In your dreams, maybe.”

And okay there had been that one time involving the quidditch pitch showers, but Lance was definitely not going to tell Keith about that.  

Lance scoffed, hoping that the darkness of the hallway would hide the flush that was steadily creeping up his neck and onto his cheeks. “Whatever. So do you know what this whole riddle thing is about?” He asked, hoping to quickly change the subject.

Keith scowled. “Riddles are… not my thing. If I had known that we had to solve riddles for this contest, I might not have signed up.”

“Well it's a good thing you have me,” Lance said, tossing one of his arms around Keith’s shoulders. “I’m great at riddles. Although,” he mused, “you kind of have to be when you have to answer one to get into your common room.”

Keith frowned. “But Headmaster Holt said that students weren’t allowed to help anyone. And why would you help me, anyways? Aren’t we supposed to be competing against one another?”

Lance shrugged, retracting his arm from Keith’s shoulders. “Actually,” he corrected, “Headmaster Holt said that students outside the contest couldn’t help. He never said that the competitors couldn’t help one another.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you would help me,” Keith said, still frowning.

Lance let out a huff of air. “Keith, buddy, my man, I probably wasn’t supposed to be chosen in the first place-”

“We don’t know that,” Keith interrupted.

“Okay, we don’t know for sure, but… even if I was actually supposed to get chosen, I’m probably not going to win. So the least I can do is help you and make sure that at least one of Hogwarts’ Champions isn’t a complete fuck-up.”

“You’re not a fuck-up, Lance,” Keith said.

Well, the whole school seemed to have a different opinion on that one, Lance mused to himself. And frankly, he was starting to believe them. He had no real right to be participating in the Triwizard Tournament, so it was the least he could do to help Keith - the real champion - out as much as he could. And sure, Keith might not like it, but what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, right?

“Thanks, Mullet,” Lance said with a small smile. “That might be the nicest compliment anyone’s ever given me.”

Keith rolled his eyes. “Fine. Let’s look at the riddle.”

Lance turned his attention back down to the scroll he was still holding gingerly in his hand. He gently untied the navy blue ribbon that was sealing it closed, letting the ribbon flutter to the floor as he unrolled the fragile paper.

Keith, on the other hand, had slid his ribbon right off the end of the scroll.

There were eight lines of text flowing in beautiful calligraphy across the scroll in glistening silver ink.

Lance let his eyes roam over the riddle, as he read it silently.

Poison spreads throughout the water

A vile beast dead-set on slaughter

A breathless quest will take its toll

Serene beasts under its control

Beat or distract with chosen fight

To free and end your tiring plight

Weaknesses you must utilize

First to find a pearlescent prize.

“What the fuck?” Keith muttered, echoing Lance’s thoughts.

Lance bit his lips. “Okay. So we have, like, twenty days to figure out what this riddle is trying to tell us.”

“Do you think it’s actually about the first trial?” Keith asked, dragging his eyes away from the paper to make eye contact with Lance. “Or is it something we need to do before the trial?”

“I think it’s about the first trial,” Lance said, rereading the riddle. “See here?” He asked, reaching over to point at the lines of the riddle on Keith’s scroll. “Where it talks about a breathless quest? And then up here? Where it talks about water? I think our first quest is going to be underwater.”

“Merlin’s beard,” Keith said, “so we have to find a way to breathe underwater?”

Lance shrugged, “Maybe. Back in fourth year I figured out how to cast a spell that could extend the amount of time I spent under the water, but I’m not sure it would be long enough…”

Keith raised an eyebrow at him.

“What?” Lance asked, uncomfortable under Keith’s undivided attention.

“You figured out a spell to increase the amount of time you could breathe underwater in fourth year?” Keith asked, sounding almost… awed?

Lance reached up to rub at the back of his neck. “Um, yeah. I really like swimming.”

Keith blinked at him. “And you still think that you don’t deserve to be one of the Champions?”

“It’s just a stupid spell,” Lance muttered, feeling embarrassed. “It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Keith told him.

“So I’m thinking we’re probably going to be competing in the lake,” Lance said, trying to change the subject, uncomfortable with the praise. “That’s the largest body of water around the castle.”

Keith rolled his eyes, but didn’t press.

“So now we just have to figure out what the challenge is going to be,” Lance said, returning his attention back to the paper in his hands.

“Want to meet in the library after class tomorrow to work on it?” Keith asked. “Maybe there are some books that can help us?”

Lance nodded. “Yeah, sure, sounds good, buddy.”

“Alright,” Keith said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow,” Lance echoed quietly, as he watched Keith’s back as the older boy walked away from him.

< < < > > >

“Hey, wait,” Lance said as he dropped down into the seat across from Keith at the table the other boy had claimed in the library. “You never told me who Adam was. You promised me that you’d tell me if I told you who made the buttons. And I did, so spill.”

Keith rolled his eyes. “Adam is Shiro’s fiancè,” Keith explained. “He works for the Ministry in the Department of Magical Games and Sports, so he’s working on the tournament pretty heavily.”

Lance blinked at him in shock. “Shiro’s engaged?” He screeched. “How did I not know this? More importantly, how do you know this?”

Keith shook his head at Lance’s loud volume, glancing around the library as if he was afraid someone was going to come over and yell at them. “Yes, Shiro’s engaged. Because you’re an idiot, probably. And I know because I stay with Shiro during Christmas and over the summer holidays, ‘cause my mom can be away for days at a time.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Lance protested, ignoring everything else Keith said as he crossed his arms across his chest.

Keith rolled his eyes again. Didn’t he know that if he kept doing that, eventually his face would get stuck like that?

“And, anyways,” Lance continued, “that’s so cool that you get to stay with Shiro. I bet he lives somewhere super badass and has all kinds of magical creatures and… and you’re shaking your head. Why are you shaking your head?”

“Because Shiro lives in Godric’s Hollow, which is a tiny wizarding town, and he definitely doesn’t keep any magical creatures in the house because Adam would kill him.”

Lance pouted. “You’re making Shiro sound so boring. I know he’s not. He had a niffler in his office, I saw it.”

Keith arched an eyebrow. “A niffler? Yeah, Adam definitely doesn’t know about that. Besides, don’t you stay with Headmaster Holt and his family over the summer sometimes? That must be pretty cool.”

Lance rolled his eyes. “I usually stay with them for like a week before I get so bored of hearing about Technomancy that I just fly home to Cuba…” Lance said, trailing off as he remembered the last vacation he had spent with the Holts. The truth was, he loved the Holt’s towering monstrosity of a house, with the ghoul in the attic and the gnomes running wild in the yard. He loved helping explain muggle objects to Sam (he was under strict orders not to call him Headmaster Holt when they weren’t in school), playing quidditch on practice brooms out in the yard with Matt and Pidge, the itchy sweaters that Colleen knitted for him every year because he never really felt warm enough in the U.K., too used to the heat and humidity of Cuba. “I guess I’m not going to get a chance to go this year,” Lance said sadly.

Keith frowned. “I’m sure Matt and Pidge will come around,” he said.

“Yeah,” Lance said quietly, averting his gaze. “Maybe.”

“You don’t agree?” Keith questioned.

Lance shrugged. “I don’t know, Pidge made it clear where their loyalty lies. And it’s not with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“She was wearing one of Nyma’s stupid buttons,” Lance explained.

Keith scowled. “I still can’t believe she hasn’t gotten in trouble for passing those things out.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lance said, reaching down to pull his scroll out from his bag. “Let’s just get to work on the riddle.”

“It does matter,” Keith protested. “She’s being a jerk.”

“I guess that’s one word for her,” Lance agreed. “Nyma’s been a jerk to me ever since I asked her to Hogsmeade in fifth year and she left me tied to a tree.”

Keith arched an eyebrow. “Please tell me there’s more to that story.”

“Ah, nope, nope, definitely not. It definitely didn’t take two hours for anyone to find me and cut me free.” Lance said quickly, knowing he was blushing.

“Pfft.” Keith laughed, covering his mouth with his hand. “How did she even get you tied to the tree in the first place?”

“It’s not my fault!” Lance protested. “I just thought she was, like, flirting really hard or something! I don’t know, Keith, shut up!”

“Merlin,” Keith laughed, not even bothering to try to cover it up this time. “So you actually let her tie you up to the tree?”

Lance pouted. “We’re done with this conversation now.”

Keith shook his head. “No way, I’m never letting you live this one down.”

“I regret telling you anything,” Lance said. “So come on, you must have an embarrassing story or two. Spill, that way we’re at least on even ground.”

“Uhhhh… no,” Keith said. “I’ve never done anything like that.”

“Well obviously the great Keith Kogane has never gotten himself tied up to a tree, but you’re telling me that you’ve never done something stupid to impress a girl?”

“No,” Keith said quickly. Too quickly.

“To impress a boy?” Lance tried again.

“...No,” a little less sure this time.

Lance arched an eyebrow. “That sounds like there’s a story there.”

Keith ignored him. “So you’re fine with it? That I like guys.”

“Um… yeah…” Lance said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Keith shrugged. “Not everybody is.”

“No, I mean, why wouldn’t I be? I’m bisexual.”

Keith blinked at him. “I didn’t know that.”

“Seriously? Man, I thought everyone knew,” Lance said. “I guess not.”

“I guess not,” Keith echoed quietly.

“So anyway, what was the embarrassing thing you did to impress a boy?” Lance asked, wagging his eyebrows.

Keith shook his head. “I’m not telling you.”

“I’ll find out eventually,” Lance warned, but he decided that he would let Keith off the hook for now. “Okay, so the riddle.”

“The riddle,” Keith agreed.

“We already know that we’re probably going to be underwater. Probably in the lake.” Lance summarized checking things off on his fingers. “Judging by this part here,” he pointed towards one of the lines, “there’s going to be some kind of monster that we have to fight.”

“And that monster has the ability to control the other creatures around it,” Keith agreed, “based on what this line says.”

Lance nodded. “So we need to find a way to defeat a mysterious, mind-controlling beast and a way to breathe underwater. In twenty days. Without any outside aid.”

“So we need to hit the books?” Keith asked.

Lance nodded. “We need to hit the books. First, I brought Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, from my Care of Magical Creatures class. I figured that if any book is going to have clues about mysterious water monsters, it will be this one.”

Lance pulled the book out from his bag, resting it on the table between them.

“Do you know if there are any known creatures in the lake besides the giant squid?”

Keith furrowed his brows. “I’m not sure. There are rumors, of course…”

“Rumors of what?” Lance questioned.

Keith flipped through the book, eventually sliding it back across the table towards Lance.

Lance scanned the page open in front of him. “Mermaids?! There are mermaids living in the lake? Oh my god, how did I not know about this?”

“Haven’t you read Hogwarts: A History?” Keith questioned.

Lance winced. “Ahhhhh… no.”

Truthfully, he couldn’t remember much of his History of Magic classes, falling asleep in the majority of his lessons. It was a miracle he even managed to scrape an Acceptable.

Keith shook his head, his black hair falling softly over his forehead. “That’s why.”

“So you think we have to fight mermaids for the first trial?” Lance questioned.

“I think they’re probably the serene beasts,” Keith offered. “Mermaids aren’t known for being violent.”

“Okay, so then there must be something controlling them,” Lance glanced up at the books around them. “Time to start searching, I guess.”

< < < > > >

Lance dropped his head down onto the table in front of them. He was exhausted. He and Keith had met up in the library five times already and they had little to show for it. Well, except for the towering stack of books on the table around them.

“I give up,” he said, pushing a leather-bound volume away. “I can’t look at any more words. They stopped making sense like two hours ago.”

“But we still haven’t found anything, and we’re running out of time,” Keith said, and Lance knew that he was frowning even without looking at him. “We only have fifteen days left.”

Lance picked his head back up from the table. “I know, but these books aren’t helping.”

“We just haven’t found the right one, yet,” Keith protested. “There has to be something here.”

“I bet Allura and Lotor have already figured it out,” Lance mourned.

“I doubt it, we haven’t even seen either of them in here,” Keith argued.

Lance groaned, “Their headmasters probably have their own libraries on their magically-enchanted carriage and ship.”

“We’ll figure it out, Lance,” Keith said.

Lance picked up the paper with the riddle on it, narrowing his eyes as if the words on the parchment had offended him. “We have to.”

< < < > > >

“Nope, useless,” Lance proclaimed, slamming the book he was reading shut.

Romelle glanced up at him. “Is everything alright, Lance?”

“No,” Lance sighed, as he picked up a sandwich from his plate. “Keith and I are having a hard time with this riddle for the first trial.”

“Oh, a riddle,” Romelle said, her eyes sparkling. “Want any help?”

“You can’t,” Lance reminded her sadly. “Students outside the competition aren’t allowed to help, and contrary to the school’s belief, I’m not a cheat.”

“Oh, right,” Romelle said, visibly deflating. “That’s stupid that other students aren’t allowed to help.”

“Agreed,” Lance nodded. “I could use that little genius Ravenclaw brain of yours,” he teased, poking Romelle in the forehead.

She batted his hand away. “Use your own.”

“Come on, Ro,” Lance said, “we both know that I’m not as smart as you are.”

Romelle rolled her eyes. “That’s a load of dragon dung,” she said. “You’re smart, Lance, you’ll figure this out.”

Lance frowned, glancing away. “I hope so, considering that mine and Keith’s survival might actually rest on us figuring this out.”

“I’m sure that your life won’t actually be at risk, Lance, it’s just a competition.”

“A deadly competition,” Lance corrected.

Romelle’s frown deepened. “Everything is going to be okay, Lance.”

“I really hope you’re right,” Lance agreed.

< < < > > >

“Smile,” the blonde woman that Headmaster Holt had introduced to the Champions as Rita Skeeter said, as she moved in closer. There was a magical camera hovering in the air next to her, the kind that took the moving pictures Lance had come to associate with the wizarding world.

Lance forced a grin on to his face, despite the fact that he didn’t want to be there… like at all. This was precious time he could be spending in the library with Keith trying to solve the riddle. Instead, he was posing ridiculously behind Allura, who was delicately sitting on a throne-like chair, with one of his arms around Keith, Lotor standing a few feet off to the side.

The camera flashed a few times, the light bright enough it made Lance blink in shock.

“Wonderful!” The woman cooed, clapping her hands together. “This will be the perfect picture for my piece in The Daily Prophet. Everyone wants to know all about you, but surely you’re already aware of that.” Rita Skeeter stopped in front of Allura. “All of my readers are just dying to know what sort of secrets you’re hiding behind your rosy cheeks,” she said, pinching Allura’s cheeks.

She then swept over to Lotor. “What mysteries do your muscles mask?” She asked, squeezing one of his biceps.

“What courage,” she continued, moving to stand between Keith and Lance, “lies beneath those curls?”

Curls? Lance raised an eyebrow at Keith. This lady was insane.

Keith was touching to bottom of his mullet gingerly, almost as if he expected it to spring to life.

“What makes the Champions of the Triwizard Tournament tick? Me, myself, and I want to know. Not to mention my rabid readers. So?” She asked, “Who’s feeling up to sharing?”

Lance shared a concerned glance with Keith out of the corner of his eye.

Why Headmaster Holt had allowed a reporter from The Daily Prophet into the school to interview them, Lance wasn’t sure. And, okay, it might be cool to be interviewed for the paper if it was by anyone other than Rita Skeeter. Even Lance knew that she had a… habit of stretching the truth in her articles.

“You first, dear?” She asked Lance, grabbing him by the arm as she pulled him away from the group. He looked back at Keith pleadingly, but all he was offered was a shrug.

“Have a seat,” she offered him, once they were away from the eyes and ears of the others, in an empty classroom nearby, where the tables and chairs had been transfigured into a comfortable armchair and a green velvet loveseat.

Lance sat on the loveseat, letting his arms wrap around the back of the seat, while Rita Skeeter perched on the edge of the armchair, angling herself towards him.

“Do you mind if I use my quick-quotes quill, darling?” Rita Skeeter asked Lance, producing a beautiful black quill and notepad from her purse, which she let go of so that they hung in the air next to her.

Lance eyed the quill warily. “Uh… no?”

Rita grinned at him like the Cheshire Cat. “Lovely.”

“So, let’s get started. Tell me a little bit about yourself,” she said, lacing her fingers together and resting them on her knee while the quill hovered over the notepad.

“My name is Lance Álvarez, I’m from Cuba. I’m in Ravenclaw. And I’m currently one of Hogwarts’ two Champions in the Triwizard Tournament.”

Rita Skeeter nodded. “You’re from Cuba, then? Why Hogwarts?”

“My dad had a job posting here in Britain for a few years when I was, like, ten, so I was here when my magic started kicking in. And I never knew what was going on with me when I was younger, until one day Sam Holt got in contact with my family and invited to start at his school in the fall. My parents thought that he was crazy at first.”

“Your parents are muggles, then?” Rita said, although from the way she phrased it, it clearly wasn’t a question.

Lance nodded. “And my siblings: Luís, Marco, Rachel, and Veronica.”

“The only wizard in the family? Interesting. Do you miss home?” Rita asked, pouting her lips slightly.

Lance wasn’t stupid, he knew that everything he said to this woman was going to be printed into newspapers for the whole wizarding world to read.

“Hogwarts has really become a second home to me,” he said evasively.

“Of course, of course,” she said, waving her hand in the direction of her quick-notes quill. “Now, as you’ve said, you are one of the two Hogwarts Champions. Something previously unheard of in the Triwizard Tournament. How does that make you feel?”

Lance swallowed, fighting the urge to fidget. “It’s an... honor to be chosen alongside my fellow Champions.”

“How do you get along with the other Champions? It it a competition? A friendly rivalry?”

“I get along really well with most of them, actually,” Lance said with a small grin.

“And they’re okay with the fact that there are four competitors rather than three?” She questioned.

“I think everyone had their concerns at first, but the more the merrier, right?” Lance asked with a nervous chuckle.

“I’ve heard the school hasn’t reacted as well,” she said, with that ridiculous pout.

Where did she even hear that anyway?

“That’s… true,” Lance admitted, slowly, knowing there was no way to deny it.

“That has to be hard, your friends and classmates turning against you?”

“It’s helped me realize who my real friends are, who I can really trust to stand by me,” Lance said, hoping that particular dig made it into the article and that Pidge and Matt had to read it.

“Is there anyone in particular who’s had your back? Maybe a special someone in your life?” Rita Skeeter asked, arching one of her penciled-on eyebrows suggestively.

“No,” Lance admitted with a nervous chuckle. “No, there’s no one like that.”

“Really?” Rita Skeeter asked, sounding genuinely surprised. “A handsome young boy like you, Champion of Hogwarts, I would expect the girls to be falling all over you.”

“Well,” Lance said, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck, “I guess the girls and boys at Hogwarts just aren’t ready to handle all of this.” He tried to instill fake confidence into his voice, falling back on the bravado he had mastered over the years.

Rita Skeeter had the decency to not look surprised by his subtle correction.

“Well, Lance, I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of who you are on the surface, do you mind if I go a little deeper?”

“Uh, no, I guess that’s fine,” Lance said, not knowing what else to say.

“Now there are lots of rumors surrounding your involvement with the Triwizard Tournament, many believe that you cheated to earn your spot.”

“I didn’t!” Lance exclaimed, “And the Headmaster and the other teachers believe me. I wish that everyone else would too.”

Rita Skeeter glanced down at her notepad. “I think that’s all we have time for, thank you for speaking with me, Lance. Would you mind sending Keith Kogane in? I’d like to speak to him next.”

“Ah… sure,” Lance said, pushing himself off of the loveseat. “It was nice to meet you, Ms. Skeeter,” he said, giving her a wave as he exited the room because his mamá raised a polite boy.

He found Keith, Allura, and Lotor all in the trophy room, where he had left them, Allura and Lotor steadfastly avoiding each other, while Keith browsed the trophies on the shelf.

Keith snapped his head up as Lance approached. “How was the interview?” He questioned in a low voice, once Lance was close enough to hear him.

Lance shrugged. “It was okay, I guess. It felt a little invasive.”

Keith scowled. “Great.”

“She wants to see you next,” Lance said, gesturing behind him.

“I guess I better get this over with,” Keith muttered.

“You’ll be fine,” Lance said, clapping Keith on the shoulder. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

< < < > > >

Lance reached up, running his hands down his face. It was nearing midnight, it was definitely past curfew, but he was still tucked into one of the back alcoves of the library, a pile of books next to him. He hadn’t seen Keith since the older boy had left to go have one of his training sessions with Shiro, Lance was sure that he had probably just gone to bed.

Lance sighed, grabbing yet another book from the stack beside him. He had practically searched the whole library for books on aquatic creatures and/or creatures with mind control, and while he had found out lots of cool facts about magic underwater creatures that made him a little scared to swim in the ocean now, he had yet to find anything that fit the bill of what he and Keith were looking for.

This was taking up too much time. They still had to find a way to breathe underwater for an extended period of time!

The book Lance picked up was bound in blue leather, gold writing on the front in a language he couldn’t understand.

Great.

Lance flipped through the pages of the book, frowning when he realized all the words inside were in the same foreign language. He tossed the book to the side before grabbing another from the pile.

This was useless. He was never going to find anything. Hell, maybe there wasn’t even anything to find! That would be just his luck, doing all this work when the answers weren’t even in the library.

Lance leaned back in his chair, kicking his feet up onto the table in front of him. He was exhausted, maybe he should just call it a night. He tipped his head backwards, closing his eyes. Maybe he would just…

Crash!

Lance bolted back up, glancing around for the source of the loud noise. Shit. His tower of books had fallen over. Lance pushed himself off the armchair, crouching down to collect the books and return them to the desk. This was what he got for towering them up so high. Lance studied the books in his hand. He should just go put them away, it’s not like he could read all of them in one night.

Lance grabbed as many of the books as he could fit in his arms, heading back towards the section of the library that was devoted to magical creatures.

He scanned the shelves for the notable gaps where books were missing, like the teeth missing from his youngest niece and nephews’ mouths. Pushing the images of his family out of his mind, Lance focused on shoving the books back into their rightful spots on the shelves.

He crouched down to slip one of the books back into its spot on the shelf when something caught his eye. The bottom shelf was labeled Mythological Beasts.

Maybe… just maybe…

After scouring hundreds of books on real aquatic creatures, maybe Lance needed to consider a creature that was theoretically unreal.

Lance dropped down, sitting on the floor of the library. He skimmed the titles on the bottom shelf, pulling out a few of the books that seemed promising: Mythology in the Wizarding World, Mythological Creatures of the Seas, Lakes, and Rivers, and What Muggles Got Wrong About Mythology.

He flipped open the one about sea creatures first, scanning the title page for anything that seemed helpful. The section on lakes started on page one-hundred, so Lance flipped right to that portion of the book. It appeared to be a collection of different mythical beasts organized alphabetically.

Well, it seemed more promising than anything else he had found so far.

Lance leaned back against the shelf behind him, resting the book on his knees. He flipped through the pages slowly, taking his time to study the illustrations and the details about each of the beasts, despite the late hour. He didn’t want to miss something just because he was tired.

Okay, nothing useful in the ‘A’ section. Time for the ‘B’ section.

Lance paused on the first page of the ‘B’ section, studying the illustration of a large serpentine creature called the Baku.

According to the description, the Baku was a creature that had some sort of plant-life growing on it, and the plant-life allowed it to enchant creatures. It would then use the enchanted creatures either as a food source or to use them as a form of defense. The only other bit of information present was that it was commonly found in deep water rather than shallow water.

This had to be it!

Sure, there wasn’t a lot of information to go off of, but everything fit! This was the only creature Lance had read about that seemed to describe the creature mentioned in the riddle.

He had to tell Keith! Now that they had an idea of what the creature was, surely they would be able to find a way to beat it.