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Echoes of Light and Shadow- Book 4: A Breath of Rubies

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"Let me just get… it's gone." 

 

"What do you mean 'gone'?" 

 

"Just what I said, it's gone." Tom ground his teeth and thought for a moment. "I think Emma may have taken it. I'll ring you back. If don't hear from me by the end of the day, I'm in jail for murdering my little sister." 

 

"I'll come break you out." 

 

Tom grinned. "You would, wouldn't you?" 

 

Loki grinned back. "Of course I would." 

 

"The unexpected perks of having a Slytherin boyfriend. I'll see you soon." 

 

"I look forward to it." 

 

Tom slipped the hand-sized mirror into his pocket, levered himself out of bed, and stormed into the hallway, slamming his door shut again behind him. "Emma?" 

 

Tom's younger sister stuck her head out of her own bedroom door. "What?" 

 

“Have you been mucking about in my room?” Tom glared down at his little sister. 

 

“No.” She looked up at him with wide, innocent blue eyes. Like a Renaissance cherub. He didn’t believe it for a moment.  She tasted like peppermint humbugs and peculiar shade of fuchsia. 

 

“Emma, you know I can tell if you’re lying, right?” 

 

“Can’t. Besides, I didn’t go in your room at all.” 

 

Tom sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. Emma was old enough to realize that her fourteen year old brother absolutely could tell if she was lying, she just didn’t care. “Emma, you went into my room and took my chocolate. I know you did, so might as well admit it.” 

 

“Didn’t!” 

 

“Mum,” Tom yelled down the stairs, “Emma’s been in my room again.” 

 

Their mother appeared at the bottom of the steps. “I’m not going to shout up at you two, so you might as well come down so we can talk about this like civilized people.” 

 

Tom and his sister both rolled their eyes. The pair of them tried to walk down the narrow stairway at the same time and jostled against one another. Tom was bigger and stronger, but annoyed as he was, he didn’t actually want to hurt Emma. He let her go first after a moment of shoving. She stuck her tongue out at him and clattered down the stairs. 

 

Their small house in a London suburb seemed even smaller than it had last year. Tom had grown nearly two inches since he came home from Hogwarts in June, but it felt like twenty feet. Everything was uncomfortably tight, from his tiny bedroom to his clothes. Even Tom’s skin felt too small; like he was growing faster than his own body could handle. He loved his mum and sisters, but this summer had been agony. He missed school and learning magic. He missed his mates, his boyfriend most of all. Every time he rowed with Emma or his mum, Tom considered packing his trunk and escaping to Hampshire, where Loki was trapped with his own family. Maybe they could find some pleasant, private spot where they could just be together and not worry about anything. 

 

“Tom, if you have something to say, you should say it, not just stare out the window.” 

 

Tom reined in his wandering mind and focused on his mum. “Emma’s been going through my things again. She took the last of my chocolate.” 

 

“Didn’t!” 

 

Tom glared down at his baby sister. “You’re lying.” He looked back to their mother, who wore a look that said she was nearly done with the both of them. “She’s lying Mum, I know she is. I bought that chocolate with my pocket money, and it was expensive! I bet she ate it all.” 

 

“Darlings, I know this is hard for you both, but can you not just make an attempt to get along? Tom, you’re only going to be home for another two weeks, so you only have to put up with one another for a little while longer." Mum turned her attention to Emma. “Did you go into your brother’s room and take his sweets?” 

 

Emma quailed under their mother’s glare. “No…” 

 

“Emma.” 

 

“Yes I did.” 

 

“Ha! I knew it.” 

 

Emma turned her attention to Tom, fists balled up, a furious scowl on her little round face. Vermilion rage radiated off her smaller form, and Tom realized this went beyond filching sweets. “You only care about your stupid choc’late and spending all day in your room talking to yourself. I hate you! Why don’t you just go back to school already!” She stamped her foot and raced up the stairs. 

 

Tom stared after her. He knew that Emma had been moody all summer. He didn’t need to be an legilimotce to know that. However, he did possess the magical skill of legilimotcy, which made him an empath, and his sister’s anger hit him like a hurricane of cat-scratches and fresh crimson paint. 

 

He closed his mouth, pushed up his glasses, and looked at his mother. “Do you know why she’s so upset?” Tom’s ability meant he could feel emotions as tastes, scents, colors, or physical sensation. Despite living with this rich, complex extra sense that most humans couldn’t even comprehend, Tom could not read thoughts, only emotions. He knew that Emma was upset, but not the cause of her distress. 

 

“She’s missed you desperately,” Mum replied. “With you away at school, and Sarah abroad at university, the house has been a bit… lonesome. She was so excited before you came home. She wants to spend more time with her big brother.” 

 

Tom looked away as guilt washed through him. He really hadn’t spent much time with his family. Emma was right that he did spend most of his time in his bedroom, though he wasn’t talking to himself. It was an understandable mistake since Loki’s voice sounded exactly like his own to anyone who wasn’t one the two of them. To Tom, Loki sounded like a recording of his own voice. Which was to say, just different enough to be distinct. Apart from hair and skin color, Tom and Loki were identical. Tom’s hair was short, curly, and blond, while Loki’s was long, wavy, and black. Tom’s complexion was a deeply tanned bronze at the moment, while Loki’s was a creamy white. Loki didn’t wear spectacles, but Tom need them to see anything beyond the tip of his nose. 

 

But beyond those coloration differences, they were identical. They were both slim and tall. Since they met at the age of eleven, they’d been the exact same size, as though the same bones lay under their skin. People mistook them for twins all the time, but in truth they were the same person from two different realities. Tom still had no idea why he lived in the same world as Loki, though he couldn't imagine his life without him. At night, he often experienced the lives of many other versions of the two of them through his dreams, but none of those other selves had a companion self the way they had one another. They'd both seen another universe where they were together as adults, but neither of them had ever dreamed of this world. 

 

Still, not even many wizards had encountered a doppelganger from another reality, so most people thought they were brothers. This had always annoyed them both, but now it was completely inappropriate, since they’d been boyfriends since the end of the previous school year. 

 

A fact that Tom had yet to mention to his family. 

 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think about it like that.” 

 

“I don’t think I’m the person you should be apologizing to, darling.” 

 

Tom looked up at his mother. She was only an inch or so taller than him now, but he still had to look up. “Still, I haven’t been around for either of you.” 

 

Mum smiled. “Unlike Emma, I was a teenager once, even if I was never a teenage boy. I remember spending endless hours chatting with my friends on the phone.” 

 

Tom wasn’t chatting with Loki using a phone. His boyfriend’s house didn't even have a phone. The two-way mirrors they had were enchanted to link with one another so that the could talk much like on a telephone. They could also see one another, though the mirrors were only about the size of one of their hands, which meant that sight range was unfortunately limited. 

 

“I suppose that’s true, but just because I’m dying to get back to school doesn’t mean I can’t interact more with you both while I’m here.” 

 

“That would be very nice, but I’m certainly not going to force you to spend all your time with us.” 

 

Tom snickered. “That’s probably for the best.” 

 

Mum crossed her arms over her chest. “Now, what’s all this business about chocolate? You know you’re not supposed to have food in your room.”

 

Tom blushed. “I know, but…” There was no possible way to explain this to his mother without imploding with embarrassment. “I’m very careful to make sure that it’s well wrapped and not attracting bugs.” 

 

“I’d really prefer that you didn’t keep sweets in your room.” 

 

Tom bit his lip and looked away. “I… ummm.” 

 

On one hand, he completely understood this particular rule. Years ago, his older sister Sarah had left a half-eaten packet of biscuits open on the floor of her room, then gone away for a week. By the time she got back, a whole colony of ants had set up shop on her bedroom floor. That had been ages ago, but the rule still stood. 

 

On the other hand, he didn’t want anyone else to eat his chocolate. As he’d said, Tom bought this himself, for himself. This wasn’t a Flake or a Mars bar; this was imported Mexican chocolate that he’d gone to a lot of trouble to find, and was rather pricey. He ate it one small square at a time, letting it melt purely from the heat of his mouth, until the chocolate and chilies coated his tongue and filled his senses. 

 

Tom had a rather… unique relationship with chocolate. That was the other reason he didn’t want to leave it somewhere other than his room. Loki felt like chocolate to Tom’s legilimotic senses, and had for almost as long as they’d known one another. Tom knew that this sublime flavor was how his empathy read Loki’s feelings towards Tom, how he cared for him. The type of chocolate varied depending on his boyfriend’s mood, though Tom craved it no matter what. But when that rich chocolate was mixed with the piquant heat of chili peppers, it meant something more sensual than just Loki’s affection. So when the special chocolate enveloped Tom's palate, he could envision that it was Loki he felt on his tongue, not just an exotic sweet. 

 

But there was no way Tom was going to try and explain this to his mum; the idea of sharing something that intimate with her was unthinkable.

 

"Yes Mum." He could always lock the chocolate in his trunk. It would be less convenient than in the drawer of his nightstand, but safer. 

 

Tom's mother narrowed her eyes, but nodded. He could tell that she thought he was complying too quickly, but honestly he didn't care as long as she accepted his word. "Alright then, go talk to your sister." 

 

"Yes Mum." Tom scampered back upstairs and tapped on his sister's door. 

 

"Emma? Can we talk, please?" 

 

"Go 'way!" 

 

"Please?" 

 

The door opened and Emma glared up at him. "What do you want?" 

 

"I wanted to apologize." 

 

She scowled. "For what?" 

 

“For not being around much.” 

 

“You’re always here. Well, there.” She pointed to his closed bedroom door across the hall. “What do you do all day anyway?” 

 

Tom glanced over his shoulder, then back at Emma. “May I come in?” 

 

Emma blinked at him, then stood out of the way so he could come inside. Tom closed the door and went to sit on his older sister’s abandoned bed. Sarah was usually abroad these days. She was at university in Germany, and spent most of her time with her mates in Europe. She still visited occasionally, but mostly Emma had the room to herself. 

 

“You said that you’ve heard me talking to myself, right?” 

 

Emma sat cross-legged on her own narrow bed and nodded to Tom. “Yeah. It’s weird.” 

 

“Well, I’m not actually talking to myself. Do you remember the boy I told you about? The one who looks like me?” 

 

Emma nodded. “Loki?” 

 

“Yes. I’m talking to him.” 

 

Emma appeared to think about this for a long time. “Why are you talking to him so much?” 

 

Tom took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “Can you keep a secret?” 

 

His sister’s eyes lit up and she nodded. 

 

“Pinky swear?” 

 

“Yes!” She reached out and hooked her pinky with his. “I swear I won’t tell anyone your secret!” 

 

Tom chuckled to himself. Emma was actually fairly good at keeping secrets, but you had to approach it the right way. He leaned in conspiratorially and whispered in her ear. “Loki is my boyfriend.” 

 

Emma’s eyes went wide. “You have a boyfriend? Like Sarah?” 

 

He nodded. For some reason it was far easier to say this to Emma that it was to even think about telling their mother. 

 

Emma giggled. Her delight felt like a mouthful of grape soda. “That’s so cute!” 

 

Tom blushed and dropped his head into his hands. “Cute?” 

 

She nodded. “Does that mean I get another big brother?” 

 

“Ummm…” 

 

“Have you kissed him?” 

 

“I…” 

 

“Do you loooove him?” 

 

Tom was regretting this already. “Emma!” 

 

She giggled and put her hands over her mouth. 

 

“No, you don’t get an extra older brother. Yes, I have kissed him. And yes, I do love him. Does that answer all of your nosy parker questions?” 

 

Emma nodded and giggled madly. “Can I meet him? I want to meet him. Does he have sisters too? Will I get extra sisters?” 

 

“Emma, I already told you, he’s not an extra brother.” 

 

“Why not? If Sarah marries her boyfriend, then he’s my brother, right?” 

 

“I can’t marry Loki.” 

 

Emma scowled. “Why not?” 

 

Tom sighed. “Because boys can’t marry other boys, that’s why.” 

 

“That’s stupid.” 

 

Tom smiled. Out of the mouths of babes. “I agree, but it’s still true.” 

 

“Oh well. Can I still meet him? And does he have sisters?” 

 

“Meeting him might be a bit tricky, since you can’t come onto the platform with me when I go back to school. And no, he’s an only child, though he does live with his cousin.” 

 

“Oh. You should bring him home for the holidays or something. I want to meet him.” 

 

Tom smiled. He hadn’t been certain how Emma would react, but her simple, straightforward acceptance was heartwarming. He supposed she was young enough to just take this kind of thing in stride. “I’ll see what I can do. But remember, this is a secret, right? Don’t go telling Mum or Sarah, or even your mates at school, alright?” 

 

“I pinky swore! Of course I won’t tell.” 

 

“Good. I knew I could trust you.” 

 

Emma beamed at him. 

 

“Now, I need to go down to the shops. Do you want to come with me?” 

 

“Really?” 

 

Tom grinned at his sister’s enthusiasm. “Well, I need to replace the chocolate you took, so you might as well come with me.” 

 

“Oh.” Emma’s face fell. “I um… I didn’t actually eat your choc’late. It tasted prickly.” She reached into her own nightstand drawer and handed the mostly-intact bar of chocolate back to Tom. He examined it, and discovered that she’d taken one small bite out of a corner, and that was it. “Sorry.” 

 

Tom gave a relieved sigh. He’d probably still get more anyway, since he didn’t think he’d be able to get this particular chocolate at the sweetshop in Hogsmeade, but it would hopefully be less relevant once he was back at school. A flutter went through his stomach at that thought, and he pushed it down. That was something to ruminate on later, not when he was headed to the shops with his baby sister. 

 

“It’s alright. We can still go to the sweetshop. I’ll get you something you’ll like better. Does that sound good?” 

 

Emma hopped up and clapped her hands. “Yay!” 

 

Tom chuckled. “Let me put this away, then we’ll go.” This time, he put the chocolate in his trunk and carefully locked it. 

 

Their mother gave him a smile when he told her where they were off to. “Make sure you don’t spoil your supper. Be back by teatime, alright?” 

 

He nodded, and they left. 

 

Being out with Emma was more fun than Tom would have thought. Her enthusiasm was quite literally contagious, since it crept under his emotion-blocking shields every time she bumped into him or held his hand. He found himself having a bit more spring in his step than usual. Part of it was that he’d finally told someone in his family about his relationship with Loki and it had gone far better than he’d expected. He wasn’t exactly hiding it, but he wasn’t advertising either. Tom well remembered rants his grandfather had gone on about “the bloody poufs” when he was younger. His mother had never said how she felt one way or the other during these tirades, but he knew now that she’d lied to him about various people in their lives who were certainly in gay relationships. The idea of actually telling her that he was gay was terrifying. 

 

Loki’s mum didn’t have to be told. She was a seer, and frequently had visions about Loki’s future. She saw more clearly than anyone else Tom had ever met, even though she was barely connected to reality. Frigga likely knew that Tom and Loki would end up together before either of them even thought about it. Tom was slightly jealous of that. Not only did Loki not have to tell his mum that he had a boyfriend, Frigga approved and openly supported them both. 

 

On the other hand, Loki was having a rough time at home at the moment. His family was essentially wizard aristocracy, though Loki was illegitimate. At the end of last school year Loki had learned that his father was not a Muggle - what magical people called normal people like Tom’s family - as he'd thought, but in fact a Frost Giant. This was traumatic enough, but somehow Loki’s conservative uncle had also learned this, and was making Loki and his mother’s lives very difficult. 

 

There were many reasons that they were both dying to get back to school.  

 

The afternoon with Emma went well. Tom got her a bag of Jelly Babies - which he couldn't stand, but she adored - and another couple of bars of the Mexican chocolate for himself. That should hold him until school started, plus a little extra. Emma gave him a judgmental look as she gleefully bit the heads off her Jelly Babies and he didn’t even unwrap his chocolate, but to his relief, she didn’t ask him about it. 

 

He didn't get back to Loki until after supper. 

 

"So you didn't murder your sister." 

 

"No. She didn't eat very much of it. She said it tasted 'prickly'." 

 

Loki chuckled. "How appropriate." 

 

Tom snickered. "Not everyone had my refined taste." 

 

"I think you'll find that particular taste is mine." 

 

"Mmmm, true." 

 

"Gods, I can't wait to actually see you in person." 

 

"Likewise." 

 

Loki sighed. “Soon.” 

 

Tom smiled at him through the glass. “Soon.”