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Wander Under a Starry Sky

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Shouta warily eyes the approaching gaggle of green and silver ties, the small herd of Slytherins coming across the grounds. His own red and gold tie is tied, for once, if loosely, the only concession he made to the prefect snapping at him to fix it, telling him they needed to make a good impression on their rival house. He can see the purpose of intimidation in this situation. It’s the first class the Gryffindors and Slytherins have had together this year, and since they’re teenagers now, freshly thirteen in their third year, the rivalry is only ramping up as their hormones do.

Slytherins aside, it’s a nice day for the first Care of Magical Creatures lesson. The early September sunlight isn’t as strong and hot as it was in August, but it’s also not yet starting to get cold. The lesson today is bound to be at least a little interesting, even if it’s not going to be as interesting as the ones to come. The professor is known for never having a theory-only lesson, not even on the first day.

The Slytherins stop a good twenty feet away from where Shouta’s class stands, and the professor strides out of the forest carrying a double armful of terrariums, and then the class has begun.

“Bowtruckles!” the professor announces, putting the terrariums down to gesture with a hand that’s missing an alarming number of fingers. “Get in pairs.” She pauses for a moment to count them, adding up the Gryffindors and then startling when she realizes just how far away the two classes are from each other. “Come on, move in close,” she says, exasperated. “You’re not allowed to bite each other. Or the creatures.”

“No word on if they’re allowed to bite us,” one of the students mutters, met with snickers.

If the professor hears, she doesn’t comment, and just finishes counting as the students unwillingly shuffle closer to each other. “There’s an even number, so no groups of three,” she decrees, and the mad scramble to claim the best partners begins.

Shouta just stands aside. Even in two years, he hasn’t made any close friends, preferring to keep to himself. He’s not lonely; he has his cat. He’ll take whoever is left over.

Not everyone is quite paired up yet before he’s being approached, though, and Shouta looks up in surprise. His eyes narrow when he sees who it is—or rather, what house they’re in. There’s a Slytherin boy standing in front of him, hand held out like he wants a handshake, smiling in a way that looks just friendly on the surface, but the green on his tie lets Shouta know he’s really a snake.

“Hey!” the boy says, smiling even brighter. “I’m Hizashi Yamada!”

“Uh, Shouta Aizawa,” he returns, guarded. He doesn’t take the offered hand, and the boy eventually drops it. He doesn’t leave, though.

“So...bowtruckles, huh,” he says, bouncing on the balls of his feet and making a face. “Have you ever seen one?”

“No,” Shouta says, wondering what he wants.

“I’ve seen pictures,” the kid says, tapping his hands against his thighs. “They look a lot like those Muggle stick bugs, if you’ve ever seen one of those.”

“Okay,” Shouta says, too flat to be a question but still drawn out. Is the Slytherin here to make fun of him for being Muggleborn? If he was why would he have brought up that he apparently knows about some Muggle things too?

“Alright!” the professor calls, clapping her mangled hands. “Good work pairing up. Looks like we’ve even got one inter-house pair. Ten points each!” She looks over at Shouta and the Slytherin, and he blinks in surprise.

“We’re not partners,” he says, but it gets lost in the sudden burst of chatter as the teacher turns her back. Shouta glares at the other boy.

“Yeah we are!” the kid says, unpaling beneath Shouta’s dirty look.

“You never asked me to work with you.” He just kept trying to make small talk, despite Shouta’s efforts to the contrary.

“Work with me!” When Shouta doesn’t reply, just continuing to give him the same flat, unimpressed look, he tilts his head to the side and widens his eyes pleadingly. “Please?”

“No,” Shouta says, despite knowing it’s pointless. Everyone else is already paired up, and the teacher is starting to bring each group a terrarium, and she already thinks they’re working together.

“I’ll be your friend if you do!” the kid says, like that’s a reward.

“You’re friendly for a Slytherin,” Shouta says with a scoff, emphasis on the name of his house to maybe snap him out of his insanity.

“Hey! Friendliness is totally a Slytherin trait! Making friends is like the best way to get ahead!”

“Is that all friends are to you?” Shouta bristles. He may not have many friends of his own, but any Gryffindor knows that the bonds of friendship are practically sacred.

The kid is still completely unbothered by Shouta’s whole...everything. He should have realized by now that if social standing is what he wants—and it’s all any Slytherin wants—then talking to friendless, weird, Muggleborn Shouta isn’t the way to get it. “Nah! It’s just a nice perk! And see, you’re totally considering it!”

“No, I’m not.” Shouta does realize he has to work with this kid—the teacher is almost to their nonconsensually-formed group—but does not have to be his friend. “We can’t be friends. We’re in different houses,” he says slowly. Maybe this Slytherin is particularly stupid and needs it spelled out.

“Lots of people have friends in other houses! My sister was a Ravenclaw and her best friend was in Hufflepuff!”

“That’s different. Our houses are enemies.”

“So? I don’t care! Do you?”

“...Not really.” It’s not on the top of his list for reasons he doesn’t want to be friends with this kid, anyway. It’s just the one he thinks the other boy will understand.

The Slytherin perks up—and he was perky before. “So you’ll be my friend?”

“No.”

“Aw, c’mon, why?”

“I just met you. I don’t even know your name.” If he’s not friends with the kids he’s known for two years, he’s definitely not going to be friends with this Slytherin.

“I just told you my name!” the kid protests.

“I forgot it.”

The kids sets his jaw. “Well, it’s Yamada, Aizawa!” He draws out Shouta’s name, as it showing off that he remembered. So impressive.

“Okay,” he says evenly.

“So. Friends?”

Shouta stares at him in exasperation. “If I say yes will you shut up?”

Yamada—yeah, okay, he might as well remember his name— smiles winningly. “Yes!”

“I don’t believe you. No.”

Yamada’s whine is cut off by the professor finally reaching them to plunk a terrarium in front of them. When she does, he leans back, face somewhere between disgust and alarm.

...What.”

I don’t like bugs,” Yamada admits. From the way he’s acting, it’s a little more than mild dislike.

“You don’t like bugs.”

“That’s what I just said, yeah! I don’t like them. They’re creepy.” He wraps his arms around his chest, getting them further away from the terrarium, shuddering. He turns the pleading look on Shouta again. “You won’t make me touch them, right?”

Why would you think that?” The thought of grabbing Yamada’s hand and shoving it into the terrarium does occur to him, because this kid is obnoxious, but that would be cruel, and that wouldn’t be nice to the poor bowtruckle either.

“Aren’t Gryffindors supposed to be nice?” The puppy-dog eyes are still on in full force.

Shouta snorts. “No. They’re not.” He doesn’t elaborate on how he knows.

But you’re nice,” Yamada says, and Shouta narrows his eyes. It’s a shockingly confident statement.

“You don’t even know me.”

“I’m good at reading people!”

Shouta can’t help but laugh, a short bitter chuckle, because Yamada couldn’t be more wrong. “I’m not nice. Ask anyone.”

“I’m not asking anyone! I’m asking you!”

Shouta just stares. The kid is either a complete idiot or a master manipulator and it’s freaking him out that he can’t figure out which. He’s saved from having to reply when the professor claps her hands and starts her lecture. They’ll be feeding the bowtruckles other, smaller bugs, a statement which makes Yamada blanch. Shouta has no particular feelings about bugs, but he took this class because he likes animals, so interacting with them a little more is no hardship.

Yamada leans back even further when Shouta opens the terrarium, and despite his promise, he doesn’t stop talking throughout the entire class. It’s annoying, and something about the cadence of his voice—it’s got a weird variance in pitch, going too high and then too low in the same sentence—makes him impossible to tune out. The class isn’t going how he expected—he expected to have to be vaguely polite to another Gryffindor for an hour, but instead he’s stuck with this weird Slytherin who won’t stop talking or acting like they’re friends. It’s annoying, and he can’t wait for it to be over.

But he doesn’t make Yamada touch the bugs.

Chapter Text

At lunch the next day, Shouta is carefully arranging his sandwich, not paying attention to any of the conversations going on around him, when someone sits right next to him. That’s not unusual, the table is pretty crowded, and Shouta is about to just angle his body a little away to make it clear he’s not looking for a conversation when he catches a glimpse of green out of the corner of his eye. He looks over, eyes widening and then quickly narrowing when he confirms who it is. He turns back to his sandwich.

“Hey Aizawa! I have had the craziest morning. Ooh, that looks good, pass me the bread so I can make one!”

Slowly, unwillingly, Shouta turns towards him. “You can’t sit here,” he starts slowly, trying to get this basic information through Yamada’s head. “This is the Gryffindor table.”

“That’s not a problem!” Yamada points eagerly with both hands at a Ravenclaw sitting at the Hufflepuff table next to them. “There’s no rule against sitting at other house’s tables!”

“This is the Gryffindor table,” Shouta repeats. “You are a Slytherin. It’s different and you’re going to get hexed, if not murdered.” He says all of this in the same deadpan monotone, attempting to convey that though this is a warning, he really doesn’t care what happens to Yamada.

Yamada waves a hand. “I’ll be fine. Nothing I can’t handle. Besides, I really am sure that Gryffindors are supposed to be nice.”

“They’re not. I think I would know better than you.” Shouta says simply, and something in the statement makes Yamada stop and look at him a little differently. “If you want nice, find a Hufflepuff,” Shouta advises, jerking his head curtly towards the table next to them.

Yamada shakes his head, swift and jerky. “Don’t wanna,” he says matter of factly. “I like you.”

Shouta ducks his head. More and more, he’s leaning towards guessing that Yamada is more manipulative than stupid, befitting a Slytherin—and yet nothing he says feels untrue. Maybe that’s his secret. “What are you even doing here?”

Yamada gives a sunny smile. “Getting to know you! So we can be friends!”

Shouta snorts. “Good luck.” He takes a giant bite of his sandwich, chewing slowly.

It was clearly sarcastic, but Yamada smiles like it was completely genuine. “Thanks! I feel like I might need it!” He laughs at his own joke, reaching rudely over Shouta to grab the food he wants, finally giving up on the idea that Shouta’s going to pass him anything. “So,” he says, starting to stack up his own sandwich. “Do you follow Quidditch much? I’m going to try out to be the announcer next year! I’ve been working on my amplification charms!”

Shouta can’t help but snort, because the last thing Yamada needs is to be louder, but he stifles the noise in case the takes the almost-laugh as encouragement. “Not really. I didn’t know that Quidditch existed until I came here,” he says dryly. Maybe if he sprinkles in references to his Muggleborn status, the Slytherin will realize that he’s not the right person to be friends with.

“Oh, right,” is all he says—but that does confirm that he’s Slytherin enough to know, track, and care about everyone’s blood status. “Have you watched any games since you got here? The first game of the year is Gryffindor against Ravenclaw, I think. You should try out for the team! The way you move, I bet you’re good on a broom.”

Shouta looks up from his sandwich, eyebrows raised, because it’s true—the flying instructor had told him he was a natural, soaring easily around the field the first time he’d touched a broomstick. “If I was good, it would be bad for you. Don’t you want Slytherin to win?”

Yamada hums and points like he’s just made a good argument, but then he shakes his head. “I want the competition to be as good as it can be so I’ll know it means something when we win! It’s no fun to win against easy opponents.”

“That’s...very Gryffindor of you. Aren’t Slytherins about winning at any cost?”

Yamada shrugs. “Not everyone can be a perfect example of their house, I guess. And I still want them to win, I just don’t want it to be easy for them. They’ll never grow, that way.” He finishes his sandwich and picks it up to take a triumphant bite. It turns out he talks with his mouth full, too, along with everything else, because he’s not finished chewing when he says “Aizawa. Your name is Japanese too, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Is that why you’re talking to me?” he asks bluntly. That makes more sense than any other reason Yamada would have picked him out of a crowd, because it’s not like he doesn’t look Japanese too. Certainly more than Yamada does, with his blond hair and wide green eyes.

“Nah, not really. It’s just cool. I’m half—my dad is Japanese. Hence my own name! Did you bring a pet? I have a barn owl. She’s really pretty!”

Shouta opens his mouth to reply, almost eagerly, because Yamada has accidentally hit on the one subject he actually likes to talk about, but a sudden blow to the back of his head makes him bite his tongue. It’s almost hard enough to make his forehead touch the sandwich on his plate, snapping his head forward, but he doesn’t turn around, just straightens back up and picks his sandwich up like nothing had happened, ignoring the raucous laughter behind him that makes his ears burn.

Yamada gapes for half a second before whipping around, half out of his seat before Shouta can reach out to grab his arm. That makes him turn his shocked gaze back to Shouta. “What the hell was that??”

“Just ignore them,” Shouta says around the blood in his mouth.

“They were Gryffindors! From your own house!” Yamada slowly sits back down as Shouta tugs on his arm, but he’s still seething. Then he looks at Shouta, his gaze holding more than a note of pity. “Is that what you meant by Gryffindors aren’t nice?”

Shouta glares at him. “Do you ever shut up?” he snaps, the heat from his ears spreading to his face as the shame burns in his stomach.

The tone in his voice finally gets through to Yamada, because he closes his mouth for once, looking away. Shouta picks his sandwich up and carefully takes another bite, chewing around the throbbing in his tongue. Slowly, Yamada picks at his own food, and they eat in silence for a few minutes. As much as he wanted him to shut up, it doesn’t feel good now that he has.

Finally, Shouta breaks the silence, and Yamada’s shoulders drop in relief. “I have a cat. Her name is Sooty.” His parents just hadn’t been able to resist buying him a coal-black cat when they learned that he would be attending a school for witchcraft, and he certainly hadn’t complained.

“That’s cool.” Yamada’s voice is a little subdued, but he picks up speed and volume as he keeps talking. “Is she nice? I’ve met some really nice cats and some really mean cats. My sister’s cat was a complete ass. He would just bite me for no reason! I would just be sitting there and he would come over and nip at my toes or something! It was the worst. It was sad when my sister moved out, but I wasn’t sad to see that cat go, not at all.”

“She’s nice to me,” Shouta says, and he realizes that in the back of his mind, he’s wondering if she’s going to like Yamada or not. He scowls as it dawns on him just how much he’s starting to accept this one-sided friendship.

“I guess that’s all you really need, since she’s your pet!” Whatever Yamada is going to say next is cut off by the chiming of the bell. He starts to stand up, along with everyone else. “Oh, it’s time to go. What do you have next? We have Charms.”

“Potions,” Shouta says, picking up the last of his sandwich as he swings his bag over his shoulder.

Yamada makes a face. “Ugh, I hate Potions. It’s always so quiet in there. And all the weird squishy ingredients. Well, good luck!” He gives a wave and a smile, then turns to go.

Despite the way the back of his head and his tongue still sting, and the fourth of the sandwich he hasn’t finished, Shouta can’t help but feel a little lighter as he walks off to his next class.

Chapter Text

A week later, Shouta is standing in the doorway of the History of Magic classroom, hovering uncertainly and trying to look like he’s not. He’s the last one in the classroom, from the looks of it, almost late from running back up to his room to grab something before lunch. Everyone else has already sat down, and there are two empty seats.

Yamada had lit up so brightly when he had found out that they had not one but two classes together, and he hadn’t hesitated to swan over to the seat next to Shouta and sit down, beaming at him. He’d chattered away until class had started, then spent the class period trying to pass Shouta notes—and yet he still had a page full of notes on the lecture at the end of the class.

One open seat is next to a Gryffindor boy who Shouta isn’t exactly friends with, but they’re on vaguely friendly terms. He’s never been anything but polite to Shouta, and he once (quietly, offhandedly) told Striker and his friends to knock it off when they were harassing Shouta, back in first year. If Shouta sat next to him, he’d say hello and then let him focus on the lesson.

The other empty seat is next to Yamada. That’s a little surprising—doesn’t he have friends? Maybe they’re just not willing to sit next to him where he is, on the unofficially-Gryffindor side of the room. If he sits next to Yamada, not only will he be fending off his attempts to distract him the whole lesson...he’ll take his choice of seating as meaning more than it really does. That, coupled with the item he had shoved hastily into his bag right before coming here—he’ll never shake the kid.

Shouta makes a decision and knows he’s finally lost.

“Hey, Aizawa!” comes the overjoyed greeting as he slides into his seat. “Man, I am so ready for lunch after this. What do you think we’re having?”

Shouta just makes a noncommittal grunt, still not really believing that he’s chosen to sit here. Yamada can’t try to engage him verbally any more, because class is starting.

The professor tries her best to make it interesting, but history is just never going to be. Yamada actually serves a purpose today, because when Shouta sits up with a start, realizing his eyes had glazed over ten minutes ago, Yamada just pokes him and slides a piece of parchment over towards him, and this time it’s not something inane about class schedules or weather or music, it’s his notes on the lecture. Shouta shoots him a grateful look and quickly skims them before redoubling his efforts to pay attention.

As they pack up their things to leave, Shouta debates internally for several seconds before he says, “I have something to show you.”

Yamada looks at him with interest. “Oh? What is it?”

“I’ll show y-” Shouta’s cut off by a hard shove, making him hit the edge of the table, banging his hip painfully.

“Introduce us to your new pal, Aizawa!” comes the voice from behind him. Striker isn’t content to just shove him and move on this time. His tone is deceptively friendly, and it’s the same look on Yamada’s face as he stands. He sticks out his hand, and unlike Shouta, Striker takes it and shakes it as Shouta slowly turns around to face them.

“Hey! I’m Hizashi Yamada. Slytherin house,” he says smoothly. There’s nothing to indicate that the smile on his face isn’t genuine.

“Raleigh Striker,” is the confident return. “This is Hickories and this is Owler,” he says, gesturing to either side of himself.

“Nice to meet you all!” Yamada says, nodding to both of them with a smile.

“If you’re looking for an in at the Gryffindor table,” Striker starts, then drops his voice like Shouta’s not still standing right there, “We’re a better option. Safety in numbers, and all that.”

“Really? You’d risk your reputations like that?” Yamada reaches up, running his hand through his short, spiky hair in what Shouta recognizes as a nervous gesture.

Striker leans on the table behind him. “Sure. But I think our reputations will survive a little fraternization with the enemy.”

Yamada looks down for the briefest moment before grinning. “Alright, then,” he says, slinging his bag over his shoulder. “Let’s go!”

He doesn’t spare Shouta a backwards glance.

Shouta spends a stunned moment watching them go before slowly turning to gather up his bag.

He feels numb, hollow and scraped-out, and his feet take him not towards the Great Hall for lunch but towards the Gryffindor tower. His stomach feels strange too, empty but the furthest possible from hungry, so it doesn’t matter that he’s going to miss lunch.

Sooty is on his bed when he crawls into it, and she wakes up with a yawn and a chirp as he sits and draws his knees up to his chest. Her sleepy stretch would usually make him smile, but not today.

Yamada is just that friendly. It never meant anything. He doesn’t even like the kid, he had just begun to tolerate him, but—

Sooty has finished stretching, and she makes another small cat noise as she bumps her head against Shouta’s hand. He lifts his tear-streaked face from his knees and scratches behind her ears. “People suck,” he tells her quietly. “Cats are better.” She makes a chirp of agreement and presses against his hand, starting to purr. “It’s not fair,” he hisses, keeping the hand petting her gentle but clenching his other hand into a fist, fingernails digging into his palm. “ Why does that asshole have more friends than me?” Why does Striker get Yamada? Why does he get everything? Why does he get to be confident and happy and friendly while Shouta is stuck being awkward and rude and miserable?

It’s really no wonder Yamada picked him over me,” he mutters to Sooty. That doesn’t make it feel any better; it only makes it hurt more.


 

Hizashi leads the way out of the classroom, still carefully smiling even though Shouta’s bullies are trailing behind him and can’t see his face.

Striker trots up next to him, throwing an arm around his shoulder, and Hizashi only stiffens for a bare moment. “It’s a good thing you decided to come with us,” he says. “That Aizawa kid is bad news.”

“Oh yeah?” Hizashi says. The pit of hot anger in his stomach flares, and he hides it but lets it grow, all but feeds it as Striker keeps talking. “What’s wrong with him?”

Striker sighs. “What isn’t? He’s just weird. He won’t talk to any of his roommates, and he actually hissed at Hickories when he tried to ask him a question, the little psychopath. He actually thinks he’s a cat, and he’s way too close to that pet of his.”

“He talks to it,” one of the others pipes up, and Hizashi thinks it might be Owler. “Like it’s his girlfriend or something.”

The other one snickers. “Girlfriend? Yeah, no, not Aizawa. Did you know Brooks caught him staring at his ass the other day? The kid’s a queer.”

On top of everything else,” Striker says despairingly. “You might not know, but he’s a mudblood, too. Not that I care, but you’re a Slytherin, you probably do.”

“Hey, aren’t we going the wrong way?” the first one asks.

“I know a shortcut,” Hizashi says, picking up his pace. “It’s a Slytherin secret, but I’ll show you guys!” The bubble of anger is almost white-hot, and his hand is clenched into a fist around the wand in his pocket.

Striker’s arm is still around his shoulders, and his skin is starting to crawl. “He really is just a gay freak, and it’s honestly good you decided to stop associating with him. I know it seems mean when we shove him around, but we’re just trying to knock some sense into him. People like that need to be taught shame or they’ll grow up even worse.”

Finally, they’re far enough away from the rest of the castle, and Hizashi shoves the arm off his shoulders, whirling around. “What the fuck is wrong with you guys?!” he bursts out as the anger reaches a wildfire blaze. “You’re the ones who should be ashamed!” The three Gryffindors are rooted to the floor in shock as Hizashi strides several paces away and whips around to face them, but they’re quick to draw their wands when Hizashi does. He raises his arm, but points the tip of his wand carefully at his own throat. “I don’t care what you say about him, I’m his friend, and—” he plants his feet, bracing himself, and whispers “Sonorus!”


 

“YOU’RE GOING TO LEAVE HIM ALONE!”

It’s unmistakably Yamada’s voice, but it’s loud enough that it rings throughout the castle, echoing faintly. Shouta’s head jerks up in shock.

He rips back the curtain, scrambling out of bed, but once he gets out of the Gryffindor common room, he realizes that he has no idea where Yamada is. He sets off in a mostly-random direction, towards the explosive shout, walking as fast as he can without breaking into a run. It’s mostly chance, if not fate, that as he turns another corner a hand shoots out and grabs his shoulder. For a moment, he thinks it’s Striker, but then a voice rasps “Aizawa!”

“Yamada,” he returns, and then he’s turning, all in one motion, and throwing a punch that connects solidly with Yamada’s face.

He falls, landing on his butt on the stone floor, staring up at Shouta with an almost comical look of shock. “Aizawa. I didn’t—”

“I know,” Shouta clips out, hands still in fists. “I heard you. You don’t have to fight my battles for me. I’m not a coward.” He’s shaking in—anger, the confused swarm of emotions, too much to pick apart and name each one—coalesces into rage.

“I know! I never thought you were!”

“Then why did you do that?” Shouta growls.

Yamada carefully lifts a hand to his face, pressing gingerly at the red swelling of his eye. “You can blame it on my house, I guess,” he says with a short, sad laugh. “I’m a Slytherin. We’re loyal. Any enemy of yours is an enemy of mine. And I’m not brave or patient like you—I couldn’t just let that go. They were saying such awful things about you!”

“Why do you want to be my friend so badly?” Shouta asks, at the end of his rope in so many different ways. Even after everything Striker and his friends must have said?

Yamada shrugs. “I don’t know, exactly. At first, you were mysterious, and then I got to know you, and I just thought you were so cool.”

...Do you still?” Shouta asks, and he wanted it to be offhand, but his voice comes out horrifyingly small as he unclenches his fists. Yamada is still on the ground.

The sun comes out as he smiles. “Hey, it’ll take more than one punch to get rid of me!” he says, and everything in Shouta relaxes as he steps forward to offer his friend a hand, pulling him to his feet.

“I’m sorry,” he says softly, and he hasn’t dropped Yamada’s hand yet. It’s warm in his.

“It’s okay! I kind of deserved it for making you think I’d betrayed you like that,” he says, running his left hand through his hair. He hasn’t pulled his other hand back. “So, Aizawa—”

“Shouta,” he says, soft but intense. “You can call me Shouta.”

Alright then,” Yamada says, with a quiet, private smile. He has such bright green eyes, behind those thick red frames. “You can call me Hizashi.”

All at once, Shouta realizes what he’s doing, how close they are, and drops Hizashi’s hand like it’s a hot coal, stepping back out of his space.

Hizashi laughs nervously, running his hand through his hair yet again. “So! Do you, uh...do you think we still have time to eat lunch?” As if in answer, the bell chimes, and Hizashi makes a face. “Ugh, I was hungry.”

“I have to—get to Potions,” Shouta says, haltingly.

“Charms, yeah,” Hizashi says, nodding. Then he smiles. “I’ll see you at Care of Magical Creatures after that, though!”

“Yeah,” Shouta says, mirroring his nod quickly, turning to leave.

He’s only a few steps away when Hizashi calls out, “Wait! What were you going to show me?”

Wordlessly, Shouta digs in his bag, pulling out a photograph. He holds it out to Hizashi.

He takes it. “Oh! Is this Sooty? She’s so cute!” he coos. Then he pokes at the picture, turning it this way and that. “Huh. I mean, I knew Muggle pictures didn’t move, but it’s still so odd to see!”

You can actually meet her, someday,” Shouta half-mumbles. “She mostly stays in the Gryffindor dorms, but I can pick her up and take her out if you want.”

“I’d like that,” Hizashi says, smiling at him, and Shouta’s stomach flutters. “Oh, we’re gonna be late!”

“I’ll see you later,” Shouta says.

Hizashi gives a cheery wave. “I’m probably going to have detention tonight,” he says, seeming completely unbothered by that fact, “but I’ll see you at dinner!” He doesn’t wait for an answer, turning to leave, and then, mercifully, heartbreakingly, the moment is over.

Chapter Text

Shouta is already in bed, but not yet asleep, when he hears something tap on his window. At first, he ignores it, wondering if it’s rain or a confused bird. He’s comfortable, snuggled underneath the covers with Sooty pressed against his side. The blankets are a little much for the warm early summer night, but the castle always seems to stay cool.

The tapping comes again, too even and regular to be anything but intentional, and he lifts the curtains aside, carefully peeling himself away from Sooty—who gets up anyway—and padding over to the window.

It is, as he guessed, a bird, but it doesn’t look confused. It’s Hizashi’s barn owl, Grace, perched on the windowsill and looking piercingly at Shouta through the glass. He opens the window, and she hops through, holding out something in her talon for him. It’s a small piece of parchment, and when he takes it, she dips her head approvingly.

All it says is come to the astronomy tower.

He grabs a quill and scrawls on the other side it’s past curfew, then stops, crumpling the paper up and throwing it away. The owl makes a short staticky noise, and he looks at her. Even after three whole years, he’s never sure how intelligent the animals around here are. “I got the note,” he tells her on the chance that she understands. “I’m going.”

Whether she understands or not, she hops back up to the window, spreading her wings and flying away.

It’s not that late, so there are still a few other Gryffindors in the common room, but nobody looks up or notices Shouta as he walks as casually as he can out of the portrait hole. He carefully closes it behind himself. No alarms have sounded yet.

He creeps slowly down the hallways, stopping frequently to listen for any footsteps, but for the most part, there’s nothing. Only once does he have to duck into a darkened classroom to avoid a teacher.

Finally, he’s climbing the spiral staircase up to the top of the tower. It’s very dark, no torches like the rest of the castle, but once his eyes adjust to th e moonlight, he can see Hizashi’s wave. “Hey,” he says, coming over to sit next to his friend.

“Hey, Shouta,” Hizashi says, uncharacteristically quiet and subdued. His knees are drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped around them, and when he looks away from Shouta, he tips his head up, gazing up at the stars.

There’s obviously something he wants to talk about, but for the moment the silence feels good, feels pure, steady as the reflection of the moon in Hizashi’s glasses. They simply sit side by side.

“Grace found your dorm okay?” Hizashi finally asks, looking over at him.

“Yeah,” Shouta says, nodding.

I honestly don’t know how owls do that. I certainly don’t know where you sleep. I just told her to find you, and somehow she did.” Hizashi isn’t completely still—his fingers tap against the side of his leg.

“What did you want to talk about?” Shouta prompts.

Hizashi shrugs. “Nothing, really. I just—wanted some company.” Shouta nods, and they sit in silence for another couple moments. “It’s almost summer. Almost time to leave.”

“We’ll be back next year.”

I know. But—I don’t…want to go home,” he admits haltingly. “It’s so quiet there.” Shouta just gives a short hum in reply, and Hizashi looks over at him. “You’ll write to me, right?”

“How? I don’t have an owl. Do Wizarding houses get Muggle post?”

I don’t know. I don’t think we ever have before. You can use Grace, though! I’ll just tell her to stick around after she delivers my letters and wait for you to write yours.”

S houta snorts. “She’s going to bite me if I don’t write quickly enough. Or long enough letters.”

Hizashi gives a small smile and a chuckle. “Yeah, she probably will.” His legs relax, then he folds them beneath him. He looks back up at the stars. “I’ll miss you anyway.”

Shouta swallows hard. He knows, with all his fourteen -year-old heart, that it’s too much, that what he’ s starting to feel for Hizashi is too much. He knows what they say about him, and he knows that this wouldn’t help. It’s not in just the words the y’re saying , it’s mostly in the way they’re sitting, the way his heart hovers somewhere in the scant space between them, the electricity that threatens to jump between their skin. It’s something in the starlight.

But it’s just them, here.

I’ll miss you too,” Shouta says quietly. He almost feels like he misses Hizashi when he’s right here.

The darkness almost hides Hizashi’s smile. “Well. We’d better get back to our dorms before we get in trouble.” He doesn’t move to stand up yet.

Mhm.” When he moves his hand, shifting his weight and bracing himself to stand, it ends up so close to Hizashi’s that he can feel his faint warmth. He stills as his heart flutters, not daring to look over at him.

Hizashi doesn’t move either, not for a long moment. Then he gets to his feet, so Shouta does too. “Gryffindor tower is kind of near here, isn’t it? I’ll walk you back. If we get caught, we get caught together.” Hizashi brushes his hands over his robes, shaking away imaginary dust.

Shouta nods. “Okay.”

They don’t get caught, though. Shouta makes it back safely to the portrait of the fat lady, and he doesn’t hesitate to whisper the password. He pauses in the doorway. “Well—bye.”

Hizashi smiles. “See you at breakfast tomorrow,” he says with a wave.

Everyone has left the common room now, so nobody sees him come in. He gets into bed—Sooty is gone now—but it’s a long time before he closes his eyes.

When he does, he just keeps seeing Hizashi’s smile.

Chapter Text

Dear Hello To To Shouta:

 

Heya!!!!! How are you?? Are you doing anything this summer?? I forgot to even ask if you had plans! I don’t—I’m as bored as I thought I would be. I can’t even listen to music, since my dad doesn’t like the noise. It seems sometimes like he doesn’t like anything. He probably wouldn’t even like me talking to you, honestly. He’s not the biggest fan of Muggleborns, says they’re not really wizards, just mutations. I think you’re a real wizard, though! You’re better at DADA than me, anyway.

Anyway, I hope Grace finds your house okay! She was happy to see me writing—I think she was bored, and maybe lonely without the other owls in the Owlery. Do you think she has an owl boyfriend? I’ve seen other barn owls fly through the Great Hall. Maybe she’ll have babies! Actually, I wonder why there aren’t a bunch of baby owls flying around Hogwarts—maybe there’s some spell. I don’t really need a bunch of owls, anyway. If I had a bunch of owls, I’d need to make a bunch more friends to send letters to. I’d be so busy writing letters that I wouldn’t have time to do any of my summer homework—but I guess I also wouldn’t have time to be bored! Maybe I do want a bunch of owls. Do you wish Sooty would have kittens? Kittens are so cute. Come to think of it, there’s no kittens at Hogwarts either, not except for the ones people bring. Maybe there’s a spell over the whole castle. I’m going to ask my sister the next time she comes to visit. Maybe someday you’ll meet my sister! She would like you, I think.

Anyway anyway, I’m running out of room on this piece of parchment, and Grace just keeps getting closer and closer, so I think she wants to leave now.

Bye!!!!

 

Y ours From You know who I am!! Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

Why did you write so much? Now your owl is going to peck me until I write just as much. I don’t talk as much as you do, so that’s not going to happen. I will disappoint your owl.

I don’t have plans. Just attempting to laze around the house while my parents attempt to get me to do anything else. I’m enjoying it.

I got you a present. I don’t know how you’re trying to listen to music, but hopefully whatever you’re using has a headphone jack. Sorry they’re not new, they’re my pair. I didn’t have time to buy new ones with Grace waiting.

Sooty is spayed, so she will never have kittens. Do wizards not spay and neuter their pets? What happens if Grace meets another barn owl when she’s at your house and not Hogwarts?

I doubt your sister would like me. Most people don’t. You are, apparently, an exception.

I don’t know what else to write. You and Grace will have to be happy with this.

I want to be back at Hogwarts so that I can see you.

 

Shouta.

 

 

Shouta!! Hello!!

 

You wrote back!! I mean, you pretty much had to, with Grace hounding you (birding you??) but anyway. It’s good to hear from you!!

I’m sure she wasn’t too disappointed! If she was, she just doesn’t get how you talk. I use a bunch of words for no reason but you’re concise. To the point! Succinct! You don’t say a bunch of unnecessary things, you just say what you need to and then you’re done. See, I just used twenty-three words I didn’t really need to, and took up two whole inches of parchment. You save words and time!

Don’t you get bored?? If you don’t, that’s just another way you’re better than me impressive! Merlin, I really am just singing your praises in this letter, aren’t I? It’s because I miss you. I don’t have anyone to talk at, here. My dad will only listen for so long.

Whoa!! Thank you so much!! These look really cool, but I have no idea what they do!! What’s a headphone J ack? You said I can use these to listen to music? I don’t know if they got broken during the flight or I just don’t know how to use them. You have to come over here and show me! But not actually, unfortunately. It would be so great if we could just Apparate, then you could just pop into my bedroom very quietly and my dad would never have to know, and you could show me how to work all the cool Muggle things and we could listen to music quietly together (which is what these do I guess? How? Like I can see that they go over your ears and where the music must come out but how does the music get in?).

Oh, and I have a radio. Not that it does much good when I can’t make noise.

Spayed? How do you do that? She’ll never ever have kittens?? What if you want them?

I don’t think Grace would like a wild barn owl that much. They’re not very smart. Owls aren’t inherently magical creatures, but they turn out different when they grow up around wizards and witches. I don’t know what would happen if like the family next door had a barn owl, though. I guess we’d figure that out if it happened!

Most people are idiots! My sister would have to like you because I do! She’s kind of quiet like you, anyway. I’m kind of the exception in my family. My mom was a lot like me, apparently, but I don’t really remember her so I just know what people have told me. Everyone who knew her says I’m the ‘spitting image’ of her. Where do you think that phrase comes from? It’s so weird!

That’s okay! Grace is just happy to carry letters, and I’m just happy to get them!

 

Bye!! Hizashi

 

 

H izashi.

 

It’s good to hear from you too.

You seem to like talking, and generally making noise, so more words are better, for you. That’s okay. We’re different. I like that.

Not getting bored isn’t impressive. Sleeping just isn’t boring. If anything, not getting bored easily just makes me a boring person. Not that I mind being boring.

Do wizards really not have headphones? Why would you not import something so basic? A headphone jack is a small hole tha t the metal end goes in. They don’t play music on their own, you have to attach them to something. Your radio might have one—it will if it’s a Muggle one. Why do wizards have radios and not headphones?

If I wanted kittens, I’d have to adopt them from a shelter. There are enough kittens in the world, too many without homes. Spaying (or neutering for male animals) is a type of surgery. It just takes all those parts out.

That actually answers several questions I had about owls. Thank you.

I don’t know where that phrase comes from. It is weird. I’m sorry you didn’t get to know your mom. She sounds like she was nice.

I hope this letter is long enough. Grace is being very patient.

 

Shouta.

 

 

Heya Shouta!!!! !!

 

It’s almost September again! This summer has gone by so fast and yet so slow. It’ll be so good to be back at Hogwarts, either way. I can’t wait to see you! And eat the food there again, yum. My dad’s cooking is not that good. Someday I’m going to learn to cook as well as the house elves at Hogwarts! I wish we had a house elf. We’re an old enough pureblood family, but we don’t really have that much money. Not like we’re poor or anything, we’re just not rich like that.

I do like talking!! And you’re right. I like words. You have such good insight into things.

I don’t think you’re boring! Even if you wouldn’t mind being boring. You’re just efficient. Energy-saver Shouta!

Oh my gosh they work!! It does have a jack!! This is amazing!! I put them in and I didn’t think it was working until I put them on my ears and wow!! I can really listen to music now!! This is hands-down the best gift I’ve ever gotten!! Thank you!! More exclamation points!!!!!!! I don’t know why wizards don’t have these! Like, there’s magic you can do, like noise canceling spells, but these are so much easier! You have to show me all the cool Muggle things! It’s not fair, you get to learn about all the cool Wizarding things at Hogwarts already!

I guess that’s true. If there are a bunch of kittens that nobody wants (how?? kittens!! ) it’s good that Sooty can’t have them. Surgery? That’s that Muggle thing where you cut people open, right? So weird and creepy. You can do that to animals? Spells seem so much nicer. Surgery sounds like it would hurt a lot. Spells usually don’t hurt.

That’s me, I exist to spread knowledge! The Sorting Hat asked me if I wanted to be in Ravenclaw, you know, but it immediately put me in Slytherin when I said I wanted to be in the best house, haha. So there’s final proof of which house is the best! Slytherin rules and Gryffindor sucks, even the Sorting Hat thinks so! [drawing of a face with its tongue sticking out] (I’m just kidding, of course. It said that because wanting to be in the best house is a Slytherin trait. All the houses are good in their own way!)

It’s okay. Well, no, it’s not really, but you know. Can’t change it. So it’s fine! [drawing of a happy face with cat ears and a little tail] Do you like my cat drawing? I bet you could draw a cuter one! I dare you!!

Grace is a good owl. She probably doesn’t even open our letters and read them! Wouldn’t that be weird, if they did? Like if you were writing a letter to your girlfriend or something and your owl was like reading it to make sure you weren’t writing anything dirty? That would be weird. I’m glad they...probably...don’t do that. Grace, if you’re reading this, you’re being creepy!! Bad owl!!

 

Bye, Hizashi [drawing of a star and a pair of headphones]

 

 

Hizashi.

 

Hopefully you get this letter before I see you. I guess it’s not a problem if you don’t. When are you going to be at Diagon Alley? Maybe we can meet up.

I won’t argue with that. It wouldn’t be efficient.

I’m glad you like them. You used 25 exclamation points in that paragraph. That’s a lot, even for you. I’m glad you like them that much.

People (or animals) are given medicine that makes them fall asleep for the actual surgery. It hurts a little afterwards, but there’s medicine for that too. I don’t know how there are kittens that people don’t want. Like you said: kittens. Except you said it with an exclamation mark, I guess. Kittens!

No, wait. You used two. Kittens!! There.

I will admit that Slytherin isn’t as bad as I thought. Not if you’re at all a good representation of your house. Gryffindor is still better, though. We’re bravery. What’s better than doing the right thing?

[Several crossed out attempts to draw a cat] I’m not good at drawing. [Several more small doodles, all crossed out until the last one] There. That’s Sooty. She pretty much just looks like a blob, but I tried. She’s not as cute as in real life. But that’s not possible.

Are you telling me owls can read? That’s almost disturbing. I suppose it’s a good thing neither of us have girlfriends, then. Do you want a g

I’ll see you soon.

 

Shouta.

Chapter Text

The train compartment door slams open, and before Shouta can react, he’s being hauled to his feet and pulled into a tight hug. Slowly, carefully, he relaxes into it, patting Hizashi awkwardly on the back. “Hey, Hizashi.”

“Shouta!” Hizashi all but sobs. “I missed you!!” When he pulls back, however, he’s smiling. “But you’re here now! We’re both here now!”

“And we will be all year,” Shouta says, a smaller but no less happy smile on his own face.

Hizashi gives a long exhale, throwing himself down on the seat next to the one Shouta was sitting in. “Summer sucked,” he says morosely, then brightens. “But your headphones made it so much better! I had to hide them from my dad, but it was so good to be able to listen to the radio as much as I wanted! Thank you so much, again!” He beams.

Shouta ducks his head, hiding behind the hair that has just grown past his ears, rubbing the back of his neck. “They were just something I had laying around my room.”

“Still! Merlin, I wish I could visit you. My dad would never go for that, though. Not if he knew anything about you. I’m sorry we couldn’t meet up, by the way. Do your parents do alright with all the Wizarding stuff in Diagon Alley? I can imagine that that would be a lot, for Muggles.” Hizashi slumps down in the seat, yet his hands are still in motion, tapping restlessly against his thighs.

Shouta shrugs. “It was a lot for me, too, at first. But we all manage.”

Hizashi looks off into the air. “Huh. I wonder how the exchange rate is, between Muggle and Wizarding money. Which side does it favor? There would be a lot of exchange. Muggleborns, and then there’s really not that many all-Wizarding communities left, and even if you do live in one the Muggle world is so much bigger—I really wish I got to go out in it more, but maybe you can take me! Show me all the ropes! I want to go see a movie,” Hizashi announces, and Shouta faintly smiles. He’s gotten the effect of Hizashi’s chatter through their letters, but it’s not the same as hearing his voice. He had thought it was so annoying, when he first heard it, but now it sounds almost musical, and its inescapable quality has come to feel like a positive. He often hears the tones of Hizashi’s voice in his head after he leaves, and it’s nice, having that echo of his friend around.

“Movies aren’t difficult. You pay, walk in, and sit down.”

“Yeah, but pay how much? Walk in to where? I don’t even know what I don’t know! I’d never manage it,” Hizashi says, finally achieving maximum slump and then all at once wrenching himself back upright. “You have your schedule now, right? What classes do we have together?”

Shouta shakes his head. “It’s in my trunk.”

“Oh. Do you remember it? I have History of Magic first thing, ugh. I’ll be like you, always falling asleep. Then Charms. I took Care of Magical Creatures again because you said you were going to, I hope there’ll be less bugs, and I hope we have it together—fingers crossed,” Hizashi holds up both hands, fingers crossed on each of them, “—each year there would be less bugs, I would think.” Hizashi rattles off several more classes, and Shouta just slowly shakes his head.

“I haven’t looked at it. It doesn’t say what house we have lessons with, anyway.”

Hizashi hums, hands still tapping away. “Yeah, true. We’ll just have to see when we get there. At breakfast tomorrow or something. It would be so great if we were just in the same house!” he bursts out, flinging his hands into the air for a moment.

Shouta shrugs. “Yeah, but we’re not. Which house would we even be in, though? You’re not at all a Gryffindor and I’m not a Slytherin.”

“I guess not. Did the Sorting Hat offer you any other houses? Like, it said I could have been in Ravenclaw.”

“It said something about Hufflepuff, I think. But it put me in Gryffindor pretty quickly.”

Hizashi slumps again with a groan. “So it’s hopeless. We never could have been in the same house at all.” He raises his arms dramatically. “Fate was always against us!”

Shouta snorts. “I don’t think fate works that way. Houses don’t matter after Hogwarts, right?”

“Not nearly as much.” He finally drops his arms, sitting up straight to look at Shouta. “Do you think we’ll still be friends then?” His voice isn’t small or quiet by any metric—except compared to how it usually is.

It’s almost like deja vu, like this is a rut, a track they keep falling into, when everything goes soft and private, when Hizashi’s big green eyes look steady into his. Shouta can’t look away, can’t brush it off or make some dry joke, he just has to look back at Hizashi and say, deadly serious in the way only fourteen-year-olds can be, “I think we’ll always be friends.”

They’re sitting close, knees and shoulders almost brushing, and Shouta is close enough to see the silvery shine in Hizashi’s eyes. There’s something calling him to reach out, to do something, but he also doesn’t know what. His hand lifts just slightly out of his lap. Maybe he’ll figure it out on the way. He feels that everything in Hizashi is warm towards him, is reaching out towards him too.

Then the compartment door slides open again. “Oh, hey, Yamada!” A girl with thick black hair and pointed glasses is walking through the door and plopping down on the seat across from them, totally oblivious to whatever mysterious thing might have been about to occur. She huffs, smoothing out her skirt. “Everywhere else is full. I swear, they pack this train tighter than a Dementor’s asshole.”

Hizashi lets loose a surprised laugh, turning away from Shouta. “What the fuck does that even mean, Kayama? You’re so gross.”

Shouta looks between them, and the girl finally seems to notice him. “Who’s this?”

Hizashi grins, grabbing his arm, and Shouta startles slightly, but the contact is just friendly, nothing special, holding none of the energy from just a moment ago. “This is my best friend! Shouta Aizawa! He’s in Gryffindor!” Then he waves a hand at the girl, turning back to Shouta. “Shouta, this is Nemuri Kayama, she’s in Slytherin!”

“Okay,” Shouta says, somewhere between bored and wary. So Hizashi does have other friends—but they’re not close, if they’re not on first-name terms.

“Your best friend is a Gryffindor? Is that why you’re a pariah?” Kayama asks bluntly.

Hizashi makes an attempt to keep his bright smile on his face, but he can only hold it for a couple of seconds. “No,” he says simply, and it sounds like he wants to say more, but he doesn’t.

Kayama laughs through the suddenly tense atmosphere, shaking her head. “Still, it’s weird. You’re weird.” Her tone holds no judgment—she sounds faintly delighted. “Is that where you eat, at the Gryffindor table? Is that why I never see you?”

“Yeah.” With visible effort, Hizashi bounces back, smiling and slinging an arm around Shouta’s shoulders, swaying them back and forth a little. “Shouta thinks I’m going to get murdered, but I haven’t yet!”

Kayama grins. “Maybe I’ll join you some time. See what the Great Hall looks like from all the way over there.”

“Sure!” Hizashi chirps. “The more the merrier! Although maybe if we’re all going to sit together, we should just all sit at the Slytherin table. Or maybe not, then Shouta might get a little murdered. I wonder which table is the friendliest to people from other houses? It’s probably Hufflepuff. Could we all just sit there? Or do we need to make friends with at least one Hufflepuff first?”

The door slides open again in the middle of his sentence. A tall boy with hooked eyebrows peers in. “Did you guys say you needed a Hufflepuff? I hope you did, because there’s nowhere else to sit.”

Kayama waves her hands animatedly. “See! I told you! Dementor’s asshole!”

Hizashi laughs again. “Come on in!” He waves at the seat across from Shouta. When the boy sits down, Hizashi speaks again. “I’m Hizashi Yamada! This is Nemuri Kayama. We’re both in Slytherin.” Kayama gives a little wave, leaning forward and smoothing her hands along her skirt again. “This is Shouta Aizawa, he’s in Gryffindor!” Shouta just nods.

The boy’s face relaxes into a friendly smile. “I’m Tensei Iida. I’m a Hufflepuff. It’s nice to meet all of you.”

“Oh, you’re Iida! The Iidas are a super old pureblood family, aren’t they?” Hizashi says, not quite a question.

Iida shrugs. “Yeah. We don’t really go in for the whole blood purity thing, though. Not in the last few generations, anyway. It’s just worked out that way.”

Hizashi nods. “That’s good. My family is like that, but I’m not,” he says vehemently.

“Really?” Iida says, looking at him with new appreciation. “That’s cool. Most people don’t know, but Hufflepuffs are all about rebellion.”

“That’s pretty rad,” Kayama says with a grin.

The train seems to arrive so quickly, but there’s enough time. By the time it reaches Hogwarts, the four of them don’t want to part. They all pile into the same carriage.

Hizashi shudders. “Man, thestrals are so creepy. Can any of you guys see them?”

“See what?” Shouta and Kayama say almost in unison.

Iida shakes his head. “No, I can’t.” He looks a little sadly at Hizashi.

Hizashi looks away. “Thestrals,” he says shortly. “They pull the carriages. Most kids can’t see them.”

Shouta wonders how horrible they must look for Iida to be reacting like that to Hizashi being able to see them. “You don’t have to look at them now.”

Hizashi looks up at him. “It’s not—” he breaks off, then shakes his head. Then he slaps his knees, smiling. “So! Quidditch!”

Iida leans forward. “Do you play? I’m Hufflepuff’s Keeper.”

“Oh, that’s where else I know your name from!” Hizashi says, snapping his fingers, then shakes his head. “I’m not that good on a broom, but I want to be the announcer!”

“I’m going to try out this year,” Shouta announces. It’s a bit of a long shot, since he’s never even played before, but he might as well try.

“Really? That’s great!” Hizashi beams. “What position are you going to try out for?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before he adopts a surprisingly good announcer voice—he really has been practicing. “Aizawa coming down the field with the Quaffle—he shoots—he scores! Sadly Gryffindor is still down thirty points against Slytherin, but they’re making up the difference!”

“I’ve been thinking of trying out too,” Kayama says, then grins sadistically. “I want to be a Beater.”

The carriages stop. “We’re here! Food!” Hizashi says, jumping down from the carriage. “Well, sorting first, but then food!” he says as the other three climb down. He doesn’t spare another glance to where the thestrals apparently are.

They part reluctantly to go to their own house tables. The sorting seems to take forever, and Shouta only claps halfheartedly for the kids who get sorted into Gryffindor. Unlike most days, they are required to sit at their own house tables for the start of the year feast, so he can’t even continue catching up with Hizashi. Hizashi can sit with Kayama, though.

Somehow, he’s not entirely happy about that.

Chapter Text

It’s dark. The dungeons always feel like nighttime, even in the middle of the day, but Shouta thinks it might be actually night. He doesn’t see anybody else in the halls, but he feels no sense of danger. It must be after curfew, but he’s not going to be caught. That’s not the point of this.

As he keeps walking, the halls stretch taller and taller, getting narrower until he almost has to turn sideways to walk through them. The torches flicker menacingly overhead. He’s never been to this part of Hogwarts.

When he reaches what he instinctively feels is the right place, Shouta says the password. It comes out garbled and unintelligible, since he doesn’t actually know it—Hizashi would probably tell him, if he asked, but when he’s awake the information is of no use to him. He can’t actually come down here.

He doesn’t know how the wall opens, so it just kind of disappears.

Inside, it’s even more menacing, with strange, watery green light—Hizashi had said the Slytherin common room was partially under the lake—and flickering red candlelight. Shouta tries to go sit on a chair, but it’s too tall, towering far above his head. He tries in vain to get up to one for a while before giving up and sitting on the stone floor. It’s cold, unlike the cozy Gryffindor common room. Even the portraits seem unfriendly, leering down at him. This is not where he’s meant to be. Hogwarts has become home, but here isn’t.

“Hey, Shouta,” Hizashi says, smiling down at him. His smile changes everything—the stone floor becomes soothingly cool, not cold, and the green light stops being so eerie and becomes comforting. That same light reflects off Hizashi’s eyes as he reaches down to pull Shouta to his feet. His hand is warm and surprisingly soft in Shouta’s. He doesn’t let go once Shouta is standing. “You’re finally here! I’ve been wanting to show you something for a while now. C’mon, it’s really cool.”

“Okay,” Shouta says, moving forward as Hizashi tugs on his hand. The chairs are very tall now, so Hizashi leads him through the forest of wooden chair legs. The warmth of his hand, the softness of his palm, the way his fingers tighten just slightly as they turn—it’s all he can think about.

It’s a dream, so for once he’s not worried about what that means. It’s safe here.

Hizashi stops in front of a large window. It looks just like a regular window, with panes and everything, but it must be enchanted, because gentle waves slap slowly at the top of it in a mesmerizing display. Weeds wave slowly at the bottom, and a small school of silvery fish darts among them. “Wow,” Shouta says quietly, squeezing Hizashi’s hand. “It’s really cool.”

Hizashi grins at him, and it’s not the loud, over the top toothy smile he usually does, it’s as soft as it is excited. “That’s not what I wanted to show you! Here, c’mon!” Hizashi tugs again, stepping forward until his nose is almost pressed to the glass.

Shouta would follow him anywhere, so he steps forward too.

Hizashi just keeps moving, stepping through the glass, and Shouta doesn’t hesitate to move with him, leaning forward into the glass. It’s like it’s not even there. He holds his breath as the water hits his face, but Hizashi doesn’t, turning towards him and saying something that comes out as a stream of bubbles. He points to the side of his neck, grinning proudly, and flutters the gills that have sprouted there. Shouta nods and breathes in, the water feeling heavy in his mouth, and he doesn’t choke, feeling it filter through his own gills. Hizashi pulls him further into the lake, and as Shouta’s body hits the water, his clothes melt away. Shouta flushes in embarrassment—is it going to be that kind of dream now?—but when he looks down, his lower body has been replaced by a long, sinuous black fish tail. Hizashi has his own glittery green-and-silver tail, and he grins and kicks hard, propelling them both through the water. He doesn’t angle upwards, taking them deeper into the lake. The water gets colder, and Hizashi’s hand feels warmer by comparison.

Shouta quickly figures out how to manipulate his own tail, swimming up alongside Hizashi, but he still doesn’t let go. They swim past a drop off, the lake spreading out huge and dark beneath them, and it might be scary at another time, with a body less suited to this, with Hizashi’s hand not clasped in his. As it is, it’s exciting, a shiver of something like awe going through him.

Hizashi takes him deeper into the lake, and he seems to be looking around for something, when a huge dark shape slides past under them. Hizashi lets out another stream of bubbles, pointing excitedly, tugging him closer towards it. Shouta’s eyes widen as he gets a better look—it’s easily three times his height, with waving black tentacles—the giant squid. He turns back to Hizashi, who grins wide at the look on his face. Hizashi nudges him with an elbow, then sticks out an arm, waving it broadly at the squid. Slowly, ponderously, a huge tentacle lifts and waves back. Shouta’s awed laugh comes out as another stream of bubbles, and Hizashi grins over at him. He points and then waves out a hand, as if to say ‘see? isn’t it cool?’ and Shouta grins back.

Soon, the squid turns and jets away, swimming quicker than either of them could hope to, even with their new tails. Hizashi just shrugs, giving a quick wave goodbye, then turns to swim away. He tugs Shouta along, and they move aimlessly through the water, twisting and turning. It’s almost like they’re dancing with each other, some rhythm in the waves, in Hizashi’s head. He’s still smiling happily, looking elated just to be here, to swimming like this, and Shouta smiles back at him, basking in his glow and the weak sunlight through the water. Hizashi reaches over, grabbing his other hand, bringing them face to face, and everything stills. Their tails brush, and the feeling of smooth wet scales sliding over each other is both alien and shockingly vivid.

What happens next is vivid, too. Hizashi says something, but it’s unintelligible, through the water. It seems important, though, it’s suddenly important to hear him, so Shouta uses his arms to pull them a little closer together, until their faces are only a foot apart.

Hizashi doesn’t try to speak again, though. He’s still smiling, and it still looks happy, but it’s softer now, gentle in the dim light. He takes one of his hands back, and the sudden press of cool water where his warm hand was is startling. He still doesn’t move away, reaching out, touching some of Shouta’s hair where it waves around his face, brushing it back, tucking it behind his ear. It’s safe, it’s so safe here, alone together in the deep water, the silence and emptiness pressing against his ears, so Shouta leans into the touch. Hizashi’s hand is so warm when it touches his face, and it feels good, makes his breath come faster, makes his eyes widen. Hizashi’s eyes are half-closed, soft and sweet, but they’re staring steadily into his. Anything could happen now and Shouta wouldn’t look away.

Hizashi moves even closer—they’re inches apart now, and Shouta’s eyes can’t focus on him anymore, so they flutter shut. This close, he can feel the heat radiating from Hizashi’s body in the water, can feel the way his hand tightens on his in anticipation, and it’s a natural conclusion of everything for years and miles when Hizashi’s mouth meets his.

He’s never really kissed anyone, but his brain does a very good job—it gets the way Hizashi’s mouth would be soft, it gets the overwhelming warmth, it gets the way Shouta’s heart sings, loud enough to almost be audible. It gets the way Hizashi smiles against his mouth, breaking away to grin at him, overjoyed, and the way it feels when Hizashi grabs his other hand and kicks hard with his tail, propelling them through the water, up towards the surface where both of their faces break through the water.

Shouta’s eyes open to look at the curtains above his bed, and for a moment he just smiles, dopey, still awash in the feelings from the dream, how good it felt having Hizashi that close, how good it felt to—

Oh, god, no.

No, that’s not right, this can’t be happening, it can’t mean that, it can’t be, that’s not right. Shouta sits up with a start, hand flying to touch his mouth in horror, because he can still feel Hizashi’s mouth. It felt so good, in the dream, but now it makes him sick, makes his stomach twist itself into knots at the memory.

It can’t mean that. It can’t mean that.

He’s not—he’s not—

Chapter Text

“It’s just a dream,” he whispers to himself—Sooty isn’t around—his heart hammering like he just had a nightmare, even though that was decidedly not. Or was it, if he’s this upset about it now? Can you have nightmares that are only scary after you wake up?

Either way, he’s not getting back to sleep. The room is just beginning to lighten, it’s still before dawn, but he gets up anyway, creeping down the stairs to the common room.

He finds Sooty on a chair there, curled up and comfortable, and she just makes a soft cat noise when he touches her, picking up her head but not moving. Shouta sits for a while, petting her, trying to calm his racing heart, trying to quiet the roil of—disgust, it’s disgust, he feels disgusting—no, disgusted. If Hizashi did that to him in real life, he would be disgusted.

Morning comes, the sun slowly sneaking into the room, and Shouta just sits with his cat and tries not to think. He goes back up to his dorm for a book, one of the ones he brought from home, but he can’t focus on it. It’s fantasy—it’s funny to read Muggle fantasy, now, but it’s one from a series he’s liked since before he got his Hogwarts letter—and it’s mostly adventure, but there’s a romantic subplot, and it turns his stomach. The main character and his love interest sit together by a lake, and Shouta grits his teeth. He takes her hand, and Shouta closes the book with a snap, thinking about throwing it across the room. He can still feel Hizashi’s hands in his, their warm contrast against the cold water.

Shouta scrapes out the edges of the pit of longing in his stomach, filling it in with the horror and disgust he feels, and covers the whole mess with a tarp of bone-deep terror. He’s never been so afraid to wonder if he’s different, not since he was five and exploding all the lightbulbs in the house just because he was angry. He had thought he might have had a demon in him. This feels a lot like that.

It feels like a lifetime, but it’s less than an hour before it’s time for breakfast. Shouta goes through the motions, brushing his teeth and hair, changing into his robes for the day. It’s fine. Everything is fine.

He doesn’t realize until he gets there that he’ll have to see Hizashi at breakfast.

Shouta is the first one there, none of his friends have arrived yet, and he sits at the Gryffindor table. They’ve started sitting at the Hufflepuff table, most of the time, and it’s working well, they get less dirty looks that way. Striker and his friends are still a problem, especially since they only moved one table away, but they’re less likely to mess with the four of them. Maybe if he sits here, he can sit alone and not have to talk to anyone.

He has no such luck. Soon, Tensei arrives, sitting on one side of him with a friendly “Good morning.” Shouta just grunts in reply. Tensei is safe enough, but he’s also tall, and his yellow and black colors make him stand out a little at this table. There was some tiny chance that Hizashi might have missed just Shouta sitting alone at the wrong table, but he won’t miss the two of them sitting together.

Sure enough, Hizashi shows up in the next few minutes, and he sits down on Shouta’s other side. Shouta tenses, leaning away, but Hizashi seems not to be awake enough to notice yet.

It’s still chipper when he chirps, “Morning!”

Shouta gives him the same noise that he had given Tensei. Tensei leans forward, though. “Morning. Where’s Nemuri?”

Hizashi shrugs, pouring himself some coffee. On another day, Shouta might dryly tease him about how he doesn’t need it, but not today. “Sleeping in, probably.” He isn’t going to examine the way he feels uneasy about Tensei asking Hizashi where Nemuri is, like they have something special, like he always keeps an eye on her. It’s just because they’re in the same house.

“She’s going to miss breakfast,” Tensei says, piling eggs onto his plate. “You should go get her, wake her up.”

Hizashi shakes his head. “I can’t. Boys can’t get into the girls’ dorms. I tried one morning, just to go wake her up, but the door grew this snake head and hissed at me!” He laughs. “I was so shocked I fell down, it was so embarrassing! It’s not fair, though. Nemuri came into my dorm one night to try to show me this spider she caught,” he says, shuddering, “so I know girls can get into the boys’ dorms.”

Tensei nods wisely. “In a few years you’ll be happy about that.”

Hizashi looks up from his coffee. “Why would I be—oh,” he says, flushing and rubbing the back of his neck. Shouta focuses intently on his toast, trying his best to tune out the conversation happening over him as well as the confused emotions still twisting in his chest. “I don’t even talk to girls,” Hizashi protests. “I’m never going to actually have a girlfriend.”

“Nemuri is a girl,” Tensei points out.

“Yeah, but she’s our friend,” Hizashi says, shaking his head.

Tensei just shrugs. “Still, she’s a girl and you talk to her, so you can’t say you don’t talk to girls.”

“I guess,” Hizashi says, then seems to notice Shouta for the first time. “You’re quiet this morning! Bad night?”

“Sure,” Shouta mumbles, shifting a little further away. He’s sitting as far from Hizashi as he can, but they’re still side by side, and the tiny hint of his body heat is making him recall the dream he still can’t get out of his head. He’s not looking at any of Hizashi, but he’s especially not looking at his hands or his mouth.

“Oh! Did you have a nightmare?” Hizashi asks sympathetically, and Shouta stands abruptly, heart hammering. Of course he doesn’t know, but what if he does? What if he can tell? He strides quickly away from the table, not looking back. He catches the faint sound of Hizashi’s confused “What did I say?”

Chapter Text

The morning’s classes go okay. He doesn’t have any of them with the Slytherins. Even though he didn’t eat much breakfast, instead of going to lunch Shouta walks out onto the grounds and sits with his back against a tree, taking his book out of his bag and reading until the bell chimes. It was a good decision—he’s hungry but a lot calmer when he walks back into the castle. He almost forgot what he was upset about.

He has Potions, next, though, both Hizashi and Nemuri are waiting outside the classroom when he arrives. His shoulders stiffen as Hizashi waves. “Shouta! Where were you?”

Shouta just shrugs, not looking at him. He’s scared that if he makes eye contact he’ll see something like his dream, Hizashi’s eyes sweet as honey.

Hizashi fidgets, holding out what he’s got in his hand. “You missed lunch,” he explains, “so I brought you a sandwich.”

Shouta looks up in surprise, accidentally meeting Hizashi’s eyes. They’re not like they were in the dream, they’re worried instead of happy, but there’s still something soft there. Shouta’s stomach lurches with something that’s not entirely hunger. What if the dream didn’t mean anything about him at all? What if it meant something about Hizashi? What if Hizashi wants to—

A small, howling part of Shouta wants that sandwich and what it might mean, but he silences it and shakes his head. “I don’t want it,” he says, and his words come out clipped and overly cold even to himself.

Hizashi blinks, face falling, and shuffles awkwardly. “Oh,” he says in a small voice, the bundle in his hand dropping down to his side. He forces a smile. “That’s okay!”

The door opens, and the class files in. Nemuri makes a beeline for the Slytherin girl she usually works with, and Shouta and Hizashi are left at a table by themselves. At least here there’s something else to focus on, and the teacher doesn’t allow them to talk, except near-whispers about their work.

Shouta had been surprised, given how much Hizashi had complained about the class, but Hizashi is a natural at Potions. He follows the instructions to the letter, and chops the ingredients into perfect little slices—though he makes faces while he does. Shouta finds the work too fiddly, preferring the more intuitive nature of spells.

Everything is going okay until they’re both chopping dried salamanders. The cutting board is large enough for them both to use without much danger—the knives are sharp but that’s not what he’s worried about—and it’s fine until Hizashi finishes his own pile and reaches for one of Shouta’s salamanders. Their hands brush, just the side of Hizashi’s against the back of Shouta’s, but it’s warm and soft just like his dream, and Shouta jerks so hard his elbow crashes into the cauldron. It wobbles, and he drops the knife quickly, trying to steady it—but it’s also hot, and he jerks his hands back with a hiss, jumping back as it tips, spilling over the table and the floor. The teacher is over in an instant, waving her wand to put the cauldron back upright, vanishing the scalding liquid. “Aizawa, be more careful,” she scolds, then sees the way he’s still holding his hands and says more nicely, “Are you hurt?”

Shouta shakes his head, then looks down at his red, throbbing hands. A trip to the nurse’s office would mean he would be away from here. “Actually, yes.”

“Be careful,” she repeats. “Five points from Gryffindor. Yamada, take Aizawa to the nurse’s office.”

“I can get there by myself,” Shouta says quickly, and the teacher frowns. Shouta doesn’t look over to see how Hizashi reacts.

“Okay,” she says slowly. “I suppose you can. Yamada, you might be able to salvage your potion if you can carefully measure how much is left in there and adjust accordingly, but it’ll be a challenge. Fifteen points to Slytherin if you can pull it off.”

Hizashi doesn’t say anything as Shouta leaves the room. He ignores the twist of guilt—if Hizashi wants to kiss him, he needs to make sure he knows he can’t. For both of their sakes. It would be catastrophic, he can’t think of anything worse—distance is better.

The nurse fusses over his burned hands, muttering something about dangerous classes, and slathers a thick salve on them, wrapping them in bandages. They start to feel better almost immediately. “Now, come back after dinner to get the bandages taken off,” she says, patting his arm, “and find a friend to take notes for you in your classes before that, because it will be very hard to hold a quill.”

Shouta just nods, not bothering to tell her that he doesn’t have friends in most of his classes, and with some effort picks up his bag and slings it over his shoulder.

He has one more class with Hizashi, the last one of the day. He’s settled down by then, and he thinks he’ll do alright. He’s freaked out by the nightmare he had, but they can still be friends—he just needs to make sure Hizashi knows that’s all they are.

But he’s not prepared. He’s already sitting in his usual seat when he hears an overly-loud “Heya!” from right behind his head, and it’s so sudden he accidentally turns and looks.

Hizashi’s smile is extra sunny, turned up to eleven and past, and it’s directed right at him, and the knot in his chest tightens past what he’s able to handle and Hizashi’s hand is on the seat next to his and Shouta snaps, before he can think, “Stop sitting next to me.”

The smile drops off Hizashi’s face. “Okay,” he finally says, and the waver in his small voice makes Shouta’s chest squeeze even tighter. His jaw clenches, and Shouta wonders if he’s going to do something—it would only be what he deserved if Hizashi hauled off and hit him—but he just turns and stalks away, sitting at an empty desk where he’s joined by Nemuri. They start talking in low voices, her glancing over at Shouta and Hizashi keeping his eyes down on the desk.

Shouta ignores them and focuses on the lesson.

He really is getting hungry, but there’s still a few hours before dinner, so he treks back out to the tree he spent lunch under, opening his book again. He’d usually spend these hours with his friends, and he likes being alone but the silence is starting to get to him when he hears footsteps through the grass. He doesn’t look up from his book, but the voice he hears isn’t what he expects.

“Hey,” Tensei says, carefully sitting down next to him. He doesn’t say anything else, and Shouta slowly shuts his book. “Want to tell me what’s going on?”

His voice is so gentle, and he’s always so kind, and Shouta almost breaks and tells him everything, almost pours his heart out, but this isn’t the kind of thing he can tell anyone. So he just shakes his head, looking down at his lap. Tensei waits, so he says, “I’m just having a bad day.”

Tensei nods. “Are you coming to dinner?”

Shouta shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says honestly.

“You should eat something. It’s my duty as a Hufflepuff to show all of my friends how to get into the kitchens, but you should come sit with us. You don’t have to talk.” His face, in the corner of Shouta’s vision, goes from careful to concerned, and he takes a deep breath. “Hizashi—he’s been...”

“Aizawa, you’d better get your head out of your ass right now!” Nemuri says, hands on her hips when Shouta looks up. Hizashi is trailing after her like a lost puppy, and Shouta quickly looks away when he sees how small and uncertain he looks. She stops only a few feet away, close enough that Shouta has to lean back to look at her, so he gets to his feet. “What is your deal?” she asks.

“Nemuri—” Tensei starts, standing as well. He has his hands out placatingly.

“No! He made Hizashi cry!” she spits. “He needs to apologize!”

Hizashi tugs at her arm. “Nemuri, it’s okay. If he—if he doesn’t want to be my friend anymore—” Hizashi breaks off, quickly swiping at his eyes.

“I still want to be your friend,” Shouta says quickly, the words ripped out of him like his heart.

Hizashi glares at him. “Well, you’re not acting like it! I just—want to know what I did,” he says, voice rising in volume. “Everything was normal yesterday! I’ve been over it a thousand times, and I still have no clue why you’re mad at me!”

Shouta just stares at him, hands clenched into fists. “I—” he starts, his voice coming out choked, and his vision goes watery. When he blinks tears spill down his cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he says, meaning so much more than just today, meaning everything he is.

“Nemuri,” Tensei says gently, taking her arm. “They’re talking. Let’s go.” She goes with him without argument, and then they’re alone.

Shouta crumples, folding in on himself until he’s sitting on the grass again, arms wrapped around his knees. “I’m sorry,” he repeats. “I never—I never meant...”

Hizashi sits too, only a few paces away. “I’m sorry too. I still don’t know what I did, but I’m sorry.”

Shouta shakes his head. “You didn’t do anything.”

Hizashi’s face twists in confusion. “Then why are you acting like this?” he asks, frustration heavy in his tone.

He shakes his head again, looking down. “It’s really dumb.”

“That’s okay,” Hizashi says with a small, coaxing smile. “You can tell me anything, even really dumb things,” he says softly, and that’s just what Shouta was afraid of, but when he says it he’s a little less afraid, just swept away by this thing again.

“When you asked if I had a nightmare,” he starts haltingly, winding his fingers into the grass, “you were right. I...had this dream. And you were in it,” he says, still not looking at Hizashi. “You...did something to me.”

“What did I do?” Hizashi asks, nervousness under his carefully neutral tone.

“I...can’t tell you that. It was bad,” Shouta says, and doesn’t say, and in the dream I liked it. And even now I want it.

“Well, I wouldn’t do it in real life, whatever it was!” Hizashi says earnestly, and Shouta looks up at him.

“But what if you did? What if it was a prophetic dream? I have to make sure it doesn’t happen,” he says desperately.

“Shouta,” he starts gently, hands spreading on the grass in front of him, leaning forward. “Prophesies are super rare! I’m sure it won’t actually happen. I wouldn’t hurt you!”

It didn’t hurt, and that’s what scares him.

When Shouta doesn’t reply, Hizashi speaks again. “Shouta, it was just a dream! Dreams don’t mean anything, they’re just dreams!”

Shouta’s shoulders drop, and he sighs, because he wants to believe it, and he almost can, when he listens to the conviction in Hizashi’s voice. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“So are we good?” Hizashi asks carefully.

“Yeah,” Shouta says, chancing a small, wavering smile, and Hizashi smiles back.

He bounces to his feet. “Great!” He holds out a hand to Shouta, and he hesitates, but takes it, letting Hizashi pull him to his feet, and he can almost tell himself that it doesn’t make him feel anything. He’s still relieved when Hizashi drops his hand as soon as he’s standing up. “I think it’s almost time to head to dinner! You must be really hungry!”

“I’m starving,” Shouta admits.

“I’ll bet! C’mon, let’s get back to the castle!” Hizashi walks a few steps, then looks back.

“I’m coming.” Shouta would follow him anywhere.

Chapter Text

Hizashi hums, tapping his fingers against his thighs, drumming out a tune. He’s trying to drown out the flutter of nerves in his stomach. It’s his first day commentating a Quidditch match.

It’s Hufflepuff against Gryffindor, so Shouta and Tensei are in the locker rooms right now, and they’ll be the ones he’s talking about. That means they can’t sit with him, can’t support him, but Nemuri can, and she kindly doesn’t tell him to shut up for once as they climb the stairs to the box together.

It turns out all his practice was for nothing, because the professor had been surprised when he told him he could do the amplification spell—that apparently wasn’t required, and he’d actually had to talk him into letting Hizashi do the spell himself, worried that he wouldn’t get the volume right. Well, he’s going to be loud enough, that’s for sure. He tends to overshoot, if anything.

He’s nervous, but there’s also a hopeful smile on his face as he takes his place next to the head of Slytherin house. When Nemuri had asked why he was a pariah, he had honestly wanted to answer her, but he doesn’t know. He can’t point to any one incident, any certain thing he said or person he pissed off—there just seems to be something about him that makes people laugh at him instead of with him. Before third year, there were people who tolerated him, even though he got the sense they were still laughing, just behind his back—but no true friends. It had cracked open a chasm inside him, a deep, hungry need to be liked and noticed, and when that quiet Gryffindor boy had shoved him away, it had made something in him scream. No, it had said. No, I need this one. I need you to like me.

And then he had, and Hizashi had made a friend, and it was like cold water on a burn. And then, once he wasn’t giving off waves of desperate howling loneliness, he’d managed to make two more. Still, it’s not quite enough. There are too many times he feels invisible, feels silent.

The players walk onto the field, and cheers go up across the stadium, though there are some hisses and boos from the box Hizashi and Nemuri are in when the Gryffindor team walks out on the field. “Sonorus,” Hizashi whispers, pointing his wand at his throat, and feeling the swelling, buzzing sensation of the spell working. “First Quidditch match of the year, yo!” he says, and his voice booms out across the stadium, making him grin. Next to him, Nemuri winces, and the professor on his other side hurriedly casts a muffling spell on the box so he doesn’t blow out everyone’s eardrums. “Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff, we’ve got new faces on both teams so give them all a good loud welcome!!” The crowd listens, everyone does what he says, they scream happily and Hizashi’s grin stretches wide enough to hurt his face. On the field, he sees the scarlet and gold shoulders with ‘Aizawa’ blazoned across them hunch in discomfort at the indirect attention, but that doesn’t slow him down, Shouta can deal. “The players mount their brooms, kick off, and let this game begin!” he exults.

Maybe this will be enough, everyone listening to him, being the voice that nobody can ignore. People might still laugh, but he can’t hear them over his own voice, and as long as he keeps it light and funny, it’ll be with him instead of at him.

Hizashi keeps the energy high for the whole match, keeps the crowd screaming, keeps his own spirits soaring along with the players on brooms.

He has to look at all the players, but there are two players (really, one player) he’s paying special attention to. He was right, Shouta is good, the strange gracefulness he has only amplified in the air. It looks like he can fly under his own power, like he doesn’t need the broom between his legs at all.

Tensei is good too, but Hizashi had known that previously. He blocks several of Shouta’s shots, but far from all.

Hizashi has friends on both teams, so his commentary stays pretty neutral—or rather, he cheers for both teams, pumping up every part of the crowd.

He gets the crowd to shriek as Gryffindor’s Seeker catches the snitch, ending the game. He whispers the counter-spell under his breath, and everything is ringing but he’s never felt better, it feels like he’s light enough to float as the crowd claps and cheers and rises to their feet.

Hizashi is grinning as wide as he ever has, still, when he makes it down onto the field. “Did you hear me??” he shouts to Shouta, his voice coming out hoarse but no less joyful.

Shouta stops in his trek to the locker rooms. It’s a stupid question, but he just looks back at Hizashi. “Yeah,” he says, shaking his sweaty hair out of his eyes.

“And you won! How does it feel to win your very first game??” Hizashi asks, still striding across the field, not stopping until he runs right into Shouta, wrapping him up in a tight hug, thumping him once on the back and then stepping back, holding onto his shoulder. He’s still grinning so wide it hurts his face.

“It feels good,” Shouta says, not really showing any emotion, but there’s something good about the way he looks back at Hizashi, something that reflects the joy in him. “You sounded good,” he says, not quite smiling but the corners of his mouth just slightly turning up.

“Yeah? You think?” Hizashi asks breathlessly.

“Yeah,” Shouta confirms, the not-smile reaching his eyes.

“I had so much fun doing that,” Hizashi says in a rush. “Everyone was listening and cheering and they loved me, Shouta, it was so great!”

The expression on his face breaks through into a small smile. “Yeah,” he repeats. Tentatively, his hand comes to rest on Hizashi’s shoulder.

It connects something, completes the circuit, and Hizashi lets go, drawing both his arms close to his chest to do a spin. “I can’t wait for the next game!”


 

The next game is Slytherin versus Ravenclaw, so instead of Nemuri, it’s Shouta braving the cold stares of the Slytherin box to sit with him. He’s vibrating more with excitement than nerves this time—although he certainly is still nervous—and it’s eager when he casts the amplification spell. Still, he gets it right, and his voice booms out across the stadium.

It’s getting colder, and as the game goes on, clouds roll in, bringing the threat of rain and a drop in temperature. Hizashi doesn’t notice he’s shivering until the game ends and he’s said the counter-spell, and even then he thinks it might be from adrenaline, but Shouta seems to have noticed a long time ago, because he’s shrugged off his jacket and shoves it towards Hizashi as soon as he’s done commentating.

For a moment, Hizashi just looks at it, surprised, not really sure what he’s supposed to do, before he smiles wide and takes it. “Oh! Thank you! Aren’t you going to be cold, though?”

Shouta shrugs, not looking at him. “I’ll be fine.”

The fabric is still warm from being on Shouta’s body when he puts his arms through the sleeves, and Hizashi gets a small thrill. The jacket is scarlet and gold, with a lion on the front and ‘Aizawa’ across the back, and there’s both the possibility he’s going to get in trouble for that and also—something else. Something that shows him a fleeting image of a girl looking pleased in her boyfriend’s Quidditch jacket. Hizashi flushes slightly at the implication, but he tugs the jacket the rest of the way on—it’s warm, and more than warm. “Well, thank you, then!” he says with an overly-bright smile to cover up the fluttering feeling.

Shouta snorts, glancing up at the tone in his voice. “Don’t act like it’s a big deal.”

“You’re right,” Hizashi says, accidentally out loud, then goes quiet for a moment. “I mean, yeah, it’s not, if you’re not cold, it’s just a jacket.” He picks at the gold trim on the sleeve. “Hey, you think I could pass for a Gryffindor like this? I could lose you guys some house points.”

“No, everyone already knows you’re a house traitor,” Shouta says, deadpan, and Hizashi laughs. “Besides, you’re such a good student, you’d probably end up just winning us points.”

Hizashi sticks out his tongue. “Hey! I lose points for Slytherin all the time! I sneak out of the dorms, I talk in class, and...” he can’t think of a third thing, so he just sticks his tongue out further.

“You also have most of your textbooks memorized, and you got fifty points last week for answering that question that nobody else could,” Shouta retorts.

“I get bored over the summer! And I like reading!” Hizashi wraps his arms around himself, grabbing the upper sleeves of the jacket.

“Teacher’s pet,” Shouta states, then frowns. “Are you still cold?”

Hizashi shakes his head, smiling. “Nope! I’m toasty warm.” It feels like Shouta is hugging him, and he likes that, but he lets his arms fall down to his sides, because that’s kind of weird. “Why, do you want your jacket back? Are you getting cold?”

“No, I’m good. Keep it.”

They lapse into silence for a moment, and Hizashi has nothing to distract himself from the way he’s very, very aware he’s wearing—not just a Gryffindor jacket, but Shouta’s jacket, how it smells slightly like him. So he starts talking again. “Did you see all the goals Slytherin was making? Our Chasers are so good!”

“You still lost,” Shouta reminds him. “The Ravenclaw Seeker caught the snitch.”

“Yeah, but it was close! We’ll win next time!” Hizashi says, undaunted. “So, now that you play, do you like watching Quidditch?”

“It’s kind of boring. I prefer playing.”

Hizashi whirls and points at him. “Now that you’re on the team, you need to practice! The four of us should play sometime, since three of us play!”

“There are already scheduled practices. And three of us play on three different teams.”

Hizashi stuffs his hands into the pockets of Shouta’s jacket. “Yeah, true. Your captains might not even let you all play together. And four isn’t really enough for a game. And I’m not very good. And I don’t have my own broom,” Hizashi lists off, looking down.

“We can still play, if you want. They can’t stop us if we just don’t tell them.”

Finally, Nemuri comes out of the locker room, looking surprisingly pleased with herself.

“Yeah!” Hizashi says, smiling at Shouta, then turns to Nemuri as she gets closer. “You know you lost, right?”

“I’m a Beater,” she says, running her hands through her wet hair. “I’m barely involved with all that. I’m just here to hit bludgers, and I hit those balls really good today,” she says, happily miming swinging a bat. She reaches them, and they fall into step with her, walking back to the castle together.

“You did!” Hizashi agrees.

“And you yelled really loud, so it’s like we both won,” Nemuri says, holding out her hand.

Hizashi slaps it with his own hand, grinning. “Yeah, I did! You’re right!”

She finally seems to notice what he’s wearing, and she looks askance at him. “Are you going undercover or something? Or are you finally transferring to Gryffindor?” She sticks out of her bottom lip. “Leaving me behind?”

“Yep! I’m leaving you for Shouta,” he jokes, then quickly keeps talking. “Leaving you for Gryffindor. We’re not house buddies anymore. You can’t try to show me spiders in the middle of the night!”

She pouts harder. “It’s so funny when you scream, though!”

They meet up with Tensei in the entrance. “Good play,” he tells Nemuri, patting her on the back.

“I don’t know about my house, but I won,” she says primly, and Tensei smiles.

“That’s the spirit. You guys ready for dinner?”

“Hell yeah,” Hizashi says, and steps forward before he stops. He reluctantly reaches up to pull the jacket off. “I...probably shouldn’t keep wearing this, huh,” he says. He kind of wants to keep wearing it forever, but he slowly holds it out to Shouta.

He takes it without saying anything, and Hizashi feels cold.

Chapter Text

Shouta isn’t quite expecting it, exactly, but he’s also not surprised at the tapping of a beak against his window. It’s the last night before they leave for the summer, and the stone beneath his bare feet is cool but there’s a rush of warm air as he opens the window to let Grace hop through.

Come to the astronomy tower, the note says, smaller than last year, almost cramped on the little piece of parchment, and Grace is still holding another note in her other talon. He doesn’t bother trying to send a return message, just nods at her. “I’m going,” he says, and she hops back up to the windowsill, head swiveling to look back at him before she flies away.

It’s late, long past midnight, and there’s nobody in the common room as he creeps through it and out the portrait hole. Quidditch has given him a new appreciation for his body, for the ways he can move, and his steps are more soundless than ever.

It’s not long before he’s climbing the stairs to the astronomy tower, and Hizashi jumps slightly as he comes into view, Nemuri leaning back to wave. He wonders, just for a moment, if he was interrupting something, but Hizashi looks so happy to see him, his smile quiet but overflowing, that he just smiles back at both of them. “Hey,” he greets, coming to sit on Hizashi’s other side.

“It’s good to see you,” Hizashi says, as if they didn’t just see each other at dinner. “I’m glad you could make it.”

Nemuri grins and pushes at his shoulder, knocking him into Shouta, who tenses with the contact. “Why are you being so formal? It’s just Shouta!”

“I hope Tensei can make it,” Hizashi says, ignoring her. Then he turns to her, face grave. “You may not know, but this is an event. It’s special.”

She sighs, gathering her hands in her lap. “Yeah, okay. It had better be, since we’re risking detention to be here.” Then she stops, grinning. “I guess we’re not, actually! They can’t give us detention, we’re leaving tomorrow.”

Shouta turns as another head appears at the top of the stairs, climbing. “Hey, guys,” Tensei says, lifting a hand to wave.

Hizashi and Nemuri smile and wave; Shouta nods. Tensei sits next to Nemuri. For a moment, they’re all quiet, looking up, watching the stars.

“So,” Hizashi says quietly. “Another summer.” He takes a deep breath. “What are we all going home to?”

Tensei smiles. “My mom is pregnant right now. I might get to meet my little sibling before I come back.”

“Exciting,” Hizashi says.

Nemuri sighs. “Just hope your parents don’t have a ton more. I have way too many little brothers and sisters. It’s so loud and chaotic at my house. I only get any peace and quiet here.”

Hizashi leans forward, and Shouta doesn’t want to hear him say what he’s going to say next. “Hey! Maybe I could visit! It’s way too quiet at my house. It’s just me and my dad since my sister moved out.”

Nemuri straightens up. “Or I could visit you!”

Shouta tries, but he can’t hold back his petulant “Visit me. My parents wouldn’t mind.”

Hizashi looks down, then over at him, the starlight catching his eyes. “Shouta...” he starts, and Shouta’s jaw pushes out at his tone. “I wish I could! You know I do!”

“My house is open to any of you,” Tensei says.

“Maybe we could all meet up,” Hizashi suggests. “It would be...really good, to get out of my house.”

Shouta doesn’t say anything, just looks down at his hands. His home is safe and harmonious enough, but it’s still in the back of his mind, just how conditional that is. Being a wizard wasn’t the breaking point, but it’s clear enough that some things would be. Things he’s shoved away for now but that he can’t get away from, can’t stop from whispering to him on nights when he lays awake in bed.

“I’m going to miss all three of you,” Hizashi announces, but he looks over at Shouta, eyes searching for a connection, for a sign he’s not still mad.

Shouta meets his eyes and can’t help but melt, just a little. “We’ll all write to you,” he promises.

“Yeah!” Nemuri says.

Tensei nods. “Definitely.”

They lapse into silence again for a moment, and Shouta leans back, looking up at the stars. It’s quiet enough to hear the breathing of the three people next to him. Slowly but surely, all of them are becoming important to him. As much as he yearns for the moments where he’s alone with Hizashi, he’s also terrified of what might be building between them. This is simple. There’s nothing fraught about this; this is just four friends. Nemuri, always with one eyebrow raised, so quick with a joke and an affectionate jab, fiercely protective of her friends. Tensei is so kind and patient, always unshakably there for the others. Hizashi, bright as the sun, stitching the four of them together with words and smiles. And Shouta himself, reluctant but now steady in his role as a friend, never going to let any of these people go.

It’s sappy, but they’re all fifteen and these people are in his heart now, so Shouta says, “I’m glad we’re friends.”

“Me too!” Hizashi says, smiling at him, then at the others. “I’m so glad we all met, I’m so glad we’ve stuck together. This stupid house system, there’s so much against us. But I don’t think it’s fate against us, anymore,” he says, speaking up at the sky now. “I think fate is on our side.”

“You’re being so melodramatic,” Nemuri teases, but gently. “I get it, though. I love you guys.”

“It’s good,” Tensei agrees. “We’re good.”

“We have three more years,” Hizashi says. “It seems like forever, but it won’t be. Three more years when we’re together but divided, and after that...anything could happen. I want us to stick together, though.”

“You guys aren’t escaping me,” Nemuri says with a grin.

“We can all get a house together,” Tensei says, playing along. “We’ll all get jobs and be adults together.”

“Yeah,” Hizashi says, nodding seriously. “Yeah, it’s gonna be good.”

And now, for the moment, everything is.

Chapter Text

To! Shouta!

 

How! Are! You! Doing! I’m! Not! Great! I just want to SCREAM. There’s nothing to do! Nobody to talk to! I’m not even allowed to leave the house by myself, which: fourteen! Almost fifteen!! I can handle myself!!

It’s all the fucking Dark wizard attacks happening lately. My dad is just so convinced I’m going to be next, for whatever reason. They wouldn’t target me! I’m a pureblood! They’re going after muggleborns and just actual muggles. I think it’s just an excuse to control me, honestly. Maybe things will get better as the summer goes on—he can’t confine a bored teenager to his room forever. But it also looks like he’s going to try.

Ugh. I’m just...so bored. Your headphones are saving my life, seriously. My dad must not really snoop in here when I’m at Hogwarts, because he didn’t find them. I don’t know how he’s going to react when he does. Wizards don’t have these, they’re Muggle, so I’m not supposed to have them. There’s some tiny chance he’s going to let me keep them. Fingers crossed!

At least I have plenty of people to write to now! I already got a letter from Tensei, his family’s owl must be really fast and he must have written it basically as soon as he got home! He’s so nice. It’s good we found a Hufflepuff, and not just for their table and arcane knowledge of the Hogwarts kitchen. Now we just need a Ravenclaw and we’ll have a full set!

I haven’t asked yet, how has your summer been? I hope it’s better than mine. Did Tensei send you a letter too? Or was he just worried about me? How’s Sooty? Give her a pat and a kiss from me! Tell her she’s a good kitty!

Oh, that reminds me. I never answered your (my? Our?) question about the animals at Hogwarts! My sister said that there is a spell. And that it works on humans, too, actually. So that’s pretty cool, and I guess...that’s good if either of us ever get girlfriends.

Nemuri’s family has an owl, but I’m going to write to her right after this. I don’t know what I’m going to say that I didn’t just say to you, though.

 

Bye, Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

I’m sorry your dad is being so controlling. I hope it gets better. Can you sneak out?

Dark wizards? What are you talking about?

I don’t really understand why it’s so bad for you to have something Muggle. Don’t wizards use a bunch of Muggle stuff all the time? Why are headphones so different than a radio?

Three friends is enough for me. I guess I won’t stop you if you want to try to find a Ravenclaw, though.

My summer has been...fine. Things with my parents are kind of tense. My parents are mostly leaving me alone just like last summer. Tensei did send me a letter, you’re right, it was very fast.

Sooty has been patted and kissed. She was not happy about the kiss, but I think she enjoyed the praise. She is a good kitty, and I tell her that, but I’m sure she can never hear it enough, so once more doesn’t hurt.

Interesting. I’ m not sure I want a gir Do you want Do you want a girlfriend?

I sort of wish I had an owl, but I would have to leave it at home with my parents when I came to Hogwarts, because of Sooty, and I don’t think they want to take care of another pet all year. Besides, owls are kind of weird pets for Muggles to have. It’s just annoying that I can’t write to anyone unless they write to me first. It’s a good thing my friends (especially you) are talkative. And have owls I can borrow.

I’m sure you will have no trouble coming up with things to say to Nemuri. You never have trouble with talking enough. Not like me.

I did pretty good this time, though. I was going to apologize for how short this letter is, but it’s almost as long as yours.

 

Shouta.

 

 

Shouta!! hello!!

 

I...could sneak out, I guess. I might. Even though I’m kinda scared of what would happen if I got caught. It would be...worse than at Hogwarts.

Do you not know?? I guess if you don’t get the Daily Prophet and haven’t talked to any witches or wizards lately...but this has kind of been a thing for a while now. Anti-muggleborn attacks, really scary stuff. They call themselves the League of Death, I guess? Kind of a silly name. I’m a little surprised (but happy, obviously) that my dad is worried about it instead of cheering them on. I guess he just doesn’t like terrorists, even if they’re purebloods. He’s crazy, though, I’ll be fine. But you...stay safe, Shouta.

Honestly, I don’t really know. Radios are for wizards. Headphones aren’t. I can’t exactly explain why we can’t just use Muggle things, either, because I’ve never really understood it. It’s not like there’s a good reason. It’s just a Wizarding superiority thing I guess? Don’t ask me how that works, either, because I think understanding it would be the first step to saying it’s right. So I’m going to stick with “they’re all just crazy.” They just want to feel like they’re better than other people, I guess.

T he four of us do have a pretty good thing going. I’m mostly joking about trying to add a Ravenclaw. We have two Slytherins, anyway, and to balance it all out we’d need to kick someone out! And it might be me! So I think I’ll just say our friend group is good as it is.

That’s good! I’m glad your parents are being okay. I wish I could visit you and see what that even looks like. I wish I could visit you. I’m glad you got a letter from Tensei. Although we’re all going to be writing so much this summer, it’ll be like we’re still in school! At least I won’t be bored. Did you ask your parents about going to Tensei’s house?

That’s right!! Sooty is a good good cat. And Grace is a good good owl! But you see her every time I send you a letter, so you can tell her that yourself. This has been the pet appreciation segment, now on to sports…

I...don’t know. Yeah, kinda? It would be cool to see what all the fuss is about, you know? But I don’t really have any girls I’m interested in. But on the other hand, I’m almost fifteen and I’ve never kissed anyone! At this rate I’m going to be a hundred and still unkissed. I can barely leave the house in the summer but...maybe next year at Hogwarts I’ll ask someone out. Maybe that girl who always sat in front of us in Charms, you know, with the really long blonde hair? She’s pretty. But, like, I haven’t even talked to her, so maybe she’s awful. I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out! Do you want a girlfriend? I just rambled on for half a page, now you have to tell Me all Your thoughts about girls! Do you Like anyone?? I’m your best friend so you have to tell me!!

Yeah, I hear you. Owls are very useful! I can’t imagine you without Sooty, though. Just Transfigure Sooty some wings and train her to carry your letters! You’re so good at Transfiguration, I bet you could do it!

You were right, I had lots of things to say I didn’t even know I wanted to say!

Yeah, you did good! You probably won’t match this letter, though, haha. It’s going to weigh Grace down so she practically can’t fly! She’s going to get really strong carrying all my letters this summer.

Anyway, I better end this letter now!

 

Bye!! Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

Why are you scared? What would he do? Does he hurt you? Are you safe? If you ever need to run away, you can come here. Always.

I haven’t even heard about that, so I’m sure I’ll be fine. It’s not on the Muggle news, so it can’t be that bad. Besides, just like you, I can take care of myself. I know you think I can’t, but I get top marks in Defense Against the Dark Arts. What’s the point of that if I can’t even protect myself? They should come after me. They’ll regret it.

Ah. Someday you’ll be out of all that. I can take you to see all the movies you want, and you won’t have to hide your headphones. Not when we all live together. Our friends aren’t assholes, even though all of you except for me are purebloods.

We wouldn’t kick you out, no matter how many members our friend group ended up with. There’s nothing magic about the number four. You’re kind of like our leader, anyway.

I did ask them. They want to talk to Tensei’s parents, first, and I don’t know how to do that. Our house isn’t connected to the Floo network, and Tensei’s house doesn’t have a phone. Being a Muggleborn is so inconvenient sometimes. I guess they’ll just have to send a letter with Tensei’s owl. I hope I can go. It would be good to see you all of you.

I do tell her, and feed her treats, even though I like cats better than owls. Cats are cuter.

No. I don’t like anyone. I don’t want a girlfriend. I don’t like people. I don’t know why I asked you.

That’s almost a good idea, and I would try, but I’m worried about hurting Sooty. Also, a flying cat in a Muggle area would attract a lot of attention. I think that would be breaking quite a few laws.

This letter is short. Talking about how short it is makes it longer, though, so I’ll do that. Grace will have an easy flight on the way back.

I hope I get to see you soon, and I hope you’re safe.

 

Shouta.

Chapter Text

Shoooouuutttaaa! Hello!

 

Oh, don’t worry about me! I’m fine! I don’t know why I even said it was worse than Hogwarts! Some of our detentions are pretty bad! Like the time I had to sort beetles for the Potions professor. Even though they were dead I could feel them crawling on me for hours...it’s like she knew how much that would creep me out. Not fair.

Shouta, no! Be careful! I know you can take care of yourself, but these aren’t just bullies, they’re adult wizards. Promise me you’ll be careful? Please?

Yeah! I hope you don’t hold that against us! That just means you’re the keeper of all the Muggle knowledge! You’re the only one who knows things about both worlds! You’ll have to show all us poor purebloods all the cool Muggle stuff like headphones and movies and phones(?)! What is a phone? You use it to talk to people? Could you send me one so I could talk to you??

I’m not the leader, what are you talking about? I’m just the loud annoying one. If anyone is the leader, it’s Tensei.

I t would be good to see you too! I miss you so much in the summer! Letters every week just aren’t enough. I need my Shouta fix!!

Good! Grace deserves all the treats. I won’t fight with you about which one of our pets is cuter! I will be the bigger man! They’re both very cute. Can we just say that Grace is the best owl and Sooty is the best cat? By the way, why is her name Sooty? She’s a black cat, and soot tends to be kind of gray. Why isn’t her name Charcoal or something? Grace’s name is obvious. She’s graceful.

Shouta! You can’t just mutter something and leave it at that! And yes, I know this is a letter, but you were clearly muttering. You have to answer the questions! And honestly, too ! I poured my heart out to you, now you have to do the same! Are you sure you’re not interested in anyone? I don’t believe you! I’m your best friend, I know these things, and I think you’re just trying to get out of talking about it! Are you ~embarrassed~?? Who do you like?? Do I know her?? Oooh, is it Nemuri?? You said you don’t like people, but you clearly like the three of us, so maybe it’s her! You asked me because you were curious and I’m curious too!

You’re right about the laws. Yet another drawback of being a Muggleborn: you can’t get away with underage magic like I can. If the Ministry detects magic from my house, they assume it was my dad, so as long as I don’t get caught by him I’m good! But I can still get caught by him so mostly I don’t. You should try Transfiguring her once you’re back at Hogwarts, though! That way, not only is it legal, there’s plenty of teachers around to help if it goes wrong.

I’m fine!! Like I said, don’t worry about me!! [elaborate doodle of a widely-smiling face with sparkles and stars]

I hope I see you at Tensei’s house soon! Or back at Hogwarts if not!

 

Hizashi~

 

 

Hizashi.

 

Hizashi. You’re trying to distract me. It won’t work. I’m worried about you. Does your father hurt you? That’s not okay, if he does. I want to be there I want to know I want to protect y Sorry. My quill broke and spattered all that ink. Hizashi, are you safe?

I’m considering ending my letter here so you can’t try to weasel out of answering again. But Grace takes days to fly between our houses and writing a letter only takes a few minutes, so it wouldn’t be logical.

How about this: I’ll keep myself safe if you do. I wasn’t exactly going to go looking for the Dark wizards, anyway.

I don’t hold you all being purebloods against you. Purebloods clearly aren’t all assholes, since you three aren’t, but you do seem to be lacking a bit in Muggle common sense. Don’t worry, I’ll help with that. A phone is a bit like Floo powder, in a way. You can call another phone and talk to someone no matter how far away they are. You can’t use them to travel, though. I can’t send you a phone because it’s more complicated than that—they need to be plugged in to work, and do wizards even use electricity? Although how does your radio work?

You’re the leader. None of us would even be friends without you, you brought us all together. And you’re loud, but if we thought you were annoying, we wouldn’t be friends with you. And if your friends don’t think you’re annoying, you’re not.

I miss you too.

I was eleven when I named her, shut up. Charcoal would be a bad name for a cat, anyway. I could have named her Inky or something, but again: I was eleven. And since Muggles are civilized and use electric lighting and stoves, I was mostly unacquainted with fire.

Hizashi. Drop it. I said I’m not interested in anyone, so I’m not. End of discussion.

I still don’t know if I want to do magic on my cat. That sounds like it could be at least unpleasant for her. I don’t want to hurt her, even if it probably wouldn’t be permanent. Or should I practice Transfiguration on you?

I will worry about you whether you like it or not. We’re friends.

I hope I can see you there too.

 

Shouta.

 

 

Hey Shouta,

 

It’s fine, okay? I’m safe. Why wouldn’t I be? I told you, it’s not that bad. If you’re not even going to answer my questions about what girls you like, why would I talk to you about this? I told you it’s not that bad, so it’s not. It could be a lot worse.

I’m glad you’re still talking to me. Okay.

Okay. That sounds like a good compromise. I really do want you to be safe.

Phones sound useful! Electricity? No, wizards don’t use that. How does my radio work? I don’t know what you mean.

Well...okay, I’ll let you have that logic! I’m glad you don’t think I’m annoying. Even though I talk a lot and I’m loud and I touch people too much.

[scratched-out drawing of a heart]

Heh, yeah, I guess we all made mistakes when we were eleven! Still, even if it’s not quite accurate, Sooty is her name now, and she’s a good cat, so it’s a good name. Unacquainted With Fire would make a good band name! The four of us should start a band! Now we just need to learn to play instruments...well, except for me. I’d be the singer, obviously. But I could also play guitar! I can’t wait until I move out so I can learn.

F ine. Although you’re being really cagey and suspicious about this, just so you know…

You should totally practice Transfiguration on me!! Give me a sweet pair of wings!! I trust you not to mess me up too bad! Although if you did, I wonder which one of us would lose house points...you for screwing up or me for being an idiot? Probably both of us. Anyway, let’s do it! I’m ready for feathers! Turn my hair into a parrot crest, that would be rad!

If we don’t get to Tensei’s soon, summer will be over!

 

Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

That was the shortest letter you’ve ever sent me.

Why are you mad at me? I just want to know if you’re okay. Why is it wrong that I’m worried about you? Why are you so defensive about this?

I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight over letters. Not when I can’t see you. If you don’t want to talk about it, we don’t have to.

Y our radio doesn’t have batteries? It must be magic. Of course it’s magic.

You talk a lot, but not too much. I like your voice. I like when you touch me. I don’t think you’re annoying. Do you think I’m boring?

I don’t know anything about starting a band or playing an instrument. I’ll humor you, though. What instrument should I play?

There are things you don’t want to talk about. There are also things I don’t want to talk about. Whatever.

That’s...not the point I was trying to make. I think someone is going to try to tell us this is a bad idea, maybe Tensei, but what’s being fifteen for if not bad ideas?

I’ll see you at Tensei’s soon.

 

Shouta.

 

Heyyy Shouta!!

 

I’m sorry, too. I don’t want to fight with you at all!! You’re my best friend and fighting with your best friend is never fun!! Especially over letters when I have to miss you and fight with you at the same time. That just isn’t fair.

I still don’t want to talk about it, though. But it’s like...there’s nothing to talk about, you know? I made it sound like it wasn’t fine, but it’s fine. I’m sorry I worried you or whatever but it really is okay. It’s nothing I don’t deserve. It’s really not that bad.

Well yeah my radio is magic, how else would it work? Although I guess you said Muggles have radios too. How do Muggle radios work? What are batteries? It would be so much easier if you could just show me all this stuff instead of trying to describe it. You can when we graduate and live together! We’ll have an awesome house full of Muggle and Wizarding stuff and it’ll be great, the best of both worlds!!

Of course I don’t think you’re boring!! But I see your point. You’re not boring and I’m not annoying. We’re just different and that’s okay. And it’s all good because we’re friends! I’m so glad we’re friends.

I don’t know! You’ve given me a lot of power here, Shouta. I’ll play guitar so you can play bass! That seems good for you. I think Nemuri said she already knows how to play piano a little bit, so she can do that, and Tensei can play drums??

Exactly!! Even though I’m fifteen now, I haven’t outgrown bad ideas yet! That’s for like...when we’re twenty or something. Then we have to only do things that are good ideas. But for now it’s bad idea time!! Transfigure me some wings and then I’ll jump off the astronomy tower to test them! It’ll be great!

Sorry this letter is kind of short too, but I think I’ll see you at Tensei’s before I get another letter from you! I’m looking forward to it!!

 

See you soon!! Hizashi

Chapter Text

When Shouta steps off the train, he’s immediately tackled, almost hard enough to knock him down, but he doesn’t flinch, instead just hugging Hizashi back. He’s getting used to this.

“I missed you,” Hizashi’s voice says in his ear, low and close, and Shouta has to suppress a shiver. Oh. This...thing...is harder to deal with in person. It only gets worse when Hizashi lets go after a few long, warm moments, and Shouta finds he has to look up to watch Hizashi’s bright grin.

Still, none of this can quell the small, soft smile on his own face as he says, “Hey, Hizashi. You got tall.”

Didn’t he??” Nemuri grins, bracing her hand on her jutting hip. She skates her hand from the top of her head to the top of Hizashi’s spiked hair. “I mean, we’re all getting up there, but he’s the tallest right now! I’m catching up, though !”

Hizashi laughs self-consciously and rubs the back of his neck. “I guess so!”

The drive back to Tensei’s house has Shouta stewing in confusion that wizards have cars and not headphones, the purebloods in the car chatting in blissful ignorance of this disparity.

The week passes peacefully, or as peaceful as a house containing four teenagers and a newborn baby can be. The Iidas have a large house, practically a mansion, and they have a house elf—which would be the first time Shouta had ever seen one, if not for Tensei showing the other three the Hogwarts kitchens.


 

Hizashi is having the time of his life. He has his friends but no classes or homework, and most of the time he can talk as loudly as he wants and nobody shushes him or yells at him to be quieter . When he does have to be quiet, it’s for an actual reason, because Tensei’s little baby brother Tenya is sleeping, which is something he can respect. Babies need their sleep! He does his best to keep quiet during his naps, and he feels like he’s being appropriately apologetic when he’s accidentally not. The best part is that after this, they’ll all be boarding the Hogwarts Express together, so he doesn’t even have to go home again until Christmas. Maybe this year he’ll ever be able to swing staying at Hogwarts for that, too.

The only thing putting a damper on his mood is that Nemuri is acting odd. Not bad, so it’s more confusion that worry, but definitely weird. They’ve always been friends, but it’s like after this summer she suddenly likes him more—laughing louder at his jokes, sitting closer, doing this specific thing where when he’s talking, she’ll rest her chin on her hand and just watch him, fluttering her eyelashes.

R ight now, they’re all eating dinner—good dinner, the Iida family house elf is a good cook—and Tensei is across from him, Shouta is on one of his sides, and Nemuri is at the end of the table but with her chair scooted so far to one side that she’s almost touching Hizashi. In fact—something brushes his leg, and at first he doesn’t think anything of it, he and his friends are all getting tall and their limbs tend to get away from them a bit—but then it comes again, a clearly deliberate touch of a foot against his calf, and when he looks over at her in surprise Nemuri smiles, and despite himself Hizashi feels his face heat.

“I think I’m going for a walk after this,” she says, running her finger along the rim of her glass. “Does anyone want to come with me?” She looks at Hizashi as she says it.

“Sure, a walk sounds nice!” Hizashi says. Just being able to leave the house whenever he wants—it’s such a luxury. He doesn’t even need to ask permission, just tell Tensei’s parents where he’s going and some vague estimate of when he’ll he back. So far, they haven’t told him no.

I think I’ll stay here,” Tensei says, sharing a worryingly conspiratorial smile with Nemuri. It’s Tensei, so they can’t be planning anything too bad, but it still makes Hizashi frown.

I’ll go,” Shouta says, and Nemuri looks up sharply, hand stilling on her glass.

“You should stay here,” Tensei says, shaking his head.

Shouta frowns at him, and there’s something more defiant than confused in the look. “Why?”

“I want to show you something,” Tensei says, frowning back at him.

There’s a sudden tension in the room, but Hizashi smiles anyway, trying to break it. “Can I see too? We can all three go after that!”

“You...wouldn’t care about it,” Tensei says, twisting in his chair. That and the pause in his words makes Hizashi wonder if he’s lying, and makes anxiety flutter in his stomach. What the fuck is going on? Are they talking about him behind his back?

“What would I care about that Hizashi wouldn’t?” Shouta asks, a note of challenge in his voice.

Tensei sighs. “It doesn’t matter. Just let them go on a walk and stay here with me.” It’s worded like a suggestion, but his tone brooks no argument.

Shouta glares for a moment before his shoulders slump. “Yeah, okay,” he says.

“Alright, let’s go,” Nemuri says, popping up from her seat. She grabs Hizashi’s arm and all but pulls him with her. He goes willingly enough, but looks back at Shouta, glancing between him and Tensei. When his eyes meet Shouta’s, all the defiance has gone out of them, and now he just looks lost.

“Bye,” Hizashi says with a wave, feeling like the way he’s leaving is somehow important, like he won’t see him after an hour or less—even though he doesn’t know why. Shouta doesn’t speak, just returns the wave.

Nemuri hasn’t let go of his arm, and she pulls him towards the door, sticking her head into the study. “Mr. Iida, me and Hizashi are going on a walk around the neighborhood!”

“Okay. You kids be careful. Be good but not too good,” comes the voice, and Nemuri salutes with a smile and then they’re off.

“That was weird,” Hizashi says as soon as they’re out of the house, his stomach still twisting. “Why do you think Tensei wanted Shouta alone?”

Nemuri scoffs. “He didn’t. He wanted the two of us to be alone.”

Hizashi looks over at her. She’s walking very close, and in fact still hasn’t let go of his arm, her hand resting just below his elbow, which he has slightly bent to accommodate her as if they’re at a fancy party. He supposes it’s fitting for a neighborhood as nice as this. “What do you mean? Why?”

She rolls her eyes, laughing like he told a joke. “Oh, Hizashi,” she says fondly. “For as smart as you are, you’re really kind of dumb sometimes. Tensei wants us to be alone because I’ve been flirting with you all week.”

He gapes at her, mouth open soundlessly for a long moment. “You’ve been—what? Why?”

An eye-roll again. “What do you mean, why? Why does anyone flirt? I like you. Do you like me?” It’s such a brash question, so matter-of-fact, that for a stark moment he’s reminded so strongly of Shouta, like it’s him asking Hizashi.

Hizashi’s stomach flips and he can’t contain a nervous laugh, running his hand through his spiked hair. “I...don’t know! I’ve never thought about it before.” It takes him a few moments to percolate a feeling about it, but then he grins over at her. “You really like me?”

“Yep,” she says, with her own toothy grin. “You may not have noticed, but you’re cute.”

Hizashi’s eyebrows scrunch together. “I’m cute?” He wonders who else thinks he’s cute.

“Hizashi, you’re adorable. Even if you are being a little dense right now.”

“Sorry,” he says with a self-conscious laugh. “This is just a lot!”

“Well, think about it,” she says, although despite her words her hand has slid down his arm and wrapped around his own hand. Hizashi lifts their hands to where he can see them, looking at them with something like awe, then resettles his hand to be comfortably clasped by hers. She takes that as what it is and smiles over at him, and he smiles back.

“I just haven’t thought about you like that before,” Hizashi says, swinging their hands. “What am I considering, here? What do you want?”

“I want you to be my boyfriend,” she says immediately. “ I want to kiss you and stuff.”

Hizashi tries, but he can only give it a moment of consideration, his answer coming out of his mouth before he’s figured things out in his head, leaving him scrambling to catch up. “Okay! We can do that,” he says, and he thinks it’s because as new as all this is, as sudden and fast as it seems, it feels really good to be wanted.

I knew you’d make the right choice,” she jokes, and Hizashi laughs giddily.

Their walk has brought them to the park, and Nemuri leads the way into it, jumping up to sit on a picnic table. Hizashi sits beside her. There are a few kids at the park, playing alone, and for a moment they just watch them, their hands still clasped together between them.

“You’ve never kissed anyone, right?” Nemuri says, turning towards him, and when he turns too it puts their faces rather close together.

“If I had, you’d know,” Hizashi says, free hand starting to drum nervously against his leg, legs swinging. “So no, I haven’t! You haven’t either, right?”

“Right,” she says. He’s never seen her be nervous before. “I really want to try it.”

“Uh-huh,” Hizashi says, slightly absently, because for the first time he’s really looking at his friend’s mouth. Her lips are plush, slightly curved, and she licks them in something that might have been a nervous or seductive gesture.

There’s a long moment where they just look at each other before Nemuri huffs out a sigh, mutters, “Have to do everything myself,” grabs his chin, tugs him down, and kisses him.

It’s nice, her mouth warm and soft and wet, and it’s definitely not a tentative or rushed first kiss—Hizashi’s eyes don’t close right away but they have time, and when they do he has the fleeting, crazy thought that he wishes Shouta were here, maybe just to share this with him, to cheer him on, maybe—not that Shouta is much for cheering but his soft smile is eve n better, would his mouth be this soft if someone kissed him?

Finally, they break apart, and Nemuri grins at him, triumphant. “Yeah, that’s good,” she says, thoughtfully. “I liked that.”

Hizashi smiles back. “Good! I’m glad! That was fun, yeah.”

She hops down from the table, pulling him along. “Now we just have to go back and tell the others.”

“Yeah! They’re going to be so excited!” Hizashi imagines the look on Tensei’s face—he knew about this, schemed with Nemuri over this, apparently. He’ll be overjoyed. And Shouta—well, he’s Hizashi’s best friend. Won’t he be happy? Somehow, Hizashi can’t imagine his smile about this. He feels guilty, just keeps seeing Shouta’s lost look at they left. Maybe because it feels like he’s leaving him behind, because Hizashi had his first kiss before he did . Maybe because it feels like he’s replacing him, even though a girlfriend and a best friend aren’t the same thing, don’t have to occupy the same space.

Whatever it is, Hizashi’s just as nervous walking back into the house as he was walking out of it.

But he doesn’t take his hand out of Nemuri’s grasp.

Chapter Text

Tensei tries to show him some pictures of a cat he had when he was younger, because although he had been making things up at the time, he apparently feels bad enough to come up with something, but Shouta only looks halfheartedly. Even if pictures of kittens are especially cute when you can actually see the kittens move, when they actually actively play with the yarn in the photos.

Look,” Tensei says, closing the album with a snap. “Things won’t change too much if they get together,” he says without preamble. The words aren’t especially gentle but they’re clearly meant to be kind.

Shouta looks at him and looks away. He has another opportunity, here, yawning out in front of him like a cliff he could jump off of—Tensei is so understanding, but what if it’s not enough? “That’s not what I’m worried about,” he says quietly, the words too close to what he wants to say and almost hard to get out.

“We’ll still all be friends. He’ll still be your best friend, and you’ll still be his,” Tensei says. “Even if they get closer because of this, what you and Hizashi have is special.”

Shouta glances up sharply. Is it that obvious? Still. Tensei doesn’t seem to mean anything by the words, just stating facts.

“Are you worried about Hizashi turning her down? I think we could all bounce back from that, I don’t think we’d have to lose anyone. She’s tough and he’s friendly, I don’t think it would be too awkward.”

Shouta looks at the ground. The words he wants to say are so simple, but he can hardly even bear to think them, skating around the edges of the concepts, laced with such fear and disgust, in his mind. I think I might be gay, he tries thinking to himself. I think I might like Hizashi. Even that is more tentative than he really means. And it’s hard even to think—he’s not sure he’s going to be able to say it.

Still, Tensei can tell he wants to say something, and he can maybe even tell it’s important, so he’s waiting. Shouta is a Gryffindor—he can be brave enough for this.

He’s just about to open his mouth when the door opens. “We have an announcement!” Nemuri calls importantly, but when they come around the corner to the front door, she’s grinning.

And holding Hizashi’s hand.

Shouta’s heart drops down through the ground.

They share a look and then chorus, “We’re dating.”

Tensei yells something wordless and exultant, holding up both hands. He somehow figures out the coordination to give both of them high-fives at once—maybe he learned to do that as a Keeper. “That’s awesome!”

Hizashi looks at Shouta, still smiling wide, and in that moment he can’t face it, just turns and stalks away, ignoring his call of “Shouta!” He know it’s juvenile, but he can’t stop himself from slamming the door to the guest bedroom he’s staying in, leaning his back against it, head in his hands.

For a moment, there’s just a quiet murmur from the front hall, his friends obviously at a loss. Shouta balls his fists and presses them hard against his skull. He’s being so obvious.

Footsteps. “Shouta?” Hizashi calls, and Shouta closes his eyes with a deep breath, shoulders slumping. Hearing his voice—he’s not unsure anymore. He can’t pretend anymore. There’s nothing uncertain about the deep, hot, black feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Shouta, are you in there?”

“Yeah,” he says.

Hizashi sighs, his back settling against the other side of the door with a soft thump. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Shouta sighs too, legs bending as he slides down to a sitting position, wrapping his arms around his knees. No, but he does want to talk to Hizashi. Right now he wants to be the only person to talk to Hizashi forever. If he doesn’t say anything, Hizashi might just walk away. Finally, he says, “I’m being a terrible Gryffindor.”

There’s the sound of fabric on wood as Hizashi slides down the door too, and when he talks, his voice is level with Shouta’s head. “What do you mean?”

“Running away,” Shouta says. Being a childish coward.

“I don’t know that much about bravery,” Hizashi starts. “I’m just a Slytherin. But I think ...sometimes anything is braver than pretending nothing’s wrong.” They sit in silence for a moment before Hizashi breaks it. “So...what’s wrong?”

I’m in love with you, Shouta thinks at the empty room, at the door behind his back. He doesn’t say it. He just looks at his hands and tries to figure out where to go from here. The easiest thing to do would be, just like Hizashi said, to pretend that nothing is wrong. The hardest thing might be the same. But things aren’t brave just because they’re hard. And the easiest thing usually isn’t what’s right. I love you, I love you, I love you.

I’m afraid,” Shouta says quietly, haltingly. “I’m afraid I won’t be special to you anymore. I’m afraid it’ll be you and Nemuri and not you and me.” Because—Tensei wasn’t wrong, even if he didn’t see the whole picture. Because even if he’s hopelessly, seethingly jealous, that’s not the worst part. It’s not like he could have ever had what he wants .

You’re always going to be special to me,” Hizashi says, quick and easy, like it’s what he was just waiting to say. “It’ll always be me and you,” he says, “Even if there’s a me and her, too.” His voice is soft—it’s another one of those moments. Shouta can almost feel the heat of his back through the wood of the door, even if it might be an illusion.

Still, it’s different now. “Okay,” Shouta says, but it’s hollow.

Hizashi stands up, and Shouta immediately misses his phantom warmth. “You can stay in there if you want to,” he says, “or you can come out here with all of us.”

It’s obvious, this time, what the brave choice is. Shouta hauls himself to his feet, opens the door.

When he does, Hizashi pulls him in for a hug, warm and tight, and Shouta holds him back.

“It’ll be okay,” Hizashi says over this shoulder. “You’ll get used to us being together and you’ll see that I still care about you and it’ll be okay.”

It’s hard to doubt it with Hizashi’s arms wrapped around him, breathing in his scent. “Yeah,” Shouta agrees. “It’ll be okay.”

Chapter Text

Hizashi was right; it’s okay. Or Shouta can tell himself it is, can sometimes make himself believe it. For all that changes between Hizashi and Nemuri, very little changes in the group as a whole, or between Hizashi and Shouta.

Hizashi still has time for him, still looks at him like he’s special, and it’s okay, even if it hurts to watch him be all coupley with Nemuri now. Shouta learns to handle it, and the ache gets less sharp, even if not less painful.

Today, Tensei is at Quidditch practice, so it’s the three of them walking into the Great Hall for dinner together. They’re missing their Hufflepuff member, but they’re going to sit at the table anyway, until Hizashi turns back, shaking his head. “It’s full. Or there aren’t four open spots next to each other , anyway.”

Shouta turns towards the Slytherin table—currently, they’re two Slytherins and a Gryffindor, and there are four seats next to each other open near the door—but he doesn’t get more than a few steps before Hizashi catches his arm. He turns back slowly, but he doesn’t move away. Since he admitted his feelings, even such a simple touch from Hizashi feels like so much, even just Hizashi’s hand wrapped around his bicep feels like a quietly happy hum.

“Better...not,” Hizashi says, frowning at the students near the empty seats. He pulls Shouta closer, stepping in to bend their heads together, and even though Nemuri moves in close too, something in Shouta shines, only glowing brighter at the low, soft sound of Hizashi’s voice. “You know the League of Death?”

“Yeah,” Shouta says, frowning in confusion, tearing himself back to reality. “They can’t be members, they’re just kids.”

“Probably not officially, but everyone knows they’re going to join as soon as they graduate. They’re not a good crowd, especially not for you,” Hizashi says, looking carefully at Shouta, and Shouta scowls, caught between feeling warm that Hizashi cares for him and being annoyed at his overprotectiveness.

“I told you I can take care of myself.”

Hizashi frowns for a moment longer before breaking into an easy smile. “Oh, of course, I know! But I just want to eat dinner, not get into a fight, or have to watch you lose house points.” He steers them over towards the Gryffindor table.

“Don’t you want Shouta to lose as many points as possible? Then maybe Slytherin will win again,” Nemuri says as they swing their legs over the bench. As usual, Hizashi sits between them.

Slytherin is going to win anyway. We do almost every year. I can hope Gryffindor isn’t last, at least, like they usually are.”

Shouta picks up his fork, carefully selecting a piece of chicken from the platter. “The house cup is stupid and pointless anyway,” he says. “You don’t win anything.”

But you win,” both Slytherins tell him in unison, then high-five each other. It’s easy to forget, in moments like these when they act like this, that they’re boyfriend and girlfriend now, when they act just like they always have. But there’s also how close they’re sitting, hips and shoulders pressed together, far closer than Hizashi is sitting to Shouta.

“Anyway,” Hizashi says, heaping pasta onto his plate, “Are we still on for The Three Broomsticks for your birthday?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before grinning. “I’m excited! It’s so lucky your birthday falls on a Hogsmeade weekend this year.”

“Yeah. It’s too bad your birthday is in the summer,” Shouta says.

Hizashi sighs. “Yeah.” Then he brightens. “I don’t think you meant to, but those headphones you gave me the summer before last got to me like a week before my birthday, so it was kind of like you gave me a birthday present! Best present ever, really.”

“I’ll have to find some way to top that, then,” Nemuri says, smirking, and Shouta scowls at her.

I don’t think you can!” Hizashi says, still smiling, shaking his head. He at least appears to be clueless to the competition going on over him.

The rest of the day passes quickly, a lazy Friday, the four of them spending most of the day after classes are over enjoying the last of the November sunshine, before it gets too cold to spend time outside. As it is, they all need their scarves, the tangle of colors highlighting their differences. The grass is greener than it should be when they sit on it—it always seems to be so green. Maybe it’s magic. Shouta pulls out a book and lets the chatter of the other three wash over him—and even the way that Hizashi lays down with his head in Nemuri’s lap doesn’t bother him too much. He just holds the low ache of want in his mind for a moment before casting it away. These are his friends, and he loves all of them.

The next day is colder. Hizashi gets cold easily, and when he starts shivering in the line to go into Hogsmeade, Nemuri takes off her scarf and starts winding it around his neck. In retaliation, Shouta rips off his own scarf and dumps it over Hizashi’s head, and Nemuri ups the ante by using the scarf she’s holding to pull Hizashi in and kiss his nose, just barely left uncovered by Shouta’s scarf.

“Okay, break it up, you two—three,” the tired professor standing near them says. “Yamada, Kayama, five points from Slytherin for inappropriate behavior, and Yamada, another five points for wearing the wrong house colors.”

Hizashi squawks in indignation. “It’s just a scarf! I’m cold! And he put it on me, it’s not like I stole it!”

The professor sighs. She’s not a head of house, but if Shouta remembers right, she was in Gryffindor. “Five points to Gryffindor for chivalry, then, and five points from Gryffindor because Yamada is wearing the wrong color scarf now. Satisfied?”

Hizashi crosses his arms. “Can I at least keep them on, since I’ve already lost the points for it?”

The professor just stares for a moment before wordlessly throwing up her arms and walking away. Hizashi pumps his fist in triumph. “See? I can be bad! I lost points and talked back to a teacher!”

“My cute little bad boy,” Nemuri coos, and Shouta can’t help but agree. Hizashi looks warm and pleased in his pile of scarves, and even though his neck is uncovered and chilly now, it makes him feel warm that Hizashi fought so hard to keep his scarf on.

Chapter Text

“They won’t serve us any firewhiskey,” Hizashi announces with a sigh, throwing himself down into his seat. “Not even when I told them it was your birthday!”

Shouta leans forward to take the bottle of butterbeer he passes him. He’s started to feel a bit buzzed, and he smiles lazily as he takes a swig.

“Did you try telling them it was his seventeenth birthday and not sixteenth?” Nemuri asks, taking a long drink out of her own bottle.

Shouta frowns. “Not eighteenth?”

“No, wizards come of age at seventeen,” Tensei explains.

Shouta shrugs and nods. “For Muggles, it’s eighteen.”

Just one more way wizards are better,” Hizashi jokes, gesturing extraneously . “We can drink a year earlier.”

Muggles wouldn’t even let us drink this much,” Shouta says, gesturing with his bottle.

“Really? That’s so weird!” Hizashi says, over-enthusiastic about this simple detail. He’s always loud, but apparently gets even louder after a few butterbeers. It’s probably also the party atmosphere in the pub, but his voice carries more than ever. He slings an arm around Shouta’s shoulders, pulling him closer. “Our resident Muggleborn, spreading his infinite wisdom! What else aren’t Muggles allowed to do?”

Magic,” Shouta says dryly, just the hear the way Hizashi laughs, his arm tightening around his shoulders.

You’re so funny, Shouta!” Hizashi says, still laughing, then his voice actually does drop in volume as he leans in a little closer—and pitch, too. “So, what do you want for your birthday?” Shouta makes the mistake of looking over at him, and his face is so close, still smiling but softer now, slightly flushed, and Shouta—he didn’t used to think about kissing Hizashi, but now it’s impossible not to, now that Nemuri does it right in front of him, now that she’s opened that possibility, and it’s not just the alcohol because he’s not that drunk, it’s just the moment, where Shouta can’t help the way his eyes flick down to Hizashi’s mouth, just for a split second. What does he want for his birthday? For a crazy moment, he’s about to say:

You.” Shouta immediately flushes when he realizes he said that out loud, pulling away from Hizashi as he backpedals. “All of you guys. Just being here, having fun, it’s good. I don’t need presents.”

Nemuri heard him. “Aw, that’s adorable,” she coos, resting her chin in her hands and looking at him. “So sappy, Shouta!”

“That’s pretty sweet,” Tensei agrees, and Shouta scowls at them, still blushing. At least they’re teasing him about the correction, not the original mistake.

Hizashi bangs his fist on the table. “It’s his birthday! He’s allowed to be sappy if he wants to be!” He points at Shouta. “We’re still going to Honeyduke’s after this! You need candy!”

It seems like he’s safe, but his heart is still racing, his face still more flushed than he can blame on the butterbeer. “I’m going to the bathroom,” Shouta mutters, pushing himself up from the table.

“Don’t get lost!” Hizashi says, then laughs.

“Or fall in and melt like sugar,” Nemuri says, “since you’re being sweet.”

Shouta doesn’t get lost, or fall in. He’s perfectly safe, going to the bathroom. It’s coming back that’s the problem.

As he pushes open the bathroom door, the tip of something blunt and wooden presses into his lower back as someone grabs his arm from behind, and it takes him a moment to recognize it as a wand, but he has by the time a voice murmurs, low and dangerous, “Come with us.”

He’s not afraid. Maybe it’s just shock, but he feels nothing but surprise as another hand closes around his other arm, pulling him backwards, towards the back door.

He’s still not afraid as the door clicks shut behind them, leaving him in a dark alley. There are two people behind him, and a third who steps in front of him, but they’re all wearing hoods that leave their faces shadowed . The one in front of him is tall, but the one who whispered sounded like about his height.

So proud of it,” the one in front of him says scornful but light, almost like he’s joking. “Almost bragging, little mudblood,” he says, and Shouta reaches for his wand. The one holding his right arm jerks it away from his pocket, but the one in front of him shakes his head. “No, let it get out its wand. We’ll see if it can use it at all. Maybe it’s a Muggle after all.” The pressure on his arm relaxes, and Shouta draws his wand, pointing it unwaveringly at the one in front of him. He’s not afraid, but he feels frozen, everything sluggish and too-sharp, and he’s gripped by a moment of indecision—reducto, expelliarmus, stupefy, whatever he does has to incapacitate all three of them at once—but he doesn’t get any spells off before the one in front of him does. He turns his wand aside, muttering a spell—the same one the professor uses on the box when Hizashi commentates, a muffling spell—and Shouta has enough time to be confused before the wand is pointing back at him, but not enough time to react before the wizard is saying, calm and steady and almost leisurely, “Crucio.”

T he pain is immediate, white-hot, burning away everything he’s ever felt, everything he is, and it will forever, there’s nothing but this now, nothing but pain lighting up every part of his body with so much force it feels like he’s being pulled apart except that it doesn’t end, it doesn’t stop, he doesn’t die—

Until it does stop, and Shouta is left on the ground, shaking uncontrollably as his muscles ache and his throat burns from screaming, and now, now he’s afraid, he’s terrified now, he’s either going to die or the man is going to use that spell again, and he’s not sure what would be worse. He’s never been more afraid, never truly feared for his life before, and it’s all going to be for nothing, no reason , he’s going to die on his sixteenth birthday because Hizashi was a little too loud.

He’s just gotten his body enough under control to start getting his arms under himself to lift himself up, though he doesn’t know what he’s going to do once he gets on his feet—run? Fight back? But he doesn’t have enough time before the man raises his wand again, this time using a soundless spell that feels like a giant hand pressing down on his back, keeping him in the dirt. “Learned your lesson yet?” he says lazily, and the one of the two behind him laughs, kicking at his side. “Probably not. You’re not begging yet.”

Shouta has just enough presence of mind to decide: he’s not going to beg, even if they say they’re going to kill him, even if they’re going to use that spell again.

The man is raising his wand again, and Shouta has just enough time to think that maybe begging wouldn’t be that bad before he says, so casually, “Crucio.” Then even that thought i s gone, along with everything else, replaced by unrelenting agony. He can’t even concentrate enough to hear himself screaming, or to care if he is.

He doesn’t know anything else until the pain lifts, and he’s still twitching on the ground when he hears triple pops of disapparition. “Shouta?” Hizashi’s first call is surprised, inquisitive, but the second one is horrified. “Shouta!!”

Shouta coughs raggedly, the word swimming back into focus. The hooded figures are gone, and his three friends are in the doorway. “Hizashi?” he croaks.

Hizashi stumbles into the alleyway, falling to his knees next to Shouta. Tensei scans the area, wand out, but finds nothing and turns to Nemuri. “Go get help,” he says, his voice low and serious. She nods, face white, and turns back into the pub.

Tensei crouches and a gentle hand on his back helps him sit up. Hizashi’s hand fumbles for Shouta’s, grabbing it and pressing it between both of his own. “Are you okay??” he asks, his own voice shaky.

For a moment, Shouta can do nothing but draw breath into his aching lungs, grasping desperately back at Hizashi’s hand, clinging to that small comfort. “I’m okay,” he says, but the way his voice comes out, hoarse and small and wavering, belies the way he’s never been less okay in his life. Still, he’s alive when he thought he might not be, and his friends are worried. Tensei’s hand is still on his back, and right now he’ll take all the comfort he can get.

Oh, honey,” comes a new voice from the doorway, Nemuri standing next to a motherly-looking older witch. She bustles over to him. “Can you stand?”

I think so,” Shouta rasps out, and Hizashi and Tensei help him to his feet. His legs are shaky, and he grabs at Hizashi’s arm as he almost falls. Hizashi pulls his arm over his shoulders, supporting him, and wraps his arm around his back, holding him tight.

Get him inside,” the witch says. “You’ll be okay, honey.”

With Hizashi’s help, he’s soon sitting in a chair in a back room. The witch leaves for a moment and comes back with a steaming mug that she hands to him, and by now his body is under control enough that he doesn’t drop it when he takes it. When he takes a sip, it’s hot chocolate, the warmth traveling down his throat like the comforting way Hizashi’s hand is still on his shoulder.

Now, what happened?”

I was attacked,” Shouta says, and his tone is matter of fact but there’s a part of him that still doesn’t believe it. Hizashi’s hand tightens on his shoulder, and Nemuri puts her hand over her mouth. Tensei looks grim.

Other students?” the witch asks.

Shouta shakes his head. “No.”

They Disapparated,” Hizashi says, “Just as we got there.”

They were wearing hoods,” Nemuri supplies, still sounding shocked.

You never saw their faces?” the witch asks, and Shouta shakes his head. “You didn’t know them? Why did they attack you?”

Shouta looks up at her pinched, worried face, and doesn’t answer right away. It’s not the first time, but in the moment he has to consider that his answer might take away her sympathy. He has to consider that there are things about him that make strangers hate him, want to hurt him, and he can’t know who. Finally, Hizashi’s comforting touch makes him answer. “Because my friends were talking about how I’m a Muggleborn.” Hizashi’s hand tenses on his shoulder.

Oh, you poor dear,” the witch sighs. “I’ll call the aurors.” She pats his other shoulder before moving away, back out of the room.

Shouta, I’m so sorry,” Hizashi whispers, and Shouta looks up at him. His face is a mask of guilt.

It’s okay,” Shouta says, but he’s too tired to really put much effort into consoling him. “Not your fault.”

The rest of his birthday is a whirl of talking to adults who are stern but not at him, answering too many questions through bone-deep tiredness. All he wants is to take a nap.

Still, through it all, Hizashi’s hand never leaves his shoulder, and as the night goes on, the lingering pain seeps away and is replaced by that warmth.

Chapter Text

Hizashi bounces his way to lunch, humming happily. When the professor had asked him to stay after in Charms, his stomach had dropped through the floor, and he had told Nemuri to go ahead without him as if he was going to his doom—but it turns out all the professor had wanted was to congratulate him on his good work. Why hadn’t he just said that in the first place? But it feels like a daring escape, and Hizashi’s spirits are high as he enters the Great Hall.

He grins even wider at he catches sight, across the room, of a mass of dark hair at the Hufflepuff table, sitting next to Tensei. Shouta’s hair is getting so long! It feels like so long since he’s seen him, even though it’s only been since last night—but it’s an eternity, to be without his very best friend, the person who is right now making his heart soar—

Then he turns around—or rather, she turns around, with pointed glasses and a smile, and for a moment, Hizashi’s smile dims, just a little, because it’s just Nemuri—Nemuri who he just saw, Nemuri who he has all his classes with, Nemuri who’s his girlfriend, what is wrong with him??

Hizashi shoves his million-watt smile back onto his face as he swings his legs over the bench.

Where’s Shouta?” comes out of his mouth before he can think, and Hizashi cringes. To cover it up, he turns to the side, burying his face in Nemuri’s shoulder. “Hey, Nem,” he mumbles.

She pats him affectionately on the head. “Hey, Hizashi. Poor baby, just got yelled at,” she coos, digging her hand into his hair and scratching gently.

It feels nice, and Hizashi goes boneless under the sensation for a couple seconds. He can’t believe he was momentarily disappointed to see someone who does things like this. Then he pops back up. “I didn’t, actually! The professor wanted to tell me I was doing a good job!” he grins proudly.

Hey guys,” comes the low, rough voice behind him, and Hizashi’s heart skips a beat.

Shouta!” Hizashi’s half over the bench, starting to stand up, going in for a hug, before he stops himself. Contrary to popular belief, he has some self-control. He awkwardly turns the motion in a wave. That self-control—more and more he needs it, has to hold himself back, tear himself away from—well, it’s just Shouta, just one person he has to stifle his affection for. He’s allowed to be as affectionate with Nemuri as he wants to be, and that’s wonderful, at least he has somewhere to put it, but it seems to take actual energy, sometimes, effort, to direct it all her way. At least things with Tensei are easy. Hizashi likes him, of course, but he doesn’t seem to need to touch him all the time. He’s not sure what the difference is.

We thought Hizashi was going to get yelled at, like the bad boy he’s always trying to be, but it turns out he’s still just as much of a teacher’s pet as he’s ever been,” Nemuri tells Shouta as he sits down on Hizashi’s other side. He just makes a noise, not really replying.

Tensei leans in, nudging Shouta. “I heard some other Hufflepuffs talking,” he says. “Apparently the Care of Magical Creatures professor is starting a unit on kneasles today.”

Now the noise that Shouta makes is a lot more interested, his head swinging up. “Yeah?”

I’m so glad we have that class together again this year!” Hizashi says, just to bring Shouta’s attention back to him. Shouta is willing to give him the attention he wants, looking over at him now, nodding.

Yeah. I like that class, I’m glad you take it too.”

Hizashi opens his mouth, then bites his lip. He had been about to say that he’s taken Care of Magical Creatures for the last two years because Shouta does, which is absolutely the truth—he doesn’t mind the class, but that’s been the thought in his head each time he’s filled out the form—but maybe that’s a little weird? Maybe that’s a little too much.

Hizashi is, sometimes, a little too much. Not that Shouta ever seems to think so, every time he’s ever said something risky and over-the-top like that Shouta has just looked at him with those pretty dark eyes and replied in kind—so maybe if they were alone, but things like this are too much for other people—

Yeah,” he finally says, covering up his hesitation with a smile. “It’s fun! Animals are great. I mean, except for all the bugs, but we don’t do much about bugs anymore, it’s mostly cool stuff now like hippogriffs and unicorns and thestrals—horses are just cool, I like horses, I wonder why we did all those things before kneasles? I mean, people keep them as pets, they’re not really dangerous or anything, they’re just cats.”

Shouta shakes his head. “They’re not just cats. They’re extremely intelligent, for one thing. And—”

I bet you’re basically going to be able to teach the class today,” Nemuri teases, and Shouta rolls his eyes, taking a bite of food.

I like cats,” he says, unbothered.

Cats are great,” Hizashi agrees. “Have you ever wondered if Sooty is part kneasle?”

She’s too small, and we got her from a Muggle pet store, so it’s very unlikely.”

Soon, the bell rings, and it’s time to head off to the next class. Nemuri heads off to Divination, Tensei takes his turn in the Charms classroom, and Shouta and Hizashi head out to the grounds for Care of Magical Creatures, Hizashi chattering the whole way. As always, Shouta listens with more patience than he shows anything else, and he doesn’t shove Hizashi away when their shoulders keep bumping together as they walk.

Kneasles,” the professor announces when they’re all settled. “Partner up,” she says, mostly as a formality, because everyone has already claimed their preferred partner. The professor has long since stopped giving Shouta and Hizashi house points for their unusual Slytherin-Gryffindor pairing, since it’s not like they ever work with anyone else.

Now, listen,” she says, clapping her hands. Since they moved into more dangerous creatures, the lectures come before they approach the animals rather than during. “They have a reputation as simply large, magical housecats, but kneasles can be surprisingly vicious. However, they’re not unpredictable. K neasles can sense deception, which is part of what makes them such popular—but difficult—pets. No owner of a kneasle will ever be cheated at a card game, and if their partner is ever unfaithful, they’ll know in a hurry. So if any of you are being deceitful—planning to cheat on a test, lying to your friends, going behind someone’s back—it’s best not to approach the kneasles. You’ll lose points, but it’s better than getting your eyes clawed out for cheating on your boyfriend,” she says, and Hizashi looks at the scars on her face and wonders if she’s speaking from experience. She’s mentioned infidelity twice now.

Usually, Hizashi doesn’t feel anything beyond a healthy respect at the end of these lectures. Students are rarely attacked in class, and when they are, it’s always because they were doing something stupid. Today, though, he feels strang e ly wary when the wicker basket is set in front of him and Shouta. Shouta isn’t; he’s quick to open the lid, face softening in that adorable way it does as the kneasle sticks its head out of the basket. He offers his hand to it, and it sniffs for a moment before tilting its head regally, deigning to be pet.

H izashi smiles. It really is just a big kitty, even starting to purr in a deep, gravely way as Shouta runs his hand down its back. He moves in closer, offering his own hand for it to sniff.

Immediately, the purr stops. The kneasle’s fur puffs up, making it look even larger, and the happy sound it had been making is replaced by a quiet growl.

Shouta frowns, leaving one hand on the kneasle and putting his other hand on Hizashi’s shoulder. “He’s okay,” he says in a deep, soothing voice.

The kneasle keeps making the unhappy noise in the back of its throat. “Um, Shouta? I don’t think—”

Between Shouta pushing him back and Hizashi jumping out of range, he just narrowly manages to avoid being bloodied as the kneasle swipes at him. “Hey!” Hizashi yelps.

Are you okay?” Shouta asks. He’s giving him an odd, calculated look.

I’m fine, but I don’t think this one likes me,” Hizashi says with a nervous giggle.

The professor is coming over towards them. “What’s the matter?”

It swiped at me! I don’t know what I was doing wrong. Cats just don’t always like me, I guess.” He fidgets, twisting the hem of his robe. “I’m not deceiving anyone?” It comes out tentative, like he’s not sure, because suddenly he isn’t. He would know, wouldn’t he?

The professor peers at the kneasle, now looking content as it washes a paw, then nods. “Ah. It seems I gave you two the troublemaker.” She briefly pats Hizashi’s shoulder. “I’ll switch you for another one, and see me after class.” This time, at least, her words are paired with a reassuring look.

The new kneasle is much more friendly—even though Hizashi cringes as he so carefully offers his hand, getting ready to snatch it back at the first sign of danger, this one doesn’t growl. He gently strokes along its back once, then leaves it to Shouta.

I wonder what that was about,” Shouta says, giving him that strange look again.

I don’t know! I really don’t. The professor didn’t seem to think it was my fault, right? I guess she’ll explain later.” He looks down, then back at Shouta, voice going serious. “I’m not cheating on Nemuri. I wouldn’t do that.”

Okay. I believe you,” Shouta says, and he relaxes slightly.

Class drags by, but it’s over far too quickly. The professor didn’t seem to want to yell at him, but it’s with mixed apprehension and curiosity that Hizashi approaches her with as everyone else walks away. Shouta’s next class isn’t far, so he waits nearby, sitting down in the grass and pulling out a book.

You wanted to see me?” Hizashi asks nervously.

Yes,” the professor nods, levitating one of the baskets onto a cart. “Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong. You had Candycane—he’s a troublemaker, as I said. I said that kneasles aren’t unpredictable, but some of them can be, a little. I should have mentioned that there’s some inconsistencies in what they consider to be deception. It seems to be up to each kneasle, and some of them have rather interesting opinions. Most of them seem to consider some secrets worth keeping, for example. They don’t tend to require complete honesty from those who interact with them, or I suspect those who were able to handle them would be very rare.”

Hizashi takes a deep breath. “So it’s some secret I’m keeping?” Nothing really comes to mind—but like she said, few people are completely honest all the time.

She nods. “Well, in a way. Candycane is a bit of an outlier. He considers self deception to be a problem.” The professor looks at him carefully, pauses. “There’s something you’re not being honest with yourself about.”

Oh,” Hizashi says quietly. His gaze strays over to Shouta, who looks up just as he looks over, and when their eyes meet, there’s something like a jolt of electricity. Something he’s felt before, but only with him. He quickly looks back at the professor. “What am I supposed to do about it? How am I supposed to know what it is?”

If I could tell you, I’d be a wiser woman than I am,” she says, shaking her head. “ You’ll get full marks on the kneasle unit, as well as some house points, if you can get Candycane to like you by the end of the unit,” she says. “Do some soul-searching. I suspect you don’t need to tell me or anyone else what you find out. Just admit it to yourself.”

Okay,” Hizashi says, staring off into the trees. “I guess I’ll do my best.”

The professor smiles. “That’s all I can ask. You may go.”

What was that about?” Shouta asks, standing up as Hizashi joins him, both walking towards the castle.

Apparently that kneasle was just crazy,” Hizashi says, then flinches when an angry yowl comes from a nearby basket. “Okay! Okay. That’s not exactly what she said.” He twists his hands together. “I don’t want to tell you what she said.” Not a lie—no angry kneasle noises.

...Okay.” Shouta says, carefully, distantly.

Hizashi glances over at him and then throws up his hands. “Okay! I officially hate kneasles,” he mutters. “She told me...that kneasle doesn’t like people who are lying to themselves? So apparently it hates me for something I don’t even really know, because if I knew what I was deceiving myself about, I wouldn’t be doing a very good job of it, would I?” He looks over at Shouta.

Huh,” is all he says, but he looks oddly...hopeful? “Do you...have any idea what it might be?”

No clue,” Hizashi says, and they must be far enough away from the kneasles now, because none of them call him out.

Chapter Text

That night, Hizashi lays in bed, staring at the ceiling. He’s deceiving himself? It doesn’t feel false. He wasn’t indignant or surprised when she said that. Just—lost. Afraid. Whatever it is, there must be a reason? He wouldn’t lie to himself about something good, would he? It has to be something scary. It has to be something he doesn’t w an t to know, doesn’t want to think about.

Eventually, he rolls carefully out of bed, trying to make as little noise as possible as he opens the door into the hallway leading to the common room. It’s always chilly in the dungeons, but he doesn’t stop to change out of his pajamas. The cold stone on his bare feet feels almost soothing, drawing out his worries.

His first stop is the owlery, to find Grace. He’s been caught out of bed at night before, but he’s not really afraid of the consequences—Nemuri teases him about being a goody two shoes, but misbehaving is so much safer here. He sends a letter, just a short message really, just a scrap of parchment, then dodges teachers and prefects on his way to the astronomy tower.

Ten minutes after he’s settled down on the stone floor of the astronomy tower, he regrets not wearing his robes. It’s late Spring, now, and the air is warm but cooling quickly, hours after sunset.

Hey,” Shouta says, face appearing at the top of the stairs, and Hizashi feels a smile break over his face like a sunrise, beaming out of him soft and slow.

Hey, Shouta,” he greets, still smiling.

Shouta doesn’t say anything more, just coming across the floor, and he doesn’t hesitate as he pulls the scarf he’s wearing off over his head, pressing it into Hizashi’s hands as he reaches him. “Thanks,” Hizashi says, with a look that’s almost shy.

Should have brought your own,” Shouta says bluntly, but there’s no annoyance behind the words.

Warmth settles over him as the scarf does, too fast to be just the red and gold fabric. “Nobody here to tell me to take this off,” Hizashi says.

Just us, here,” Shouta agrees, and there’s something in his tone—he means more than he says.

Just us,” he echoes. They both mean more , but Hizashi—well, he’s lying to himself, isn’t he? Candycane liked Shouta just fine. “Did you know the first kneasle we had was called Candycane?” he blurts out.

Shouta snorts. “Cute,” he says. Then he shifts. “It’s not summer, yet.”

No,” Hizashi says. “And...I didn’t invite Nemuri or Tensei.”

Shouta’s breath catches audibly. “You didn’t invite Nemuri?”

And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it, that he could be talking to his girlfriend, maybe even in the common room of the house that they share, and instead he’s sneaking out across the entire castle to see Shouta.

I wanted to see you,” Hizashi says. Because if he’s lying to himself—it’s not about Nemuri.

Could have seen me during the day,” Shouta mutters, shifting away.

Are you okay?” Hizashi asks suddenly. When Shouta looks over at him, he continues. “Your birthday—you haven’t talked about it. You got attacked and then you never mentioned it again.”

What’s there to say?” Shouta doesn’t look at him.

They never caught the people, did they?” Shouta shakes his head. “So they’re still out there.”

It’s not like they were targeting me, specifically. They won’t track me down. I just happened to be there.”

Hizashi wraps his arms around his knees. “Still, it’s scary.” He pauses for a moment before speaking again. “I’m sorry for outing you like that.”

At that, Shouta looks up sharply, then relaxes incrementally . “As a Muggleborn.”

Hizashi tilts his head to the side, but nods. “Yeah. Sorry for basically just shouting it out like that. Things are...times are getting bad.”

Mm.” Shouta is quiet for a second. “It’s okay. You didn’t know. I didn’t, either.”

Hizashi lets out a deep breath. “I even told you to be careful, last summer, but I didn’t really think...” He shakes his head. “Are you okay?” he repeats.

I’m fine,” is Shouta’s first, immediate answer, but Hizashi doesn’t reply, just waits. Finally, he says, looking down at the ground, “I have...nightmares.”

He has seemed more tired recently, and when Hizashi actually looks, there are dark circles under his eyes. He’s developed a habit of napping in the afternoons, between the end of classes and dinner. “I’m sorry,” Hizashi repeats, pointlessly, even though he’s not really apologizing now. He just doesn’t know what else to say. “I wish I could help,” he offers.

Shouta shrugs. “It’s fine.”

I think you can go to the nurse, if it gets too bad? There are potions to help with sleep,” Hizashi says. He wonders how hard they are to brew. He’s fairly certain they’re not in this year’s textbook, but maybe if he borrowed one from a sixth or seventh year…

I’m fine,” Shouta says, before sighing. “That would be nice, though.” Then he looks over at Hizashi. “Was that all you wanted to talk about?”

Hizashi hesitates for a second, lifting a hand to play with the edge of the red and gold scarf. He wants to say that it was, but being around kneasles for a day has really made him aware of how often he lies . “I don’t know,” he says instead. He didn’t really invite Shouta here to talk about it, it was just all he could think of. Whatever he’s lying to himself about—Shouta is tangled up in it. No, that’s not right. Shouta is integral to it.

Shouta nods. “We can just sit here,” he says, looking up at the same stars Hizashi is watching, and just like that, they’re back here, the place they keep ending up whenever they’re...whenever they’re alone together, when it’s dark out or even not, when it’s just them and the infinite field of stars. Right now, there’s nothing in the whole world except for the two of them, the darkness filling in everything else, the stars nothing but a shining backdrop to this, spinning slowly just for them.

He never feels safer than he does standing on the edge of this cliff. Never feels more like anything is possible.

He hadn’t wanted to talk to Shouta. Not really. Not in as many words, even though it’s fine they ended up talking. He just wanted him, just wanted him near, wanted to see him, wanted to…

One of Shouta’s hands is in his lap, but the other is on the floor of the tower. Slowly, carefully, Hizashi takes his own hand and puts it on the floor. Almost touching, but just barely not. Shouta doesn’t look over, but from the way he’s suddenly sitting—not stiff and tense but poised, like he’s just about to move—move away? Or closer?

Shouta?” Hizashi says, because suddenly he can’t bear the way they’re not looking at each other.

H m?” Shouta looks over, meeting his eyes, and Hizashi gets dizzyingly lost, but it’s a good kind of lost, an exciting, wandering kind, full of discovery instead of fear. What is he going to find here? He’s not tired of Shouta’s eyes, but there’s the rest of his face too, his cheeks, his hair, his mouth…

The thought breaks like a wave: I want to kiss him.

It is not, in the moment, an alarming thought. It feels perfectly natural, slotting into place like it’s always been there. Hizashi pushes his hand just the tiniest bit closer, brushing against Shouta’s warm skin, and he doesn’t move away. The touch runs like a current through him, making his heart beat harder, thumping madly in his chest, though he’s still calm. Shouta is still just looking at him, not saying anything, and the look on his face is infinitely soft, the starlight shining back out of his eyes. Kiss him.

Hizashi’s heart is still beating so hard, his breath shallow, and he moves just a little bit closer. There’s only one thing he wants, only one thing he’s thinking about, all crystallized down into this moment. Kiss him.

Hizashi glances down at Shouta’s mouth again. It looks soft, his lips slightly parted, his eyes half-closed, dark eyes sweet. Just a little closer. Kiss him.

Students out of bed?” a voice raps out, and they both jump, startling guiltily, the silence and the starlight shattered. There’s a professor standing at the top of the stairs, arms crossed. “Well? You’ve been caught. Might as well come closer, I can barely see you. Need to know who to take points from.” She lifts her glowing wand, casting the light a little further, and Hizashi jerks his hand back.

Shouta stands. “Gryffindor,” he says bravely. “And Slytherin.” Hizashi gets to his feet too, subconsciously trying to tuck himself behind Shouta, even though he’s taller. Getting into trouble still isn’t fun, even if he knows there’s nothing to really fear.

Oh, Aizawa and Yamada, is it?” the professor asks, sounding faintly amused. “Well, thirty points from each of you. Care to explain what you were doing?”

Just talking,” Shouta answers, and Hizashi wonders: were we?

You have plenty of time to talk during the day. Come with me, we’ll discuss your detention.”

Yes, ma’am,” Hizashi says, finally speaking up.

As they trail after her, doubt starts to filter into his mind, along with a little more disbelief. He almost—he almost just kissed Shouta. He almost just kissed Shouta. What had he been thinking?

What would Shouta have done if he had? If they had been alone for just one more moment? Everything had seemed so simple, but now it seems anything but. What a huge rule he just almost broke, he almost kissed his best friend, if Nemuri could see him now—

Nemuri. She had been so far from his mind, but he feels crushingly guilty about it now. He hadn’t even thought about her. He had been so adamant earlier today that he would never cheat on her, wasn’t the kind of person who would, but he hadn’t even been thinking about that. He’s the worst boyfriend ever.

H e shouldn’t even still be thinking about it, but if did kiss Shouta...what would happen? Candycane liked Shouta, hadn’t attacked him. Maybe he just has nothing to hide. Maybe this is all one-sided, maybe Shouta would have pushed him away, would have been disgusted, would have been shocked and appalled. It had seemed so obvious that Shouta wanted to kiss him too, but what had he really done? He just hadn’t moved away, but Shouta never moves away when Hizashi touches him, he’s perfectly happy to be hugged and high-fived, to have his shoulders and back slapped or patted or clasped. Their hands had barely been touching. What if Shouta just didn’t think anything of that?

Besides—there’s the most obvious, glaring flaw in this whole situation. They’re both boys. That’s more than a little confusing—Hizashi isn’t gay. Is he? He can’t be, he has a girlfriend. He likes his girlfriend, he wouldn’t like the things they do if he was gay, would he? So he can’t be.

Not entirely, anyway. Can you be half gay and half straight? What would that even mean for him? He’s never heard of such a thing. Maybe it doesn’t count if there’s just one boy he wants to kiss, and he doesn’t have to do anything about it—he can’t, he has a girlfriend, but he wants to—

“Who are we going to have detention with?” Hizashi blurts out, some of his circling anxious thoughts spewing out of his mouth, albeit in an acceptable form. If both the other people think he’s just nervous about detention, all the better. “Sorry! I just can’t shut up, when I’m—it’s really a miracle I was quiet this long, Shouta can attest to that, but I have to stop—can we just not do anything with bugs? I hate bugs, so much. Shouta doesn’t mind them, but I can’t really think of anything we could do for detention that you would really hate, Shouta. Except maybe something really pointless and illogical.”

The professor still seems more amused than anything. “I’m afraid you can’t pick what you’ll be doing,” she says.

In the end, it isn’t too bad. At least when they get to her office Hizashi has an excuse to stop thinking. It turns out they’re just cleaning bathrooms, which is mildly gross but at least there shouldn’t be any bugs, and Shouta can admit that it needs doing, even if it would normally be up to the house elves. The only catch is that they’ll be separated, and even as many confused emotions as he has about Shouta right now, that’s disappointing.


 

The next day, Hizashi warily presents his hand to Candycane to sniff, and this time, he purrs.

Chapter Text

Shouta! Shouta Shouta Shouta,

 

I know it’s only been a week, but how are you? Getting some good sleep? Is that potion helping? If it isn’t I didn’t make it right, I tried not to make it too strong but it’s no good if it’s too weak either. I hope it helps.

You don’t get the Daily Prophet, do you? If you don’t, you should. Things are...not good. More Muggleborn attacks than ever. Although maybe you shouldn’t, I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to just live in blissful ignorance of all that. Is there really nothing about this in the Muggle news?

I know I already asked, but...are you okay? If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay, I can imagine it would be hard, but if you want to talk about it, that’s okay too! It was scary for me, so I can only imagine how it was for you.

Nemuri is going to be here next week! She’s coming to see me! It was hard to get my dad to agree to it, and he didn’t let me go over to her house, but...really, it’s a little surprising he lets me go to Hogwarts. Are parents allowed to Not send their kids if they want to? I know they can send them to different schools, but I don’t know if they can just keep them home. Maybe they can’t, because I bet if that was an option it’s what my dad would have picked.

But like I said: Nemuri is coming to visit! I wish you could visit, too. Or, even better, that I could visit you. I just wish it was my seventeenth birthday coming up instead of my sixteenth. One more year, though. I’m getting out of here. I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I’m not going to be here. He doesn’t know that.

He also doesn’t know Nemuri and I are dating. I doubt he would have let her come over if he did know, even if she’s a pureblood. And someone he would probably be okay with me marrying, someday, even! So we’ll have to be careful.

This letter is already getting kind of long, so I’ll end it here. I hope Grace is okay carrying this letter. She’s seemed kind of sluggish, lately. I wonder if she’s getting sick. I hope she gets over it soon, I need to talk to you! And Tensei and Nemuri!

 

Byeee, Hizashi [doodle of an owl with its tongue sticking out and spirals for eyes]

 

 

Hizashi.

 

The potion is really helping. A lot. I don’t want to use it every night, because there’s not quite enough for the whole summer, but on nights when things are bad it’s a lifesaver. Thank you. It means...a lot.

I don’t think there’s anything on the Muggle news. I don’t think my parents know what’s going on. I’m sort of glad. I don’t want them to worry. How does one go about getting the Daily Prophet delivered? You’re right. I should know what’s going on. It’s better to know than to not.

I’m okay. Well...maybe I’m not. Maybe this will be easier to write about than talk about. I’m more afraid than I should be. I think about it too much. Sometimes...someone stands behind me, or grabs my arm, and I can feel it again, that spell, like it’s happening again.

I don’t know if Hogwarts is a choice. I know someone came to my house to talk to my parents, I remember that much, but I don’t remember what they said about it. I ended up going, obviously. I’m glad I did. I don’t know if I could have been going to a Muggle school now. I wouldn’t have met you and Tensei and Nemuri if I had. So I’m glad.

I wish you could visit me too. Like I’ve always said, I can’t imagine my parents would mind, as long as we don’t get into too much trouble. What would he do if he did know you were leaving? If you need any help with that when the time comes, I’ll help. I don’t know what that would entail, but I’ll do it. I’ll be seventeen by then, too. I’ll be seventeen in five months, actually, but I don’t know how that would help.

Don’t let Nemuri get you into trouble. Your dad doesn’t know you’re dating her? Why not? Like you said, wouldn’t he approve? Do you...want to marry her? [these words are darker, like the quill was pressing extra hard into the parchment]

Gra c e does look a little sick, and I think she took longer to get here than last summer, if you wrote your letter at about the same time. I don’t know anything about owl care, but I fed her some vegetables. And gave her some extra pets. She seemed to like both. She’ll probably get better soon.

 

Shouta.

 

 

SHOUTA!!!

 

I always get so giddy when I get a letter from you! I always miss you so damn much every summer. I get so complacent, just having you around every day at Hogwarts, getting to see you all the time. Not as much as if we were in the same house, but still. I was going to say that it’s enough, but it’s never enough. I just want to be around you all the time. I just want

[The parchment is torn off here, crumpled up and thrown away, unsent. The letter is begun anew.]

 

Shouta,

 

Oh no, did I not make enough?? I’m sorry! I can make more for you as soon as we’re back together at Hogwarts. I’m glad it’s helping, though. Sleep is so important and nightmares are so awful. Nightmares about real things are the worst...things that could happen, or have happened, and could happen again...they’re so scary because you can’t even say they’re not real when you wake up.

Y our parents don’t know what happened to you? You haven’t told them? I don’t know how to get the Daily Prophet. I’ll try to find some way to ask my dad. He still doesn’t know I’m friends with you.

That sounds awful! I’m sorry I don’t like...know what to say or anything...but it sounds bad and I’m here, okay? If that means anything. It was kind of all my fault in the first place and I couldn’t help, but...sorry. Not to make it all about me or anything. I’ll shut up now.

But, you know...thanks for telling me. I think it’s good to say things, sometimes, or write them. I think it makes them real in kind of a scary way, but it makes it so you can start dealing with them easier. Sometimes it helps to just write things out even if you’re not going to send them! That’s what I’ve heard, anyway.

I’m glad you’re not going to a Muggle school too! I think I would miss you even if I had never met you. And then you wouldn’t be learning magic! I can’t imagine what it would be like to just...not have any magic. Or not learn it, I guess, in your hypothetical case. I wonder if that ever happens? If the spell that detects Muggleborns ever just doesn’t work and they never get their Hogwarts letter and they just never know? That would be so sad, to just never learn what to do with that part of yourself. To never know how it fits in. To never know there are other people like you.

I don’t know what he’d do. Maybe nothing. Maybe he’d be fine with it, but I can just...never tell. Thank you! You can help me move if nothing else. I have no idea what that’s going to entail either...maybe that’s on purpose. Although I guess most fifteen year olds aren’t thinking about moving out just yet. You’ll be seventeen eight months before me...hm...adopt me!! Then I can move out eight months earlier! Although I guess not, since we’ll be at Hogwarts then...I guess that would be a little pointless. And kind of impossible, since I’m not an orphan. Oh well.

Oh wow, Shouta, I’m SUPER not thinking about that!! Like at all!! I mean...I really like her. And I’d be really sad if she wasn’t in my life anymore, you know? But we’re way too young to be thinking about that. It’s actually kind of lucky that I’m not from one of those super rich, super old pureblood families or I Would be forced to be thinking about that. There would probably be a marriage all arranged for me. I hope Tensei hasn’t had to deal with any of that, the Iidas are a little bit Like That.

I don’t know if my dad would approve of me dating her. It’s not like he’s explicitly told me I Can’t date, but I kinda just figure that the less he knows about my life, the better. Like I said, he doesn’t even know I’m friends with you. He knows about Tensei, because I went to his house, and he knows about Nemuri now, but I just don’t tell him anything he doesn’t need to know.

I’m sure she’ll be fine, yeah. I asked about taking her to the Healers, but my dad just said she would be fine. Or that I could get a new owl if she’s not...can you believe he said that??

 

I’ll talk to you again soon, Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi,

 

It’s okay. Even if there was enough of it that I could take it every night, I don’t want to rely on a potion for something as basic as sleeping. It helps a lot just to know that you care enough to make something like that for me. What do you have nightmares about?

No, they don’t know. I don’t think they know how Muggleborns are seen, especially right now. I should probably tell them, but...I don’t know. I guess I got into the habit of keeping secrets. I’m sorry for all these mistakes. I wish wizards just used pencils like Muggles and things could be erased. I suppose there’s nothing to stop me from writing with pencil on paper in the summer...except if your dad saw my letters. But we’re kind of screwed if he reads our letters anyway. Do you tell him all your letters are from Tensei and Nemuri?

It’s okay. It...does mean a lot that you’re here. Or there. That you’re my friend, anyway. I don’t blame you. You came looking for me, anyway. You scared them away. Why did you do that? I hadn’t been gone that long.

I might try that, sometime. It seems sort of illogical to write a letter you’re not going to send...but magic often seems very illogical. It’s not, though, it follows its own logic. It’s just different. Saying things (or writing them) can make them more real, and you can only really deal with real things. That makes sense.

I feel like you’re not just talking about magic, anymore. But...yeah. I’m glad I know there are other wizards.

You have some very strange ideas, sometimes. I think just helping you move would be a bit more rational than adopting you.

That’s...good. Like you said, we’re all still young.

I suppose that makes sense.

That’s very cruel of him. How long have you had Grace? Did you get her when you came to Hogwarts?

I hope you get this letter before your birthday. Or ideally that you get it on your birthday. If you get it before, don’t open your present early. I’m sorry this isn’t a better present, but it had to be very small for Grace to be able to carry it, especially since she isn’t feeling well. It’s just something that made me think of you.

 

Shouta.

 

 

SHOUTA!!

 

Wow, you got me a present!! I know you put that at the end and not the beginning, but I’m just so excited!! I’m sixteen now, so I opened it, and it’s so cute!! It’s so little and soft and it looks just like Grace! Thank you!! What’s the chain and ring on it for? Just to hang it from things? My dad got me a broom, so I can practice my flying and someday we can all play Quidditch together! Although I’m going to be terrible compared to you three, no matter how much I practice. I’ll have to practice losing, too, haha.

Oh, uh...well, nightmares always sound silly and not scary if you talk about them, you know? I usually dream about like...being invisible, or screaming and nobody can hear me, or you know, just those classic nightmares where you’re in class but you somehow forgot to put any clothes on? Everyone has those. Oh, and s piders. Of course I’d have to dream about spiders.

He doesn’t see me get letters. Grace comes straight to my window. He knows I write to people, but yeah, I’ve implied it’s just Nemuri and Tensei. So you can write on whatever you want! Then I can see how Muggles write.

Well, I’ll be your friend forever whether it helps or not, so I’m glad it does help! I...don’t know? You’re right, it hadn’t been that long. Tensei tried to tell me you were fine, but I don’t know, I just...felt like something was wrong. Maybe I heard something but didn’t realize it?

Hah, only you would call magic logical. I don’t write things out just to write them as much as I should. I generally just tell you things! It’s even better to have someone to talk to. I think I’ve kind of forgotten to be grateful that I have friends. It feels like I’ve known you guys forever, but I really haven’t. It’s been three years, which is a long time but also not, you know? Three years and hopefully a hundred more.

You don’t want to adopt me? Don’t want to be my new dad?? I think you’d be a good dad. Although I do prefer you as a friend rather than a parent. You probably shouldn’t adopt someone who’s not even a full year younger than you. So you & logic win again, hah.

I’ve had her since I was five, actually! When my sister got her cat, I begged and begged my dad to let me get a pet too, and he finally took me to the pet store and I picked out Grace! So I’ve had an owl since before I could read and write, haha. She’s been a good pet this whole time.

Thank you again for the birthday present! It’s still so cute and squishy! I love it!

 

Bye! Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

You sent me a letter. Just like you do every summer, over and over, and still I get so...I don’t know how to describe it. Every time, I feel...lighter. Happy, I guess, is a word for it, but it’s different. I always smile when I see Grace tapping at my window.

I’m not going to send this letter, but I might as well keep writing it anyway. I’ll see if it helps.

I almost don’t want to say these things. Like you said, it makes them real. I want you, and it feels dangerous to admit that on any level. I can’t have what I want, and I don’t want to spiral into wanting it. I love you. It makes it better that I don’t doubt that you love me, too. Not like I love you, but that doesn’t matter as much as you’d think. It doesn’t hurt to love you.

I was scared, at first, but I’m not now. At first, I would have chosen to not be like this, if I could. If you had told me there was a potion that would make me straight, I would have taken it. I wouldn’t now, I think. I wouldn’t want to give this up, even though you don’t love me like I love you, even though I can’t tell you.

I have a lot of words to say to you in a letter that won’t be sent. I’m surprised how many, how easy and yet difficult it is to write this.

Maybe I should burn this when I’m done. I’m a bit worried about someone going through my trash and finding this, even though that’s irrational.

Well, I should work on my real letter. See you soon, Hizashi. I love you.

 

Shouta.

 

Hizashi.

 

I’m glad you like your present. Do wizards not have keychains? I know you have keys, so why not keychains? It’s a decorative way to keep all your keys together, I guess. I should get you more presents, if you’re going to be so happy about each one. It would be fun to all play Quidditch together, even if you’re not very good. How do you even play two-on-two Quidditch?

Those sound like reasonable things to be afraid of. When you feel invisible, I’ll listen to you.

Okay. I wrote this on parchment, anyway, out of habit. I’ll send the next one on the Mugglest paper I can find. I could just send you a pencil, too. Although I suppose that could get you into trouble...one more summer.

I never know when suggesting that something might be magic is silly or not, even though I’ve been learning about magic for five years. I still feel behind sometimes. I know magic mostly doesn’t work that way, but maybe you did some spell without realizing it? I don’t know how else you would have known.

The four of us work well together. It would only be logical to keep being friends. And if we live together after Hogwarts, we won’t grow apart. If any of us ever date anyone outside the group, we can just add them. Some houses are quite large.

I’m glad you see my point. Why in the world do you think I would be a good dad? I don’t even know any children. And I’m sixteen.

Hizashi...she might not be sick. She might just be old. How long do barns owls live? If you’ve had her that long, she must be at least eleven, and if she was an adult when you got her, she could be even older.

 

Shouta.

Chapter Text

Shouta is asleep when the sound comes, but he wakes when he hears it, because he went to sleep waiting for it— longing for it. It’s been two weeks since he last got a letter from Hizashi, and he’s starting to worry that something is wrong. But it’s all okay now; that’s Grace tapping at the window.

Shouta throws back the blankets and sits up, checking the alarm clock by his bed. The glowing numbers say it’s 3:24 am. It’s not unusual for Grace to come in the middle of the night, though—owls are naturally nocturnal, after all, even though they seem to lose some of that habit, living with wizards. Once he’s out of bed, he carefully closes the door. It’s usually open to let Sooty come and go as she pleases, but his parents’ room is just down the hall, and he doesn’t want to wake them as he turns on the light.

When the light floods the room and spills out of the window, at first he’s blinded, instinctively covering his eyes, but when he looks out the window—it’s not Grace.

It’s Hizashi.

At first, he thinks he might still be asleep and dreaming, but as he crosses the room, it’s still Hizashi, hovering outside his second-floor bedroom window. He doesn’t feel like he’s dreaming, but either way, he opens the window. “Hizashi?”

“Shouta,” Hizashi says, his voice strange and rough and almost too quiet to be heard. It really is him; he’s really here.

“...Come inside,” Shouta says, drawing back and stepping aside.

“Uh...” When Hizashi takes one hand off the broom he’s on to reach out for the window tentatively, he drops a few feet before quickly pulling himself back up. “How?”

Shouta takes a second to look. Pull the broom up beside the window and slightly above, so you can put one foot on the windowsill,” he instructs.

Hizashi slowly does as he says, jerkily maneuvering the broom into place. Come to think of it, Shouta has never seen him on a broom before. He wasn’t just being modest when he said he wasn’t a good flier. When he has one foot braced on the window, he looks back at Shouta. “Okay, now what?”

“Swing your other leg over the broom, so you’re sitting on it sideways. Then put your other foot on the windowsill too.” Shouta reaches out, grabbing Hizashi’s hand. It’s purely utilitarian, just to steady him as he carefully slides through the window into Shouta’s room, but it still sends a thrill through him. Maybe more because he’s still half-asleep, not filtering his reactions like he usually would. He’s not awake enough to be careful yet.

Neither of them are paying attention to Hizashi’s broom, not until Shouta looks up, swearing quietly as the broom slowly slides away. He lunges out of the window to catch it, pulling it into the room and carefully leaning it against a wall before turning back to Hizashi, who’s now standing in Shouta’s bedroom. It’s a slightly surreal sight. “Why are you here?” he asks bluntly.

Hizashi takes a breath, and it’s shaky. Now that Shouta really looks, there are tear tracks down his face, and he lifts a hand to rub at his puffy red eyes. Shouta switches gears to concerned, his voice softer this time. “Hizashi, what’s wrong?”

“Grace,” he says, his voice wavering. “She’s—she’s dead.” The words fall like bricks, heavy and final. Tears well up in his eyes again, and he quickly swipes them away. “I’m sorry—this is so stupid. She was just a pet, I know I shouldn’t be crying—“

“Hizashi, it’s okay,” Shouta says, as gently as he can. Seeing Hizashi cry—his heart aches, and he starts to reach out before he stops himself, reining himself in hard. “I’d be heartbroken if Sooty died. It’s okay.”

Hizashi bites back a sob, hand over his mouth. “I shouldn’t—I shouldn’t be crying at all, it’s—it’s so—” He chokes on another sob, shoulders shaking.

Shouta generally thinks of himself as fairly strong, but there are some things he can’t do. He can’t hold himself back now. He steps forward, pulling Hizashi into a tight hug. “It’s okay,” he repeats.

There’s a hesitation before Hizashi’s arms come up to wrap around his back, but when they do, he holds him just as tightly back. He doesn’t say anything more, just cries. He’s so much quieter than Shouta would have expected, and that’s not good, it’s always painful to see all the ways that Hizashi has learned to hold himself back, make himself less.

It’s not like he knows what to do, but he has to try something, even though his movements feel stiff as he carefully rubs Hizashi’s back, his shaking shoulders. He’s never loved Hizashi—or anyone—more, it feels like his heart is outside of his body, bleeding into the place where they’re pressed together.

He’s willing to stay like this forever, just holding Hizashi as he cries, and right now it’s too late and the light in the room can’t fully erase the darkness outside , just overlay it, and he’s not thinking of how much that gives away, how this is maybe dangerously past friendly. Hizashi is crying. There’s nothing else he can do.

Eventually, the small noises Hizashi is making come slower, quieter, fading into silence. His grip on Shouta’s shirt slackens, and when he moves away, Shouta does too. He sniffles wetly, and Shouta turns, grabbing the box of tissues and handing it to him.

“I’m—really sorry,” Hizashi says hoarsely, cleaning the various liquids off his face. Shouta should probably find that gross, but he doesn’t—just another side effect of being in love, apparently.

What for?”

Hizashi gestures vaguely. “For everything. Coming here, waking you up, crying on you. It’s stupid.”

“It’s okay,” Shouta repeats yet again. Are there other things he can say? “It’s not stupid. I...want to help. I always want to help you.” Oh. Apparently he’s not awake enough not to say things like that. To hide whatever expression he’s making, whatever might be showing on his face, he turns, crossing the small room to sit on the bed. Sooty is curled up by the foot of the bed, and Shouta waves a hand at her. “You can pet Sooty. If that would help.”

Hizashi sniffs again before joining him. “Okay,” he says, quiet and subdued, as his weight dips the bed. Now Hizashi is on his bed. He’s at Shouta’s house in his bed. They’re not sitting that close, but the way they’re turned their knees are almost brushing.

Sooty makes a small “prrp?” when Hizashi starts petting her, picking up her head, but she doesn’t move away. She doesn’t see him often, but she never seems to forget him or stop considering him familiar.

Hizashi doesn’t speak, so they sit in silence for a while. As much as Shouta has come to like Hizashi’s voice—he loves it, just like the rest of him, it’s the most obvious, brightest part of him—silence between them feels good. It’s always felt pure, felt cool and clean like the night air coming in through the open window. Outside, cicadas start up their singing again, the sound pointing out the season and time. What they have—it feels good. It’s so easy to be in love with him.

Finally, Hizashi speaks. “It was—just like you said. Old age. She died in her sleep, I just went to check her cage after I got ready for bed and she wasn’t on her perch, she was on the bottom of her cage—cold and stiff.”

Shouta looks at him carefully. “Your dad doesn’t know you’re here.”

“No,” Hizashi confirms, shaking his head. “He was asleep when I left. I told him Grace had died and he—if he finds out I left—” he breaks off, shaking his head.

“Don’t sneak out just to see me,” Shouta orders. “This was reckless.” He’s still half-awake, and things still feel dreamy, but it’s starting to dawn on him how insane this was. Hizashi flew halfway across the country, in the middle of the night, in secret—when he just barely knows how to fly, on a broom he’s not used to—when something nebulous and terrible could happen to him if he was discovered—

Hizashi smiles, lopsided and slightly twisted. “’Reckless’? From a Gryffindor? I really must have fucked up.”

“It doesn’t matter what I am. You’re supposed to be cunning. Think things through.”

Hizashi shakes his head, still smiling sadly. “I’ve never been that good at that—thinking things through. I just—wanted you. Wanted to see you.”

The words don’t echo, just laying there between them. Hizashi has said things like that before, always in moments like this. They always sound just like that, quiet and serious, momentous but also—just words.

Does he say things like that to Nemuri?

Shouta pulls back, leaning away from Hizashi, returning the distance he had been unconsciously closing. He looks away, down at the sheets under them. “You should leave,” he says, and it comes out too cold. “You should get home before it gets light,” he tries again.

Hizashi doesn’t speak for a moment, and then he sighs. “Yeah,” he says quietly. Then he looks up, his gaze sweeping the room. “I’ve never seen your room here before,” he comments, some of the color starting to come back into his voice.

“You’ve never seen any of my rooms,” Shouta points out, because Hizashi is on his bed. He might have just gotten done crying about his owl’s death, but that doesn’t make it mean any less.

“You should show me the Gryffindor dorms sometime!”

Shouta shakes his head. “Sneaking you in there would just be silly.”

“Aw, c’mon,” Hizashi says, smiling, and it’s good to see him bouncing back a little, even though he still sounds a little off, not quite back to normal. “You don’t want to see the Slytherin dorms? You’re not curious?”

Shouta opens his mouth to say that he already has, before remembering that was a dream. A lot would be different if it hadn’t been. “It’s not worth the risk.”

Hizashi leans back, bracing his hand on Shouta’s bed. “Risk of what? Detention isn’t that bad. Anyway, why don’t you show me some of your stuff now? I’m here anyway.” He turns to the side, picking up Shouta’s alarm clock. “What’s this?” He tries to pull it closer to him, but the cord stops him. “Why’s it tied to the wall?”

“It’s not. It’s plugged in,” Shouta says, and then realizes how much explanation just that simple sentence and this object needs. “Why don’t you just take a Muggle Studies class?”

Hizashi shoots him a smile, and it’s at half-strength but still cheeky. “Because I want to hear you explain things to me!”

Shouta sighs, but he can’t keep the small smile from tugging at his mouth. “It’s an alarm clock,” he relents. He does his best to explain as succinctly as possible, and Hizashi listens raptly, nodding seriously. It’s silly, but he likes the role, maybe just likes monopolizing Hizashi’s attention like this, and he lets Hizashi ask too many questions. When he next looks at the clock, it’s 5:23, and when he looks over at the window—it’s just barely starting to get light. “Shit, Hizashi, you really need to leave.”

Hizashi smiles guiltily, looking out the window too. “Yeah,” he agrees, but doesn’t get up right away. He looks at Shouta, shifting his weight. “Thank you,” he says quietly.

Shouta just nods jerkily. “You need to go, or you’ll be seen.”

Hizashi shrugs. “Muggles will just think I’m a bird,” he says carelessly. Still, he gets up, leaving the bed they’ve accidentally spent hours in.

Between the two of them, they get Hizashi on the broom and out the window. He turns back. “I’ll send you a letter when I can,” he says.

“Be safe,” Shouta says, and in the pre-dawn light, it feels like anything he could have said would have sounded like too much. “Bye.”

Hizashi just nods, giving him a smile. “Bye, Shouta,” he says, and then he’s leaning forward, pulling the broom up into the sky and flying away.

Hizashi doesn’t look back, so it’s safe to watch him until he’s not even a speck in the sky. He’s right—as high as he’s flying, he just looks like a bird. Above a certain height, it doesn’t actually matter how high he is, falling would still—Shouta gets the urge to find his own broom and fly Hizashi home, catch him if he falls. But he made it here safe, and that might be too much.

So Shouta just leans on the window, watching the sun rise.

Chapter Text

“We’re doing Patronuses in Defense today,” Tensei announces to the other three as he plops down on the bench. He’s not the tallest anymore, as he was for so many years—Hizashi has that honor right now—but over the summer he filled in a little, his shoulders stretching out wider.

“Patronuses? Really?” Nemuri asks. “Aren’t those like super hard?” She twirls pasta around her fork and crams it into her mouth.

Tensei shrugs. “The professor likes them, I guess. And, you know, with the current political climate...” he shrugs again, voice carefully light. “Dementors are breeding.”

Hizashi shudders. “I really don’t want to imagine how they do that.”

Nemuri grins widely, leaning forward. “You sure? You don’t? Don’t want to imagine what’s under those robes? They probably just lift them and go at it. But they’re so bony it sounds like those wooden windchimes. Those long fingers would be great for—“

Hizashi finally cuts her off with a hand over her mouth. “You’re the worst!” he laughs. “I’m never sleeping with you again!”

He says it so casually, like he doesn’t realize that this would be news to anyone at the table, but it’s a sudden gust of wind on the embers of jealousy that are always burning low in Shouta’s stomach. He doesn’t say anything, just tilts his head forward to hide behind his curtain of hair. It’s down around his shoulders, now.

Of course they would have had sex with each other. They’ve been dating for over a year, now—forever, in terms of teen relationships. They might as well be married already. Of course they would have—but…

He didn’t tell me, Shouta silently sulks. Not like he would have wanted to know, but still. Hizashi tells him everything, but really...they don’t seem to talk about Nemuri and their relationship much. He certainly doesn’t get any details. He’s not sure he could handle them.

You do seem to be worryingly fixated on Dementor sexuality,” Tensei tells her, pointing at her with a fork. “Is there something you want to share?”

Hizashi takes his hand back to let her defend herself. Nemuri just smirks. “I just think it’s funny how uncomfortable it makes everyone.”

Well,” Tensei says, shaking his head slowly, “at least you admit it.”

She’s the worst,” Hizashi groans, hiding his head in his hands.

N emuri just grins again, leaning forward. “Aw, you love me,” she drawls.

This time, Hizashi is a lot less casual , lifting his head up slowly, face red . “Uh, yeah,” he says. “I—I do.”

The noise from the rest of the Great Hall seems to press into the sudden silence that’s dropped around the four of them. It’s shockingly awkward for a love confession to his girlfriend of more than a year. Has he never said that to her before?

Nemuri laughs, but it sounds a little sharp. “You’re so cute.”

You two are both cute,” Tensei says.

That’s us,” Hizashi says, smiling a little more easily. “Two cute people together.” Then he turns to Shouta, watching him through the dark curtain of his hair. “Are you okay? You’ve been really quiet today.”

I’m fine,” Shouta says gruffly. He sweeps his hair behind his ear, forcefully taking a bite of his food. Why does he feel such an odd mixture of worry and hope? Does he want them to break up? It shouldn’t matter if Hizashi is single or not. If he’s going to date someone, it might as well be someone Shouta likes.

So do you guys all know about Patronuses? Shouta, have you seen them before?” Tensei changes the subject, trying to engage Shouta in the conversation.

He nods. “Yeah,” he says shortly.

What do you guys think yours are gonna be?”

Something cool,” Nemuri states, bobbing her head. “Like, I don’t know. A wolf?”

Tensei looks at her thoughtfully. “I can’t see you as any kind of dog,” he says.

Not a dog,” Nemuri says, shaking her head rapidly. “A wolf! Something cool!”

I have no idea! I can’t come up with anything,” Hizashi says.

I mean, you’ll be something loud, obviously,” Nemuri says. Then she smirks. “Like a gibbon.”

Hey! Rude! I don’t want to be a monkey,” Hizashi whines. Then he turns to Shouta. “I bet you hope yours will be a cat! It might be, I can really imagine it !”

Grudgingly, Shouta nods, letting himself be pulled back into the conversation. “That would be cool. I think yours will be a bird,” he tells Hizashi. Then he looks over at Tensei. “I could see yours being a dog, though,” he tells Tensei.

A bird would be useful! They can fly, so maybe it would carry messages faster! It would be cool if yours was a black cat and mine was a barn owl,” he says, his words dropping a little at the end of the sentence.

That’s not usually how it works,” Tensei says. “A dog would be cool. I like dogs.”

T he first bell chimes, and they all quiet down for a moment while they quickly finish their food. “See you guys later,” Tensei says as he leaves. Shouta just flaps a lazy hand at the other three.

Bye!” Hizashi chirps. “I’ll see you guys at dinner!” Nemuri’s parting wave is much perkier than Shouta’s.

Hizashi and Nemuri leave together, going to their next class. It feels like they’re always together.

Shouta has Charms next, but Defense Against the Dark Arts after that. It’s one of his favorite classes, and the one he has the best grades in. He has a knack for countercurses, but he diligently studies everything. He’s not going to freeze up again.

He takes his usual seat near the front, slumping just a little less than usual. He’s never seen a dementor, but there’s been reports of the League of Death using them. Other than that, Patronuses are just interesting.

Patronuses,” the professor starts, striding to the front of the room. He’s a slight, nervous man with a soft voice, totally unassuming—until he fires off a spell. “There are few spells more personal. They’re most notable for being the only thing that can repel a dementor, but they have other uses. It’s a difficult spell, NEWT level, but I believe this class is ready. Now,” he says, rolling up his sleeves, revealing scarred arms, “I’m sure if you’ve heard anything about Patronuses in pop culture, it’ll be about the forms they take. Animals that represent the caster’s soul. It’s a decent motivation for learning the charm, if safety and defense isn’t good enough for you. I suppose it’s time for a demonstration,” he says, and Shouta leans forward just slightly. The conversation at lunch has him wondering what form the professor’s Patronus will take. Maybe something small that will attack if threatened?

Expecto Patronum,” the professor says, voice going forceful, and a silvery mass erupts from the end of his wand. It coalesces into beating wings, opening its beak for a soundless cry, before touching down on the ground, long tail dragging after it.

Many mistake my Patronus for a phoenix at first glace,” the professor says quietly, tucking his wand away. “But it’s very rare to have a magical creature as one’s Patronus. Soon, it...” he gestures to the bird, which surveys the room for just a moment before shivering once and then, all at once, lifting and fanning its huge tail with a snap. Several students gasp. “And it becomes very obvious that it’s a peacock.”

A couple of stifled laughs go up across the room. Shouta sits back. Not what he was expecting at all, but he supposes he can’t really say he has that much insight into the professor’s soul.

The professor looks out at the room with a small smile. “Yes, I know. Not what you’d expect from me—although it’s not uncommon to be surprised by the form of one’s Patronus. But in this case...well, souls are quite mutable, as it turns out. The form a Patronus takes can be influenced by outside factors. Most frequently, a strong relationship—typically romantic, but not always. Mine once took the form of a badger—which also got a few laughs, as I was in Ravenclaw. It changed when I met my wife,” he says, his voice going even softer , watching the bird strut for a few moments. “If you met her, you would immediately realize why it takes this form.” He coughs once, then looks out at the room again, still wearing a half-smile. “I suppose I should mention that nobody knows what causes them to change form. It’s quite rare that they do. It doesn’t mean a relationship is doomed if your Patronus doesn’t change forms.”

T hat’s a worrying new faucet to this lesson. What if he manages the spell and it’s something that’s so Hizashi and so not-him that everyone can immediately tell? On the other hand, it would be confirmation, making it into a solid fact, and Gryffindors have this lesson alone—Hizashi doesn’t have to know.

Of course, logically it probably won’t be any of that. Nearly everyone falls in love at some point in their life, and Patronuses rarely change—it happens infrequently enough that most people don’t know about the possibility.

Still, he’s somewhere between nervous and curious about the form it might take. If it changed for Hizashi—what would it be? It’s somehow an easier question than trying to figure out what would represent his own soul. Just because of perspective, probably. He’s fairly sure about the assessment he made earlier—it would be some kind of bird.

S houta pays attention to the rest of the lesson, but can’t stop daydreaming, in the back of his mind, of wings.

Chapter Text

I cast a corporeal Patronus today,” Tensei says as he sits down for lunch. His voice sounds no more excited or proud than if he was talking about the weather, but this news comes before a greeting and before he’s even fully seated.

Hizashi beams, his two thumbs up thrusting out over the table . “Congratulations! Good job, man!”

Tensei smiles. “Thanks.” He reaches forward to start stacking his plate with garlic bread.

Nemuri leans forward, chin propped on both hands . “So? What was it? We’re all dying to know!”

“It’s an eagle,” Tensei says, looking both pleased and embarrassed. “I had to look it up, but I’m pretty sure it’s a golden eagle.”

“That’s so cool!” Nemuri gasps, hands over her mouth.

“That’s awesome,” Hizashi agrees.

“I don’t think I’m going to beat you for coolness,” Nemuri says, pouting slightly, head hanging down . “I still don’t know what mine is, though. It’s been a teeny bit corporeal before and I can’t tell what the shape is at all. It doesn’t even look like it has legs.”

“Maybe it’s a snake!” Hizashi suggests brightly. “You’re a Slytherin, after all.”

Nemuri lifts her head, smiling at him. “Yeah! It might be a snake! A big boa constrictor or a viper or something would be pretty cool.”

“Whatever it is, it’s you, so I think you’ll be happy with it,” Tensei says easily, and Shouta has to stop himself from rolling his eyes. Where would he get the idea that everyone is happy with themselves?

Yeah, you’re right,” Nemuri agrees, nodding. “It’s me, so it’ll be awesome.” She flicks out a hand, flipping her hair over her shoulder. Then she turns to Hizashi. “You still don’t know what yours is, right?”

Hizashi just shakes his head. “No, I...have no idea. I don’t think I’m even close.” He smiles, but it’s a little off.

“I agree with Shouta, I think you’re going to be a bird,” Nemuri says.

“I mean, if you say so,” Hizashi says, biting his lip. “’Birds’ is a pretty big category, though! What do you think it’s going to be? Like a hummingbird or an eagle like Tensei’s or what?”

“I don’t know,” Nemuri says, tapping her fork against her plate thoughtfully. “Not an eagle. I don’t think an owl, either. But you could be a sparrow or something.”

Hizashi makes a considering noise , but Shouta frowns. “Not a sparrow,” he says, speaking up for the first time this lunch. “They’re too small and common.” Hizashi is something better than a sparrow.

“Common doesn’t mean they’re bad!” Nemuri argues. “They’re cute and cheerful like Hizashi. I like sparrows. They’re sweet.”

Shouta just frowns deeper. Hizashi is more than sweet. “He could be an owl. Or a falcon,” he argues. Then he thinks for a moment. “A blue jay,” he finally suggests.

“Jays are mean,” Nemuri says, shaking her head. “He’s going to be something social, something friendly.”

Hizashi just watches the argument going on about him like a ping-pong match. Finally, he raises his hands placatingly. “I think we’re just going to have to wait to see what it is!” he says, then bites his lip again. “If I ever manage it.”

Hizashi is usually amazing at spells. Is he really having so much difficulty? “I think I’m really close,” Nemuri says. “So you’ll get it soon. What happy memory are you using?” she demands, and Shouta wonders if she realizes just how personal of a question that might be.

“Uh...” Hizashi says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’ve tried a bunch of different things!”

Have you tried when you got your Hogwarts letter?” she asks.

“Wait,” Shouta says suddenly. “Why would a pureblood be happy about that?” That’s not a memory he himself can use—he obviously hadn’t know n what Hogwarts even was, and the news that he was a wizard had come with relief but mostly confusion and some fear.

“Well...” Tensei says, uncertainly.

“Uh...” Hizashi says, face twisting.

“Because it means you’re not a Squib,” Nemuri says bluntly.

“Just like there are Muggleborns,” Hizashi says, still slow and jerky, “there are kids born to wizarding parents without magic. If you get a Hogwarts letter, it means you’re definitely magical.”

“So you guys grow up wondering if you’ll someday have to leave the only culture you’ve ever known,” Shouta states. Until they’re eleven. In some ways, it seems worse than what he grew up with. Even now, as soon as he graduated, if he wanted he could go back to living as a Muggle. In this, he has a choice.

“Yeah,” Hizashi confirms, squirming. “It’s not...it’s not a good system,” he says, a little more confidently. “If you’re a Squib, your family will probably pretty much ostracize you, especially if you’re from an old pureblood family.”

“I was really happy when I got my letter,” Tensei says quietly. “And my family is pretty accepting.” Then he smiles, changing the subject from the dark turn it’s taken. “As for a happy memory, I use the first time I held my little brother. I love that little guy.”

Shouta can’t stop the next words that come out of his mouth. “Unless he grows up to be a Squib,” he says. “Then you’ll never talk to him again.”

To his credit, Tensei looks troubled. “No...I’m not like that,” he says, voice unsteady . “I’d still love him, no matter what he was.” He takes a moment to rally himself. “Even if my family didn’t talk to him, I would,” he says resolutely.

Shouta just nods, accepting th is. “Good answer.”

I would, too. I don’t have any younger siblings, but if I did, and they turned out to be Squibs, I would still talk to them,” Hizashi says.

Nemuri sighs deeply. “Are we all signaling our morals today? Yeah, I’m not an asshole either. Anyway! I want to know what happy memory everyone uses, because that part is hard.”

Hizashi nods. “Yeah, that part is weirdly hard. A lot of things make me happy, so you’d think it would be easy, but it seems like nothing is good enough.”

“You could just not be imagining it well enough,” Tensei suggests. “It’s not like it has to be your happiest memory, so anything happy enough should do it.”

Have you tried when you got Grace? Or Faith?” Shouta asks. Adopting Sooty is the only memory he’s tried that he wouldn’t mind sharing with his friends.

Hizashi tilts his head . “I mean...that might work! But I was really young when I got Grace, so I don’t remember it super well, and getting Faith was good but also kind of sad, since Grace had just died. How’s Sooty doing these days, anyway? I haven’t seen her in a while!”

“She’s good.” Shouta wonders if Hizashi told anyone else about what happened over the summer, or if that’s a secret. What would it mean if it was?

Hizashi gives a smile with a softer edge to it. “Is she still just as cute?”

Shouta nods seriously. “Of course. I can bring her out for you, if you want.”

“That would be good!”

They chatter for the rest of lunch, but it’s not important. Tenya might not grow up to be a Squib, but one of these days...Tensei is going to be able to prove what kind of person he is. Shouta has meant to tell him so many times, now, but they’re rarely alone together.

At this point, he just needs to do it. He’s been waiting for another opportunity, but that’s just become a way to put it off.

“Hey,” he says, quietly, as they walk off to their next classes, and when he reaches out to touch Tensei’s arm, it should be just less than a foot but it’s also miles. “ I need to talk to you about something.”

T here. He can’t back down now. It works: Tensei stops walking, but Hizashi and Nemuri are further ahead, talking to each other, and they don’t. “Yeah? What’s up?”

Shouta shakes his head, once, sharply. “I’ll tell you when we talk.”

Tensei is looking at him, now, like he’s a book he’s trying to read even though it’s closed. “Okay,” he says slowly. “After classes? At that tree you like to read under?”

“That works.” This decision could cost him his entire friend group, including Hizashi, but it’s a decision that’s been made. He can’t say that it won’t, can’t be certain, but...this feels like such a big secret to keep, and he’s kept it for so long.

“Okay. I’ll meet you there, then.” Tensei takes a deep breath. “Just...tell me that nobody is dying.”

“Nobody is dying.” Even though it feels equally as serious.

H e must sound convincing enough to be reassuring. “Alright, then. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Yeah. See you.” Now they both have to hurry to their next classes.

He can barely concentrate in Charms. Is this really a good idea? He weighs pros and cons, risks and rewards, until he pushes all those thoughts away and tries to listen to the lecture. The decision has been made. He’s not backing down now.

Defense Against the Dark Arts is important, and he’s mostly talked himself out of worrying by then, though he’s still physically on edge, shoulders hunched, muscles tense.

He’s been trying a different memory each class. Adopting Sooty. Seeing the Hogwarts Express at the beginning of his second year. The first Quidditch match he ever won.

There are memories he’s been trying not to use, but the unit is almost over, and he needs to be able to cast this spell. It feels...pathetic, somehow, to use a memory about Hizashi. He’s in love, sure, but that doesn’t mean it has to take over his life. He’s been happy without him.

He doesn’t expect today to be the day he finally does it. He’s just too distracted. Still, he does his best to focus. If he’s going to use a memory of Hizashi, he has...a lot more options. The first letter of each summer. Not winning the Quidditch match, but hearing Hizashi tell him he’d won, is that really the part of the memory he needs to focus on?

The first time they met was nothing special, but what about when they became friends? He hadn’t loved Hizashi then, so really he’s just remembering the first friend he ever made. Slightly less pathetic.

Shouta closes his eyes, readies his wand, and tries to clear his mind of everything but—fuck, he’d punched Hizashi, hadn’t he? If he wanted to pick the angriest he’d ever been, that would also rank.

Hizashi had argued that it was his loyalty that made him yell at Striker—that it was just because he’d picked sides, and he’d picked Shouta’s side. Them against the world.

And then Hizashi had smiled, and Shouta had apologized, and pulled him to his feet—

“Expecto Patronum,” he says, shoving that feeling of light out through the tip of his wand. Silvery mist pours out of it, coalescing into—

Wings.

It’s an animal, a bird, and it’s flying around the room now, but as he raises his arm, it swoops down and perches on his wrist, obeying the silent command.

Now he can get a good look at it, tell what kind of bird it is. A parrot, a sparrow, an owl?

It’s none of those. It’s a crow. It looks back at him with a glossy, shrewd eye before stretching out one wing and bending its head to comb through its feathers.

A crow. If it had been a parrot, it would have been obvious. But it’s a crow. Who’s soul is this, perched on his arm?

Good job, Aizawa,” the professor says, coming up behind him. He slides a thick book onto his desk, then continues on to the front of the room. Shouta gently transfers the spectral crow to his desk, then quickly flips open the book. Crows...Intelligence, creativity, courage, flexibility, intuition, adaptation, manipulation . It fits Hizashi, but Shouta can’t say it doesn’t fit him, too.

He won’t know until Hizashi finds out what his Patronus is. If his is something different, then this is just who Shouta is.

Chapter Text

When he reaches the tree, Shouta doesn’t sit, instead just leaning against it. Tensei isn’t here yet.

He sees him coming from across the field, and just carefully watches him come closer. It seems to take forever. Deep breath, in and out. It’ll be okay or it won’t, but he’s decided to do this. These s ecrets feel like stones, weighing him down. If just one other person knows, maybe he’ll feel better.

“Hey, Shouta,” Tensei greets, but he can’t quite manage a smile. He stops across from him. “What did you want to talk about?”

This shouldn’t be hard, but it is. “I wanted to tell you something.” He’s stalling. This shouldn’t be hard, there’s no reason for talking to be hard.

“Okay,” Tensei says carefully, shifting from foot to foot.

Deep breath, in and out. It’s just words.

Tensei just waits, not saying anything, just staying here, standing here next to him while he gets through his, and it’s that patience and kindness that finally convinces him. This is safe.

“I’m gay.” The words sound strange and distorted, like new sounds he’s never heard before, something he’s never said, and as they leave his mouth he feels lighter, untethered like he’s going to be blown away.

Tensei...doesn’t say anything. He just stands there for a moment, and Shouta’s not looking at his face so he can’t tell what expression he’s making, but he hasn’t spoken.

Then he moves forward—still silent—and pulls Shouta into a hug.

It’s warm and tight and secure and Shouta’s vision swims as he quickly blinks away tears. He’s still light but not in a bad way anymore, anchored now. Breathing is easier than it has been in years.

Eventually, Tensei lets go, leaving one hand on Shouta’s shoulder. Now he does smile. “Hey, it’s okay.”

Shouta just nods. Deep breath, in and out, his lungs finally filling completely.

Tensei lets go, sits down, folding his legs, and Shouta does too. Settling in. “So,” Tensei says. “Does anyone else know?” Shouta shakes his head. “Not even Hizashi?”

Shouta takes a second to answer, looking down at the ground. Is he going to tell him this too? For now, he settles on, “No.”

“Because you like him,” Tensei suggests gently.

Shouta looks up, meeting his eyes. “Because I’m in love with him.” Another stone on the ground instead of in his chest.

Ah. I can...see how that would make it hard.” Tensei leans forward, elbows resting on his knees.

“You can’t tell him. Or anyone else,” Shouta commands.

“Fair enough,” Tensei agrees. It’s quiet for a moment. “How long has this been going on?”

“Two years.” That’s how long he’s been in love, anyway. Has it really only been that long? It feels like his whole life.

Tensei’s hooked eyebrows raise. “Wow.”

Shouta just shrugs. “I cast a corporeal Patronus today.”

Tensei seems to get that he isn’t changing the subject. “What is it?” he asks, carefully neutral.

In response, Shouta takes out his wand. This time, he focuses on the massive wave of relief in that hug—a memory so recent is easy to recall, and his wand puts out a wisp of silver before he says the words. “Expecto Patronum.” Tensei’s eyes widen when he sees the bird, and it swoops around the tree once before lighting on Shouta’s outstretched arm.

“Oh,” he says quietly. “Huh.” He reaches out to touch it, his fingers passing straight through its silvery feathers. He takes his hand back. “Is it yours or his?”

Shouta makes a noise of frustration. He raises his wand to dispel the charm, then stops , looking at the crow on his arm again. “I don’t know.”

“That’s...rough.”

“I’ll know when Hizashi casts his.”

Tensei nods. “Yeah. But...it’s almost the end of the unit, and he hasn’t done it yet.”

“He’ll get it.” He’s at the top of his class, and besides, how could sunshiney Hizashi have trouble coming up with a happy memory? “Until then, don’t tell anybody else about this, either.” Shouta finally lifts his arm, letting the crow dissolve into silvery mist. He’s almost sad to see it go.

Tensei nods slowly, but he says, “These are a lot of secrets to keep.”

Shouta looks over at him again, watching the way his shoulders are hunched, his mouth turned down. “Sorry.” He hadn’t considered that, that this would be a burden for Tensei just like it was for him. They’re still secrets—it’s just that one more person is carrying them, now.

Tensei lets out a long breath, shoulders dropping. “It’s okay,” he says earnestly. “I’ll carry them for you,” he says, and there’s just a little extra weight on the last word.

“Thank you. You’re...a good friend.”

T ensei smiles again, a little brighter. “You are, too.”

They sit for a moment, the silence comfortable. Birds are singing in the forest. It’s a nice day, still sunny, late Spring, each day stretching out longer. There are only a few weeks of school left. It’s almost time for another summer.

Tensei leans back, slapping his hands against his legs. “Well! Want to go find our friends, before they wonder where we are?”

Shouta nods. “Yeah.” They both stand. “ Where are they?”

Tensei frowns. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen either of them since lunch. It’s kind of surprising they haven’t come looking for us, actually.”

He shrugs. “They’re probably happy for the privacy.” He turns away, heading towards the castle.

Tensei follows, falling into step beside him. “Are you...okay with that? Them being together?”

Another shrug. “I can’t do anything about it. I’m fine.”

“Still. Must be hard.”

“I’m not the only person in love with someone who’s in love with someone else.”

“Doesn’t make it easier, though.” Shouta looks over at him, and Tensei raises his hands. “Not that I know. I’m just saying.” He kicks at a rock on the ground. “Just trying to be sympathetic.”

Twenty minutes later, and Hizashi and Nemuri are still nowhere to be found. It’s a nice enough day that the four of them would usually be hanging out outside, but they’re not in any of the usual spots. The Hogwarts grounds are pretty big, but if they haven’t found them yet, they’re trying not to be found.

“Maybe they’re in the library?” Tensei suggests. “Maybe they wanted to get an early start on homework today.”

As they walk, though, Shouta can suddenly make out a tiny figure under a tree. He picks up his pace, and as they get closer, it resolves into Hizashi, sitting on the ground, his head in his hands.

“Hizashi,” Shouta says as they approach, and he lifts his head.

“Oh, hey, guys,” he says. He doesn’t smile, and his voice is flat.

“Are you okay?” Shouta asks.

“Where’s Nemuri?” Tensei follows, frowning in concern.

Hizashi looks down, fiddling with the edge of his sleeve. “She went back inside. To her dorm, I think. Because...I broke up with her.”

Chapter Text

Nemuri gasps as the silver mist takes shape, coalescing into a large, sleek shape that swims a swift loop around the room, then comes up to playfully nudge her outstretched hand, its nose stopping as it touches her but not feeling like anything. “I did it!” It’s not a wolf or a jaguar or a cobra, but… “A dolphin. That’s pretty cool, right?” She turns to Hizashi, next to her.

He grins, giving her a double thumbs-up. “Yeah! That’s rad as hell!”

She smiles back at him. “Good job, Kayama,” the soft voice behind her says, and a book is slid onto the desk in front of her. “Keep working on it, Yamada.”

Nemuri frowns at her boyfriend. “I can’t believe I did it before you. You’re usually better at this stuff than I am.”

He twists his wand between his hands, then jumps when that produces a small shower of sparks. He carefully puts the wand down. “I mean, not always? I’m just...really having trouble with this one.” He tucks some of his hair behind his ear. It’s getting too long to style up without way too much hair potion, and it looks silly when he does. She likes it better this way, down around his face. It’s better to run her hands through.

“Hey, want to ditch our friends for a little bit after class?” The tone in her voice makes it obvious enough what she wants , but she pairs it with a hand on his thigh underneath the table anyway.

To her surprise, Hizashi shifts away. “ Yeah, okay,” he says as she takes her hand back, but there’s something complicated in the words. He’s agreeing, but not to what she’ s suggesting . “There’s something I...want to talk to you about.” He shifts in his chair, biting his lip, not quite meeting her eyes.

The twist of fear in her stomach almost immediately turns into anger. “What? You can’t just say that and not tell me what it is!”

He flinches, grimacing. “Uh...sorry! I shouldn’t have said anything, then!”

She crosses her arms. “Yeah, you shouldn’t have!”

Yamada, Kayama. Focus on the lesson, please,” the professor says, and for a moment Nemuri stares him down. He just meets her gaze steadily, eyebrows raised, until she huffs and scoots her chair away from Hizashi’s, sharply pulling the book towards her, opening it.

S he has no choice but to sulk for the rest of the lesson. At least it’s the last one of the day, and almost over. She’s supposed to be working on her essay about the lesson, but she can’t focus on it, and she flips through the book in front of her until the bell tolls the end of the lesson. As soon as it does, she’s up, grabbing Hizashi’s arm and pulling him towards the door.

They walk together across the grounds, tense silence stretching out between them, until finally they’re at the edge of the forest, underneath a tree. “So?” Nemuri says, letting go of Hizashi to cross her arms. Immediately, as soon as they’re not touching, the distance between them widens to miles.

He rubs the back of his neck. “Actually, I...wanted to show you something,” he says, trying to smile at her. The expression drops off his face almost immediately. “I’ve been...lying about not being able to cast a Patronus,” he says, not looking at her. “Good thing the unit on kneasles was last year, right? But I practiced alone, and yesterday I finally cast a corporeal one.”

A flurry of q uestions push es into her head, faster than she can pick one to come out of her mouth. Why was he practicing alone, without telling anyone? Why is he only telling her now? The obvious: what is it?

There’s only one reason she can think of that Hizashi would want to hide what form his Patronus took: because he thought it would be someone else’s. And then there’s only one reason he would have waited to show her until after she had cast hers. Her hands go to her mouth as her eyes widen. “Hizashi...” she starts, but then she really looks. He looks miserable, hugging himself, face twisted as he looks at the ground, and then up at her. Her hands fall. “It’s not a dolphin.”

He takes a deep breath. “No, it’s not.” He doesn’t say anything else.

Nemuri laughs, but it’s shaky, something she’s trying to feel instead of something she does. “You know it’s really rare for them to change. Mine isn’t a bird or whatever!” Her voice has a pleading note to it that she hates.

Hizashi doesn’t stop looking at her, and his face doesn’t change, doesn’t relax. “Yeah, but it did,” he says quietly. “Nem...it did, it changed for someone. Just...not for you.”

“Who?” she demands, even know she knows. “What is it? Show me.”

Hizashi peels one arm away from his chest, drawing his wand and holding it out in front of him, hand unsteady. “Expecto Patronum,” he tries. Nothing happens, not even silver mist. He takes a shaky breath, closes his eyes, lips just barely moving. She wonders yet again what memory he uses. “Expecto Patronum!” This time, silver pouring out into a cloud. At first, it looks formless, but slowly it resolves, into…

“It’s a cat,” she says, voice flat, but even though she tries she can’t make it disbelieving. “Hizashi, it’s a cat.” It is, pacing regally across the grass.

“Yeah, it is. Nem, I’m...really sorry,” he says, looking at the cat instead of her.

“So what?” she says, tossing her hair in a gesture she doesn’t feel. “He hasn’t cast his yet. You don’t know that it’s his. Your Patronus could just be a cat.” She’s not letting that pleading tone back into her voice, no matter what. Not even though it’s obvious; the cat is silver, but other than that it could be Sooty. “ Even if his is a cat, sometimes people just have the same animal. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

H izashi shifts from foot to foot. “Yeah...I’ve never cast one before, so I don’t know that it changed.” Then he squares his shoulders, takes a deep breath, and looks at her, meeting her eyes steadily. “ But it doesn’t matter. I’m in love with him.”

The words come tumbling out of her mouth. “But I love you,” she says, and it’s not quite pleading but she sounds petulant, childish, and she hates it.

I mean...do you?” Hizashi’s voice sounds so weak, but it’s not unsure. It gets stronger, colder. “Because...it really feels like I was just here, you know? Like it was just convenience. Like it was just easy.”

Denying it feels pointless. “Did you ever love me, then?” Feels pointless to ask that, too, like it shouldn’t matter.

“I mean...yeah. I do love you. You’re my friend and I like you and I liked all the stuff we did. I’m just not in love with you, I guess.”

“Because you’re in love with Shouta.” She’s going to climb that concept like a mountain. She’s going to be on top of it.

I’m in love with Shouta,” Hizashi echoes, saying the words slowly, like maybe they hurt and maybe they feel good.

Her voice softens, just a little bit. “Are you going to tell him?”

“I probably should, I know. Whatever he says back. I’ll...I’ll tell him when we graduate. That way if he doesn’t want to be around me anymore, it’ll be easy, and we’ll all still be together while we’re here.” He bites his lip, looking at her. “If things between us are going to be okay? If we’re still friends?”

Nemuri closes her eyes for just a moment. When she opens them, her smile is a little too wide to look natural . “Yeah. You can’t kick me out that easily.” It’s doesn’t sound enough like a joke. She has no doubt that if they divide up their friend group, it’ll be Hizashi with both of them and her with nothing. “You don’t get the kids in the divorce,” she tries again, voice closer to the levity that she wants. “ Shared custody means we have to at least be on speaking terms.”

“Hey,” Hizashi starts, and Nemuri’s teeth clench at the gentle tone. Like she needs that. “I actually like you as a person, you know. I want to keep being friends. I’d actually...be really sad to lose you?”

S he raises an eyebrow. “That’s a really weird line when you’re breaking up with someone.” Her tone is calm.

“I don’t think I ever actually said I was breaking up with you,” Hizashi points out, running his fingers over the hem of his sleeve.

“What? You can’t actually expect that I’d still want to date you after all that,” she snaps, then sighs at his flinch. She runs her hand through her hair. “If you’re not breaking up with me, I’m breaking up with you,” she says firmly .

The corner of Hizashi’s mouth just barely quirks up . “Do we have to fight over who gets to break up with who, now?”

Nah,” Nemuri says, shaking her head, wearing her own half-smile. “You can have it. I’m telling everyone you cheated on me with an Acromantula, though.”

Hizashi lets out a horrified chuckle, covering his mouth, and everything is okay. “Oh my god,” he groans. “You’re evil. Not even for the rumor, just for that image.”

At the exaggerated horror on his face, s he giggles, then laughs, and more muffle d snorts are pulled out from behind Hizashi’s hand until they’re both laughing together. She stops herself before it gets hysterical, wiping the tears out of her eyes. They don’t count.

“So we’re good?” Hizashi says tentatively.

Nemuri grins at him. “Yeah, we’re good.” For a moment, they just stand there. The distance between them is less than it was at the beginning of the conversation, and what changed—it’s a wound, but a clean one, a surgical cut. It won’t fester, though it might leave a scar. It still needs time to heal, though. “I’m...” How can she phrase this so she isn’t running away? “Going inside. You can stay here or come inside too.”

Okay,” Hizashi says. “I’ll...stay here, I think. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

He’s offering to leave her alone for dinner, to give her some space, but she shakes her head. “I’ll see you at dinner, first.”

He smiles like that’s a gift, like it’s for him, when it’s just that she’s not going to let him take her friends, not even for a single meal. She isn’t eating alone. “See you later, then.”

See you,” she says, and if her eyes get a little watery as she makes her way across the grounds—there’s nobody to see her, so that’s her business.

Chapter Text

Come to the astronomy tower, the note says when Shouta holds it up to the moonlight streaming through the windows. The piece of parchment is small, torn on two sides. This wasn’t the only invitation written on this sheet.

He gives Faith a quick pet, a touch she leans into, blinking slowly. She’s a lot warmer, friendlier than Grace, but it’s still strange to see an owl that looks so much like her, yet not quite. Then he turns away, pulling on his shoes. It’s warm outside, almost summer, so he doesn’t bother to change into his robes. It’s warm enough that there’s little chance of Hizashi being cold, so he doesn’t bring his scarf.

The trip from the Gryffindor tower to the astronomy tower is familiar, at this point, even navigating it by the dim torchlight, listening carefully for footsteps, muffling his own. Last year, they were caught. He’d prefer not to repeat the experience. Not enough that he’d refuse the invitation, of course.

When he reaches the top of the stairs, he sees Hizashi sitting alone, arms wrapped around his knees, face turned up and away. He doesn’t see Shouta yet, and Shouta doesn’t announce his presence right away, taking a second to just—look. He can vaguely remember thinking Hizashi looked weird and goofy when they first met, and he can still kind of see it if he tries, if he steps back and tries to be objective, but mostly—Hizashi is beautiful. His golden hair just touches the tops of his shoulders now, and it looks shiny and colorless, silvery in the moonlight. One side is tucked behind his ear, exposing one pale shell, and even that looks pretty, graceful. Is he really standing here silently admiring Hizashi’s ears?

Maybe he makes some noise, or maybe he’s just been standing here long enough, but Hizashi turns, a soft smile turning up the corners of his mouth and making Shouta’s heart flutter. “Hey, you made it, Shouta.”

Hey, Hizashi.” He moves from his place at the top of the stairs, coming to sit beside Hizashi. Not too close, a careful distance away, but without a space for anyone else between them. Hizashi watches him for a moment, then turns his face back to the sky.

Nemuri and Tensei should be here soon,” Hizashi says after several quiet minutes, not looking over at Shouta.

So he invited Nemuri. She’s been hanging out with them as normal, for the most part, but Hizashi had to specifically send her an invitation for this. Shouta...isn’t sure how he feels about them breaking up. “How are...things? With Nemuri,” he asks, awkwardly. Hizashi hasn’t seemed too upset, but it can be hard to tell with him. The group hasn’t lost Nemuri as a member, and that’s...that’s a relief, especially now that she’s not dating the boy Shouta is in love with.

It’s a little...frightening, a little too much like hope, a little too much like possibility, that Hizashi is single now. That they’re here sitting alone together under the starlight. Nothing is going to happen, but...last time they were here...but that was all in his head. All just in his head, when the urge to kiss Hizashi had gotten so strong he’d almost done it. What a disaster that would have been.

Things are...” Hizashi starts, and Shouta blinks, almost having forgotten he’d asked a question with how long Hizashi took to answer. “Well, I think they’re going to be okay? Eventually, anyway. Which is good, I really don’t want to lose her as a friend. She’s really cool.”

Why did you guys break up?”

Hizashi fidgets, twisting the hem of his robe in his hands. “Just...feelings, you know? They’re weird. You can’t control whether you like someone or not, and I just...wasn’t in love with her, when I should have been.”

Shouta just nods, because he does know how that is. He still wouldn’t choose to not be in love with Hizashi, not now, but if he’d had a choice at the time he never would have fallen for him in the first place, and they would just be comfortably friends. Moments like these would lose so much— possibility, tension, anxiety, longing. None of those are completely positive, but he doesn’t want to give them up.

I’m going to miss you over the summer,” Hizashi says abruptly, glancing over at him. “I miss you every summer.”

You’ll see me on your birthday.”

Hizashi sits up straighter, but he doesn’t smile. “Yeah. I’m getting out,” he says, voice steely and determined. “I have a plan, I have some money, now I just need to wait.” He looks over at Shouta. “Thanks for offering to help me with this, by the way.”

Of course.”

It means...a lot. It’s nice to think that there are people who care about me,” Hizashi says, voice carefully casual.

Hizashi, of course people care about you,” Shouta says, and then, before he can think about it too hard, “I care about you.”

H izashi is still looking over at him, making steady eye contact, and when he speaks again, the casual tone is completely gone. “I know you do.”

This is almost overwhelming, now, his face in the silvery light, colors and edges muted until he doesn’t even look real—like anything they could do here would be safe, would be secret and private, like the darkness would hide them. Shouta wants something worth hiding with Hizashi. Aren’t these moments enough? It’s fragile enough, the space between them, like Shouta could break something just by reaching out, with just a gentle touch. What broke, would it be a cage or a shelter?

I care about you, too,” Hizashi says, and when he shifts back, moving away, Shouta realizes he’d been moving closer. He pulls back quickly. “You’re—you’re my best friend.”

T hat’s as close to ‘I love you’ as he’s ever going to get, and it feels good. Right now, he isn’t thinking about the distance between them, between that and what he wants, because—he wants this, too. Just Hizashi, here. “You’re mine, too.”

Shouta turns when he catches movement out of the corner of his eye, stiffening, but it’s just Tensei at the top of the stairs. “Hey, Shouta. Hey, Hizashi.”

Hey guys,” comes Nemuri’s voice, as she also climbs into view.

They’re not interrupting anything, as they sit down. Tensei sits next to Shouta, settling easily on the hard floor, and Nemuri sinks to the floor next to Tensei. “So, are we talking about summer plans?” Tensei asks.

Hizashi shrugs. “Among other things, yeah.”

What are you doing, Shouta?” Tensei asks.

Shouta turns towards him, slightly surprised to be singled out. “Helping Hizashi move. Other than that, as little as I can get away with.”

Tensei nods. “Right. I can help with the moving thing too, if you guys want.”

I think Shouta and I can handle it? I don’t have that much stuff,” Hizashi says, fingers tapping against his legs.

Alright. Hey, are we serious about all moving in together after graduation? Because if we are, I’m down.” Tensei leans back, long legs sprawling out.

I’m serious,” Shouta says.

Yeah,” Nemuri says, and Shouta can see the cascade of her hair shake as she nods vigorously. “Hell yeah.”

Good, because I’m definitely totally serious about that,” Hizashi says, smiling. “I don’t think I can get a place big enough for all four of us right off the bat, but I can move again in a year.”

Great,” Tensei says. “It’s gonna be good.”

Hizashi leans forward, grinning, excited. “Yeah! We’ll all be together, and we won’t even be in different houses anymore! Our place is gonna be so great. We’ll have all the cool Muggle stuff, but by then we’ll all be able to do magic whenever we want. I’m going to learn how to play guitar and how to cook and I’ll make all of us really good meals and we can have parties whenever we want!”

Aw, you’re going to be the housewife?” Nemuri asks, her tone slightly teasing, but not mean.

Does it count as a party if it’s just the four of us hanging out in our own home?” Tensei asks. Our own home. Something about that sounds so nice.

Hizashi nods. “Sure it does! Parties are about the atmosphere.”

Parties, in Shouta’s experience, are things that happen seemingly at random in the Gryffindor common room, making it essentially unusable for the night. Loud and inconvenient. But Hizashi seems excited about the concept, so he doesn’t say anything.

Anyway, it’s gonna be great,” Hizashi continues, bobbing his head along to his words. “We’re going to be adults, can you imagine?”

Technically, Shouta and I already are,” Nemuri points out.

Yeah, I mean, you guys are seventeen, but we don’t really have be adults until we graduate. It’s not real until then. I am...so not ready,” Hizashi admits.

It’ll work out,” Tensei assures him. “We’ll all figure it out together.”

A lot about the future is uncertain—like Hizashi said, nothing seems real after Hogwarts. If they’re all facing it together, though...things will be alright.

Chapter Text

Shouta! Hello!

 

We’ve only been out of school for a week, but I miss you already. Exactly a month until my birthday, and I’m counting down the days but I’m terrified. I think I know where I’m going to live, and how this is going to work, but it’s just...doing it. It’s less scary because you’ll be there. I’ll get to see you on my birthday this year!

You’ll have to tell me if Faith is faster or slower than Grace. She’s a lot younger, so maybe she’s more spry. I kind of wish I hadn’t gotten another barn owl, so it wasn’t so much like I was replacing Grace. If Sooty died, what would you do? Would you get another cat right away or wait for a while? Would you get another black cat or a different color? Sorry, that’s kind of a sad thing to bring up. Here’s something happier: what’s your optimum level of fluff on a cat? Do you like those ones that are so puffy they look like clouds? Do you have a favorite color of cat?

H ave you gotten a letter from Tensei yet? He wrote me like a foot of parchment about how Tenya is doing, haha. How he’s starting to walk and talk. And run, apparently! It’s really cute, honestly. Do you wish you weren’t an only child? I kind of wish my sister wasn’t ten years older than me, I never had anyone to play with growing up. And now I never see her. I felt so betrayed when she just disappeared as soon as she graduated, but now I get it. I’ll have to send her a letter after this. Maybe she can help?

Sorry I’ve just rambled about myself for this whole letter. How are you doing?

It’s cute how excited Faith is to send letters, like Grace used to be. She’s standing on my windowsill staring me down as I write, haha. I’ll end this letter and let her go!

 

Bye! Talk to you again (and see you!) soon! (in a month!!)

 

 

Hizashi.

 

The League of Death has made it to the Muggle news.

Not under that name, because that wouldn’t work as the name of a Muggle organization. (And no, I don’t know how to explain that. Lots of wizarding things just sound silly to Muggles, even if they don’t sound silly to wizards.) They’re just “an unnamed terrorist organization.” Too many Muggleborn kids dead, they couldn’t keep their families quiet. They can’t say that that’s the connection, so as far as the Muggles know, it’s random.

There’s a reason “may you live in interesting times” is a curse, I guess.

Do you ever want to...do something? I don’t want to just sit on the sidelines. I want to do something about it. When they came for me, I couldn’t fight back. That won’t happen again. I want to go after them. I want to train and get stronger and be someone they fear.

Anyway, I’ll respond to your letter now. Life goes on.

It’ll be good to see you in the middle of the summer this year. Less than a month, now. It’ll be okay, and if it’s not, we’ll figure it out. It’s legal for you to leave. It’s not legal for him to try and stop you. If that’s what you’re worried about.

Based on when you said you sent your letter, I think she’s a little faster. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about what I would do if she died. I’d get another cat at some point. Maybe sooner rather than later—I think I’d really miss having one around. I wouldn’t worry about what color or fluff level it was, I’d pick out the one with the best personality. That matters the most. Very fluffy cats are good. Have you ever seen one of those hairless cats? Those are good too. They’re just all good, in different ways. That’s one reason why cats are good animals, they come in a lot of variety. I don’t have a favorite color of cat, either. Not really. But when cats look like they have socks on? That’s good.

Why are you asking me questions about cats? I know you like owls better. If you had known what the beginning of this letter was going to be about, I would say you were distracting me.

I have. He may have just copied that letter and sent it to both of us, unless he wrote two separate foot-long letters about his baby brother. It would be nice to have a little sibling, I guess. Tensei certainly seems to be enjoying it. Maybe we’ll just get to see Tenya more as he grows up, since we’ll be living with Tensei.

I’m okay. I still don’t mind when you ramble. I like hearing from you.

F aith likes being pet more than Grace did. Grace only really cared about treats. I’ll still give Faith treats, though. She works hard, she deserves them.

 

Shouta.

 

 

Hey Shouta,

 

Oh. I guess that is a measure of how bad it is...but yeah, they can’t keep that many deaths quiet. I don’t know if it’s better for the Muggles or not, they don’t know what’s going on but on the other hand...they don’t know what’s going on. Have you told your parents, or do they just know what Muggles know? Interesting times, yeah...they definitely are, and I wish they weren’t. Have you noticed that they’ve started calling it a war? Not in the headlines, but in some of the articles. Being a teenager is hard enough without a war.

Shouta, no! You have to be careful! You have to be careful, I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you, I wouldn’t be okay, when you got attacked it was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me and it didn’t even happen to me, I need you to be safe, I’d do anything

Sorry, I just...fucked up that whole paragraph. I’m going to try again.

Shouta, be careful! Be careful. We’re just kids, leave that stuff to people who actually know what they’re doing! I mean...I do know what you’re talking about, but...that doesn’t mean we should do anything dangerous. They’re calling it a war now, but there’s no way our side isn’t going to win, right?

I probably won’t even have time to send another letter before I see you! That’s pretty much what I’m worried about, yeah. But you’re right, it’ll be okay. And if it’s not, we’ll figure that out when it happens. I’m glad you’re going to be there.

Aw, cats with socks!! It’s good, you’re right!!

Haha, you’ve caught me. I’m just trying to get you to talk! And it totally worked, that was the longest letter you’ve ever sent me!

Yeah!! I bet we’ll see a lot of little Tenya then. Tensei isn’t going to just not see him, so maybe he’ll spend some time at our place? ‘Our place’, that’s going to be so cool. I can’t wait!

Heh, that’s good, I ramble a lot...I like hearing from you, too.

She does deserve treats, thank you for helping me spoil my owl!

 

See you soon, Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

They know, now. I wasn’t telling them, but...that was selfish. I didn’t want them to worry about me, but I was thinking about it, and it’s not right that Muggles don’t know what’s going on. It’s not right to keep them in the dark. So I told them what’s going on. They still don’t know what happened to me, though. There’s just no point to telling them, and I...don’t want to.

They won’t call it a war in the headlines because our side isn’t fighting. For it to be a real war, the Ministry would have to actually declare it, which they have not done. They’re not doing enough. I wonder how many in the Ministry secretly agree with the League. Right now, they’re just going to keep treating the attacks like isolated incidents, pretending like the victims are all randomly chosen. Condemning each individual attack, but not the ideology behind it.

We’re not kids. I’m seventeen now, and you’re going to be soon. If the adults knew what they were doing, we wouldn’t be here. Our side is only going to win if we actually fight.

I’ll see you soon. At least helping you move out is something I can do.

Sorry this letter is short. And serious. But I’ll see you in a couple of days, now.

 

Shouta.

Chapter Text

The door swings open before Shouta raises his hand to knock, and there’s Hizashi’s face, for just a moment, before he’s being pulled forward into a hug that’s less crushing and more clinging.

“You’re shaking,” Shouta comments quietly, because neither of them has let go, and his mouth is right next to Hizashi’s ear.

“I’m okay,” Hizashi reassures, carefully releasing the handfuls of Shouta’s shirt he had grasped, smoothing them down. Shouta can’t help but let his eyes close for just a moment, trying to drink in the feeling of Hizashi’s body against his, and what he gets is not so much the specific sensations but the feeling of closeness.

Hizashi lets go, stepping back. “Let’s just—get my stuff.” He turns, leading the way up a staircase.

“Your dad isn’t here?” Shouta asks. The house is weirdly—sparse. It’s easy to see why Hizashi doesn’t like it—he doesn’t fit here. It is quiet, much more than any other space Hizashi ever occupies, like he’s muffled here, like he’s hovering instead of really present.

“No,” Hizashi says, voice clipped. “He shouldn’t be home for a couple of hours at least, so we should have time to get all my stuff out by then.”

Shouta almost wishes he had met Hizashi’s father, at least once, just to put a face to all the hints of stories in things he’s said. It says a lot that Hizashi feels the need to disappear like this, packing up all his belongings and leaving without a word, but all Shouta says is, “Alright.”

At the top of the stairs, Hizashi pushes open a door—there’s a door, but it doesn’t seem to latch, so it probably doesn’t lock—and leads Shouta into his room.

This looks more like Hizashi. There are posters on the wall, covering most of the surface in fact, bands and Quidditch teams. There’s a bookshelf with books stacked three-deep and more balanced on the top. There’s a rumpled bed with a faded yellow blanket and a well-worn stuffed owl, and a small radio on a table next to it.

Slowly, Shouta scans the room. “You actually have quite a lot of stuff.” He’s not really sure how the two of them are going to move it all in the space of a couple of hours.

Hizashi rubs the back of his neck sheepishly. “Yeah, but we’re not taking all of it. And I’ve been practicing my shrinking charms. We’re both of age now, so we can use magic outside of Hogwarts.”

Right,” Shouta says, then realizing suddenly, “Happy birthday.” Hizashi has been there for his last four birthdays, but he’s never seen Hizashi on his birthday before.

Hizashi smiles, and even though it’s just a quick, yet genuine, flash of an expression, it’s a relief to see. “Thanks!”

Shouta reaches into his pocket and pulls a small object out, a little too awkward to be quite nonchalant, shoving it out towards Hizashi. “Here.” When Hizashi takes it, their fingers brush, lighting up the nerves all up his arm, but it’s just a single quick touch. “It’s a bracelet,” he explains as Hizashi examines the ring of shiny black beads. “You’re always playing with your sleeves, so I thought maybe you’d...like this.”

Now Hizashi’s smile is a lot more sustained, brighter. He slips the bracelet on over his wrist, experimentally snapping the elastic. “Thanks! I love it!” He twists it around, then looks back at Shouta. “You know, I’ve never gotten you a birthday present.”

Is he saying it’s too much? Is it too clear that what he feels is miles past friendship? Should he apologize, or would that be even more obvious? He settles on an argumentative, “You bought drinks for my birthday that one year.”

Hizashi flinches slightly, and well, that was at least a distraction. “That turned out great.” The four of them hadn’t done anything at all for Shouta’s seventeenth birthday. Birthdays are more complicated now.

That’s still not your fault.”

Hizashi’s jaw clenches. “How was that not my fault? I should have known better than to say something like that so loudly where anyone could be listening.”

Shouta sighs. “That was what made us all realize that kind of hate was here, that it was real.” He shrugs carefully. “I don’t blame you. I never have.” He turns, looking at Hizashi’s bookshelf, picking up the first book his eyes land on, turning it over in his hands.

Hizashi doesn’t respond right away, instead just moving closer, looking over Shouta’s shoulder at the book he’s holding. They’re standing so close now, and sometimes it feels like so much of being around Hizashi is moments like these, when he’s painfully aware of how they’re alone in Hizashi’s bedroom, when all he can feel is the heat off Hizashi’s body on his arms. Sometimes it feels so possible that Hizashi is waiting for something to happen, too, that he wants Shouta just as much —but there’s so much more time when it’s comfortably obvious that he doesn’t.

“I guess we should start packing,” Hizashi finally sighs, moving away, and Shouta can breathe normally again. He grabs a suitcase from the floor and tosses it onto the bed, throwing it open. He takes the blanket from the bed and carelessly stuffs it in, and it should fill almost the whole suitcase, but it drops past the bottom.

Shouta moves closer, looking curiously at it. “Is that enchanted?”

“Well, yeah,” Hizashi says, stuffing in the pillow too, then much more gently picking up the stuffed owl and putting it in. “How else would we carry all my stuff?”

Even as long as he’s been around wizards, Shouta still doesn’t quite expect magic. He’s not exactly surprised by it anymore, though. So he just gestures with the book he’s holding to the rest of the room. “If we’re not taking everything, what are we taking?”

Hizashi shrugs, now pulling the sheets off the bed from underneath the suitcase. “I don’t know. Just start stuffing clothes or something in there, I guess.” His movements as he yanks the corners of the sheets up are slightly jerky, almost frantic, and when he gets them off and dumps them into the suitcase, for a moment he just stares at it, face blank. Then he turns, too quickly, and moves over to the bookshelf, pulling books off seemingly at random.

Shouta isn’t sure what to say, so he moves over to the dresser, gathering up an armful of shirts and piling them into the suitcase.

As they work, Hizashi moves faster and faster until he’s tearing through his possessions, and when he turns to Shouta, his eyes are slightly wild. “How long has it been? We need to go.”

He looks at his watch, movements deliberately slow, careful, like that’s going to slow Hizashi down. “You said we had a couple of hours. It hasn’t been quite one.”

We need to go,” Hizashi repeats, urgently. “He could be home early.”

Shouta looks at Hizashi, whose shoulders are tense and raised, fingers flicking agitatedly. “Alright,” he says, still exaggeratedly calm. He waves to the room. “Is there anything else you need?”

Hizashi scans the room once, quickly, then looks again like he’s trying to actually see it. He bends down, pulling a box out from under the bed, taking out a pair of headphones Shouta hasn’t seen in years but still recognizes. He puts them carefully in the suitcase and closes it with a click. “No. This is going to have to be everything.” He picks up the suitcase, and from the way he lifts it, it isn’t even heavy. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Hizashi’s new place isn’t too far away, closer than Shouta expected, but still far enough to feel like a safe distance. It’s a city of several million, so the risk of Hizashi’s father finding him is fairly low.

Hizashi takes a deep breath in as he turns the key in the lock, and as he does, Shouta just barely catches sight of the tiny owl statue attached to it. It really does look remarkably like the owl in the cage he’s holding.

When the door opens and Hizashi steps through, he lets out the breath, looking around. “Okay,” he says, and it echoes a little oddly in the empty room.

It’s tiny, just one room with a door to the side that’s probably an equally small bathroom, but Hizashi’s shoulders relax as he looks at it. “Okay!” he repeats, smiling briefly. “Guess it’s time to unpack.”

The suitcase gets set on the floor and opened. Shouta puts Faith’s cage on the floor and opens it, letting her hop out and explore her new home.

Hizashi stacks books on the floor and puts the radio on top without fuss, but when he gets to the sheets and blankets, he stands for a moment, holding them in his arms. “...Oh,” he says faintly.

Shouta looks around the empty, bedless room, then just shrugs. “I thought you knew something I didn’t.”

“Nope!” Hizashi says, forcing a smile. “I was just being a dumbass!” He dumps the pile on the floor, kicking it a little to spread it out, then throws himself down on it, burying his head in his hands. “Ugh. I don’t want to go back.”

“I could go back without you,” Shouta suggests, hovering for a minute before sitting down on the pile next to him.

“No,” Hizashi says, shaking his head but not looking up. “I don’t know what counts as my dad’s, anyway. He bought that bed, so could he come after me for stealing if I took it? I mean, he bought a lot of the stuff I did take, but I couldn’t just leave everything or it would look like I was kidnapped... I just don’t know. I guess...” he spreads a hand through the pile of blankets and pillows, picking up the stuffed owl and hugging it to his chest. “I’ll just sleep here? I need to get a job for like the two months I’ll be here, but I don’t have one yet, so I don’t have much money.” He holds up the owl. “This is Grace The First, by the way.” He laughs a little self-consciously.

“Cute.” The real, living owl has finished hopping around the room and is now perched back in the open cage.

I don’t even know where you’d buy a bed, anyway. There are just...so many things I don’t know.” Hizashi’s last few words are muffled, talking into his arms over his face again. “I still wonder if that was on purpose. So I couldn’t leave like she did. But...I did. And I’m not going back,” he says, picking up his head, glaring at the blank wall across from him.

“I don’t know where wizards buy things like that,” Shouta says, “but I know where Muggles do. We passed a Muggle department store on the way here.”

Hizashi sits up straighter, arms falling down to his side. “You could take me! We could go shopping! In the Muggle world!” He turns to Shouta, his grin finally looking genuine.

Fuck, Hizashi is so cute when he smiles like that—even as much as he does it, it’s never going to stop having such an effect on Shouta. “Sure.”

The smile slips a little. “But...I still don’t have that much money. Probably enough for like a mattress or whatever—not that I know what they cost, especially not in Muggle money—but I also have to, you know, eat.”

Shouta shrugs, voice carefully casual. “I have some money. I can pay.” He’d give Hizashi his eyes , if he wanted them. A couple hundred dollars is nothing.

Hizashi shifts, maybe uncomfortable, maybe it’s too much to offer—at least he didn’t say the thing about the eyes, but still—and says, “Shouta, you don’t have to. This is okay.”

Shouta shrugs again. “It’s fine. When I move out, you can buy me a bed. You’ll have a job by then.” For some reason, the image in his head is of Hizashi sleeping in his bed, sharing it with him. It occurs to him that he’s never seen Hizashi asleep before, and he suddenly wants to, wonders what he looks like with his face soft and slack. Does he talk in his sleep? Does he sleep with his limbs all spread like a starfish, taking up the whole bed, or does he curl into a little ball around his stuffed owl?

Hizashi fidgets again, picking up a corner of the blanket and twisting it. “Okay,” he finally says. “ I guess I’d really rather not sleep on the floor. And like you said, I can pay you back!” Then he smiles. “I’ve never been to a department store before! I’m excited!”

Shouta can’t help but smile back. Adorable. “Let’s go, then.” He stands, and he probably shouldn’t offer Hizashi a hand, but he does, and Hizashi takes it, and he gets to feel his hand in his for the moment it takes to pull him to his feet.

Hizashi opens the window for Faith before walking out the door. He seems to linger, just slightly, over locking it, movements slow and deliberate as he turns the key, testing the door twice before he turns, pocketing the key. “Alright! Let’s go!”

It’s only a couple blocks to the store, and Hizashi fills the time with the most in-depth discussion of a song he likes that Shouta has ever heard. He doesn’t have much to contribute, but he nods along, letting the chatter wash over him.

When they walk in the door, Hizashi’s eyes widen. “Whoa,” he breathes. “ That’s...a lot of stuff.”

Shouta smiles faintly at the look on his face. It reminds him of the first time he saw Diagon Alley—the look on Hizashi’s face at seventeen is probably exactly like the one on his face at eleven. And right now they’re just in the produce section—nothing unfamiliar to Hizashi.

“Wow,” he says again, running a hand along a display of shirts as they walk past. Then he stops, grabbing one. It’s eye-searingly bright pink and green striped. “This is great! I seriously have to come back here when I have more money.”

Shouta only hesitates for a moment before grabbing it from him and throwing it in the cart. It’s technically a women’s shirt, but it’s just a t-shirt.

H izashi fidgets guil tily . “ I...don’t have money for that.”

“I’ll buy it for you.”

“You don’t have to buy me a bunch of stuff! I already have things to wear!”

Shouta doesn’t look at him. “It’s a birthday present.”

“You already got me a birthday present!” Hizashi touches the bracelet on his wrist, spinning it around.

Shouta just shrugs, pushing the cart further along. “C’mon, let’s keep going.”

Shouta thinks he might be having almost as much fun as Hizashi, who’s never seen a television before and spends as long as Shouta lets him staring at the display of them. “Why are those so surprising? All wizarding pictures move. The paintings even talk to you.”

“Yeah, but those are always just one thing! These are like, all the pictures ever in one frame! So cool!” He takes Hizashi’s arm to pull him along. They’re getting some stares, but hopefully everyone will just pass them off as teenagers being weird.

Hizashi is about the furthest from on-track he can be, as he runs over to a display of headphones. “I know what these are!” He picks up the trial pair and crams them onto his head, flattening his hair.

Shouta follows more slowly, then presses the button on the rack. Hizashi’s eyes widen as the music starts to play, his head starting to bob almost like it’s not under his control, his hands tapping against his thighs. I love him so much. He tries not to make a mental note to buy Hizashi a nicer pair of headphones when he can, but he mostly fails. That’s almost certainly where his next allowance is going.

He covers that all up with an annoyed scowl, plucking the headphones off Hizashi’s head. “We came here for a reason, you know.”

Hizashi deflates slightly, and he immediately regrets saying anything. “Yeah, I know,” he says, spinning his bracelet. “ Let’s go, then.”

The display of CDs is next, though. “Those are music,” Shouta points out, voice flat.

Hizashi picks one up, turning it over. “Oh? How?”

“There’s a thing inside that you put in a player and it plays the songs on it.” He gestures to the CD players. There are cheap ones, he notices. “Those.”

“Neat! You can pick what song you listen to?” He turns the box over in his hands, reading the back, then slowly goes to put it back.

Shouta...really shouldn’t, but he impulsively grabs the cheapest CD player and gestures to the rack of CDs. “Pick one.”

For a moment, Hizashi just looks at him, studying his face, and Shouta stares him down—he can feel his face heat, and that’s not good, he doesn’t really have a good explanation for this, not one that’s not ‘I’m too head over heels for you to not buy you whatever you want’ and that wouldn’t exactly work. He feels drunk, flying high on getting Hizashi things.

“Birthday present,” Shouta says, words coming out almost angry as his eyes narrow.

Finally, Hizashi says, low and serious, “I am buying you so many presents on your next birthday.”

Shouta shrugs, breaking eye contact. “Alright.” He turns to the display, picking up a familiar album. “This one is popular.”

“These are all Muggle songs, I wouldn’t know where to start,” Hizashi admits, taking the one Shouta had picked out. “So if you think this one is good, I’ll try that!”

They eventually make it to the actual mattresses, and they’re not as expensive as Shouta had been fearing. Everything together, though—that’s about all the money he has to his name. That’s okay. Unlike Hizashi, he still lives with his parents, and they pay for anything he actually needs.

The mattress gets dragged into an alleyway and shrunk with a charm, and then they can walk back to Hizashi’s new apartment.

The sun is starting to set by the time they get back, and Hizashi gets his sheets onto the mattress, then sits down with a much happier sigh, bouncing slightly. “Okay, this is going to be way more comfortable.” He looks over at Shouta, biting his lip, rubbing the back of his neck, looking like he still can’t quite figure this out. “Uh...thanks!”

Shouta just shrugs, carefully sitting down next to him. “Sure.” He looks around the room. Hizashi is about as settled in as he can be. He doesn’t want to, but… “I should probably go.”

Hizashi fidgets again. They didn’t turn the light on when they came in, and the last of the sunlight through the window is turning pink-gold, falling across the room, across his face, lighting up his hands where they lay in his lap, the tops of his folded legs. “You can stay, if you want,” he says softly, then continues, “I finally have my own place, you can stay as long as you want, visit whenever you want. What’s mine is yours.”

“I told my parents I would be back by nighttime,” Shouta lies slowly. They hadn’t asked when he would be back. He wants to stay, but he’s not sure Hizashi knows what he’s offering. He looks down at the one bed. “Besides, where would I sleep?” Along with only one bed, there’s only one blanket, one pillow.

Hizashi looks down. “Oh. Yeah, you’re right.” He stands, brushing his hands over his legs, and Shouta does too. “I’ll see you later, then? You really can visit whenever. Or I could even visit you, now!” He smiles, and it has just an edge of lingering softness to it.

“That would be nice,” he says, keeping how much he wants that out of his voice. “Let me know if you need help figuring stuff out. Not that I’m really any more of an adult.”

Hizashi smiles crookedly. “Hey, you’re eight months older than me, that has to mean something! But thanks. I do have a lot of things to figure out.” He looks around the tiny room again, less barren now. “I’ll figure it out, I think. I heard back from my sister, did I tell you? She just had a baby.” He laughs wonderingly. “I’m an uncle, it’s crazy. So she’s really busy, but she’s visiting in a few weeks. I’ll get to meet my nephew! And she can help me figure out how to adult, a little bit. So that’ll be good.”

Shouta nods. “Good.” He takes a step towards the door, then another. They’re so alone here; nobody is going to walk through that door, it’s locked. His parents probably wouldn’t notice if he spent the night here. It’s still not safe, how much he wants that.

Finally, his hand is on the door, and he unlocks it, turning the knob. “I’ll see you later,” he promises. “September first. If not before.”

“Right,” Hizashi says, his face looking like the room is already empty. “I’ll see you later.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Shouta,” Tensei greets, voice warm, as Shouta opens the train compartment. He stands up, pulling Shouta into a quick hug, thumping his back once and letting go.

“Hey,” Nemuri says, waving, staying seated. She pops another jellybean in her mouth, making a pensive face. It must not be too bad, because she just nods and keeps chewing.

“Hey, guys,” Shouta greets both of them, moving to sit across from Tensei.

“I’m glad you could make it,” Tensei says, a serious note to his voice.

Nemuri frowns. “Why wouldn’t he be here? He’s here every year.”

Tensei lets out a breath. “Some parents of Mugglesborns aren’t letting them come to Hogwarts this year. There’s a movement. It was in the news.”

Nemuri had been reaching for another jellybean, but she puts the carton down now. “Holy shit,” she says quietly.

Shouta nods. “Some Muggleborns are reintegrating into Muggle society.”

“Wow,” Nemuri says, shaking her head. “I guess I’m glad you’re not.”

A shrug. “I’m not going to do what they want. They want me to be afraid. I’m not going to be.”

Tensei leans forward, hands on his knees. “Good,” he says. It looks like he wants to say more, but he just nods, staying quiet.

The train compartment door slides open again, thrown open with a bang. “Hey guys!” Hizashi beams around at all of them, and as Shouta stands, he meets his eyes, studying his face. It’s only been about two months since he saw Hizashi, but he looks older somehow, face slimmer and features more defined. He moves forward for a hug, and Hizashi definitely grew another couple inches, but along with that, he’s undeniably thinner. Hizashi’s hug is longer than Tensei’s, arms wrapped tightly around him, rocking them back and forth.

When he steps back, Shouta narrows his eyes in concern. “Have you been eating?”

Hizashi laughs as he goes to sit down, but it’s a little off as he rubs the back of his neck. He’s wearing the bracelet again. “Oh, you know, mostly. Food is fucking expensive!” When Shouta just continues to look at him, somewhere between frustrated and worried, he raises his hands. “I’m back at Hogwarts now! Free food! I’ll eat now!”

Shouta still makes a note to buy him something from the cart when it comes around, even if they’ll be at a feast in a few hours.

“Oh, yeah. How did moving out go, Hizashi?” Nemuri asks, picking up her jellybeans again.

“Pretty good!” Hizashi, too, looks like he might have said more, but stops himself. He sighs gustily and changes the subject. “Can you believe this is our last year at Hogwarts?”

Shouta just leans back, resting his head against the wall. Last night hadn’t been a good one for sleep, and his eyes burn until he lets them fall closed. He’s content, his friends around him, their words filling the space like waves, the rocking of the train lulling him to sleep.

He wakes to something shaking him. “Mm?” He doesn’t open his eyes right away. He’s warm, warmer than he was before he fell asleep, and though his cheek is against something hard and rounded , he’s comfortable.

“Shouta, wake up, we’re here,” Hizashi voice says, and it’s really close. Now he does open his eyes, picking up his head from where it had been...resting on Hizashi’s shoulder. When he realizes, he jerks back upright, flushing slightly.

“Uh, sorry,” he mumbles, shifting further away. Something falls off his shoulders when he does, and he picks it up, recognizing it as the jacket Tensei had been wearing before he had changed into his robes. He mutely hands it back to him.

“It’s alright,” Hizashi says, stretching, but he doesn’t look at him, and his voice is a little tight. “You’d better go get changed before you have to get off the train.”

Soon enough, they’re all parting to go to separate tables, and Shouta slightly regrets not being conscious when his friends were catching up. He sits down alone at the Gryffindor table and turns his attention to the Sorting Hat. It feels like there are fewer first years this year, but that might just be because he expects it. He knows there are missing faces at the tables, seats unfilled. Just a few, but every one means something.

When the sorting is done, the Headmaster stands. He’s short enough that standing on the floor makes him almost disappear behind the table, so he doesn’t hesitate to step up onto his chair and then even up onto the table. As he does, the room quiets. At first glance, Nedzu isn’t particularly commanding—he’s oddly ageless, looking like he could be either twenty or sixty, and no taller than many of the first years. It’s a lesser-known fact, though not a secret, that he’s an animagus, a white rat, and that wouldn’t seem to command any more respect—but then he speaks, and people listen anyway.

“Welcome,” he says, in his warm, high voice. “Welcome! It’s the beginning of another year, and I’m overjoyed at every smiling face I see. I’m also saddened by every face I don’t see here anymore.” He bends double to pick up a cup of tea by his feet and holds it for a moment. “The truth is that there are real threats in this world—as there have always been, but we are facing some particularly heinous threats right now. The League of Death is on the rise.” He pauses for a moment, letting his words sink in, letting the whispers die down as he takes a sip of tea. Shouta leans forward, grimly impressed. He didn’t expect the headmaster to be so frank, to make his stance as clear as he has. Enough of the current political powers are tacitly on the side of the League or at least wizarding and pureblood supremacy that speaking out means something. “And they will rise as far as we let them,” Nedzu continues. “We must stand together, on the right side of history, and oppose them.” He stops, taking another sip of tea. “The situation is dire, but I will personally do everything in my power to make sure you are all safe within these walls, here at Hogwarts. You are all my students, and I will ensure, to the best of my ability, that none of you either come to harm, or…harm others,” he says, slightly quieter, gaze sweeping the room, not lingering on any particular house or group. Then he smiles. “That said, enough doom and gloom! You’re safe here, and we’re sure to have a good year. Work hard, study hard, and play hard!” With that, the atmosphere in the room lifts, as Nedzu turns around to climb down from the tables and the students all relax and chatter among themselves. Shouta tunes them out. It almost sounded like Nedzu was advocating fighting back, doing something concrete.

Finally, they can eat. Shouta wishes he could at least see Hizashi, make sure he gets enough to eat. There’s no reason he wouldn’t, now that they’re back at Hogwarts.

As he leaves the Great Hall, a voice calls out to him. “Shouta!” He turns to find Hizashi jogging to catch up to him, Nemuri trailing behind. Hizashi slows to a walk, grabbing his middle. “Ugh, I’m stuffed. Good food, though!” Shouta waits until his friends are beside him, then keeps walking. Hizashi grins over at him. “Ready to go back to sleep? You look so tired today!”

Shouta shrugs. “Didn’t sleep well last night.”

Hizashi frowns in concern. “Did you run out of that potion again? Do I need to make more?”

“I just haven’t really been taking it much anymore. The nightmares are getting better.”

The smile is back on his face. “That’s good!” Then it’s gone again, replaced by a look of disgust. “During Nedzu’s speech, at the beginning...some of the students at our table were like...muttering and shit. Like he was saying something controversial, not just ‘don’t be evil’. Especially the ‘don’t hurt anyone’ part...it was awful.”

Nemuri hums. “I wonder if the League preferentially recruits Slytherins.”

Hizashi shakes his head slowly. “I don’t know, but our house has a blood purist problem.”

Shouta doesn’t expect Nemuri to nod as emphatically as she does. “It’s awful.”

“Your house also has you two.”

Hizashi’s grin is sappy-sweet. “Aw, Shouta! You say such nice things!” He throws his arm around Shouta, squeezing him around the shoulders and then letting go.

“So,” Shouta says, trying to sound nonchalant, like he’s asking out of idle curiosity. “People didn’t like Nedzu’s speech? Who?”

It doesn’t work. Hizashi frowns at him, twisting his bracelet. “Shouta, you can’t go after them.”

He crosses his arms. “How do you know I wasn’t just going to report them?”

Hizashi sighs. “Because I know you. Besides, you basically just admitted that’s not what you want to do. I don’t think you can report them for not liking a speech...and I don’t know who it was, I just heard things. I couldn’t tell who, specifically.”

Shouta fixes him with a steady stare. “You’re sure?”

Hizashi doesn’t hesitate to stare back. “I’m sure.”

Shouta breaks eye contact. They’re almost to where they’ll need to go their separate ways, Hizashi and Nemuri down to the dungeons and Shouta up to the tower. “Goodnight,” he says, a little shortly. He’s looking forward into settling into his comfortable bed with his cat.

Another smile creeps onto Hizashi’s face, this one coaxing. “It’s good to be back here with you guys,” he says, but it’s Shouta he looks at. “It’s good to be back, to see you all.”

At Hizashi’s pretty green eyes, peering over his glasses, Shouta can’t help but melt. “Yeah,” he agrees, quietly. “It’s good to be back.”

His smile shifts to soft. “Goodnight, Shouta.” And then he waves and turns and he and Nemuri are gone.

Chapter Text

Shouta rubs at his eyes yet again, staring down at the book open on the table before him, trying to bring it into focus. He can’t, no matter how much he squints. He glances up at the clock on the wall, and it’s not as late as he feels like it is, still hours before curfew. Hizashi and Nemuri are next to him, both quiet for once, as they stare down at their own books. Nemuri’s quill scratches against parchment as she takes notes. Their NEWTs are fast approaching, and more and more time is being spent here in the library. Tensei takes his studies seriously too, but not as seriously as he takes Quidditch, so that’s where he is right now, leading the Hufflepuff team in another practice.

After a few more seconds, Shouta closes his book, quiet but final. He opens his mouth for a sigh that turns into a yawn. At first, he folds his arms on the desk, pillowing his head on them, letting his eyes slip closed, but then Nemuri hums to herself distractedly as she—loudly, somehow—writes down another piece of information, and Hizashi probably isn’t even aware that his foot is tapping against the leg of the table, making it vibrate, and Shouta sighs again, pushing himself back up to sitting and then standing. “I’ll be back,” he announces, leaving his work spread out on the table. He just needs a quick nap somewhere quiet.

“Alright,” Nemuri says, only looking up briefly.

“We’ll be here,” Hizashi tells him, flashing him a quick smile. “Studying for the rest of eternity.”

Shouta just slouches away. When he leaves the library, he doesn’t turn towards Gryffindor tower, instead heading into a less-used part of the castle. He doesn’t want to go that far, and if he gets into his actual bed, he’ll sleep for hours instead of the fifteen minutes he’s planning on.

He rounds another corner. The torches are dimmer here, though they brighten as he passes, magically sensing his presence. He starts looking for a good spot, a hidden alcove or something with a rug on the floor, but as he keeps walking—he hears voices. This is a very lived-in castle, and this area isn’t off-limits, but something about the tone of them makes him stick his hand into his pocket, touching his wand. He doesn’t draw it yet, but he does soften his steps, taking care not to make noise.

As he gets closer, the voices get louder, rising in intensity. They’re definitely angry—well, some are angry, one is afraid. Shouta walks faster, until he passes a bend in the hallway, bringing the group into view.

There are three people, two with their backs to him, and the backs of their hooded heads are hiding the face of the third person. He has his hands up, babbling something quiet and nervous, but whatever he says, it makes one of the hooded students raise their wand, pointing it at him threateningly.

Now, Shouta does draw his wand, pointing it unwaveringly at the back of one of the students. They’re wearing hoods—they haven’t attacked yet, but wearing a hood, indoors and in the spring? It’s an obvious enough connection to the League of Death. Still, he hesitates. Attacking first, and when their backs are turned, doesn’t feel right. “Hey,” he says instead, making all three figures jump. “Leave him alone.”

Both of the hooded students whirl around, but not before one of them fires off a curse at their victim, knocking him to the ground. The other swears, casting a curse at Shouta. He’s ready with a quick countercurse, sending the spell harmlessly away, but he’s fighting two-on-one, and the other student’s spell hits him in the chest. It wasn’t strong, cast too quickly to have enough force to make him do more than stagger back, winded, but it makes the curse he sent back at them go wide—yet it hits its mark in another way, whipping by their heads, tearing back one of their hoods. They duck and yelp, tugging it back up before Shouta can see their face, but they don’t send another curse, turning to run. He aims at their back, meaning to stun them before they can get away, but the other makes a slashing motion with their wand, creating a violent arc of yellow light that races towards Shouta. He throws his arm up to cover his face on an instinct, too fast for him to come up with the counterspell, and the light hits him with a ripping sound, a bloom of pain on his arm. He yanks it away from his face, wand out to attack again, but both of them are running now, and when he points his wand at them, his arm shakes enough that the spell he casts just leaves a scorch on the wall as they turn the corner. He takes a step towards them, but then he turns back, remembering the figure on the ground.

When he looks, the student is starting to get up—and he’s very familiar. Shouta’s first response is to raise his wand again—but even though this man made his first three years at Hogwarts hell, right now he’s shaking and pale, looking dizzy as he slowly gets to his feet. Shouta tucks his wand away, but doesn’t help.

“Thanks,” Striker says quietly, coughing raggedly.

“...Sure,” Shouta says. For a moment, he just looks at the other Gryffindor. He almost wants to leverage this, to demand an apology for those years, but maybe this is enough, his old tormentor owing him something. He’s taller than him now, he realizes. He feels tall in general right now, powerful, finally able to fight back, to make them run. “Do you need help getting to the hospital wing?” he asks instead. Striker still looks pale.

“Do you?” Striker asks, looking down at where Shouta is holding his arm against his chest, and oh, when he pulls his right hand away from it, it’s warm and wet and bright red. The blood drips steadily down through his fingers when he puts them back over the injury.

“No,” he says, shaking his head. It’s really starting to hurt, the pain throbbing into focus, but he can walk, and he doesn’t want help from the bully. “I’ll be fine.”

“Alright,” Striker says, bending to pick up his spilled books as Shouta walks away.

Blood is still seeping out from between his fingers, and he’s starting to feel woozy and tired. He has to stop before he gets very far, just leaning against a wall. He would sit, but he feels like getting up again would be hard. He maybe could have used help, but he hasn’t passed anyone else in the halls, nobody who could find him a teacher or get the nurse to come to him as he sits down. It sounds so nice to just stop moving, the adrenaline is wearing off and leaving him shaky and exhausted, the pain getting harder and harder to ignore, spreading up his arm. What was that spell? Did it do more than just the ragged cut he can see? Was it poisoned, somehow? The slash of light did look a little like a snake.

Shouta pushes himself off the wall, staggering towards the hospital wing. It isn’t far now. He’s leaving a trail of blood that the house elves are going to have to clean up.

Ahead of him, he finally sees movement, another person wandering around the castle, coming out of the door of a bathroom, shaking his hands to dry them. It’s Hizashi, he realizes with a rush of relief, and he stops as he sees Shouta, eyes widening at the sight of the blood all down his robes. “Holy shit, what happened?” He rushes closer, grabbing Shouta by the shoulders. “Are you okay? Were you attacked?” he asks urgently, hands fluttering around, pressing against his shoulders, his arm, his wrist.

Shouta is still conscious enough for a flash of anger to shoot through him as he scowls at Hizashi. “No. I attacked them,” he says forcefully, but the words feel thick in his mouth, coming out half-mumbled. He can still make it, he’s just a little tired, Hizashi can help, but now someone is tipping the ground beneath his feet, dimming the lights until it’s dark, and he pitches forward, the last thing he’s conscious of is Hizashi’s arms catching him as he passes out.

Chapter Text

“Oh fuck,” Hizashi swears as Shouta collapses into his arms. “Shouta? Shouta!” He’s out cold, and Hizashi tries to get him upright, but he’s heavy, a dead weight—oh no please don’t be dead, he’s not dead—almost six feet tall now and so much bulkier than Hizashi, especially after the lean summer he just had. His fingers slip in his blood as he tries to get him carefully down to the ground, and this feels like a repeat of two years ago except not, this is another aftermath but the danger isn’t passed, this is Shouta maybe dying—please please don’t be dead—in his arms.

“Please,” Hizashi realizes he’s saying out loud, the words falling out of his numb mouth, an unconscious prayer, “please, please, please...” He’s on his knees but there’s nothing his hands can do.

At first, he tries to stop the bleeding, but it just doesn’t look that bad. He’s lost blood, it’s all down his robes, but enough to make him pass out? That’s not the only problem.

“Help!” he calls, then fumbles his wand out of his pocket, pressing the tip to his throat. “Sonorus,” he whispers hoarsely, and then, loud enough to echo down the hallway, “HELP!”

“Oh shit,” he whispers, the words still coming out as loud as a shout. His hands flutters over the ragged cut on Shouta’s arm. He doesn’t know any healing spells. Why doesn’t he know any healing spells? Why don’t they teach first aid? What is the point of anything he knows at all if he can’t do anything now? “Oh fuck, please, please...” he whispers. He realizes on some level that he’s got Shouta’s uninjured hand clasped to his chest. His fingers are around his wrist and there’s a pulse. There’s a pulse.

It’s the longest part of his life, maybe thirty seconds, maybe an hours, but Hizashi finally hears running feet. “HE’S—” he booms before realizing, bringing his wand up to cancel the spell. “He’s hurt,” he says at a normal volume to the professor who falls to his knees beside them. It’s the Defense teacher, and he takes Shouta’s hand from Hizashi, fingers feeling for his wrist.

“He’s alive,” he says, his soft voice curt. He reaches for Shouta’s other arm, holding his wand above the wound, bandages whipping out of the tip of his wand to wrap around his arm tightly. Then he stands, waving his wand to lift Shouta’s body—not his body, that makes it sound like he’s dead, he’s not dead—to lift Shouta off the floor. He only glances at Hizashi as he starts towards the hospital wing. “You can come with us.” His pace is fast, but not fast enough—he’s not quite running.

“You can’t stop me,” Hizashi says grimly.

The professor glances at him again, this time with a tight, close-mouthed smile. “Fair enough.”

He’s going to be okay. He has to be okay. He can’t just leave a study session for a minute and then die, he can’t just collapse in Hizashi’s arms and then die, that wouldn’t be fair, that’s not how the world works. What even lead to this, what could have done this? They’re at school, it’s supposed to be safe here. People don’t die here, people don’t just wander away from the library and come back covered in blood, this doesn’t happen, this isn’t how things work.

The professor seems to be able to tell that Hizashi is spiraling, twisting the bracelet on his arm around and around, touching the beads like a rosary, and he looks over, asking a question Hizashi doesn’t parse right away. At Hizashi’s blank stare, he repeats it. “What happened?”

Hizashi shakes his head. “I don’t know.” Shouta said he attacked someone, but he isn’t going to say that. Even if he had, he must have had some reason.

“This was a powerful hex,” the professor says. “You don’t know who did this to him?”

“No, I have no idea,” Hizashi says, this time truthfully. “I wasn’t there. I think he was heading for the hospital wing when he collapsed.”

“It’s good you were there, or this could have been much worse,” the professor says, and it sounds too light and casual for him to be saying ‘he could be dead by now.’

It’s been too long, with the bobbing motion of the levitation he can’t see Shouta breathing, and Hizashi can’t stop himself from reaching out, grabbing one of Shouta’s hands, fingers pressing into his wrist. He can’t breath for several seconds, shifting his fingers, he doesn’t know how to take a pulse, why doesn’t he know anything useful—but he can finally feel the weak beat.

“We’re almost there,” the professor says. “He’ll be alright.”

“You don’t know that,” Hizashi snaps, but then they’re through the door, and the nurse is rushing over to them, directing the professor to take Shouta over to a bed. She takes her wand out, quickly muttering a spell that makes a slash of ghostly yellow light hover over the bed, and she pales. She casts another spell, removing the bandages, and points her wand at the tear on his arm, making the flesh knit back together, leaving an angry red mark. She hurries away, coming back with a potion that she dips the tip of her wand into, drawing out a floating stream that she directs into Shouta’s mouth.

Finally, she turns to the two standing behind her. “He’s going to be okay,” she says with a small smile. “You can leave.”

The professor nods and turns to go, but Hizashi stands his ground. He can’t just leave, go back to studying like nothing happened, he has to stay. “I’m...” he looks down at himself. He holds up his hands, both covered in Shouta’s blood, in front of his face. “I’m going to faint,” he says, making himself wobble.

He must be convincing enough, because the nurse leaps into action, flicking her wand at him, sending him soaring gently across the room and into a bed. Another wave of her wand clears the blood away. “Lay down for a minute, and then leave,” she says, “I need to brew him another potion.”

Hizashi lets his head fall back to the pillow. “Yes, ma’am.”

The moment the door closes behind the nurse, Hizashi scrambles out of bed, hurrying over to Shouta. He’s still lying still, but he’s not as pale anymore, and Hizashi lets out a sigh of relief. He carefully pulls a chair up next to his bed, trying not to make any noise.

“You’re going to be okay,” he whispers. His head is still spinning. This all happened so fast. “Fuck, Shouta, I thought you were going to die,” he says, and then just keeps talking. “You can’t die. I think I’d just die too, I wouldn’t be okay.” At some point, his hand had come up to grab Shouta’s hand again It feels warmer now, more alive. “It kills me that you’re not safe, I need you to be safe, Shouta...” His next words are just barely exhaled, so quiet he can barely hear himself. “I love you.”

Shouta shifts, and Hizashi sits up straighter, shifting closer. “Hizashi?” His eyes crack open.

Hizashi lets out a breath, smiling softly. “Yeah. Hey, Shouta.”

Shouta moves again, trying to sit up, then lets himself fall back to the bed. “I feel like shit.”

Hizashi laughs quietly, too overcome with relief to do anything else. “You don’t look too great, either.”

Shouta makes a noise that might have been a breath of a laugh. “Those League bastards got away, too. But I made them run.”

Hizashi frowns. “Is that what happened? You just told me you attacked someone.”

“They had cornered someone. Striker, if you can believe it. Which is weird, I thought he was a pureblood.”

“Maybe he pissed them off. Being an asshole finally caught up with him. You saved him?”

“Didn’t know it was him. But yeah. I would have anyway.” Shouta manages a weak shrug.

“I know you would,” Hizashi says, squeezing Shouta’s hand—but that makes him realize he’s still holding it, and Shouta is awake now, and he goes to pull it back. But Shouta tightens his grip, then seems to realize where Hizashi’s hand is, looking down. Slowly, his eyes track back to Hizashi’s face, and he turns his hand over, lacing their fingers together.

Suddenly, Hizashi can’t breathe, breath stolen in the best way. When he finally takes one, it’s shaky, almost like he’s about to start crying. “Shouta,” he starts, barely whispering, and Shouta just looks back at him, and his dark eyes almost seem black enough to hold stars, bottomless as the night sky. He can say anything right now—nothing is safe but that makes anything okay, makes it more important than ever, like this too is a matter of survival, like telling him this is going to save both of them. “I...”

“You’re not supposed to be bothering him,” the nurse chides, but gently, as she comes back into the room. She turns to shut the door behind herself, and Hizashi jumps to his feet, hands flying up to hover open in front of him, as if he’s trying to prove he wasn’t doing anything. Hadn’t been holding his best friend’s hand, about to break everything. “Honey, this potion should make you feel better, but I want you here overnight anyway,” she tells Shouta, bringing a cup of something silvery-purple over to him. She helps him sit up as Hizashi hovers nearby, and this time he can drink the potion himself.

Shouta looks better yet as he hands the cup back, his face clear. “Thanks.”

“That was a nasty curse! The headmaster is coming to talk to you about what happened, but you don’t have to tell the story until then.” She fixes Hizashi with a strict stare. “You need to get back to your dorm, it’s almost curfew. You’re clearly feeling better, if you’re out of bed.”

“I feel fine now,” Hizashi says sheepishly. He can feel Shouta’s eyes on him, but he doesn’t meet them. As he turns to go, he sees a flash of white under one of the hospital beds. Someone’s cat? Or a kitten, it was so small. He turns back for a moment, smiling at Shouta like nothing had just happened. “Goodnight!” he chirps. “Feel better.”

“See you later,” Shouta says, voice neutral.

Hizashi just barely gets through the hospital wing door when someone grabs his elbow. He jumps, turning, but it’s— “Headmaster Nedzu?”

“Hizashi Yamada,” he says warmly. “I’d like you to come with me to my office, if you would.”

Chapter Text

“Um, okay,” Hizashi says. Nedzu’s voice is friendly, but he can’t help but worry that he’s done something wrong. “Weren’t you going to talk to Shouta about what happened?”

Nedzu waves a hand. “Aizawa will be there in the morning. I’d rather have a chat with you, first.” He starts walking, and Hizashi follows, after a beat.

“You know I wasn’t there, right? I don’t know what happened.” Hizashi fidgets, snapping the elastic on his bracelet, then stops himself. If he does that too much, he’ll wear it out. It’s already a little bit looser from how much he plays with it. He doesn’t want it to break, even if Shouta would just give him another one if he did break it.

“Yes, I know. That’s not precisely what I wanted to talk to you about.” He stops in front of a statue that Hizashi has seen before but never given a second look, and rattles off a password, a quick chain of numbers that Hizashi can’t even begin to try to remember. It springs to life, jumping aside, and Nedzu starts up the tight spiral staircase that it reveals. At the top is a heavy door, one that Nedzu waves his hand at to open, and Hizashi has time to look around the office as Nedzu lifts his wand to levitate a teapot off the large desk in the center of the room. It’s surprisingly homey, decorated comfortably, and there’s chairs on each side of the desk, clearly a meeting space, but Nedzu takes the teapot over to a coffee table in front of a cushy-looking couch. “Tea?”

“Uh, sure,” Hizashi says, shifting in place, still feeling very wrong-footed.

“Relax, Hizashi,” Nedzu says, climbing up onto an armchair across from the couch. He gestures to the couch. “Take a seat. You’re not in trouble!” As Hizashi does, Nedzu points his wand at a shelf, taking down several canisters that hover in a circle in front of him. “Hm...green, Assam, or chai?” He looks over at Hizashi, apparently wanting some input.

“Green, I guess.”

Nedzu sends the other canisters back to the shelf, adding the chosen leaves to the pot. He uses his wand to conjure a jet of hot water in after them. “I could just conjure the tea, of course,” he says, his voice light and conversational, “but I just don’t think it tastes the same. Maybe someday I’ll truly perfect tea, but it took me long enough to learn how to make the perfect temperature of water! It can’t just be boiling, you know,” he says seriously, holding up a finger to emphasize his point. “Boiling water makes tea too bitter, just like oversteeping! Especially with more delicate green and white teas. A hundred and seventy degrees, for green tea, far below two hundred and twelve for water to boil. Very important.”

Little by little, Hizashi is starting to relax. Still, he has no clue why he’s here. “So...what did you want to talk about?” He cringes slightly, worried that was too blunt. This is one of the most powerful people he’s ever directly spoken to. “...Sir,” he adds.

Nedzu just laughs, not seeming to be bothered. “Straight to the point, eh? You remember my speech from the beginning of the year, yes?”

That’s still not as direct as Hizashi wants, but he just says, “Yes.”

“Well, as you might have guessed—as I wanted the right people to guess—it wasn’t just empty words. I’m putting together an organization to combat the League of Death,” Nedzu says, and then leans forward, picking up the teapot and pouring two cups of tea like he hasn’t just dropped a bombshell.

“And...you want me to join?” Hizashi guesses, head spinning.

Nedzu nods, smiling at him. “Yes!” He picks up a cup of tea, handing it to Hizashi, and then takes a sip from the other cup. “Ah,” he sighs, closing his eyes briefly. “Perfectly brewed, if I do say so myself.”

“Why me?” Hizashi flounders. Shouta is the one who wants to fight, but he doesn’t say that. If Nedzu doesn’t already know that, he’s not going to recommend him. “I’m not—sorry, but I’m not anything special.”

Nedzu takes another sip of tea before answering. “On the contrary, you’re at the intersection of several things I’m looking for. You’re shaping up to be a powerful wizard, you have a knack for befriending those unlike yourself, you have a certain unexpected charisma, and—I must admit I have a slight bias towards those of my own house, especially for the role I’m looking to fill. I’m recruiting those with a personal stake in this fight.”

The praise is definitely going to his head, Hizashi has to be careful. “I—I don’t have a personal stake, though. I’m a pureblood.” He’s not in any danger—it’s Shouta who’s been attacked twice now.

Nedzu just nods. “That’s exactly why I want you! You’re from an old enough pureblood family that the League would accept you for membership, but your family is recently enough from overseas that you’re not already known to them. They don’t know your political views, and they don’t know that you’re in love with a Muggleborn.”

For a moment, Hizashi just stares, as Nedzu takes another unhurried sip of tea, his mind too blank with shock to start panicking.

“Rats have excellent hearing, you know,” Nedzu says conversationally.

“You—were there, in the hospital wing,” Hizashi says slowly. “Spying on us.” When Nedzu just nods, he continues. “And that’s...what you want me to do. Spy for you.”

Nedzu smiles at him, sunny and serene. “I knew you were intelligent! Yes. I want you to join my organization—as it stands, tentatively called the Underground Association—as well as the League of Death, and report as much information as you can gather. Directly to me, I might add. You’d be rather important! I haven’t found another candidate as uniquely suited as you.”

Hizashi still feels ten steps behind, and he takes a drink of tea to cover up his hesitation. So far, Nedzu has left out a rather important side of the equation—he’s offering a job without talking about the pay. For once, Hizashi holds his tongue while he puzzles it over. He’s been talking about what he wants, but not why Hizashi would do any of this.

Either Nedzu senses his thoughts, or he’s thinking the same thing, because he rests his half-full cup of tea on its saucer and says, still casual, “I’m rather familiar with that particular curse, as it turns out. Young Mr. Aizawa will have a scar.” His own scar stands out stark red on his pale skin.

Oh. That’s his angle.

I’ll think about it,” Hizashi says, but it shows in his voice—he’s made a decision.

Nedzu looks at him, over his cup of tea, and it feels wrong to to compare him to a shrew when he’s a rat, and the look he gives him is still too friendly to be shrewd. “I’m afraid there’s more I have to ask of you,” he says, almost apologetically.

More?” Hizashi feels so out of his depth. He was thinking of nothing more important than exams just a few hours ago, and now he’s talking about spying on a criminal organization while he can still feel Shouta’s blood on his hands.

I’ve been asking a lot, I’m aware. So I’ll be plain. Like I told you, I wanted the right people to guess that if you want to truly work against the League, I’m the one to come to. There are people I’ve been keeping an eye on, expecting to hear from—and Mr. Aizawa is one of them. Before the year is up, before you both graduate, I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t approach me about joining UA.”

Hizashi sets his tea down with a clack. “Don’t—don’t let him,” he says before he can think. Maybe he does have some leverage in this negotiation, and if he wants to ask for one thing—it’s that. There’s nothing he wants— needs more than Shouta safe. He knows it’s true, what Nedzu says. Shouta goes quiet in conversations about what they’re doing after Hogwarts—he has plans for his life that he doesn’t want his friends to know, because they involve throwing it away in a war he doesn’t have to fight.

Nedzu considers for a moment, swirling his tea around his cup and taking a slow sip. “Aizawa would be a perfect candidate for UA,” he says slowly. “You get better grades, but the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher speaks highly of him, and where his work suffers, I see only an unwillingness to do work he sees as pointless. An independent thinker, able to act on his own, not to mention passionate about our cause. In defending young Striker, he’s done more to recommend himself than anyone else. Certainly more than you have.”

H izashi takes a deep breath, gripping his teacup almost hard enough to break it. “You said you want me, though. Shouta would be a so ldi er. I would be a spy.” Another deep breath, looking down at his tea and barely seeing it. Then back at Nedzu. “I’ll do it if you’ll turn him down when he asks.”

Nedzu’s face is still friendly, a benign smile, relaxed posture, one knee crossed over the other. Nothing sharp, no sudden look of triumph, nothing to indicate that Hizashi has walked right into his web. He takes another sip of tea, finishing the cup and carefully pouring another one as he talks. “You don’t want to fight alongside him?”

Hizashi shakes his head quickly, putting his teacup down before he cracks it, leaning forward. “No. I want him safe.”

Nedzu smiles gently. “Spoken like a true Slytherin. I’m inclined to consider your request, but as I mentioned, there’s another faucet to what I want from you.”

What is it?” Hizashi knows he’s too eager, knows his voice is giving everything away, how he’s this ready to sign on the dotted line.

I don’t know how familiar you are with espionage, but as I mentioned, you’d be rather important. What I want is really just to ensure your own safety—and that of your friends. I want a deep cover agent. I want you to keep what you’re doing between you and me and nobody else.” Nedzu takes another long sip of tea. “It may work better for you, personally, in fact. I can’t imagine Aizawa would be particularly happy with your attempts to protect him. I won’t tell him it’s you blocking his membership in UA if you don’t.”

It seems simple, when Nedzu lays it out like that. Almost easy, to just disappear. There’s no blood underneath his nails, when he looks at his hands. The nurse’s cleaning spell was too thorough—but he can almost smell it. He looks at the bright red scar across Nedzu’s face and thinks about Shouta’s weak pulse under his fingers, and says, “Okay.”

Chapter Text

It’s late, far past curfew, but Shouta is still awake. Exams are over, and he thinks he passed everything well enough. That’s not what he’s worrying about. He’s worrying about Hizashi.

He’s seemed so distant lately. Something is off about him, something is wrong and Shouta doesn’t know what. The starting point is clear—Shouta’s battle with the League members. He idly rubs the shiny red scar stretching across his arm as he thinks about it. It doesn’t hurt all the time anymore, but it aches sometimes. The Defense professor had pulled him aside to talk about old curse scars, how he’s probably going to be able to sense strong magical fields now. It’s obvious that this shook Hizashi, maybe more than it did Shouta. He may have been badly hurt, maybe almost died, but unlike his sixteenth birthday, he never felt helpless this time. He had never been afraid. He hadn’t been attacked; he had attacked them. It had all been under his control.

Hizashi has been acting weird, and what worries him most is this: they graduate tomorrow, and there’s been no invitation to the astronomy tower. This is the last night the invitation could come, and it’s late, and there’s nothing.

Finally, Shouta makes a decision, dragging himself out of bed. He doesn’t need shoes or robes, it’s warm enough. He does dig a couple of owl treats out of his trunk, tucking them in his pocket. He also scribbles out quick notes on three scraps of parchment.

He makes his way as silently as he can to the owlery. It takes him a while to find Faith in the low light, but eventually he does, reaching out to pet her awake. She blinks sleepily at him, and accepts the treat he feeds her. “These are for Hizashi, Nemuri, and Tensei,” he tells her, quietly. “Get Hizashi first...and wait a while before you get the other two.”

Barn owls don’t hoot, but she makes a soft staticky noise to show what he hopes is understanding and agreement.

Shouta creeps to the astronomy tower. At this point, the last time he’ll be doing this, it’s familiar, and he knows the route to take to avoid any teachers who might be patrolling the hallways. When he arrives, he doesn’t sit right away, pacing back and forth. What if Hizashi doesn’t come? He’s been pulling back, widening the distance between them. Does he know what Shouta is going to ask the headmaster tomorrow? Is that enough to make him as cold as he’s been?

Shouta stops, tipping his head back, looking at the stars. They’re so bright tonight, shining so far above. They’re so far, the night sky making him small, but without anyone else here, he feels swallowed, tiny and forgotten, alone.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees movement, and he turns slow, not wanting to see unless it’s not who he wants it to be.

It is, though. It’s Hizashi, and he just raises a hand in greeting. “Hey, Shouta.”

“Hey,” Shouta sighs, waiting for Hizashi to get closer before he sinks to the ground, folding his legs beneath himself. Hizashi sits, too. Closer than he expected.

Hizashi...doesn’t say anything, so Shouta speaks again. This silence isn’t comfortable, it’s empty, and he needs to fill it, to bridge the gap. “We graduate tomorrow.”

“We do,” is all Hizashi says at first, spinning the bracelet on his wrist. Shouta hasn’t seen him without it since he gave it to him. True to his word, there had been a pile of presents at the foot of his bed when he had woken up on his eighteenth birthday, but nothing in the pile had been wearable. Hizashi finally looks over at him, almost questioning, strangely sad. “You invited me, this time.”

We graduate tomorrow,” Shouta repeats. You weren’t going to invite me. “I...wanted to see you,” he says, looking down, not sure if he’s allowed to say that. Maybe not now. He’s struck with the urge to reach out and grab Hizashi, not even in any particular way, just keep him from leaving. Like that will close the metaphorical distance. He can’t stand it, he’s never felt as strongly that he needs Hizashi.

To his surprise, Hizashi smiles faintly. “I wanted to see you, too. I’m glad you did.”

Shouta takes a deep breath. That just makes him want to pull Hizashi close even more. “Our friends should be here soon,” he says, floating his words across the surface of the conversation, not touching all that’s beneath.

Okay,” Hizashi says, and similarly, there’s an undercurrent to the words. So deep, deepening every year. When he first fell in love, Shouta hadn’t known there was anywhere to go from there, any way he could feel it more. “It’ll be good to see them, too.”

“We’ll all see each other after graduation. More than before,” Shouta says, testing the waters.

“Yeah,” Hizashi agrees, just a little too slow, leaning back just slightly. He’s a good liar. He’s a good liar, but Shouta knows him so well, and he’s looking so close. “We will. It’ll be so great, when we’re all living together!” He puts a good amount of cheer in this, beaming out a smile, and it’s so close to perfect, so close to real.

It will,” Shouta says, hating the way neither of them are saying what he means. He’s cracking, crumbling, as he moves just a little closer, chasing Hizashi. He doesn’t move away again.

It’s dark, and quiet, and the space between the stars is less than the space between them, and Shouta reaches out, raising a hand, slowly moving it through the lightyears separating them, and touches Hizashi’s cheek.

He doesn’t move away. He turns, not away from the touch, just to look at Shouta. His eyes are wide, and it could be fear or surprise, awe, but there’s something else there, something sweet and wanting, there’s so much distance, they’re so far apart, but Hizashi wants to close that distance too.

In the hospital wing, Hizashi had held his hand. He’d been about to say something, but he hadn’t, and Shouta would give anything to know what it would have been, but maybe he knows, as Hizashi’s hand comes up to cover Shouta’s on his cheek, warm touching the back of his hand, fingers sliding over his.

Shouta takes a deep breath. “Hizashi,” he says, like he’s calling him, come here, closer to me, but Hizashi doesn’t move, not closer, not further away. He doesn’t move at all.

The stars are the only thing illuminating them, but at this point, Shouta is close enough to see the green of Hizashi’s eyes behind his glasses. He’s always had such beautiful eyes, when he can see them, and right now—there’s so much in them, shining out of them, as he brings his face just a little closer, and his eyes are so pretty but there’s his mouth too, lips just slightly parted, waiting for his.

They’re a bare inch apart, the gap almost closed, when Hizashi finally moves, leaning back, pushing Shouta’s hand away. “What are you doing?” The words are aren’t harsh but they shatter what had been spun between them, and Shouta pulls back all at once, quickly, flinching at the tone, turning away.

“Nothing. Sorry,” he mumbles, bitterness in his tone betraying the words.

Hizashi sighs. “It’s okay,” he says, sounding far away. “Don’t worry about it.” Then he falls silent, and Shouta is left all but alone, trying to figure out how he had gotten everything so wrong.

Fuck, Shouta just almost kissed him.

Not now, Hizashi wants to scream. Not now, not right before he goes off to a war he swore not to tell anyone he’s fighting. Not right before he leaves everyone he loves.

He could just tell him. He could just pull him back in, kiss him right now. It would be easy—they had been so close, he could just reach out right now, pull Shouta’s face back towards him, fit their mouths together. Shouta wouldn’t push him away. He would kiss back. What else would he do? Put his hand back on his cheek, so warm, slightly rough, would he move his hand to Hizashi’s neck, or his hair? What would he taste like? Would he make any noise if Hizashi kissed him just right, slipped his tongue into his mouth? Would he be soft and yielding or would he push back? It would be so easy, he could just reach out now…

He could, but it would ruin everything. Shouta has so little chance of just letting him leave quietly now, he never would if Hizashi kissed him now.

Shouta had been about to kiss him. Shouta feels the same way, wants him back, maybe loves him back.

If he stayed, if he went back to Nedzu and told him he wouldn’t do it, he could have everything he’s ever wanted.

Except Shouta safe. If he doesn’t do this, Shouta is going to, and that’s the thing about wars—people don’t always come back from them. If Shouta fights, he might die, and that’s worse than anything that could happen to Hizashi.

Hizashi realizes that they’ve been sitting in silence for minutes now, Shouta’s face just turned away from his, not looking at each other. Shouta’s shoulders are tense and hunched. Hizashi reaches out to touch them, then pulls his hand back at the last moment. He can’t touch him, but… “It really is okay,” he says. As long as Shouta doesn’t think he’s mad at him. He can’t know how much Hizashi wants to kiss him back, but at least he can reassure him he didn’t break anything.

Sure,” Shouta says, and there’s still that tone in his voice, bitter enough to taint the air between them.

Hey,” Hizashi says, heart wrenching, and screw it, he puts a hand on his shoulders. Just a friendly touch that Shouta stiffens under. He leaves it there, though, and slowly, the muscles under his hand relax, his shoulders slowly slumping. “I’m...really sorry.” Because he is.

Shouta sighs. “It’s okay, Hizashi.” He sounds so dull, so far away.

They’re saved from more of this conversation by Nemuri appearing at the top of the stairs. “Hey, guys.”

They don’t jump apart, because they weren’t close to begin with. Hizashi just puts his hand back in his lap. “Hey, Nemuri,” Hizashi says, but Shouta doesn’t say anything.

Wars end, Hizashi thinks as Nemuri comes to sit next to him. Wars end and he’ll be able to come home to these people and maybe Shouta will still want him then. Maybe they’ll all wait for him.

“Can you believe we’re all graduating tomorrow?” she says with a small laugh.

Hizashi gives a chuckle he doesn’t feel and says words he doesn’t mean either. “It’s crazy.” That’s stopped meaning anything—it’s what he’s doing as soon as he leaves Hogwarts that’s crazy. “I can’t believe it!”

Shouta still hasn’t said anything, almost loudly silent, and Nemuri looks over at him, eyes flicking between him and Hizashi. “Are you okay, Shouta? You’re even quieter than usual. Did something...” she’s never been good at tact, and there’s just enough pause in her words to imply something, “happen?”

Shouta visibly stiffens, but Hizashi makes himself laugh, and he thinks it sounds natural. “Nah, we’re good! Nothing happened.” He kinds of hates himself, but he means it as reassuring, that even if Shouta just tried to kiss him and he had to turn him down, it’s nothing, like it hadn’t happened. When it feels kind of like everything.

“Nothing happened,” Shouta echoes, finally saying something.

“Hey, friends,” Tensei says, climbing the last few stairs, coming to sit beside Shouta. Shouta’s eyes track him as he walks over to sit down, but he looks back down at the ground once he’s settled.

This time, Shouta greets him along with Nemuri and Hizashi.

“I’ve been looking at places for us, advertisements in the paper,” Tensei says, leaning forward. “It’s hard to find places with four bedrooms that aren’t super big and expensive. Some of us might have to share if we want to stay in our budget.”

“That’s alright,” Hizashi says. “I wouldn’t mind sharing with someone!” Because he’s not actually going to be there. He doesn’t want his friends paying for a fourth bedroom that’s just going to end up empty.

I get my own room,” Nemuri interjects quickly. “If I’m going to be living with three guys, one of which is my ex, I get my own room. And you all are going to be doing dishes.”

Tensei holds up his hands. “That’s fine! I would be fine with sharing, too. So maybe you and me, Hizashi.”

“Sure,” Hizashi says, smiling at him. “Roommates! I mean, we’ll all be roommates, but like...room buddies!”

We’ve all shared rooms here for the past seven years,” Tensei muses. “Just not with each other. It’ll be nice to have roommates I’m actually friends with.” He leans back, bracing his arms behind him, looking up at the stars. “We can always move into a bigger, nicer place once we get our careers going. We’re all smart and hardworking, I’m sure we can make money.” He pauses again. It’s dark enough and he’s sitting far enough away that Hizashi can only just see the details of his face. “It’ll be good to have friends while we’re all figuring out how to be adults.”

Wars end. Wars end and if he survives, maybe he’ll be able to come home to these people.

Chapter Text

Shouta follows Nedzu up the tightly winding stairs. Turning seventeen (and then eighteen) hadn’t felt like anything, but graduating almost does. He’s an adult now, unfixed from Hogwarts, set free. This isn’t his headmaster he’s following anymore, because he doesn’t belong to Hogwarts anymore.

“Tea?” Nedzu asks, bringing down three canisters with a wave of his wand. He turns around, smiling back at Shouta, gesturing to a comfortable-looking couch. “Sit, Aizawa. Lavender, white, or chai?”

Shouta sits as he’s been ordered to do. “Chai.”

Nedzu nods. “Good choice.” He stops in the middle of brewing the tea to hold up a hand. Shouta had been about to speak, but he hadn’t been aware of doing anything to indicate that, but he must have. “Now, no talking business before the tea is poured!” Nedzu climbs up into an armchair, sitting and smiling again. “I said as much to your entire class, but congratulations on graduating, Aizawa! I don’t have the pleasure of teaching myself, but I like to keep tabs on at least a few promising students, and your professors say you have promise.”

“Thank you, sir,” Shouta says, somewhat stiffly.

“It was a rather lovely ceremony, wasn’t it? It is every year. I never find it boring, as many years as I’ve done this. I just so enjoy seeing the promise of new youth, going out into the world. I just hope I’ve done all I can to prepare you.” For a moment, his face turns dark. “Especially these days.”

Finally, the tea is done, and Nedzu pours it, handing a cup to Shouta and picking up his own. He takes a long sip while Shouta grits his teeth. “Now,” he says, too slowly. “You said you wanted to ask me something.”

“The League of Death,” Shouta says, leaping right into it. “You’re doing something about them. You’re fighting. I want to help.”

Nedzu smiles. “Ah, so direct. But you’re right, I am. When I say I’ve had my eye on you, I mean that I’ve been waiting for years for this exact request!”

“And?” Shouta says, aware he’s being a little rude as he leans forward. “If you knew I would ask, you had to know what you would say.”

“I do,” Nedzu says, sipping at his tea. “I’ll let you make your case, though! What do you have to offer the Underground Association?”

“I...I can fight,” Shouta starts. “If you’ve been keeping tabs on me, you know I have good grades in Defense Against the Dark Arts. The Dark Arts is what you’re fighting, so that matters. I’m brave. I won’t run from a fight. I can follow orders.”

“If you think they’re right,” Nedzu says. “Gryffindors don’t make the best soldiers.” He takes another sip of tea, and continues. “Thankfully, I don’t need people to just blindly follow orders. This is not a conventional battlefield.”

Shouta nods. “Alright, then. You’re right. I can think for myself.” When Nedzu just watches him, teacup not lighting down on his saucer to speak, he continues. “You know I’m a Muggleborn. I don’t have the luxury of staying out of this. I could die whether or not I fight back. You’d have the courage of someone who’d rather die on his feet.”

“That I would,” Nedzu agrees. Then he smiles. “I’m sorry, this has all been a little cruel, hasn’t it? Knowing what my answer is and not telling you. I just wanted to know what you’d say.” He takes another sip of tea, then beams at the man across from him. “Shouta Aizawa, I would be honored to offer you a place on my team!”

Shouta lets out the breath he had been holding. “Thank you.”

When he leaves the office, he feels both light and heavy. Like an airplane—something that can fly but has weight. He’s going somewhere, now. Weight moving in a direction. Momentum. He’s doing something.

It doesn’t take him long to find Nemuri and Tensei, walking out of the Great Hall, just about to split off to go to their respective dorms to pack. “Where’s Hizashi?”

Nemuri shrugs. “I don’t know. We haven’t seen him since the ceremony. Maybe he’s already packing?”

Shouta ignores the twisting feeling in his stomach. Hizashi is still in the castle, he’s not far. “I was right,” he says without preamble. “Nedzu is fighting back, and he let me join.”

Nemuri sucks in a breath, but Tensei steps forward, grabbing his arm, staring into his eyes. Shouta just looks back at him, meeting his eyes steadily, not cringing under the admonishment that’s sure to come.

But what he says is, “I want to join too.”

For a moment, Shouta just stares at him. “What?” he says, pointlessly. He heard him.

Nemuri speaks next. “We’ve talked about this, and I want to fight, too. Those League bastards need to get what’s coming to them as soon as possible.”

Tensei runs his other hand through his hair, but doesn’t let go of Shouta. “Shouta, did you not think we would want to fight? Doing the right thing isn’t exclusive to Gryffindors.”

“Of course not,” Shouta says, giving both of them a considering look. Tensei’s face is set, and Nemuri’s eyes are fiery. Still, he asks, “You’re willing to die for this?”

Nemuri smiles sharply. “Everyone does, eventually. It should mean something. It should be for something.”

Tensei just nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”

Shouta turns, gaze sweeping the hallway. “Where is Hizashi?”

“I can see if he’s in the Slytherin dorms,” Nemuri offers. “But right now, we should all pack. We can deal with all this tomorrow, after we get moved in. We’ll see him on the train, if nothing else.”

Shouta’s stomach is in knots as he packs, and it has nothing to do with the organization he just joined. He throws everything into his chest, gets Sooty into her carrier, and then has to sit on his bed and wait. Hizashi is probably talking to Nemuri right now. He rubs the scar on his arm again. The Defense professor had said it would hurt less often when he wasn’t at Hogwarts, around as much magic as there is here.

Shouta breathes out a sigh of relief as he steps onto the train, his trunk safely stowed. He’s the first of his friends to get on, and he claims an empty compartment for the four of them, cracking open a book. Tensei joins him after a few minutes, and Shouta puts down his book to talk with him about the details of how they’re going to move into the apartment he’s found for them. His family had helped them with the down payment, and generously added a couple months of rent, so they all have time to get settled into jobs before they have to worry about money too much. This one only has three bedrooms, but according to Tensei it’s in a fairly nice neighborhood, a Wizarding apartment building in a mostly-Muggle area.

Shouta hadn’t realized he was still so worried, but when Nemuri opens the door, the words come out of his mouth quickly. “Where’s Hizashi?”

This time, she frowns, face already drawn. “I don’t know,” she says. “I looked all over the train, and he’s not here. He wasn’t in the Slytherin dorms.”

Tensei frowns. “How is he not on the train? Isn’t that the only way to leave Hogwarts?”

Shouta stands up, pacing towards the door and then away. The twisting in his stomach is back full-force. “Where could he be? What is he doing?”

“Do you think something happened to him?” Tensei asks quietly. Nemuri sits down, hands clasped between her knees.

Shouta shakes his head. “I don’t—I don’t know.” He can’t shake the suspicion that Hizashi planned this, that he had known he was going to do this. “Where is he?” he growls.

“Theoretically, you can just walk out the front gate of Hogwarts,” Nemuri says, but she doesn’t sound convinced. “Or he could still be there.” Shouta starts for the door, reaching for the handle of the compartment, but the train starts with a lurch, and Tensei reaches out to grab his arm.

“He knows where we’re going to be,” he says soothingly. “He’s probably fine, and he’ll turn up.”

“Maybe he’s talking to Nedzu,” Nemuri suggests. “Joining, like you did.”

“Maybe,” Shouta allows, finally sitting down, perching on the edge of his seat. Sooty yowls unhappily, and he opens her basket, taking her out. He scoots backwards to set her on his lap. She settles down, looking around the compartment warily.

“He’ll turn up,” Tensei says again, sounding more confident than he looks.

The train moves on, taking them away from Hogwarts and into the next chapter of their lives.

Chapter Text

Hizashi.

 

Where are you?

I shouldn’t have to say more than that, because that’s all I really need to know. It’s been two weeks.

You don’t need to come home. Just tell me where you are. Or not even that; just tell me you’re safe. I need to know that you’re okay.

I feel like I might be saying too much, but this is my third letter, and it’s probably not going to reach you, just like the other two didn’t. I don’t know where you are, and Tensei’s owl has never seen you before, he can’t find you.

Are you okay? What happened? Was this what you planned all along?

Why?

I tried to report you as a missing person, but they were really wary of me, since your dad already tried and you weren’t really missing then. The witch seemed to think I was working for him or something. I tired to explain that I wasn’t, but she just said that you were an adult and could leave if you wanted to.

I take it back. Hizashi, come home. You’ve never lived here before, never seen it, but you belong here, come back.

I don’t care if I’ve said too much. I just want this letter to find you.

 

Shouta.

 

Shouta reaches out, stroking a fingertip along one of the feathery tufts on the top of Tensei’s new owl’s head. Tangerine is an eagle owl, still young and fresh from the pet store. “Here,” he says, tying the letter to the leg that the owl sticks out. He looks at Shouta, waiting for instructions. Shouta sighs. “I know there’s no address. His name is Hizashi Yamada,” he says slowly. “If you meet a barn owl named Faith, she knows where he is.” When the owl continues to just look at Shouta, Shouta grits his teeth. He’s just an animal, but he can almost read pity in his gaze. “Just...try your best,” he says.

Tangerine just turns away, hopping up to the window. He glances back at Shouta before looking back ahead, opening his wings and flying off.

It’s worse than a long shot. It’s a shot in the dark, hoping it’ll hit a vanishingly small target. He has no reason to think Hizashi is even still in the country, and no reason to think he’s not.

Nedzu had said Hizashi had never come to him. He had said the same thing that the Ministry witch had said—that Hizashi was an adult who could go where he wanted. Nobody has any reason to believe Hizashi is in danger—except that he’s not here. Except that he just vanished without a trace.

Except that he left his friends behind without a word.

Numbly, Shouta wanders to the bathroom, not for any particular reason. He leaves the door open, just gripping the sink, staring at his reflection in the mirror. This place should feel familiar, by now. It should feel like home, but it doesn’t and it won’t, not without Hizashi.

Being in love had been an ache, but it had almost felt good. A lake in his soul, filled every time Hizashi laughed or smiled or touched him, with every word he said to him, but now it’s a hole, drained all at once, hollow and empty. Now it hurts.

This place should feel like home, but even his reflection looks like a stranger now.

He’s not really thinking about what he’s doing. He’s just empty, outside of his own mind, as he picks up the pair of scissors.

This is grief, he realizes on some level. Like Hizashi is dead. He’s gone.

The handles of the scissors bite into his hand as he grips it way too hard. Slowly, carefully, like being gentle would matter here, he lifts a lock of his own hair. It’s getting so long now, past his shoulders. Years of growth.

He lifts the scissors to his head, near the roots of his hair, and closes the blades. The lock of hair falls into the sink, and he breathes out with it. Then he picks up another piece of hair, shearing it off.

It’s almost like a trance, hair and years falling from his head, and he doesn’t think of anything, just this action, until the door swings the rest of the way open. “Shouta?” Tensei asks.

It’s only when he turns to face him that he’s aware of the tear tracks down his cheeks. Something else to fall. “Oh, hey,” he mumbles.

Tensei just stands there for a moment, and Shouta turns back towards the mirror. His self-inflicted haircut doesn’t exactly look good, rough chunks of hair unevenly cut. He looks no more or less familiar to himself, but he’s starting to feel lighter, more free. Like letting go of something. Like practice.

Tensei steps closer, and when he reaches out to take the scissors, Shouta lets him have them. “Here,” he says, quietly. “Let me.”

Shouta acquiesces by just bending his head forward, over the sink.

Tensei hesitates for a moment before picking up a still-long piece of hair in the back. He carefully shears it off. “I think I can get it a little neater than you could,” he explains, still soft, talking to fill the silence but not pretending this isn’t what it is, not trying to make it normal and sane. Just trying to help.

Tensei combs his hand through Shouta’s hair, and Shouta closes his eyes for a moment. “You got some of this pretty short. I think I’m going to have to basically chop it all off for it to be even at all.”

Shouta doesn’t answer, and Tensei takes over, starting to carefully cut away the rest of his hair. Dark strands fill the sink, flutter to the floor.

Tensei’s hands are careful, gentle, meticulous. The way they feel lets him feel other things, like the tears still filling his eyes and rolling down his face.

“It’s...” Tensei starts, carefully clipping another piece of hair off. “He’ll be...” he starts, but when Shouta meets his eyes in the mirror, suddenly glaring, he stops. It would be worse than empty to say Hizashi will be back, because there’s no way to know. “It’s okay,” he settles on, and Shouta looks back down, letting him have that but not quite accepting the reassurance.

Finally, the noise of the scissors stops. Tensei’s hand falls on his shoulder, sitting there for a moment before patting him and moving away. “That’s about as good as I can make it look, I think,” he says.

Shouta meets his own eyes in the mirror. He looks like a different person now. Maybe someone who can live here. “Thanks,” he says quietly.

Tensei meets his eyes in the mirror, smiling sadly. “No problem.” He steps back, closer to the open bathroom door. “I think dinner’s almost done,” he coaxes.

Shouta makes himself look up, forces himself to ask a question. “What did you make?”

“I tried to bake some chicken. We’ll see how it turns out. Nemuri should be home soon, and we’ll see if she gets on my case for being a useless rich kid again or if I did good enough to escape that.” His smile gets easier at Shouta takes the bait, lets himself be lured out into the rest of the house.

“It doesn’t smell like it’s burning, at least.”

Tensei chuckles and Shouta wipes his face on his sleeve, taking a deep breath. His lungs feel clearer now, like he can breathe easier. Even if they’re not going to talk about it, not really, it feels better to be acknowledged. He’s never been so grateful to his decision to tell Tensei everything. He’s willing to carry some of that weight.

Shouta reaches up to run his hand through his barely-there hair and feels lighter.

Chapter Text

Shouta!

 

It’s summer, isn’t it? Summer doesn’t mean the same thing anymore, not since we’re adults now, but it feels wrong for it to be summer and not be writing to you.

So much of this feels wrong.

I mean, that doesn’t have to mean anything, does it? Sometimes you feel bad about doing the right thing. That’s just another way it can be hard. You’d know more about that than me, since you’re a Gryffindor. Were a Gryffindor. But it’s not like those traits really go away when you graduate.

This was a really Slytherin thing of me to do, I realize that. I’d do anything to protect the people I love. Including lie to them. To you. Because it’s you I’m protecting, because it’s you I love.

It’s kind of nice to just write that. There’s some merit to writing letters you can never send, I guess. I told you to do that a long time ago, didn’t I? Just write stuff down. I wonder if you ever did it.

I wish I could send this. I wish I could tell you everything. And I mean everything. What I’m doing, where I am, that I love you. But at least I get to know that you love me.

That’s meant a lot, these days. This isn’t easy. It doesn’t...count, I know it doesn’t count, the things I’ve had to do to make them think I’m one of them. It doesn’t count when I’m doing more good than harm, reporting everything to Nedzu. Not that he can really do anything about most of it, yet. Not without blowing my cover.

I just need to remember why I’m doing this. I can win this war and come home. I wish I’d ever seen it, where you guys are living now, so I’d have something to picture. Wish I could have lived there for the summer first, all of us together. Wish I’d had time to kiss you back. I just wish I knew what I was missing.

Anyway, I hope you’re doing well. I hope you’re safe. Is it worth it to sign a letter I’m just going to burn? I feel like I should. It’s just habit, at this point. Doesn’t feel finished without it.

 

Love, Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

I’m not even going to bother sending this letter. It’s my fourth one and Tangerine has never been able to find you before. Still, I’m writing it. Feels too strange to not sit down a write you a letter every so often in the summer.

This feels silly. I might as well be writing in a diary, but I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. Feels silly to address this to you when you’re never going to get it.

Well. I suppose as long as I’m writing, I should tell you some of the things that are going on.

Nedzu accepted Nemuri and Tensei into UA, too. He apparently was just messing with me, because he told them he needs everyone he can get. I don’t like that man. He never just says what he means. I always feel like he’s ten steps ahead, down a path he’s leading me down too. But he’s on our side. He is our side.

Being in UA doesn’t take as much of our time as I expected that it would. I guess because of the underground part. What we’re doing is mostly illegal, because we’re not part of the Ministry. The state has a monopoly on violence and we’re not afraid to get violent. We’re more like vigilantes than soldiers.

We all have jobs outside of UA. Tensei and I both have jobs in this cafe, because we can get hours outside of what Nedzu wants us to do. Nedzu got Nemuri a job at the Ministry, though, and most of what she does for him is flirting information out of different bureaucrats. She can finally use her powers for good.

We’re getting settled in, here. It feels wrong to be making a home without you, but it’ll be here for you if you ever come home.

I’m not going to beg you to come home in a letter I’m not even going to send. That would be pathetic. I can acknowledge how much I want you here, though. It doesn’t matter how you feel about me. You’re still family.

It wasn’t that, was it? I don’t think you ran away because I tried to kiss you. I think you were planning to leave before that. As mad as I am at the idea that you were planning something, at least that might mean you’re safe.

This has gotten very long. I guess I had a lot of things to say to “you”. I guess I have more things to say now that you’re not listening than I ever did when you were. I’d say all this if you were going to get this letter, though.

Goodbye, until I feel like writing again.

 

Shouta.

 

 

Shouta. Shouta, Shouta, Shouta.

 

I miss you. I’ve missed you before, and you’d think that would have been practice for this, but this is worse. I don’t know when I’ll be home and I don’t know who I’m going to be when I get there.

I miss Nemuri and Tensei too, but I guess not in a way that makes me write them letters I’m not going to send. I want them to be safe, too, but they were never in as much danger as you, and as cold as it sounds...I think I could survive either of them dying.

I’ve had to think a lot about what I can survive, what I’m capable of. I didn’t know how hard this would be. I thought about the danger but not what I’d have to do. I guess I’m glad I didn’t. I said I’d do anything and I meant it. It would have been pointless to know what this would be like ahead of time.

I don’t know if I want to tell you everything, to confess it all, or never let you know, never write it out, not even in a letter I’m going to burn.

I killed someone today.

Okay, yeah. Saying it is a weight off my chest. I’m exaggerating a little bit, but that’s what my guilt is doing. It wasn’t my curse that killed him, but I was there, I helped, and I couldn’t do anything to stop them, to save him.

He wasn’t just some random Muggleborn, he was part of some anti-League thing. Or they thought he was, anyway. Suspicion was enough.

I saw you the whole time. That would have been you if I wasn’t here. I saw you, but I also saw him. I joined for you, but if this saves the lives of strangers too...I’d like to say I would have joined UA even if I’d never met you, but I don’t think I would have. Still, I’m here now, and I just have to remember what I’m fighting for.

It’s late now, and I can see the stars outside the window in my room. The stars make me think of you, all the times we sat and watched them. Remember fifth year, when I almost kissed you? And then seventh year, when you almost kissed me. It would have been so easy to just kiss you back. Or even just let you kiss me before I pushed you away. But—I don’t think I could have pushed you away, then. I want you so bad, you know that? I just want to kiss you once before I die.

Or more than once, ideally. But, you know. Don’t want to be greedy. I don’t get much of what I want. But that’s okay. Because we’ll win this war and I’ll come home and maybe, maybe you’ll still be there, and then anything can happen.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so fixated on kissing you. I never got to do that, but I got a lot of time with you. I hugged you a bunch of times, and you always hugged me back. I held your hand, that night when you were in the hospital. For now, at least, all that will have to be enough.

Oh, I haven’t told you what my actual goal is. The League has a leader, and he’s super mysterious but Nedzu thinks he’s pretty load-bearing, and he wants to find him and take him out, and he thinks that when we do, the whole thing will pretty much fall apart. So that’s what I’m trying to do, find as much information about him as I can.

As sick as I feel about having helped kill someone today, I hope I get to be the one to take that bastard out. I would take any amount of guilt for that.

I just need this war to be over. I just need to go home.

Is it weird that I think of a place I’ve never been as home? It’s because you’re there. You three are my family.

 

Love you, Hizashi

Chapter Text

It’s been two months since Hizashi left. Two months being adults and fighting a war without him.

Whenever he is, Hizashi turned eighteen earlier this month, and now it’s Tensei’s turn. Despite being the most mature and level-headed of the four of them—Shouta still thinks of them as four, despite Hizashi not being here—he’s the youngest, though only younger than Hizashi by less than a month.

They’re celebrating today, or rather, tonight, all of them home from work—Nedzu had agreed that they needed a night off, and Tensei has never celebrated his birthday with his friends before, since his birthday is in the summer.

Nemuri had the whole day off, and she had gotten rather into the concept of a birthday party, so there are conjured streamers tacked up all over the ceiling—though some have come down, hanging like strands of brightly-colored cobweb through the apartment. There’s a cake, too, with bright colors of uneven icing and eighteen candles. It looks a little bit like a party for Tenya rather than Tensei, but it feels like they need that. They’re adults fighting a war, but they’re still so young, and they’ve had to grow up in all the important ways—they can still act like kids for one night.

“This cake is really good,” Tensei says with his mouth full, gesturing with him fork at Nemuri, who’s doing something in the kitchen. It’s kind of not good, actually, it’s kind of dry in some parts and too wet in others, but the sugary frosting piled on it makes it not so bad. Shouta doesn’t disagree, just carefully taking a bite from the middle of the two zones. There’s an area where it’s more or less balanced.

When Nemuri comes back from the kitchen, she’s got a mug of steaming hot chocolate in one hand and a bottle of firewhiskey in the other—because they’re all eighteen, not actually five. She carefully settles back on the couch, uncapping the bottle and pouring a generous portion into her mug.

“You’re going to get sick from all that sugar,” Shouta says. Nemuri’s slice of cake is only half-finished, but it was big.

She just shrugs with a sharp smile, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “So? It’s a party. It’s not a party if you’re not sick from something by the end of the night.” She takes a drink of her hot chocolate and laughs. “That’s strong! The sugar and the alcohol are going to have to fight over which one is going to make me puke.”

Shouta watches her for a second, then shrugs. “It’s your stomach, I guess.”

She gives him a superior look. “Damn right.”

Nemuri goes to put the cap back on the bottle, but before she can, Tensei grabs it from her, putting his mouth around the end of the bottle and taking a swig. Both of his friends watch him for a moment, wide eyed, before Nemuri cheers.

Tensei grins easily as he passes her back the bottle, letting her put it to her mouth and tip it towards the ceiling, following his lead. He has a really nice smile, not as sunny-bright as Hizashi’s, but always with a lazy, unconcerned air to it. Like everything is going to be alright.

“Leave some for me,” Shouta says, reaching for the bottle.

Nemuri passes it to him. It’s half-empty now. “We’ve got more. We’re all big boys and girls, one bottle isn’t going to get us all as wasted as we need to be.”

“It’s wartime,” Tensei says, and for a second Shouta thinks he’s disagreeing, but he just tips his head back, yelling at the ceiling. “We need to get drunk!”

Nemuri laughs and gestures towards him with her mug before taking a long drink. “You’re the birthday boy, that makes you the boss!” She takes another drink, then adds, “Not of me. I’m un-bossable. But you can be the boss of Shouta.”

Shouta is occupied by taking a drink from the bottle. It burns his mouth and throat when he swallows, and he makes a face. “You can’t pledge me to him like that,” Shouta argues, rolling his eyes, but it’s not too strong of a statement. He’s already taking another drink.

There’s not an empty seat on the couch, just like there’s not an empty bedroom, but Hizashi’s ghost is in the room. Maybe if he drinks more, he’ll stop listening for him.

A couple hours later, the plates are empty, the rest of the cake put away, and Tensei is spread out like he’s melting into the couch, his head laid back against the cushions, looking up at the ceiling as he talks. Both of his arms are out along the back of the couch. “I need to go home soon. Or visit my parents, anyway. Is it weird that I think of both places as home? Here and there. I want to see Tenya. I don’t want him to forget about me. Do either of you want to come with me?” He rolls his head to each side, looking at his friends.

Nemuri is cuddled against his side, her knees drawn up to her chest, her head resting on Tensei’s arm, and she has to open her eyes before she answers. “Sure,” she says, slow and sleepy. “I’d get at least...” she yawns, then settles her head back down. “...at least one good meal out of it.”

Shouta had been sitting forward earlier, but now, even though he’s not as cuddly or melted as his friends, his shoulders are still resting against Tensei’s arm, their legs touching. He shrugs. “If I can get some time off.”

They lapse into silence for a moment. There’s so much they’re not talking about, so much they have to ignore to have some semblance of a good time, a night off.

Hizashi is not less gone. Shouta looks over at Nemuri and shifts closer to Tensei, pressing their sides together. It’s warm and comfortable, and the only reaction he gets is that Tensei’s arm moves from behind him to curl closer around his shoulder.

Tensei rolls his head back over towards Nemuri. “Aw, look at her,” he says, quietly.

Shouta leans forward to see. She has her eyes closed again, her face slack and unburdened, but as he watches, her brow creases. “I’m not asleep,” she protests without opening her eyes.

“You probably should be,” Tensei says, and he unwinds his arm from behind Shouta, leaning forward. “Come on, let’s get you in bed.”

“I’m not a kid,” she whines. “I can go to bed on my own!”

“You can,” Tensei agrees easily, standing up. “But if you want I can tuck you in. Like an adult.”

Nemuri giggles. “Ooh, how can I turn down an offer like that?” She opens her eyes to grin lasciviously at him.

Tensei laughs too. “Not what I meant.” He grabs her hand and pulls her off the couch. On her feet, she sways. “Do you want tucked in or not?”

“Yeahhh,” she says, grinning. “Tuck me in!”

“Get in bed, then,” Tensei says, and they both stumble towards her bedroom, and Shouta is alone.

He sits forward, pulling a discarded bottle into his lap. It’s almost empty, but he presses it to his lips and finishes off the last of it. It doesn’t burn as much now. Now that the room is empty—just him and the lack of Hizashi—he can really feel how drunk he is, the room spinning slowly.

Tensei is gone long enough that Shouta wonders if he’s coming back. Maybe he just fell asleep with Nemuri. Maybe he should go to bed too.

Instead, he cradles the empty bottle and stares at the wall, and before long, Tensei comes back into the room, shutting Nemuri’s door behind himself. “That girl is like an octopus, I swear,” he laughs. He’s being a bit of a hypocrite, because when he sits down, he’s pressed right up against Shouta, his arm around his shoulders again.

Shouta feels too loose and boneless to tense. It feels good, even more so when Tensei’s hand comes up to pet his hair, digging in and scratching gently. “That feels good,” he finds himself saying, not conscious of having decided to speak. He’s vaguely aware, in the back of his head, that this wouldn’t be happening if they weren’t drunk—but they are drunk, and right now it’s just nice.

“Good,” Tensei’s warm voice says in his ear. “Your hair is starting to grow back.”

“Yeah,” Shouta agrees, letting his eyes slip closed. Tensei is still petting him, and it feels so nice.

If only there wasn’t that ache, still there, that disconnect, because—that’s not Hizashi’s hand. Not Hizashi’s side pressed up against his. It feels like Tensei is standing in front of that hole, not filling it. The edges are still so cold.

“Are you going to let it get as long as it was before, or are you going to keep it short?”

Shouta doesn’t open his eyes. “I don’t know. I like it long.”

Tensei talks like he doesn’t quite know what he’s saying, just letting words fall out of his mouth. “If you like it long, you should let it get long. You shouldn’t...you shouldn’t let him control you forever. You should let it grow back.”

Shouta doesn’t respond.

“You can’t wait for him to come back forever,” Tensei continues, and Shouta can feel the motion as he gestures with his other arm. His fingers are still carding through his short hair, and he’s warm and solid and the contact feels nice. With his eyes closed, it feels like he’s in a field of stars, spinning around him. That, too, is comforting. Like he’s somewhere as empty as he feels. “We don’t even know why he left, he’s not coming back.”

At this, Shouta pulls away, opening his eyes. “You don’t know that,” he says, and it comes out more vehement than he thought it would. More than he really means or feels. Hope is a strange thing. Sometimes it feels like Hizashi is just in the next room, and Shouta will look up and he’ll be back. Other times, it seems like he must be dead, like that’s the only explanation.

Tensei’s arm tightens around him. “Sorry,” he says, and Shouta relaxes back into his touch. He doesn’t really want it to stop. “I don’t want to talk about him. We’re supposed to be having fun.” They lapse back into silence, and Shouta definitely doesn’t mind, because his hand had stopped for a moment but now it’s started moving again, smoothing over his hair. “Your birthday is next. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.” Maybe it’s time to start doing things for his birthday again. He hardly has nightmares anymore. Surprisingly, he hadn’t had any after he got the scar on his arm. “This is nice.”

“It is nice,” Tensei agrees, a little bit less than lightly. “It’s my birthday, today. Do you know what I want?” There’s something weird in his tone, something heavy and significant, and Shouta cracks open his eyes, turning to look at him. His hand stills, no longer petting, but it doesn’t leave, just holding the back of his head. He’s looking right at Shouta, and the position they’re in puts their faces so close together.

“What do you want?” Shouta’s head feels too fuzzy to try and guess, or start trying to figure out what this means.

“This,” Tensei says, and kisses him.

His mouth is warm and wet and Shouta has never kissed anyone before, and first he stiffens, but the room is spinning and all his thoughts are hazy and blurred and he can’t hold the thought of how surprised he is, how he never expected this, that’s all just replaced by the sensation of Tensei’s mouth moving against his, clumsy and insistent. Without really thinking about it, he makes a noise and presses closer, trying to figure out how to kiss back, trying to match his movements. By the rumble in the back of Tensei’s throat, he likes that.

When they break apart for breath, they don’t say anything. Shouta doesn’t really have any words to say about this, except for maybe something pointless, something like ‘oh’ or ‘do that again’, which he doesn’t need to say because Tensei is only shifting away to face him more fully, kissing him again, harder this time, and the hand that isn’t on the back of his head grabs his shoulder, pressing him back against the arm of the couch.

Shouta just lets himself be moved. If he closes his eyes, it almost feels like Tensei could be anyone, even though he doesn’t want to kiss just anyone, just one person, and he’s not here.

Still, it feels good, feels close and human and real, sensation over emotion and thought, as Shouta lets his head fall back, bending to the loose boneless feeling in his body, and Tensei moves his lips down to his neck.

A noise comes out of him, somewhere between a gasp and a moan, and Shouta squirms, overwhelmed. “We’re...really drunk.” He doesn’t mean to speak, doesn’t mean to say anything at all, and he’s definitely not saying ‘stop’, just stating facts, but Tensei pulls back anyway.

“Shit, yeah,” he sighs, sitting back, no longer over Shouta, and he misses his hands, feels cold. “We probably shouldn’t...”

“I...yeah,” Shouta agrees after a moment, gaze skating over to Nemuri’s closed door. He’s torn between ‘keep kissing me’ and ‘you’re not him’—but it’s not like Tensei doesn’t know that. “We should...go to bed.”

“It’s late, isn’t it,” Tensei agrees. He turns so he’s sitting down, then pushes himself up so he’s standing. He hesitates for a moment, then offers Shouta a hand that he takes, pulling himself to his feet. He shifts awkwardly. “Well...goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Shouta says, and Tensei shifts in place again, hand moving like he’s going to reach out and touch him, but then it drops, and he turns, heading for the door of his room.

It closes behind him, and then Shouta is alone again.

Just him and Hizashi’s ghost.

Chapter Text

The sun falls into his eyes like sand, and at first Shouta just rolls over, pressing his face into his pillow. But he can’t breathe like that, and Sooty is chattering away at the foot of the bed, wanting to be fed. When she moves to standing on his back, he finally carefully sits up, knocking her gently off as he swings his legs over the side of the bed to stand up.

When he reaches the kitchen, both Nemuri and Tensei are there, looking as tired as he feels. Nemuri’s hair is a mess, twice its normal size and tangled-looking. She yawns and gives him a nod and a grunt, sipping at her coffee. Tensei hands him an already-poured cup. “Morning,” he says.

Shouta takes the cup somewhat warily, but his eyes and hands don’t linger. “Morning,” he returns shortly. Sooty winds around his ankles, still chirping, and he takes a sip of coffee before setting it down to pour food into her bowl.

It isn’t until late that night, when Shouta is sitting in bed reading, Sooty curled up asleep in his lap, that there’s a knock on his door. “Come in,” he calls, folding the corner of his page and shutting it.

Tensei shuts the door behind him. Shouta tosses his book on the floor as he crosses the room, and Sooty wakes with a chirp as he puts his hands on her.

Tensei hesitates for a moment before sitting next to Shouta on the bed. His hands fold together between his knees. Finally, he lets out a breath, looking over at Shouta. “Sorry for...kissing you when we were drunk.”

He looks so earnest, slightly apologetic but also with a questioning edge to his tone. Shouta shrugs, not quite meeting his eyes. “It’s okay.”

“I know I probably shouldn’t have done that,” Tensei continues.

“It’s okay,” Shouta repeats. He looks down at Sooty, scratching behind her ears as she starts to purr. “It’s not like I...hated it.” He looks up as Sooty stands up. “I kissed you back.”

“That’s true,” Tensei agrees, nodding. “But we were drunk. Lowered inhibitions, and all that.” It’s almost a question. He sounds hopeful.

Shouta glances down again, running his hand along Sooty’s back, taking a moment to think. He knows what the question is; he’s not sure what his answer is. It had felt good, at the time. It had done something to the way he misses Hizashi, but not anything as simple as soothing or exacerbating it. Covered it up, maybe. Outlined it. Stirred it up. Laid it down.

Finally, he looks up, meeting Tensei’s eyes. “I’d still have kissed back if we weren’t drunk, though.” It’s not quite curiosity that wins out, more of a desire for a new sensation. Not moving on but living past.

Tensei shifts closer. “We’re not drunk now.”

When he shifts, Sooty jumps off his lap. “No, we’re not.” He’s not quite willing to make the first move.

In the end, both of their penchant for directness wins out. “Do you want to now?”

Shouta moves to tuck his hair behind his ear before realizing it’s not there anymore. He settles for running his hand through his hair instead. “Sure.”

“Alright,” Tensei says, and now it’s his hand that comes up to card through Shouta’s hair. When his hand reaches the back of his head, he uses it to pull Shouta into a kiss.

Sober, he’s less clumsy, but still just as confident. He goes slow, letting Shouta figure out how best to fit their mouths together, how much to press back against him.

Tensei’s hand slides down to the back of his neck, tightening as Shouta tries opening his mouth, pushing his tongue into his mouth. He seems to like that, making a small noise that Shouta thinks might be approving.

He gets lost in the movement, in the sensation, and when they break apart, he’s breathing a little harder. At some point, his hand had come up to land on Tensei’s chest. He’s broad and solid, warm under his shirt.

There’s something interesting in Tensei’s eyes, half-hooded. “You’re really pretty, Shouta.”

Somehow, that hits him harder than anything else. Hizashi doesn’t want him, but he’s here with someone who does. It’s a little baffling that someone would think he’s attractive, and he’s not sure how to deal with it other than by pulling Tensei into another kiss.

Shouta is pretty confident that he’s gotten the hang of this when Tensei’s hand moves from the back of his neck to his chest and pushes, more gently than last night, just a suggestion, but it’s one Shouta decides to take, laying back on his bed.

Tensei follows him, chasing after his mouth. One of his hands pushes underneath his shirt. His mouth leaves Shouta’s to move down to his neck.

Emotion and sensation share the word feeling. There’s not room to miss Hizashi. This room has only two people in it.

Tensei’s mouth lights up his body, and when he shifts underneath him, something hard presses against his thigh. He stills, surprised, because it hasn’t really sunk in yet, despite what they’re doing, that Tensei wants him. Tensei moves to a new part of his neck, his teeth grazing against the thin skin over his pulse, and that presses his erection more fully against him. It’s exciting, making him suck in a breath, and he’s starting to get hard too. His hands had been down on the bed, but now he lifts one, curling it experimentally around Tensei’s hip. Then moving in a little.

Tensei groans when his hand makes it to the bulge in his jeans, pulling back to look at him. “Shouta.”

“Yeah?” He’s high off the way Tensei’s breath hitches when he digs his fingertips in, pressing down with the heel of his palm.

“You don’t—have to.”

“I want to,” Shouta says, a little impatiently, as uses his other hand to drag Tensei back into the kiss. He breaks it when he starts fumbling with the button on his pants, finding he has to concentrate to open it one-handed.

This isn’t Hizashi, but even if Hizashi comes home...this is the closest he’s ever going to get to knowing what it would be like to do this with him.

Tensei gives him a quiet moan when Shouta pushes his underwear down and wraps a hand around his cock. What kind of sound would Hizashi make? His voice is higher, and the weight of his body wouldn’t be as heavy.

Hopefully he’s eating enough, wherever he is.

Shouta stops thinking so much when Tensei starts touching him, too. Emotion and sensation share a word, a space. He’s not thinking anymore, just flickering back and forth between Tensei and Hizashi on top of him.

Tensei pants into his shoulder and Shouta bucks his hips up, a high moan caught in his throat. He’s so caught up in this, chasing the feeling, riding it away from his thoughts, away from the hollow in his chest. The touch feels good—there’s the pleasure and the closeness, the basic human connection, and since Hizashi left he’s been lonely, even with his friends as close as they are.

This helps, as Tensei spreads his legs further apart, starting to thrust down into his hand. His next kiss is desperate, trying to devour him, pressing his head back into the pillow. This isn’t more than a way to get his mind off things.

There’s nothing but Tensei on top of him, the world narrowed down to his body, thinking no farther than that, his hand stroking, Tensei’s hand on his cock, both of their breathing rough.

“Shouta,” Tensei pants, eyes screwed shut in pleasure. “Oh, fuck, Shouta.”

Shouta doesn’t say his name. That almost feels dishonest, not genuine. He doesn’t say anything.

The world spirals down, collapsing into a single point, a wave of pleasure he’s rushing out into, as the tide swells and fills him, until Tensei is stiffening over him, moaning long and low, twitching in his hand, but his hand keeps working and it’s not long before Shouta follows him, with just a grunt and a twitch of his hips, painting his stomach.

Tensei rolls over and collapses next to him, laying on his side. Shouta stays on his back, his eyes finally open, staring at the ceiling. So. That was that.

“Thanks,” Tensei says, his voice as slurred as it was when he was drunk.

Shouta huffs. “I don’t really know, but I don’t think you’re supposed to thank me.”

Tensei laughs, a quiet warm chuckle. “You’re right. Still. That was good.”

“Mm.” Shouta doesn’t give more of a reply, not an agreement or an argument. “That was my first time,” he comments.

“Mine too.” Tensei doesn’t move closer or further away, just lying there next to him.

Shouta rolls his head to the side to look at him. “You’re not straight.”

Tensei’s face twists. “No...I guess not,” he says slowly. “Not all the way, anyway. I’m not gay. I still like girls.”

“Okay,” Shouta says, shrugging. Something makes him say what he says next. “You like me, though.”

Tensei sucks in a breath. Just a tiny noise, almost lost. “I know you still love Hizashi.”

“Yeah,” Shouta says, speaking to the ceiling again. If anything is certain, it’s that. “I do.” Even if Hizashi is never coming back, he hasn’t even thought about not being in love with him.

“I didn’t want more than this,” Tensei says. It’s not a tentative statement; it’s almost too forceful. “I’m attracted to you. But that’s it.”

It’s easy enough to believe it, and Shouta nods. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

Hizashi.

 

So. I’m writing to you again.

It’s not really you, I know. You’re not going to respond. I’m not even sending this letter.

Just...there’s a lot going on, and I feel like I need to tell you, in some way.

Tensei kissed me. That shouldn’t be the most significant thing in my life right now, since we’re both fighting a war, but somehow it is. He kissed me, and I kissed him back.

Well, we did a lot more than that.

I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I guess it helps that it’s not really you. You didn’t tell me about the first time you slept with Nemuri. I’m still kind of glad you didn’t, but betrayed at the same time. What else haven’t you told me? You never really told me about your dad, I just picked up on what you weren’t saying. It must have been bad for you to leave like that.

But then, you left me, too. Left us. What does that mean?

I kind of thought the thing with Tensei would be a one-time thing, but it hasn’t been. We’ve slept together a couple times now. He says it’s not more than sex, and I don’t know whether to believe him or not. I guess it doesn’t really change my behavior, one way or another, but I’d like to know.

I know I’m being irrational. I’ve got someone here who wants me, might love me, and I’m still just pining for you. Even though I know you don’t want me like that.

It might be easier if you were here. If I could actually tell you. Then maybe I’d feel less like I was betraying you.

I should move on. I know. Of course I know. It’s been four months. It’s almost October. Last year we were both back at Hogwarts. I would have seen you by now, in any other year. Now I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again.

I don’t know that you’re not dead! Hizashi, if I just knew that you were okay, I think I could move on. I still think you chose to leave. You were acting so strangely before you disappeared. I think you meant to leave, but I just don’t know why. Where are you? What are you doing?

That’s enough whining about that, I suppose. It’s not like you’re going to answer my questions.

I might as well tell you what else has been going on.

Nemuri, Tensei, and I were sent on a mission together. Nedzu got a tip about an attack the League planned on a Muggleborn family, and we were able to show up first, get them somewhere safe. The League showed up right as we were leaving, though, and we had to fight. I’ve been in a few battles, but never with what I was fighting for so close. They had kids, and I was holding one, a little three-year-old boy. He never screamed, never made a noise, just clung to my neck almost tight enough to choke me. There were spells flying from both sides—you’ve never seen Nemuri and Tensei fight, but she’s ruthless and he’s so fast. I’m still better at defending than attacking, but I’ve never regretted that less than in this fight. A stunning spell meant for me might have killed that little boy, but none of them ever reached us.

We got them all out. They’re all alive and safe because of us. That feels good. That’s a reason not to give up.

Wherever you are, do you feel like giving up? Do you miss us? We all miss you. I love you.

 

Shouta.

 

 

Shouta,

 

Hey, Shouta. I shouldn’t be writing this, it’s always dangerous, just having this down in words for however long it takes me to write is a bad idea, and I know that. It’s stupid and silly, because I might as well just be thinking this, because I’m not going to send it to you. It’s not summer anymore, but that only makes missing you worse. How are you? What are you doing these days? I hope you’re safe and I hope you’re living a normal life. I hope you’re okay.

I’m not. Shouta, I’m falling apart, I want to go home.

I just want to see you, once. I just want to know that you’re okay. All Nedzu will tell me is that you’re alive. He doesn’t know anything else. You’re alive.

I want you to be safer than me. I’m never safe, now. I spend all of my time around people who would kill me if they found out what I was doing, and I’m so tired. I’m scared.

There’s not much that keeps me going—just you and the thought that I’m doing some good. I finally got news that something I reported could be used, though. That I’m really doing something here.

My main goal is to get as close as I can to the leader, but I report on everything I can. There’s so much I know that Nedzu doesn’t do anything about—I just have to hope that he really does know what he’s doing, that finding this leader is as important as he claims.

But there was going to be this attack on this Muggleborn family. They had kids, three of them. They even had a baby. The entire family was supposed to die, murdered in their home in the middle of the night. Nedzu told me he would take a risk and send some people in to protect them, and it worked. They all escaped, and there were no deaths on either side.

But it doesn’t matter! They’re just targeting a new family, and we can’t block them a second time without them knowing there’s a spy—if they suspect, I haven’t heard about it. Which might just mean that they suspect me. I don’t even know how much danger I’m in.

I’ve been thinking lately about disobeying Nedzu’s orders and sending you a letter. Just one. I know it’s dangerous but I’m falling apart, I can’t do this anymore. I miss you too much. I’m fighting for someone I can’t even see, I don’t even know how you’re doing. I just want to see you once.

 

Love, Hizashi

Chapter Text

It’s a trap. Shouta knows it’s a trap, but he’s here anyway, trying not to look too alert. He’s not afraid; he never is, not when he has his wand in his hand, standing up. Not when he’s on his feet, facing the danger.

This mission is dangerous enough that Nedzu had asked for volunteers instead of just assigning people. He’d had his pick, and Nemuri and Tensei had been among them, but they were picked for a different mission, and today Shouta is paired with a witch he doesn’t know well. She looks nervous, her movements sharp, but she was one of the volunteers, and he doesn’t think she’s going to back down.

He looks over at her as he knocks on the door. She hasn’t drawn her wand, but her hand is just barely in her pocket, her palm over the handle. Ready to go. She nods at him, and he turns back to the door, knocking again. There’s no answer, but they have to pretend to actually expect the family they’re trying to protect to be here.

It might be too soon, when he reaches for the door handle, but it’s not even certain they’re being watched, and he can’t wait any more. It turns in his hand, unlocked. A clumsy trap.

As soon as the door opens, a spell shoots past him, a bolt of bright green light, and it’s too sudden for him to dodge, but it misses. There’s no surprise from either of them as they both draw their wands as their backs hit the space on each side of the door. Shouta looks over at his partner, her face determined, and he’s sure she would go first, but he nods sharply, wand raised as he storms through the door.

It’s dark, and he’s at a disadvantage for a moment, silhouetted by the streetlights outside but unable to see anybody in the room. Then the witch behind him appears in the doorway, firing off a spell that bounces around the room for a moment, casting crazy shadows and showing him two hooded figures, before hitting a lamp and turning it on. The light is still low, more shadows and dimness than he’d really like in a battle, but it’s something.

When the light comes on, one of the two figures startles, a movement exaggerated enough to be obvious even with his face covered. That makes him turn, targeting that one, a stunning spell ready.

No.

It’s not him.

This wizard doesn’t even really look like Shouta; it’s the bad lighting playing tricks on Hizashi. Shouta has always kept his hair long and this man’s hair is close-cropped. It’s just how much he wants to see him playing up the similarities between their faces.

He still doesn’t expect it when the wizard who isn’t Shouta sends a spell his way, and he just barely deflects it, the wind from the spell whipping around him, tearing back his hood, and oh, his voice. If his face was familiar, his voice as he casts the spell is unmistakable, and the way his eyes widen when he sees Hizashi’s face…

In that moment of recognition, there’s no future, no danger, nothing other than the sudden horror on Shouta’s face, and Hizashi doesn’t even think, just blurts out, “Shouta! I’m—”

He’s never seen anyone move faster. The first spell hits him, but it doesn’t hurt, instead cutting off his words, making his mouth move soundlessly as he tries to keep talking. The next hits the League member next to him, a bolt of red light that makes her crumple to the floor.

The next spell, so fast and fluid there’s no time for anyone to react, is directed at the witch next to him, and she too falls, unconscious.

For a moment, Hizashi gapes, trying to catch up on what just happened. Even when Shouta casts the counterspell, letting him make noise again, he can’t speak. Shouta isn’t a traitor, he can’t be, but for just a second, the world is upside down, and everything is wrong.

Hizashi,” Shouta breathes, and suddenly he can talk again.

“Shouta, what did you just—” Hizashi says slowly, body numb with shock.

“Hizashi,” he repeats, low and urgent now. “What were you going to say?” His wand is up again, pointed at him. Pointed at him, like he’s a threat, like they’re on opposite sides of more than this room, but his voice is filled with such raw need, begging him.

It doesn’t matter. For just a moment, nothing else matters. There’s just Shouta and everything he’s needed to say for months. “I’m a spy,” he says quietly. “I’m not with them, I’m not a traitor, I’m a spy.”

Shouta’s wand drops, and then he’s crossing the room, wrapping Hizashi up in a crushing hug.

Hizashi makes a sound like a sob, gripping him just as tightly back. Like he’s never going to let go. Like nothing could pull them apart. All of a sudden, for the first time in months, he feels safe.

Shouta laughs in his ear, a quiet sound of overwhelming relief. “You were just going to shout that out, huh?”

Hizashi’s laugh is weak and watery. “Y-yeah, I guess so.”

“You’re a terrible spy,” Shouta says, pulling back to look at him, and when their eyes meet in the lamplight, Hizashi falls into them, and any response he had gets lost.

Shouta’s hands are on his waist. He’s gotten taller again—he doesn’t need to look down to stare into his eyes. He looks so different with his hair gone, but his eyes are the same, now shining out something beautiful.

It’s silent, just their breathing, just their heartbeats, and Hizashi moves his hands from Shouta’s back to his face, cradling it between them. Shouta’s eyes go soft, both their breathing shallow.

He can’t hold back now. Shouta is here, solid in his arms, heart hammering against his, and that’s all that matters.

I missed you so much,” Hizashi whispers, and pulls him into a kiss.

It’s soft, gentle, infinitely tender, and short, because Shouta stiffens and pulls back, staring at him wide-eyed.

Then he grabs Hizashi’s face and kisses him like his life depends on it, like he’s dying, like this is wartime and they could both die in the next moment, and like all he wants before then is Hizashi.

Hizashi makes a sound, something wounded, longing that can’t be quelled, and kisses back just as desperately.

For now, it’s just them, the only two people in the universe, and it might be mostly electricity lighting the room, not the starfire between them, but the stars are somewhere, turning above and below them, spinning into this moment.

Shouta’s hands are moving around to his back, trying to pull him closer, and Hizashi’s hands find their way into Shouta’s hair, and it’s too short for them to tangle, just long enough to cover his fingers.

But they’re not alone. One of the people on the ground makes a noise, and they jump apart, both panting for breath, chests heaving. Hizashi’s hand goes to his bruised lips. “I—I need to go. We need to go.” He turns, pacing this way and then that, gaze flying around the room. “I think I need to stun you, and take her,” he says, gesturing to the League witch on the floor. “A memory spell,” he says, mostly to himself. “I’ve never done it before, but...”

Shouta nods, face set. His eyes are glued to Hizashi, following him with an intense look. “Okay.”

Hizashi’s face twists as he looks back at him, twisting his hands together once and then letting them fall by his sides, grabbing his wand. “I’m sorry.” He’s sorry about a lot of things—that he has to leave, that he ever left in the first place, that he has to hurt Shouta now. “I’ll be—I’ll be gentle?”

Shouta shakes his head impatiently, breaking his stare at Hizashi to glance down at the unconscious body on the floor. “Just do it.”

Hizashi raises his wand slowly. Shouta doesn’t flinch. “I love you,” he says, and there’s not even enough time to see the look on Shouta’s face before the bolt of red light from Hizashi’s wand hits him in the chest and he’s falling back, limp.

Hizashi bends to grab the witch beside him and apparates away.

Chapter Text

Shouta is waiting for it, but when he hears the noise that means Hizashi has apparated behind him, he still turns and says, “You shouldn’t be here.”

“I know.” It’s finally happened; Shouta just turns and then Hizashi is there, in his living room, looking not quite real there. He’s never been here before, but he doesn’t look around, keeping his eyes on Shouta. “I just...couldn’t stay away,” he says softly. Then he does look around, looking a little panicked. “Why was I able to do that?” he demands. “Why was I able to just apparate in here? You’re apparently working with Nedzu, but even if you weren’t, your place should be warded!” He stalks a few paces closer to Shouta, his eyes burning.

For a moment, Shouta is taken aback, scowls back at him, pushing back against his anger. “It is,” he growls. Then he recognizes the emotion and says, more calmly, “It is. But I put them up. They recognize you.”

For a moment, Hizashi just looks at him, the fire dropping out of his eyes, replaced by something deep and liquid. The room is dark, lit only by the streetlight shining in through the window, and his green eyes look dark and bottomless, an ocean. “They shouldn’t,” he says quietly. “I left.”

For just a moment, Shouta feels like the words are wrapped around his heart, squeezing painfully tight, like it’s all happening again, even though Hizashi is right here, like he’s going to do it again, dissolve into mist. He’s seized suddenly with the urge to reach out and touch him, to make sure he’s real, truly here.

Something makes him hold himself back. This is all horribly fragile, small even though it’s the whole world, just them in this room. Nemuri and Tensei are still on their mission, they’re alone in the apartment; they might as well be alone in the universe. Even though Hizashi had kissed him, he’s scared, like he’s going to take that away too, like he can’t trust that either, like he dreamed it, like what he’d thought Hizashi said right before he stunned him—

In the end, all he says, voice neutral, is “You did.”

Hizashi doesn’t reach out either. Doesn’t cross the room. “I’m sorry, for whatever that means. I didn’t—I didn’t want to. I never—never wanted to be anywhere but your side.”

It’s all just words. Just like they’ve always been, something he could have said a year ago without it meaning anything—or maybe it’s always meant everything. Shouta realizes his hands are in fists, his teeth clenched, and he tries to relax them. “I’m mad at you,” he says, all his words just behind his teeth—I mourned you, I missed you, I thought you were dead, I love you.

It’s just barely bright enough to see Hizashi’s ghost of a kicked-dog smile. “I know,” he says. “I’d be mad at me, too. But...” Now he does step forward, into the pool of light from the streetlights outside, and it leaves his face in shadow but illuminates the hand by his side, only just barely moving forward. “I’m in love with you.”

They’ve been here before. It feels just like all the times before, when they were kids—they were so young then, and somehow even younger now, eighteen and fighting a war. It’s just like every other time they’ve been under these stars, except that this time Shouta moves forward, taking the hand that’s reaching for him. It’s solid, warm and long smooth fingers, it’s Hizashi and he’s real, he’s here. “I love you too.”

For a moment, Hizashi just closes his eyes, taking a breath like he’s breathing in the words. He steps closer, lifting their links hands to touch Shouta’s cheek with his fingertips. “I love you,” he says, like he’s saying it for the first time again, but also like he’s been saying it since they met, and then he pulls Shouta in, fitting their mouths together.

This is real. This is here, it’s now, and it’s more than words could ever say. Shouta takes his hand back to touch him, to confirm, to solidify—his face, his neck, his shoulders, his back. Hizashi does the same, hands running over him, first careful and slow, then harder, both hands on his back to pull him closer.

Hizashi doesn’t stop kissing him for more than a gasp of air before taking his mouth again, hands holding him close as he turns them, walking them back to where he can put his hands on Shouta’s shoulders and push him down on the couch, giving him only a moment to look up at him before he’s climbing onto his lap and kissing him again, desperately hard.

It’s not smooth and practiced, he kisses like he’s never done it before, like there’s a flood on his tongue and he’s the force behind it, or maybe just trying to ride it out. Emotion and sensation share the word feeling but it’s not two disparate concepts battling for space now, it’s the way Hizashi’s mouth is blazing like a sun, the way his hands shake when he lefts go of Shouta’s shoulders to run them up to his neck, it’s the circuit completed, wanting and being wanted back in a feedback loop.

Hizashi breaks the kiss to gasp in a breath and babble into his mouth, “Shouta. Love you so much, want you, need you—” until Shouta stops him with another kiss, tongue diving into his mouth until all he can do is moan.

Shouta’s fingers dig into his back, and Hizashi’s hands go to his hips, blazing up under his shirt, and he breaks the kiss to fumble with the fabric for a stretched-out moment before Shouta helps him get it off over his head, then reaches for the hem of Hizashi’s shirt.

The more they touch the more electricity is conducted, a current running between them. Hizashi’s mouth isn’t occupied, so he’s talking, rambling, “All for you, just for you, love you so much, Shouta, beautiful, gorgeous, I’m sorry,” more words than Shouta can grasp, too fast, tripping over each other, like they’re not meant for him or to communicate, just to say. He pulls Hizashi into another kiss, hands roaming over his warm bare back, pulling him ever closer.

He gasps into Hizashi’s mouth as he rolls his hips, grinding them together. He hadn’t even realized how hard he was, just interpreting it as another form of longing, his whole body lit up by Hizashi’s. Hizashi grabs the sides of his head, thumbs stroking over his cheekbones, and he breaks the kiss to lean their foreheads together, filling the scant space between them with a moan as he rolls his hips again.

“Want you, want this,” Hizashi whispers. He hasn’t spoken more than softly all night; they’re alone but some things can’t be said at full volume, and he’s louder at a whisper, words not diluted but boiled down to meaning over sound.

Shouta pants roughly and his hands go to Hizashi’s hips as they work against his, and there’s nothing discordant about it, no distance between what is and what should be, and every part of touching Hizashi feels so much better than good, but something makes him open his eyes and stare hazily at his face in front of his. “Hizashi...wait.”

Hizashi’s eyes open to lock on his and he pulls back, brows pulling together in concern. He opens his mouth to ask a question, but Shouta speaks before he can.

“I just want to...” be here, be present, just exist in this moment. Feel this. “Slow down.” He moves his hands in from Hizashi’s hips, putting them over the softness of his stomach, runs his hands up over the hard planes of his chest to his neck, fragile and pulse thrumming, wrapping his hands around it. Hizashi doesn’t flinch, doesn’t shy away, doesn’t interpret the gesture as anything aggressive, nothing more than gently claiming him.

Hizashi stays still as Shouta pulls him in closer, his mouth tracing the same path as his hands, starting with his lips on his chest and moving up to his neck, at first gentle and then more roughly.

When he starts to suck at the hollow of Hizashi’s throat, Hizashi’s hands go to his shoulders, pushing him away. “No—no marks,” he pants. “Not where they can see.”

Shouta freezes, because right. They’re not supposed to be doing this. Hizashi is here, in his arms, his weight pressing him down into the couch, but he’s not back for good, he’s going back. He’s leaving again.

Shouta growls, low in his throat, and moves over to Hizashi’s shoulder, a place that would be covered by any shirt or robes he would wear, and bites. More roughly than he should, but Hizashi jerks and his moan sounds more like pleasure than pain, his hands not pushing at his shoulders, his fingers digging in as he grabs them, pulling him in.

When Shouta lets go, drawing back, his hands fumble for the front of Hizashi’s jeans, clumsy because he’s not willing to take his eyes off Hizashi’s face, eyes hazy and bright, to look at what he’s doing. He watches Hizashi’s eyes flutter shut, the flush high across his cheeks, the way his mouth drops open as he pulls his cock out of his underwear, wrapping his hand around it and stroking slowly.

Ah, Shouta,” Hizashi pants. “Thought you—wanted to slow down?” There’s a slight twist to his lips, and the next breath he huffs out could be part of a surprised laugh.

Fuck slow,” Shouta growls decisively, hand moving faster. “I’ve been in love with you for three years, that’s slow enough.”

Hizashi might have had a reply, but it’s lost in another moan. His hands go to Shouta’s hips, at first just hanging on, then moving in and pulling his sweatpants down until his cock springs free. The touch of his hand, fingers wrapping around him, sends sparks up his spine, and he sucks in a breath.

The closeness of their bodies makes their moving hands a tangle, running into each other as they touch each other, so Shouta shoves Hizashi’s hand away, pulling him closer until he can wrap his hand around both of their cocks and stroke.

Hizashi whines, and he can feel him twitch against him, and his hands go to Shouta’s face again, his kiss desperate and needy, his hips jerking in a way that slides them together in his fist, a new friction.

It’s never felt like this before. All the times before, with Hizashi and the stars, he knows n ow what he had been hearing, had been sensing was the weight of this behind all their words, all their motions, but the dam has broken now and this is the flood.

All he can do is hang on, his hand moving faster as Hizashi groans into his mouth.

Hizashi’s mouth starts moving before he pulls back, speaking half-audibly. “All for you, just for you, love you so much, Shouta, need you so bad—want—want all of you, need... fuck,” he gasps, a running commentary of a confession before he runs out of coherent words. “Nn, Shou—” It’s just part of his name, but it’s the sweetest thing he’s ever been called, the best collection of sounds that’s ever meant him.

The brightness in his body coalesces into a pillar of lightning burning along his spine, and all he can do is hold Hizashi close and gasp into the space between their mouths as—Hizashi moans, and his hips start twitching, and despite the way there’s no distance between them, their bodies are just part of the way universes are born, stars exploding behind his eyelids.

The world comes back slowly, both of them panting for breath in the silence, until Hizashi fills it with a warm, breathless laugh. He’s smiling now, like sunlight but distant, though for the moment he’s right here.

He’s right here.

Chapter Text

Hizashi laughs again, a sound bright and soft like his smile, as he reaches out to touch Shouta’s hair, fingers sliding through the short strands. It’s just a few inches long, now. “You cut your hair.”

Hizashi’s hair is still long, straight and golden, hanging down to his shoulders. “I did,” Shouta says simply. “You left.” He’s too happy, calm, and comfortable for it to be accusatory, this time, but he says it.

The smile drops off Hizashi’s face. “Yeah,” he says. Then he shifts, and pins and needles erupt in Shouta’s legs.

You’re heavy,” Shouta says, and he moves back. Although there’s also the nagging worry that Hizashi isn’t as heavy as he should be, that his ribs are too visible.

Sorry. And we’re gross.”

After a few moments of shifting around and tissues, Hizashi sits down on the couch next to Shouta, then slowly, carefully, moves closer, curling down until he can lay his head on his shoulder.

Shouta doesn’t push him away, instead wraps his arm around his shoulders, holding him close. Hizashi takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to go.”

Shouta’s arm only tightens. “You could have at least told me where you were going, what you were doing. I didn’t know you weren’t dead.” His voice still isn’t quite angry, but it’s flat.

I’m sorry,” Hizashi repeats, quietly. “I thought you’d be safer, this way. That’s what Nedzu said, when he ordered me not to tell you. Or anyone.” His voice goes bitter as he says, “But you joined up with him anyway, so I guess that never mattered.”

I’m not just not going to fight,” Shouta says.

Hizashi sighs. “No, of course not. You’re just so determined to die for this cause.” If his voice was bitter before, it’s bitingly so now.

I could die either way, Hizashi,” Shouta says, starting to get angry. “The League attacked me when I was sixteen, when I wasn’t doing anything to be a target. Most of the people they go after are civilians, not part of the fight at all. It’s just whether I fight back or not.”

Hizashi picks his head up to fix him with a stare that starts out angry and then fades into pleading. “Do you know what I’d do if you died? Shouta, I love you!”

Shouta just looks at him for a moment, before he reaches out to the passion in Hizashi’s eyes, palm flattening over his cheek and pulling him into a long kiss. When he pulls back, Hizashi’s eyes are softer, and Shouta’s own gaze matches it. “Hizashi,” he says. “We’re both okay. It’s okay.”

Hizashi lets out a breath, dropping his head back to Shouta’s shoulder, then pulling himself into a smaller space until his head rests on his chest. “For right now,” he allows. He huffs out a faint laugh. “You’re not supposed to fight after sex, anyway. We’re doing pillow talk all wrong.”

Shouta brings one hand up to stroke Hizashi’s hair, and Hizashi gives a happy sigh. He rubs his face against Shouta’s chest, snuggling closer, and the steady glow in his heart flares brighter. Hizashi’s hair feels like peace, the warmth of his skin affirming that he’s here, he’s safe—at least for the moment, but right now the moment is all that matters, more than he’s had in months.

Finally, Hizashi speaks. “I’ll write to you.”

Shouta’s hand stills. “Hizashi, that’s dangerous.”

Hizashi shifts. “I know. But I don’t think...I’m not going to survive without talking to you. I already write to Nedzu, so I’m already sending secret letters. I’ll just write to you at the same time. It’s dangerous, but...I need something.”

He sounds so broken, so desperate. Shouta can’t do anything but lean forward and kiss the back of his head, his hand carding through his long strands again. “Okay,” he says quietly. He can’t find a way to phrase a question, ‘how have you been’ sounds so silly, ‘how are you handling this’ sounds almost clinical. So he just settles on, “I’ll write back.”

Thank you,” Hizashi says, curling in closer. “I love you.”

I love you too.”

Hizashi hums, nuzzling his chest, then speaks. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, too. I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you back, the night before graduation. I just knew I was going to be leaving, and it didn’t feel fair.”

Shouta’s arm tightens around him. “None of this is fair. It’s a war,” he says. “You’re here now.”

I’m here now,” Hizashi echoes. “We’re both here now.” Neither of them point out that he shouldn’t be, that every moment they spend here is dangerous. Shouta doesn’t know how closely he’s watched, or what his excuse for this time is going to be.

It doesn’t feel important, more like a pale imitation of what they just did, but Shouta still says, “I slept with Tensei.”

Hizashi stiffens, then picks up his head. “What? Really?”

I’ve been sleeping with Tensei,” Shouta corrects, realizing the way that statement was misleading.

...Huh,” Hizashi says, emotions flicking quickly across his face. “Are you going to...keep doing that?” he asks tentatively. Fragile, like the answer might break him but he’s trying not to show it.

Shouta shakes his head. “No. I don’t love him. I love you,” he says, simple and decisive.

Hizashi lets out a breath. “Okay,” he says, laying his head back down. “I guess I can’t really be mad about that.”

He shrugs. “Wouldn’t be very logical, no.”

They lapse into silence again, not quite comfortable but sheltered, like a house in a storm. Shouta keeps the motion of his hand going, soothing on both sides, and Hizashi draws a finger in patterns across his skin. The dark makes it feel safer, like it always has. It’s just them, here. Like love and safety are something they inhabit alone.

Hizashi sighs, a deep labored sound. “I should go. I need to start coming up with some story about where I was. If I stay here any longer, I’m going to fall asleep.” His arm stretches out, snaking around Shouta’s side and squeezing. “I want to fall asleep with you,” he says, somewhere between petulant and romantic.

Wars end,” Shouta says slowly. “Wars end and you can come home.”

Wars end,” Hizashi echoes. Neither of them point out that they might not survive until then, that they could both die at any time. They don’t need to. “I could just come home now. We could both just desert and run away and be together. Leave the country, go to America or Japan.”

I’m not going to desert. I love you,” Shouta says, “but this is bigger than both of us.”

Yeah, it is,” Hizashi agrees with a sigh, his tone wistful and like he had never really been serious. He waits for just a moment before slowly peeling himself away from Shouta’s side, standing and stretching, bending to find his shirt on the floor. He pulls it back on. Just below the sleeve is the beaded bracelet, looser now, gaps in the beads where the elastic shows through.

S houta steps up to him, tugging on his shirt to straighten it just for an excuse to touch him. Then he realizes he doesn’t need an excuse, sliding his hands over Hizashi’s sides to his back, pulling him into a kiss.

Hizashi doesn’t let go when the kiss ends, turning it into a hug. “Keep doing that and I’ll never leave,” he whispers in Shouta’s ear. His voice so close sends a shiver down his spine.

I don’t want you to leave,” Shouta says. His turn to be petulant.

Hizashi sighs. “I don’t want to leave, either. But I have to.” He holds Shouta tighter, hooking his chin over his shoulder. “I’ll write to you,” he promises. “It’ll be just like every summer. Until the war ends and I can come home.”

Chapter Text

After Hizashi leaves, Shouta is alone. It feels different this time, both deeper and cleaner. Hizashi is truly gone, but he knows he’s alive and where he’s going. He’s not safe, but he’s alive. His ghost isn’t in the room anymore.

He’s alone much longer than he wants to be. He doesn’t want to go to sleep before Nemuri and Tensei come home, before he has confirmation that they made it through their mission. He alternates between sitting on the couch, trying to concentrate on a book and pacing. He hopes Hizashi is okay, that his absence didn’t arouse suspicion.

It’s almost morning, and Shouta has given up reading and is pretending he might sleep, laying on his back on the couch, arm dangling over the side, staring up at the ceiling, eyes open. Sooty is on his chest, and earlier she had been purring and digging in her sharp little claws, but now she might be asleep, still and eyes closed. Her weight and company is comforting; he feels like he’s twelve again, alone in the world with the one creature he’s always been able to count on. At least Sooty is safe; she doesn’t do anything more dangerous than climb on top of the fridge and try to eat plastic.

It’s late enough to be early and they aren’t back. What if it was a trade? He gets one night with Hizashi only to lose his other friends. What if while they were here on this couch together Tensei and Nemuri were dying in a battle somewhere? That’s not the only danger; they could have been captured by the League, tortured, or even arrested. Maybe he should be out there trying to find them instead of here. But Nedzu will send people after them if they need rescuing. He might be one of those people, but he hasn’t gotten any orders yet.

Finally, there’s twin pops of apparition outside the door, and a key scrapes in the lock as Shouta picks up Sooty—who mews in protest—and drops her on the floor so he can sit up.

Nemuri opens the door, and Shouta quickly stands up, because she hurries through the door, urgency in her movements, and Tensei comes after her, staggering slightly and clutching a bloody tear in his shirt.

Shouta hurries over to them, grabbing Tensei, pulling his arm over his shoulders to walk him over to the couch, carefully helping him sit. “What happened? What curse was this?”

I don’t know,” Nemuri says, voice tight, as Tensei says, “I’d never seen it before.” His voice is slightly slurred and Shouta’s heart is in his throat. Healing spells he can do, but the spell that gave him the scar on his arm—the nurse had treated it with potions, and he doesn’t know which ones or how to make them.

What color was it? We might need to go to the hospital,” Shouta says, pulling up Tensei’s shirt to see the wound, kneeling on the floor in front of him to get closer. It’s a ragged cut that stretches from his stomach to his shoulder. It doesn’t look deep, and it’s only bleeding sluggishly now, but there’s blood all down his clothes—and blood loss wasn’t the problem with that spell.

We can’t, they’ll ask too many questions,” Nemuri says. Her hands are up in front of her, held out pointlessly.

It was...red,” Tensei says. “Thought it was a stunning spell, even though they don’t usually use those, but it cut me up.”

S houta lets out a breath. Not the same spell. “Keep talking,” he orders Tensei. “Don’t pass out. Keep his shirt back,” he orders to Nemuri, who steps forward to replace his hand with hers.

There weren’t even that many of them,” Tensei says as Shouta hovers his wand over the bottom of the wound, saying the incantation that will close it. “I think we both got overconfident, even though with those hoods you can’t tell if the people you’re fighting are ones you’ve fought before, how old they are, where they’re looking, anything like that. Can’t see if they’re people you know, people you went to school with.” His voice is tight with pain as he talks, and he winces as Shouta reaches a part of the wound over his ribs. “That feels...not great,” he says, the smile he tries to crack looking more like a grimace.

Sorry,” Shouta mutters, still focused on his task. “I’m not a Healer.”

You’re the best at healing spells between the three of us, though,” Nemuri says, watching his work closely. “It’s looking better.” The wound is closing, his skin knitting back together, leaving just a red groove behind the progress of his wand.

Tensei winces again, muscles stiff as he tries not to move away. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful,” he says, still obeying the command to keep saying things, to stay conscious. “But you know that potion that Hizashi made for headaches and Nemuri’s cramps that he kept in his trunk? I bet a couple doses of that would really help. I wish any of us three were any good at potions. Or that he was here.”

He’s not, though,” Nemuri says, cold and faintly bitter.

Shouta doesn’t look up from the progress of his spell, and he doesn’t really mean to say anything—in all those hours, he had never quite decided what to tell his friends—but he murmurs, almost too quietly to hear, “He was.”

Nemuri looks at him sharply. “What? Hizashi was here?”

Shouta doesn’t answer right away, not until he reaches the top of the cut on Tensei’s chest, but then he sits back, looking at the two of them. “Yeah. He was here.”

Nemuri grabs his arm. “When? You saw him? Where is he now?”

Suddenly it’s like he’s not quite sure. It feels unreal, like it might have been a dream. He wishes suddenly that Hizashi had left something behind, anything physical, any evidence. “I—yes. I saw him.” He stands, using his trip to get the first-aid kit as a way to hide the rest of his uncertainty. But it was real—he couldn’t have dreamed that, couldn’t have imagined something as intense as the way Hizashi’s hands felt on him. When he comes back, kneeling on the floor and opening the box, his voice is sure. “I don’t know exactly where he went, but he was here for an hour or so. Back to the League—” he says, and then at the sudden look at horror on Nemuri’s face, he says quickly, “He’s a spy.” He’s probably not supposed to be telling them this, but he’s never been one to keep secrets. “He’s spying on the League for Nedzu. Nedzu ordered him not to tell us what he was doing.”

Oh,” Nemuri says faintly.

He’s okay?” Tensei says, making Shouta realize he hadn’t spoken in a while. When he looks at him, he’s pale but still upright.

He’s alive,” Shouta says. Hizashi hadn’t seemed exactly okay. He finds a tin of salve and pops it open. “This should help with the pain.” There’s a raw red gouge left, even if his spell accelerated the healing enough to escape any danger that he would die. He digs his fingers into the oily substance and starts working it into the wound.

Tensei sighs in relief, from both the information and effects of the salve. “Hizashi is alive,” he states, eyes closed for a moment.

So he could have told us where he was at any time?” Nemuri demands.

Not without compromising his position,” Shouta says, not sure why he’s defending Hizashi in this. He’s angry about that too. “I saw him, on my mission. His hood got blown back, so I could recognize him.” His mouth twists in complicated amusement as he remembers. “He was just going to shout out that he was a spy when he saw me. I had to Silence him.”

Tensei’s eyes are closed again, but he smiles faintly. “That sounds like Hizashi.”

Oh fuck, Hizashi is a spy,” Nemuri says, with a hopeless, wondering laugh.

I’m sure Nedzu is doing what he can to keep him safe,” Tensei says. “Spies are important.”

He told me he loved me, too,” Shouta says, casually but like he’s still trying to process it himself.

He doesn’t look at Tensei. He’ll know what that means. Nemuri doesn’t seem surprised, though, and she just says, “Well? And what did you say back?”

I told him I’d been in love with him for three years,” Shouta says. He puts the tin away and reaches for gauze and a roll of tape.

Okay,” Nemuri says, matter of fact. “Good. That’s why he broke up with me, you know. Because he was in love with you. His patronus is a cat,” she continues.

Mine is a crow,” Shouta says, now that they’re finally saying all these things. “But I don’t know what that means.” He still doesn’t look at Tensei’s face, just focusing on layering the gauze over his chest and taping it securely in place. Tensei hasn’t said anything, either.

Huh,” Nemuri says. “I don’t really know how that works. He seemed pretty sure the cat was for you. So maybe you guys just swapped?”

The crow is for him, then,” Shouta says decisively. He had always suspected, but it’s nice to know.

That would mean we were all right about Hizashi being a bird,” Nemuri says thoughtfully.

Finally, Tensei says something, and Shouta tries not to wince. “So that’s it, then.” His eyes are cracked open, hazy and sad.

I—” Shouta starts, but Tensei cuts him off, not unkindly.

No, it’s okay,” he says. A slight smile, sad and trying not to be. “I know we never really had—anything.”

Nemuri looks between them. “You two were together?” she confirms.

Tensei shakes his head. “Not really.” Shouta doesn’t say anything.

Nemuri hesitates for a moment, then says, “I think now is a good time to tell you guys that I met someone. At work. A trainee auror, we kind of just met by chance and then just...kept meeting, and really hit it off, and we definitely have something. I haven’t said anything yet because somehow none of us have ever managed to date outside this little friend group, but...I’d really like you guys to meet.”

She sounds as hesitant as she ever has , and there’s an odd weight to her words. Her excuse doesn’t seem to really make sense, and both Tensei and Shouta are quiet for a minute while they look at her. Finally, Tensei says, “We’d love to meet him.”

Another moment, and then Nemuri’s eyes flash in determination, and she says, “Her. I’d like you to meet her. Her name is Emi.

For a second, nobody reacts, and then Shouta looks down, a quiet chuckle under his breath. “Really? All of us?” Tensei’s wound is bandaged, now, so he sits back.

Nemuri lets out a breath and smiles. “Birds of a feather, I guess.”

Chapter Text

Dear Shouta,

 

I love you.

Sorry—that might be kind of a scary way to start a letter, like it’s the last one I’m going to send, or something. (Not like I...ever know, it might be. But you know.) I’m just thinking about how crazy it is that I can write that and actually send it to you now! There’s not much good these days, but that is. Gotta look on the bright side, as much as possible.

There’s not much good because I’m not safe and you apparently aren’t either. That’s all I wanted, and I couldn’t even have that. I don’t even know if I could say you’re safer than me. I’m dead if they figure me out, probably in a really awful way, but at least nobody is shooting killing curses at me right now. Your side—our side, it’s like I sometimes forget what I’m doing here, that everything I say these days is a lie, that’s the worst part about lying, when you start to believe it—our side uses stunning spells, so if I get hit in a battle I’ll be fine. The League shoots to kill.

I can’t believe you signed up with Nedzu. I can’t believe he let you join. He was supposed to

Ugh. I think I’ve said too much. Gonna have to scrap this letter, burn it like the others, and start over. I got used to just vomiting my thoughts in letters to you. I wrote to you, since I left, I just didn’t send them.

No, you know what? I have to lie and hold myself back all day here. I’ve been not telling you things for years. It’s time to just be honest, now. It’s time to just say things.

I’d ask you to leave UA if I thought there was any chance you’d listen, but I know you won’t. So instead...be careful, okay? I love you and I want to see you when this is all over.

Well, I want to do more than see you. I’m getting into bad habits again, talking to you like this letter isn’t going to be sent, saying “see you” like you know all the things I mean by that. I love you and I want to kiss you again. I want to touch you again. I want everything with you.

There’s so much we didn’t talk about when I was there, I wish I could have stayed longer. I wish I could have stayed forever. How are Nemuri and Tensei? How’s Sooty?

I wish I could have stayed longer. It’s funny, I almost can’t remember what I’ve actually told you and what I said in letters to you I burned . I think of that apartment as home, though. I wish I could have stayed longer to see all of it, to know what to imagine at night when I miss a place I’ve never been. I want to see your bedroom, next time. I’m sorry I didn’t buy you a bed, after I promised to. I’ll buy you a big queen bed after this is all over. One we can both sleep in.

I mean...if you want that. I’m sorry, I feel like I’m talking to the you in my head again. I talk to him a lot. I’m assuming a lot.

This letter is really long, now. I don’t know when I’ll be able to write to you again, though. I don’t know...anything, really. Everything is so uncertain and dangerous.

I told Nedzu I know you’re working for him, now, and that you know about me. So at least I can hear from him if something happens to you, instead of just not hearing back from you.

I miss you, and I love you.

 

<3, Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

I love you too.

It’s okay. All three of us here have kind of gotten used to the concept of fighting in a war and not knowing what the future will hold. To answer your question from further down in your letter, Nemuri and Tensei joined Nedzu too. I was kind of surprised when they said they wanted to join, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. Our friends are good people. So we’re all four fighting in the same war. With all four of us fighting, I think we’re going to win. It’s going to be okay; this war will end with us winning and you can come home.

I’m not surprised you think of here as home, though I’m happy. You belong here. I’ve always felt like you do, like there’s a space for you here. There’s a space here for you with all of us. We all miss you.

I told Tensei and Nemuri that you were here, that you wrote to me. They’re glad to know you’re still alive, still fighting. Tensei says to stay strong, and that we all miss you. Nemuri says she seconds whatever I say, and she wants you to know that she has a girlfriend. You’re still one of us, you should know the things that are going on. All four of us ended up being queer, somehow. I guess we knew, somehow, and found each other all those years ago.

I’m just answering things all out of order. I’ll try to get to everything, though.

I’m not less safe for fighting back. At least, it doesn’t feel like it. I’m less scared, this way. Facing danger head-on feels so much better. They can’t come for me if I go after them. What about you? Would you come home if I asked you to?

I...wrote to you, too. I sent the first couple of letters, with Tensei’s new owl (his name is Tangerine) but of course he couldn’t find you. But I kept writing even after I stopped sending them.

Thank you. It’s good when you’re honest. I suspect that you kind of lie a lot—or at least hide things. I guess that makes you a good spy, though. That’s good if it helps keep you safe now—you know, you’re not the only one worried. I want you to come back safe, too. I care about you. A lot. So you be careful, too.

I want to kiss you again, too. I think about that a lot. All the things I want with you. You might be making assumptions, but you’re right—I want to sleep next to you. I’ve never seen you asleep before, but I want to. I want to hold you. I want you to fuck me.

Sooty is good. She’s the only one I know who’s not fighting a war, so she’s likely to continue to be okay. I worry sometimes that we’re putting her in danger, that the League is going to find out where we live and follow us home, but so far they haven’t. And hopefully even if they did they wouldn’t pay any attention to our pets. I don’t want Sooty to be in danger, she didn’t sign up for any of this. And it’s my responsibility to keep her safe.

It’s good to see Faith again, too. I’m glad you were able to keep her.

I wonder how Nedzu’s going to react to that. He was lying to both of us, apparently. He told me he didn’t know where you were. He’ll just say it was to keep you safe, which is at least a motivation I can accept, even if I’m not happy about the methods.

How is your mission going? You’re probably not supposed to talk about that. But you’re not supposed to be talking to me at all.

I love you.

 

Shouta.

Chapter Text

Shouta!!

 

Your letter is the best thing that’s happened me all week. I felt awful but then Faith showed up and now I can’t stop smiling. Haha, I sound like the first time you ever sent me a letter back. I feel like that, too. How did it take me so long to figure out that I had a crush on you? I always got so excited to get letters from you, and every time I thought about going back to Hogwarts and seeing you again—I mean, butterflies doesn’t even begin to cover it!

I never felt like that about anyone else. And now I can tell you, and you feel the same way, and I would say it doesn’t feel real, because it kind of doesn’t, but it also does, because it feels like it was always supposed to be this way.

Except that we’re supposed to be together. Except that I want to wake up next to you instead of alone. Like you keep telling me, and like I keep telling myself, wars end, and then I can come home. I just need to make it until then.

Nemuri and Tensei joined UA too? I guess, like you said, I shouldn’t be surprised. I guess in some things the four of us are more similar than we all thought—like the thing about Nemuri having a girlfriend! Have you met her? Is she nice?

Nemuri and Tensei are fighting too. Nobody I know is safe. I could lose everyone I love in this war. Tell them...tell them I said to be careful, too.

Maybe you’re right that it’ll make a difference, though, the four of us fighting. Maybe you’re right that we can win. Being in the League...well, sometimes it seems like we can win and sometimes it seems impossible. There aren’t really that many members—that’s one of the reasons for the hoods, actually. To make us them seem faceless and infinite. Some of the bigger battles literally all of them are there. But they’re frighteningly well organized and funded. They get money from a lot of the really old, really rich pureblood families—the same ones keeping the Ministry off their backs. They don’t want to actually risk their necks and join, but they want th e League to succeed and basically wipe out the Muggleborns, or just force them out of Wizarding society. They’ve got this whole...thing, this whole long-term plan for the country. Aimed at things like raising the pureblood birth rate, keeping magical society and Muggle society further apart. Making sure Muggle society is controlled by us anyway.

It’s the well-organized part that’s the main reason Nedzu has me here. A spy would always be useful, but Nedzu thinks the leader is super important, and that if I can get close enough to give him any information that lets someone take him down, this whole organization will crumble. I hope he’s right.

Would I come home if you told me to...I don’t know. It sounds like you’re making a point and not actually asking, so I’d like to just say I would, but I guess...I don’t know. Point taken, I suppose. This is bigger than both of us. You won’t be safe until this war is won. I probably won’t be either, now that I’m in all this. They’re not exactly kind towards deserters from the League.

Oh, Tensei got a new owl? Someone new to meet when I come home! I hope he gets along with Faith. You wrote to me too. I wonder what we could have been saying to each other.

I...yeah. I’m not exactly an honest person. I want to change that—there are things I can say now that I could never say before. When I’m not a spy, when I come home, I’m turning over a new leaf, being more honest. There are secrets I was keeping before that I want to shout from the rooftops now—like how I love you. Even though that wouldn’t be smart. I can tell the people who matter.

Shouta!! You can’t just say that!! Oh my god.

Not that I’m...complaining, mind you. Like, I’d say you were lucky I was alone when I was reading that, because I blushed so hard I think my glasses got a little singed, but I have to be super secretive about getting letters from you anyway, so you know. Might as well get a little risque. Not like I could possibly get in any more trouble for these letters.

I...yeah, that sounds good. Really good. Like I said, I want everything with you. I want to touch you everywhere. I want to make you feel good. I want to hear you call my name. That one night we got together...I think about it a lot. It’s really lonely here but it felt so good to be with you.

Haha, did you know you always talk about your cat when you want to change the subject? I’m glad Sooty is alright. Give her some pats from me. One perk of being here is that I might find out if the League knows where you live, and then we could at least get Sooty and Tangerine out so they wouldn’t get hurt. And you three would have some heads-up. Right now I think you’re right and they don’t know where you live.

Yeah, I’m really glad I still have Faith with me. That means a lot—owls aren’t as cuddly as cats, but it’s good to have a familiar face around, someone to talk to even if she doesn’t talk back.

Nedzu kind of has a lot to answer for, yeah. I wish I got to talk to him face-to-face so I could yell at him, but I had to settle for a letter.

You’re right that I’m not supposed to tell you, but I will anyway. I already talked about it a bit, what my mission here is, but I think I’m getting closer. I don’t think they know they have a spy at all, some of the things I’ve just casually overheard, I think they think they can trust all their members. So I don’t think they suspect me. Unless they’re just trying to make me think that...ugh. This job makes me so paranoid, and I don’t even know that I’m wrong.

I don’t want to end this, because everything I write is something you’ll respond to, and then I get more words from you, and each one of them makes me happy. When there’s not much these days that does...but it’s okay. I’m trying not to cross things out anymore, but forget I said that.

This letter is ridiculously long, though, so I’ll end it. Stay safe out there, Shouta.

 

Love you, Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

Really? You had a crush on me that long ago? I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised—looking back, you acted like you did. And I definitely liked you, back when we were thirteen. Do you remember that dream I had that started that first awful fight we had because I was avoiding you? I made it sound like you did something awful to me, but I dreamed that you kissed me. That just...kind of made me panic. Not just that you kissed me, but how much I liked it. I had kind of suspected that I was gay before that, but that really made it impossible to ignore. You said it took you a long time to figure out—when did you know?

It does. I’ve obviously never dated anyone else, so I don’t really know how it’s supposed to feel, but this feels good, feels like it’s right. Although...what are we? Are we dating? Is that the right word for this? I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much, but I’m curious, and I want to know what to call you. Nemuri called you my boyfriend, and that was interesting. Definitely not bad, though.

Right. Wars end, Hizashi. You don’t always have to be happy—you’ve always acted like you think you do, like nobody is going to want to be around you if you’re not smiling, and it’s not true. Do you remember when Grace died and you showed up at my house in the middle of the night? I love you even when you’re crying on me. When you did that, I was thinking I’d never loved you more.

You don’t always have to be happy—but I want you to keep that in mind, that wars end, that you’re coming home. That you have a home here.

We did finally meet Nemuri’s girlfriend the other day, yeah. Her name is Emi and she’s...hm. Well, you would like her, I think. I can see why Nemuri likes her. She’s a lot. I think she told a joke for each minute the movie wasn’t playing—she’s a Muggleborn too, and she and I took the purebloods to a Muggle movie theater. I’m sorry, I know you want to go to one, too. We’ll go again when you come home. But like I said, she’s a lot. When she found out I was a Muggleborn too, she told me I should “have her babies, you know, for the Mudblood master race” which...well. I told her I was gay (which is kind of nice to just be able to...say) and she said “ me too, of course you are, you’re way too handsome to be straight.” Nemuri...did not seem to have a problem with any of this, she just laughed.

I told them, even though it’s not like any of us are trying to die. Nemuri says she’s “too badass to die” and Tensei says he wants to see you come home, too.

We had kind of noticed that, too, how it’s really hard to tell how many members the League actually has. I’ve never heard them call each other by name in front of us, either.

I hope Nedzu is right...although whatever else I can say about that man, he pretty much always is. I hope you succeed. Soon. I want you to come home, Hizashi. As many times as I’ve already said that...but I don’t stop wanting it just because I’ve said it before.

See, I have a lot more reason to be mad about you joining UA than you do about me. You’re a pureblood, and the League liked you enough that they let you join. You could have stayed out of this, even if you can’t leave now. I’ve always been in danger. But we’re going to win, Hizashi. We’ll win and this whole country will be safer for everyone.

Why are you so upset about that, anyway? You knew I was going to join up. I didn’t say it outright, but you knew, didn’t you? What do you have to be mad at Nedzu for? I get why he didn’t tell me what you were doing, why he’d think it was better for everyone to just think you had disappeared, but why wouldn’t he tell you I had joined? I want to say he was just messing with both of us, being pointlessly cruel because he could, but somehow that doesn’t seem right.

Hah, you’re really cute when you’re embarrassed. I just wish I could have actually seen your reaction. Come home, so I can. As well as all the other things I want to do to you…

As always, Sooty has been patted. You seem to like her—do you realize that as well as living with me and Nemuri and Tensei, you’ll get to live with Sooty too? And Tangerine, but you haven’t met him yet.

You think you’re getting closer to the leader? Good. No matter what you might think, I don’t enjoy being at war. I’m fighting to win.

It’s still okay if you’re not happy all the time. My letter isn’t quite as long as yours, but I hope it’s long enough.

Well...I didn’t want to say anything, because it’s not good news, and you’re not going to be happy. But you’re going to be mad at me either way, because you’re going to see the scar. But I’m actually writing this from bed—I can’t move much right now. There’s this curse the League uses—maybe you know it. I haven’t been able to hear the incantation clearly, but it’s a red light, and it makes a long slashing injury. In a battle someone got the drop o n me and hit me—my back, actually, which I hate, because it looks like I was running away. I wasn’t. It was them sneaking up on me. It hurts, and like I said, I’ll have a scar, but I can go back to work in a few days. So don’t worry too much.

I miss you. I love you.

 

Shouta.

Chapter Text

Shouta!!

 

Fuck, are you okay?? No, I know you’re not—you’re not okay if you can’t even get out of bed! Fuck, I wish I had been there. I wasn’t—you don’t even know that, I’m always wearing a hood. But I wasn’t. If I had been, you never would have gotten hurt like that. I would have done whatever I could have to protect you. I know you said that part last, but I can’t just ignore that until the end of the letter. Are Nemuri and Tensei doing a good job taking care of you? I can’t even be there to do that…

I do know that spell. It’s a nasty one. It’s specifically meant to hurt a lot and heal slowly. I’ve never hit anyone with it.

Okay, I’ll go in order now. It’s been a few days—how are you healing? Don’t go back to work before you should, stay in bed and rest as long as you can.

Oh, wow. Well, I first knew I liked you—that would have been the end of our fifth year. We were on top of the astronomy tower, and I told you I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about, and you said we could just sit there, so we did, and...suddenly all I could think about was how bad I wanted to kiss you. I almost did it, too. But I was with Nemuri then.

As for when I knew I was in love with you...I don’t really know. It wasn’t such a shock, it kind of happened slowly. But I was sure when I cast my patronus. I was lying when I said I couldn’t do it—sorry. It’s a cat, though. It looks just like Sooty.

Even if all I did was kiss you in that dream...I’m sorry that scared you. That was all the way back in fourth year, wasn’t it? I’m glad I can kiss you now without it scaring you. Because...I really like kissing you.

Shouta, yeah!! I’d love to be your boyfriend! You can call me whatever you want, though—just call me yours. I just want to be something to each other. It would be good to figure it out, though, to have some word to say. I’d like to call you my boyfriend, if that sounds good to you. Dating is the right word, yeah! (You’re my boyfriend! “Who’s this?” “This is Shouta Aizawa, my BOYFRIEND, the love and light of my life, etc., etc.!”)

Shouta...really? I thought you were mad at me for that!! You’re going to make me cry again...I was mad at me for that. It was silly and stupid. But it was really okay? I mean...(I said I was going to be more honest) my dad really didn’t like it when I would cry. So I don’t know if I can really believe you right now, but...thank you, I love you.

I can’t wait to come home!! I miss you so much, I can’t wait to see you again!!

Oh wow! Yeah, Emi sounds like a lot! Aw, you went without me? That’s okay, but you have to take me too! Maybe we could go on a double date with Nemuri and Emi, because yeah, I want to meet her too, she sounds wild. But then Tensei would be kind of left out...he would be the fifth wheel. I wonder if he’s ever going to find someone to date? Triple date?? Anyway, I’m looking forward to it!

You don’t need to stop saying it. I want to go home, too.

Shouta...okay, I said I was going to be more honest, and I will be, I swear, I’ll tell you why I’m mad at Nedzu, but not right now, okay? I’ll tell you when the war’s over and I come home. If I don’t come home, tell Nedzu I wanted you to know. I know that’s awful, to tell you I’m not telling you something, but I don’t know what else to do that isn’t lying to you again. I’m sorry.

Shouta!! I never thought you’d be like this. I kind of love it. I’ve never regretted anything less than finding your apartment that night, I got so much from that. I got to hear you tell me you loved me and taste your mouth and feel your hands on me and...I think about it a lot, those are my favorite memories. I want to make more of them.

Yeah!! I’m excited to live with all of you, Sooty included! What if she ends up liking me more than you, though? Wouldn’t you be so jealous?? I’m just teasing! I know she loves you. But...maybe I should be jealous of her? I can never compete with your cat, I know!

I would have put this first, but I’m almost...scared to talk about it? Like I’m going to jinx it. But Shouta...I think I’m getting closer. They told me I’m going to be part of a meeting with the actual leader of the League. He wants me to report on an attack I was a part of...when I’m there, Nedzu taught me a tracker spell that’s almost undetectable. If this works, if I can get the spell on him, then UA will be able to find him wherever he goes, and the minute he’s vulnerable we can take him down. And Nedzu thinks that if we can take him down, the war will be over. It’ll be over and I can come home. It’ll be over and we’ll both be safe.

I hope it works. I hope I don’t even have time to write again. I hope I see you soon.

 

Love you love you love you, Hizashi

 

 

Hizashi.

 

I’m fine . I was laid up for a few days but I’m fine now, back to work and everything. You don’t have to worry. I’m glad you weren’t there, if that’s the case. You can’t blow your cover to protect me. Your mission is more important than I am. Especially since I’m fine now.

I thought it was hard to heal when Tensei got hit with it. Good to know I’m not just getting worse at that, I suppose. Good, but be careful. Do what you need to do to avoid making them suspicious. Your mission is important—especially if you’re close.

I’m fine. It’s all healed now, with the potions and spells. I have to go back to work or I’ll lose my job—UA isn’t as well funded as the League apparently is. It doesn’t pay. Nedzu has money but not enough to support all of us while we work for him.

Huh. That was the year we got caught on top of the astronomy tower, wasn’t it? I remember that. I didn’t know you wanted to kiss me, though. I wonder how things could have gone differently if you had? But that’s not how things happened.

I actually already knew what your patronus is—Nemuri told me when I told her you told me you loved me. (What a convoluted sentence.) Thank you for telling me, though. I can’t be mad at you for lying about that—I lied about the same thing. My patronus is a crow. So that’s yours. I’d like to see your patronus, though.

It’s okay. It’s something I needed to learn about myself, and come to terms with. I would have changed, if I could, at first. But I wouldn’t now. I wouldn’t want to lose how I feel about you. I like kissing you too...but you knew that.

Okay. We’re dating and boyfriends, then. It doesn’t sound so odd anymore. It sounds good.

I feel like I’m not writing enough this time—sorry. I’m tired, I just got home from work right after a mission to find Faith waiting for me. I don’t want to send her back without a letter, though, so I hope this is good enough. Your letters always make me smile—Nemuri teases me about it. She says she can tell I got a letter from you before I say it, because of what my face is doing.

It was silly and stupid, it was very dangerous, but no, I was never mad at you for that. It was special. We get a lot of special things—I’m really lucky. I was just glad I could be there for you. If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. I’ll say it again. It’s okay if you’re sad sometimes.

I miss you too. I feel like we could just take our letters and distill them down to that, just write those words over and over instead of trying to say anything else. But I want to know how you’re doing, too.

It’s interesting you’d bring that up. I mostly talk about our work in UA, but Tensei and I work in a cafe, too. Nemuri works in the ministry, and that’s where she met Emi, she’s training to be an auror. Nemuri is some kind of secretary-type, I think . As well as sort of a spy, like you but less dangerous. Nedzu put her there, to try to learn what she can. Her job is basically flirting with businessmen, it sounds like.

Anyway, about the cafe. There’s this band that comes in to play nights there sometimes, I think one of them is related to the owner or something. I actually kind of like them—their music is decent, and they’re cat-themed. They’re called the Wild Wild Pussycats, and I want to take you to one of their shows. Their singer (she seems to be the leader, too, as far as I can tell) keeps talking to Tensei, and I think she likes him. Not that I’m really a good judge of that, but they talk a lot. I hope he likes her back, and I hope something comes of that. I still feel bad for...I don’t know. It feels like my fault, somehow. That I couldn’t be what he wanted. Her name is Shino—although she introduced herself with her stage name, Mandalay.

Fine. I’ll hold you to that. Come home soon so I can be properly mad at you for whatever it is you did, because yelling at you over a letter feels both awful and like not enough.

L ook forward to that when you come home, then. There’s lots of memories we have to make.

Well, thankfully I don’t think I’ll ever have to choose between you and Sooty, since we can all just get along. I’d pick you, though. Sorry. Not crossing things out anymore sounds like a good policy, and one I should follow too. I wrote that I’d pick you over her. That feels like admitting a lot. And not very nice to Sooty. I’d find her a good home, if I had to give her up for whatever reason. And it would be hard. So it’s good I don’t need to do that.

Hizashi...be careful. And get him. In that order. If you fail this time, you can try again, but if you’re discovered...well, I want this war won, and I want you home. Don’t worry about me here, and don’t write me letters if you think they’re watching you.

I hope I see you soon.

 

Love, Shouta.

Chapter Text

Shouta thinks the first explosion is a gunshot, or a killing curse, since it lights up his dark room green for a moment, and he jumps out of bed, on his feet in a moment, heart hammering, grabbing his wand, but there are two more in quick succession, and the red one is still a color he would see in battle, but the blue isn’t, and he’s confused before he looks out the window, towards the noise, and sees—fireworks.

He startles again, whirling and raising his wand, when his door is thrown open, but it’s Nemuri, and she says, breathlessly, “It’s over.”

His first thought is still dread, there are still explosions shaking the glass in his window, but what she said doesn’t match what he’s thinking, she didn’t say ‘he’s dead’, so he waits for a moment for this to all make sense and then just says, “What?”

She stands in the doorway for a moment, then rushes forward into the room, wrapping him up in a hug, holding back a sob as he slowly brings his arms up to squeeze her back. “It’s over,” she repeats into his shoulder. “It’s over, we won.”

Still, nothing clicks, but the dread is replaced with an empty feeling, taut and stretched like a dru m, the world hollowed out and ready to become something new.

When he doesn’t respond, Nemuri pulls back, holding him by the shoulders, looking him solid and steady in the eyes, face serious before it breaks into a wide, wavering smile. “Shouta, it’s over, we won!”

He still feels completely numb, but he can feel his face stretch in a smile like hers. “What happened?”

Nedzu just sent word, a mass letter. The League surrendered. Their leader is dead.” She laughs, high and jarring, but still a sound of joy. The room is dark except for the flashes of bright color, discordant and sudden.

The smile shudders on his face, sharp and unsure. “Where’s Hizashi?”

Nemuri lets go of him, turning to look out the window, down to the ground. “I don’t know. He must have done it, though!” She turns back to him, smile wide and eyes bright with tears. She grabs his hand, pulling him towards the door. “Come outside! There’s a party.”

It doesn’t feel real, as he follows her into the living room. Is he dreaming? If he’s wondering, he can’t be, right? Her hand feels real enough.

Tensei is there, holding a piece of parchment, staring down at it like it holds the secrets of the universe. When he looks up at Shouta, there are tear tracks down his face. He puts the paper down, reverently careful, and pulls both of his friends into a crushing hug, face turned and buried in Shouta’s shoulder. He makes a noise, a sob or a laugh, squeezing them hard and letting go.

They rush down the stairs to the sounds of explosions outside, Nemuri throwing open the door to the street. Everyone is outside, the street crowded with a crush of bodies like a concert, magical lights floating like giant fireflies, fireworks lighting the scene bright as day, only shooting as high as the buildings before bursting.

It doesn’t feel real, but this is a good dream. There’s cheering and laughter, music pouring out of someone’s window, a news broadcast on a tinny radio turned up as high as it will go, and what of it he can hear confirms what Nemuri said. “... terrorist organization known as the League of Death is reported to have disbanded as of approximately an hour ago, and sources say that...”

She leads the way into the crowd, pulling both of them along. The energy is irrepressible, rising like a cloud, making it feel like everyone is floating.

Then, all at once, there he is , just a part of the crowd but suddenly so clear, his face as clear as day. “Shouta!”

The next explosion happens inside his heart, shaking his core. It bathes Hizashi’s face in green light, lighting up his eyes incandescently bright. Shouta breaks into a run, weaving between strangers, eyes locked on Hizashi’s.

It’s not a train wreck when they crash into each other, but it’s just as momentous—and maybe everyone is watching, but Shouta can’t bring himself to care, just taking Hizashi’s face in his hands and crushing their mouths together.

H izashi’s hands are grabbing at his arms, fingers digging in, as he kisses back.

For a moment, it’s just them.

The world comes back slowly, Shouta not opening his eyes right away after the kiss ends, focusing on the feeling of Hizashi’s face under his fingers, his breath on his face, his surprised laugh. “Sh-Shouta.”

“Hello,” he says, eyes opening to see Hizashi’s face, meaning everything that word can mean, the opposite of goodbye, the cure to ‘I miss you.”

Behind Hizashi is a curtain of light, opaque and shimmering. It’s all around them, hiding them—a spell, presumably cast by one of their friends.

Come with me,” Shouta says, by way of warning as he grabs his wand and a pparates them both back into the apartment, into his bedroom.

Woah,” Hizashi says, but he’s being held too tight to stumble more than slightly. Shouta doesn’t give him any time to acclimate before he’s moving his hands down to his shoulders and pushing him down on the bed. Hizashi’s back hits the bed hard enough for him to bounce slightly, and Shouta follows him, hands braced by his head, and he kisses him but only for a moment before pulling back, taking in the sight of his boyfriend beneath him, his hair spread out on the pillow, solid and real and here .

Hizashi’s hands come up to touch his face, thumbs stroking across his cheekbones. “You’re okay,” he says, and there’s a weird tone in his voice, he’s reassuring himself, stating facts, but it’s too soft to be just that, and it’s only when he repeats it, murmuring, “Shouta, you’re okay, it’s okay,” that he realizes that the world is swimming and his face is wet, he’s crying.

That wasn’t his intention, but a sob claws its way out of his throat, and Hizashi guides him until they’re both laying down, Hizashi’s hands still holding his face, his eyes soft, their legs tangled together. His thumbs stroke again, wiping away tears, and he kisses Shouta gently, breaking away to murmur, “It’s okay, baby.”

That just makes him cry harder, shoulders shaking, trying to stop but he can’t, because Hizashi is here, holding him, smiling at him as tears start to fill his eyes too. “Oh fuck,” Hizashi says, a laugh bubbling out of his throat. “It’s over. It’s all over and we won and we’re both okay and I’m here, I’m home, and you’re here, and it’s okay,” he rambles until his voice gets too choked to continue. “It’s over.”

“Stay this time,” Shouta mumbles, and Hizashi laughs.

Yeah. I’m never leaving again, you can’t get rid of me, it’s over, I can stay forever.” Hizashi laughs again, a sound like sunlight breaking through clouds.

“Forever sounds good,” Shouta says, his voice breaking.

Hizashi pulls him closer, tucking Shouta’s head under his chin, his hand going to the back of his head to stroke his short hair. “ Shh, baby, it’s okay.” He say it despite crying just as hard—it is okay. For once everything is okay.

Finally there’s a lapse in his tears and Shouta can pick up his head and kiss Hizashi like he wants to, and everything is okay, they’re tangled together in his bed exactly where they’re supposed to be and Hizashi isn’t leaving again this time, he’s here forever.

When Shouta deepens the kiss, pushing his tongue into Hizashi’s mouth, he makes a noise, something broken-open and happy, and kisses back just as hard. Without breaking the kiss, he moves until he’s straddling Shouta’s hips, on top of him . His next kisses cover Shouta’s face, landing on his cheeks, his forehead, his nose. “I’m home, I’m home, I’m home.”

Shouta’s hands go to Hizashi’s hips, sliding under his shirt along his back. “Take this off,” he orders, and Hizashi laughs and does, leaning back to strip it off in one fluid motion.

The next explosion is yellow, lighting up Hizashi’s smile. He stays like that for a moment, sitting over Shouta, looking down at him with a face like he’s seeing the light for the first time after months of darkness . Then he takes the hem of Shouta’s shirt in his hands, working with him to pull it over his head.

A bit more shifting and motion, not hurried or frantic but purposeful, momentum towards their goal of being as close as possible, and they’re both naked, warm skin pressed together from the tips of their questing fingers, every touch a greeting and an affirmation, down to their feet. It’s not starlight anymore, cold and distant, hard and shining, it’s a different kind of light, a different form of magic, it’s warmer and closer, sunlight warming their bodies in the middle of the night.

E xcept that it’s not the middle of the night—Shouta had never looked at the clock, had just known that it was dark and he had been asleep, but now—the room is beginning to get a little lighter, just faintly, the window glowing, the light beginning to creep into the room. The sun is rising.

The light comes in between breaths, rays of new sunlight sneaking in to tangle in Hizashi’s hair, messy from Shouta’s hands, loose golden threads lit up like a halo. He’s angelic, this is holy, and wizarding culture may not believe in things like that, but Shouta was raised in a different one, so that he can recognize the way he murmurs Hizashi’s name as a prayer.

The way they move together isn’t frantic and desperate like that time, the pleasure they’re chasing is only secondary to basking in their togetherness, the fireworks have stopped with the daylight and this isn’t an explosion anymore.

It’s a sunrise, and it’s going to be a beautiful day.

Chapter Text

Shouta blinks sleepily at the square of sunlight moving slowly down the wall, getting brighter as the sun continues to rise. Hizashi is pressed snugly up against his back, as close to him as possible, and one of his hands trails up and down his arm, fingertips tracing from his wrist to his shoulder, and the simple touch feels so good.

When he turns over, slowly because he feels melted, like liquid poured loosely into a human shape, just solid enough for Hizashi to hold, Hizashi smiles at him until he occupies his lips with a kiss. He kind of wants to fall asleep like this, but he doesn’t want to close his eyes, doesn’t want to stop being conscious of this moment—even though there will be so many more. There will be more time he can spend sleeping with Hizashi, too.

The bed is small, only really big enough for one person, but that doesn’t matter with how close they are. Having Hizashi here—it’s finally real. The war is over. He’s not a soldier anymore, and Hizashi isn’t a spy. There’s nothing more to fight. They’re just themselves, now. There’s no more danger, no more battles to be fought. The world is something different now, safer and kinder.

He’s just about to fall asleep anyway, his eyes closed but still aware of all of Hizashi, here and naked in his bed, when the front door of the apartment opens.

Hizashi scrambles out of bed, and for a moment Shouta’s heart clenches, like he’s running away again, but when he opens his eyes he sees the wide, excited smile on his face. “Nemuri? Tensei?” he calls.

“Hizashi!” Nemuri’s voice comes through the closed bedroom door.

Hizashi holds up a hand, bending to grab his pants from the floor. “Just a minute! Let me get my clothes on!”

Nemuri laughs, and teases, “Why? I haven’t seen you naked since you were a skinny little sixteen-year-old!”

Hizashi is still skinny, but Shouta can see where he’s filled in since then, in the width of his shoulders, the wiry strength in his arms.

Tensei’s voice joins hers. “Please do.” It’s warm and happy.

Shouta watches Hizashi’s flurry of activity, sitting up in bed. He doesn’t want to move, and he’s half-considering just pulling the blanket over himself and calling it good, because it’s not like most of his friends haven’t already seen him naked—but when Hizashi finds his pants, he tosses them to him, so Shouta sighs and gets up to start putting them on.

He’s only got his shirt half over his head when Hizashi throws open the door. Nemuri rushes in, wrapping him up in a crushing-looking hug, and she doesn’t let go, so Hizashi just unwraps one hand from her back after a moment, reaching out to clasp Tensei’s hand. Their smiles beam into each other, Hizashi’s bright and Tensei’s warm. “We missed you,” he says.

I missed you,” Nemuri says into his shoulder, her fingers on his back pulling his shirt taut in wrinkles.

I missed you guys, too,” Hizashi says, his voice getting choked up again. He squeezes Nemuri before gently pulling her off him to step back and pull Tensei into a hug too. His shoulders give a small shake, and Tensei pats his back.

I think we’ve all been crying all night,” Tensei says with a crooked smile as he rubs a hand up and down Hizashi’s back.

Not me,” Nemuri disagrees, even though Shouta definitely saw tears in her eyes. Still, he doesn’t see the purpose in arguing.

Finally, Hizashi steps back, smile bright through his tears. If he really was the sun, there would be a rainbow.

Shouta’s bedroom is small, with just enough room for a bed and a dresser, and the four of them—they’re uncomplicatedly four again—are cramped, so they move out to the living room, squeezing together on the couch. “I can’t believe you did it,” Nemuri says. She’s sitting on the arm of the couch, her feet resting on Tensei’s lap. Hizashi is in the middle, Shouta on his other side.

Hizashi nods, still smiling. “I cast the tracking spell, yeah. It wasn’t me who took him down—I don’t know who did. We’ll probably see their picture in the paper! Or maybe not—hopefully not, I guess, because unless they were an auror saving the world is fucking illegal,” he says, his voice going slightly bitter. “Since they did kill All for One.”

That’s a weird name,” Tensei comments, and Hizashi shrugs.

That was just what the leader of the League of Death went by, I guess. If he had another name, I never knew it, and now he doesn’t matter anymore. Except as a historical figure.”

Nobody’s ever going to tell our story,” Nemuri says, voice slightly wistful. “All the things we did, and this whole war happened in the shadows. We should be heroes.”

We are,” Shouta argues. “It doesn’t matter who knows it. We did what needed to be done, it doesn’t matter who knows it.”

Tensei smiles. “That’s almost more Hufflepuff than Gryffindor, Shouta.”

Shouta shrugs. “Both our houses have things about doing the right thing. Not all Gryffindors need glory.”

Hizashi chuckles. “I think I’m with my fellow Slytherin. Some recognition would be nice. I’d like my picture on the front page of the Prophet if it wasn’t a mugshot.”

We know what you did,” Tensei says. The words could sound accusing, but his tone of voice makes it a reassurance. Still, Hizashi flinches ever so slightly, and Shouta wonders—there was something he promised to tell him when he came home. Still, right now isn’t time for that. Hizashi is just barely home, the war is just barely over, as of a few hours ago at most, so Shouta just winds his arm around Hizashi’s shoulders, pulling him closer.

To his surprise, Hizashi takes a deep breath and speaks. “I...actually don’t my whole story told, I guess. I had to...do a lot of shit to fit in with the League.”

It doesn’t matter,” Shouta says immediately. Tensei makes a noise of agreement.

It was for the greater good,” Nemuri says. “Any means to an end. And you got us all to the end.”

Hizashi smiles shakily, and Shouta’s fingers rub small circles into his shoulder. “I want to hear about all the cool shit you guys did!”

Shouta and Tensei got rad scars,” Nemuri says. “None for me, sadly.” She shudders. “Just the psychological scars of some of the gross shit men said to me.”

You can have mine,” Tensei suggests. “It hurts.”

They still hurt?” Hizashi asks. “I hate that I know that spell.” He shakes his head slowly.

A little,” Shouta says. “The one on my arm hurts around strong magic, and the one on my back hurts when it’s going to rain.”

Nemuri snorts. “If you get any more magical injuries you’ll be able to navigate with them or something. What spell gives you a scar that’s a compass?”

We all made it out alive,” Tensei says. “That’s what matters.”

He’s right. They’re all here, all in one piece. They all have various kinds of scars—they’ll never be the same, but they wouldn’t have anyway. They all fought a war while growing up, but they’re all here now, alive and together.

And it’s all okay.

Chapter Text

T he couch is bigger now. It’s still ratty, a little sunken in the middle, and it somehow still smells like dogs, even after they’ve had it almost a year. But it used to seat three people comfortably, and now, after Nemuri spent half an hour casting spells at it, it’s probably big enough for five. That’s a little more than they need, but in her attempts to get it longer without it being any taller or deeper, she had turned it a little purple and made it smoke slightly, so it seems better to leave it this way.

It’s been a few days since the war ended, and most of the League members being in Azkaban means it’s safe enough for Hizashi to follow Shouta and Tensei to work and sit in the cafe with a book for at least part of their shifts. He doesn’t like being home alone all day, and he hasn’t found a job yet.

Currently, he’s on the couch, sideways to take advantage of the ample room, watching Shouta fiddle with the TV they’d seen on the curb on their way home and dragged home. Shouta has his wand out, but right now he’s just poking the small raised circles along the bottom of the front. After a moment, he sits back with a sigh. “Any luck?” Hizashi asks hopefully.

Shouta tucks his wand back into his pocket. “You know what it’s supposed to do,” he says, turning around. “It’s not doing that. So no.”

Oh, well. You’ll get it, I’m sure!”

Shouta sighs again, an annoyed tone to it. “I’ve told you guys, just because I’m a Muggleborn doesn’t mean I’m an electrician. I can’t even plug this thing in, so I don’t even know if this one works, so I can’t tell if my spells to make it work without electricity are working. Even if I can get it to turn on, I don’t know if it’ll get a signal.

Hizashi only has a vague idea of what he’s talking about, but he thinks he gets the general idea. “The ones at the store were working? So you know those aren’t broken. We could buy one if that would be easier?”

Shouta nods, and Hizashi feels a small swell of pride that he knew enough about the problem to give a reasonable suggestion for a solution. “We might have to. But that’s further away, and I don’t know how something as complicated as this would deal with a shrinking charm .”

It doesn’t look that complicated to Hizashi—it’s just a sheet of black glass in a box, but he’ll take Shouta’s word for it. “You can shrink living things and they’re fine? And they’re pretty complicated, with all the stuff inside.” Oh—it must be like that, with all the complicated parts on the inside. Hizashi imagines the box full of glowing organs. “Hey, can you open it up so I can see the inside? I mean, unless that would hurt it!”

Shouldn’t hurt it,” Shouta says, but he stands up, stretching. “I’m done with this for now, though.”

Oh, okay.” Shouta does look kind of tense, and there’s a frustrated crease to his eyebrows, so when he turns and moves over to the couch, Hizashi shifts his legs apart to make a space for him—the couch got a little deeper, the cushions not so big that they can’t sit with their feet on the floor and still use the backrest, but the four people who live here are all tall, and a shorter person might find it less comfortable. The cushions are also all different sizes now, but that’s okay.

H e did it without thinking, welcoming Shouta into his space, asking him to come cuddle with him, but it still sends a little thrill through him when he does it, when he doesn’t even hesitate before plopping down in Hizashi’s lap, his legs slung over one of Hizashi’s, his back against the back of the couch. He closes his eyes, so he can’t see Hizashi’s embarrassingly wide smile. His insides feel all melty, something soft and sweet in his chest. Shouta huffs out another sigh, this one on the edge of relaxation, and Hizashi wants to help with that, so he tugs his arm free when where it had been trapped by Shouta’s body and buries his hand in Shouta’s hair, scratching gently at his scalp.

The next sigh is definitely happy, and Hizashi smiles even wider. Shouta’s hair is soft, and it had been wavy when it was long but now it’s almost curly, sticking up in random directions, curling around his hands. “It’s getting longer,” Hizashi comments, pulling gently until the strands between his fingers are straight. When he saw Shouta on the battlefield, his hair had been almost completely gone, shorn down to his scalp. Now it’s almost six inches long, enough to cover his ears, touching the collar of his shirt in the back. It’s starting to get in his eyes, not so long yet that he can tuck it behind his ears or pull it back into a ponytail—it’s falling forward now, and Shouta’s eyes are closed but Hizashi gently fixes it anyway, combing it back with his fingers. He cards his hand through the rest of his hair, drinking in the pleased noise Shouta makes in the back of his throat, helplessly in love.

He almost can’t believe this is real. Shouta is warm pressed against him, and there are quiet voices from the next room, Nemuri and Tensei working together to cook something for supper in the kitchen, gentle domestic sounds of chopping and peeling, all indistinct under the murmur of a commercial on the radio, turned low. Everyone he loves is here, safe, it’s safe.

If he was Sooty, he would be purring, deafeningly loud, but since he’s human there’ s just affection dripping from every syllable when he suggests, “If you want to get past this awkward growing-out stage, I’m pretty sure there’s a potion for that in one of our schoolbooks. I could make it for you, you could grow it back overnight.”

It’s not right away, not sudden, but now there’s a tension to Shouta’s shoulders, and when he doesn’t answer, the silence isn’t relaxed, it’s brittle, there’s a coldness to it and now to Shouta’s body where it’s pressed against his. Hizashi’s hand stills, then pulls back, as he swallows around the anxiety suddenly tightening his throat. He’s sure he said something wrong, somehow.

It’s a small relief even just to hear Shouta speak. “Hizashi,” he says, and usually he loves hearing Shouta say his name, it feels like a form of intimacy, like he sees him, like his name means something to him, and it still sounds like that, but the way he says it, like he doesn’t want to but has to, doesn’t help with the sudden tension in the room. The noise from the kitchen feels far away. “You told me there was something you weren’t saying. That you’d tell me when you got home.”

Oh. The swoop of dread low in his stomach, the prickle over his arms—this was hanging over him, and it’s finally dropped like a bucket of cold water . “ Y-yeah.” He’s done worse—he has more sins to confess, burning a hole in him, but Shouta is going to forgive those, absolve them, he’s going to tell him it doesn’t matter, but this...this is an apology, an excuse. This is something he did to Shouta, and he’s not sure how he’s going to react. But he’s kidding himself if he tries to think it might not be so bad. He knows Shouta too well for that.

It had seemed so obvious, at the time. Like he couldn’t have done anything else. It had been a split-second decision, but he’s realized since then that Nedzu had always intended to offer Shouta’s safety to him as an incentive. And he had probably always intended for it to be a lie.

It’s been minutes since he’s spoken. “I-I suppose I did.”

Shouta has to know by now that it’s something bad, but he must have always known, or Hizashi would have just said in the letter. He just waits, stiff and still on Hizashi’s lap, with nothing but a tilt of his head, an order to keep speaking. Hizashi feels numb as he grips the back of the couch. He’s not going to touch Shouta again just to be pushed away. He wishes they weren’t touching at all, but Shouta is the one sitting on him, and he hasn’t moved. Hasn’t shifted at all, hasn’t said another word. The silence pulls at him like a tide, pulling words out of him. “I’m—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—no, sorry, I can’t say that. I did. I’d probably do it again, even. But I am sorry.”

Now Shouta does move, pushing himself off the couch, standing up. It’s both a relief and a loss, that they’re not touching anymore. With him standing and Hizashi sitting—he probably doesn’t mean to loom over him, but he kind of is. Hizashi pulls his limbs back, pulling his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. He feels small. “What did you do?” Shouta asks. Still calm, but with an edge to his voice. He’s not mad yet, but he’s going to be.

Hizashi takes a breath. Better to just say it, but it’s hard. “I...so Nedzu recruited me first, right? Right after you were attacked.”

Right,” Shouta says slowly. That’s good, keep him talking so he can tell how mad he is. Angry silence hurts.

“Okay. But you wanted to join, then. You never said, but I could guess. And I didn’t want you to.”

Shouta just waits, and Hizashi pulls further into himself, but he manages to keep talking.

“He meant to offer it to me—he was the one who brought it up, that you were going to ask to join. But he didn’t say it outright. I did. So it’s not like that makes it better. He asked me to join, and I—told him I would. If he didn’t let you.”

There’s a horrible moment before Shouta speaks. “Hizashi, you...” Still not mad, but surprised, and that could be just as bad.

“I tried to stop you from joining UA. It didn’t work, Nedzu was lying to me, but that’s what I tried to do. I knew you were going to be mad, but it—it was to keep you safe. I couldn’t go off to war without thinking I was keeping you safe.” He’s talking too fast now, babbling, and he tries to shut up, watching Shouta carefully, pleadingly.

“You tried to keep me from fighting,” Shouta says, flat, and Hizashi cringes. “You knew what that would mean to me and you did it anyway.”

“It didn’t work! Nedzu was lying. You joined, you got what you wanted!” His voice comes out too high, he’s starting to panic, his throat tight. Shouta is still standing over him, but standing up would only make it worse. Fighting back only ever made it worse.

Hizashi,” Shouta growls. “I never would have been safe. I wouldn’t have been safe as a civilian. I’m safest on my feet.”

Hizashi tries to take a breath, tries to steady himself and keep talking, but he can’t, his chest feels too tight for his lungs to expand fully, his breath coming too fast. He shouldn’t be this afraid. He was never this afraid as a kid, and Shouta isn’t his father, but it’s been years and it’s like all the fear he could have felt then is coming to the surface now. Like he’s back in that house, after knowing what it’s like to not be there. Like he lost all the armor he used to have, but the old wounds are still there, reopening.

Hizashi?” Shouta’s still mad, but there’s also a note of something weird in his voice—it takes Hizashi a second to recognize it as concern.

Sorry,” he croaks, trying to make it less obvious that he’s panicking. “I’m really sorry, I know I shouldn’t—you have every right to be mad at me, I just—”

You’re having a panic attack,” Shouta notes, his tone moving back from furious.

Y-yeah,” Hizashi says, burying his face in his knees and trying to control his breathing. He can’t see it anymore, but he’s still aware of Shouta standing over him, and his mind conjures images of one arm raised to strike. He shouldn’t be this afraid.

What can I do?” Shouta’s tone is softer now.

His voice helps. So does the question. That lets Hizashi calm down enough to say, “Stand further away? P-please.”

His picks his head up to watch Shouta turn around and walk across the room—then sit down on the floor, making himself small, his posture open, though stiff.

Finally Hizashi can take a deep breath, and with a couple of those, he finally feels like he has himself under some amount of control. “Thank you,” he says, still a little shaky. “I don’t deserve you.”

I’m mad at you,” Shouta says, voice deliberately calm, “but I’m not going to hurt you.”

You did,” Hizashi points out, though maybe he shouldn’t. “You punched me hard enough to knock me down.”

Shouta’s eyes widen, like maybe he hadn’t even remembered that. “I’m...sorry. I was fourteen. And an idiot. It didn’t seem to bother you, then.”

No, because I was used to it,” Hizashi says, overly light, but the words seem to echo. He was used to it.

Shouta looks faintly sick. “I’m sorry,” he repeats. “I won’t do it again.” His voices makes it a promise.

Hizashi puts his head down again, laughing a short bitter laugh. “Sorry. I managed to turn this all around so now you’re apologizing to me.”

He can see, out of the top of his vision, Shouta shrug. “We both have things to apologize for.”

Still, we were talking about what I did,” Hizashi says. He’s calmer now, and he continues. “I don’t know what else to say about that, though. I’m sorry. I know why you’re mad at me. It rings a little hollow to say I won’t do it again, when I won’t get the chance to anyway. The war is over. I don’t know what I can do to make it right.”

Respect my ability to make my own major life decisions,” Shouta suggests, and a weight Hizashi hadn’t quite noticed lifts off his chest, making it even easier to breath. Oh. That implies a future, like this isn’t the end of anything, like he’s still going to be around to have any say in what Shouta does with his life. Like he’s not breaking up with him over this.

I will,” Hizashi promises, lifting up his head to smile shakily at Shouta.

Shouta doesn’t smile back, but he nods. “Good.”