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The Blood That Binds

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When Craig thought about magic, he thought about the stars.

He was young, and every night he took his toy telescope and angled it up at the dark, glittering sky. Somewhere in the universe, beyond a cold, black void, balls of light—burning gas, he knew, because he’d learned about it in school—lit up the night. Explorers used them in stories, to guide their way; Craig wondered, when he watched them, about what he might find.

To Craig, the stars were like magic. They were mystical, somehow, illusive yet powerful. But mostly, they were out of reach.

They were something that would always be very, very far away from him. And Craig was okay with that.

Then he was eleven, and when some kid annoyed him the air around him fizzled and popped, and showered light down on his head. A few days after that, a letter came in the mail.

The owl that came with it was definitely a surprise.

Craig watched the large barn owl preen itself as his parents gingerly peeled back the wax seal and read the strange letter. His mother looked confused and his father dismayed, their voices both sharp when they huddled together to talk.

“What does this mean?”

“We have to tell him.”

“We’re supposed to send him away?

“I agreed to a lot of things, but not this.”

“I can’t believe it.”

Craig pretended not to listen to them as he watched the owl. It blinked slowly at him and Craig stared back. Then it snipped its beak, and twisted its head to continue to preen. Craig thought that was weird.

“Craig, sweetie,” his mother finally called. “Your father and I need to talk to you.”

He made his way to the kitchen table to sit in front of them. His mother clutched the strange letter against her and his father stared at it with steely eyes.

“Sweetie,” his mother said, “do you remember what happened the other day?”

“Michael was being a dick.”

His mother looked like she wanted to say something, but his father cut her off. “And--after?”

“I told him to shut up.”

His father sighed. “After that?”

Craig frowned. “You told me not to talk about that.”

“Yes, well, now you should,” his father snapped.

“Why?”

His father sighed, and his mother reached out across the table to take Craig’s hand. With the other, she slid the letter across the table so he could see.

The letter told him everything he needed to know about Hogwarts; about what you could expect, attending a school for witches and wizards.

He wondered if he would be allowed to bring his telescope.

“Sweetie,” his mother said gently, “what you need to understand is--your father and I--we weren’t sure about kids, at first, and this doesn’t change anything but--”

“You’re adopted, Craig,” his father said.

Silence fell over the kitchen.

Both of his parents were intent, watching him. He stared at his dad’s bright ginger hair and his mother’s long, pale blonde. They looked sad, maybe even worried, and their eyes--he knew he had different colored eyes.

Craig blinked.

“Oh my god,” he eventually said, completely flat. “No way.”

He had never told them that was why he’d first started wearing his chullo hat, back when he was nine. If he stood next to his parents and hid his black hair, nobody--including himself--had to know.

He wondered idly if his hat would be allowed at Hogwarts too.

***

His hat was, in fact, allowed at Hogwarts.

He’d just had to take it off, briefly, to put a different one on his head. One that was old, and moldy, and flopped over his eyes, listing awkwardly to one side.

Oh, and this hat talked too.

“My,” the hat grumbled in his ears, “aren’t you an odd one. And such strange blood too.”

I’m adopted, Craig thought, and the hat huffed at him.

“Very odd. And independent, aren’t we? Or perhaps--stubborn. Is there something you wish to prove? You might do well in Slytherin, no?”

Craig rolled his eyes under the hat’s brim. I don’t care.

The hat hummed. “But there is something in your heart, I can see. I can see what it is that you seek, whenever you fight, or compete--or gaze up at the sky, too. Yes, of course I can see. In that case--”

And then, ringing loudly throughout the large, crowded main hall: “Hufflepuff!”

One of the four tables broke out in loud cheers as the hat was pulled off Craig’s head. He tucked his own worn chullo back over his hair and walked to the applauding table to sit down. Being sorted didn’t mean the same to him as it obviously should, when someone clapped him on the back and offered their congratulations. The talking hat was weird, and he didn’t know why everybody was so excited to listen to it.

He watched somewhat boredly as all the other first-years were sorted by the hat. Several other kids shuffled to his table as the sorting progressed--he thought he faintly recognized a blond kid in the mix, but he wasn’t sure--and he greeted them all blandly, like he would with anyone else.

They all told him they couldn’t wait to make this place their new home.

Craig told them he really didn’t care.

__________________

Receiving the letter, was a given.

It was never a question on whether Kyle was a wizard, or magically gifted at that. He had, after all, been attempting to turn quills into hair-combs by the age of eight, and had once succeeded in making the door to his bedroom disappear when his mother had been trying to get him to spend time with his cousin Kyle.

Of course, a child of the Broflovski household would be going to Hogwarts. They were one of the oldest and purest wizarding families out there, and that made them one of the best. Or well, so his father said. Gerald had graduated from Hogwarts a proud Slytherin, and Sheila as a Ravenclaw. It’s where they had met, and where Kyle knew his own legacy would begin since he’d first learned how to walk.

Suffice to say, he’d been waiting for this day for a very long time.

“Have you figured out what house you want to be in yet?”

At Kyle’s question, Stan gave him a slightly exasperated look, one that Kyle had long gotten used to. But really, his best friend should have decided this all a long time ago. Kyle had been busy weighing the pros and cons of houses for years now, and now here they were at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, sorting only hours away. That was if the train ever decided to arrive at the station. Not that he’d been expecting much from such a muggle form of transportation. Still, he and Stan had said goodbye to their parents almost ten minutes ago, and they were both stuck waiting. Yeah, so what if Kyle had made sure that they were nearly an hour early? Would it kill them to have the train arrive a little earlier than scheduled? It wasn’t like The Hogwarts Express had all that many stops to worry about.

“Don’t they pick for you?” Stan pointed out with a shrug, before diverting the question as he usually did. “You still really want to be in Slytherin?”

“Well it’s not really about what I want,” Kyle answered smartly. “I just feel that I fit most of the criteria. Besides, pureblood families end up in Slytherin more than any other house. It’s where my dad and most his family were placed, you know.”

Stan nodded and offered a tight-lipped smile. “Right,” he said simply, before glancing down at the owl cage Kyle was toting around with him for the unteenth time that day. “Dude, your owl is staring at me again.”

The owl, or rather Circe, as Kyle had named her, was a great horned owl he’d only just recently purchased when buying his school supplies. It had been his mother’s idea, of course. She needed some way to faithfully keep in contact with her son, after all. However, the owl did have a rather strange habit of glaring at people for no particular reason. Even Kyle himself wasn’t really an exception to that; although, she did seem to glare at him less, if that were any consolation.

“She does that to everyone,” Kyle explained, “you’re not special.”

“Wow, thanks.”

Before Kyle could get a chance to respond to Stan’s faux offense, his attention was grabbed by a very loud, very annoying voice. He froze, steps coming to an abrupt stop.

Cartman is totally one of the most powerful wizarding families,” the idiot boasted, successfully putting Kyle on edge with the factual wrongness of that statement. “Except we’re so powerful that we needed to go into hiding so that we wouldn’t be hunted down and killed for our powers.”

“Who the fuck is that?” Kyle seethed to Stan, looking around for the source. It didn’t take long for him to find the culprit, some giant dumbass that had somehow managed to amass a crowd of listeners. Kyle fixed him with a heated glare, fuming with anger and annoyance.

“Stan, watch Circe,” Kyle said pushing his suitcase and owl cage towards Stan, who fumbled with the added addition to his own luggage.

“What? You’re not actually going over there- Wait!” Stan called after him, but Kyle was already marching towards the group of people “Kyle!” The last thing Kyle heard before he was out of earshot was a muttered word that sounded a lot like goddammit.

“People have tried to kill the Cartman family to steal our powers before,” the fat kid was saying as Kyle approached, “but we totally killed those assholes-”

“That’s not fucking true,” Kyle spat, causing Cartman to whirl around. “And that’s not even how magic works, fatass.”

Cartman’s eyes narrowed.

“And just who the fuck are you?”

“Kyle Broflovski, from a real wizarding family.” He crossed his arms and raised his chin proudly. “Why don’t you drop the act and leave these people alone? You’re probably one of those muggle-borns. Don’t know shit about our world and yet still think you can somehow compare to the rest of us.”

Only Kyle’s words didn’t at all have the intended effect. Quite the opposite in fact. Something which he realized just a little too late as Cartman’s lips curved into an ugly little grin. “Actually, I’m not the muggle-born here. But nice try.”

It was then that it hit him.

His eyes went wide as Kyle looked out at the small group of presumably first years that had been gathered around him. They all looked young, a little confused, but now mostly hurt or offended.

Because of him.

“Wait, you’re all...?” Kyle choked.

“I was only trying to be nice,” Cartman went on smugly. “Saw them all looking lost and confused and figured I’d give them a lesson in how it works around here,” he gave an exaggerated shrug, obviously going for nonchalance, before turning that shit-eating grin on Kyle one last time. “Thanks for your help. See ya around, Kahl.”

He then lumbered off and the crowd immediately dispersed, every one of them walking away from Kyle as quickly as possible, avoiding all eye contact.

In truth, Kyle couldn’t put into words exactly why he was suddenly shaking. It wasn’t from anger, no that had faded, now it was something else entirely. Something that was caused by a cumulation of things. The fact that he’d let himself get led on by some idiot. They way that he’d never actually seen a muggle-born before, which is why he hadn’t known. Hadn’t even considered that they’d look just like him, just like anyone else. His father hadn’t told him that part.

And then there was the added kick in the face of suddenly becoming the bad guy on his first day of school when he’d only been trying to do what he thought was right.

“Hey.”

Kyle jumped, not having realized that someone had stopped in front of him. Lifting his gaze from the ground, he found himself looking at one of the boys that had been standing in the small crowd. Only there was no trace of hurt or anger in his expression, instead his sky blue eyes were surprisingly kind. “Don’t beat yourself up over it,” the boy told him, voice muffled a bit by his scarf. “That’s the point of comin’ here, right? To learn?” His eyes crinkled a bit, a sign that he was probably smiling. “Least you weren’t an ass about it.”

Then before Kyle could even get a chance to respond, or ask for a name, he slid by him and vanished into the crowd.

Kyle stared after him for several moments, head spinning, at least until another voice cut into his thoughts.

“I tried to stop you,” Stan said, coming up to stand beside him. Behind him sat the cage with Circe, the owl now rather fittingly having turned her glare onto Kyle, as if in disapproval.

Kyle sighed, but was saved from answering as the train decided at that time to finally pull into the station.

Still, what the blond had said didn’t leave him, the entire scene repeating through his head over and over again. It followed him as he boarded the train. Stayed with him as he crossed the lake with the rest of the students. And not even entering Hogwarts itself, the very thing he’d been dreaming of for years, could stop the thoughts that were assaulting his mind.

By the time his name was called and he was finally making his way up to the sorting hat, Kyle’s mind was still a complete and utter mess.

“Ah, another complicated one I see,” a little voice said into his head as the hat was placed on him. “Where should I put you?”

Despite having prepped for this moment for half of his life, Kyle chose not to offer any input or suggestion.

“You have the fundamentals of bravery,” the hat went on thoughtfully. “Yet, it is overshadowed by fear. For what, I wonder? Darkness, isolation….failure?”

Kyle’s jaw clenched, the comment hitting a little too close to home.

“Ah yes, I see....” said the hat. “Though you certainly don’t lack ambition. Perhaps Slytherin would be best suited for you?”

This time, Kyle did offer input. If one could even call it that.

I don’t know.

Because for the first time, he really didn’t. Did blood really matter? Was what he believed to be ambition, really just an inflated ego?

How different was he from that fat kid at the station?

“Hmm yes,” the hat said slowly, considering. “There is a lot of uncertainty floating around right here in your head. You are stubborn, but behind that I see a powerful desire to learn and to question. Curiosity is the seed of wisdom, is it not? And it is that which separates you from the rest. So yes, better be --”

Then, announced throughout the room, was one single word.

“Ravenclaw!”

__________________

The Marshes were not looked down on in the wizarding world, but at the same time, no one looked up to them either. Sharon Marsh was a mere muggle, whose interest in the magical world dropped down to zero as soon as she found out that unicorns had gone extinct. She fell in love with her husband thinking he was a Geologist and cared for him, despite going slightly hysterical when Randy Marsh admitted that “cock magic” was not actually an illusion. She loved her kids very much and if she could keep on living without seeing a real-life dragon, she would consider herself very happy.

Randy Marsh, although he was proud to be a pureblood, liked all things muggle - including his wife and his car. He loved his daughter very much, but had never been particularly proud of his son. He was sure he had sired a Squib until the day Stan came home with John Elway hidden in his poofball hat.

According to Randy, the fact his son collected animals like stamps was definitely not a point in his favor.

John Elway was his new pet. A toad, to be specific.

John Elway became a Marsh one day in April, when Stan was only nine years old. He had just come back from school when the revelation happened.

“What are you hiding?” Sharon asked the moment Stan opened the door and dropped his backpack on the ground.

Holding his poofball hat close to his chest, Stan Marsh opened his eyes comically wide and promptly told her, “Nothing!”

The poofball hat croaked and Stan tried to shove John Elway’s slimy, green head back into it.

“That’s a toad, Stanley,” Sharon said taking a step backwards and eyeing John Elway with distaste.

“It’s not,” Stan said. “Don’t take him away from me.”

“Get that thing out!” Sharon screeched.

“Where did you get that, Stan?” Randy asked, not even looking up from his newspaper.

“I’ll tell you if you don’t take away John Elway!”

“John Elway?” Sharon asked, “Isn’t that a football player?”

“He’s the best.”

“We promise, Stan,” Randy said, rolling his eyes upwards. He wasn’t particularly interested in what his Squib of a son had to say, so he just flipped the Daily Prophet to the next page and kept reading. Since his daughter, Shelley, left for Hogwarts, things had become extremely boring around the house and Stan was too much a coward to spice their life up. It was good that Sharon decided to send him to school with the muggles to have him do something that wasn’t bothering him.

“I was at school, okay? And we were in class, and I heard from this dude that his older brother was going to be experimenting on toads and so I told him, ‘Dude that’s sick’. But then another girl said he was bluffing, so he goes, like, no, this is real. So then he takes us to this class where they had all the toads croaking in a huge aquarium.” He turned to look at his mom, eyes wide. “Mom, there were dozens of them! Dozens! And they were going to kill them for experimentation! That’s fucking sick…!”

“Language, Stan,” Randy said, just to cut his son’s rant short.

“But then, as soon as I thought of freeing them somehow, the glass just disappeared. Poof! And all the toads were jumping out and about like crazy! And-!”

Randy Marsh’s heart flipped in his chest.

“What did you say?” he asked, slowly putting the newspaper on his lap to give his son his undivided attention. To say Stan wasn’t used to it would be an understatement.

“The toads were jumping?” Stan asked, confused.

“Before that.”

“The glass went poof?”

“It went poof?”

Poof.”

“The glass disappeared as soon as you wanted to free the goddamn toads?” Randy asked, feeling a smile tug at the corner of his lips.

“And that’s not even the craziest part! I have to tell Kyle!” Stan exclaimed. “I need an owl--!”

“Wait!” Randy exclaimed. “What’s the craziest part?”

“Err…” Stan suddenly hesitated and he shot a worried look at his mom. Sharon nodded, urging him to continue. “The walls kinda disappeared too…”

“You made the school disappear?!” Sharon shouted.

“Not the whole school…” Stan mumbled, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Just that classroom’s and stuff.”

“You did what?” Sharon shouted.

“Stan did what?!” Randy exclaimed, jumping up from the couch and letting out a scream of joy. “SHARON! Get the owl! We got to tell the Broflovski’s!”

“Stan made the school disappear and you’re happy about this?” Sharon asked, placing her hands on her hips. “What’s wrong with you?!”

Randy grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her.

“Sharon, don’t you understand how important this is!? Our son isn’t a Squib! He’s a wizard! Stan is a wizard! You are a wizard, Stan Marsh!

“Does that mean I can keep John Elway?” Stan asked.

“Of course, Stan, my beautiful son,” Randy said kneeling in front of him and patting John Elway on the head. “You are more than welcome to keep him.”

“It’s a slimy toad!” Sharon exclaimed. “I refuse to have a toad jumping around the house!”

“Get the owl, Stan!” Randy said, ignoring his wife. “We got to tell the Broflovski’s you’re a wizard! That bastard thought his sons were better than mine? Hah! In their faces! My son made the school disappear.”

“Just one of the classroom’s walls,” Stan mumbled.

“Don’t be a pain in the ass, Stan,” Randy said. “Kyle Broflovski has nothing on you.”

“He sure as hell doesn't have a toad!” Sharon exclaimed.

“I hate this family,” Stan said and ran in his room with John Elway still hidden in his poofball hat.

And that was how Stan Marsh made his debut in the wizarding world and regretted every moment of it.

__________________

Bebe knew an excessive amount about both Kyle Broflovski and Wendy Testaburger long before meeting either of them in the flesh.

Long before they were introduced - wearing lacquered shoes and uncomfortably lavish robes reserved for these private events - their names had been ever-present on every adult’s lips. This was thanks to, in no small part, to their tireless parents, poignantly aggressive in sharing their children’s accomplishments with everyone within hearing range - have I told you about Kyle’s aptitude test results? At such a young age too! Ah, yes, Wendy is off on a special course this weekend - so young, and already determined to be the Minister of Magic straight after graduation!

It was so annoying.

Much to her surprise though, the people behind the praises turned out to be a lot more exciting and colorful than she had assumed - all bright red hair and fierce eyes, polite smiles hiding sharp tongues and even sharper ideas. They did, however, spend most of their time milling around the adults, answering their endless questions and snatching every opportunity to express their opinions - on anything and everything. They tried so hard, and Bebe never understood why.

When you were noisy in your ambitions and always so determined to be noticed, you were always the first suspect when things went wrong. Whenever a piece of cake was stolen, or a child’s cries shattered the pleasant atmosphere, all eyes immediately turned to those who were the loudest.

No one ever thought to even glance Bebe’s way - to question the smudge along her lip or take a closer look at the sticky fingers hiding in her pocket.

***

Her parent didn’t send out a flurry of owls to all their friends when she had received her Hogwarts letter, nails still pink with birthday party glitter.

There were smiles, of course. There were hugs and talks of going shopping as soon as the weekend rolled around - for new robes and a bigger suitcase that could fit everything in, and the wand, of course, and are you absolutely sure you wanted a cat, darling, with all the fur shedding and claws that get caught in your clothes? Their calm, composed presence never wavered, even as Bebe’s elation peaked throughout the day, steadily transforming into jitters and a bit of doubt.

“I’m nervous!” she confessed to her mother right after dinner, voice a loud whisper. “It’s a school full of witches and wizards! What if it’s too hard? What if I can’t turn the frogs into teacups and get a really bad grade?”

Prompting the dishes to start stacking themselves with a flick of her wand, her mother sent a smile her way.

“A pretty girl like you doesn’t have to worry about grades, darling,” she said, reaching to stroke her hair. “Besides, you’re a Stevens! All you need is your lovely smile, and you’ll be set for life.”

The words, warm and honeyed, were meant to be reassuring - but all they did was leave her unsettled and disgruntled.

***

The castle was everything she had expected and more.

So overwhelmed by it all - the floating candles, the inky expanse of the night sky along the ceiling, the sheer number of people - it’s a miracle she didn’t stumble on her way to the Sorting Hat.

“Well, well...“ a voice murmured in her ear as soon as the rim slipped over her eyes, covering her vision in black. “You’re a cunning one, aren’t you?”

Bebe was used to compliments - for being a pretty girl, a well-behaved girl, even a talented girl on occasion. But it was the first time anyone has ever called her cunning. Shifting in her seat, her fingers curled into the folds of her robe.

...I suppose I am.

“Hmm, indeed….you are not afraid to go after what you want, are you?”

This time, there wasn’t a trace of hesitation in her answer.

Nope.

She thought she heard a chuckle, hidden amidst the creaking and coughing of the old Hat - right before his voice rang out, loud enough for the whole hall to hear.

“Slytherin!”

***

“Move!!”

The shout is the only warning she got before a body slammed into her, knocking her off-balance and sending her books flying. Rolls of parchment scattered across the corridor, soon flattened under the thunderous steps of her housemates.

“What’s wrong with you?!” Bebe shouted. Not even bothering to turn around, Cartman flicked a rude gesture over his shoulder.

“Watch where you’re going, hag!” he sneered. To his right, Butters muffled a nervous giggle in his palm before disappearing around the corner, hot on Cartman’s heels.

With a growl, she dropped to her knees to gather her things, mood only worsening with every unsuccessful attempt at dusting the footprints off her parchment. She stomped the rest of the way down to the Slytherin common room and up the stairs, mind already whirling with vicious possibilities for payback.

The door to her room swung open easily at her irritated kick. She was just about to flop down on her bed in the most dramatic fashion possible when she heard a muffled sob.

Stilling, Bebe glanced around. Her gaze settled on the bed opposite hers, green curtains drawn shut. In the flickering light of their enchanted lamp, she could barely make out a hunched-over figure.

“...Heidi?” The sobs immediately ceased, the silhouette stiffening. Slowly, carefully, Bebe reached to part the silk curtains, revealing the tear-stained face of her roommate. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing!” Heidi quickly said, voice croaky. Swiftly, she wiped at her cheeks, mouth twitching in an attempt to smile. “Nothing’s wrong - ignore me.”

For a moment, Bebe held her gaze, slowly taking in the scene. Heidi’s good mood from the morning, now dissolved into tears. The flower clip she had sported in her hair at breakfast, now lying discarded on the floor. Cartman’s suspiciously-timed, hasty exit, right outside the entrance to the Slytherin common room.

With a nod, she took a step back, allowing the curtain to flutter back down.

A few seconds later, the emerald silks are tugged aside once more, revealing a determined expression and a sleepy siamese cat cradled close to Bebe’s chest. Without warning, she tipped her pet on Heidi’s lap.

“This is Eris.” she informed her stunned roommate, right before ducking past the curtains and climbing into her bed. “She is the best when nothing’s wrong.”

As if on cue, Eris unfurled herself, paws kneading at Heidi’s legs before butting her head against a shaky hand, demanding attention with a soft mewl. Hiding her grin, Bebe proceeded to make herself comfortable, grabbing a pillow just as a giggle escaped the other girl.

“She’s so pretty!” Heidi crooned. Her fingers slipped under the cat’s jaw, earning a loud purr. “And so soft…”

“Isn’t she just?” She watched Eris settle in her roommate’s lap before she scooted closer, expression serious and eyes wide.

“Now - tell me everything.”

***

The tables were loud with whispers at breakfast the next morning.

Apparently, just last night, Cartman and Butters had been caught sneaking out past curfew, wandering around in forbidden grounds. Some recalled hearing Cartman brag about his knowledge of secret tunnels and hiding places before, unknown to even the professors. Evidently, that didn’t save him from Ms. Crabtree’s spying eyes - or the eyes of her ‘little birds’.
A senior leaned in, describing just how furious Mr. Garrison had been, severely pissed off at being roused out of bed before dawn. If rumors were to be believed, the busted duo would be scrubbing bedpans in the infirmary for the foreseeable future.

Expression hidden behind a goblet of pumpkin juice, Bebe smiled.

__________________

The owl grabbed his attention almost immediately. There was the moment where he only saw feathers and let thoughts of pigeons and birb memes take hold.

It was only when his brain registered the color and size that he did a double take, watching the gray and white bird in surprise.

One didn’t really see owls in the small town. Kenny would be hard pressed to give any explanation as to why, his fields of study never leading him towards ornithology.

Not that he spent much time studying these days.

“Is that an owl?” The sound of his older brother brought Kenny’s attention back to his own meager birthday party.

His sister was staring out the window with fascination equal to his own and his brother’s expression mirrored his own confusion.

The lights were suddenly switched off and his mother's gentle song entered the room along with their father and a misshapen cake topped with eleven mismatching candles.

A minute ago the cake was the only thing his young mind was concerned with. Then again, a minute ago there wasn’t a large creepy bird tapping at the window impatiently.

Even over his family’s chorus of song, Kenny could hear the persistent tapping.

He didn’t have long to contemplate the problem, or even to finish his hearing his own birthday song, because at that moment a window broke at the final chorus and a bullet went clean through Kenny’s head.

Who shot it? From where? Were they aiming for Kenny or was he merely the unlucky recipient?

Kenny didn’t really care about those questions anymore, even as his blood splattered onto his horrified family and the cake he’d been looking forward to all week.

What accompanied him on his journey to the afterlife was the sound of tapping and the ever growing desperation to know why.

Satan had no answers to that particular question though and Kenny was welcomed back to the world of the living not two days later, missing his birthday in its entirety.

The familiar sight of his bedroom ceiling greeted him. There were twisted up shapes in the wood, some that made turtles and boobs if his imagination was just right. Something warm and fuzzy crawled into his arms but Kenny didn’t bother to look away from the pair of knockers. He knew the matted fur of the creature cuddling into his side as well as he knew his own face.

Mr. Possy had managed to find a way inside the house again, despite his father's best attempts to close any holes to the outside world. Kenny wasn’t surprised by that though. It was very likely that Mr. Possy could teleport for how seemingly impossible it was to keep him out of places.

Kenny’s throat felt dry, new, and gooey all at once. It was a familiar feeling by now but he still wasn’t a fan of it. It was much less welcome than the sugary taste of confections. He lamented the loss of his birthday cake.

The ceiling had no answers. The cake had no answers. The afterlife had no answers. His life was an endless cycle of life and death without a single explanation.

“What do you think, Mr. Possy?” he said, scratching the possum’s scalp. He couldn’t finish the question.

It was too raw at the moment.

A now familiar tap interrupted his reverie and Kenny looked towards the cracked window to see two owls waiting for attention, their eyes a large judgmental hue of blue that had Kenny smiling apologetically. He could swear they looked irritated with him.

A certain color caught his eye.

There was something attached to their feet, and Kenny spent far more time hyperfocusing on the large talons these birds of prey used for hunting.

He might not be an ornithologist of any kind but he’d experienced more than one death reminiscent of the movie Birds.

He did not fancy a reshoot with owls. Specifically not these owls, they looked like they had a grudge.

Mr. Possy, a small rodent and not unlike their normal prey, shared Kenny’s distaste. He was spending his time hissing at the window while the creatures patiently knocked. Kenny winced as Mr. Possy’s claws dug into his stomach.

Owls stalking him. A small animal clawing him. Boobs on the ceiling looking less sexy and more blobby as time passed.

Kenny was about ready to accept this as his new normal, stranger things had of course happened, when a third owl flew in and joined the first two. Pecking at the window and narrowing its stupid judgy eyes at him.

“Oh, fuck that.” Kenny made a hasty retreat of his bedroom, “Kevin! Do we have bug spray?”

It was then that Kenny noticed how strangely silent his home was.

Stumbling out into the living room and there was none of the normal hubbub. None of the normal arguments, screams, giggles, or crashing. A deathly silence.

It brought Kenny’s previous energy to a halt. His entire body felt like it had sunken and lethargy took hold, taking away his ability to speak or move.

His family sat solemnly in the living room holding a letter, one of the cursed birds was sitting on the TV cleaning its foot. They all looked up at his entrance but not one of them looked happy to see him.

“Kenny, baby,” his mom began, her voice a bit shaky as she spoke, “We have to talk.”

Numb.

The world numbed for a significant period of time as the situation was explained. Kevin had to take Karen out of the room when she started crying, apparently putting together that her favorite older brother could be leaving.

Kenny hadn’t quite been able to digest that information himself.

It sounded too strange. Like a prank.

His mother's voice was gentle, emotional, and she was clearly trying to frame this as a good thing. An opportunity.

His father was eerily silent. All his normal vigor drained out of him.

That was what did it.

His parents weren’t the sort to pull cruel pranks, sure, but people had done stupider shit for the vine. His parents had a complete shift of character, as if it was something they’d feared. Something they knew.

“I’m a wizard?”

His mother pulled him into a hug and it was only then that the numbness faded, allowing him to feel his own warm tears cascading into his mother's shoulder.

“It’s alright, baby. This is a great opportunity. And you know we love you just the same.”

Kenny wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone why he was crying if he was asked.

The grim knowledge that he was soon to be pulled away from his home, for better or worse? The tremor of fear in his mother's voice? The grim atmosphere overtaking the entire house? The sounds of his baby sister’s gentle sobbing from the other room?

It all meshed together into a ball of emotion he would never be fully equipped to describe. He was never the best with words in any case, it wouldn’t have been something easy for him to manage regardless.

One thought tugged and tore at his heart, his mind, his every thought, begging for attention he couldn’t fully provide it.

A thought that would haunt him for sometime to come.

Was this why? Was this it?

Had he finally, finally been allowed knowledge over the question that hung over his head like a noose?

He cried into his mother's shoulder until it felt like his tear ducts had entirely dried up. Only for them to moisten all over again for his sister and brother when they returned to the room.

“I don’t want you to go.” Karen’s voice tore him apart. Her small arms showing an impressive feat of strength around his waist. It didn’t feel like he could shake her loose if he tried. Or maybe he was still too stunned to summon any strength.

Kevin stood off to the side, awkward and unsure. He wasn’t equipped to understand the situation.

Karen’s sob broke into Kenny’s frozen thoughts and years of comfort moved his body to hug her back.

“It’s okay.” he didn’t know if it was okay. He hadn’t the slightest fucking clue. Was he lying to his baby sister? Did it matter? “I’m not going anywhere until September.” Was he remembering that right? The letter had been explained to him only minutes ago but the haze made it feel like a distant memory.

His world was shaking and he had no idea where to begin.

So, Kenneth McCormick, eleven years old and just learning of his strange condition, did what he did best in situations of strife.

He found the next task to be completed.

After days of chaos in the McCormick household, Kenny had finally figured out how to make the owls fuck off. He also sent back a few very pertinent questions about tuition and scholarship opportunities. Next was the shopping list his new headmaster had sent him.

He had no idea where or how to purchase these bizarre items. Much less what they cost. He was figuring a regular broom wasn’t going to cut it either.

Kenny frowned at one item before looking down to the possum brushing against his ankle, “You can pull off pretending to be a cat, right?”

Mr. Possy chittered in response and Kenny marked that off his list.

One complete, so much to go.

Chapter Text

Craig Tucker was willing to admit that there was a lot about the world that he didn’t know of, or simply didn’t get.

There was a staircase on the sixth floor he’d had to take in his fourth year for History of Magic whose pattern of movement he still had yet to figure out, and a painting near the Hufflepuff commons that insisted it had a cousin that looked just like him, even though said painting had no eyes. There was a girl who insisted he only ever struggled because he didn’t pay enough attention in Arithmancy, and the Divination professor spent way too much time teaching how to read tea leaves for a person who claimed to hate drinking tea.

Five years in, and there was a lot about Hogwarts that Craig simply didn’t—or couldn’t, even if he’d wanted to—understand.

Morning Quidditch practice was just another one of those things.

“I’m just saying, the idea of a prefects-only bathroom is weird, isn’t it? Who becomes a prefect and thinks, I can’t wait to take five extra flights of stairs to use a fancy bathroom!” Clyde paused. “Maybe Damien. Do you think Damien uses the fancy bathroom?”

“I don’t know,” Craig said, and tilted his broom to drift away from the left goalpost. Clyde followed him.

“You know he’s weird, right?”

“Every prefect is weird.”

“The Gryffindor prefects are pretty cool,” Clyde said, “But Nichole kind of scares me.”

Craig rolled his eyes. “You think every Gryffindor is cool.”

“Uh, because we are? It’s one of the house requirements.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Yeah it is.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Is too.”

“You aren’t cool.”

Clyde scowled. “You’re just jealous because you didn’t belong anywhere,” he huffed, and flew away himself.

Craig watched him leave to rejoin the skirmish going between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff and shifted back on his broom. Craig was sure Clyde would feel bad about it later, so he didn’t mind just letting him leave now. It was just one of those things: Clyde got weirdly invested in the house system, and Craig just didn’t.

That was just who he was, it seemed, and he’d gotten over how much people liked to talk about it. He’d learned to ignore how they looked at him, and talked about him, and wondered how he could possibly belong somewhere warm like the Hufflepuff common room. He was too cold, or too reticent, or too lazy, and it didn’t make sense to people. The truth was, Craig didn’t really care to.

He’d also never really tried.

Craig sat back on his broom and watched the skirmish on the other side of the field as the thoughts washed over him.

He’d always known he hadn’t belonged at home, and he hadn’t expected coming to Hogwarts to make that feeling change. He had always been different, and even at Hogwarts where all the other kids were different too—well, he was still a bit different than them. Five years in and it was still true.

It was a sense, mostly. Other students—even the Muggle ones—took to magic like a new home, or a second skin. They talked about how it had felt right, finally getting to learn how to use it any way they liked. He understood that, sometimes, but other times Craig still felt his magic and wondered if it was really something he was meant to be able to control.

Everyone always said there was no better place to learn magic from. He had a house here, and a wand, and even friends. He had a life here, one he could live how he liked. But there was something deeper than all that, something he usually tried to ignore. It was something that made him feel wrong.

It was something that made him feel like he wasn’t at home.

And when he thought about it too much, it made him lose sight of the ball.

“Craig, look out!”

Like now.

Craig blinked and turned to find Annie shouting at him as something dark and round came hurtling at his head. There was a moment of realization where Craig registered the bludger, and then he just hovered. He might have moved, at least a little, to bring his broomstick around and block the collision course, but it still hit him.

In fact, it hit him quite hard.

There was a harsh crunch of wood as the world jerked around and a sharp kind of pain flared up from his hand. Ow, he thought to himself, and curled inwards as his broom fell, wobbling, out of the sky. He hit the ground pretty hard too, and cradled his arm against his side.

Annie landed down next to him and tried to reach out for the injury immediately.

“It’s broken, isn’t it?” She asked, when Craig instinctively pulled away.

“Maybe,” he said, and Annie sighed.

A couple other players from the Hufflepuff team were landing around them, all looking at least a little sympathetic. Craig frowned and drew further away.

“Oh my god,” Someone shouted as they landed in a messy heap on the ground nearby. A couple of the other Gryffindors joined him.

“Crap, Craig, I’m so sorry!”

Craig watched as a familiar blond hastily shoved himself past the gathering crowd. Annie wisely backed away when he got closer, making twitchy dismissive motions and reaching out to get a better look at Craig’s arm.

“Crap, I wasn’t really thinking, Clyde was just pissing me off so I thought—I’m sorry!”

“Tweek, come on,” Scott cut in, “hitting people is part of your job.”

“I know, but Craig obviously wasn’t—” Tweek spun around and jabbed a finger angrily into the shoulder of Craig’s uninjured arm. “Why weren’t you paying attention?!”

“I was,” Craig replied defensively.

Tweek narrowed his eyes. “No you weren’t.”

“Yes I was,” Craig lied.

“Craig!”

“Hey, Tweek,” Annie said, and placed a hand gently on Tweek’s shoulder. “Why don’t you take Craig to the nurse?”

Craig made a face and Annie scowled at him over Tweek’s shoulder.

“Yes Craig, you have to go,” she said.

“No I don’t.”

Tweek’s hand fisted in the front of Craig’s robe and he snapped, “Quit being difficult!”

Then, almost by force, he began to drag Craig off back towards the castle. Craig had no other choice but to follow, unless he wanted to badly jostle his injured arm, so he held back another displeased comment and allowed Tweek to lead the way. Besides, it was clear that Tweek felt guilty.

Tweek led him inside quickly, at an almost frenzied pace. It wasn’t completely unusual, because spending time with Tweek usually involved at least one activity becoming frenzied even when it really shouldn’t be, but Craig had long since gotten used to that. It was just another part of spending time with Tweek, and Craig didn’t mind that. Tweek could actually be pretty relaxing, or so he thought—once you got used to it.

He might actually like it, in some strange way, simply because it was Tweek .

Unfortunately, however, that also meant dealing with some of the problems. Because, once again, it was Tweek.

They had been walking together in hurried silence for a few staircases now, and Tweek’s nervous tics were steadily increasing. By the time he was tapping a harsh, jerky beat against his skin they had only ascended a couple of staircases, and Craig could admit: he was worried.

They passed a pair of happily chatting second years, who gave the two of them a couple of strange, unreadable looks, before Tweek finally caved in and rounded on him, letting go of his crumpled robe.

“Are you mad at me?” Tweek asked sharply.

Craig blinked. “No?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes?”

Tweek huffed and ran a hand messily through his hair. “You don’t sound very sure!”

“Well, I am.”

“Craig! I’m being serious!”

“So am I!”

“I meant it, you know, I wasn’t aiming for you on purpose, and Scott had a point too, it’s kind of my job, but I didn’t know—”

“Tweek,” Craig interrupted him. “You’ve hit me on purpose before, during actual games.”

Tweek scowled. “You’re usually paying more attention during those,” he snapped, and Craig sighed.

“I’m saying that I don’t mind, Tweek.”

“Who doesn’t mind getting hit?!”

“Me?”

“But what if—”

“Tweek,” Craig said, “I’m fine. Quit being difficult.”

Tweek jerked suddenly and stared. Craig could tell the moments his words actually sunk in when Tweek finally grinned—somewhat lopsided and faint, but at least it was a smile. Tweek shook his head as his fingers found their way back into the fabric of Craig’s robe and knotted into his sleeve.

“Ok,” Tweek said, and then again, louder: “Ok.”

Craig decided it was as good a time as any to take a chance. “So, can we not go to the nurse now?”

That startled a laugh out of Tweek, who reached out suddenly to push him lightly against his uninjured arm.

“Annie said you have to go.”

“She doesn’t need to know,” Craig replied, but Tweek merely shot him an unimpressed look.

“She always knows.”

“Not if we don’t tell her.”

“She’s just going to come and try to find you later!”

Craig sighed. “Fine.”

“I’m walking you to the nurse, Craig.”

“Fine,” he repeated, and conceded. Tweek was obviously determined.

They started walking again, and even though Tweek was no longer dragging him, it was still a bit of a hurried pace. Tweek didn’t strike him as someone who was even capable of walking slowly, though in all honesty Craig didn’t really mind. At the very least, it made people feel like they needed to get out of his way, and Craig could definitely appreciate that.

When they reached the top of the staircase leading to the hospital wing of the castle, Tweek followed him up to the door and stopped outside it. They both knew Craig could find his way from here, and Tweek needed to get back to practice.

They paused for a bit too long and stared at each other.

“Sorry,” Tweek said unnecessarily, when the silence finally got to him.

Craig glanced up at him sharply and frowned. Tweek shrugged.

The silence stretched on.

“You have astronomy tonight, right?” Tweek asked suddenly, looking down and twisting his fingers together.

Craig narrowed his eyes.

“Yeah.”

“Are you—I guess you’re usually, ah, tired after?”

“Sometimes.”

Tweek’s hands stilled. “Oh. Then you wouldn’t—” He bit his lip and huffed again.

Craig let the silence drift over them for a moment too long. “Wouldn’t?”

Tweek twitched, suddenly, and shook his head. “Nevermind.”

Craig frowned. “What?”

“It’s nothing, I was just—thinking.”

There was a small hole in the sleeve of Tweek’s robe whose stray threads Tweek was now focused on. Craig watched him, and the small flickers of expression that jumped nervously across his face. Every so often a sudden movement shook loose a few stray strands of untrimmed blond hair back into his eyes, whose gaze was currently stubbornly averted to the ground. Craig’s own, uninjured hand curled instinctively against his side.

“The astronomy tower is nice at night,” he said slowly, and Tweek’s gaze snapped up. “You should come see it.”

Tweek’s eyes widened, and when he opened his mouth again there was no sound: not even his usual, small, involuntary ones. Craig shrugged as much as he could and looked away, so he missed the way Tweek’s jaw set when he nodded.

“I will. And, uh,” Tweek paused, and shifted on his feet. Then, all in one quick breath: “I hope you feel better soon, Craig.”

Craig blinked. “Thanks,” he said. He wondered if he should say something more, but Tweek was already nodding again. Then, as if something was finally complete, he turned on his heel and marched off.

Craig stood there quietly and watched him go.

When Tweek had finally turned the corner, after turning to give him one last wave, Craig sighed and drew out his wand. He glanced once at the door to the nurse, and down at his arm. It throbbed in pain and Craig took a deep breath before he tapped the tip of his wand against the back of the hand.

For a moment, nothing happened, until with a twist, like the sudden rush of getting pulled off his feet, a pulse of color flashed out from under his skin and spread up the length of his arm. It felt like magic, as it raced through his bones and muscles and veins, even if somehow it felt wrong too. It happened sometimes, like a wild errant heat in his skin, and then suddenly his wand hand would burn where it held the wood until he almost felt like he needed to let go.

But just as suddenly as the sensation always came, it was gone, and Craig had thought that maybe it was just too difficult a spell to always pull it off the way he did, and nonverbally too. It was useful, though, the way it almost cast the spell for him; it had saved him from more than a few moments of forgetfulness on his tests. He’d always just thought it was because of his wand. Ollivander had struggled to find a good match for him practically all day, when he’d first gotten it, so it was bound to be a little weird.

He’d kept it to himself mostly, these little weird things. It had already been annoying enough, feeling like maybe his magic didn’t suit him. He didn’t like to think it was true, and that he just couldn’t fit in.

But his arm was fully healed, and the burning heat was gone, just as suddenly as it had come. So Craig left the nurse’s wing, slowly, and instead of getting breakfast with the team he decided to just go to the library instead.

***

The sky was especially clear that night.

It was nice, because it was a constellation charting night and Professor Ellen was threatening to count the assignment for a large part of their grade. Some of the students were obviously stressed—and Craig had seen their star charts, so he understood why—but Craig himself didn’t really mind. He liked mapping the stars, especially around the times when seasons began to change. He found it reassuring, to follow them all and know that they were still there, no matter how the sky changed.

Besides, Professor Ellen was a pushover anyways.

Craig noted down a couple coordinates and adjusted the magnification on his lens to get a clearer view. Professor Ellen insisted they try to find as many of the more difficult constellations as they could, and Craig was currently working on mapping out Monoceros. He’d done it before, just once, when his parents had taken him out of the light-polluted city and out to a wide open field for a beginner’s stargazing class, where it was easier to see.

The astronomy tower at Hogwarts was just as good, if not better, than that field, and even the dimmest stars seemed to twinkle just a bit brighter overhead, like they’d soaked up all the lingering magic underneath their sky. It was one of Craig’s favorite spots, even if he otherwise suffered from having a class in his schedule that was held at midnight. Most of his classmates had at some point accidentally slept through a class now and asked to borrow his notes.

But unlike them, he’d never missed a single one.

Predictably, when class was over, Professor Ellen told them all she was giving them an extra week to finish their charts. Craig handed his in early so he wouldn’t have to deal with it—she always looked surprised, no matter how many times he did it—and went back to his station to begin packing up.

It was just past one and he was still tired from morning Quidditch practice. Still, Craig took great care and packed away his telescope carefully. He was slower about it than usual, paying extra mind to dusting off the glass lens. There were spells, of course, meant to wipe down the lens and get rid of any dust, but Craig had always learned to care for them by hand, with cloth. Not that Craig hated magic no matter what, but this—this was something he could do without it. Sometimes it just felt simpler that way.

Besides, he had enough time to kill for it. He wasn’t sure, because Tweek hadn’t actually said, but Craig was hoping that he might show up tonight. Not that he knew what to do, or even what to say, but the idea was still nice.

It was quiet, as the rest of the students packed up and started to leave. Nobody lingered to talk after astronomy class, and almost everyone was in a rush to get back to sleep—or to finish their other coursework, more likely. Even when he wasn’t killing time, Craig was usually the last person to leave, and tonight was no exception.

Professor Ellen usually waited for every student to file out and down the winding staircase before she left too. But as time wore on and she realized how much time he was taking, she gave a reluctant sigh and followed one of the other fifth years out. She technically wasn’t allowed to leave anyone up here, and Craig’s permission to be out of the commons past curfew only extended to a few minutes after the end astronomy class anyways, but she never really seemed to mind.

She cast him one last, lingering glance before she left the tower with the rest of the students.

She probably just thought he really liked the stars.

When he was finally alone, Craig closed his telescope bag and sat back against the stone crenellations to wait. For a magical castle, Hogwarts was surprisingly quiet at night. If he watched the grounds long enough he could usually spot one or two students attempting to sneak out, to the edge of the forest or maybe even the Quidditch field. He usually didn’t care to watch what they did, but it was fun to try and count them, or even just pass the time. He liked to bet with himself on which of them would get caught.

He’d gotten through a couple of bets—lost one, won the other—when he began to wonder if maybe Tweek wouldn’t be coming.

Why would he?

Not that Craig would be disappointed by it. He didn’t care if Tweek showed up or not—not really. He hadn’t even really asked, maybe just sort of implied. And he liked Tweek well enough, had known about him as a Gryffindor the same year as him since pretty much their first year, even if they’d only become something approaching friends more recently, mostly from Quidditch and common friends like Clyde or Jimmy.

He usually just ignored it when Tweek showed up, or left, and they gave him these looks.

Still…

Craig grabbed his telescope bag and pushed himself ungracefully to his feet. He still had work to do, and he really just wanted to sleep. He left the tower, taking the first flight of the staircase two at a time, and stumbled momentarily at the bottom.

His arm throbbed, suddenly, and he didn’t know why. It should’ve been fully healed.

The corridor was dark, lit only faintly by the moonlight gleaming in through the wide windows installed down the length of the top of the tower. He adjusted the strap of his telescope bag, unsettled, and hurried down to head back to the Hufflepuff common room—hopefully, Annie wouldn’t be waiting up to yell at him.

When he turned the corner, he caught his first sight of the mysterious figure.

They were wearing a heavy, velvet black cloak with no house colors. It reached all the way to the floor, just a bit too long, and it fastened tightly under their chin. The hood was pulled up, and draped down until their entire face was hidden in shadow. Their hands were hidden from view, tucked into a deep pair of pockets.

When Craig’s footsteps faltered, the figure turned sharply—it was almost a snap, and surely too fast to be entirely human. The figure stared at him, and the long fabric resting along the ground quivered, like beneath the hood they might’ve been excited.

Craig took a step back.

And then the figure moved.

It ran across the corridor towards him—definitely ran this time, more human than before—and reached out to grab him. Their grip was sharp, strong, and incredibly cold, and Craig tried to jerk away but the strange figure wouldn’t let him.

His wand burned in his pocket, even if he couldn’t quite reach it, and a familiar, burning sensation crept through his veins. It was something, something deep inside of him that twisted and burned, so painfully he couldn’t help but scream. The figure squeezed tighter and leaned in, until he could hear harsh, erratic breathing from under the hood.

“Is it you?” The figure asked, and pressed close. “We’re looking for him. The One. Is it you?”

Craig’s vision blurred, swirled with a bright blue and a painful, vibrant red. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to pull back, tried to reach the unbearable heat of that useless, flimsy piece of wood stuck burning a hole in his pocket, and hissed when the figure’s nails broke his skin.

“Is this his blood?” The figure wrenched his arm up to stare at the trickle of red streaking his skin. “Is it you?”

“I don’t know!” Craig snapped, and struggled to get his arm away. It hurt, far more than it should, as his arm continued to bleed from under the figure’s bone-white fingers. He didn’t know what the figure wanted from him, what they might be planning to do, but he didn’t want to be any part of it. He jerked his arm away, as hard as he could, and shouted, “Let go!”

“Craig!”

There was a sudden flash of bright, almost white light, as something collided hard with the mysterious figure’s side. There was a hiss, a garble of words like a screech, as the figure suddenly let go and fled away, back down the dark corridor and out of view.

A pair of footsteps came running as Craig gasped and sagged back against the wall, fumbling in his pocket to get a hold of his wand at last. The wood itched against his skin and he grimaced, held tight through all the discomfort and the strange pain, until at last some of the haze faded away. He blinked away some of the fog and stared.

Tweek’s face swam into view, his eyes almost wild-looking from how wide they were, wand still held out.

“Craig!” Tweek said, “Are you ok? Who was that? Where did they go?”

Craig blinked at him. “I don’t know,” he said, in answer to all three. He felt weak suddenly, and uncomfortably exposed. His wand arm still hurt, and his skin was still streaked with blood.

Tweek reached out for him, jerkily, and tugged the corner of his sleeve up to wipe away some of the smeared blood on Craig’s arm. He bit his lip and dabbed carefully around the wound, and Craig could admit, he was just stunned enough to let him.

“What the hell just happened?” Tweek asked, and held on even when most of the blood was gone.

Craig shook his head.

“They were looking for someone,” he said.

Tweek’s fingers spasmed and he gripped harder. “You?”

“Maybe,” Craig said. “I don’t think so.”

Tweek swore, and started rambling something about needing to find a professor, or maybe the groundskeeper. Craig was having a hard time listening to him.

This was just another thing about Hogwarts he didn’t think he could—or wanted to—understand. A strange, frenzied, hooded stranger attacking a student? Craig really, really didn’t want to deal with something like that.

But... there was obviously something wrong with him, wasn’t there? And that?

That, Craig finally realized, was something he needed to understand.

Chapter Text

Kyle Broflovski was a study in predictability.

Ollivander had taken one look at him and the first wand he’d chosen had been a perfect match, as if every essence of who Kyle was could be found at a glance. His shoulders were always set a little too straight, chin raised just so, because Kyle was important.

He walked the same routes every night as prefect, something that maybe could have been a problem if Kyle hadn’t chosen the most popular areas that students might be found stalking the halls at night. Sure it didn’t make him the most universally liked person in all of Hogwarts, but climbing his way to the top of his class had never come with a requirement for popularity. Kyle didn’t even want everyone to like him, having a bunch of friends wouldn’t get him very far anyway. But respect? That was something else entirely. He’d forged a name for himself in this school. Kyle Broflovski: Ravenclaw Prefect. The title written in dark black ink, weaved into his stubbornly set shoulders and the jut of his jaw.

But no matter what he did: how hard he studied or the praise he received from his professors, nothing seemed to be enough. He always felt he needed to be doing more, or maybe he was just looking for something. Only, he had no idea what that even was.

He’d maybe pass the feeling off as his desire to go above and beyond expectations, that is if perhaps the biggest overachiever in the school didn’t share his very same thoughts. Something he had learned one night during his second year while sitting in the Ravenclaw common room, his book opened to a page he’d been trying to futilely memorize for the last of the hour. There’d been only one other presence in the room, a face and name he’d never associated with yet acutely recognized. A fellow pureblood, supplied his mind. Wendy Testaburger, his sense of guilt corrected.

But between the two of them, Kyle couldn’t deny the distinct likeness. Not just for their status, but for their behavior. Top of their class with the highest marks, and both had people who seemed to always flock around them in the Great Hall as well as when they would walk down corridors between classes. Yet, at the end of the day, they both found themselves in the same place: outside of their dorm, alone in the dimly lit common room.

“This exam isn’t for another three weeks,” Kyle had muttered to himself one night. “I have no idea why I’m still studying.”

He hadn’t been expecting an answer. In fact, he’d even forgotten that he wasn’t alone in the room. Yet, he’d gotten an answer anyway.

“Unfair expectations?” The girl had said casually while flipping a page before she pausing as if just becoming aware of what she’d spoken aloud, the realization hitting her with a wince. “Sorry,” she muttered as if ashamed of her slip-up. As if her accidental answer had occured if only because she hadn’t had the time to think about it. Yet, it wasn’t as if Kyle minded in the least, quite the opposite in fact. Her words had shined a light on just how similar they were, and in doing so had opened the doors to something more.

A look of understanding that passed between them.

A bittersweet quirk of Kyle’s lips. “I know what you mean,” he had said.

The reply that had very quickly led into a long conversation between them. Words exchanged in hushed tones as they conversed in the dim light of the common room. Finding understanding and a commonality not only from the expectations of blood-status, but also of the desire to overcome them. Time had passed without them hardly realizing it, and before they knew it the room had begun to flood with the dim light of the rising sun coming in from the tower.

But the exhaustion he had felt through his classes the next day had been worth it.

It was undeniably freeing to finally find someone who understood. And while surpassing Stan would have been near impossibility, that night Kyle had found an invaluable friend. A friendship that only seemed to grow stronger as time went on.

“I finished most of my Charms’ essay during History of Magic yesterday,” he said to Wendy from where they were now sitting at their table in the Great Hall. The other students around them were prattling on restlessly with each other, as loud as they were energetic, but Kyle and Wendy didn’t pay them any mind. They had other friends sure, but it’d become routine that breakfast was usually spent in quiet gossip and discussion between the two of them.

“I studied for Transfig,” She admitted with a huff and a roll of her eyes. “It honestly it amazes me how they haven’t fired Garrison yet.”

Kyle gave a shrug, moving around the food on his plate aimlessly. He wasn’t really hungry this morning. “His tests are pretty good,” he pointed out. “It just so happens that all of the information in his lectures is completely wrong and irrelevant. I’d complain more except it’s kind of nice to have a free period.”

Beside him, Wendy hesitated for a moment before slowly nodding in agreement. “You know, Clyde actually asked me to tutor him in that class the other day? I just told him all he had to do was read the textbook and never listen to anything Garrison says.”

Kyle scoffed but the sound got cut off as it ended in more of a yawn. Slouching, he rested his head in the palm of his hand. “As if Clyde would ever be seen reading,” he commented under his breath.

Cocking her head at him, Wendy gave him a concerned look. “Hey, are you okay? You seem a little down.”

He really should have known that Wendy would be able to see right through him. She always did have an act for that.

“Yeah, I’m just a little tired,” he told her with a sigh. “I...didn’t sleep well last night.”

“The dreams again?” She gently prodded, and he frowned down at his plate of practically untouched food. He’d gotten used to not sleeping well in the past, but it seemed to be happening more and more as of late. Blaming it on nightmares would be the simple and obvious choice since he wouldn’t exactly categorize his problem as insomnia, just a certain…restlessness. Like he’d been up studying all night instead of in his bed sleeping like he knew he had been. And he did know that he’d been dreaming of something, but of what was hazy at best.

He released another deep exhale, the sound coming out more than a little frustrated.

“I think so. I...can’t really remember.”

Releasing a thoughtful nose, Wendy continued to look at him while frowning. “Okay...” she said after another moment passed without him having added anything else. “Well if you ever want to talk-”

Yet, before Wendy could even finish her sentence, she was interrupted by the pouring of owls into the Great Hall signaling the delivery of the mail that day. The birds swooped down to each of the houses, quickly and easily navigating to each of their intended recipients. One of them dropping onto the table directly in front of Kyle, feathers puffed out proudly and with a familiar look of distaste.

“Hey Circe,” Kyle greeted his pet, reaching forward in an attempt to lightly scratch her feathers, only for her to squawk indignantly and attempt to bite at his fingers. “Yeah, good to see you too,” he grumbled, quickly retracting his hand, not at all unused to his owl’s behavior at this point. Sometimes when she was in a good mood she would allow him to pet her, but apparently this wasn’t one of those days.

So, instead, he watched as she herself went and unhooked the letter that was attached to her, and dropped it on the table between them. Kyle muttered his thanks, taking the letter and looking to see that it was addressed to him in his brother’s tiny and neat handwriting. Yet, before he could open the letter his attention was grabbed by a low and displeased whistling sound.

Looking up, he stared at Circe who apparently still hadn’t left for some reason.

The owl stared back.

“What?” he asked, brow scrunching in confusion.

In answer, she moved towards him and forcefully yanked at a knot he must have missed in his hair, since apparently, the universe hated him.

“Ow! Goddammit, Circe!”

He tried to bat her away but she just pecked at his hand and then continued to tug at his curls until the knot that she’d been so focused on broke free. Then she moved back and looked at him again as if inspecting her work as he glowered at her. Evidently contented, she then puffed out her chest-feathers proudly one last time before finally flying off.

Beside him, Wendy was laughing. “I really do love your owl, Kyle,” she snickered.

“Yeah she’s great,” he grumbled in answer, rubbing at his now sore scalp. It was a bit of surprise he even still had hair at the spot she’d been pulling, it sure felt as if she would have ripped it straight from his head. Damn crazy bird.

Releasing another sigh, Kyle finally turned his attention back to the letter.

“Who’s it from?” Wendy asked, her voice still filled with obvious amusement. She was one of his best friends and here she was enjoying his misery and misfortune. Traitor.

“Ike,” he answered, shooting her another look of betrayal that she ever so innocently failed to notice.

“Oh yeah, he was supposed to be starting school this year, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah,” he said, working on opening the sealed envelope. “Ended up getting accepted into some fancy specialized school. The Euro-Glyph School of Extraordinary Languages?”

He hoped he managed to keep a majority of the bitterness out of his tone. It wasn’t that he wasn’t proud of his brother, or happy for him. Ike had always been a genius so it wasn’t exactly a surprise that he would have been accepted into any magic school he decided to apply to. The bitterness was more because Ike could apply to different schools in the first place. Hogwarts would have always been Kyle’s first choice, but if he’d said he’d wanted to go somewhere else he was extremely doubtful that his dad would have accepted his decision as warmly as he’d accepted Ike’s.

Kyle was the birth-son and the eldest at that, he had a lot to live up to. Ike was adopted, and he could be whoever he wanted to be.

Kyle...envied him that.

“Oh, I’ve heard of that place,” Wendy commented, snapping Kyle from his thoughts and causing him to return his attention to the paper he’d just removed from the envelope. He nodded distractedly, gaze focusing in on the...unfamiliar text filling the length of the letter. Kyle cursed.

“He’s such a little shit.”

“What did he say?”

He turned the paper towards her, watching as her eyes took in the page with obvious confusion. “I don’t know because he wrote it in fucking hieroglyphs,” he explained and Wendy grimaced.

“Well...at least he’s learning?” She offered good-naturedly. Then, tone turning sympathetic she asked, “Want me to go with you to the library after classes?”

Kyle nodded with a sigh. It looked like his studying was going to have to wait for another day, but at least Wendy was willing to suffer with him.

***

The library was his favorite place in the entire school.

It was an opinion Kyle was sticking with, even if he knew how much of a fucking nerd it made him sound like. He couldn’t help it. There was something about the school library that not only spoke of the comfort of obtainable knowledge, but also of mystique and intrigue. The restricted section was a place he’d managed to get access to exactly one time, a time in which he learned that having a signed note from a teacher with a book didn’t exactly allow the student access. Instead it had only earned him a suspicious look from the librarian as she herself left and fetched the book that had been written out on the note, one that he hadn’t really even cared about. Something about ancient forms of magic. A book he hadn’t been entirely sure why it needed to be classified as restricted, but had been the most innocent and excusable thing he could think of that wouldn’t make Garrison second guess signing the paper for him.

Still, even if his dreams of getting himself into the restricted section had went up in flames that day, it didn’t make him love the library itself any less. It reminded him of a more impressive version of the library that he had back home at the manor. The one he’d escape to as a kid, finding books to be both a distraction and a way to be productive. Gaining that occasional spark of warmth and approval from his father whenever he brought up some piece of obscure knowledge he’d learned that day, and the resulting pride that had made him want to learn even more.

The library was more than just a collection of books. To Kyle, it was home.

Kyle,” Stan whined, breaking the silence and looking at him with a pitying stare from over the large book sitting in front of him. “I don’t know anything about hieroglyphs, can’t you just wait until tomorrow? Wendy would be so much better at this shit.”

Kyle shot him a sharp look from over his own book. “Yeah well, she told me she’d help me today, and just because something came up I’m not about to go and assume she’ll have time to help me with this tomorrow. Do you know how busy she is? And what do you have? Quidditch?”

“And homework!” Stan defended himself. “I have a paper due tomorrow!”

Kyle let out a deep breath, “For transfig?”

“Yeah.”

“That same essay you were complaining about over a week ago?”

At Kyle’s lecturing tone, Stan at least had the mind to look sheepish. “I mean...I started it…?”

Kyle sighed again. Stan was smart, but that only strengthened the reason as to why he should apply himself more. Kyle had offered to study with him several times, but Stan seemed to have a preference for cramming and every study session he’d agreed to had only ended in him eventually asking Kyle to give him all the answers to his homework. So, eventually, Kyle had just stopped asking.

Still, he supposed he could relent this one time.

“If you help me with this, I’ll help you with your dumb essay,” Kyle offered, the prospect of doing Stan’s work for him leaving a bad taste in his mouth. But he needed the help, and unlike Wendy, Stan wouldn’t consider the prospect of their friendship to be enough of a reason to help him with something this tedious for long.

At his offer, Stan immediately perked up, eyes widening. “Seriously? You never offer to help, you must really not want to translate.”

“It’s tedious, stupid, and I want to get it done tonight so I can send a response to that little shit as soon as possible,” Kyle grumbled. He narrowed his eyes at the paper, trying to tell if Ike had drawn a bird with four feathers or five feathers. All the stupid symbols were already starting to blend together.

“You do realize he’ll just make his next letter harder to translate, right?”

Kyle rolled his eyes. “You’re acting like I don’t know how to charm a piece of parchment, Stan. If he wants a war, he’ll get one.”

Stan looked at him in pure disappointment, likely getting the faint premonition of getting roped into helping with more difficult translating pieces in the future. Yet, before he could voice what Kyle was already thinking, the sound of hushed giggling hit them, and with a look over Kyle’s shoulder Stan himself began to shake with quiet laughter. “Your fanclub is here,” he said, only half joking.

Kyle glanced over to see a few girls he only vaguely recognized from a few of his classes. As soon as they caught him looking they all giggled and immediately looked away, whispering lowly to one another as they continued to sneak glances at him.

It wasn’t exactly an uncommon sight, then again it wasn’t entirely welcome either.

Turning back to Stan, Kyle rested his chin on the palm of his hand and let out a heavy sigh. “Figures. You’d think they’d get bored after a while.”

Stan shook his head. “I really don’t get you,” he said with no small degree of exasperation. “I would just about kill to be you right now.”

Kyle gave a small shrug, looking back towards his book and purposefully avoiding Stan’s eyes. “It’s just not important to me,” he told him vaguely, hoping Stan would be able to sense his discomfort and drop it. “I have much more important things to be worrying about.”

“What? You mean your perfect grades?” Stan shot back. His words clearly intended to be a playful jab, yet his frustration still making itself widely apparent. ‘I can really see how stressful that could be for you.”

“I just think that there’s more to life than finding a girlfriend,” Kyle said slowly, wracking his head for some way to make things clear without having to spell it out. “Besides, they’d probably have to be…” he blew out a frustrated breath. “Nevermind, forget it.”

Yet he’d apparently said enough, realization darkening Stan’s expression as Kyle risked a small look up at him.

“Pureblood.” Stan said flatly, stated as fact and not a question. Still, as right as he was, Kyle still cringed at the term, confliction and guilt swirling in his gut. He bit his lip and flipped a page in his book without having read anything. When he finally spoke, his voice was quiet.

“...If I don’t want an arranged marriage, then yeah.”

A lull of awkward silence passed between them. Kyle flipped another page of his book.

“I doubt your mom would ever force you to marry,” Stan offered after a moment, conveniently only mentioning Kyle’s mother.

“Yeah, well…” Kyle released a tired sigh, more than done with this conversation. It was why he’d been trying to avoid it in the first place. “I don’t know. Let’s just get back to translating.”

Without a word of complaint, Stan was quick to go back to looking at his book, and for a length of time they both continued to work in silence.

***

After leaving the library, Kyle was making his way through the corridors when he was stopped by a familiar voice.

“Hey, Kyle!” Wendy greeted, jogging up to him as he waited for her to catch up. “Sorry that I couldn’t help you translate.”

Kyle curled up his nose at the thought of the dumb letter. Despite the fact that he’d only just come from translating it, he already never wanted to think about it again. After hours of grueling and tedious matching of symbols, it turned out its true contents had consisted of nothing more than Ike’s thoughts about his school followed by the small paragraph at the bottom that called Kyle a giant loser for actually translating the damned thing. Kyle would respond appropriately later tonight when he got back to his dorm.

“It’s fine, I had Stan help me,” he told her dismissively before attempting to switch the subject to her and her own sudden change of plans earlier. “Is everything okay?”

Wendy nodded and made an affirmative noise, but her smile seemed a little forced. “I’m just glad I made it back in time for the meeting.”

“You cut it close,” Kyle said shooting her a grin. “I was starting to think I was going to have to bring Stan in a wig.”

She wacked him.

“Shut up, Broflovski.”

He laughed and the two of them continued making their way through the halls, their conversation remaining as nothing more than general gossip and light banter. While it was true that Kyle still had a feeling that Wendy was hiding something from him, he wasn’t about to pry. Besides, it wasn’t exactly the first time that Wendy had gone off suddenly for vague-at-best reasons. But he trusted Wendy to tell him if something was seriously wrong, so he didn’t worry about it all that much. Everyone had their secrets, after all.

When they at last turned the corner to the hallway that housed their meeting room, they were greeted by a very particular voice that instantly made Kyle twitch in annoyance.

“About time you assholes showed up,” Eric Cartman said snidely, looking at the two of them from where it looked as if he’d been talking with the Head Girl. Apparently greeting the two Ravenclaw prefects with a snide remark had been reason enough to interrupt his conversation with the Slytherin seventh-year. Still, the girl only looked slightly annoyed, and she always looked annoyed so that wasn’t really saying much.

“We were in the library,” Kyle answered shortly, not wanting to rise to his bait in front of the Head Girl even if she was almost as much of an asshole as Cartman himself. Unfortunately, before he could even try making his way past them, Cartman was already going a step further, as determined as always to get on Kyle’s very last nerve.

“You’d think that purebloods wouldn’t need to spend so much damn time in the fucking library,” Cartman sneered, and from behind him Kyle watched the Head Girl smirk in amusement. “Don’t know enough about your own people, Kahl?”

“That doesn’t even make sense, fatass.” Kyle crossed his arms, narrowing his gaze. “And I’m sure I know a hell of a lot more than you.”

Rising to the challenge, Cartman took a step towards him. “You want to test that?” Cartman threatened, now successfully within Kyle’s personal space. Still, Kyle only raised his chin and stood his ground. “Why don’t I just burn down that stupid library of yours then we’ll really see who knows more.”

“Herman is quite fond of the library you know…” The Head Girl stated thoughtfully, seeming to be deep in thought. When she noticed that the three of them had suddenly turned their gazes towards her however, her face quickly turned crimson. “I mean, not that I care!” She huffed with a cross of her arms. “I would like nothing more than to see that mudblood as unhappy as possible.”

They blinked at her. Kyle looked back to Cartman. “You’re not burning down the library, fatass.”

“Is that a challenge?”

“As if you’d even be able to get away with it,” Kyle retorted with a roll of his eyes. “This is Hogwarts we’re talking about, dumbass.”

“I have my ways,” he stated with a devious smirk, turning his gaze back to the Head Girl. “Isn’t that right Draconia?”

Unfortunately for him, Draconia was no longer paying attention.

Instead, she was looking over to where Herman was talking with a tall and somewhat lanky redhead girl. Or well, perhaps glaring would have been the more appropriate term, since her eyes had narrowed into slits.

“Well, if you would excuse me,” Draconia muttered stiffly, “my partner and I have a meeting to run.”

And with that, the three of them watched as she straightened from the wall and stalked over to the pair, Draconia immediately grabbing Hermon by the wrist and tugging him into the meeting room.

Cartman gazed after her with a brief flash of disappointment, before his expression turned to a scowl as he shifted his attention back to Kyle and Wendy.

However, this time before he could even get a word out, Wendy had clearly had enough and decided it was her turn to speak. “You burn a single book in that library Cartman, and I will personally set you on fire.”

“You’d like that wouldn’t you, you fucking hippy bitch.”

Her eyes took on a dangerous glint. “Probably more than I care to admit.”

By this point, Kyle noticed that the entrance way was almost entirely empty, the other prefects already having entered the meeting room after their Head Boy and Head Girl. Likely realizing that as well as sensing a losing battle, Cartman gave them one last dark look before turning to enter the room himself. Wendy and Kyle shared an amused glance before following in after him.

Inside, Kyle took a seat next to Wendy, while Cartman finally left them alone in favor of situating himself beside Heidi. Seeing that they were all in attendance, Herman shut the door to the room before turning to address them all with an oddly grim expression.

It wasn’t until a short introduction and several news updates later that Kyle finally got the answer as to why.

“From now on we’re going to be doing our routes in pairs,” Herman told them, visibly taking a deep breath as the room erupted into various sounds of discontent.

“What?!” One sixth-year prefect cried. “But that means it’s going to take twice as long! I have practice, and homework, and not to mention-“

“I know,” Herman cut them off calmly. “But it’s a necessary precaution.”

There was a pause as the meaning of his words sunk in, and then another prefect in the room spoke up.

“Did something happen?”

Herman hesitated, but it was then that Draconia stepped forward. “Two students have gone missing within the past two weeks,” she stated bluntly, and to his horror Herman seconded the statement with a nod of his own. Several of the prefects exchanged alarmed glances, Kyle sharing a disbelieving look with Wendy. It shouldn’t have been possible. Hogwarts was one of the safest places in the entire world, students didn’t just disappear for no reason. As far as he knew, it was unheard of.

After waiting for the news to sink in a bit, Herman then took up his speaking position again; although, this time when he spoke his voice was more resigned.

“Headmaster PC Principal doesn’t want to alarm the rest of the students since it’s unknown whether they left on their own or if...something else happened. No one knows what we’re dealing with, but that’s why caution is key. We’ve been asked that we all keep quiet to our classmates about this, but as prefects it will be your duty to keep the halls as safe as possible until we find answers and get the situation under control. Understood?”

Everyone gave a nod of confirmation, but still, the unease that permeated the room was palpable. A few students turned to look out the classroom windows at the hall that was dark and empty outside of their little meeting place. And suddenly, the castle that once seemed untouchable, seemed just a little more ominous.

When they were at last dismissed from the meeting, they were all told to head directly back to their rooms for the night. Patrols would take place starting the following night, and walking the halls without assignment would only land them in trouble. Not that anyone felt like lingering in the hallways anyway, Kyle even watched as Cartman shuffled quickly after Heidi in the direction of the Slytherin dorms without a single snide remark or word of complaint.

Beside him, Wendy gave Kyle a small smile, probably meant to be comforting although she seemed to be thinking hard about something. A contemplative expression adorning her face as the two of them walked through the halls, the older Ravenclaw prefects walking slightly ahead of them and talking in hushed tones with each other.

Yet, Kyle didn’t even try to listen in.

Instead, Kyle continued to walk by Wendy’s side in silence, the faint foreboding feeling reminiscent of eyes watching him following him the entire way back to their common room.