Actions

Work Header

i need someone like you to lighten the load

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Lance awoke to someone shoving at his shoulder.

“Hmmmm,” he said eloquently, batting the hand away. “I’m sleeping.”

“I can see that,” someone commented dryly. “But you fell asleep on top of all our research.”

“Keith!” Lance exclaimed, bolting upward. He blinked his eyes open. Sure enough, Keith was standing near the table they had claimed in one of the back alcoves of the library.

“Good morning,” Keith said, smirking slightly. “Why are you drooling all over the library books?”

Lance reached up and wiped at his chin, and, sure enough, his chin was sticky with dried drool. Gross.

“Wait a minute,” Keith said, narrowing his eyes, “have you been here all night?”

Lance shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

“You aren’t supposed to be out after curfew,” Keith said, as he dropped into the chair across from Lance.

“Like you’ve never done it,” Lance snarked back, before remembering the reason he had fallen asleep in the library in the first place. “But, anyways, that doesn’t matter,” he said. “I found something.”

“Seriously? Like something that might actually be helpful?” Keith asked, sounding skeptical.

“Yes!” Lance said, grabbing the copy of Mythological Creatures of the Seas, Lakes, and Rivers that he had apparently fallen asleep on top of and pushed it towards Keith.

Keith skimmed the page quickly, before flipping to the cover of the book. “How do you know this is what the riddle is talking about? We don’t even know if it’s real.”

“I know,” Lance agreed, “but that’s what makes it so perfect. No one would expect this to be the monster in the trial. Plus, the way that it can mind control creatures? I haven’t been able to find anything else with that kind of power.”

“It makes sense,” Keith agreed. “Unfortunately, this isn’t very much information to go off of.”

“But it’s a start,” Lance offered.

“It’s a start,” Keith agreed.

“Did you ask Shiro about any water-breathing spells?” Lance asked.

Keith nodded, before grimacing. “And he saw right through me, he reminded me that teachers aren’t allowed to help the students and that I had to do the work on my own.”

“Crap,” Lance muttered. “I guess I’ll experiment with my spell and see if I can find a way to make it last any longer.”

“I thought maybe we could look into brewing a potion of water-breathing. There has to be something like that, right?” Keith said, drumming his fingers on the table.

“I don’t know,” Lance admitted.

“Oh, I brought you breakfast,” Keith said, pulling a muffin out of the pocket of his school robes. “I didn’t see you down there so I figured you were hungry.”

“Thanks, man,” Lance said, although he made sure to carefully inspect the chocolate chocolate-chip muffin before he ate it. Who knew what else had been in Keith’s pockets.

Keith wrinkled his nose at the crumbs that spilled onto the front of Lance’s robes, but Lance ignored him.

“Okay, so what’s the plan for today?” Lance asked.

Keith shrugged. “We go to class, go to training with Shiro, then come back here and see if we can figure out any more about this Baku… thing… I guess. Now that we actually know what it’s called, maybe we can find a weakness we can exploit.”

Lance flicked chocolate muffin crumbs off of his chest. “And we try to find a way to breathe underwater,” he added. “That will be an important step in the whole ‘defeating-the-Baku’ process.”

Keith nodded.

“Well,” Lance sighed. “At least we have a plan.”

< < < > > >

“So how are your preparations coming for the first task?” Allura asked as she followed Lance out of the Charms classroom.

Lance rolled his eyes. “Sorry, gorgeous, but I can’t tell you that.”

Allura rolled her eyes. “But you can tell Keith?” She asked, “Everyone’s noticed how the two of you keep slipping away to the library together. What’s going on with that?”

Lance held up his hands, shooting Allura a quick grin. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You’re insufferable,” Allura told him.

“That’s all a part of my charm, Allura,” Lance replied.

“The only person that finds you remotely charming is your mother, I’m sure,” Allura sniffed, but it sounded almost like she was teasing him.

Au revoir, Allura,” Lance said, splitting away from the pack of Ravenclaws and Beauxbatons students that were heading towards their next class.

“Where are you going?” She called after him. “Lance? Lance!”

Lance waved at her over his shoulder, before slipping through the hallways of the school towards the stairs that led up to the fifth floor, he jogged up them (feeling a little winded by the time he reached the top) before making his way towards the Prefect’s Bathroom.

Lance stopped in front of the door. Matt had given him the password over the summer, with a strict warning that Lance was never supposed to use it without permission.

Oops.

“Pine Fresh,” Lance said quietly, relieved when the door swung open. So no one was inside, then.

Lance slipped into the room, careful to close the door behind him, casting a few privacy spells for good measure.

The Prefect’s bathroom was beautiful. While one side of the room was lined with stalls and sinks, most of the room was taken up by a large, swimming-pool sized bathtub with dozens of golden faucets and taps along the sides.

Perfect.

Lance quickly stripped out of his school robes, so that he was only wearing the muggle swimsuit he had worn beneath his clothes. He opened his school bag, taking out a pair of goggles, before setting it carefully on the floor, far enough away from the bath that it wouldn’t get wet.

Lance crossed the room, turning the handles to either side of the main faucet.

He set his wand down next to the faucet, in a decorative dish that was probably meant to hold some kind of soap. He would need it later, but he didn’t want to get it soaking wet.

While a bathtub the size of a swimming pool should really take forever to fill, the water level rose faster than he expected it to, and by the time Lance snapped the goggles on and eased down into the water, it already came nearly up to his waist.

The water was hot, but not unpleasantly so.

While he waited for the tub to fill the rest of the way up, Lance investigated some of the other, smaller, faucets and handles around the side of the tub. Lance turned one of the handles at random, bright pink bubbles spilling out into the water. He tried another. A clear liquid sprayed out, smelling faintly of roses.

Man, the Prefects were lucky.

Eventually, the water turned off automatically, so that it was about the height of Lance’s chest.

Lance took a deep breath of air and plunged underwater.

It was weird, going underwater in hot water rather than cold. It reminded him of when he was little and his family stayed at hotels. His mamá would take Lance and his siblings down to the pool, but Veronica and Luís always made them go in the hot tub. Lance had tried swimming underwater in the hot tub but he could never get used to the heat of the water, it stung his eyes and made his skin feel flushed when he rose back up from the water.

Lance blinked his eyes open, peering around underwater through his goggles.

When had been the last time he went swimming? Over the summer at Varadero beach, probably.

Lance moved over towards the wall closest to him, he came up from underwater to grab a gasp of air, before sticking his head back underwater and pushing himself away from the wall.

He swam a few laps experimentally, free-style, and then back-stroke, and then butterfly, letting himself get used to cutting through the water.

Swimming had always been something Lance excelled at, the water always managed to feel like home.

Finally, once his limbs and lungs were burning, Lance returned to where he had left his wand.

First things first. He took a deep breath of air before plunging underwater, counting silently to himself to see how long he could stay underwater.

Almost two minutes passed before Lance’s head broke the surface.

A good time for a muggle swimmer, but nowhere near long enough for what Lance needed to do.

He grabbed his wand, quickly casting the spell he had designed back in fourth year before plunging under the water again.

Ten minutes.

Better, but still not good enough.

Finally, Lance cast a spell that he remembered learning about in Charms. It created a bubble of air around the witch or wizards’ mouth and nose. It was normally used to avoid bad smells or toxic gases but maybe… just maybe...

Lance felt the bubble of air form around his nose and mouth, pure oxygen that enabled him to breath.

He plunged back down underwater.

And… the bubble held! Yes!

Lance pushed himself off the wall again, doing a few more laps to make sure that the bubble would hold up while he was swimming.

He wasn’t sure how long he was underwater, but it was long enough that his born-to-swim body was quivering with exhaustion as he slumped up against one of the benches that ran the length of the walls of the pool/bath/thing.

Lance waved one of his hands in front of the bubble, popping it without even needing to use his wand. Nice.

If the bubble had lasted as long as it had, it would probably hold up long enough for him and Keith to defeat the Baku monster thing. Probably. Hopefully.

< < < > > >

“Did you see what she wrote about me?” Keith demanded the next morning during breakfast, dropping a copy of The Daily Prophet onto the table in front of Lance. “Did you see what she fucking wrote about me?!”

Lance choked on the scrambled eggs he was eating. “The article is out?”

Keith nodded, dropping down onto the bench next to Lance.

Some of the other Ravenclaw students shifted away from him uncomfortably, but no one told Keith to leave, either.

Lance flipped the paper open, taking in the front page. His own face (as well as Keith’s, Lotor’s, and Allura’s) blinked back at him from their staged photo while ‘THE CHAMPIONS OF THE TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT’ by Rita Skeeter was written underneath it in large, bold letters. The article, itself, was smaller, broken up into columns.

Lance skimmed the article, letting his eyes run over the words.

My darling readers, today I was given the opportunity to chat with the four (yes, you read that correctly! Four!) Champions of the Triwizard Tournament. Pictured above you can see Gryffindor Champion Keith Kogane, the son of reformed-Galra member Krolia Kogane and favored Champion of Hogwarts, Ravenclaw Champion Lance Álvarez, the homesick lover-boy, Beauxbatons Champion Allura Altea, the stunning daughter of Headmaster Alfor, and Durmstrang Champion Lotor Daibazaal, the prodigy of his school and who many consider to be the most likely to win the Tournament.

First, I spoke with Lance Álvarez. The Ravenclaw Champion was the final one to be chosen by the Goblet of Fire, as as such, has faced backlash from his fellow peers and accusations of cheating to ensure his entrance to the Tournament. Lance assured me that these accusations are not true, and that he has taken steps to prove his innocence to the Headmaster and the other instructors.

However, everyone is remaining quite quiet on just what these steps have actually been… how exactly has the boy proven his innocence? Well, that remains to be seen. This seems to be a popular topic of contention within the student body. One student when asked upon said that Lance was obviously “not good enough” to represent Hogwarts as Champion, while another student added that they believe it’s entirely possible that the boy was able to cast a strong enough Confundus Charm because Lance has “always been in the top of his class for Defense Against the Dark Arts”. When I asked Lance how he felt about being chosen by the Goblet of Fire, he claimed it was an honor to be chosen alongside his fellow Champions. However, when I pushed a little deeper about the response from his peers, Lance admitted that the experience has “allowed him to see who his true friends are”.

For those of you who don’t know, Lance Álvarez is a muggleborn student who was born in Cuba, where his family still resides. From our conversation, it was clear to me that the young boy misses home, despite his claim that Hogwarts was like a second home to him. And it’s no surprise. The boy seems to lack any sort of support system here in the United Kingdom. From numerous first hand accounts from students, many of Lance’s friends have turned against him after his entrance into the Triwizard Tournament, leaving the once well-liked boy fairly isolated. One Ravenclaw student claimed that Álvarez is willing to “do anything for attention” and a Slytherin student said that Lance “just wanted to make himself look better than he is.” My questions into his personal life were also rebuffed. Lance may claim that his single-status (yes! You heard that right, boys and girls, at least one of the Champions of the Triwizard Tournament is apparently still on the market!) is because his fellow students can’t “handle” him, but I have a feeling that there’s more to Lance than meets the eye. Many of his peers that I spoke to referred to the boy as a “flirt” and the “class clown” but his suspicious entry into the Triwizard Tournament proves that there may be more to Lance Álvarez than meets the eye. While he seemed like a perfectly nice boy, I don’t buy into his innocent school-boy act the way it seems that his professors at Hogwarts have.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Lance said, whipping his head around to look at Keith. “She might as well come out and say that she thinks I cheated!”

Keith’s scowl deepened.

It’s impossible to talk about one Hogwarts Champion without discussing the other. According to my sources, Lance Álvarez and Keith Kogane have been self-proclaimed rivals since their childhood, facing each other often on the Quidditch pitch. For my readers that have been living under a rock for the past few years, let me remind you why the name ‘Kogane’ sounds so familiar. Keith’s mother, Krolia Kogane (formerly Krolia Akira) used to be one of the Dark Lord’s top generals in the Galra order. She turned traitor to the Galra, bringing valuable information to Auror Kogane that was instrumental in dismantling Dark Lord Zarkon’s influence throughout the Wizarding World. After that, the pair of them vanished from the public eye, Krolia resurfacing eleven years later to help their son onto the Hogwarts Express, Kogane killed during one of his top-secret missions for the ministry. It came as no surprise to many that Kogane had been killed as a result of his own poor decision-making, after all, after deciding to marry a member of the Galra, it’s clear that Kogane was not the heroic auror we all believed him to be.

As the son of a reformed member of the Galra, Keith Kogane undoubtedly feels as though he has something to prove during this Triwizard Tournament, although he was silent on the subject when I asked him. In fact, Keith spent most of our interview in silence, his arms crossed over his chest and his signature scowl on his face. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the boy, the boy whom many deem to be the rightful Champion of Hogwarts. As the protégée of Durmstrang alumni turned Hogwarts professor, Takashi Shirogane, it’s no surprise that he was chosen to compete in the Triwizard Tournament. But the boy I met was standoffish and cold, seemingly uninterested in the glory and popularity that winning could bring him. The only two words I could manage to crack out of him were “no comment”. But fear not, dear readers! I have managed to get quite the scoop on Kogane even without his input. Many of the students I spoke with agreed with my perception of Keith Kogane, even his fellow Gryffindors allowed that he can “be quick to anger”. He sounds a bit like an impulsive hothead, perhaps one not to be messed with, and it seems he truly is his mother’s son. The question that remains, I suppose, is whether he’ll live up to the high expectations placed on him as a direct result of who his parents and mentor are, or whether he’ll crack under the pressure.

While many members of the other houses have rallied around Keith’s position as the Hogwarts Champion, they admit that they have their reservations about the boy. He spends most of his time at Hogwarts in relative isolation, when I asked around, students informed me that Kogane has never been romantically connected with any of his fellow classmates. “I’ve never seen him talking to anyone other than Thace,” one Gryffindor student said, meaning, of course, Thace Marmora, the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Allura Altea admitted she didn’t know Keith well enough to have an opinion on him, while Lotor Daibazaal simply scorned the idea that Keith would be any sort of competition for him. Apparently he takes after his mother - Krolia Kogane was never very good at making friends, either. Is Krolia Kogane and her parenting style responsible for Keith’s sour attitude? Tut, tut, tut… what would his father have to say?     

The final two Champions, Allura Altea and Lotor Daibaazal, of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, respectively, have also been linked together. The two, whose parents Headmaster Alfor Altea and Headmistress Haggar Daibazaal, were once inseparable, sources from their schools claim. While close throughout their childhood, it appears the pair dated for some years before parting on less-than-friendly terms…

Lance had seen enough. “Keith,” he said quietly, “I’m so sorry she said all this stuff about you and your family.”

Keith picked at a string on his school robes. “That’s all she wrote about. She didn’t focus on anything else about me. Just that my mother helped to take down Zarkon and that I don’t have a lot of friends. Oh, and the fact that I have anger issues. I don’t have anger issues.”

“Weeeeeellllllll,” Lance said, drawing out the word. “You did just punch Griffin in the face the other day. Which was in defense of me and was totally awesome of you,” Lance added when Keith narrowed his eyes at him. “But punching people isn’t exactly always the best way to make friends.”

Keith slumped forward, “You think James talked to her?”

Lance nodded, “What other Slytherin would say that I ‘just wanted to make myself look better than I am’?” Lance asked, making air quotes with his fingers.

“Nyma?” Keith offered with a small shrug.

Shit, he wasn’t wrong.

“Maybe,” Lance allowed.

“I just… I can’t believe that Headmaster Holt even let her interview us. Everyone knows all Rita Skeeter is good for is gossiping and spreading lies.”

Lance shrugged, “They’re not lies though. At least, not about me,” he added quickly. “Everyone really believes what they’re saying about me. And as much as it sucks, they believe what they’re saying about you. It’s so wrong, ugh, but I just… there’s nothing we can do but prove them wrong, right?”

Keith let out a huff of hair, blowing his bangs away from his face. “This is stupid. I don’t want to even think about this stupid article anymore. Fuck Rita Skeeter. I need to get out of here. Want to go flying?”

“What about class?” Lance asked, but he was already reaching underneath the table to grab his bags.

“It’s just Potions. I’ll catch up later.”

“Okay, fine,” Lance agreed, “but it means you have to help me with my Transfiguration essay later.”

“Deal,” Keith said, pushing away from the table. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Lance left the copy of the Daily Prophet lying on the table.

< < < > > >

“Lance,” Headmaster Holt said, “I hope you don’t mind that I asked you to sit down with me.”

“No, no,” Lance said, shaking his head as he eased down into the armchair across from Headmaster Holt’s desk. “It’s fine, Sa-Headmaster Holt.”

Headmaster Holt smiled, picking up a glass bowl from the table and holding it out towards Lance. “Sherbet lemon?” He asked.

Lance gingerly took one of the candies from the dish and popped it in his mouth, the familiar tang of lemon flooding his senses. At least sherbet lemons were muggle candies so he knew what he was getting. Wizarding candies were extremely unpredictable.

“I wanted to talk to you about the Triwizard Tournament,” Headmaster Holt said, “I know we haven’t had a chance to speak about it since you were chosen.”

Lance sucked on the candy, letting the fizzy powder spill out across his tongue. “I know,” he said finally. “I… ah… wasn’t sure if you’d want to talk to me. I mean, obviously I know that you believed me once I took the Veritaserum, but…”

“Lance,” Headmaster Holt said calmly, “breathe.”

Lance stopped talked and sucked in a huge gulp of air, releasing it slowly through his nose.

“I never believed that you cheated to enter the Triwizard Tournament, Lance,” Headmaster Holt said, and Lance felt a weight lift from his shoulders. “I, of course, had to prove to the other Headmasters that you weren’t, but… I know you, Lance. You’re a good kid.”

“Y-You believed me?” Lance blurted out, unable to stop himself.

Headmaster Holt nodded. “Of course I did, Lance. You’re the same kid that comes over every summer and tells Colleen that her homemade empanadas that she makes for you are delicious even when we all know they’re terrible. You’ve never been much of a liar, kid.”

Lance blushed. Damn. He hadn’t realized any of the Holts has realized that, while Colleen tried, she wasn’t very good at cooking. “I thought… with the Veritaserum… and…”

Headmaster Holt sighed. “The Veritaserum was unfortunately a necessary step to take to assure Headmaster Altea and Headmistress Daibazaal of your innocence. Although, I’m disappointed that it hasn’t had the same effect on the students.”

Lance shrugged half-heartedly, reaching for another candy. “They think that Keith is the rightful Champion and they’re angry at me for trying to take the attention away from him. I don’t really think that they care whether or not the Goblet of Fire actually chose me. All that they care about is that I’m not good enough to represent Ravenclaw or even Hogwarts.”

Headmaster Holt pursed his lips. “I’ve heard about the… incidents… you and Keith have been involved in. Professor Shiro and Professor Iverson both gave me reports on what happened in the Great Hall with James Griffin. While normally physical assault would be grounds for expulsion, Shiro and I both agree that Keith was reacting to James’ verbal abuse and that he shouldn’t be punished for doing so.”

Lance let out a breath of air. “So that’s why Keith never got in trouble for punching James besides losing the House Points?”

Headmaster Holt nodded. “Additionally, I’ve taken steps to track down the creator of the nasty buttons quite a few students have been wearing. I’m not sure of the creator’s identity yet, but I assure you we will shut the production down.”

“Why don’t you just ask your children where the got them,” Lance commented, before wincing. Shit. He hadn’t wanted to say anything about Matt and Pidge’s involvement to their dad.

Headmaster Holt blinked at him. “Excuse me?”

Lance dropped his head down, refusing to meet Headmaster Holt’s eyes. “Pidge and Matt have been wearing the buttons too. Pidge is mad at me because they think I cheated and won’t tell them how I did it. Matt’s just going along with it to be loyal, but he’s still going along with it.”

Headmaster Holt frowned. “I’m going to have a serious conversation with my children about this. You all have been friends for a long time, Lance. This is… deeply concerning to me that they’re willing to act this way.”

Lance snapped his head back up. “Please don’t tell them I told you!” He cried. “I don’t want it to look like I was upset and went crying to their dad to fix everything. That will just make it worse.”

“I’ll leave you out of it,” Headmaster Holt promised.

“Good,” Lance, and then quieter, “good.”

“Lance,” Headmaster Holt said, “you’re a good kid. You don’t deserve the treatment that you’re receiving. For whatever part I, or my family, have played in bringing it about, I want to apologize.”

“But you haven’t done anything!” Lance said, confused.

Headmaster Holt gave him a wry grin. “Maybe not directly, but I haven’t supported you as much as I should have. The school should not be doubting your innocence when we all know that you took Veritaserum and proved it. But apparently my word of your innocence is not enough for people to believe it to be true.”

“Sa-Headmaster Holt, it’s okay. Really. It just… feels good to know that you believed me even without the truth serum.”

Headmaster Holt nodded, and it seemed like he was probably going to say goodbye or something to end the conversation, but Lance cut him off before he could speak.

“Why do you think I got chosen as the fourth? I still don’t understand…”

“Honestly?” Headmaster Holt said, “I’m still not sure. We have no way of knowing if the Goblet of Fire was tampered with or not, but I don’t know who would do such a thing. Maybe it was an ill-thought prank, maybe it was a random attack, however we also need to consider if this a more serious matter. But, it’s entirely possible that the Goblet of Fire couldn't decide between you or Keith and so it chose you both.”

Lance tapped his fingers along the arm of the chair he was sitting in. “You make it sound so simple.”

“Maybe it is,” Headmaster Holt said with a small smile before growing serious once more. “But whatever the reason, I don’t want you to have to worry about it. Focus on the trials, prove yourself. Professor Shirogane and I have been working closely with a member from the ministry to determine the cause for your selection and we will continue to do so. But, Lance, you don’t have anything to worry about other than solving the riddle and preparing for next week’s trial.”

Lance gave him an easy grin, “I’ve already figured it out,” he said smugly.

Headmaster Holt smiled at him, “Then I look forward to seeing what you come up with.”

“And, Lance,” the Headmaster added. “Don’t be surprised if there’s a little more security around Hogwarts during the trials. The Ministry is insisting on increased security given some of the unfortunate rumors we’ve been hearing. With any luck, they’re just that… but we can never be too careful with the lives of our students.”

Lance swallowed heavily. “Rumors about what, Headmaster?” He asked, unable to stop himself.

“I don’t want to worry you,” Headmaster Hold said with a frown, “but… there have been rumors that the Dark Lord has crawled back from whatever dark hole he’s been hiding in.”

Lance felt a chill race down his spine. “Zarkon’s back?” He knew some of what the Dark Lord had been trying to accomplish, wanting to rid the wizarding world of muggleborns, wanting to uphold the dominance of ‘purebloods’ over them, to create a horrid hierarchy… the fraction of information that Lance knew from passing conversations, sensationalist articles (not unlike the abhorrent article Rita Skeeter wrote about Keith) and the few documented facts was enough to make him want to run away and never come back. To flee before Zarkon ever had the chance to find him.

“I highly doubt it. It’s likely just some of his old followers causing trouble, which I’m sure the Galra investigative team within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement can sort by themselves, but in any case, the Ministry would feel more comfortable with some additional witches and wizards to be around, the kind of witches and wizards specialized in dealing with some of these things,” Headmaster Holt explained.

“You mean Aurors,” Lance guessed.

“Mostly… yes,” Headmaster Holt admitted. “But, please, keep this information to yourself. There’s likely no reason to worry your fellow students.”

Lance let out a huff of air, “Okay, I won’t say anything. But, uh, why did you tell me, then?”

“I wanted you to be aware of the situation,” Headmaster Holt said, “giving the escalating tensions between the purebloods and muggleborns such as yourself as a result of the Triwizard Tournament.”

“Oh,” Lance said. “That makes sense.”

“Now, Lance, I do believe you had better be getting to class,” Headmaster Holt said with a small grin, as he picked up another Sherbert Lemon from the tray on his desk.

Sensing the dismissal for what it was, Lance pushed his way out of the seat, snagging another candy from Headmaster Holt’s desk as he did so. “Hey, Headmaster,” he said, pausing to swing his school bag over his arm. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Why did you let Rita Skeeter come to the school to interview us? Just… all she’s really known for is writing gossip. Surely there are other reporters from The Daily Prophet that could cover the Triwizard Tournament…”

Headmaster Holt scowled. “She wasn’t my choice. And she wasn’t Adam Sharma’s, the member of the Ministry’s Department of Magical Games and Sports, choice either. The higher-ups at the Ministry demanded it. I couldn’t tell them no.”

Lance nodded. “I understand. I was just curious.”

“Just to give you a warning, she’s covering the whole Tournament. Which unfortunately means that she’ll be attending the first trial.”

Lance groaned. “Of course she is. Okay, well, thanks for the talk, Headmaster.”

Headmaster Holt nodded. “Anytime, Lance.”

Lance crossed the office quickly, reaching forward and pulling open the door. He slipped through, and descended the spiral staircase two steps at a time, before he stepped out into the corridor.

Behind him, the statue slid back into place.

“Out of my way, boy,” a raspy voice said, making Lance jump.

Headmistress Haggar Daibazaal was standing in the hallway just a few feet away from him, her eyes piercing and dark underneath the shade of her cloak.

Lance swallowed nervously, stepping to the side and pressing himself up against the stone wall of the corridor.

“Toffee Eclair,” the Headmistress said, addressing the statue, apparently deciding to ignore Lance’s presence.

The statue moved out of place, once again revealing the spiral staircase leading to Headmaster Holt’s office.

Headmistress Daibazaal stepped forward onto the staircase, disappearing from Lance’s view.

Lance let out a huff of air, slumping against the wall.

That lady seriously freaked him out.

< < < > > >

Lance strolled into the library, making his way towards the back alcove that he and Keith had claimed as their own. His shoes were still squishy with mud from the hike back from Professor Coran’s hut down on the castle grounds, but Lance had opted to come straight here rather than stopping at his room to change, he knew he was already late for his meeting with Keith.

“You’re late,” Keith said without looking up when Lance finally drew closer.

Lance ignored him, slamming the large leather-bound book that he was carrying down onto the table in front of Keith. The table shook slightly from the force, Keith’s ink pot tipping precariously, before it straightened.

“What on earth is that?” Keith asked, eyeing the book warily.

“A book on mythological monsters, I… um… borrowed it from Professor Coran.”

“Did you steal this?” Keith gaped at him.

“No!” Lance said quickly. “It’s just that teacher’s aren’t officially allowed to help us, so I kind of convinced Coran that it was for fun reading?”

“And he believed you?” Keith asked, as Lance dropped down into the seat across from him.

“Hey! Who wouldn’t believe this face?” Lance asked, waving a hand in front of his face.

Keith raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “I have literally never seen you read a book for fun.”

“Oooooohhhh, have you been watching me, Mullet?” Lance teased, wagging his eyebrows dramatically.

Keith flushed. “Shut up. That’s not what I meant. I just…”

“You just… what?” Lance asked, leaning forward.

Keith rolled his eyes. “Let’s just look at the book. What did you want to show me?”

“Subtle topic change,” Lance commented, as he slid the book over towards himself so he could flip it open to the page he had been reading earlier. “Here.”

Keith skimmed the page that Lance held open. “You found more information on the Baku?” He asked, sounding surprised.

“You’re lack of faith in me is wounding, Keith,” Lance said, placing his hands dramatically over his chest. “But yes, I found more information on the Baku. And! And the author of this book actually thinks it’s incredibly possible that they’re real.”

“So the reason that no one has ever seen one is because they have a natural camouflage?” Keith said, as he read from the book.

Lance nodded. “So now we know what we’re gonna be looking for. We need to find some sort of large plant growth that seems out of place compared to the rest of whatever is in the lake.”

“Lance!” Keith laughed breathlessly, running his hand through his hair. “Now that we know this, we’re definitely going to have a head start against Allura and Lotor. We actually know what we’re looking for,” Keith glanced up at Lance, his indigo eyes shining. “We could win the trial.”

“Of course we’re gonna win,” Lance said confidently, reaching across the table to give Keith a fist-bump, “We’re Keith and Lance, red and blue, the best quidditch players Hogwarts has ever seen. Allura and Lotor don’t stand a chance.”

Keith stared at the first as though it was an alien, making Lance groan. “Seriously? No one has ever given you a fist bump before?”

Keith looked so confused it was adorable, his eyebrows drawing together and his mouth tipping into a frown. “A what?” He asked.

“A fist bump, it’s like, when you do something cool,” Lance said, reached across to grab Keith’s hand. He curled the other boy’s fingers down into a fist and lightly bumped their hands together.

“But what’s the point?” Keith asked, still looking at their hands.

“What’s the… I don’t know, Keith, it’s just a thing that friends do!” Lance said, tossing his hands up into the air. “It’s like a high five.”

“A high five?” Keith echoed.

“Oh my god,” Lance groaned. “What does Professor Kolivan even teach in Muggle Studies if he doesn’t cover the basics like high fives and fist bumps?”

“He usually sticks to Muggle history lessons,” Keith admitted.

“Fuck that,” Lance said, waving his hand, “someone needs to educate you in the ways of pop culture.”

“Are you offering?” Keith asked.

“Of course! I’m, like, the master of pop culture knowledge. But that can wait, because first we need to make our plan for the first trial. It’s in three days, Keith, three!” Lance said, tapping the book in front of him. “We have three days to figure out how to fight this thing. Not to mention how to rescue the mermaids and, don’t forget, how to fight them as well.”

Keith furrowed his brow, leaning forward on the table.

Lance stared at Keith expectantly.

“How good are your stunning spells?” Keith asked slowly.

Lance shrugged. “They’re decent. Why?”

“I might have an idea,” he said slowly.

Chapter Text

On the morning of the first trial, Lance awoke to someone shaking his shoulder. He blinked his eyes open slowly, before bolting upright. “Jesus Christ, Ro, are you trying to kill me?”

Romelle blinked at him, the picture of innocence with her long blonde hair spilling across her shoulders. “It’s the first trial today, Lance.”

“Yeah, I know, I couldn't fall asleep last night,” Lance said, reaching up to scrub at his eyes. When his hands dropped back down they were covered in the green goo from his cucumber face mask. Gross.

Romelle wrinkled her nose. “We were afraid you would oversleep, come on, you don't want to miss breakfast today.”

“I don’t think I can eat today,” Lance mourned, as he climbed out of bed, shoving his feet into his blue slippers and grabbing his blue robe to tie around his bare chest. It perfectly matched his blue and silver plaid pajama pants. He liked to sleep comfortably, sue him.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and you need your strength,” Romelle informed him, as she grabbed Lance’s hand and dragged him out of the room. “Come on, go get dressed so we can be seen in public.”

“You’re starting to sound like Hunk,” Lance rolled his eyes, but he followed her instructions and headed to the bathroom to scrub his face mask off and change into his school robes.

When Lance emerged from the bathroom with his shiny-perfect skin and his Ravenclaw tie settled neatly against his chest, Romelle was still waiting for him.

“I don’t need a babysitter,” he told her.

“Agree to disagree,” she smirked. “Come on, let’s go down to the Great Hall,” she said wiggling her fingers at him.

Lance grabbed her hand with his own, and allowed Romelle to lead him from the room.

The walk to the Great Hall didn’t take long, and Lance was grateful to see that it was early enough that the room was still fairly empty. He wasn’t sure that he could take everyone’s attention right now, with the trial looming over him. He spied Keith sitting over at the Gryffindor table, picking at a piece of toast, so Lance waved. Keith gave him a tiny wave back, before his gaze flickered down, his eyes widened slightly and his easy grin dipped into a frown, before he turned his attention back down to his half-eaten toast. Weird.

“Lance!” An all too familiar voice called, and Lance turned to immediately be engulfed in a trademark-Hunk hug.

“Can’t… breathe…” Lance gasped, as he felt Hunk crack all of his ribs before setting him back down onto the ground.

“Are you ready for the trial, buddy?” Hunk asked, patting Lance’s shoulder.

“I hope so,” Lance replied. “If I’m not, then I’m pretty much screwed.”

Hunk frowned, but before he could say anything, Shay spoke up. Lance hadn’t even noticed her standing beside his friend. “We wanted to wish you good luck, Lance.”

Hunk nodded enthusiastically, “That’s right! Oh, and we wanted to show you these!”

He held out the front of his school robes, a blue pin with the words GO LANCE! written in silver letters. He tapped it and the words changed to GO LANCE AND KEITH! on a purple background.

“You made buttons?” Lance sniffed, feeling tears well in his eyes.

“We couldn’t figure out how to un-enchant the other ones,” Hunk admitted, rubbing the back of his neck, “so we thought we’d just make our own.”

“You guys,” Lance blinked tears out of his eyes, tossing his arms around Shay and Hunk so that he could hug both of them at the same time. “You’re the best.”

Hunk patted Lance’s back. “We’ve got you, buddy.”

Lance let go of his friends, taking a step backwards and trying to subtly wipe the tears out of his eyes. “You guys are gonna come watch the trial, right?”

“Of course,” Hunk said, “we couldn’t miss it.”

“We’re all gonna be cheering you on,” Romelle agreed, sitting down at the mostly-empty Ravenclaw table. Hunk and Shay glanced toward the teacher’s table where Professor Slav sat, his nose practically pressed to the pages of his book before they sat at the Ravenclaw table, too.

Lance followed their lead and sat down, grabbing a plate. He glanced at the food spread across the table and finally settled for grabbing a piece of rye toast and picking it apart.

“So do you have a plan?” Hunk asked, scooping a pile of hash browns onto his plate.

Lance nodded. “Yeah, Keith and I have a plan. We’ve only been working on it non-stop for, like, a month. We’ve totally got this. We’re gonna kick this trial’s ass,” Lance said, trying to fill his voice with more confidence than he was really feeling.

“You guys have been working really hard on it, squirreled away in the library all the time,” Romelle commented, “I feel like I hardly see you outside of class anymore.”

“Seconded!” Hunk teased as he tore a piece off of his pastry.

“Sorry,” Lance said, wincing slightly. “I’m not trying to ghost you, I promise.”

“I’m only teasing, I know the trial is important,” Romelle said.

“Not to mention it isn’t only working in the library! Keith and I have our private lessons with Shiro as well,” Lance added, tearing another corner off his toast. Giving up on food, he filled his goblet with pumpkin juice and took a hesitant sip. Ugh. He missed regular old fashioned apple juice sometimes.

“Oooohhhh,” Hunk teased, “Private lessons with Shiro.”

Lance rolled his eyes. “Shiro’s great. Hey, did you guys know that he has some fiancé that works for the Ministry?”

Hunk’s eyes bugged out of his head. “Seriously? I didn’t even think teachers were allowed to have a personal life.”

“Hunk, we go to Headmaster Holt’s house every summer,” Lance reminded him.

“But Headmaster Holt is old and married. Shiro is so young and cool. What’s this guy like?”

Lance shrugged, “I don’t know. His name is Adam and he works for the Department of Magical Games and Sports. I think he’s actually involved with the Triwizard Tournament from something that Headmaster Holt said the other day.”

“Maybe he’ll be at the Tournament,” Romelle said, resting her chin in her palm. “How did you find out about this, anyway?”

“Huh? Oh, Keith told me,” Lance said offhand.

Romelle raised one of her perfectly shaped brows. “You and Keith gossip?” She asked, sounding impressed.

“It wasn’t gossip,” Lance insisted, taking another sip of his pumpkin juice. “I was there when Shiro and Keith were talking about some guy named Adam so I convinced Keith to tell me who it was.”

“And how did you manage to do that?” Romelle asked, dipping her voice suggestively.

“Shut up, Ro,” Lance said, hating the flush that crept across his face. “I just told him who was making the stupid buttons.”

Romelle cackled. “Oh, Lance, your face,” she teased, “I didn’t even say anything.”

“You didn’t have to,” Lance grumbled.

“You’re too cute,” she said, reaching over to pinch his cheeks.

Lance batted her hands away, “And you’re evil,” he informed her.

He picked up his torn-apart piece of toast, shoving part of it into his mouth.

“But I got you to eat, so I’m pretty sure that I’m the winner here,” Romelle said, sipping at a cup of tea.

Huh, Lance looked down at the toast in his hand. He hadn’t even realized that he’d started to eat it. The nauseous feeling he had woken up to had passed, and he actually felt kind of hungry.

Lance abandoned the toast in favor of scooping some bacon and hashbrowns onto his plate. Romelle was right, he would need his strength for later.

< < < > > >

Keith caught up with him while Lance and his friends were walking out of the Great Hall, the light pressure of Keith’s hand on his elbow enough to stop Lance completely. Romelle shot him a look over her shoulder, but Lance waved for her to go on ahead with Hunk and Shay.

“What’s up?” Lance asked, noticing that Keith was scowling again.

Keith quickly schooled his expression back into a neutral one. “Hey, the Champions are supposed to head down to the lake. I guess there’s some place to get ready down there.”

“I heard,” Lance nodded. “Was there… anything else?”

“Um,” Keith paused. “Um, y-yeah, I thought maybe we could go over the plan one more time on our way down to the lake,” Keith said, taking a few steps forward.

Lance fell into step beside him. “Sure.”

“So we know that we’re dealing with a mythological monster that no one thought was real called the Baku which may or may not have the ability to control creatures with the power of its mind,” Keith said.

Lance nodded, “And we know that the trial takes place underwater. So it's a good thing I learned the Bubble Head charm because I have a feeling being able to breathe for who knows how long will be important.”

“And it’s a good thing you taught it to me,” Keith added.

“Right,” Lance agreed. “Now, if the evil-underwater-creature-thing is using mind control on other creatures in the lake, we’re going to stun them with the spells you and Shiro have been teaching me, nothing serious to permanently injure them, but enough that we’ll be able to hold them off.”

“And then we have to defeat the Baku which will reveal the prize that we’re supposed to be looking for,” Keith finished. “And we know the Baku has a natural camouflage that allows it to blend in with the plant life of the lake.”

“But hopefully, those offensive spells you’ve shown me and all those lessons have paid off, and we can find whatever weakness this thing has. I’m pretty sure that covers it!” Lance said with a grin, “And it only took us a month to come up with!”

And as long as everything went according to plan, Keith would win the trial. And everything would be fine.

Keith scowled. “I wish there was more.”

Lance patted his back in what he hoped was a comforting manner, “Sometimes, you have to just do things on the fly, my dude. You should be pretty good at that, right?.”

Keith seemingly ignored that last part. “I know,” Keith agreed, “but I feel like there should be more of a plan given how long we’ve been working on it.”

Lance shrugged, pushing open the castle’s doors and stepping outside. He help the door open for Keith before letting it swing closed.

“There isn’t really anything we can do about it now,” he said with a small shrug, switching his school bag so that it was hanging from his other arm. What? It was because his shoulder was sore. It totally had nothing to do with the fact that now his hand could brush against Keith’s as they walked. Nothing. Nope. Zip.

“I guess,” Keith allowed.

“So are you nervous?” Lance asked, mainly just to keep the conversation going.

“I guess,” Keith said. “This is still really overwhelming. I mean, we have no idea what we’re getting ourselves into. This is uncharted territory.”

“Well, we’re in the same boat. I’m just glad I managed to eat this morning.”

“I couldn’t, bar a little bit of bread,” Keith admitted. “But I snuck down to the kitchens and got a ton of food for afterwards.”

“How did you manage to do that?” Lance questioned. “You keep managing to sneak off everywhere all the time and you’re never caught. Seriously, teach me your ways or something.”

Keith ignored him, the older boy’s attention having been caught by something in the distance.

“Oh wow.”

Lance followed Keith’s line of sight.

It appeared as though a wooden pier had been constructed overnight along the edges of the lake. Tall wooden bleachers for fans to sit in ran along them, broken only by the occasional towering structure that must be for the teachers and ministry officials. Four long docks stretched out into the water.

“Jesus,” Lance swore softly, “this definitely wasn’t here yesterday.”

“I think that’s where we’re supposed to go,” Keith said, pointing towards a large white tent that was slightly offset from the pier.

“How is anyone going to see what’s going on if we’re underwater?” Lance mused as he followed Keith downhill.

Keith raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him.

“Right, right. Magic. Right,” Lance babbled, “stupid question.”

“So are your parents going to be watching? Or the rest of your family?” Keith asked conversationally, but the question was enough to completely stop Lance in his tracks.

“What?” He said, feeling dumb. “Of course not. My family’s in Cuba.”

“Well I wasn’t sure if you would invite them,” Keith said, blushing faintly. “You talk about them a lot and I know you really miss them, plus I was kind of hoping to…” Keith trailed off, glancing at the ground. “I invited my mom,” he tacked on, seemingly as an afterthought.

Lance blinked at him in shock. “Seriously?!” He asked. “Is that… is she going to be safe?”

Keith nodded, gesturing towards one of the towers. “She’s going to sit with the ministry officials up there. None of the other students will even know that she’s here.”

“That’s so cool, man,” Lance said.

Keith nodded, his dark eyes sparkling, “She’s really excited to watch. She never gets to come to any of my school functions or see me play quidditch, so… I don’t know… I guess this is finally her chance to feel like a part of my Hogwarts life. If that makes any sense.”

“It does,” Lance said quietly, nodding.

He understood the feeling that your school and home lives were separate. At school, he was a wizard and he could do magic and he played on the quidditch team. At home, he was the youngest with four older siblings, he wasn’t allowed to do magic, and his whole family tried to pretend like he wasn’t different than them but Lance knew that they all thought he was. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but it was hard to fit back into normal life on Varadero beach after living in Scotland for nine months out of the year.

“So you really didn’t invite your family?” Keith asked, frowning. “I thought you’d jump at the chance to show off in front of them.”

“Honestly…” Lance said slowly, letting out a huff of air, he paused, unsure whether he wanted to continue speaking, before deciding that… yes, he did want to tell Keith the thought that he barely even wanted to admit to himself. What he had been putting off even thinking of.

“I haven’t even told my family about the Triwizard Tournament.”

Keith blinked at him. “What?” He asked. “You never told them?”

Lance shook his head. “No,” he said, his voice cracking in the word. “At first it just, I don’t know, slipped my mind? Everything was so hectic and weird and I didn’t want to tell them what everyone’s been saying about me. But then… then I think I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want to tell them. If that makes sense? Because if I tell them about it… that makes it real, Keith. That makes it really fucking real. And I don’t… want this to be real.”

Keith cocked his head. “You don’t want this to be real?” He echoed, sounding almost sad.

“I mean,” Lance took a deep breath trying again. “Parts of this have been really cool, like working with you, but most of it? Most of its really sucked. And on top of all the sucky-ness, now I have to compete in some deadly trial that may or may not literally kill me? Yeah, I’d rather just let my family believe that I’m peacefully attending classes and learning to levitate feathers. Plus they’re muggles, Keith, they don’t understand any of this. I mean, I don’t even think muggles can see Hogwarts so?”

“Merlin, when you put it like that…” Keith said. “I’m sorry I brought it up. I didn’t know.”

Lance swung one of his arms over Keith’s shoulder. “How could you have, buddy?”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, Shiro told me that Adam is rooting for you because he ‘likes a good underdog’,” Keith mumbled.

Lance let go of Keith’s shoulder to ruffle his mullet. “It actually kind of does, thanks buddy.”

Keith batted Lance’s hand away from his hair. “You’re welcome, or whatever,” he said, so quietly that Lance almost didn’t catch it.

Lance bit back a grin. “Let’s go, Red.”

“Hey, a nickname that isn’t a jab at my hair. I didn’t know you were capable of those,” Keith teased.

“Aw, babe, boo bear, honey bunches, snickerdoodle, love bug, you have no idea how capable I am,” Lance said, smirking.

“You’re insufferable,” Keith informed him.

“You love it,” Lance countered, delighting in the red flush that crept across Keith’s face.

< < < > > >

As they drew closer to the white tent that was set up for the Champions to get ready in, Lance noticed Lotor standing in front of the tent with the girls that he frequently hung out with. Two of them were off to the side slightly, talking quietly to each other, the taller girl with her arm wrapped around the red-haired girl’s shoulders. The third girl, on the other hand, was standing close to Lotor.

She pressed something into Lotor’s palm before spinning on her heel and strolling away, brushing past Lance and Keith. Lotor made his way into the tent, not even bothering to say goodbye to the girls.

The third girl gestured to her friends. The red haired one reached up, pressing a kiss to the taller girl’s cheek, before skipping over to her friend’s side. The taller girl trailed behind the pair slowly.

The girl who had been speaking with Lotor brushed past Lance and Keith, barely giving them enough time to hop out of her way. Her chin-length bob was died a dark blue, almost purple, really, making her look a little bit like Raven from Teen Titans. Lance said as much to Keith once he was sure that the girl wasn’t within ear-shot.

“What’s Teen Titans?” Keith asked, arching a brow.

‘It’s a cartoon, you know, like a kid’s show? I grew up watching Teen Titans and Avatar the Last Airbender with Mark and Luís. Veronica always tried to make me watch Totally Spies. Which was actually pretty good, but you aren’t allowed to tell her I told you that,” Lance warned.

“Are you even speaking in English right now?” Keith asked. “Because I didn’t understand a word of what you just said. Muggles are so weird. Why doesn’t Professor Kolivan tell us any of this?”

Lance shrugged, “He totally should,” he agreed. “Pop culture is so much more interesting than muggle history. And, anyway, si no estuviera hablando inglés lo sabrías.”

“Okay that definitely wasn’t English,” Keith said, blinking slowly.

Lance laughed. “No. That wasn’t English.”

Lance stepped to the side, holding open the tent flap for Keith before following the older boy inside. And… wow… okay. This wasn’t exactly what Lance had been expecting.

The tent felt like it was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside, there was a fully furnished kitchenette and living room, as well as a hallway that appeared to lead off in the direction of multiple bedrooms.

“Okay, are we in the Tardis right now?” Lance muttered, letting his gaze flicker around the inside of the tent.

“That’s from Doctor Who,” Keith said, eyes brightening. “I got that reference.”

“Of course that’s the one muggle reference that you get,” Lance laughed. “So, what, do we just, like, wait in here for someone to show up and tell us what to do?”

“I guess,” Keith shrugged. “Where did Lotor go? Didn’t he just walk in here?”

“He went to go change,” someone else piped up, making Lance jump.

“Jesus Christ, Allura, maybe announce your presence next time?”

Allura arched a brow, looking up from the book she was reading on the couch, her legs twisted at the ankle and resting on the coffee table. “There are swimsuits on the table for each of us.”

Sure enough, Allura was wearing a shimmery blue one-piece bathing suit that contrasted sharply with her warm brown skin and long legs. Her silver-blonde hair was tied into a bun at the nape of her neck.

“Don’t,” Allura warned Lance, turning her attention back to the book she was reading. “Just go get dressed, Lance.”

“I didn’t even say anything,” Lance said, holding up his hands in surrender.

“You didn’t have to,” Allura said without looking up.

Lance rolled his eyes, following Keith over to the table in the kitchen. Sure enough, there was a pair of blue swim trunks and a pair of red swim trunks carefully folded on the table.

Lance picked up the blue pair. There was a tiny Ravenclaw House crest in the lower corner of the shorts. Cute.

Lance headed in the direction of the bedrooms, hearing Keith’s footsteps behind him. The first bedroom door they passed was closed, probably where Lotor was changing, so Lance slipped into the next room.

He quickly stripped out of his school robes and slipped on the swim trunks, leaving his school robes folded neatly on the dresser.

The swimsuit was comforting, it reminded Lance of summer days at Varadero, splashing with his nieces and nephews in the shallow waves or going surfing with Veronica.

Lance fussed with his hair in the mirror hanging above the dresser, more out of habit than anything else, before exiting the room. Lotor had apparently finished getting dressed as well, and he was leaning against the fridge, some green plant in his hand.

Lance ignored him, dropping down onto the couch next to Allura, trying to stealing a glimpse of the book that she was reading. “Transfiguration?” He asked, confused. “Why are you reading about Transfiguration?”

“None of your business,” Allura sniffed, flipping a page.

Lance rolled his eyes, kicking his legs up onto the coffee table next to hers. He tossed one of his arms over his eyes, tipping his head back.

All too soon, he would be underwater fighting some giant monster.

But they had a plan. Focus on the plan. As long as they followed the plan, Keith would win. Keith would win the trial and everything would be fine. If Lance had to be in the tournament, fine, but the true Hogwarts champion would win. He would make sure of it.

Lance took a few steadying breaths through his nose, before dropping his arm back down and blinking his eyes open.

Keith stood in the hallway, his chest bare. And… wow… those training sessions with Shiro must seriously be working for him, because Keith was ripped. Sure he was pasty as fuck and Lance was fairly certain that Keith had never seen a day in the sun, but he still managed to look great. Which really wasn’t fair. He had abs! Like, clearly defined abs. Oh God. And his arms. Wow. His arms were so defined it looked like he could carry Lance without any difficulty. Lance swallowed. And he would let Keith carry him. Or pin him against a wall. Or… do pretty much anything to him, really.

Oh, fuck. He was so screwed.

Keith took a few steps into the room, and was Lance imagining it or was Keith staring at him?

He was pretty sure that Keith was staring at him.

Keith crouched down, perching on the wooden steps that led from the kitchen down into the living room. He reached up, gathering his black hair into his hands, tying it into a short ponytail.

His arms flexed as he did, and Lance swallowed.

Oh my god.

Keith was actually trying to kill him.

This is how Lance Álvarez dies. At the hands of a cute guy.

Well, there were worse ways to go.

Terrifying mind controlling lake monster was probably one.

“Why are you reading a book on Transfiguration?” Keith asked Allura, and was it Lance’s imagination or did Keith’s voice sound deeper than it usually did?

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Allura muttered, flipping another page.

Keith glanced over at Lance, raising an eyebrow. Lance shrugged.

And okay, Keith’s eyes definitely lingered on him that time. In fact, Lance was almost certain that Keith’s gaze was caught on his… collarbones?

Did he have something on him? Ah, did he not get all of his face mask off this morning? Lance’s gaze flickered down to his own chest, expecting to see leftover splatters from his cucumber face mask, but his chest was bare. Just the familiar tan skin and freckles.

Before Lance had any more time to analyze Keith’s actions, the flap of the tent was pushed open and a familiar head of blonde hair poked its way in.

“Lance!” Romelle hissed, as she slipped into the tent.

Lance bolted up from the couch. “Hey, Ro, uh… what are you doing here? Isn’t this tent only for Champions?”

“I just came to make sure that you were okay,” she said. “And to remind you that you just have to concentrate. After that, all you have to do is-”

“Survive underwater for an unidentifiable amount of time?” Lance asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Merlin,” Romelle said, “promise me you’ll be careful!” And that was all the warning Lance got before she tossed herself into his arms.

Lance staggered back a step, not expecting the sudden weight, before he wrapped his arms around her. “I promise,” he said.

A sudden flash of bright light accompanied by a popping sound startled him, and he almost dropped Romelle back down onto the ground.

“Ah, young love,” Rita Skeeter cooed.

Lance and Romelle jumped apart, sharing uneasy glances with one another.

“How… invigorating,” Rita said, as she swept into the room, a man carrying a large wizarding camera behind her. Her quick-quotes quill was hovering in the air beside her, already jotting something down onto a floating piece of parchment. “I thought you told me you were single, you naughty boy,” she said as she reached forward and pinched Lance’s cheek.

Lance leaned backwards to try to get away from her, frowning in disgust.

“If everything goes terribly wrong today… you two might even make the front page,” Rita continued, smirking. “Two young lovers torn apart by fate. It has quite a ring to it, doesn’t it?”

“We’re not a-” Romelle started to say, but Rita cut her off.

“How does it feel to be dating one of the Champions of Hogwarts?” Rita asked her. “Are you afraid for his safety? How long have you been together? Since before he was chosen or after?”

“You don’t have any business being here,” Keith snapped, pushing up from the floor and crossing the room to step up into Rita Skeeter’s space. “This tent is for the Champions. And,” he gaze flickered over to Romelle, his eyes narrowed, “friends of the Champions.” It sounded a little like he had to force the last part out, and Lance thought he saw his fists clench.

“I’m fairly certain that this young lady here is more than just a friend of a Champion,” Rita said, raising one of her over-plucked blonde eyebrows. “Can I get an official statement from you about that?”

“I’m not his girlfriend,” Romelle finally managed to get out, taking advantage of the momentary silence brewing between Rita Skeeter and Keith.

“What?” Rita Skeeter and Keith both said simultaneously.

“I’m not his girlfriend,” Romelle echoed. “I’m never going to be his girlfriend. I’m a lesbian.”

Keith blinked at her, while Rita waved one of her hands towards her quick-quotes quill.

“I told you I was single,” Lance mumbled under his breath.

“And Lance is great and all,” Romelle continued, “he’s my best friend, and yes, I’m very concerned for his safety especially considering these tasks can be deadly. But, yeah, no. We’re not a couple. He’s really not my type.”

Lance swung one of his arms around her shoulders. “You’re the only person that could say that to me and not hurt my feelings,” he informed her.

Romelle rolled her eyes.

“You two aren’t a couple?” Keith finally sputtered.

Lance raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him. “Dude… did you really think that we were?”

“I… kind of,” Keith admitted. “It’s just that… you two were holding hands and stuff. I don’t know. What was I supposed to think?”

“Wait,” Lance said slowly. “How long have you thought that me and Ro were dating?”

Keith shifted on his feet, his gaze flickering away and settling on some point over Lance’s shoulder. “Just since this morning, I guess, I mean, you never brought it up or anything… but you were holding hands so I thought… well, you know.”

Lance shared a glance with Romelle. “Did you realize we gave people this kind of vibe?” He asked her.

Romelle crossed her arms over her chest. “No,” she huffed. “I love you, Lance, but I don’t want you to ruin my chances of finally getting a girlfriend.”

“Well I didn’t think you two were a couple,” Allura piped up from her position on the couch, finally dragging her nose out of her Transfiguration book. “But that’s partially because Lance hits on me any chance he gets.”

“Hey, I didn’t say anything about your bathing suit today!” Lance protested.

Romelle followed Lance’s gaze over to Allura, and Lance chuckled to himself when her eyes widened slightly.

“You didn’t have to,” Allura muttered, rolling her eyes.

“You actually resisted saying anything about… that?” Romelle hissed, her voice low enough that only Lance (and maybe Keith) could hear her.

“Oh so is there a romance brewing between fellow Champions, then, hmmm?” Rita Skeeter said, startling all of them.

Jesus. Lance had almost forgotten she was there.

“What are you still doing here?!” Keith snapped, all but pushing Rita and her camera man out of the tent’s front flaps. “Get out.”

“Fine,” she sniffed, “we got what we came for, anyways.”

“Oh thank god,” Lance sighed, once the tent had fallen closed behind her. “That woman is atrocious.”

“I didn’t know you knew words that big,” Keith smirked.

“Hey!” Lance protested. “I am in Ravenclaw, aren’t I?”

“You do always make me answer the riddles for the common room door, though,” Romelle mused.

“You are both a traitor and a liar,” Lance hissed. “I’ll tell Allura that you think she looks hot in her bathing suit.”

Romelle reached over to pinch at Lance’s exposed side. “You will not!” She insisted.

“Ow!” Lance exclaimed, batting her hand away. “What happened to you being worried about my safety?”

“I decided you were too annoying. Keith, you can keep him,” Romelle said.

Keith raised an eyebrow. “Nevermind. I don’t think you two are dating anymore.”

Romelle blinked at him. “Obviously. I literally just told you that I was a lesbian.”

“I know that,” Keith groaned. “But I mean your dynamic. It makes more sense now.”

“Welcome to having friends, Kogane,” Romelle said, reaching over to pat Keith’s arm. “Since you and Lance are friends now, that means the rest of the friend group is going to adopt you.”

“I can’t wait,” Keith said dryly.

“Okay, I better get going before anyone catches me in here,” Romelle said, making her way towards the front of the tent.

However, before she could slip out, the flaps spread open as Headmaster Holt and an unfamiliar man pushed their way inside.

“Champions!” Headmaster Holt greeted warmly, “... and Miss Pollux,” he added, sounding a little confused at Romelle’s presence.

“I’m leaving!” Romelle said quickly, ducking under Headmaster Holt’s outstretched arm to slip out of the tent. “Sorry! Good luck, Lance!” She called over her shoulder. “Uh, you too, Keith! And Allura! But not you, Lotor, because you suck!”

And with that Romelle disappeared from sight.

Lance hid his snickers under his breath and Headmaster Holt turned his attention back to the Champions.

“I hope you’re all prepared for your first task,” Headmaster Holt said. “I’ve brought Adam Sharma, a member of the Ministry’s Department of Magical Games and Sports to explain the rules.”

“That’s Adam?” Lance asked Keith, keeping his voice quiet.

Keith nodded, “Yeah that’s Adam.”

Adam, the ministry member and Shiro’s fiancé looked up, catching them whispering. His short brown hair hung over his forehead, silver glasses slipping down his nose. He raised one of his hands in a tiny wave towards Keith, which Keith returned, before turning his attention back to the group as a whole.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Champions. Also, Keith, congratulations on being chosen, I’m not sure if Takashi passed my message along,” Adam said.

Keith flushed. “Uh, yeah, he… he passed it along.”

“Good,” Adam said, nodding.

“So, Champions, today is the first trial. In case you haven't figured the riddle out, here is a brief summary. You will be venturing down into the waters of the lake where there are four hidden objects, one for each of you, that contain the clue for the next trial. More importantly, these objects will only appear for you once you have completed the specifications of the task detailed in the riddle. I will say they are being closely guarded to make sure of that, and each of you will have a role to play in overcoming the obstacles presented. There is no time limit, but we do believe that the task should not take you any longer than two hours. The winner of this task will be the first champion to collect their prize and then return to the surface.”

Lance glanced over at Keith from the corner of his eye.

So all he had to do was make sure that he didn’t surface before Keith, right?.

How hard could that be?

“It should also be noted that you may, and most likely should, surface as soon as you can collect your prize, regardless of what is going on around you.The rankings will be determined by the order in which you complete the task, with extra points, which are awarded for exceptional merit or outstanding performances, being allocated by a judging panel. Should any of you fail to complete the task, you will automatically be ranked last. Should any of you feel the need to withdraw from the task, red sparks should be fired from your wand, but you will be automatically ranked last. You will be monitored for both your safety and also filmed for the spectators watching on the big screen. Do you all understand?”

Lance shared a glance with Keith before nodding.

So, around two hours.

The Bubble Head Charm had to last for around two hours.

“If the Champions would please follow me, we’ll get you settled into your starting places,” Headmaster Holt said, stepping out of the tent.

Allura and Lotor immediately followed him, but Adam stopped Lance and Keith before they could exit.

“Good luck, you two,” Adam said with a small smile. “I’m technically not supposed to be voting for anyone to win the Tournament, but, well… I’m partial towards Takashi’s favorite students as well.”

Lance felt a warm flush creep across his face. He was one of Shiro’s favorite students? Score.

“It’s really nice to meet you, Mr. Sharma,” Lance said, sticking out his hand for Adam to shake. What? His mamá raised a polite young man.

Adam shook his hand, but chuckled softly, “You can just call me Adam, Lance.”

“Uh, sure, can do,” Lance said, nodding.

“Anyways, you two probably need to get to your starting positions,” Adam said, holding open the flap of the tent for them.

Lance exited, keeping an eye of where Headmaster Holt was leading Allura and Lotor so he knew where to go, but he could still hear Adam and Keith speaking quietly behind him.

And he tried not to eavesdrop because he respects Keith’s privacy, but, well, they weren’t exactly being quiet.

“Takashi and I really are proud of you, Keith,” Adam said. “You’ve come a long way.”

“Thanks, Adam. That… means a lot.” Keith replied.

It was quiet for a few seconds before Keith spoke up again.

“Have you seen my mom?”

“She’s here, I actually just spoke with her. Great woman, Krolia. It’s a shame that so many people don’t see it. When I left, she and Takashi were catching up.”

“I hope I have time to see her after the trial,” Keith said, sounding a little sad.

“I’ll make sure of it,” Adam promised. “You know she’ll want to meet your friend, too.”

“Shut up,” Keith groaned.

Wait. Keith’s friend… they had to be talking about him! As far as Lance knew, Keith didn’t have any other people he even remotely considered to be ‘friends’.

“I’m just saying, you’ve never had a friend before, Keith.”

“I’ve had friends,” Keith grumbled.

“Oh, yeah? Name one,” Adam challenged.

“I… and… what about… okay, fine, I’ve got nothing,” Keith admitted with a huff of air.

“So what makes this guy different?”

Okay, so maybe Lance felt a little guilty for eavesdropping, but they were talking about him! What was he going to do? Not listen?

Yeah, Keith. What makes this guy different?

“Lance… is just… Lance,” Keith said.

Very enlightening.

“He kind of… sticks around whether you want him to or not. In a good way though! He’s probably the only person that’s actually dealt with me long enough to become my friend. No matter how hard I tried to push him away, he was always still there, you know?”

Well, it was good to see that Lance’s ability to be annoyingly persistent was apparently good for something.

“Sounds like he’s good for you, kid,” Adam said.

“Yeah,” Keith said quietly. “I think that he is.”

“Alright, I have to go join the other ministry members. Follow Headmaster Holt to your dock,” Adam said, “ and good luck, Keith.”

“Thanks, Adam,” Keith said softly.

A few seconds later, Lance heard Keith’s footsteps approaching him fairly quickly, the older boy slowing as he drew up beside Lance.

“Are you ready for this?” Keith asked.

Lance studied the wooden pier in front of him, the bleachers that were already mostly full. Headmaster Holt has stopped with Allura and Lotor at the edge of a long wooden dock that stretched out over the surface of the lake, apparently waiting for them.

“I guess I have to be,” Lance said, glancing at Keith out of the corner of his eye.

Keith’s expression was serious, his indiego eyes dark.

“Good luck, Lance,” he said seriously, as they made their way out onto the pier in the direction of the dock. “I guess I’ll see you down there.”

“See you down there,” Lance echoed, trying to ignore the feeling of hundreds of eyes on him. “Good luck, Keith.”

“Are all of the Contestants ready?” Headmaster Holt asked, his voice magically amplified, once Lance and Keith had fallen in line beside Allura and Lotor.

Lance nodded, sure that the others were doing the same, ignoring the cheers echoing around him.

“Mr. Sharma, would you do the honors?” Headmaster Holt said.

Lance turned, craning his neck. He could barely see Adam up at the top of one of the wooden towers. But Lance didn’t let his gaze linger, instead he turned his attention back down to the water.

“Let the first task… begin!” Adam called, his voice echoing over the roars of the crowd.

Lance took a deep breath before slipping his wand out of the convenient pocket in his swimsuit and quickly casting the Bubble Head charm. He glanced over, sharing the smallest nod with Keith, before diving down into the water.

Chapter Text

The water should have been freezing, was Lance’s first thought as his body cut through the surface of the lake. It was nearing the end of November, they were lucky that it wasn’t snowing, but the water felt as though it was almost warm. Magic. Right.

Lance blinked his eyes open, thankful that years of swimming had gotten him used to having his eyes open underwater. The murky water stung, but nowhere near as bad as salt water did. He glanced around, looking for Keith. All of the Champions had dove into the water together… he had to be somewhere around here.

The vegetation in the lake rose around him, taller than Lance, himself, in some places. Green stalks of plant life twisted around him, wrapping around his legs. Lance tore himself free, glaring at the underwater growth. Disgusting. He much preferred the ocean.

Something brushed past him, and Lance instinctively flinched away, but it was only a school of glistening silver fish, that darted away as soon as his movement startled them.

Lance shook his head. He was too jumpy. The trial had just started and he was already freaking himself out.

He needed to find Keith.

Lance took another breath of air from the bubble around his mouth and nose, before starting to swim freestyle through the water. The shore was behind him, so if he went forward, he should end up towards the middle of the lake. That had to be where the Baku was.

Abruptly, the ground beneath him fell away, dropping down into a deep cliff, thick vegetation obscuring whatever was down there from view.

Right. Guess he better go down then.

The feeling of slimy fingers on his shoulder made Lance jump, and he instinctively pulled out his wand as he turned to face whoever was behind him.

Keith narrowed his eyes at him, reaching over to push Lance’s wand down. He pointed down, down down down past the cliff, nodding his head.

Lance wrinkled his nose, but nodded back, trying not to notice the way that Keith’s dark hair floated around his head in the water. There were more important things to worry about right now. Like survival.

Keith slid his hand down, so that it was resting on Lance’s elbow as he pulled Lance forward through the water.

Did they really have to go down into the creepy underwater seaweed forest? Maybe the clue for the second trial wasn’t even that important.

Lance sighed into his bubble mask. Of course it would be important. Besides, Keith needed to get it.  

Lance followed Keith down, the pressure of the water making his ears pop. His gaze kept flickering around the dark seaweed forest they were swimming through, sure that every twitch of the plants would be a sign of an attack from the Baku, but there was never anything there. It was just Lance’s overactive imagination playing tricks on him.

Barely ten minutes had passed since the beginning of the trial, and it was already getting darker under the water. Lance raised his wand and silently cast lumos, the thin yellow light breaking through the plant life and casting long shadows. Great. Even creepier. But at least they could see.

Keith followed his lead and slipped out his wand, but didn’t cast anything. Preparing to cast offensive spells, then. Well, that was… comforting.

Through the shadows up ahead, Lance saw a dark shape dart through the growth. He stifled a scream, although it wasn’t like Keith could hear him, anyways. Lance’s free hand reached over, seemingly of its own accord to wrap around Keith’s arm. He tugged on Keith, nodding towards where he had seen the movement.

Whatever Keith saw in his face made his dark eyes widen, and his head snapped back around to follow Lance’s gaze into the darkness.

They continued forward slowly. Lance could have covered the distance in a much shorter amount of time, but it was clear that Keith wasn’t much of a swimmer, especially the deeper they went into the water.

There!

Another flicker through the vegetation up ahead, something that seemed vaguely humanoid shaped.

Lance swallowed.

Something humanoid was probably not what he and Keith wanted to bump into while they were looking for a creature that could literally use mind control.

Unless…

… well, no, even if it was something as amazing as a mermaid, that would still be bad.

Lance tipped his head to the side, swimming away from whatever they had just noticed. There was no reason to find out what it was if they didn’t have to.  He cut down through the water, glancing over his shoulder every so often to make sure that Keith was still following him.

The older boy had fallen behind slightly, so Lance slowed his pace until Keith had drawn up beside him. He reached over, grabbing one of Keith’s hands and wrapping it around his ankle.

Keith raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t remove his hand.

Once Lance was sure that he was ready, his kicked back down. Keith’s grip on his ankle was a comforting reminder that he wasn’t alone down here in the seemingly endless expanse of water and disgusting plant growth.

Yuck.

He definitely prefered the ocean.   

Suddenly, almost abruptly, they came to the bottom of the lake. The plant life and vegetation gave way to murk and mud. Lance set one of his feet down tentatively, the muck reaching up almost to his shins. He tugged his leg free and shook it through the water, riding himself of the mud. Again. Gross.

   

So walking wasn’t exactly an option.

Lance glanced around them, it was black as pitch, but the vegetation had cleared away slightly. Hopefully if the continued along the bottom of the lake they would be able to find some clues as to where the Baku might be.

Keith suddenly popped up beside Lance, shaking his shoulder.

Lance startled, his fingers instinctively tightening over his wand.

Keith held one of his fingers up in front of his mouth, nodding his head towards the area over Lance’s shoulder.

Lance turned slowly, holding his breath without realising what he was doing.  

There, just at the edge of the dim light from Lance’s wand was a shadowy figure. It appeared to be human from the waist up, with the upper form of a pretty female and long pink hair that floated behind her softly through the water. But the creature had a long yellow tail with pink markings, almost like a fish. That was… definitely a mermaid.

Lance had always wanted to see a mermaid in real life.

The mermaid had its back to them, and it was reaching up to pick at a floating batch of seaweed.

Lance tore his eyes away to glance at Keith.

Keith nodded his head in the direction away from the mermaid, tugging on Lance’s arm as if to say let’s get away from this thing as soon as possible.

Lance glanced back over at the mermaid. Maybe she was friendly.

Lance swam forward tentatively, only to be yanked backwards by Keith.

Keith shook his shoulder, giving him a sharp look that clearly said are you certifiably insane?

Lance gave Keith his best pleading-let-me-handle-this look, tugging free of Keith’s hand. He swam a little closer to the mermaid. Maybe she could help them.

As he drew closer, the light from his wand spread far enough that Lance could get a glimpse of the plant life she was picking, some kind of basket woven from underwater plant life dangling from her arm. That was hornwort, he could tell from the large feathery leaves. Herbology hadn’t totally failed him and mermaids weren’t known to eat hornwort.

Lance stilled, suddenly nervous about approaching any closer.

The mermaid continued mechanically plucking pieces of the hornwort and placing it in the basket, apparently not even disturbed by the light from Lance’s wand.

Keith’s hand wrapped around his shoulder again, and this time Lance let him pull him backwards and away from the mermaid. Only once she had completely vanished from view did Lance relax.

Something had definitely not been right with that mermaid.

She had to be under the mind control of the Baku.

Now he just had to find some way to communicate that to Keith… he tried to do it wordlessly with his hands, making a series of complicated hand gestures that he hoped Keith could understand.

Keith frowned at him, obviously confused, holding up his hands.

Lance shook his head, making the hand motions again. This time, he couldn’t shake the feeling like someone was watching him. He let his gaze flicker around the nearby area, just barely catching a glimpse of silver. Oh, right. The cameras.

The mermaids are being mind controlled he mouthed, being sure to over-exaggerate the pronunciation, unable to actually say the words. For emphasis, he raised his finger to point at his head and twirled it slowly.

Keith still looked confused, before his eyes widened in understanding, and he jerked his head back in the direction of the mermaid and echoed the motion with his own finger. He nodded.

Whew. At least Keith hopefully had some idea of what was going on.

Certain they were both on the same page, Lance stuck up one of his legs, offering his ankle to Keith. Keith wrapped his fingers around it and Lance took off through the water once more.

Without being able to see more than a few feet ahead of him, it was difficult to tell where he was going. Hopefully he was going towards the center of the lake, since Lance had a feeling that would be where the Baku was, but with no distinctive landmarks to help guide the way, Lance was swimming blind.

He almost gave up hope, and had started to turn around to try a different direction when a flash of light from up ahead caught Lance’s eye. It looked like a streak of red through the water, like the red of a stunning spell.

Lance reached back, tugging on Keith to get his attention and pointing in the direction of the flash of light.

Keith drew up beside him, following his gaze.

There it was again! An angry streak of red cutting through the murky water.

Keith took off swimming towards the light as soon as he saw it, so Lance followed him. It didn’t take Lance long to catch up to Keith, and he quickly drew up in front of him, although he was careful not to go too fast. He didn’t want to lose his friend, and with the dark water all around them, losing Keith would be only too easy.

As they drew closer to a dense patch of underwater vegetation, Lance could see figures darting through the stalks of seaweed. Three of them were similar to the mermaid he had seen earlier, although these ones seemed to be male and were holding large, dangerous looking tridents. Facing off against them, her bare legs kicking softly to keep her still in the water, was Allura, her wand held out in front of her. At least, Lance knew that it had to be Allura based on the shimmering silver swimsuit, but it certainly didn’t look like Allura. Because where Allura normally had a calm face and a mess of wavy white-blonde hair, there was now the head of a shark.

Well, at least now Lance knew what she had been reading the Transfiguration book.

One of the mermen darted forward, poking at Allura with his trident, whilst she wordlessly cast another stunning spell, the flash of red lights slamming into the center of the creatures chest. How she was able to cast spells at all with her head transfigured into a shark, Lance wasn’t sure, but he didn’t plan on sticking around to find out, either.

Further back in the water, Lance could make out the silhouettes of other figures floating through the water, but they seemed undisturbed by the fight happening just a few feet away from them. They were almost perfectly motionless, weapons gripped tightly in hand. That was eerie.

Lance reached backwards, wrapping a hand around Keith’s wrist, pulling the other boy into the vegetation. Hopefully they could skirt around Allura and her new friends unseen. After all, she appeared to have a pretty good handle on the situation.

Lance and Keith slipped through the seaweed, which frankly felt a little too much like hands grabbing at his legs for Lance’s comfort, thank you very much. If they staying in the cover of the vegetation, maybe nothing would see them…

Okay, so maybe he had thought that a little too soon, Lance thought as he abruptly found himself face to face with the mermaid that he and Keith had seen serenely plucking plants earlier.

She blinked her large dark eyes at them, before calmly lifting a shell that Lance hadn’t noticed was hanging around her neck to her lips. Lance couldn’t hear the sound it released, but, well, he was pretty sure that it wasn’t actually meant for him to hear.

Lance spared Keith a wide, panicked glance before whipping out his wand and aiming it at the pretty mermaid.

She’s being mind controlled, Lance silently reminded himself. It doesn’t matter how innocent she looks with her pink hair and yellow fin. She’s probably evil.

The mermaid cocked her head, before grinning at them, and whatever thoughts Lance had about her looking cute and innocent immediately vanished.

Because her mouth was filled with three neat rows of razor sharp teeth, giving her a shark-like appearance. And if there was one thing an ocean boy was afraid of, it was coming across a shark in the water.

Keith reached over Lance’s shoulder, firing a stunning spell, the movement enough to shock Lance into motion.

Right. The plan. Focus on the plan.

Stun any creatures that were mind controlled by the Baku to incapacitate them, find and defeat the Baku, claim the prize, return to the surface, make sure Keith’s victorious.

The red light of the stunning spell arched towards the mermaid but she swiftly dodged out of the way. Damn. She was fast.

And… apparently she wasn’t as alone as they thought she was.

Two large mermen with blue tails and tridents emerged from the seaweed forest, flanking the female mermaid on either side.

Lance followed Keith’s lead and launched into action, flinging a series of charms at the merman directly in front of him. Luckily, one of them managed to hit, freezing a portion of his torso in a block of ice.

Directly to his side, Keith was sending a series of charms, jinxes, and hexes through the water in the direction of the other merman. A few of them, the fire spells that Keith preferred, fizzled out before they even left the tip of his wand. No fire underwater, apparently not even magical flames.

The female mermaid darted forward, grabbing onto Lance’s free arm and clamping her mouth around hit.

He cried out soundless in pain as dozens of needle-like teeth pierced his flesh. Lance instinctively tore his arm away from her, causing even further damage to the ripped flesh of his arm. Blood trickled softly out of the wound, filling the water around him with a red cloud.

He thought that Keith might have been soundlessly calling his name, but he wasn’t sure.

Lance pressed his wand down to the ruined skin, thinking Episkey as strongly as he could. He winced as the ruined flesh knit itself back together but at least his messy healing spell had stopped the bleeding.

Lance swam backwards until he bumped into Keith, positioning them so they were back to back while the two merpeople swam in lazy circles around them, poking towards Lance with their tridents every so often, the one that Lance had partially frozen was still hanging still in the water.

The stunning spells didn’t seem to be as effective as Lance and Keith had hoped they would be, but at least the ice spell had worked. The mermaid who had bit him paused in front of Lance, seemingly preparing for another attack.

Well fuck that.

Lance flicked his wand towards her, watching as a block of ice formed around her chest, freezing her arms to her sides.

Suck on that, mermaid.

Lance glanced behind him, pleased to see that Keith had hit the merman with the tickling charm, and that the merman was currently doubled over in laughter.

Lance reached over, grabbing Keith’s wrist and pulling him away from the three merpeople. They needed to get out of here.

Lance pulled them deeper into the seaweed forest, if they could just put enough space between the merpeople and themselves…

The forest of underwater vegetation seemed to close in around them, long stalks wrapping around Lance’s arms and legs as he pushed his way through. How much time had passed since the beginning of the trial? A half an hour? Longer? It was impossible to tell.

Lance pushed past what was practically a wall of seaweed, slightly relieved when the plant life began to clear away to reveal towering stone structures. They were crumbling and half-constructed, like ruins of an old castle or citadel. Maybe there would be some place to find cover down there.

Lance tugged on Keith’s wrist, pointing down towards the ruins.

Keith shrugged.

Well, at least he hadn’t said no.

Lance kicked down towards the ruins, cutting through the water. Up close, he could see that the ruins weren’t as big as he had thought that they were, probably just an old one-story building. The stone walls were covered with green algae that Lance was careful not to touch as he slipped between a stone archway that probably used to be a doorway.

It was darker inside the ruins, the half-walls causing shadows to loom across the water.

It was basically creepy as fuck.

Lance slowed to a stop once the ruins covered them from the sight of any nearby prying eyes, taking a moment to let Keith catch his breath.

Keith slumped up against the stone wall behind him, shooting Lance a grateful glance. For as fit as he was, Lance could tell that Keith was struggling with the swimming. Well, when the scroll said it was going to be a breathless quest, it really wasn’t kidding.

Hell, Lance was almost struggling with the swimming too, taking a few deep breaths to try and get himself back up to swimming quickly. Lance pressed down quickly on the half-healed bite wound to assess how bad it was, before moving it to check how well he’d be able to swim. Luckily, his half-assed healing spell had worked better than he thought it did.

Lance held his illuminated wand over the wound, wincing slightly when he saw the jagged scars left behind. Shit. His mamá would kill him when she saw those.

Keith took a few more deep breaths, before nodding his head and pushing away from the wall. He drifted slowly over to where Lance was, gently picking up Lance’s injured arm and twisting it so that he could see the bite marks. He frowned at the sight of the scars, his eyebrows drawing together, wrinkling his forehead. Keith ran his fingers gently over the puckered skin, before looking back up to meet Lance’s gaze.

“Are you okay?” He mouthed, and although Lance couldn’t hear him, he could feel the concern in Keith’s voice. “Does it hurt?”

Lance shook his head. “I’m fine,” he mouthed back.

Keith nodded, although he still didn’t look happy as he let go of his grip on Lance’s arm.

Lance took his turn to study Keith, making sure that the older boy was ready to keep going before offering Keith his hand.

Keith wrapped his own hand around Lance’s, intertwining their fingers.

Lance tried not to think about how their hands fit together perfectly. They had bigger problems right now.

Lance pushed off again, slipping out of a hole between the stones of the ruin’s wall that was just big enough for the two of them to fit through.

Okay. If you were a giant underwater mind-controlling lake monster… where would you hide?

Lance glanced around, behind the ruins stretched the wall of seaweed and plant life that they had emerged from. So probably not that way, then.

Lance turned the other way. In front of the ruins stretched a large open expanse of mud dotted with other stone structures. Oh god. It was like there was an entire village down there. It probably was.

Lance swam a little closer towards the back of the ruin they were currently at, sticking close to the stone walls (hopefully they would offer some sort of cover).

The ground sloped down gently, so Lance and Keith actually had a fairly good vantage point over most of the ruins below them. The water was murky, which made it hard to see, but where the rest of the lake had been pitch black, the village was glowing brightly. Dozens of bioluminescent plants clung to the sides of the ruins, giving the village the appearance of having streetlights.

As if glowing stone ruins weren’t scary enough, Lance could see dozens of merpeople glittering about down below.

Keith tugged on his hand, and Lance turned to look at him. Keith pointed towards something in the distance, and Lance squinted his eyes, trying to make out what he was looking at.

oh.

A huge underwater… garden seemed to take up a large portion of the right side of the village. It was mostly some kind of green moss but it seemed to be glowing with an unnatural purple light. The same unnatural purple glow possessed by most of the bioluminescent plants lining the walls of the village.

What the fuck?

That had to be where the Baku was hiding.

Lance kicked off, about to sneak down into the village, but Keith tugged him backwards.

The momentum of the pull sent Lance flying backwards through the water and he collided with Keith’s bare chest.

Keith reached up to steady him, holding Lance carefully against him as he pointed down towards the creepy garden thing again.

Trying to focus on the mission at hand and not how warm Keith was compared to the cool water, Lance’s eyes followed Keith’s figure, straining to see what Keith was trying to point out to him.

There were two figures approaching the Baku, both mermaids by the looks of them. One of them was blue, with large circular loops projecting from her head instead of hair, while the other was… the yellow and pink mermaid that had bit Lance earlier! The blue mermaid hung back while the yellow mermaid swam forward.

Okay if this garden thing is home to a dangerous magical beast, the mermaids should probably not swim right towards it.

The yellow mermaid stopped suddenly, glancing back at the blue one. The blue mermaid darted forward, grabbing the yellow one’s arm and propelling her roughly towards the garden.

“Oh my god,” Lance said, the words muffled by the bubble around his lower face.

He watched in horror as the blue mermaid let go of the yellow mermaid, all but shoving her down into the garden.

The yellow mermaid only hesitated for a second before she swam the rest of the way down on her own, disappearing into the green moss-like substance.

A few seconds later, there was a flash of bright purple light.

Lance felt like he was going to be sick.

That mermaid had attacked him earlier, but even so, Lance was pretty sure he had just watched her get eaten by that Baku thing. That was… not right.

Lance glanced over at Keith, not surprised to notice that Keith was already looking at him with wide eyes.

They had to stop this thing.

This time, when Lance kicked off towards the village, Keith didn’t try to stop him.

< < < > > >

Lance pressed himself up against one of the walls of the stone buildings about halfway to the Baku garden. Of course, the garden had to be well into the mermaid village, meaning that if Lance and Keith wanted to get close, they were going to have to go through the mermaids to get to it.

So far, everything was going well. They had avoided being spotted by anything or anyone so far, keeping to the outskirts of the village as they circled around towards the Baku.  

They were now approaching one of the more populated areas of the village, some kind of outdoor market place where mermaids and mermen were drifting back and forth almost aimlessly.

Lance shared a concerned glance with Keith. How on earth were they going to get past this? It would take forever to try and go around, time that they didn’t have. But if they tried to go through the square, the merpeople would definitely spot them. Either way, it was a risk.

Lance was about to tug on Keith, hopefully to draw him away from the marketplace, when Keith abruptly darted forward.

Because of course he did.

Impulsive little bastard.

Lance groaned before darting out into the marketplace after Keith, already pulling out his wand.

Almost immediately, the merpeople in the marketplace turned to look at them. The mermen pulled tridents off their backs while the mermaids flashed their… gulp… very sharp teeth at them.

But Keith wasn’t planning on giving them time to react. He was already firing a series of stunning spells from his wand, streaks of red light flying through the water.

The merpeople dodged out of the way of most of the spells, but they were still forced to fall backwards after some of the stunning spells brushed past them.

Damn. They were fast.

It had been hard enough to fight against the three they encountered earlier, Lance had no idea how they would be able to fight off the dozen in the square.

Lance raised his arm over Keith’s shoulder, a blast of ice slamming into one of the mermaids. One run in with those teeth was quite enough, thank you very much.

Keith hit one of the mermen with the Ebublio jinx, causing a giant bubble to form around him. The bubble then started to drift up towards the surface, and under any other circumstance, the sight of a blue merman pressing his hands against the side of a giant bubble as he floated towards the surface would have startled a laugh out of Lance, but as it was, he could barely spare the bizarre sight a second glance before he turned his attention back to the fight at hand.

Stupid Keith.

Having to engage with every possible enemy at once.

Hadn’t he ever heard that you have to choose your battles?

Flipendo!” Lance said, the words swallowed, but the spell still effective as it sent one of the nearby mermen slamming backwards into the ruins behind him.

Still, for every merperson that they incapacitated, it seemed like there were two more.

Keith drifted backwards until he and Lance were drifting shoulder-to-shoulder in the water. He fired off a few more jinxes in quick succession, wincing as one of the merpeople disappeared down into the ground. Damn. How did Keith even know the Orbis jinx?

Nope, nope, nope. Focus, Lance. There’s a scary ass mermaid chick in front of you, Lance chanted to himself. He tore his eyes away from Keith to focus on the purple mermaid that was inching closer to him, all three rows of her teeth visible.

Lance swallowed, before launching a tickling hex at her.

The mermaid halted, wrapping her arms around herself as she doubled over in laughter, her expression shifting into one that was almost peaceful. Definitely not the murderous creature she had been a second ago.

Lance took advantage of the distraction and quickly launched another spell at her, freezing her torso into a solid chunk of ice.

But it wasn’t enough, more merpeople were pouring into the marketplace, and immediately started to split into two groups; the group attacking Keith and the group attacking Lance. And for every one that Lance froze or Keith sucked into the ground, another one drew closer.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Okay, there had to be something they could do. The needed some kind of distraction or…

A large blast of blue energy erupted somewhere off to the right, not enough to distract the merpeople directly in front of Keith and Lance, but enough to draw away some of the ones lingering towards the back of the marketplace.

Well… that would work.

Taking advantage of the momentary confusion, Lance pushed forward, quickly freezing two more of the merpeople in front of him.

Keith appeared to have a similar idea as a few more merpeople drifted past Lance trapped inside giant bubbles.

Suddenly, a figure cut through the water. An all too familiar figure in a shimmery silver swimsuit with the head of a shark.

“Allura!” Lance cried, pumping one of his hands through the water even though he knew that she couldn’t hear him.

Allura streaked last them, flinging spells through the water towards the merpeople in the marketplace. As her spells collided with them, a few of the merpeople’s heads dropped down to their chest, their eyes fluttering shut. Sleeping charms! Of course!

Allura paused in the water above them, waving her hand towards them.

Frankly, it was a terrifying sight: a human body with the head of a great white shark waving towards them, but Lance wasn’t about to turn down help.

He reached over, tugging on Keith to get his attention, but Keith was already nodding.

Lance kicked away from the ground, tugging both himself and Keith up so that they were level with Allura, looking down at the marketplace below them.

The merpeople below were in a state of confusion, many of them trapped in bubbles, sleeping, or frozen solid. A few of them were half-trapped in the murky ground, their upper bodies thrashing like zombies in b-list horror movies.

Lance glance behind him, wondering if Allura has been the one to set off the blast of energy, but he didn’t see anything looking unusually out of place among the ruins. But it was impossible to tell whether the ruins were collapsed because something had exploded or as a result of age and wear.

The half a dozen merpeople who weren’t incapacitated seemed to regroup, gathering together before darting up towards Keith, Allura, and Lance.

The mermaids split up into two groups, flanking around the trio. Lance glanced between Keith and Allura, hoping that the three of them would be able to take on the remaining merpeople.

They probably would… right?

Keith and Allura spun so that the three of them were floating back to back. Lance forced himself to run through a list of hexes and jinxes that he knew while he watched the merpeople drift closer. He could feel the cameras watching them again, and shot off a stunning spell to dodge a mermaid who lunged for Keith beside him. He ducked to the right to let Keith hit another with a tickling hex, but then narrowly avoided getting slashed with one mermaid’s claws, only to be nicked in the forehead on her backswing.

This… wasn’t good.

Lance let his gaze flicker over towards Keith, who was frowning in concentration as he flicked his wand between the three merpeople pushing towards him. A quick glance to his other side revealed that Allura was in a similar position. Huh. Weird. Even though the three of them were back to back, the merpeople were actually only approaching from two sides, leaving the water directly in front of Lance completely open. They kept attacking the same people, splitting into groups that way.

It didn’t fit with the mindless attacks that Lance had expected.

Instead, it seemed almost like the merpeople were specifically… targeting Keith and Allura right now. Lance was only really being attacked when he got in their crossfire.

The merpeople must have specific champions that they were supposed to attack!

That explained why the merpeople had been so vicious against him earlier, and why these ones weren’t paying him any attention.

The ones who had targeted Lance were still encased in ice.

Deciding to test his theory, Lance drifted down, leaving the space between Keith and Allura empty. If he could take advantage of the fact that merpeople weren’t paying him any attention, maybe he could sneak around behind them and hit them with spells while they were distracted.

None of the merpeople even spared him a glance as Lance carefully drifted down towards the murky ground. Keith and Allura didn’t appear to notice his disappearance either, as they were both busy fending off three merpeople each.

Once Lance had put some space between the merpeople and himself, he shot off a few more of the ice spells, and he probably would have froze one of the mermen in front of Keith into a solid slab of ice if something large hadn’t slammed into his side, knocking him off balance and sending his spell off target, the streak of blue wildly missing the merman in front of Keith.

Lance grunted from the force of the impact, although his momentum was slowed by the water around him.

He spun, checking to see what had knocked him over, his legs kicking through the water.

Behind him was one of the large mermen that had attacked him and Keith earlier, a blue one with a face similar to a walrus.

No wonder it felt like Lance just got slammed into by a backliner from one of the American Football teams that Luís was obsessed with. The guy was huge. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, there was another one drawing closer behind him.

Shit. He never should have separated from Allura and Keith. He was such an idiot. This was bad. This was very, very bad.

Instinctively, Lance swam backwards through the water, eager to put some distance between himself and the two beefcake mermen.

But he wasn’t fast enough.

The merman who had just slammed into him reached out quicker than he had any right to move, wrapping his cold and slimy fingers around Lance’s ankle. He pulled, hard, and for half a second, Lance was convinced that the merman had yanked his leg out of its socket, before the momentum of the pull yanked Lance forward.

The other merman appeared on Lance’s other side, grabbing onto Lance’s shoulders.

Lance wiggled every way he could, but their grip was steady on him, and he couldn’t get free. Thanks to the hold on his shoulders, he couldn’t get his wand up to hit either of them.

He glanced up towards where Allura and Keith were still standing their ground (metaphorically since they were actually floating in the water) against the merpeople targeting them.

As Lance watched, Keith chanced a look over his shoulder, seemingly confused when he noticed that Lance wasn’t behind him. Keith fired a stunning spell at one of the mermaids without looking, as his gaze continued to flicker around looking for Lance.

Finally, finally, he glanced down - noticing Lance being grabbed by the two mermen.

Wordlessly, Lance tried to call for help, even though logically he knew that Keith couldn’t hear him.

Keith turned in the water, like he was going to dive down for Lance, but one of the mermaids got a grip on his arm, her claws digging into his skin. In the spit second it took for Keith to turn and stun her, the mermen carrying Lance had dragged him into an alleyway between two of the ruins.

Shit.

Okay, okay. Lance looked around desperately, trying to figure out a plan. The alleyway was narrow, he wouldn’t be able to move a lot, and he still couldn’t get his wand. Looking around he couldn’t see a way out of the alleyway bar where he just came from and whatever was behind him.

Well, Lance thought, guess the only way out is backwards.

Taking a deep breath to compose himself, Lance kicked upwards and made himself almost horizontal, before pushing himself off the alleyway wall and shouldering the merman gripping his side against the other wall. Luckily, as he had blindly hoped, the merman let go long enough for him to grip his wand and hex the merman clutching his foot. He quickly swam to make some distance between himself and the two mermen, but noticed that the one he had hit with his shoulder was holding a shell up to his mouth.

Great, just when Lance had thought things couldn’t get any worse.

As soon as Lance could see through the murky water that there were a group of mermaids approaching the end of the alleyway, he turned and sprinted as fast as he could.

The ruins seemed to grow darker around him, less crumbling walls and more towering stone structures. It appeared the heart of the underwater city was more preserved than the rest of it.

Lance’s heart was pounding in his chest. There was no way he could double back now, he was afraid to so much as glance over his shoulder, sure that the mermaids would be closing in on him. Hopefully Keith and Allura were able to fight those merpeople off on their own and meet back up with him later, because there was no way that Lance would be able to make his way back to them.

He was struggling to catch his breath and his limbs were aching, but he had to keep pushing forward. He felt something scratch his leg and he gasped, before facing behind him to fire off two quick stunning spells. He could see more merpeople approaching but he had to keep going on.

Minutes upon minutes passed like this, with Lance casting quick sleeping charms and ice spells to keep the merpeople at bay, because if he didn’t he was assaulted by more cuts that were stinging due to the murky water. Ugh. This water was so gross. He was probably going to get an infection and die as a result of this stupid trial. That was, if the merpeople didn’t get him first.

Finally, after a few minutes of desperate swimming, the sounds of pursuit quieted, and when Lance risked a glance behind him, the alleyway was empty.

Phew.

The only light around Lance was coming from the bioluminescent plants, faint purple light pulsing from the weird moss that was clinging to the sides of the stone ruins. Remembering that he hadn’t relit his wand, Lance pulled it out in front of him, muttering Lumos under his breath.

The bright light from his wand illuminated the ruins around him, revealing carvings in the walls depicting scenes of mermaids and mermen. They were beautiful, shells and fish bones used to creature mosaics.

Lance reached out, letting his fingers run gently across one of the walls.

How had a people with such a beautiful culture been reduced to the mindless monsters that they were now?

It had to be a result of the Baku.

Tearing his attention away from the murals, Lance studied the alleyway in front of him. It seemed like he was coming to a T-shaped intersection, with passages continuing to both the left and right. Shit. He had gotten so twisted around from being dragged into the alley and his wild race away from the merpeople that he wasn’t sure which direction he needed to go into to reach the garden that he and Keith had seen from above.

Lance turned towards the left branch of the alleyway, then the right, but they looked almost identical. Both had the same stone walls and same glowing purple moss. The right passageway was broken up by the occasional archway, like the ruins were small houses. Taking a leap of faith, Lance turned to the right. If it wasn’t the right path, he could always double back, although it would suck to lose a large chunk of time like that. Who knew how much longer his oxygen bubble would last.

Lance swam down the alleyway he had randomly chosen, pleasantly surprised to realize that there weren’t any merpeople waiting to jump out at him from the shadows of the ruins.

The pathway he had chosen twisted around, a few smaller passages splitting off from it, but Lance ignored them. The glowing purple moss seemed to be getting thicker on the buildings, until the light that it was letting off was bright enough that Lance dispelled the light on his wand.

He had to be getting close now.

Sure enough, the stone walls slowly opened up to reveal the large garden that Lance and Keith had seen from up above. It was a beautiful collection of underwater plants: green hornwort and the purple moss with orange specks and dozens of other plants that Lance didn’t recognize. Underneath all of it, there was a warm purple glow that seemed almost inviting. And if Lance hadn’t seen the yellow mermaid swim in and never swim out, he might have been tempted to swim into it himself.

He was certain now that this was definitely the Baku, that this garden was home to the mythical creature responsible for the change in the merpeople.

According to the riddle, he had to find some sort of prize that the Baku would be protecting. But first, he needed to actually figure out where the hell the beast was. It would be suicide to just swim into the garden. He needed the beast to come for him.

< < < > > >

“Na-na na-na boo boo” Lance taunted, even though he logically knew the Baku couldn’t actually hear him, as he waved his arms through the water furiously, like when he went to summer camp and all the boys tried to rope the whole class into doing the Wave. He was always one of the best, Marco could never manage to get his arms to bend the right way.

He kicked his feet through the water, just enough to make sure that he could make a quick escape if he needed to.

Surely if he taunted the Baku long enough, it would decide to try and eat him… right?

After a few more minutes of the arm wave not working, Lance gave up and pulled out his wand, aiming it at the purple moss.

What spell would annoy the Baku the most?

In quick succession, Lance fired off a few stunning and tickling spells, tossing in a bat-bogey hex for good measure (even though he was fairly certain it wouldn’t work).

Ugh. Nothing.

He shoved his wand back into the pocket of his swim trunks, so that he could swim easier, before he inched closer to the garden.

Maybe the only way to defeat the thing would be to go inside of the garden. He just had to be stronger than that yellow mermaid. Oh man, he so wished that Keith was here right now so he wouldn’t have to face this thing alone.

Up closer, Lance could see that there were small, brightly colored flowers dotting the purple moss. They were orange and had large petals, like the lilies that his mamá grew in her garden back home.

Lance reached forward, letting one of his fingers brush against the leaves of the flower. It was silky and smooth, and achingly familiar. Lance remembered Veronica plucking lilies from their mamá’s garden and letting Lance braid them into her hair, he remembered stealing one of the flowers and sticking it behind his ear, running off before V could catch him. He remembered pulling off petals of the flower as he chanted she loves me she loves me not while thinking of the pretty girl who shared crayons with him in preschool.

He was so preoccupied with his memories, that Lance almost didn’t notice the faint orange powder that floated off of the flower and drifted into the water.

Lance rubbed his fingers together. They felt weird. Like he had just gotten stung by a bee and now they were swelling. Lance studied them, they didn’t look like anything weird was happening to them. In fact, they just looked… normal.

He ran his hands together, ha, that felt funny. Almost ticklish.

Delighted, Lance ran his hands together again.

Wait. He was supposed to be doing something important right now wasn’t he?

No, he was just basking in the pale glow of the pretty purple moss. And the way that he couldn’t help but feel… feel good.

Safe and warm.

Lance looked back up at the garden in front of him.

Oh, right.

He was supposed to be looking at the flowers.

He leaned in closer to one of the lily-like blooms, so close that its petals were brushing against his oxygen bubble.

Ugh.

Stupid oxygen bubble. It was getting in his way of smelling the pretty flower.

Maybe he should get rid of it. He didn’t really need it, after all. It was so safe and warm down here. Nothing bad would ever happen.  

He smiled, a sense of calmness washing over him. He couldn’t feel any of the stinging cuts, or the aching pain in his forearm, or the tightness in his chest. He felt nothing.

What was he doing here again?

It didn’t really matter.

The flowers were so pretty. That was obviously much more important than whatever had brought him down here in the first place.

He drifted closer to the garden. Why hadn’t he gone inside already? It was probably really pretty inside, with even more flowers. And the purple glow looked so safe and warm and inviting.

Lance drifted closer to the entrance to the garden. Letting the green hornwort brush against him softly as he parted it. Inside the garden was safe and warm, the plant life overhead giving him the feeling that he was wrapped in a cocoon. Like a butterfly, Lance giggled. He loved butterflies.

The purple glow was brighter here, the weird purple moss lining the ground beneath him.

Lance swam down, letting his bare feet brush against the moss.

Heh. Squishy.

He poked his toes down into the moss, delighting in the feeling of it seeping between his toes.

In an instant, he grew bored, so Lance kicked away from the ground and swam deeper into the garden.

Soon after, the green Hornwort gave way to slick green walls that seemed to pulse when Lance rested his hand against it.

So cool.

Lance knocked his knuckles against the green wall, laughing. Maybe you just need to knock, he thought as he doubled over in laughter.

As if in response to his knock, the walls rumbled.

Awww, it was talking to him.

Lance straightened, looking around for the source of the rumbling. Maybe there was something else down here with him. Lance shook his head, no. It was safe and warm down here.

He was just being silly.

Lance turned his attention back to the wall in front of him, except… he cocked his head in confusion… it wasn’t a wall anymore. Instead he was looking at a wide, toothy maw that split into four parts. Like the demogorgon from Stranger Things.

Lance giggled to himself. That’s crazy. The demogorgon couldn’t breathe underwater.

He was so silly.

He stretched one of his hands forward, intending to maybe try and pet the creature. It was kind of cute, if he squinted, like the snake that his friend Gabriel had brought to show and tell when they were little. He wondered if it would be as slick and slimy as that snake had been.

But he never got the chance to find out, because something grabbed him around his torso, yanking him backwards.

Lance thrashed against the body that was behind him, trying to free himself so that he could go pet the snake-thing. It looked so safe and the purple glow surrounding it was so warm.

He kicked out with his leg, slamming into the calf of the person holding him hard enough that their grip on him grew slack. Lance took advantage of their momentary distraction, and tried to wiggle loose from their arms. He twisted and turned, squirming, as he propelled himself through the water. He had almost succeeded in getting entirely free, too, before their grip on him tightened once more (although their arms were now locked around his legs rather than his torso).

Lance felt them pull him back down, shifting their grip on him, before something sharp and stick-like, like a stick, was being pointed at his face. Lance instinctively closed his eyes, twisting his head away from the object. No no no no no no no no. He didn’t like it.

He felt a probing into his mind, like someone was trying to root around in his brain. Lance craned his head away, almost as if he could physically kick the person out of his brain.

Eventually, the invasive feeling stopped.

Lance relaxed, forgetting for a second that he was supposed to be trying to escape from the person holding him. Now that they weren’t fighting against him, it felt almost… nice. They felt safe and warm.

And slightly ticklish.

Lance started giggling, reaching around him to see what was ticking him, laughing even harder when his fingers brushed against someone’s solid chest.

He let his fingers brush against the warm skin, giggling when the arms around him tightened, before one let go.

Fingers reached up, pressing on his cheek until Lance was forced to look over and see who was holding him.

“Keith,” he mouthed, the stupid bubble eating his words.

Oh, right.

He wanted to get rid of the bubble. It kept getting in his way.

He tore one of his hands away from Keith’s chest, poking at the bubble around his face. Maybe if he hit it hard enough, it would pop.

The fingers that were resting against his head quickly let go, snatching his wrist instead.

Lance pouted, trying to pry his hand free. He wanted to pop the bubble.

The fingers stayed firm around his wrist, dragging his attention away from the bubble and back to Keith.

Keith, who was looking at him with his wide, dark, indigo eyes that were soft with an expression Lance couldn’t remember the name of.

Concern!

That was the name!

But why was Keith concerned? Didn’t he realise that Lance was safe and warm?

Lance twisted around completely in Keith’s grip, but this time instead of trying to escape, Lance brought his legs up to wrap them around Keith’s hips.

Keith’s stupid black mullet was drifting in the water around them, longer than it had any right to be. Lance reached up with his free hand, twisting the black locks around one of his fingers.

Keith tugged on his wrist, drawing Lance’s attention back to his face.

Keith was frowning, why was he frowning? He should be smiling. Weren’t they having fun?

His mouth was forming words, and Lance tried to focus on them, really he did, but the bubble in front of Keith’s mouth was distracting and Lance couldn’t tell what he was trying to say. He giggled again, Keith was so silly, couldn’t he see the stupid bubble was hiding his voice?

Keith’s other arm unwrapped from around his waist, so Lance instinctively tightened his legs’ grip on Keith’s hips. Keith slowly brought the arm not clutching Lance’s wrist up to Lance’s line of sight, revealing the pointy-stick-thing from earlier.

Lance instinctively flinched backwards, remembering the way that thing had caused someone to get inside his head. He didn’t like the stick. It was an evil stick.

But Keith held the hand up to his side, in the universal symbol of surrender, so Lance slowly relaxed. This was Keith. Keith wouldn’t do anything to hurt him.

Lance closed his eyes, dropping his head forward so that he was resting against Keith’s shoulder. He turned so that his nose was pressed into Keith’s throat, or it would have been if the stupid bubble wasn’t in the way.

While Keith did whatever he was doing, Lance tried to bring his free hand up to his face, poking at the bubble.

Heh. Squishy.

No, Lance, he chided himself. Focus on popping the bubble.

He felt something pointy press into the back of his head, but he ignored it in favor of poking at the bubble again.

Suddenly, it was like someone had dumped a bucket of ice water on him, and Lance bolted upright, his head almost colliding with Keith’s.

Wait.

Keith’s?

What was Keith doing here? The last thing that Lance remembered, he had been approaching the Baku garden and he saw the orange flowers that reminded him of lilies…

Lance blinked down at Keith in confusion, taking in the older boy’s wide eyes, the obviously worried expression twisting his lips down into a frown. He was breathing heavily, and Lance could tell he was almost shaking due to the twitches of the hand on his waist.

Wait, what?  

Lance glanced down, making sure he wasn’t imagining things, but sure enough, one of Keith’s hands was steading his waist. His waist. Which was attached to his legs. Which were clinging to Keith’s hips.

Wait, what?

OH GOD.

Lance felt a red flush creeping across his face.

What the hell had just happened?!

Lance quickly jumped backwards, unwrapping his legs from Keith, but he didn’t go far. He could see how obviously upset Keith was, and that was more important than Lance’s aching need to go die somewhere before Keith realized what he had been doing.

Lance reached up, resting his hands on Keith’s cheeks. “Are you okay?” He mouthed.

Keith raised an eyebrow at him, looking at Lance like he was an idiot. Which, okay, was probably fair, given that Lance had no memory of whatever had just happened. “Are you okay?” Keith mouthed back to him.

Without a tone, Lance couldn’t tell if Keith was genuinely wondering if he was okay or if he was mocking Lance.

“I’m fine?” Lance mouthed back, glancing down at himself just to make sure it was true. He felt fine, and there were no markings or anything on him, but Keith was still staring at him like he had sprouted a second head.

Keith raised one of his fingers up to his head, rotating it slowly in a circle around his temple.

Was Keith calling him cuckoo crazy? Rude.

Wait. They had used that same motion earlier when talking about the mermaids being under mind control.

Was Keith saying that he was being mind controlled?!

Lance felt his eyes practically bug out of his head, and Keith nodded his head quickly, obviously relieved that Lance had understood what he was trying to say.

Lance repeated the gesture, before pointing at his own chest, just to double check.

Keith nodded quickly again, and Lance let out a puff of breath.

Shit, he had been mind controlled and he didn't even realise it.

“I don’t remember.” Lance mouthed. He felt his breath pick up, beginning to panic. How was there just a whole chunk of time that was missing from his memory?

The thought never occurred to them that the Baku might be able to control the Champions as well as the creatures in the lake.

“You don’t remember?” Keith mouthed back, before frowning.

Lance shook his head, before glancing around them.

Where the hell were they anyway?

Looking around, it was clear that they were somewhere inside the garden he and Keith had seen from above. They were in a hollow spot between particularly a few particularly dense patches of Hornwort and other underwater vegetation, a see of faintly glowing purple moss beneath their feet.

“Where are we?” Lance asked.

Keith glanced around, before shrugging. “Hiding from the Baku,” he mouthed.

Lance felt his eyes bulge again. They had actually found the Baku? “We found the Baku?” He mouthed.

You found the Baku,” Keith mouthed back, pointing at Lance, “I saved you.”

Lance crossed his arms over his chest, rolling his eyes slightly. Sure, that was Keith’s story now, showing up just in time to save the day like a freaking hero on a white horse, but Lance would find out the truth later. The cameras had probably captured everything anyway…

Holy shit. The cameras.

Lance groaned.

Oh man, they probably had footage of him looking like a complete idiot while he was under the control of that… thing.

“Do you remember anything?” Keith mouthed, drawing Lance’s attention back to him.

Lance shook his head, before abruptly pausing. “I remember flowers,” he mouthed.

“Flowers?” Keith echoed, like he wasn’t sure that he had understood Lance.

Lance shook his head eagerly, glancing around the garden. “Orange,” he explained. “Oh! Like this!” He swam down, towards where one of the orange flowers was clinging to a patch of purple moss on the ground.

Keith reached forward, as if he was going to touch the plant, but Lance quickly batted his hand away.

He made the crazy hand motion before pointing back towards the flower.

Keith nodded slowly, like he understood, and he swam backwards so that there was a safe distance between himself and the flower.

Lance swam back over to where Keith was. “So… the Baku?” He asked, gesturing towards the plants around them.

Keith got a steely look in his eye, as he nodded.

“Okay, cool, um….” Lance mouthed, flickering his gaze away from Keith. “The way out?” Realizing that not looking at Keith meant they couldn’t communicate, Lance forced himself to make eye contact again. Keith was really just lucky that Lance was so good at reading lips from watching the movies Marco watched with his headphones in while he was supposed to be sleeping.

Keith reached up to rub at his neck, before slowly shaking his head. “Sorry. Distracted.”

Lance arched an eyebrow, a comment about being distracted by his handsome good looks on the tip of his tongue, but for some reason, he got the feeling that Keith wasn’t exactly in the mood to joke around.

“By me?” He settled for.

Keith nodded, “You kind of… fed yourself. To the Baku.”

Lance let out a slow puff of air. Of course that had been what he was trying to do. Hadn’t that been what they watched the yellow mermaid do? But still, the thought made him shudder.

“Let’s kill this creepy thing?” Lance asked, relieved when Keith nodded.

Lance thought about offering Keith his hand so that they wouldn’t get separated again, but the feeling of Keith’s warm chest pressed against his, his legs latched around Keith’s hips, still felt too fresh in his mind. Any more physical contact between them, and Lance would probably wish that the Baku had actually eaten him just so he didn’t die of embarrassment first.

“Let’s go,” Keith mouthed, kicking off in the direction that they had apparently come from.

Not knowing what else to do, Lance followed him.

< < < > > >

Lance peered through the Hornwort that Keith was holding off to the side, leaving a gap just big enough for them to peek their heads through.

At first, Lance couldn’t make out the Baku, because apparently it’s natural camouflage was doing its job, but then it shifted and… oh.

That thing had almost eaten him.

THAT THING HAD ALMOST EATEN HIM.

It was like something out of a freaking horror movie. As Lance watched, it slithered past, meters of coiled muscle underneath a sleek, reptilian body. It was long, like a snake or an eel, and didn’t appear to have any legs. In fact, it didn’t really have any defining features. Even it’s head was deceptively plain, with no eyes or ears or anything to distinguish it from the rest of the body, really, except for the line where its mouth was.

Lance turned back to face Keith, who was already looking at him with wide eyes.

“How do we do this?” Lance mouthed to him.

Keith shrugged, pulling out his wand.

Which, okay, yes. Clearly they were going to have to use magic. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Lance rolled his eyes, but he slid his own wand out of the pocket of his pants. Thank god he hasn’t lost it while he was under the mind control of that… thing.

Maybe they could attack the thing with the stunning spells that they had used on the merpeople? Or maybe Lance could try to freeze it? He was pretty sure Keith’s ground-sucky spells wouldn’t work on it, but maybe it was worth a try?

Lance groaned.

They would need a small army to take on this thing.

Suddenly, Lance felt Keith’s fingers wrap around his shoulder, and he turned to notice Keith pointing down at something.

Lance strained his eyes, the faint purple glow from the moss bright enough for him to see… oh my god… was that Lotor?

It was!

Lotor was swimming through the water, nearing the creature. But he didn’t have a shark head like Allura or a air bubble like Keith and Lance. Instead, he appeared to have found someway to give himself the ability to breath underwater… along with… were those webbed hands and feet? If they all survived, Lance was never going to let Lotor hear the end of this one.

Lance and Keith watched as Lotor swam closer to the Baku, obviously having some sort of plan in mind, judging by the way he was holding his wand. But whatever his plan was, they never found out, because about halfway to the creature, one of Lotor’s feet brushed against the orange flowers that Lance had noticed earlier. Almost immediately, Lotor slowed to a stop, beginning to float lazily around in the water.

Oh my god. He was really being mind controlled.

Was that what Lance had looked like?

Lance wrinkled his nose as Lotor started to swim in the direction of the Baku. Yep. That was probably exactly what he had looked like.

Man, they really couldn’t let Lotor sacrifice himself to the underwater monster, could they? Even though he was a jerk, he still didn't deserve to get eaten.

Lance glanced over at Keith, who (somewhat reluctantly) nodded his head. Turning his attention back to Lotor and the Baku, Lance kicked off so that he was quickly closing the distance between himself and the beast.

But apparently, he shouldn’t have bothered.

Because Allura, silver bathing suit and shark head, Allura was cutting through the water right in Lotor’s direction faster than even Lance could swim (she had to be magically enhancing her speed, because she definitely wasn’t moving that quickly earlier). When she caught up to Lotor, Allura angled herself so that she was in front of Lotor, kicking backwards with her leg. When it collided with his chest, Lotor went flying back through the water, a safe distance away from the Baku.

The Baku… which was currently opening its mouth. And… oh man, that thing had totally tried to eat him earlier. It’s mouth split open into four parts, all lined with sharp rows of teeth. So the Baku wasn’t a snake, it was the freaking demogorgon from Stranger Things. Great, because, you know, Lance didn't have enough nightmares already.

Allura positioned herself in between Lotor and the Baku, looking like she was going to try and hold the beast off on her own.

But Lance wasn’t about to make her do that.

And apparently Keith had the same idea, since Lance felt Keith draw up beside him, their shoulders brushing.

Lance flashed an ice spell towards the Baku, watching as a potion of its body was trapped in a block of solid ice, but it snapped its tail forward, slamming the ice off of itself. The Baku turned, rearing its head in Lance and Keith’s direction.

Shit shit shit shit shit.

Keith fired a quick series of stunning spells at the creature, the flashes of red light bouncing harmlessly off its thick hide.

Allura appeared to be trying to hit it with hexes and jinxes, but all of them to no effect. The Bat-Bogey hex didn’t really work that well when the creature you’re fighting against didn't have a nose.

Lance ran through the riddle again in his mind. There had to be some sort of clue, there, right?

Poison spreads throughout the water

A vile beast dead-set on slaughter

Okay well that was obviously the Baku, so there wasn’t much to help him there.

Keith darted closer to the beast, wordlessly casting a spell that Lance didn’t recognize. But whatever it was, it at least appeared to have an effect on the Baku, cutting large gashes into its side, blood seeping into the water around them.

The Baku let out a roar, which echoed throughout the water, as it twisted and thrashed, trying to get away from Keith. If he could have, Lance would have hollered out a “nice job!” to Keith, but as it was, he settled for pumping a fist through the water.

As the Baku moved away from Keith, Lance got a glimpse of something underneath of it. From here, it was too far away to confidently be able to tell what it was, but it had to be the prizes they were looking for.

A breathless quest will take its toll

Serene beasts under its control

The merpeople. That was easy to see. Keith fired off another of the cutting spell, but his shot went wide as the creature’s tale slammed into him, knocking him backwards.

Lance craned his neck, making sure that Keith was okay before turning his attention back to the creature. Keith was panting, one hand gingerly pressed to his ribs, but he waved off Lance’s concern, as he pointed his own wand down at his chest.

Oh god, was he setting his own ribs with magic? Lance winced, he couldn’t watch.

Instead, Lance focused on blasting more ice spells at the creature. They weren’t as effective as the cutting spell Keith was using, but, well, the ice could at least slow the creature down.

The creature was fast. Faster than anything that size had a right to be. Fast enough that most of the spells he and Allura were aiming at it went wide.

They needed a way to make sure that they could actually hit the Baku, Lance thought as one of his ice spells slamming into the very end of the creature’s tail, missing most of its body.

Wait.

That was part of the problem.

He and Allura were aiming at where the creature already was, when they needed to be aiming at where the creature was going to be.

Lance watched as Allura shot off another spell, and when the creature dodged, he quickly cast an ice spell towards the spot where it was headed.

The blue stream of light from his wand slammed into the creatures face, freezing it solid! Yes! It worked!

The creature thrashed against the ice, slamming its tail forward in an effort to free itself. But then Keith was there, firing the cutting spell at it again, even more red blood forming clouds in the water.

Beat or distract with chosen fight

To free and end your tiring plight

Lance eased forward, maybe they could sneak down past the Baku while it was distracted and grab the prizes without it noticing. After all, hadn’t the riddle said something about beating the beast or distracting it.

Allura and Keith still seemed distracted by firing offensive spells at the creature, so Lance kept low as he swam down towards where he had noticed what he thought were the prizes.

Sure enough, as he drew closer, Lance saw that there was a large, pearly white clam shell half buried under mud and purple moss. It was easily the size of his beanbag chair back home.

All he had to do was get a little closer…

Suddenly, three shapes separated from the plants surrounding the shell, positioning themselves protectively in front of it.

Not more merpeople, Lance groaned.

The trio in front of him looked slightly different than the other merpeople they had fought, they had what seemed to be… jellyfish pulled over their heads, obscuring their facial features from view.

Lance waved at them, swimming a little closer. “Don’t mind me,” he mouthed, as he tried to move around them. “I’m just gonna…”

The female mermaid reached out, wrapping her webbed fingers around his arm.

“I’m afraid we can’t let you do that,” she said, her voice bubbly from speaking underwater.

Wait a second. Speaking? The merpeople could talk?!

“You must complete the task before you can claim your prize,” one of the mermen added.

Lance’s shock must have shown on his face, because the mermaid let go of her grip on his wrist.

“My name is Plaxum,  and these are Blumfump and Swirn. You have seen what became of the rest of our people. Until you and your friends free the merpeople from the Baku’s control, you cannot claim your prize. Each of you must play your own role in the destruction of the beast.”

“The Baku has been mind controlling the others for generations,” the merman named Blumfump added helpfully. “We learned to wear these jellyfish on our heads to hide our brains so that it can’t affect us.”

Lance narrowed his eyes. “The mind control comes from the flowers,” he mouthed, pointing towards a patch of the orange not-quite-lilies.

“The flowers?” Blumfump echoed, rubbing his chin. “Well… maybe…”

And, okay, at any other time, Lance would be super stoked to talk to actual merpeople, but he kind of had a job to do right now, so he gave the trio a (slightly sarcastic) wave goodbye before heading back in the direction of the Baku.

Weaknesses you must utilize

First to find a pearlescent prize

A weakness. That’s what he needed to find, Lance mused as he swam back towards where Keith and Allura were still holding their own against the Baku. He ran through all of the spells he had learned while at Hogwarts. There were a lot of them, but one of them had to be more effective than the others…

Keith’s slashing, knife, cutting spell seemed to be working pretty well, but Lance didn't even know the name of that spell (let alone how to cast it!).

Allura’s hexes and jinxes weren’t super effective, and obviously Lotor had some kind of plan, but there was no way of knowing what it was.

What would Hunk do if he were here right now? Or Romelle? Or even Pidge?

Pidge would probably find some way to exploit its natural biology against it. It was similar to a snake… maybe that played a part? Snakes were susceptible to cold, right? Because they were cold-blooded, so when they got cold they got lazy and lethargic… maybe the same would be true for the Baku…

Romelle would probably try the opposite. The creature lived down in the bottom of an underwater lake. So it was potentially susceptible to the opposite of water: fire. But Lance had already seen Keith’s attempts at fire spells fizzle out, so that wasn’t much help...

Hunk would try and find a way to use the plants around them, at least one of them was probably useful, but Lance was never as good at remembering the magical uses of plants. Still, maybe he could try to cast some spells on them anyway. If he could find a way to turn the plants into rope-like vines that would wrap around the creature and incapacitate it… maybe like that Devil’s Snare that he had to fight free from during his Herbology O.W.L (which had been traumatizing enough that Lance decided not to take it for his N.E.W.T.s.)

… Wait.

Wait a second.

Devil’s Snare.

The way that Lance had defeated the Devil’s Snare was with sunlight… he hadn’t been able to stay calm enough to let the vines suck him down, and all of his violent thrashing just made it choke him faster. The only way he had managed to get free was by creating a bright burst of sunlight with his wand.

The Baku was a seemingly blind creature that lived at the bottom of a deep, very dark lake. Sunlight, that had to be it! That was how he could beat the creature.

Lance kept close to the murky ground, sliding underneath the creatures tail. If he wanted his attack to be effective, he should target the face, which meant joining back up with Keith and Allura.

The Baku’s tail swept over Lance’s head, and he squished his eyes closed for a second, fully prepared for the tail to slam into his chest like it had with Keith. But the attack never came. Lance eased his eyes back open, the Baku still swimming above him.

Whew. False alarm. It hadn’t noticed him yet.

Picking up speed, Lance quickly closed the remaining distance between himself, Keith, and Allura, rotating about halfway there so that he was swimming backwards, still facing the Baku.

Keith’s fingers wrapped onto Lance’s shoulder, pulling him backwards.

Lance turned to glance at Keith, who was scowling.

“Where did you go?” He mouthed, crossing his arms across his chest.

Lance pointed down towards the shell and the three merpeople, although they were difficult to see from here.

Keith scowled again, and, if possible, it was even deeper this time. “Stop disappearing on me,” he scolded, and Lance didn't even need to hear his voice to imagine the heavy disapproval in it.

“I know how to beat it,” Lance mouthed back, ignoring Keith’s request. It was hardly his fault that he had been the only one to notice the clam shell.

“How?” Keith asked, his mouth forming a giant ‘O’.

Lance nodded towards his wand, hoping Keith understood the ‘I-totally-have-this-handled’ gesture for what it was.

Keith rolled his eyes, but nodded, gesturing his head in the other direction.

Lance nodded, and Keith separated from him to flank around the creature.

Lance glanced towards Allura, but she was no longer slinging hexes at the Baku. She was staring behind her (which, given the shark head, had to be slightly terrifying) at Lotor, who had brought his hands up to his head. When he took them back down, he looked around seeming slightly confused.

So apparently the mind control wore off after enough time had passed. That was good to know.

Well, he couldn’t really worry about Lotor right now, Lance kind of had bigger fish to fry.

Lance swam up, positioning himself so that he had a clean shot at the Baku’s creepy-ass Venus Flytrap like face.

Okay, Lance, what was the sunlight spell again?

Lumos Solem!” Lance cried, pointing his wand at the creature.

A beam of bright white light, nearly blinding in the dark depths of the water, shot out from Lance’s wand, slamming directly into the creature’s face.

The Baku thrashed, its head slamming down into the ground in its effort to escape from the light.

Holy shit. It had worked. His plan had actually, kind of, worked.

Lance kept the beam of sunlight trained onto the Baku’s face, as it thrashed and rolled around on the murky ground like a fish that had been taken out of the water.

While he had the creature pinned down into the dirt, he could see Keith firing the cutting spell at the creature’s exposed underbelly.

Similarly, Allura appeared to have gotten over her shock at seeing Lotor recovered and was firing tiny blue fireballs down at the creature. Huh. None of Keith’s fire spells had worked, Lance wondered how Allura knew one. Nonetheless, it didn’t seem to be affecting the Baku at all, the flames harmlessly flickering against its side. So sunlight was its only weakness.

Well, that was good to know, at least.

Too soon, Lance’s sunlight spell began to wane, before disappearing completely. As soon as the light vanished, the Baku flashed back up, cutting through the water like nothing had happened to it.

Lance glanced over towards Keith, could see that Keith was mouthing words to him, but he couldn’t make out what he was trying to say.

Probably ‘try that again, loser’.

Lumos Solem!” Lance cried again, aiming for the side of the Baku’s head, where its eyes would be if it had any. The beam of brilliant light filled the water, slamming into the creature.

The Baku’s tale instinctively lashed out, catching Allura, who went flying back through the water, colliding with Lotor, who had been casting spells at rapid fire.

The Baku backed away from the light, its body hanging over the clam shell and the three merpeople Lance had spoken to earlier. Shit. He didn't want them to get hurt. Lance abruptly cut off the spell, if he hurt the thing any more and it collapsed down onto them… ughhhhhhh.

Lance swam in a little closer, he needed to lure the Baku away from Plaxum, Blumfump and Swirn.

Falling into the habit that Lance had long used to convince people to pay attention to him instead of others, often on the quidditch pitch, Lance waved his arms and cried “Hey, ugly! Look over here!” But since the Baku couldn’t actually hear him, Lance tossed in a few extra stunning spells for good measure.

The Baku flickered its head towards him, its mouth splitting open into four parts as it roared.

It streaked forward towards him quickly, looking like it had every intention of swallowing him whole, and it was only years of swimming experience that allowed Lance to cut through the water fast enough to avoid the creature’s lunge.

The Baku streaked past him, its green and brown body seemingly impossibly long as it sailed past Lance. Lance watched the Baku pass him by like a bullfighter with a bull, already positioning himself for the counterattack.

The Baku twisted around in the water, looking like it was ready to make another pass at him.

Shit, he hadn’t really thought this far ahead.

Lance snapped his hand up, “Lumos Solem!” He cried again, the bolt of bright light streaking forward to slam into the Baku’s mouth.

Nice! A direct hit!

Lance pumped his free arm in victory while making sure to keep his aim true, the bright sunlight burning the inside of the Baku’s throat and mouth.

The Baku gave up on trying to avoid the light, and instead, it launched into motion, its mouth snapping shut as it charged him.

Too late, Lance realized what it was trying to do, and he didn't have enough time to get out of the way before the Baku’s head slammed into his chest.

Lance let off a gust of air, as the Baku reared its head back and Lance all but slid down the back of its neck, winded.

Oh, that was definitely going to leave a mark.

Lance brought one of his hands up to his chest, wincing when his fingers brushed against the tender skin, trying to ignore that he was currently resting against the Baku’s slimy back.

Wait.

He was on the Baku’s back.

Lance brought his legs down, scrambling for purchase against the Baku’s scaly hide as he spun around so that he was facing the back of the Baku’s head.

He could see Keith just a few meters away, casting the cutting spell at the Baku’s right side, obviously trying to distract the Baku from Lance’s presence on his back. Luckily, it seemed to be working.

Lance aimed his wand at the back of the Baku’s head, “Lumos Solem!” He cried, the stream of white light colliding with the back of the Baku’s head.

The beast let out a ferocious roar, as it began trying to buck Lance off of it’s back.

In response, Lance tightened his grip with his legs, even though he could feel the hard scales of the Baku’s back digging into his calves.

Just… a… few… more… seconds…

The spell flickered out, and almost immediately the Baku seemed to regain enough of its strength the toss its head backwards with enough force to send Lance flying off of the beast.

He spun through the water, doing enough somersaults to make him nauseous (which was impressive because Lance had once down fifteen somersaults in a row, challenging Marco’s record of thirteen).  

Once his momentum slowed enough that Lance was able to straighten himself so that he was floating upright in the water, Lance was shocked to realise that he had ended up near the giant clam shell and Plaxum and her friends.

Lance lined up another shot at the Baku’s face, waiting until all four of its mandibles were flared open, before letting out another stream of bright sunlight. The blast connected squarely with one of the mandibles, completely severing it from the rest of the beast. There was a flash of gold light bursting from the creature’s mouth, before it faded and the near-darkness of the lake consumed them all once more.

The creature thrashed in pain, spinning around in an effort to protect its face from Lance’s attacks.

Damn, that was gross.

Lance shook his head slightly, trying to fight off the impending headache he could feel forming from being so dizzy as Plaxum swam up to him.

“Look,” he tried to say, “I really need to get back to my friends, right now,”

Plaxum wrapped her hand around his wrist, her fingers cold and slimy. She tugged on Lance, surprising stronger than she looked, pulling him along behind her towards the giant white clam shell.

“Champion Lance,” she said, in her weird, soft and bubbly voice. “You have completed your portion of the first trial and done your part to defeat the Baku that is controlling my people.”

“What do you mean, ‘my part’?” Lance asked, using air quotes with his fingers.

“All four champions must exploit the Baku’s weakness in order to defeat it and free the merpeople from its control,” Plaxum explained, “the spell that you used was detrimental to the Baku’s health and weakened the creature, completing your portion of the trial. It now can only be defeated by the other champions. It is now time for you to claim your prize and return to the surface so that you may be crowned victor of the task,” she said, sweeping a hand down towards the giant clamshell.

Lance’s eyes followed the movement.

The clamshell pulsed with a bright light, before slowly cracking open.

Plaxum reached over, pushing the shell the rest of the way open. Inside were four oyster shells about the size of Lance’s palms, the same colors that the ribbons wrapped around the scrolls containing the riddle had been. Pale blue for Allura, purple for Lotor, red for Keith, and navy blue for him.

Plaxum reached inside, pulling out the navy blue oyster shell and gently cupping it in her hands. She offered it to Lance.

Lance plucked it from her hands, inspecting it briefly before shoving it into the pocket of his swimsuit. “Wait a second,” Lance mouthed to Plaxum, “so basically you’re saying that I can just leave even though the Baku hasn’t actually been defeated yet?” He asked. “That doesn't seem right.”

“You have completed what was expected of you,” Plaxum said. “You have earned your prize.”

But, the thing was, it didn’t really matter that he had won his prize. Because if Lance went up right now with the oyster and let Adam Sharma “crown” him the victor of the trial, then that meant that he won. He won, not Keith. And he had made up his mind before entering the water that he was going to do everything he could to help Keith win.

The trial was over when they surfaced, right?

Well, he just had to make sure that he didn't surface yet, then.

“Thanks for the prize,” he said to Plaxum, “but I can’t leave yet. I still have some business down here.”

With that, Lance kicked away from Plaxum and the mermen, heading back in the direction of where Keith and Allura were fighting against the Baku. Actually, make that Keith, Allura, and Lotor.

Lance drew up next to Keith, who jumped a little at his sudden appearance.

“Where did you go now?” Keith asked, firing a spell off towards the Baku. He punctuated his statement with a glare at Lance, obviously not impressed.

In response, Lance slipped the navy blue oyster out of his pocket to show it to Keith.

Keith’s eyes practically bugged out of his head. “You got the prize?” He asked, looking impressed, though it quickly shifted to a look of confusion. “What are you doing here? ”

Lance shrugged. “Helping you,” he said, pointing towards Keith for emphasis. “It’s light.”

“What’s light?”

“Light. Sunlight. That’s the weakness.”

Understanding dawned in Keith’s eyes, and he nodded.

“The sunlight charm,” Keith muttered, apparently to himself, judging from how he had turned slightly away from Lance.

Lance nodded eagerly, anyway.

Keith turned back to him. “Tell Allura,” he instructed, “I’ll be right back.”

Lance nodded, watching as Keith swam closer to the Baku before he turned and cut through the water towards Allura.

Once he was close enough that Allura could read his lips, Lance focused on saying “sunlight” as clearly as he could, not sure how good Allura’s understanding was with her half-transfigured shark head.

After he repeated himself a few times, Allura nodded.

Lance spun around, just in time to see Keith launch a stream of bright light towards the Baku, Lotor launching what appeared to be darker curses at the Baku’s other side while it backed away from Keith’s light.

Man, that guy was intense.

Lance swam after Allura, adding a few of his ice spells to the mix, hoping to keep the Baku distracted until Keith had done enough damage to it to complete his part of the trial.

Allura stuck to her fireball spell at first, but after watching Keith for a minute, she caught on to what he was doing and launched her own beam of sunlight towards the creature, so that it was being assaulted from both the side and the front.

The Baku lashed out with its tail, and it’s mouth opened, rows of teeth flashing in the bright light.

The stream of sunlight coming from Keith flickered out, shortly followed by the spell from Allura, before both of them regrouped for another attack. Lance mainly stayed back, offering support when needed.

The Baku thrashed about wildly, its tail slamming into the ground.

Keith fired off a third burst of light, which collided directly with one of the creature’s mantibles. Similar to what had happened when Lance had struck the creature, the mantible was completely severed from the creature’s head, a puff of gold hovering in the water for a few seconds before dissipating.

Allura followed Keith’s lead, aiming her attack directly at one of the two remaining mantibles, severing it with ease. Another puff of gold followed.

Abruptly, Keith’s stream of light cut off. And a few seconds later, Plaxum appeared, dragging Keith along behind her. She reached out, grabbing Allura’s wrist as well, pulling both of them after her in the direction of the giant clam.

Lance trailed after them, although he made sure to keep the Baku and Lotor in his line of sight.

Plaxum lead both Keith and Allura over to the clamshell.

“Champions Keith and Allura,” she said. “You have both proven yourselves against the Baku. It is now time for you to claim your prizes.”

The clamshell flashed with the same light that it had earlier, before cracking open. Once again, Plaxum pushed the shell the rest of the way open, repeating much of what was said to Lance earlier, pulling out the red oyster shell and offering it to Keith. Once Keith had taken the shell from her, she turned back to the clam, pulling out the pale blue shell and offering it to Allura.

“You have completed what was required of you,” Plaxum said, “and you may return to the surface now.”

As Plaxum finished speaking, a dark shadow fell over them, blocking out even most of the pale purple light from the glowing moss.

Lance slowly glanced up, already dreading what he would see.

The Baku was swimming in the water over them, apparently having been forced backwards by Lotor’s attacks.

Instinctively,  Lance darted over to Keith’s side, tugging on the older boy’s arm. “We have to get out of here,” he mouthed.

Keith nodded, shoving his oyster shell into his pocket, before wrapping his hand around Lance’s own.

Lance kicked away from the ground, pulling Keith along behind him. He had to get Keith to the surface, all he had to do was get Keith to the surface.

Lance glanced backwards, Keith was still swimming just behind him, Allura following them.

Lotor was casting the sunlight charm again at the Baku, the large, serpent-like creature writhed in obvious pain. It struck out with its tail, the mass of muscle and smooth, scaly skin slamming towards Lance, Keith, and Allura.

Lance managed to just barely duck out of the way, but Keith and Allura weren’t so lucky. Lance felt Keith’s hand get yanked out of his own. He spun, trying to make sure that the older boy was okay. Keith and Allura were both drifting through the water, apparently stunned by the hit, and Lance could do nothing but watch as they landed on the ground below… in a small patch of bright orange flowers.

Shit.

Lance dove down after them.

He reached Keith’s side just as the older boy struggled back into a sitting position.

“Are you okay?” Lance mouthed.

Keith looked at him with wide eyes, nodding his head quickly. Too quickly.

Keith reached up, running his fingers gently across Lance’s cheek.

Trying not to blush, knowing that Keith wasn’t in control of his actions, Lance reached up to grab Keith’s hand and lower it from his face.

Keeping his fingers interlaced with Keith’s, Lance swam over towards where Allura was struggling to free herself from the flowers.

Careful to keep himself floating in the water above the flowers, Lance reached down and grabbed Allura’s wrist as well, yanking her through the water and tearing her free from the flowers.

Lance dragged Allura and Keith along behind him, cutting through the water in the direction of what he hoped was the entrance to the Baku garden.

Behind them, Lotor was still fighting against the creature, and every once in awhile, Keith or Allura tugged towards that direction like they wanted to approach the Baku. Because of course they did, they probably wanted to feed themselves to it. Luckily, they were easily distracted.

Allura kept running her fingers across the pale blue oyster she was still holding in her hand. Lance shot another glance back at her just in time to watch as Allura let go of the shell, the blue flashing almost silver as it began to drift through the water.

No. No no no no. They had worked way too hard to earn these stupid things. Letting go of his grip on Allura’s wrist, Lance shot out his hand and snatched the shell. Turning to hand it back to Allura, he groaned when he realized the girl was beginning to swim back in the direction of the Baku.

God, this was worse than babysitting his niece and nephew.

Lance dragged Keith back over towards Allura, shoving the shell back into her hands and wrapping his hand around her wrist. The blank look in the shark eyes was disturbing. Lance shook his head, quickly looking away from her as he dragged both of them through the water.

Slowly, achingly slowly, the plant life began to disappear around them until they were on the fringes of the Baku garden. Lance glanced backwards, but he could no longer make out Lotor or the Baku through the dense vegetation.

Okay.

Lance let go of Allura to pull his wand out of his pocket. Keith had, like, been able to undo the mind control with a spell, right?

Maybe Lance would be able to figure it out to.

Lance carefully aimed his wand at Keith’s head.

Oh god. What if he messed up? What if he turned Keith’s brain to mush? He always called Keith an idiot but Keith was actually really smart and Keith knew how to use magic to fix people but Lance didn’t know any healing magic. What if he accidentally made it worse?

And Keith wasn’t helping, because he was currently fucking grinning at Lance, and Lance had never seen such a genuinely happy expression on Keith’s face. Because when he wasn’t trying to restrain his emotions, Keith’s grin was all wide white teeth, and wrinkles around the corners of his eyes, and… was that a dimple? Man, that just wasn’t fair.

But Keith’s indigo eyes were clouded, not the sharp, expressive look that Lance was used to seeing in them.

Keith reached up with one of his hands, his finger ghosting across Lance’s cheekbones.

Lance shivered involuntarily.

Didn’t Keith realise how unfair this was?

Here he was, looking all cute as he pursed his lips behind the bubble around his mouth, and he was running his finger along Lance’s cheek, and this was, like, something out of Lance’s dreams, but Keith wasn’t himself, and it wasn’t right.

Lance glanced back behind him, just to make sure that Allura wasn’t trying to feed herself to the Baku and was pleased to see that she was just twirling and spinning slowly through the water, like she was slow dancing with a partner that he couldn’t see.

Keith tugging his other arm away from Lance’s grip, drew his attention back to the older boy.

Keith was poking at the bubble around his face, apparently trying to pop it.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Lance said, wrapping his hands around both of Keith’s wrists so that he could pull the other boy’s hands away from the bubble around his mouth. “You need to breathe.”

But Keith couldn’t hear him, and tugged against Lance’s grip.

Well, Lance mused, at least he wasn’t the only one to make a fool out of himself on camera. Apparently, being under mind control meant you just tried to embarrass yourself as much as possible.

Okay, he had to snap Keith out of this.

Lance tried literally snapping his fingers in front of Keith’s face, but the water slightly ruined the effect, and it didn’t seem to work, anyway.

Right, well, magic it was then.

Eh…. the only spell that Lance knew that affected the mind was the Confundus charm. And making Keith more confused was probably a bad idea.

Fuck.

Lance lowered his wand. He wasn’t sure how Keith had freed him from the mind control. Lotor had apparently come out of it after a while, Lance would just have to help Keith and Allura along until they snapped out of it.

With that in mind, Lance switched his grip on Keith so that he could hold him with one hand before swimming over towards Allura and grabbing onto her.

Okay, he just needed to get them to the surface, right?

Lance looked up.

They were down so deep that he couldn’t even see any light streaming into the water. Great. Well, the only way to go was up.

Lance kicked up, hauling Keith and Allura with him. They were pretty much dead weight, making the ascent much harder than it needed to be.

Suddenly, Lance felt Keith get jerked down, and he pulled him back up to overcompensate for the movement. Lance glanced down, wondering what had caused Keith to pull away from his grip, and swore when he saw the mermaid that had her arms wrapped around Keith’s ankle.

More merpeople, really? Couldn’t this freaking trial be over already?

Lance let go of Allura, pushing her up so that she was drifting lazily towards the surface, his now-free hand fumbling for his wand.

He fired an ice spell at the mermaid, her torso freezing into a solid block of ice, the added weight forcing her to sink through the water.

But behind her were two more of the large mermen and another mermaid. Great, just great.

They were far enough away that Lance had time to reach back down and grab Keith, pulling him up.

Wait a second.

Did the bubble around Keith’s face look smaller?

Lance reached up with the hand holding his wand, poking at the edges of his own bubble. It was smaller. Goddammit. The Bubble Head charm was running out.

Keith didn’t seem concerned by him impending lack of oxygen, as he giggled softly to himself and ran his fingers across the angles of Lance’s collarbone.

“Sorry, buddy,” Lance mouthed, before putting as much of his effort into pushing Keith up towards the surface as he could.

Once he was sure that Keith and Allura were both drifting slowly up towards the surface, Lance turned his attention back to the merpeople beneath him.

Lance released a series of quick stunning spells towards the ones that were farther away, hoping to slow them, before shooting another ice spell at the closest merman.

The merman froze, his arms trapped in a block of ice.

But the stunning spells didn’t slow down the mermaid and the other merman, both of whom were now closer than Lance was comfortable with.

The merman stabbed at him with a trident, and Lance flinched away, unintentionally sending himself into the range of the mermaid.

The mermaid reached out, and her claws scraped along his calves as Lance struggled to swim up through the water away from her.

He let out a scream of pain that was swallowed by the bubble around his mouth, as his red blood trickled out into the water, staining it red. The gashes from her claws were jagged and deep, and very, very bloody.

Lance swallowed back bile, as he aimed his wand at her.

The familiar blue streak of the ice spell arched out, and Lance felt entirely too satisfied when her head froze into a solid block of ice.

He needed to get out of here. And fast.

Wait. Fast.

Lance glanced back up towards where Keith and Allura were still drifting slowly through the water above him.

Okay, he could do this.

Lance fired off another stunning spell at the merman below him, just enough to buy him the extra time he would need.

As soon as he released the spell, Lance snapped into motion. He kicked his legs through the water, wincing at the stinging wounds along his legs, trying to drag himself forward with his arms as much as he could with the friction of the water working against him.

It wasn’t long before he caught up to Keith and Allura, since neither of them had gotten very far. He reached forward, wrapping his hands around both of their ankles, his wand was pressed up against Allura’s calf. Hopefully that wouldn’t affect his spell.

Ascendio!” Lance cried, and he could feel the effects instantaneously.

It felt like there was a geyser of water forming beneath him, propelling him up and towards the surface, pushing Keith and Allura ahead in front of him.

Keith has to surface first to win, Lance reminded himself, pulling down on Allura so that he was holding her around her thighs, keeping her low enough that Keith would clearly be the first to break through the water.

Keith has to surface first, Keith has to surface first.

The bubble of air around Lance’s mouth and nose, popped with a quick huff of air, barely giving him enough time to take a deep breath of the last of the oxygen before he had to hold his breath.

God, he hoped Keith was holding his breath.

He felt, rather than saw, Keith break the surface of the water. A few seconds later, the water propelling Lance upwards pushed him out of the water, and Lance took an eager gasp of oxygen before blinking his eyes open.

At some point, he had let go of Keith, who was a few feet away gasping for air, but he still had a hold on Allura, whose shark head slowly transformed back to her human one.

She and Keith both still looked out of it, but Lance glanced around. They weren’t actually far from the wooden stands, where he could see the students and faculty were cheering, the roar of the crowd reaching his ears.

They had made it.

Chapter Text

Lance sucked in a grateful gasp of air, but was unable to prevent a hiss of pain, as the adrenaline drained from his body and the pain finally registered. His leg stung like a bitch.

“And surfacing third, we have Lance Álvarez!” An announcer called, but Lance barely registered the voice.

He let go of Allura once he was sure that she was in enough control of herself to stay floating, reaching down to gingerly apply pressure to his calf, pulling on his bad arm.

Fuck,” he hissed softly, as his fingers wrapped around the wounds.

He needed to get someone to look at this.

Lance looked up, relieved to see a wooden rowboat cutting through the water in their direction. He didn’t recognize the person sitting in it, probably a ministry official, but that didn’t stop Lance from letting out a sigh of relief as the boat stopped beside Keith, the ministry official pulling Keith into the boat and wrapping him in a thermal blanket.

At least they didn’t have to swim all the way back to the shore.

It didn’t take long for the boat to reach him and Allura. Lance helped Allura up onto the boat before he let the ministry official pull him up. He clenched his teeth, trying not to scream as his forearm ached in protest, the hard grip of the ministry official placing too much pressure on his half-assed healing job.

The air was cold against his soaked body, and Lance was grateful for the thermal blanket that Keith held open in invitation.

Lance dropped down beside him, gently stretching his leg out in front of him.

This time, he wasn’t able to stop the scream that bubbled up in his chest as he took in the mess of torn flesh and blood that his left calf had become.

He felt Keith’s arm tighten around him, pulling on his head so that his gaze was torn away from the wound, and Keith let Lance press his face into the joint between Keith’s neck and shoulder.

Lance took a few deep, calming breaths. His pulse like the beat of a drum in his ear.

In fact, his pulse was so loud, that by the time he realized Keith was speaking, he had missed the first half of the sentence.

“-gonna be okay, Lance. You can fix this, right?” Keith snapped, obviously not addressing Lance anymore.

Lance tuned out whatever the ministry official said, focusing on slowing his breathing. Wizard healing spells were powerful. They’d probably take him to the infirmary and he’d be good in no time. Brand new. They’d probably fix the botched healing job on his arm, too.

He felt a warm burning on his leg, followed by the tell-tale sting of skin knitting itself back together with magic, but Lance focused on the smell of the lake water on Keith’s neck and the way Keith’s stupid black mullet ticked his nose.

“Lance,” Keith said softly. “You’re okay. You’re okay now.”

Lance nodded, his nose brushing against Keith’s pulse-point, before he slowly straightened back up to a sitting position.

“Wait,” Lance said, still resisting looking down at his leg. “You’re talking to me. You’re okay? You aren’t being mind controlled any more?”

“No, no, I’m not being mind controlled anymore,” Keith said with a soft chuckle. “The, uh, ministry guy cast some spell on me and it cleared away the last of the effects.”

“Good,” Lance said quietly, “good. I was really worried about you. It was… wrong to see you like that.”

“It was wrong to see you like that too,” Keith countered. “And I saw you like that before we realised we could even be mind controlled,” Keith reminded him.

“I’m sorry,” Lance said, “that must have been really scary.”

“It was. Lance, you were acting so weird and I didn’t know what was wrong with you-” Keith broke off, his voice cracking slightly. “Before that, you had just vanished, and I didn’t know where you went, and when I finally spotted you, you were being hauled away by those merpeople. And then just now you just hauled yourself up onto the boat covered in blood and I didnt remember what happened or how I even got here…”

“Hey, buddy, I’m fine,” Lance said. “We all made it out.”

“But we never would have if you hadn’t figured out the Baku’s weakness,” Keith let of a slow hiss of air. “Lance, that was amazing. Later, you’re telling me all about how you figured it out.”

Lance felt himself blush, “I will,” he promised. “But in return, you have to teach me that spell you were using to fight the Baku. Keith, I’ve never seen someone as good at offensive spells as you.”

Now it was Keith’s turn to blush, the red staining his cheeks and creeping down his neck.

He was beautiful.

And you figured out how to free me from the mind control, I still don’t know how you managed to do that. I tried to snap you out of it and couldn’t figure it out,” Lance added.

“I’ll tell you later,” Keith promised, before he leaned over and let his head drop down onto Lance’s shoulder. “But right now I feel like I could sleep for a week.”

Lance let his own head drop down to rest against the top of Keith’s. “Agreed.”

“Hey, guys,” a soft voice said, snapping Lance out of the not-quite-asleep state that he had fallen into. “We’re at the pier.”

Lance blinked his eyes open. Allura was crouching in front of him and Keith, one of her hands gently resting on Lance’s good shoulder.

“Oh, right,” Lance said, shaking Keith awake.

Keith blinked his eyes open, looking confused for a second, before his eyes sharpened with focus.

Allura offered her hand to Lance, so Lance let the girl pull him carefully to his feet, grateful not to have to put all of his weight onto his injured foot.

He glanced down at it while Keith stood, wincing at the jagged scars running up and down the length of it, but compared to the mess it had been when he climbed onto the boat, Lance wasn’t about to complain.

Lance felt Keith gently grab his arm, and Lance looked over just in time to see that Keith was slinging Lance’s arm around his shoulders so that he could bear most of Lance’s weight.

Together, they carefully climbed over the edge of the rowboat and onto the wooden pier. Lance’s legs buckled slightly, a combination of his half-healed wound and the exhaustion of swimming for over two hours finally setting in, but Keith managed to keep him upright.

Lance wasn’t sure how Keith was managing to do so when he had his own wounds (Lance was pretty sure that the Baku’s tail had at least cracked Keith’s ribs), but Keith didn’t even flinch under Lance’s weight.

Almost as soon as they climbed onto the wooden pier constructed along the edges of the lake, they were surrounded by a small group of photographers and students. The ministry official followed them out of the boat and tried to push the crowd back, giving them some space, but not much.

Merlin, Lance!” A voice called, as a familiar blonde head ducked under the ministry’s official’s arm, dragging a larger, equally familiar form along behind her.

“Romelle! Hunk!” Lance cried as his friend reached him.

Hunk swept him up into a huge hug, crushing Lance to his chest.

While the physical affection was nice, Lance’s already aching body protested at the tight grip. “Hey, buddy,” Lance said, patting his hand against Hunk’s back, “I’m, um, a little injured right now. Maybe we can save the hugs for later?”

“Sorry, man,” Hunk said, letting go of Lance. “We were just really worried about you.”

“Are you all okay?” Romelle asked, her gaze flickering nervously between Lance, Keith, and Allura. “We watched the whole trial on some sort of magical… projection thing. It looked intense.”

Lance’s gaze instinctively flickered down to his leg before glancing over at Keith, who was already looking at him.

“I’ve been better,” Lance admitted.

Keith nodded. “The ministry official just set my ribs on the rowboat,” he winced slightly. “Or, rather, he fixed my attempt to set them. It was… not pleasant.”

“I’m okay,” Allura admitted. “Scrapes and bruises everywhere, but nothing broken or even sprained. Although I’m rather confused how we ended up at the surface. Last thing I remember, I was struck by the Baku’s tail.”

“It was the flowers,” Lance explained. “They made you fall under the Baku’s mind control. I managed to get you two back to the surface before you fed yourself to it.”

Allura blanched.

“I think I had better sit down,” Allura said weakly as she settled down onto the pier, tightening her thermal blanket around her shoulders.

Romelle frowned at Allura’s profile, before turning back to Lance. “Lance, I am so proud of you. You did amazing.” She reached up, wrapping her arms carefully around his shoulders and pressing a kiss to his cheek.

“Thanks, Ro,” he whispered.

Romelle pulled away and turned to Keith. “Thanks for watching Lance’s back.”

Keith blushed. “Well, yeah, of course,” he stammered.

Romelle reached over, lightly setting a hand against Keith’s shoulder, before pulling away and crouching down in front of Allura.

“Yeah, man,” Hunk said, smacking Keith’s shoulder. “You guys were both pretty impressive out there.”

“Thanks, buddy,” Lance said with the best overconfident smirk he could muster. “We totally knew that we had this thing.”

“That’s not true,” Keith muttered. “I thought I was going to die, like, three times.”

“But we didn’t die,” Lance countered, “and I think that deserves a celebration.”

Hunk cocked his head in consideration. “Butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks this weekend?” He offered.

Lance nodded quickly. “Yes! You’ll come, won’t you, Keith?”

Keith glanced uncertainty between Lance and Hunk before slowly nodding. “Sure, I’ll come.”

“It appears our fourth and final champion has just emerged!” The announcer’s voice (that sounded suspiciously like Adam) said, the voice obviously magically amplified.

Lance turned out towards the lake, where, sure enough, he could see a figure that had to be Lotor bobbing in the water.

“I guess he finally managed to defeat the Baku,” Lance muttered to Keith.

“I guess so,” Keith replied.

They watched as the ministry official who had pulled them from the water climbed back into the rowboat and paddled out towards Lotor.

Romelle helped Allura stand back up. “They’re probably going to announce the winner of the trial soon,” she said, glancing up towards the large wooden tower with the ministry officials.

“Good,” Lance groaned, “then I can go get my leg patched up.”

“And we can put on dry clothes,” Keith added, shivering slightly as he tugged the thermal blanket tighter around their shoulders.

“And we can find something to eat,” Lance said with a quiet moan. “I’m starving.”

“They were selling popcorn in the stands,” Hunk said, “it wasn’t as good as the caramel corn they give out at Halloween, but it was still pretty decent. I bet I could go find some for you.”

“That’s okay, buddy,” Lance chuckled weakly, “I’ll wait for some real food.”

“ATTENTION,” Adam’s voice boomed over the pier. “We now have the rankings for all of the champions.”

Silence fell over the crowd, as everyone waited with bated breath to hear the rankings of the Champions. Lance curled in on himself slightly, his nerves picking up again tenfold.

“In fourth place, with a total of six points, is Lotor Daibazaal, who was awarded one bonus point for the way that he handled the hypnotic octopus that attacked him early in the trial.”

The crowd clapped politely, but it was lacking the usual enthusiasm. Lotor stood off to the side with his arms crossed over his chest, obviously not happy with the ranking he had received.

“In third place, with a total of twelve points, with two bonus points having been awarded for their excellent use of transfiguration, is Allura Altea.”

The cheers were a little louder this time, and Lance reached over to grab Allura’s arm. “Good job, ‘Lura.” But he couldn’t help feeling confused. He had surfaced third, hadn’t he? So logically, he should have been in third place, not Allura? Adam had said something about bonus points… maybe it had to do with that?

Allura nodded, “Thank you, Lance.”

“I thought that the points were based off of who surfaced first,” Lance whispered to Keith. “I should have gotten third.”

“That’s weird,” Keith agreed. “Maybe you got extra points for helping Allura and I?”

“In second place, with a total of nineteen points is Keith Kogane.”

Wait a second.

What?

The crowd erupted into loud roars and enthusiastic clapping. But Lance felt frozen. Keith wasn’t supposed to get second place. Keith was supposed to have won. Keith was supposed to have won. That was the whole point of this stupid trial. There was no way that Lance won. He did everything possible to make sure that Keith would surface first.

Keith had surfaced first.

There was some kind of mistake. There had to be.

“He was awarded two bonus points for the amazing fighting skills he displayed against the Baku, as well as an additional two points for discovering how to heal fellow champion, Lance Álvarez, from the Baku’s mind control,” Adam continued speaking, but Lance could barely hear it over the pounding in his ears.

Keith’s grip around Lance’s shoulders tightened.

‘He’s gonna be mad. He’s going to remember that he’s supposed to be the Hogwarts Champion and not you,’ Lance’s brain whispered to him. ‘He’s going to think you stole his spotlight.’

“Lance, you won,” Keith whispered, but he didn’t sound angry.

Lance risked a glance over at Keith, Keith who was grinning at him, clutching excitedly at Lance’s uninjured arm.

“But… but…” Lance said uselessly. “That’s not possible.”

“Not possible? Lance, you did more work in this trial than the rest of us combined. You earned this,” Keith said seriously.

“I…” but whatever Lance was trying to say, and he wasn’t even sure what it was going to be, but it didn’t matter because it was cut off by Adam speaking again.

“And, in first place, with a grand total of thirty-four points is Lance Álvarez.”

Thirty-four points.

How the hell had he gotten thirty-four points?

The crowd erupted into cheers and screams, louder than they had been for any of the other Champions. Lance let his gaze travel over the crowd. Were they really cheering for him?

“After earning twenty points for coming in first place and being the first to successfully defeat the Baku and earn his prize, Lance earned an extra ten points for staying to aid fellow Champions Keith Kogane and Allura Altea in not only defeating the Baku, but for helping them surface under the Baku’s influence. He also earned an additional two points for being the first to discover the Baku’s weakness and two points for his exceptional performance in the trial.”

It was based on who got the shell first. The stupid trial was based on who got the fucking shell first.

Lance had won without even realizing it.

“Congratulations, you two,” Hunk said loudly, pulling Keith and Lance into a group hug.

“Congratulations,” Allura agreed, offering her hand after Hunk released them. “It was an honor to compete alongside the two of you.”

Keith shook her hand, and Lance followed his lead.

“Same to you,” Keith said.

“You’re welcome for saving your ass,” Lance added with an overdramatic wink.

“Maybe I’ll return the favor in the second trial. If you’ll excuse me, I want to find my father,” Allura said politely, before she headed off in the direction of the wooden tower the teachers watched from.

“Congratulations, Lance,” Romelle said, reaching up to gingerly give him a hug. “You deserve this.”

“Thanks, Ro,” Lance whispered against her blonde hair.

Romelle pulled away and grabbed Hunk’s arm, “We should probably let Lance and Keith get to the infirmary tent.”

“There’s an infirmary tent?” Lance asked with a grateful sigh. “Come on, Keith, let’s get out of here. I actually want to walk again.”

Keith nodded, “I think the infirmary tent was back by the tent we got ready in,” Keith said as he started to lead them in the direction of the tents behind the wooden pier.

Once they were away from the prying eyes of their friends, Lance let out a quiet sigh.

“I’m sorry that I won,” he said, locking his eyes onto the grass tickling his bare toes.

Keith froze. “You’re sorry that you won? Why would you say that?”

“Well, I mean, I wasn’t supposed to, right? I mean, I’m not even supposed to be here! Aren’t you, like, mad at me for stealing your spotlight?” Lance asked, stealing a glance at Keith out of the corner of his eye.

“Lance, are you talking about what I said back when you were chosen?” Keith asked, his voice soft and quiet.

“Maybe a little,” Lance admitted, digging his toes into the soft ground. This close to the lake it was muddy and soft, cool soil squishing between his toes. “I just… I spent the whole trial trying to make sure that you won, and it didn’t matter.”

“What do you mean, you were trying to make sure that I won?” Keith asked, sounding confused. “Lance… please don’t tell me that you’ve been thinking that you shouldn’t have a chance at winning… that you’ve just been helping me from the beginning,” Keith said, his voice turning desperate. “Lance!”

Lance tore his gaze away from the ground to meet Keith’s eyes, but he didn’t have it in him to try and deny it.

“Have you been trying to get me to win? Lance, why would you do that?”

“It’s like I told you before, I wasn’t really supposed to be chosen, so I thought that at least I could help the Hogwarts student that actually was,” Lance said.

“I thought you were joking when you said that. Lance, I don’t want you to help me win,” Keith said.

Lance stiffened. Great. Another thing he did wrong. Keith didn’t even want his help anymore.

“Because I want you to try and beat me,” Keith continued.

Wait… huh?

“You want me to try and beat you?” Lance echoed.

Keith nodded. “That’s always what we’ve been best at, isn’t it? Competing against one another? So come on, show me what you’ve got. I want to actually face against you, Lance. Like we used to do in quidditch.”

Lance let out a relieved huff of air. “Okay. You’re going down, Kogane.”

“I beg to differ, Álvarez.”

< < < > > >

Lance hissed as the ministry’s healer pulled their wand away from his leg, the fresh scars slowly smoothing into faded, white lines. He was currently sitting on one of the cots in the infirmary tent that had been set up near the lake so the Champions didn’t have to go all the way back to the castle to be healed.

It was convenient, really.

“Are you alright?” Keith asked, perching on the edge of Lance’s cot.

“You’re supposed to be resting,” Lance scolded him. “You had four cracked ribs.”

Keith shrugged. “They feel fine now,” he said, glancing down at his own chest. “It didn’t even bruise.”

Lance leaned back on the pillows behind him, stretching out his injured leg in front of him, keeping his other knee pulled into his chest.

“And anyways,” Keith continued, “you didn’t answer my question.”

Lance rolled his eyes. “I’ve been better,” he allowed, glancing at the white scars that contrasted sharply with the tan of the skin on his calf. “Some people are, like, super into scars right?”

A surprised chuckle slipped out of Keith’s mouth, “That’s what you’re worried about?” He asked, arching a brow.

Lance shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Lance,” Keith said, his voice dropping into a gentler tone.

“Forget it,” Lance brushed him off, “I was just joking.”

“No you weren’t,” Keith said, reaching over so that his hand was hovering over the scars on Lance’s calf. Almost like he was going to touch them, but restrained himself.

“Keith,” Lance said, reaching over to grab Keith’s hand with his own, tugging it away from his leg. “Really, I’m okay.”

Keith didn’t look convinced, but he nodded. “So now you get to tell me about what I missed while I was under the mind control. How did you get Allura and I up to the surface?”

“There’s not much to tell, really,” Lance said. “I grabbed the two of you and dragged you away from Lotor and the Baku. Once we were in the clear, I tried to use magic to snap you out of it. Only, I didn’t know which spell you had used, so that wasn’t really effective. I tried dragging you and Allura up towards the surface of the water, but a mermaid grabbed your leg and was trying to drag you down. I froze her and pushed you and Allura up so that you floated towards the surface while I held off the merpeople.” Lance paused to grimace, “That’s how I got this,” he said, sweeping one hand towards his leg. “But I managed to hold off the merpeople long enough to grab you and Allura and cast the ascendition charm to get us to the surface.”

Keith nodded slowly. “I remember waking up on the rowboat. I was so confused.”

Lance snorted. “I bet. I know I was.”

“Wait, so you don’t remember anything, either?”

Lance shook his head. “Nope,” he said, popping the ‘P’. “It’s all a big blank.”

“But… we had a bonding moment,” Keith said, his voice cracking slightly. “I cradled you in my arms!”

“Nope, don’t remember, didn’t happen,” Lance said, closing his eyes and shaking his head.

Keith let out an annoyed huff of air.

Lance cracked one of his eyes open. “It’s not my fault that I was under the Baku’s mind control!”

“Well,” Keith countered. “It kind of is. You shouldn’t have touched the flower.”

“Oh my god,” Lance groaned. “Get off of my bed.” He kicked at Keith lightly with his uninjured leg.

Keith laughed, and responded by flopping backwards so that he was laying on even more of the bed.

“Keith!” An unfamiliar voice called, making Keith sit back up.

Lance glanced over in the direction of the front flap of the tent just in time to see an unfamiliar woman pushing through. She had the same pale skin and dark hair as Keith, along with a slim and athletic build that made her look a lot younger than she probably was.

“Mom!” Keith replied. He looked like he was going to push off the bed and rush over to her, but thought better of the motion halfway through, waiting for her to come over to him, instead.

So this was the woman that Lance had heard so many stories about. To hear some people speak, she had almost single-handedly brought down the Dark Lord. To others, she was just a pawn in a much larger game that he was playing, waiting for the right time to strike again. Looking at her, Lance had a hard time picturing her as a member of the Galra. She just looked like a concerned mom.

Keith’s mom crossed the room quickly, sweeping her son into her arms.

Lance felt a familiar pang in his own chest as he imagined his own Mamá rushing into the room to fuss over his wounds. But that couldn’t happen, because Lance still hadn’t told his family about being in the Triwizard Tournament.

“Are you okay?” Keith’s mom asked, pulling back just far enough to inspect her son.

“Mom, I’m fine. Really. I had a few cracked ribs but the healers fixed me up,” Keith insisted.

Keith’s mom reached up, placing one of her hands on his cheeks. “You were very brave today,” she told him.

“Mom,” Keith groaned.

“Okay, fine, I’ll stop,” she agreed, finally releasing Keith.

“How did you even get in here? I thought you were trying not to let anyone see you here?” Keith questioned.

His mom waved one of her hands. “It was fine, Shiro and Adam made sure that no one saw me.”

Keith nodded slowly.

“Now, are you going to introduce me to your friend?” Krolia questioned, obviously studying Lance.

Lance shifted under her gaze, flushing slightly.

“Oh, right. Lance, this is my mom, Krolia Kogane. Mom, this is Lance,” Keith said, waving between them.

“It’s really nice to meet you, Mrs Kogane” Lance said, offering Krolia his hand.

“Krolia is fine,” she insisted, as she shook his hand with a firm handshake. “Thank you for helping my son in the tournament today.”

“Oh, that was nothing,” Lance said, resting his head back against the pillow behind him.

“It’s something you’re never going to do again,” Keith added, narrowing his eyes.

“I know, I know,” Lance agreed. “From now on, we’ll compete against one another. I heard you earlier.”

Krolia shook her head at the two of them.

It was hard to picture her as the mysterious Galra operative that Lance had always imagined her to be. She just seemed so normal. Back when Lance had first heard about how Keith’s mom had turned on her upbringing and family in order to bring down the Dark Lord herself, becoming a vital inside operative for the ministry, he had thought of a solemn brooding woman solely devoted to ridding the wizarding world of the Galra. But in reality she was much more real and animated.

“Hey, you two,” a familiar voice said as they made their way into the tent.

“Hey, Shiro!” Lance called, waving to his teacher.

Shiro made his way over to them, Adam following along behind him, their hands loosely clasped together.

“That was a nice use of Sectumsempra against the Baku, Keith,” Shiro said, placing his free hand on Keith’s shoulder.

“Thanks, Shiro,” Keith said with a nod.

“I knew I didn’t recognize that spell! It was one of the ones that you designed, wasn’t it?” Lance asked, addressing Shiro. “It was badass.”

Shiro chuckled, “Thanks, Lance.”

“The two of you both did extraordinary,” Adam added. “The ministry was very impressed.”

Keith grinned.

“And congratulations on your win, Lance,” Adam added. “You did an amazing job of figuring out the Baku’s weakness.”

Lance felt his blush deepen. “Thank you, Adam.”

“Alright,” Shiro said, “we’ll leave you two to get some rest. I’ll see both of you in class on Monday.”

“Bye, Shiro. Bye, Adam. It was nice to meet you,” Lance said, giving them a wave.

Keith stood and gave both of them a stiff hug, bidding them goodbye, before they exited the tent, Krolia following behind them slowly.

“Write more,” she instructed Keith before pulling him into a tight hug.

Keith nodded, patting his mom’s back. “I will,” he promised.

Krolia smoothed Keith’s hair back from his face, before pressing a soft kiss to his forehead.

Keith shut the tent flap closed behind her, before he limped slowly back over to Lance’s bed and dropped back down at the end of it.

“Hey, how come Allura and Lotor aren’t in here?” Lance asked, glancing around at the now-almost-completely-empty infirmary tent.

“Allura went with her father back to the Beauxbatons carriage. I’m not sure what happened to Lotor,” Keith shrugged.

“Your mom seems nice,” Lance said.

“She’s great,” Keith agreed. “A little overprotective sometimes.”

“Was she upset when you joined the tournament?” Lance asked, knowing that if his mother had found out he was in a deadly tournament, she would probably literally kill him herself.

“Not really, she knew it was something I had to do,” Keith said. “Have you decided if you’re going to tell your family yet?”

“I don’t know,” Lance admitted. “I feel bad keeping it from them, but I don’t want them to worry.”

Keith nodded.

Lance closed his eyes, “Don’t be offended if I fall asleep,” he warned Keith. “I’m exhausted.”

“Me too,” Keith admitted. “I don’t even want to move.”

“So don’t,” Lance mumbled into his pillow. He stretched out one of his arms, grabbing onto Keith’s arm and tugging him down.

“Lance!” Keith laughed, tugging away half-heartedly. “This is your bed, there’s like four other cots in here. We don’t have to try and squish onto a twin-sized bed.”

“S’fine,” Lance said, succeeding in tugging Keith down onto the bed next to him so that they were sharing a pillow.

“This pillow is really soft,” Keith said quietly.

“I know,” Lance agreed. “Can we sleep now?”

“Sure,” Keith agreed.

Lance cracked his eyes open, watching as Keith’s fluttered shut. His black hair spilled out against the white pillowcase.

His breathing slowly evened out, huffs of warm air tickling Lance’s nose.

Lance reached over, tucking a tendril of black hair back behind Keith’s ear.

He wasn’t really as tired as he had claimed to be, but he had remembered how Keith was practically falling asleep on his shoulder in the rowboat and didn’t really feel bad about lying so that Keith would get some much needed rest.

Although, Keith’s breathing was really even. And the pillow was really soft. Maybe he would close his eyes just for a few minutes.

< < < > > >

“He’s sleeping, we should come back later,” someone whispered. Loudly.

Lance turned, pressing his face further into the pillow he was currently sleeping on, not exactly eager to see whoever was talking. He was still so tired and the blanket was so warm.

“Maybe I’ll just wait until he wakes up,” another voice replied, loud enough that Lance knew he wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep.

Accepting his fate, Lance blinked his eyes open. It was dim in the tent, but the low light was still enough to make him squint. There were two blurry figures sitting in chairs pulled up next to his bed, and Lance blinked until they came into focus.

When they did, he almost wished that he had pretended to still be asleep.

“Lance!” Pidge said, leaning forward in their chair. “You’re awake!”

In the chair to Pidge’s left, Matt uncrossed his arms.

“I am now,” Lance grumbled, pushing himself up into a sitting position, letting the soft white cotton blanket pool around his waist.

Oh right, he was still in his now-mostly-dry swimsuit.

“What do you want, Pidge?” Lance asked. He really wasn’t in the mood to get yelled at by Pidge again. Hadn’t they already done enough of that? What else could Pidge possibly have to say? Especially that couldn’t wait until he was actually back at the castle?

“How’s your leg? And your arm? Are they okay?” Pidge asked, their voice coming out in a rush, “I spoke to Madam Pomfrey and she said that you’ll be fine, but that you’ll have some scarring and-”

Lance reached over, grabbing Pidge’s arm as they waved it around wildly.

“What do you want, Pidge?” Lance asked tiredly. “What are you doing here?”

“I just… needed to make sure that you were okay,” Pidge said quietly.

“That’s funny,” Lance said with a dry huff of laughter that really didn’t sound amused at all. “Given just how concerned you’ve been about me lately.”

“I recognize that I’ve been a pretty shitty friend,” Pidge said, reaching up to tug at their short hair. “I mean, I really thought that you were lying and hiding something from me, so my reaction wasn’t totally unwarranted,” they said, babbling. “But… in the end… I was a jerk,” they admitted.

Lance closed his eyes, tipping his head back against the pillow. “That might be the understatement of the year,” he informed them.

“I really am sorry,” Pidge said. “And I know that it sucks that it took me watching you get a chunk of your arm bitten out to realise it. As someone who prides myself on my intelligence… I’ve been acting pretty stupid.”

“You know, Pidge, I get why you were mad at me if you really thought that I was lying. I do. But did you really seriously believe that I would have cheated? Come on, Pidge, I have a moral crisis when you let me copy your homework. Like, are you just here because I got hurt and you feel bad that we weren’t speaking? Or are you here because you’re actually apologising?” Lance asked, tearing his gaze away from the ceiling to face Pidge.

“I’m really here to apologize,” they insisted. “I just… really miss my friend.”

“I miss my friend, too. I’ve been missing my friend,” Lance said, shaking his head. “And you know, I was really hurt because of the comments that you made, but we could have gotten through that.”

“I-I know-”

“But when I saw you and Matt walking around wearing those fucking buttons? That stung, Pidge. I really needed my friends. And you just abandoned me. You abandoned me when I needed you the most!” Lance knew that he was practically yelling, could feel tears welling in his eyes, but he couldn’t help himself. “This year so far has seriously sucked. And I needed your support. These have been some of the worst few months of my life, and you didn’t do anything to make it better. In fact, you made it worse.”

“Lance,” Matt said, reaching out as if he was going to try and calm Lance down.

“Don’t!” Lance snapped at him. “You don’t get to speak, either. I’m mad at you, too.”

Matt nodded, sitting back down into his chair.

“Hey, Lance, is everything okay?”

Lance glanced over in the direction of the new voice and blinked in surprise when he saw Keith sitting up in the bed on his other side. He hadn’t even realised that the other boy was still in the infirmary. Idly, Lance wondered when Keith had changed beds. Had he moved in the middle of the night? Or did one of the healers move him?

“Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine,” Lance said, even though it was clear that he was lying.

“Cause that sounded believable,” Keith muttered.

Keith slid off of his bed, wrapping his blanket around his bare shoulders as he closed the distance between them.

“Oh,” he said, stopping when he registered Pidge and Matt’s presence. He turned to look at Lance. “What are they doing here?”

“Apologising, apparently,” Lance said, pulling up his legs so that Keith could perch on the end of his bed.

“It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think, Lance?” Keith asked, arching his brow.

“Better late than never?” Pidge offered in a small voice.

Lance snorted.

“Are you serious?” Keith asked, sounding incredulous. “Are they serious?” He asked Lance.

“Pidge is almost always serious,” Lance said dryly.

“You think that you can just treat Lance like trash for months and then come crawling back once he’s proved himself? That’s pathetic,” Keith said, crossing his arms over his chest. Although between the blanket and his adorable pout, he looked more silly than serious.

“I’m not crawling back because he proved himself!” Pidge snapped. “I just had to watch my friend get hurt on a giant projected screen and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t even ask him if he was okay!”

“So you can come back in now and act like everything’s fine and that nothing happened, but I’ve been the one to be there for Lance these past few weeks. I’ve been the one to see how distraught he’s been. I’ve been helping him deal with assholes like James Griffin, and I’ve been there for him when he was upset. Meanwhile, you’ve been sitting on your high horse wearing those fucking buttons that Nyma made,” Keith said, his voice low with anger.

When he sounded like that, Keith sounded downright scary.

“Keith,” Lance said quietly, reaching out to lay a hand on Keith’s forearm.

Pidge’s eyes seemed glued to their movements, before they let out a quiet sigh. “The buttons were stupid,” they agreed. “I felt guilty the whole time I was wearing one, and I only wore it for one night. I just… I don’t know how to explain my actions. But I am sorry.”

Keith relaxed slightly, but only slightly. Like, if he were a wolf, he’d be putting his hackles down.

“I know that you didn’t cheat, Lance. That’s not who you are. It’s who I am,” Pidge commented dryly. “But I shouldn’t project feelings about myself or what I would do on to you, because that isn’t fair. And I really did feel bad about what everyone was saying about you. It was horrible of me that I joined in, and I’ll never forgive myself for doing it. I promise.”

“I’m not going to say that it’s okay,” Lance told them, “because it’s really not. But I’ll consider forgiving you,” Lance told Pidge.

“Anything,” Pidge promised.

“I’m going to hold you to that,” Lance said. “And just because I’m considering forgiving you doesn’t mean that I have. I’m still really hurt by what you did, but… I also miss you. I don’t want our friendship to be over because of this stupid tournament. So… I’ll consider forgiving you, but you are going to owe me, like, so many favors,” Lance said.

“How many favors?” Pidge questioned, but Lance could already tell that they were going to accept.

“At least twenty good ones,” Lance informed them.

“Okay, I-”

“And about another thirty small favors. So many favors,” Lance said, wiggling his eyebrows in a joking manner.

Pidge rolled their eyes. “I… fine. Fifty favors. So… we’re okay?”

“Yeah, Pidgy, we’re okay,” Lance said, reaching over to ruffle their hair. “Just don’t do this shit again.”

“I hate it when you call me that,” they said, but they were smiling.

“I now reserve the right to call you Pidgy for the rest of your life,” Lance warned them.

“And I hope you know that I’m sorry, too,” Matt said, leaning forward. “I know that I told you before that I had to side with Pidge, but that wasn't true. I could have stuck up for you, and I should have.”

“I’ll consider forgiving you, too, Matt. But that will cost you fifteen favors,” Lance warned him.

“Deal,” Matt said with an easy grin. “Well, we should leave you to your rest, come on, Pidge.”

Pidge nodded, hopping to their feet. They paused at the foot of Lance’s bed. “You’re really okay?” They asked, their voice small. They sounded so young, sometimes it was easy to forget that Pidge was younger.

“I’m a little sore,” Lance admitted. “But I’ll be okay after some rest. It was pretty brutal.”

“I was so stupid,” Pidge said, coming back to Lance’s side and throwing their arms around his shoulders and giving him a careful hug. “I thought I wanted into the Tournament, but after watching you two compete…” they shuddered slightly. “I’m really glad that I never figured out how to get in. I never should have been mad at you in the first place.”

Lance reached up and ruffled their hair again. “I’m gonna be okay, Pidge.”

“Okay,” Pidge sniffed. “I don’t know how you go in to the Tournament, but whoever forced your name to be selected must really have it out for you. But, damn it, from now on I’m going to be helping you.”

“That’s cheating,” Lance reminded her softly, “outside students aren’t allowed to help the Champions.”

“Well I never had a problem with letting you copy my potions essays,” Pidge said, pulling away and wiping at her nose.

Lance laughed, “Don’t let Professor Iverson hear you saying that,” he warned her.

“I won’t,” Pidge said with a wet chuckle.

“And, hey, Pidge,” Lance said. “When you see Hunk, tell him that we made up. You know how fighting makes him stress out.”

“Is that the first favor?” Pidge joked.

“Sure,” Lance agreed.

“One down, forty-nine to go,” Pidge said, “and then we’re even.”

“And then we’re even,” Lance agreed.

< < < > > >

The hospital wing was cold, Lance thought as he pulled his blanket up higher. That morning, he had been taken to the hospital wing rather than the makeshift infirmary tent so that Madam Pomfrey could finish healing his leg. Keith, Allura, and Lotor had all been dismissed back to their regular dorms: Allura and Lotor hadn’t really been injured to begin with, and Keith’s ribs were fully healed already. According to Madam Pomfrey, bones were easier to heal than flesh and tissue. You just had to snap the bones back into place, she had said, but flesh and tissue were delicate.

Which meant that Lance was alone in the hospital wing for the night.

Which was still better than the bottle of Skele-Gro that Keith had to chug before he was dismissed, so really, Lance wasn’t going to complain about it.

But he’d been spending so much time sleeping off his wounds that now his sleep schedule was thrown off, it was almost two in the morning and he was still wide awake.

Lance reached over towards the table on the left side of his hospital bed, scooping up the navy blue oyster shell that was sitting there and examining it. This thing had to be important for something, right? After all the work that they had done to win it.

It was an oyster shell, right… so it should open?

Lance turned the shell in his hands, trying to pry it open. But it was like someone had superglued the thing shut! There was no way he could force it open with his bare hands.

Maybe… maybe there was some kind of clasp on it?

Lance held the shell up close to his face, twisting and turning it to see if there was any kind of locking mechanism keeping the thing closed.

Nothing.

It just looked like a normal oyster shell.

Well, how was he supposed to get it open then?

Oh, right. Magic.

Lance grabbed his wand from where it had been resting on his small nightstand and pointed it at the oyster, firing off every unlocking spell that he knew (and adding in a few more powerful spells that he thought might force it open for good measure).

Nothing.

Ugh. Lance threw the oyster shell back down onto the nightstand. This was pointless.

Maybe it wasn’t even meant to open. Maybe it was just some stupid prize they had to get to win the first Trial and that was it. That would be his luck, wouldn’t it?

Well, whatever it was, Lance could worry about it in the morning.

Chapter Text

The first thing that Lance registered as he walked into the Great Hall the next morning was that everyone was staring at him. But, where before it had been hostile glares and casually-tossed insults, flashing buttons and scowls, today everyone was looking at him with wide-eyed gazes and soft smiles. There was no insults being tossed his way, just calls of congratulations.  

Well, that was different.  

“Good job at the Trial, Lance!” One of the Gryffindor girls called as he passed, while her friends blushed.

Lance glanced subtly behind him just in case there happened to be some other kid named Lance who had competed in a similarly-named Trial, because there was no way the girl was talking to him.

Except there was no one behind him.

“Um, thanks,” he said, giving her a small, tight smile, before moving towards the Ravenclaw table.

“Hey, Álvarez,” one of his dorm-mates said as Lance sat down at the table beside Romelle, Pidge and Matt already back in their old usual spots on the other side of the table.

“Um, hey,” Lance responded elegantly.

“You were really impressive in the Trial. How’s the leg? Must be a mess, right? I mean, you just got cleared from Madam Pomfrey…” the boy said, looking way too interested in the conversation.

“Oh, it’s fine. A lot better,” Lance said.

“How did you figure out the Baku’s weakness?” One of the girls sitting near Pidge asked. “That was genius, I never would have figured it out. Well, maybe I would have eventually, but it would have taken loads longer.”

“I just… remembered something from my Herbology O.W.L. about Devil’s Snare. I mean, the Baku was pretty much just a glorified plant but, y’know, with teeth, so...” Lance said, before turning to press his lips to Romelle’s ear. “What is happening?” He hissed. “Why is everyone being so nice to me?”

“I think they were all really impressed by your actions in the Trial,” Romelle whispered back. “You have to admit, it’s a nice change.”

“I don’t trust it,” Lance whispered back, before pulling away.

“A plant, of course,” the Ravenclaw girl nodded. “That makes so much sense.”

“Hey, Lance,” one of the other boys from his dorm spoke up, “what was the spell you used to breathe underwater? It looked like the Bubble Head Charm, that’s what it was, right? Chris and I had a bet going…”

Lance let out a small huff of air. Hadn’t it just been a few days ago that these kids were saying that he was dumb and that he didn’t deserve to be in their house? And now they were acting like they were all best friends? What kind of sick cosmic joke was this?

“Um, yeah, it was the Bubble Head Charm,” Lance answered.

“Thanks, man, you just earned me ten galleons,” the kid said, before turning to someone else, presumably Chris, and demanding their money.

The screeching of owls interrupted the conversations echoing around the Great Hall, and Lance looked up gratefully. He wasn’t sure that he had ever been happier for the mail to arrive. At least this should be some kind of distraction. The owls sailed by overhead, dropping their packages down onto the tables below.

A copy of The Daily Prophet landed in Lance’s eggs.

He wrinkled his nose at the mess, but he picked up the newspaper and shook it out, revealing the front page. The picture caught his eye first, it was all four of the Champions with their backs to the camera, dressed in swimsuits standing at the edge of the wooden pier getting ready to jump into the water.

Great. They had made the front page again.

Lance let his eyes flicker up to the headline, already dreading what he was going to read.

THE TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT’S FIRST TRIAL: AN UNDERWATER ADVENTURE

Defensive spells, shocking alliances, twisted love affairs. This school event had them all.

Written by Rita Skeeter

“Oh god,” Lance groaned, angling the paper so that Romelle could read over his shoulder. “What did she write about now?”

My darling readers, I come to you today from the front lines of the Triwizard Tournament, where I was given the opportunity to watch the First Trial. For those of you who were unable to attend, let me assure you that you missed an absolutely stellar show! But before we get ahead of ourselves, the real fun started before the Trial, when I had a chance to speak to the Champions.

“Of course she had to write about that,” Lance groaned.

Romelle ignored him, so that she could keep reading the article.  

Upon my entrance to the tent they were using to get ready in, I found Ravenclaw Champion Lance Álvarez locked in a passionate embrace with a young woman I later learned was named Romelle Pollux, the captain of the Ravenclaw quidditch team and one of Álvarez’s oldest friends. When I questioned the pair about their relationship, both denied that they were romantically involved, and Pollux insisted that she is not interested in a relationship with him or anyone of that variety. However, even fellow Champion Keith Kogane had apparently believed the pair to be in a relationship and seemed surprised to learn that it apparently was not true.

“That bitch!” Romelle spat.

“Seconded,” Lance agreed.

“She’s making me seem like I’m lying about being a lesbian, Merlin! How messed up is that?!” Romelle said loudly.

“It’s messed up,” Lance said, tapping his fingers angrily against the table. “Who does something like that?”

In fact, only Beauxbatons Champion Allura Altea seemed to believe the pair. “I knew you weren’t a couple,” she had said, “but that’s only because Lance hits on me every chance he gets.” Hm. Sounds like Álvarez is quite the ladies man. Could trouble be brewing in paradise? It smells like a love triangle to this author.

“A ladies man? I’ll have you know that both men and women find me irresistible,” Lance sniffed. “And, Ro, I would never cheat on you with Allura. I hope you know that.”

“This is why people think we’re a couple,” Romelle said dryly, eyes widening like she had an epiphany. “Oh, I get it now. I don’t like it. We’re so annoying, we need to stop.”

After I finished speaking with the Champions, I returned to my seat, eager for the show to begin.

“You were kicked out of the tent by Keith, but okay,” Lance muttered.

The Trial got off to an exciting start, with all of the Champions having to find a way to breathe underwater for an extended period of time. Lotor Daibazaal, the Durmstrang Champion, chose to use Gillyweed, while Allura Altea transfigured herself into a shark… or, at least, a portion of herself. It really was quite terrifying. Both Hogwarts Champions chose to use the Bubble Head Charm. Funny, that they both had the same idea. It seems a little suspicious to be a coincidence.

Lance skimmed over the rest of the article. Most of what she was talking about he already knew, how Lotor got attacked by octopi, how Allura tangled with those merpeople in the beginning. She talked about how he and Keith had teamed up, and the sight of his own name made Lance pay more attention to what she was saying.

Hogwarts Champions Álvarez and Kogane proved unlikely allies, teaming up fairly early into the trial. I say unlikely allies given, of course, Álvarez’s muggleborn background and Kogane’s own Galra background. It’s surprising that the son of a prominent Galra member would willingly choose to work with a muggleborn. Is this a political statement on Kogane’s part? Or merely an effort to prove that he can deny his Galra roots? Only time will tell.

Oh god.

“Do you see what she wrote about Keith?” Lance asked, pointing out the portion to Romelle.

“That’s horrible,” Romelle said softly. “I hope he’s okay after seeing this.”

Rita Skeeter then went back to talking about Lotor and Allura for a section of the article, which Lance skipped over. He could read the full thing later, but for now…

Álvarez was the first Champion to fall victim to the hallucinogenic flowers that caused the Champions to fall into a state I’m informed by the Ministry is called “mind swishing”. While in this state, Álvarez was quite out of it, attempting to sacrifice himself to the creature the Champions were battling, an underwater beast known as a Baku. Luckily for him, Kogane showed up just in time to stop Álvarez. After this, the pair was quite… physical with their affection for one another. Perhaps another reason for Kogane’s unnecessarily aggressive behavior towards me when I implied that Álvarez and Pollux were romantically involved.

“Oh, god,” Lance sighed. “What did I do while I was all space-y?”

Romelle smirked. “I have been waiting for you to ask.” She started to giggle, before composing herself once more. “You were all out of it, trying to sacrifice yourself to the Baku and pop your bubble that let you breathe, so Keith grabbed you from behind and you kept twisting around and thrashing in his grip,” Romelle exclaimed, smiling wickedly. “Eventually you saw who was holding you and calmed down. Literally, you got all ‘heart-eyes’ and melted into actual goo in his arms.”

Romelle flopped over dramatically, resting her head on Lance’s shoulders and looking up at him. “Then, apparently, you had the bright idea to wrap your legs around his waist, because, y’know, that happened. And you two stared into each other’s eyes, and then you leaned forward and practically made out with Keith’s neck while he tried to heal you.”

What?!” Lance screeched.

“Okay, so you didn’t actually make out with his neck, but that’s totally what it looked like,” Romelle said, straightening back up in her seat. “Honestly, it’s amazing that you two didn’t just start making out in the middle of that trial. I thought I was gonna die from all the second-hand sexual tension.”

Lance felt himself flush bright red. “Ro!” He hissed.

“Oh, Lance, calm down,” she sighed. “But seriously, the cameras we were watching through weren’t the best, but you were just really giggly and smiley. I’m pretty sure you touched Keith’s hair.”

No.

No.

He did not act like a complete… lovesick idiot while on camera for the entire school to see.

He couldn’t have.

Not, that, he was… y’know, actually lovesick or anything, obviously those flowers really messed with his head.

“Oh, man,” Lance sighed. “So basically I acted like a complete fool… on camera… for the whole school to see.”

“A lovesick fool,” Romelle added helpfully before turning back to the article.

“Even better,” Lance muttered.

The rest of the article was mostly straight-forward, describing how they had defeated the Baku, implying that Keith learned the darker curses he was using from his Galra mother, implying once again that there were romantic feelings between Lance and Keith or Allura and that was why he saved them. Apparently, Rita couldn’t decide which of the two, or three if he counted the bullshit ‘relationship’ Rita was pushing between Romelle and himself, he was in love with.

Lance wasn’t quite as conflicted. Sure, he liked to flirt with Allura, she was pretty, sue him, but that didn’t mean that it meant anything.

It was different with Keith.

“Okay, this is ridiculous,” Lance said, tossing the paper down onto the table. “I need to go find Keith.”   

“Okay,” Romelle said, rescuing the paper before anything else happened to it. “What?” She asked, when Lance arched a brow at her. “I’m going to save the front picture for you.”

Lance rolled his eyes. “Of course you are,” he said, as he pushed away from the table.

He leaned over and dropped a kiss to the top of her head, “Thanks, Ro.”

“Stop it,” she told him. “Now I know this is why people think we’re a couple. I’m trying to get a girlfriend, here.”

“Allura already knows you’re single,” Lance said, as he scooped up his bag. “So I think you’re fine.”

“Shut up,” Romelle sputtered, blushing. “You don’t know anything, it’s not like that! We have hardly even spoken outside of class, I definitely do not have a crush, no sir. That’s just crazy. And besides have you seen her?

“Sure thing, Jan.”

“What does that mean? I’m not Jan, you know this, Lance dammit don’t walk away from me.” Romelle called after him.

Lance turned in the direction of the Gryffindor table, but paused when he realized Keith wasn’t sitting in his normal spot. Weird. Where would the other boy go?

Lance pivoted on his heel, heading off in the direction of the doors instead. Maybe Keith was down in the kitchens having breakfast far, far away from everyone else…

But before he could walk more than five feet he was stopped by a towering figure in Hufflepuff yellow and black.

“Oh, hey, Rax,” Lance said, wincing slightly. Please don’t pummel me for still being friends with Hunk and Shay.

“Lance,” the older boy greeted gruffly. “I wanted to… apologize for my previous behavior. It was unwarranted.”

“Oh, uh, thanks,” Lance said, caught off guard. “I appreciate the apology. I wasn’t expecting one, but, um, yeah. Thanks, I guess.”

“And please tell Hunk that I have no concerns about his relationship with my sister.”

Lance nodded. “Um, yeah… okay. I’ll pass that along.”

He slipped around Rax, after quietly excusing himself from the conversation, only to be stopped by a Gryffindor girl who wanted to hear a first-hand account of his battle against the Baku.

And then a Slytherin boy who wanted to know if he had figured out what the shell was yet.

And a Ravenclaw girl who asked him to Hogsmeade that weekend.

(Okay that last one had actually made Lance pause because she was really cute, but he was a man on a mission, dammit! He needed to go find Keith! And none of these fake people who praised him today while hiding their ÁLVAREZ STINKS buttons could stand in his way).

Well, they could literally stand in his way since that’s what most of them were doing. But metaphorically… none of them would stand in his way!

< < < > > >

Turns out, literally standing in someone’s way was a lot more inconvenient than metaphorically standing in their way.

It took Lance almost twenty minutes just to cross the Great Hall.

< < < > > >

It turned out that Keith wasn’t in the kitchens. Or the empty Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Or Shiro’s office. Or the library. In fact, Lance had searched pretty much the whole castle and he couldn’t find Keith anywhere.

He was just about to give up when he literally crashed into the older boy on his way back to the Ravenclaw dorms.

“Keith!” Lance exclaimed, reaching out and using Keith’s shoulders to steady him. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”

Keith blinked at him. “Oh, hey, Lance. Sorry, I was thinking. And the Astronomy tower is a good place for that.”

“Because you read The Daily Prophet?” Lance asked, wrinkling his nose, falling into step beside Keith.

Keith nodded. “Yeah. Did you see what she wrote about my mom again? I just… can’t believe that woman,” he groaned.

“I know,” Lance agreed. “Like, your mom is super nice. I don’t know why Rita Skeeter keeps trying to make her out to be some kind of villain.”

“Exactly!” Keith agreed, reaching up to fiddle with his red tie. “Anyways, why were you looking for me? Aren’t you supposed to be on your way to Potions right now?”

Lance shrugged. “I just wanted to make sure that you were okay. When I read that article at Breakfast… I dunno, I just wanted to come check on you.”

“Oh,” Keith said, blushing faintly. “That’s, uh, nice of you. Lance.”

And Lance felt his traitorous heart pound in his chest. He liked the way that Keith said his name like that. Like it was its own sentence.

“Yeah, yeah, no problem,” Lance said, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck.

The pair fell silent for a minute, but Lance was never one to let silences linger so he started babbling again before he could stop himself.

“I mean, according to Rita Skeeter I’m not a very nice person. Did you see that whole section of the article where she basically said that Ro was lying about being a lesbian and is in love with me but that I’m, like, cheating on her with Allura, and cheating on Allura with you? I mean come on,” Lance said animatedly, waving his hands around. “I would never cheat on anyone like that!”

Keith barked out a laugh, seemingly startled by the noise coming from himself. “Yeah, I saw that part.”

“I mean, I’m surprised that Rita Skeeter hasn’t tried to imply that Lotor is in love with me since apparently everyone else is. Ro, Allura, you. Various girls at Hogwarts. I mean, I know that my dashing good looks and winning personality are a great combo, but not even I am vain enough to think that you’re all in love with me.”

“Right, yeah, of course not,” Keith said, his voice quieter. “That would be crazy.”

“And I mean, Allura and Romelle are obviously interested in one another, I don’t know how Rita Skeeter managed to miss that one,” Lance barreled on.

“Well at least everyone loves you,” Keith countered. “According to Rita Skeeter, we’re only friends because I’m using you to, like, improve the public’s opinion of me or whatever.”

“Which is crazy!” Lance agreed. “Obviously our friendship grew out of our rivalry which had existed for years before this stupid Triwizard Tournament thing.”

“Exactly!” Keith said, throwing his hands up into the air. “And you’re, like, my only friend beside Shiro. So I mean, why would I use my only friend just to, like, impress the public? Or convince them that I’m not a fucking Gal- whatever. I don’t even care about them!”

“Hey, buddy, I hate to break it to you but I don’t think I’m your only friend anymore. By being my friend, you basically get stuck with Ro, Hunk, Shay, Pidge, and Matt by extension. You’re now officially a part of a friend group.”

“Oh Merlin,” Keith said with an overdramatic sigh.

“But, hey, being my friend is all the rage now, I hear,” Lance continued.

Keith blinked at him. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, it’s crazy! All those people that were telling me how much they hate me and how dumb I am and all that stuff last week? They’re all dying to talk to me and congratulate me. It’s giving me whiplash. But at least the ÁLVAREZ STINKS buttons are a thing of the past.”

“You’re kidding me,” Keith said dryly.

“I wish. It’s a little overwhelming,” Lance admitted. “I didn't like being a social outcast, but I’m not sure I like the fame, either. Everything was so much easier last year.”

Keith nodded. “When all we had to worry about was winning the Quidditch Cup.”

“Simpler times,” Lance said. “Speaking of winning… have you figured out how to open the oyster shell yet?”

Keith rolled his eyes. “We’re actually going to compete against each other in this trial. That means we’re not working together anymore,” he reminded Lance. “You’re actually supposed to try and beat me this time.”

“Well I beat you without trying last time, so this time you must really be going down,” Lance teased.

“You had the advantage of this trial being underwater, but I’m guessing that the next trial will be on an even playing field,” Keith said with a smirk.

Lance skidded to a stop. “How do you know that?” He asked, but Keith just kept walking. “Hey! Keith!” He called after him. “Did you figure out the shell?” Lance took off into a jog, trailing after Keith. “Come on, Keith, tell me!”

Keith just shook his head, glancing back over his shoulder towards Lance. “No way,” he said with a grin.

“I thought that you don’t like riddles, Keith. What are you going to do without me if there’s another one? Huh, bet you haven’t thought about that!”

“I guess I’ll just have to figure it out,” Keith replied. “Besides, we don’t even know for sure that we have to get them open, seeing as we haven’t actually been told anything yet.”

“You’re no fun,” Lance informed him.

“Stop badgering me and go to Potions. You’re going to make me late for Transfiguration.”

“Nerd!” Lance said, but he slowed to a stop. Keith was right, he really did have to get to Potions before Professor Iverson took away all of their house points.

< < < > > >

Lance pressed his quill down onto the sheet of parchment in from of him. The library was quiet, it was mid-afternoon on a Friday so all of his classes were finished and he could save all of his homework for Sunday night.

It was the perfect time to write his letter home telling them everything that was going on.

But he couldn’t find the words.

How do you tell your parents, your siblings, your little nieces and nephews ‘oh hey I might not come home from school this year because I’m competing in a series of deadly trials which may or may not actually kill me and very nearly have already’.

Dear Mamá and Papá

I’m sorry that I haven’t written in a while. I know I promised over the summer that I would write more often this year, but things have been really crazy. I’ve been studying like crazy for my N.E.W.T. exams next year, and I even got asked to take private lessons with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Shirogane, and one of the other top students!

Uh, things have been good other than that. I’ve been hanging out with Romelle a lot. Pidge and I got into a little fight but we made up! And everything is fine now. Maybe. Hopefully. Man I’m tired Mamá, I wish I could come home. Hunk and Shay are still together, and are still just as cute. They both said hi by the way, and Hunk is after your cheesecake recipe for some reason. And I’m in a deadly tournament that may or may not cost me my life!

Anyway, how are you all? How did Nadia’s recital go? I know in my heart she was amazing and I want you to tell her that because I may not make it back home alive to tell her myself. Did Marco end up getting a second date? I bet he didn’t and I bet it was funny and I bet Luís owes me money now because I bet I won our bet. And how is my favorite boy Sylvio doing? Is he doing okay in school and getting his homework done? He’s such a fuc freaking good dude. Veronica! How did your conference at the Garrison go, and did you get that promotion? I’m sure you did, you’re the best communications officer they’ve ever seen! I miss you so much Ronnie, and I know you don’t like the owls because they’re a bit creepy and it’s weird to get an owl around the Garrison, but I’d love to hear from you more.

I need to write to you guys more. I should write to you guys more. I wanted to write you guys more but I’m so afraid that you’ll think I’m an idiot like everyo

… okay there’s a reason I haven’t written to you in awhile.

The truth is, the school is putting on a special event this year called the Triwizard Tournament. It’s basically three events called Trials where three four kids compete to try and win the Triwizard Cup. Two other schools are here for the competition, Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbatons Academy of Magic. Then there are two Champions from Hogwarts competing. Even though there was only supposed to be one. And I’m one of them. Surprise! I didn’t know how to tell you because the Trials can be really scary and dangerous, I didn’t want to worry any of you. We just had the first Trial last week, though, and everything turned out okay! I got a few… minor injuries to my leg and arm, but Madam Pomfrey fixed me up and I was out of the Hospital Wing in no time! Tell Sylvio that I’ll let him see the scar when I get home. I actually ended up winning first place in the trial, which was pretty cool! I’ll tell you all about it in my next letter, but there were mermaids and a mind controlling monster, so that was...yeah an experience.

Now that the first trial is done, there are only two to go. I promise that I’ll be more careful and try not to get hurt anymore. And I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you about the Tournament back when I first submitted my name. I never thought in a million years that I would actually be chosen, and once I was I thought that it was some kind of mistake. You see, the other Hogwarts Champion, Keith is really the one who is supposed to be competing… not me. But once the Goblet of Fire chose me, I didn’t have a choice.

But then I was talking to Keith and he told me how his mom came to watch him compete and he was wondering if you guys were coming and I just… I knew that I had to tell you the truth. It was awful of me to keep it from you for this long.

I’m really, really sorry.

Your loving son,

Lance

P.S. please don’t ground me for not telling you, I promise I only did it because I didn’t want to worry you!

Lance set his quill down on the table next to his letter. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. Oh god, his mamá was going to kill him the next time he was in Cuba.

That is, if the Triwizard Tournament didn’t kill him first.

Lance swallowed heavily.

“Hey, Lance,” Pidge greeted, dropping down into the seat at the table across from him.

“Oh, hey, Pidge,” Lance replied, trying to fill his voice with fake cheer.

“Hey, is everything okay?” Pidge asked, frowning.

“Uh, yeah,” Lance replied with a shrug. “I was just writing a letter to my family.”

“Oh,” Pidge pursed their lips. “And it’s making you miss home? It’s okay to be homesick, Lance.”

Lance chuckled. “I’m always homesick. No, uh, this one was hard because I had to tell them that I’m participating in the Triwizard Tournament.”

“You haven’t told them yet?” Pidge asked, their eyes bugging out of their head.

“.... no,” Lance admitted.

“Lance,” Pidge scolded gently. “They’re your family. They deserved to know.”

“I know that,” Lance said with a huff. “I just wasn’t sure how to tell them. I don’t want to worry them, you know? And magic freaks Mamá out enough anyway, she’s always worried that I’m going to, like, lose control of a fire spell and burn my eyebrows off or something. I don’t know, it was just easier not to face them.”

“So what made you change your mind?” Pidge asked, never one to let something go without digging further into it.

“Well I was talking to Keith about his mom and-”

“Ohhhhhh,” Pidge cut him off, wiggling their eyebrows suggestively. “So Keith managed to talk some common sense into you.”

“Shut up,” Lance told them, reaching across the table to flick them in the forehead. “Stop doing that… thing with your eyebrows.”

Pidge wiggled their eyebrows again in open rebellion.

“You want to fill me in on when you and Keith got all buddy-buddy?” They asked with a smirk.

“It’s not like that,” Lance insisted, although he could feel himself blushing. “We’re just friends.”

“Does he know that you’ve been in love with him since Fourth Year?” Pidge asked, innocently inspecting their nails.

“Wait, what?!” Lance screeched. “How do you know about that.”

“Well I didn’t know for sure… but thanks for the confirmation,” Pidge said with a smirk.

Lance groaned in frustration, dropping his head down onto the table.

Pidge would never let him hear the end of this. They would lord it over him and probably find some way to use it as blackmail to their advantage. That’s what Pidge did best.

Wait.

“Hey,” Lance said, picking his head up off the table. “You owe me, like, fifty favors.”

Pidge nodded slowly… carefully.

“Well here’s the first one,” Lance said. “You are never, ever allowed to use the fact that I have a crush on Keith against me at all.”

Pidge pouted. “That’s no fun.”

“Fifty favors,” Lance reminded them sternly. “Because you were an asshole.”

“Technically it’s only forty-nine, cause you used your first one the day of the trial, but I understand that you’re embellishing for dramatic effect. Okay fine, I won’t use it against you. So two down, forty-eight to go.”

Lance let out a sigh of relief. So he had to use one of his favors Pidge owed him to ensure their silence, it would definitely be worth it given how Pidge had reacted when they first found out that Lance had a crush on Nyma. Or how Pidge had reacted once they heard about his Hogsmeade date with Nyma where he ended up tied to a tree. He would never get to live that one down.

“So why are you hiding all alone in the library, then, anyways?” Pidge asked, stealing a scrap of parchment from Lance.

Lance let out a quiet huff of air. “The common room is… a bit much right now. Everyone keeps coming up to me and telling me how proud they are of me and how I’m so smart for figuring out the first trial. A few weeks ago, those same kids were calling me dumb and saying that I don’t even deserve to go to school here, you included. I’d rather just avoid all of it.”

Pidge nodded slowly. “They are behaving drastically different than they did before you entered the contest, Matt and I noticed. But, Lance, that doesn’t have to mean that it’s a bad thing. I mean, look at it this way, people were upset when you were chosen because they didn’t think that you deserved the Champion’s spot over Keith, right? Well, Lance, you proved yourself in that trial. No one can deny how good you are anymore. All this attention doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”

“You’re right, partially,” Lance admitted. “But it sucks because I shouldn’t have had to prove myself in the first place.”

“I’m always right,” Pidge said, pushing their glasses up further on their nose.

Lance narrowed his eyes at them.

“Usually!” Pidge amended. “I’m usually always right!”

< < < > > >

“Attention, Students,” Headmaster Holt said towards the end of dinner later that night. “We have a few announcements tonight regarding the Triwizard Tournament,” as he spoke he gestured beside him, where Adam was standing with his hands clasped behind his back. “We wanted to give the Champions time to rest and recover before announcing the date of the next trial. The Second Task will occur on February twenty-fourth, giving the Champions plenty of time to figure out how to open their oyster shell from the First Task and reveal the clue inside.”

“I told Keith we had to figure out how to get that shell open,” Lance hissed to Pidge.

“However,” Headmaster Holt continued, “we also have some more news that we think you all might find exciting.”

“Given the events of the Triwizard Tournament that are occurring this year,” Adam said, clearing his voice with a slight cough, “we would highly prefer for everyone to remain here at Hogwarts over winter break. The Beauxbatons students and Durmstrang students will be staying as well so that all three schools can attend the Yule Ball here on Christmas night. The Yule Ball is a longstanding tradition of the Triwizard Tournament and will be open to Fourth Year students and above. However, a younger student may attend if accompanied by an older student. The ball is traditionally opened by the Champions and their partners in the Champions’ Waltz, and Headmaster Holt has assured me he will be holding dance lessons here at the school so that everyone learns the proper steps.” Adam glanced over at Headmaster Holt. “I believe that concludes our announcements.”

“Yes, thank you, Adam,” Headmaster Holt said, clapping his hands together. “So please, write home, order some dancing robes, and find yourself a date because the Yule Ball is in just under a month!”

“A ball!” Romelle squealed, “This is so exciting!”

“And another puzzle to solve,” Lance groaned. “The ball should be fun, though! I haven’t had an excuse to get all dressed up and party since my sister Rachel’s Quinceañera the summer before our fifth year.”

“It kind of sucks that we can’t go home for the Holidays, though,” Pidge added with a frown.

“Oh,” Lance said, the realisation that he wouldn’t get to see his family for Christmas this year slowly sinking in. He had never not spent Christmas with his family. Christmas was his one chance during the school year to go home, have his mamá’s cooking, play guitar and sing with Marco, go to the mall with Rachel, watch cheesy sitcoms with Veronica, play with Sylvio and Nadia and all the new toys they got for Christmas, visit with Luís and Lisa, go fishing with his Papá.

The family always, always got together on Christmas morning to go to mass, no matter what else anyone had going on, before going back for a big lunch that Mamá had probably spent days preparing.

The family always made sure to get together on Christmas.

How could Lance just… not go home?

“Are you okay, Lance?” Romelle whispered.

Lance nodded, plastering a fake smile onto his face. “Yeah,” he said, although he could tell that it sounded strained. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Romelle didn’t look convinced, but she let the subject drop.

“I mean, dances are always kind of lame, though? Right?” Pidge said. “Like, they always have cheesy music and bad outfits.”

“Dances are fun!” Matt protested from beside his sister. “They’re a time for you to let loose and hang out with your friends. Dad is probably doing this so that we all bond with the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students.”

“Well,” Pidge wrinkled their nose. “I don’t know if I’m going to go.”

“Suit yourself,” Matt shrugged. “But you’ll miss your chance to see The Weird Sisters live. Dad already booked them to play the dance.”

“Seriously?!” Pidge exclaimed. “How did he do that?”

Matt shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Who are The Weird Sisters?” Lance asked Romelle quietly.

“They’re a wizarding band,” Romelle whispered back. “Punk rock. Very popular. I’m surprised Headmaster Holt was able to book them.”

“Oh,” Lance nodded. “That’s cool, I guess.”

“So who are you going to go with?” Romelle asked, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

“I don’t know yet,” Lance said, shoving at her shoulder lightly.

“Uh huh,” Romelle said, not sounding very convinced.

“Well who are you going with?” Lance countered.

Romelle blushed. “I don’t know yet,” she said.

“Uh huh,” Lance mocked.

Romelle rolled her eyes. “I guess this means that I need to order some dress robes,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, I guess I’m going to need a suit,” Lance mused. “I’ll have to write home again.”

“You wrote home?” Romelle asked, turning her full attention to Lance. “Did you tell them about the Triwizard Tournament?”

Lance nodded.

“Only because Keith told him to,” Pidge said, before Matt’s elbow slammed into her side.

Lance whipped around to level a glare at them.

“Right. 48 favors.” Pidge nodded. “Forget I said anything.”

“Hey, Matt,” Lance said. “Here’s your first favor for me. If Pidge ever, ever says anything about Keith and I make sure to shut them up.”

Matt nodded, ruffling his little sister’s hair. “Deal,” he said.

“You’re so touchy, Lance,” Romelle teased, resting her chin in her hand. “Is there something you want to talk about?”

Lance crossed his arms over his chest. “Nope. Definitely not. Oh look, I think it’s time to go back to the dorms. I have a new puzzle to try and figure out, after all. I’ll see you all later,” Lance said, pushing away from the table and scooping up his school bag from the floor.

“You have until February to figure it out!” Pidge called after him, but Lance ignored them.

It probably wouldn’t hurt to get a head start on the puzzle, right?

Especially since he was on his own this time.

Chapter Text

“Headmaster, please,” Lance begged. “I have to go home for Christmas.”

“I’m really sorry, Lance, but it’s the rules of the Triwizard Tournament. The Champions are required to attend the ball and perform the opening waltz,” Headmaster Holt said with a frown.

“But I always spend Christmas with my family, it’s, like, the only holiday that we really care about! My parents will kill me if I can’t come home!”

“Lance, this isn’t meant to be a punishment,” Headmaster Holt said softly, patting Lance’s shoulder. “The Yule Ball is supposed to be a celebration, a break from the stress of the Triwizard Tournament. It’s a time for the three schools to come together.”

“I don’t care!” Lance said loudly. “I just want to go home.”

“Lance,” Headmaster Holt said softly.

“You can’t let me. I know, I heard,” Lance sighed, throwing his hands up into the air.

“I wish there was something I could do,” Headmaster Holt said.

Yeah, Lance thought bitterly, I wish there was something you could do, too.

< < < > > >

“Oh no,” Lance swallowed heavily a few days later at breakfast in the Great Hall.

“What is it?” Pidge asked, tearing their nose out of the autobiography on Newt Scamander that they were reading.

“I got a letter from home,” Lance said, rubbing his palms against his pants. He could already feel sweat forming on his brow.

“That’s good news, right?” Pidge asked, their eyebrows crinkling together.

“It says on the return address that it’s from Veronica,” Lance said with a wince. “I almost don’t want to open this.”

Still, he tore the envelope open and slid out the sheet of paper that was neatly folded inside.

Veronica’s neat script filled the paper, but the lines were dark like she had pressed down too hard on the pen. And as if that wasn’t enough of a warning sign, parts of it were underlined with thick black ink. And it was short. So short. Oh, he was so dead.

Querido Leandro,

No puedo creerte! If it were not for the laws of this land, the fact that you’re over four-thousand miles away and across an ocean, and the fact that you’re in a fucking magic school… I would have murdered you.

Con amor,

Veronica

“Oh she is so mad,” Lance said in a low voice. “Three lines. She only sent me three lines. Three. For Veronica, that’s like… the equivalent of responding to a text with ‘k’.”

“A text?” Romelle asked, arching a brow. “Is that something to do with the fellytone or whatever? I think you’ve mentioned it before?”

Lance waved one of his hands in dismissal. He didn’t need to deal with Romelle’s dismal understanding of muggles. “Don’t worry about it. And she used my full name. Normally only Mamá uses my full name. This is not good.”

He let his eyes skim over Veronica’s letter again. It didn’t sound any less angry the second time. Maybe it was a good thing he wasn’t going home for Christmas, because he was pretty sure that Veronica might actually kill him if he did. And she would know how to hide a body.

Oh, fuck, he had to tell them that he couldn’t go home for Christmas.

Lance dropped his face down into his hands.

“I didn’t know your full name was Leandro,” Romelle commented, and Lance peeked through his fingers just in time to see her glancing at the letter still sitting on the table.

“Oh, uh, yeah. Everyone just calls me Lance, though. They have for as long as I can remember.”

Romelle hummed thoughtfully.

“I better answer this,” Lance said, pulling out a scrap of parchment and a quill. “The longer I wait the angrier she’ll get.”

Lance pressed the tip of his quill down to the parchment. Once again, he found himself not really knowing where to start.

Dear Veronica,

I’m really sorry that I didn’t tell any of you. Is Mamá upset? Tell her not to worry. I never want to make her worry. I know that you’re probably really mad at me for not telling you because we always tell each other everything, but I didn’t know how to tell you about this. You’re all so far away. There’s really nothing that you can do about it, so it seemed cruel to tell you about it when there was nothing you could do to help. But I know that was stupid of me.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but… there’s more. They just told us that there’s going to be a celebration here called the Yule Ball. Which means the Champions (like me) aren’t allowed to come home for Christmas.

And I know, I know, that I’ve never missed the holidays before. Not in all my years away at school. But I don’t have a choice. The Champions apparently have to open the dance with some kind of waltz. Anyways, it doesn’t really matter. Don’t worry about telling Mamá and Papá, I’m going to write them another letter later, but I wanted to answer you.

Ronnie, I know you’re mad that I didn’t tell you… but I was so scared. I am so scared. And I couldn’t tell Mamá and Papá that. I just couldn’t. Don’t you remember how scared Mamá was about me going to school here in the first place? But Ronnie, we agreed a long time ago that we were never going to lie to one another.

Don’t tell anyone else about this, okay? Pinky swear? But the trials are even worse than I let on. And the truth is, I got really hurt. And I could get really hurt again. And there’s nothing that I can do about it. Once the Goblet of Fire chooses you, you have to compete. I’m not totally alone, though. Two of the other Champions (Keith and Allura) are actually really nice and even though we’re technically competing against one another, we have each other’s backs.

Please don’t be mad.

Lance (Leandro)

P.s since when do you call me that, Ronnie? You sound way too much like Mamá.

Lance set his quill back down, waving the parchment through the air so that the ink would dry faster.

“I’m going to take this up to the owlery,” he said to Pidge and Romelle.

Pidge didn’t even look up from their book.

“Want company?” Romelle asked.

Lance shook his head. “Nah, you’re fine. Finish your breakfast.”

Romelle nodded.

Lance pushed away from the table, grabbing his bag, but he was careful to keep his letter in front of him so that the ink wouldn’t smear.

“Where are you going so fast, Álvarez?” A voice called out, and Lance winced inwardly.

Not again.

Not him.

Anyone but that fucktard James Griffin.

“Just, you know, places to go, people to see, Griffin,” Lance said.

The Slytherin stopped halfway through the doorway to the Great Hall, effectively cutting off Lance’s path.

“What’s this?” James asked, snatching the paper from Lance’s hand.

“Hey! Give that back, asshole!” Lance said, reaching for the paper.

But James held it up high enough into the air that he could read it, using his other arm to hold Lance back. “Aw, who’s Veronica, Álvarez?” James asked.

“She’s my sister, dumbass,” Lance snapped, finally succeeding in snatching the letter back from James. It helped that he had just under two inches on the other boy.

“Aww does little Lance have to write home and tell them all about how he won the trial?” James asked, his voice sickly sweet.

“You don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Lance said, trying to shoulder past him.

As if out of thin air, Ryan Kinkade materialized behind James, giving one of his usual monosyllabic grunts.

“You know,” Lance said, taking half a step back, “two against one really isn’t a fair fight.”

The pair ignored him.

“You know, Álvarez, if you knew what was good for you, you would just give up. Stop trying so hard to prove that muggleborns are just as good as everyone else and take yourself out of the Tournament.”

“I already tried that,” Lance snapped. “They won’t let me. If the Goblet of Fire chooses you, then you have to compete. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Lance sidestepped around the pair.

Both Griffin and Kinkade watched him as he passed, but made no move to stop him.

Well, at least some people’s opinion of him hadn’t changed.

< < < > > >

“Hey, Lance,” Romelle said the next morning, as the owls flew by overhead and dropped off letters. “Isn’t it a bit soon for Veronica to have replied to your letter?”

“Yeah, I just sent Kaltenecker off yesterday. He probably hasn’t even reached Cuba yet,” Lance replied a bit absentmindedly. “Why?”

“Because another letter addressed to you just landed in my butter,” Romelle said, gingerly picking up the letter and passing it over to him.

Lance turned the letter over in his hands, sure enough it was addressed to him, Veronica’s name in the corner.

It’s a follow up letter, Lance realised. Veronica probably realised how harsh her other letter had sounded and written an apology.

He slid the letter open, spreading the parchment out in front of him.

It was… not an apology letter.

Mi querido hermano, Leandro,

So that last letter was a little bit brash and a little bit short and a lot angry. And yes, Mamá has shouted at me relentlessly since I wrote it for swearing. So, with that in mind, let me elaborate a little. You are a punk ass bitch and Mamá can’t stop me from writing this since I’m at work and you can bet your ass that if I was magic, I would make this into one of those letters you told us about that shout at you because seriously, WHAT THE FUCK LANCE YOU ABSOLUTE IDIOT.

First of all, how dare you enter a magical tournament where you may or may not actually die? What were you fucking thinking? And then to write like everything is normal and fine and you can just ask about my job and Nadia’s recital and Marco’s date? FUCK THAT.

Mamá and Papá have no idea what to do with you right now. If they could, I’m fairly certain they would fly over to the U.K. just to drag you home. Luís has no idea what to tell the kids. Nadia and Sylvio ask after you all the time. What is he going to tell them if you don’t come home? But we aren’t even going to talk about that, because you are GOING TO COME HOME.

I don’t care how you do it, Leandro, but you are COMING HOME. Do you hear me?

It’s not even a question.

You’re coming home so that I can kill you myself,  Leandro Miguel Diaz-Álvarez. Mark my word.

Te veremos pronto,

Veronica

“Oh man,” Lance said, letting his head drop down onto the table in front of him. “She hasn’t even gotten my letter about not coming home for Christmas yet.”

“I’m so sorry, Lance,” Romelle said quietly. “I know how much you were looking forward to going home.”

“I just…” Lance coughed to clear his throat slightly. “I miss them,” he admitted.

Romelle frowned, laying her head on his shoulder. “We’ll have a really nice Christmas, Lance,” she said. “I promise.”

“It isn’t the same,” Lance said quietly, folding up Veronica’s letter and slipping it into the pocket of his school robes. There was no use answering it, not when his other letter to her was already on its way, not when he was sure to hear back from her in a few days yelling at him for not coming home for Christmas.

“I know it isn’t,” Romelle agreed. “I miss my family too.”

“You never talk about them,” Lance said.

Romelle picked her head up off of his shoulder. “There isn’t much to say, really. My parents died when I was young. I have a little brother who was born a squib and isn’t allowed to attend Hogwarts. I miss him. All of the time.”

“You have a brother?” Lance asked. “Tell me about him.”

“His name is Bandor. He loves magic, but, since he can’t use it himself, has turned to muggle science. He’s very passionate about it, but I don’t understand any of it.” Romelle said softly.

“I have two brothers,” Lance added. “And two sisters.”

“What are their names?” Romelle asked with a soft smile.

“My eldest brother is Luís. He’s married and has two kids, Nadia and Sylvio. They’re adorable. Then there’s Marco, he’s the favorite child. My dad named him after my mom. Her name is Marcia. My older sister is named Veronica. Obviously,” Lance said, patting his pocket where the letter from his sister was. “And I have a twin sister named Rachel.”

“I didn’t know you were a twin,” Romelle said, poking his cheek.

“I guess I don’t talk about my family a lot, either,” Lance commented.

“You miss them,” Romelle said, dropping her head back down to his shoulder.

“Yeah,” Lance agreed. “I miss them.”

“It’s weird being the only wizard in a muggle family. They don’t understand a lot of it. And they never got used to the owls. So it makes it hard to write to them. They don’t get what magic is about, or understand the politics of the wizarding world. They think it’s fake, half the time. And I’m four thousand miles away. I can’t wait ‘til we learn how to apparate. Sometimes, I think back to when Professor Blaytz showed up at my house just after my eleventh birthday to let my family know that all the weird shit that happened around me was actually because I’m a wizard. As soon as the words came out of his mouth, my parents knew that I was never going to have a normal life, that my future was never going to be the one they had wanted and planned for me. I don’t think that they’re over that. I mean, how do you get over that? And they’re scared, which I understand. But I wish that they tried to understand my new world instead of just wanting me to come back home and act like nothing’s changed, you know?” Lance said, the words all coming out in a rush.

Romelle hummed softly.

“Nevermind,” Lance said, “it’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid,” Romelle said, reaching over and finding Lance’s hand under the table, tangling their fingers together. She squeezed Lance’s hand softly. “Bandor is the same way, but opposite. Growing up, it was hard for him to be the only non-magical one in a magical family. So, I get it. And it isn’t stupid.”

“Thanks, Ro,” Lance said.

Romelle smiled softly at him. “I know it’s not the same, but we’re kind of your family, too, Lance,” she said, gesturing across the table to where Pidge and Matt were playing a game of Exploding Snap. “And you have Hunk and Shay,” Romelle continued. And even Keith too, Lance added silently.

Maybe Romelle was right. Sure, it sucked that he couldn’t go home to see his family for Christmas, but he still had his friends. They would have a nice holiday, even if it wasn’t the kind that Lance had been looking forward to.

< < < > > >

“Oh no,” Lance sighed. “I think Veronica got my reply.”

Romelle followed his gaze up towards the ceiling, where the usual flood of owls fluttered by, dropping off presents and letters before heading back to the owlery.

“Is that Kaltenecker?” She asked, pointing towards the brown barn owl.

“You named your owl Kaltenecker?” Keith, who had sat at the Ravenclaw table, along with Hunk and Shay, that morning asked.

Lance nodded. “Yeah, and look! He has two letters with him. Did Ronnie really have to send two different letters yelling at me?”

Kaltenecker flew by overhead, dropping the two letters he had been struggling under the weight of. Luckily, since Lance and Romelle had seen the owl coming, they managed to snag both of the letters before they landed in any of the food.

Romelle handed the letter she grabbed from the air and pressed it into Lance’s open hand.

Lance flipped them over, checking the addresses. Sure enough, one of them was addressed from Veronica. The other, though, was addressed from his parents. “Oh no,” Lance swallowed. “It’s Mamá and Papá. Oh, I think I would have rather had both letters be from Ronnie.”

“You finally told your family about being in the Triwizard Tournament?” Keith asked, although from the tone of his voice it wasn’t really a question.

“Dude,” Hunk said disapprovingly, tearing his attention away from the game of Wizarding Chess he was playing with Pidge. “You hadn’t told your parents about the Tournament yet?”   

Lance nodded. “And so far all that Veronica has done is yell at me.”

“She does it ‘cause she loves you, man,” Hunk said, reaching over the table to pat Lance’s shoulder.

“Well, I know,” Lance said, “but that doesn’t make “I’ll kill you if you don’t die first” any easier to hear.”

“She doesn’t mean it, man,” Hunk said. “She’s just overprotective.”

“I guess, buddy,” Lance said. “Big sisters, right?”

His friends all stared blankly at him.

“I’m the only one with an older sister? Seriously?” Lance asked, arching a brow.

“Only child,” Keith said with a nod.

“I just have Matt,” Pidge said, pointing towards their brother.

“I have an older brother too,” Hunk offered with a shrug.

“Just Bandor,” Romelle said with a nod.

“Seriously?!” Lance said again. “I’m the youngest of five. My own twin sister was born thirty minutes before I was. And she never lets me forget it.”

“Luís, Veronica, you and Rachel,” Hunk said, counting on his fingers. “That’s four.”

“You forgot Marco,” Keith told him.

“Right, right,” Hunk said with a quick nod. “Wow. Five kids. That’s a lot.”

Lance hid a smile behind his hands. He didn’t talk about his family that often, it was nice to hear that his friends actually listened well enough to remember their names.

“Are you going to open the letters?” Romelle asked him, drawing Lance’s attention back down to the two letters he was still holding.

“I guess I better, yeah,” Lance said, flipping the top letter over and tearing it open, sliding the sheet of paper out from inside.

Querido Lance,

So Mamá found out about that last letter somehow. Are you sure that you didn’t get your magical abilities from her? Well, she really tore into me for being so rough with you, but she’s right. I need to write you a proper letter. Because the truth is, I miss you too, a lot. And we just got your reply and we really need to talk, don’t we?

I knew that there was more to your injury than you were letting on in your letter to Mamá and Papá, so let me start by asking you if you’re okay. What happened? And I don’t want any vague responses. You are going to send me another letter that is a detailed description of everything that happened at this “Trial”. You said you spent a few nights in the Hospital Wing… how many nights? Can’t they normally just fix everything up with magic? What the hell happened to you, hermanito?

As for missing Christmas… Lance, we don’t care about missing Christmas. We just miss you. We just want you to come home. But we understand that there isn’t anything that you can do about it. So write more, I promise I’ll write back. And I won’t even get mad when Kaltenecker shows up at work and scares the shit out of my co-workers. Although the look on Admiral Sanda’s face is just, priceless, every time.

I’m glad that you have people looking out for you, at least, and helping you out with these trials. Keith and Allura? Send them my thanks. Also… isn’t Keith the guy with the mullet that you’ve been ranting about for years now? The guy you always said was your ‘rival’? You’re such a little mentiroso, Leandro. Es tierno? You can’t leave your big sister hanging like this. You know how much I love to gossip with you.

Te echo de memos,

Veronica

P.S. write Mamá and Papá soon. They miss you.

Lance smiled down at the letter from his sister, although he felt himself blush as he read the final paragraph.

“You’re smiling,” Romelle commented. “She’s not yelling at you anymore?”

Lance folded up the letter and slipped it into his school bag. “Not really, that was actually a pretty nice letter for Ronnie.”

“So what did she say?” Keith asked.

“None of your business, mullet.” Lance teased.

Keith blinked at him. “You can’t just read a letter right in front of us and then not tell us what it says.”

“Watch me,” Lance said with a smirk as he slid the second letter open.

Leandro, Mijo

Your Papá and I wanted to write to you after we heard about the letter you sent to Veronica… and after the first letter you sent to us. We should have known that something was going on with you, Mijo, you never wait that long to write to us. Veronica tells us that you did not want to worry us, but, Leandro, you know that I always worry about you - whether you are here in Cuba where I can keep an eye on you or whether you are many miles away in the U.K. where I have to trust that you can take after yourself.

You worry that we will be mad at you for keeping the truth from us, I can tell from your letter. You always write the way you talk. You think we cannot read what you are saying beneath thick black lines of ink? We know there are things you are not telling us, Mijo. But your Papá and I are not mad at you, we love you far too much for that. How can we be mad at you when Veronica tells us you had to spend nights in the Hospital Wing after the trial, when we know you were in pain and we could do nothing to help you. Your hermana is upset with you for not telling us the truth, I know that she writes you angry letters that she thinks I won’t find out about, but Veronica has always been a girl filled with enfado.

Marco and Luís both said to tell you that they know you’ll be okay. You won the first trial, they said, our little brother is going to win the Tournament.

We have decided not to tell Sylvio and Nadia, they’re too young to understand what you are going through, and Lisa sees no reason to worry the children until we have more information. Information we trust you are going to give to us, Mijo, no more of this lying and keeping secrets. And no more fighting with your friends, that isn’t like you.

Veronica tells us that she’s going to ask you for more information about this “Tournament” so your father and I will trust that you’ll tell her. We’re your family, Mijo, we want to support you.

Todo mi corazón,

Mamá

Lance felt tears welling in his eyes as he read over the words in his mother’s familiar handwriting, and he blinked them back before they could fall.

“Is everything alright, Lance?” Keith asked softly.

“Oh, yeah, yeah,” Lance said, his voice thick. “Everything’s fine. I just… really miss them.”

“There’s more writing on the back,” Keith said.

Lance flipped the paper over in his palms. Sure enough, there was a few paragraphs written on the back of the parchment, in another achingly familiar handwriting.

“It’s from Rachel,” Lance said aloud, his gaze flickering to the name underneath the writing. “She must have added it on after Mamá finished.”

Lance,

Veronica told us about your injury. I should have known something was going on with you. I had a feeling the other day… promise me you’ll be careful.

Mamá was a little distracted by the news in your last letter that she forgot to respond to, like, half of it - so I stole her response before she could send it back with Kaltenecker so I could answer them for you! Everyone seems to be forgetting that you miss us as much as we miss you.

Nadia’s recital was beautiful, she’s the star of the dance squad - I swear. Seeing her in that little pink tutu? There’s never been a more adorable ballerina in all of Cuba. She said that she’s going to show Tío Leo all of her best moves when he gets home.

Marco did not get a second date. Marco has never gotten a second date in his life, and if he keeps advertising himself as the “Cuban Bachelor” then he’s never going to.

Luís says that he’ll pay you when you come home.

Sylvio is doing good, but he misses you. His mom enrolled him in an after school tutoring program that specializes in ADHD and ever since then, he’s been doing much better in school!

Veronica’s conference at the Garrison went great and she did get the promotion! (But don’t tell her I told you or she might actually kill me).

I’m only slightly offended that you didn’t ask after me in your letter, but I assume it’s because you would just know if anything important had happened. But, because I am the most important person in your life, let me tell you about me. I got into a fight with Maria Gomez at school the other day - not a physical fight, of course, but now she says she won’t let me work at her father’s ice cream stand in the mall over the summer anymore. Which totally blows, because I loved that job. But, she called me a little puta for going on a date with her boyfriend (they had been broken up! I swear, how was I supposed to know that they would get back together two days later?) so I guess maybe it’s a good thing that we won’t have to work together anymore. I’ve been spending most of my free time babysitting for Luís and Lisa - he’s been working longer shifts so they can save up enough money to afford that cottage down by the beach? And Lisa decided to go back to work now that Sylvio and Nadia are both in school. So I pick them up in the afternoons and watch them until Lisa gets home. But I don’t mind really, they’re good kids, and sometimes Marco comes with me so I don’t have to watch both of them by myself.

Of the two, I know Sylvio is your favorite, but I much prefer Nadia. I love doing her hair all fancy and letting her borrow my high heeled shoes so she can pretend she’s a grown-up. It’s adorable.

Okay, I’m running out of room on the back of the paper so I’m going to stop there. Marco says to tell you hi and that you’re his favorite brother (but don’t tell Luís). If Veronica asks, you haven’t heard from me.

Love you,

Rach

“Oh my god,” Lance said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe her.”

“Why? Did she yell at you, too?” Keith asked. “I know it wasn’t cool of you to not tell them, but they don’t all need to be so mad at you-”

“No, no,” Lance said, cutting him off. “She’s not mad at me. I think it’s actually physically impossible for Rachel and I to get mad at each other.”

“Oh,” Keith said, some of the tension draining out of his shoulders. “So what did she say, then?”

“She just told me about what’s been going on with the family, what’s been going on with her. She’s actually the only one that’s still treating me normally.”

“So that’s good, right?” Keith asked, pursing his lips in confusion.

Lance chuckled at the adorable expression on his face. “Yes. Yeah, it’s… pretty great, actually.”

< < < > > >

“These are all horrible,” Romelle sighed, flipping over on Lance’s bed. She was holding some sort of wizarding fashion magazine above her head, her blonde hair spilling out across his comforter.

“What are?” Lance asked, tearing his attention away from the letter he was writing in response to his parents and Rachel.

“Dress robes,” Romelle said, flipping to the next page of the magazine. “I have no idea what I’m going to wear to the Yule Ball, because it certainly isn’t any of these,” she said with a scowl.

“I’m sure they’re not that bad,” Lance assured her, twisting around on his chair so that he could lean over and peek at the magazine.

He stifled a laugh, smothering it so that it came out more like a choke. “They’re not that bad,” he says, but it’s so clearly a lie that he probably shouldn’t have even bothered.

The truth is… they’re horrible. The moving pictures across the magazine Romelle is holding in her hands are probably wearing some of the ugliest clothes that Lance had ever seen in his entire life. They weren’t quite the suits and dresses preferred by muggles for formal occasions and they weren’t quite simple wizarding robes like the kind they wore around school. Instead, they seemed to be some horrifying mix of the two.

Ruffles. Too many ruffles.

“Well you can wear them then,” Romelle sniffed. “I’m going to wear a dress.”

Lance snorted. “I think I’ll stick with a suit, thanks.”

“... a suit?” Romelle questioned, flicking the magazine closed and abandoning it on Lance’s bed.

“Yeah a suit,” Lance said, then paused. “Oh no, Romelle?! Do you not know what a suit is? This is getting ridiculous. But yeah, that’s what I’m writing my parents about. I’m asking if they can send me one. I mean, it will probably be one of Luís or Marco’s old ones, but still…I’m going to write down my measurements anyway in hope they’ll be able to get me a new, tailored one.”

“So a suit is, like, the muggle equivalent of dress robes?” Romelle asked.

Lance nodded. “They look kinda like dress robes, just… without the actual robe part.”

“Weird,” Romelle said, nodding slowly. “You’ll probably be the only boy not in dress robes. Certainly the only champion not in dress robes.”

“And I’ll be the best dressed person there,” Lance said. “And besides, I’m already opening the ball. Why not make a statement?”

“Have you thought about who you’re going to go with yet?” Romelle asked him.

“Well,” Lance said slowly, “I kind of wanted to talk to you about that. How would you feel about going together?”

“Oh, Lance, I’d love to,” Romelle said, but despite her words, her tone was soft and almost sad. “But I can’t.”

“You can’t?” Lance echoed. “Oh, do you already have a date? Sorry, Ro, I didn’t know!”

Romelle smiled shyly, curling in on herself a little. “Yeah… Allura asked me if I would be interested in being her escort.”

“Ro, that’s great!” Lance said. “But… wait… how come you didn’t tell me? We always tell each other this stuff,” Lance said, his voice sounding small and confused even to his own ears.

Romelle tore her gaze away from his, picking at a stray string on the blanket. “I know,” she said. “I just… wanted to keep it to myself for a little while. Sorry. That sounds so stupid.”

“No, it doesn’t sound stupid,” Lance said. “It sounds romantic. And a little cheesy. But it’s not stupid.”

“But I should have told you!” Romelle insisted. “I mean, you’re my best friend.”

“So why didn’t you?” Lance asked, unable to stop himself.

“I don’t know,” Romelle said with a huff of air.

“It’s okay that you didn’t tell me,” Lance told her, eyeing the defensive set of Romelle’s shoulders as she pushed herself up into a sitting position. After just having a huge fight with Pidge, the last thing he wanted was to get into a fight with Ro. And, yes, he was hurt that she hadn’t trusted him enough to tell him about Allura, but he wasn’t going to press her about it either. Romelle would talk when she was ready. That was one of the things about her that had been hard for Lance to learn, she had to do things in her own time and in her own way.

“I am sorry I can’t go to the ball with you,” Romelle said, tossing herself back down onto the bed. “Do you have anyone else you could go with?”

“I guess I could ask Pidge,” Lance said, wrinkling his nose, “but I don’t think they’d be very good to slow dance with. Plus I’m still slightly mad at them, so.”

“You’ll find someone to go with, you’re a Champion of Hogwarts. I’m sure girls - and boys - will be lining up to go with you,” Romelle told him.

“I doubt it,” Lance said, turning back towards his letter. “But I’m sure I’ll figure something out.”

“You always do,” Romelle said.

Lance quickly jotted down his measurements, adding them to the end of the letter he had been writing. He had decided to send a letter to his parents explaining why he wouldn’t be able to make it home for Christmas, not wanting to leave that entirely up to Veronica to have to tell them. They deserved to hear it from him.

But he couldn’t lie, it was hard to focus on the letter when his mind was busy replaying the conversation with Romelle. Sure, he might have said that he would be able to figure something out, but he couldn’t help but have his doubts.

He would much rather fight underwater mermaids again than deal with actually trying to find a date for this stupid ball.