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Bloom

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The Slytherin common room seemed an apt setting for Todoroki’s life, cold and empty as it was.

The thought crossed his mind, and he brushed it off just as easily; such thoughts weren't stabs to the gut, more like mosquitos he slapped from his wrist. He viewed his life with the same disappointed indifference of a gambler watching his horse lose the race. There was no use in getting worked up about what couldn't be changed.
He tries to flip to the next page of his spellbook, to review what he'd be working on tonight, but the pages stick together in the wet air.
The common room had been built directly under a lake, an architectural move not entirely thought through, the rooms perpetually clammy and damp.

Not that he really minded.

It just meant less people stuck around, when they had the option to be in the much drier bedrooms: especially now, as the sun was setting.
Curled up on one of the couches by the window, the rest of the common room was abandoned for the night, students already having returned to their rooms to sleep.
Finally prying the pages apart and reading by wandlight, Todoroki idly wondered if he preferred the solitude, or if he’d just gotten used to the quiet.
The quiet was better than whatever he was going to find upstairs. Regrettably, he needed to head up there soon: he knew better than to show up late.

Just as the thought crossed his mind, the sound of chattering voices caught his attention. Two other third years in his class were coming through the entrance, Jirou and Tokoyami. They hung around each other pretty often, as he’d noticed from a distance, the pair like a shadow moving in on the room. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen them wear something that wasn’t black, besides the signature silver and green ties.

“..So the student will officially be sorted at tomorrow’s feast.”
Tokoyami’s voice echoed as the two settled down to talk on a nearby table. That was another odd thing about the pair. They were always perching on the edge of a table instead of sitting down, as if disregarding chairs made them look appropriately blasé and anti authority. He just thought it seemed uncomfortable.

“I feel like that would be embarrassing, in front of everyone.. as a third year, I mean.”
Jirou responded, her voice low.

“This is the first I’ve heard of a case like this. I suppose they don’t have a more tactful manner of dealing with it, yet. Besides, the papers already had their piece. He’s been praised as a hero, and condemned as a danger in the same breath.”
Tokoyami shrugged, tossing his dark hair over his shoulder, an inky waterfall down his back.

“God. I kinda feel bad for the guy.”
Jirou bit her lip, but didn’t say anything more.

Todoroki lowered his eyes back to the book he was poring over, pretending to have not heard anything. But he knew what they were talking about.
Someone else might have joined in the conversation, tried to find out more; but he much preferred to listen. He’d heard the whispers all throughout the school, already. There was a certain power in staying quiet, overhearing things not meant for you.
As soon as the other two headed up to their rooms, Todoroki moved to the door.

They were two weeks into their third year at Hogwarts, and out of nowhere, a new student was to be enrolled. A ‘late-bloomer’, they’d called him.
That in itself was an oddity. Todoroki couldn’t deny the idea intrigued him, given that most children were meant to manifest magical power by the age of seven. Late enrollment was unheard of as well, given the school didn’t accept transfer students.
He felt a glimmer of pity for the kid. The school was either taking him in because they wanted to study his strange circumstances, and keep tabs on him, or as some kind of publicity stunt. Knowing all too well how the higher ups thought, it was probably both.

After another cursory glance ensuring no one else was around, he quietly exited into the corridor outside. He threw his cloak around his shoulders, melting into the shadows, sneaking through the hallway.

His father would be expecting him.

He put aside thoughts of odd transfer students, and mysterious awakenings, for now; and yet, the case was even odder than Todoroki knew.

Izuku Midoriya was born a squib.
A squib: a child with magical heritage, but one who never developed magical ability of their own. His existence was a fluke, a dud.
By all means, he should have stayed a squib. Perhaps he would have been safer as one. He had been fated to a peaceful life in the Muggle world, devoid of magical influence.
But Izuku Midoriya had other plans for fate.
With a magical mother, he’d learned of the wizarding world at a young age, and since idolized the benevolent and powerful witches and wizards he’d heard about in his bedtime stories.
Ever since then, he knew he wanted to become an auror, just like his childhood idol, Yagi Toshinori. As far as he was concerned, there was no other option.
Even if fate were to lay an unchangeable biological roadblock in his way, placing the memo directly on his lap, Izuku was the type of person to hand it back and say ‘no thank you’.

Finding out he was a squib didn’t crush his spirit for long.

He’d studied every form of written magic he could, by the age of nine. Even if he couldn’t manifest it, he dissected every book he could get his hands on until he understood it inside and out. He probably knew more about the history of wizardkind than the people who actually lived through it.
Even without the use of magic, his work ethic made him immensely knowledgeable. But as Izuku had come to learn the hard way, others were blind to the ambitions of a squib. When he didn’t receive his Hogwarts letter, he buried himself in his covers and cried. A small, childish part of him thought they would have recognized his potential despite his condition, that they would have invited him anyways, but only then did he realize how foolish he’d been to hope.
They overlooked him for years, until finally, by pure luck, he got to take things into his own hands. Standing in front of the school grounds, Toshinori stepping out of the train behind him, he couldn’t help but think back to that day.

Seeing the school in person, now, it was so different from how he’d imagined it.

He’d cobbled together an image of what the place should look like, spires and french windows, owls perching on the rooftops; by eavesdropping on tales of school days told around pub tables, or reading urban legends about the place.
But nothing he’d glimpsed in his mother’s old scrapbook photos held a candle to the reality in front of him.
Hogwarts stood proudly on the hillside, so close he was worried he’d wake from a dream. Something about the dozens of windows speckling the towers seemed mysterious, each room’s contents a secret to the outsider. No one could know for sure: one window could be to a broom closet, and the next to a secret room containing ancient scrolls thought to be lost to the world. The prospect excited him. Shrouded in dusky shadow, the castle looked like a secret ready to be unraveled; a secret Izuku was eager to discover for himself.

“Mr. Toshinori? This is.. incredible.”
Izuku breathed, at a loss for words. Toshinori only laughed, patting him on the back- and laughing was a full-body affair for him, the sound thunderous.

“Everything you dreamed? Well, kid, you deserve it. Not many squibs can fend off an Inferi and live to tell the tale, let alone save lives.”
In all reality, it’s not like skill had anything to do with it.

He’d read countless books on their weaknesses, specifically, notes on how the undead hated bright lights and heat. He was just lucky that he managed to get ahold of his mother’s wand, and lucky that bright energy burst out right when he needed it to.
Of course, he wouldn’t dare say that out loud.
Because of his compulsive reaction, he’d been able to protect his mother when she’d been attacked, and the story had attracted a lot of attention from the wizarding world. He’d been a ‘late-bloomer’, as media had dubbed him. Cases like his were as rare as they come, and the papers swarmed all over the story even before Hogwarts agreed to let him enroll- just another miracle child pushed under the spotlight for the magical community to gawk at. As much as it made him uncomfortable, if it wasn’t for that, Toshinori probably wouldn’t have recognized his existence, nor adopted him as a protege.

“Y-Yeah, thank you, but can we take it easy on the whole..”
He waved his hands, searching for the right words, biting at the inside of his mouth.

“Squib thing?”
He whispered, the word ‘squib’ fragile on his tongue, voice dropping.
“I can use magic now.”
That was a bit of a stretch. Izuku’s magic was a finicky creature that had to be coaxed out, more often than not. He hadn’t been able to use magic properly since that moment of sheer panic, either, getting mere sparks from his wand, or nothing at all.

“Besides, I’d rather.. be like every other student..”
He couldn’t say his expectations were high in that regard, either, someone who’d been struggling against impossible odds his entire life. Given the media circus around his little stunt, the notoriety of his mentor, and the odd circumstances of his enrollment, soon he’d probably have more eyes on him than he’d prefer.

“You’ve got it, kid!”
Toshinori simply flashed him a thumbs up in return, grin as winning as ever, not thoroughly convincing Izuku he’d taken the advice to heart. Izuku forced a grin, trying not to let his expression betray how fast his heart was jackhammering.

“Great.”
He squeaked, his smile tight, close.

Taking a first step onto the grounds, Izuku quietly came to terms with the fact that his mundane life was about to take a running leap into the extraordinary.
It wasn't going to be easy to meet the heightened expectations of his teachers and peers, not with the way the media had praised him so effusively as a 'magical miracle child': it was more of a miracle that they'd admitted him in the first place. He'd undoubtedly struggle to catch up with the last two years of magic schooling he'd missed, and he might face ridicule for his inability, maybe even danger.

He didn’t look back.

Chapter Text

Inside the castle, everything felt larger than life.

He meant it quite literally: the arched ceilings and broad hallways were bigger than any place he’d seen before, and even the standard black robes he’d had to change into felt big enough to swallow him whole. The outside of the school on its own was impressive enough, but standing next to someone like Toshinori, just a speck in the school’s massive space, he felt incredibly small.

“Pick that jaw up off the floor, and follow me! You’re gonna get lost if you lag too much, kid.”
Toshinori’s laugh echoes off the walls, loud enough to bring some life back into Izuku’s nervous shuffle.

He caught up with the taller man quickly, taking in the large windows leading to the courtyard as he passed in awestruck silence. He was only half listening to what Toshinori was saying, a historical anecdote about the courtyard that he’d already read; a story that paled in comparison to the actual sight of it.

The world outside was a wash of dusky red and purple, gnarled trees reaching up wooden arms to kiss the evening sky. The sun melted on the horizon like a pat of butter, slowly swimming down under the stained orange hills. Disembodied witchlights danced around the clearing, casting a light across the area. Inexplicably, the hair on his arms stood up straight. Even something as ordinary as watching a sunset felt different inside the school, like magic was humming in the air, somehow. His dreams were laid out so neatly in front of him, in reach after struggling for so long. He felt he’d been looking at a cheap recreation of the world until now, suddenly seeing the world in three dimensions, that this was the first real sunset he’d ever seen.

“I can’t believe I get to stay here.”
He said, genuinely, running a hand along the window. Like it knew he was watching, a nearby tree leaned a single bough over, it’s leaves brushing Izuku’s fingers behind the glass. With a surprised laugh, he pressed closer to the glass, cheeks flushing. Glinting higher in the tree were golden fruit, but before he could really take a look, a hand on his back ushered him away.

“Trust me, kid, you’ll see weirder than that.”
Toshinori advised, guiding him back on track, the pair heading further into the depths of the school. Experimentally, he gives a goodbye wave to the tree: one returned by a trembling branch in earnest. Despite Izuku’s lingering curiosity about everything, the trees, the floating fairy lights, the tapestries hung on the walls... he didn’t argue.
He was dizzy on the absurdity of it all, that he could finally start to learn about magic in earnest, that his childhood idol would be by his side, and that he’d just waved goodbye to a tree.

Taking Izuku around a corner, the two climbed a pair of impossibly long bone-white stairs, Toshinori exchanging pleasantries with paintings hung on the wall all the way up.
They reached the top of the staircase, and came to a peculiar set of statues, creatures looking somewhere between a dragon and a dog.

“Here we are.”
Toshinori said, cracking his knuckles.
Izuku, looking for some kind of entrance or mechanism, found nothing. Confused, he peered further down the hall, looking for doorways.

Toshinori stepped forward and stood directly in between the statues, speaking in a commanding voice:
“Gingersnap.”

The word triggered the enchanted stone, the statues lowering their heads in a deep bow, and the segment of wall in between them ground upward. Behind the stone slab was a pleasant, simple guest room.

“Alright, kid. Since you get sorted tomorrow, you can sleep in Headmaster Nezu’s guest room for tonight. Don’t go spreading around the password, though.”
Izuku nodded swiftly and repeatedly, bowing, everything short of a salute and a ‘yes sir’. Toshinori, amused, headed off with another half wave.
“Sleep well! I’ll be back tomorrow morning!”

Unsure of how long the door would stay lifted, Izuku hurriedly scurried into his temporary room. Sure enough, as soon as he entered, the door lowered behind him again, like a garage door.
All light from the outside corridor blocked out, it became quite dark, all of a sudden.

Alone in the room, it suddenly felt very real. He wasn’t just taking a tour, he was going to be staying here. He didn’t know what to do with all the feelings bubbling over in his chest, so he clapped a hand over his mouth, grinning dumbly.

Even cast in shadow, the room looked like a storybook page painted into life. It was on the edge of clutter, chipped-paint teacups wobbling on the edge of the book stacks they’d been perched on, quills scattered on the bedside table. A tarot reading was spread across the desk where someone had finished it, in a line spanning the whole desk. The watercolor designs of swords and upside down suns and true lovers shifting subtly, twisting, glittering, like the cards themselves were breathing.
Stepping forward, he gave a globe suspended in a golden cage a hesitant turn with his finger. Moving on to study the spines of some of the shelved books on the wall, he noted they were all dusty tomes on subjects he didn’t understand: but he had time to try.

The urge struck him, hard. He picked up a thick book littered with what looked like astrological symbols, from what he could he see in the dark.

Muscles weak with giddiness, like when you laughed for too long, he collapsed onto the bed.
The lamp by the bed didn’t work, however, no matter how he tried to coax the golden chain hanging by the bulb. Even adding the fading light coming in from the window, he still couldn’t make out the words. Izuku slumped back onto the bed, disappointed.
His thoughts were racing too fast to even try to sleep, and reading was just about one of the only things that unwound him.
He eyed his wand warily, wondering if casting a Lumos charm would be worth the risk- last time he’d nearly singed off his eyebrows.
...If he was making a first impression in front of the entire school tomorrow, he decided he’d prefer to do it with eyebrows intact.

Remembering the fairy lights he’d seen earlier in the courtyard, he tucked the book under his arm, making a compromise with himself: he could go outside and read as long as he still got to bed after the first chapter. He had a long day ahead of him tomorrow.
Izuku found leaving the room was easier than he anticipated. Just a single touch of his palm, and the wall slid back up.
He made his way to the courtyard, even more conscious than before of how loud his footsteps echoed through the empty building. Really, where were the rest of the students? It wasn’t curfew yet- he would have expected to see a couple night owls around.

The school’s raised halls, washed dark with shadow, were alien, beautiful. Alone, it felt like walking through a dream, like he might turn a corner and wake up any moment. He stumbles through the corridors, half-giddy. It was like the place had a tangible aura he was a part of now, those hundreds of years of magical legacy, the brilliant witches and wizards who had come through these very same halls.

The courtyard is easy to find again, fairy lights reflected in the broad window. As he drew closer, however, the gentle lights swimming around begin to spark. Out of nowhere, they flash brighly, like tiny fireworks in the sky, bright enough to make Izuku shield his eyes. It was strange, and entrancing; he forgets entirely about the book tucked under his arm. He’d never read about anything like this, wavering pinpricks of witchlight pulsing in the night, shuddering with fresh bursts of light, like a power surge making a lamp glow brighter.

He drew closer to the window, trying to see what was happening, but his eyes caught on a figure outlined in gold, instead.
Someone was outside, their body a harsh whip of action, throwing something small and round into the sky.
In a flash of bright light, the same light he’d been drawn to, crackling energy splits the air, exploding whatever they’d thrown in tiny chunks across the dark sky.
It goes in countless directions, pieces scattering around the courtyard. One even hit the glass right in front of Izuku’s face, and he flinched. It left a grotesque smear, like a bug on a windshield- some kind of fruit? A bit late, he realized that should have been a loud explosion: however, the clearing was still completely silent.

The dark robed figure bent over and picked up what Izuku now recognized as one of the golden apples hanging from the tree above, soft witchlight lighting on its metallic surface. It was like watching an action movie on mute, throwing up another apple into the sky, casting another explosive spell, and painting the ground with apple chunks- all silent.

Izuku was transfixed.

He’d never seen magic like that. Something about it seemed unhinged, the way it burst from the wand trembling and raw, snaking up through the air crookedly until it found it’s target. He’d spent his childhood years examining books, all the spells neat and standardized, with carefully labeled instructions.
This kind of magic didn’t look nearly as precise as what he’d grown to expect, compared to his mother’s gentle charms, and Mr. Toshinori’s confident, steady spellcasting. It was like the energy was ripping itself from the wand, more than it was being cast strategically.
He ran over all the charms he’d studied, but remembered none that matched up with what he was seeing. It was breathtaking, in that moment, realizing how much more he still had to learn.

The next explosion brings another burst of light, but this time, Izuku notices the face it illuminates. He’d thought that stance was familiar, slouched but still sharp as a knife, but only now does he draw the connection to blonde hair and slanted eyes.

“Kacchan?”

He’s calling out before he can stop himself, stepping into the courtyard.

It was a strange nostalgia he couldn’t put his finger on, seeing his childhood friend like this after all the time they’d been away from each other. They’d been separated practically ever since Bakugo’s magical power had manifested, and his hadn’t. It wasn’t the only reason why Izuku had so desperately wanted to become an auror, but he’d be lying if he denied the small part of him that was still chasing after Bakugo, trying to follow his footsteps.

He opened his mouth to speak, to call out his friend’s name again, but the sound gets swallowed: like he’d never spoken at all. Confused, he lifted a hand to his voicebox, trying again. He feels his throat vibrate, his lips shape the word, but no sound is coming out.
Bakugo scooped up a small lantern that had been sitting at his feet, extinguishing the candlelight between his fingers. He didn’t so much as flinch. As soon as the lantern went dark, suddenly, Izuku could hear wind rustling through the trees around him. It was as if someone had lifted the curtain on a stage show, and the characters were finally allowed to talk.

“...Deku.”

“Ah, I see, so that lantern is enchanted with a silencing charm! Did you do that so you wouldn’t disturb anyone? That’s really impressive, Kacchan! I didn’t expect anything else.”

Bakugo’s jaw tightened, his gaze darting over Izuku, scornful enough to burn.
The silence is heavy, so Izuku started talking again.

“The way you use your magic is really unusual. You’ve changed a lot since I last saw you, huh? I’m really curious about that spell, if you’d be willing to tell me-”

“So, you really decided to show up here.”
He doesn’t get the chance to finish his sentence. Interruption was commonplace with Bakugo, so Izuku took it in stride, their usual mannerisms already falling back into place. He was used to the way Bakugo’s face would sour the longer you talked to him, like the world’s angriest cup of tea, steeping, hatred growing stronger the longer you stayed by him. Usually he would only get a whack to the arm or a kick to the shin for rambling on too long, but he was still in the safe zone.

“Kacchan, your magic is impressive, but aren’t those apples school property? I once read those kinds of apples are used to make truth serums, and that they’re actually pretty hard to grow unless you have the right conditions… Then again, there’s a bunch of theories saying it’s not actually hard to grow them, they’re just pretty tightly controlled by the Ministry, because-”

“Stop mumbling, you fucking nerd. You make me sick.”
His voice suddenly spiked, his still form quaking with barely restrained anger. Izuku blinked. This was… different from his usual anger. Something was bothering him.
“I’m using them to practice, so they’re MY property now.”

His body snapped into action, violently hurling another golden apple into the air. The unsilenced sound of his magic is like a crack of lightning, followed by thunder, rolling over the clearing. The apple doesn’t come back down in one piece, and Izuku has a sinking feeling it was meant to be a warning shot.

“Last time I checked, this was a school, not a charity. I don’t know how you managed to worm your pathetic ass in here, but we don’t need squibs.”
The venom is familiar, but it stings nonetheless. Izuku refused to curl into himself as he usually did, however, stepping forward. Bakugo wasn’t the only one who had changed.

“I can use magic now, too! Haven’t you been reading the newspapers…?”
Izuku pulled out his wand to show the other boy, like it’s mere existence would be enough to prove his aptitude. It had taken quite a while, but this wand was the one that had chosen him; on his worst days, when he couldn’t even summon a spark, remembering that fact comforted him. He wasn’t the same helpless kid that’d been left behind.
Bakugo took one look at it and sneered, aiming his own at the other boy.

“Yeah, so? If you can really use magic, then how come you never even bothered before, huh?”
Crimson eyes dart restlessly around the clearing, his lips twitching, before drawing tight.
“You thought it wasn’t worth showing someone like me?”

Ah.

Izuku’s arms shot up defensively, feet tripping backwards. He felt a bead of sweat roll down his neck. In retrospect, maybe he should have expected this.
“It’s not like I wasn’t trying, back then…! It just happened all of a sudden-”
He was interrupted by an explosion right behind him, a burst of scorching hot air rolling over him; a near miss. He shivered.

“THEN USE IT NOW!”
Bakugo was losing his patience, stalking forward, stormclouds brewing in his eyes. He held his wand like it was a dagger, rather than the delicate tool it was meant to be, it’s dark and gnarled wood pointing directly at Izuku.
Izuku recognized the look on his face. He wasn’t going to miss again.

“H-Hold on, it doesn’t work like that! I think there has to be some kind of danger, or something, at least...”
He didn’t know much about how it worked, himself, but he still tried to diffuse the situation. Izuku’s hands hovered nervously in front of his face as he spoke, waiting for the blow he knew was coming.

“Danger?”
On reflex, Izuku’s hand twitches, his wand shakily moving to point at his friend. Bakugo’s laugh was more of a snarl.
“Alright, I’ll give you danger, bastard-”

The blow never came.

Chapter Text

Izuku stared down at his wand, dumbstruck.
A bolt of bright white magic had lit up the area, an invisible grip hoisting Bakugo up into the air.
Izuku wanted to keep his teeth, so he would never admit to thinking it: but he looked like an angry kitten being lifted by the scruff of its neck, helplessly dangling.

“FIGHT FAIR, COWARD!!”
He violently resisted, struggling in vain against the invisible force.
If anyone hadn’t heard the explosion earlier, they were definitely hearing Bakugo now. Izuku winced as he was subject to some creative swearing. He clawed at the air, trying to pull himself closer to Izuku, but the spell was holding him tight.

Had he… done that? That blast of light looked similar to how it’d looked that first night he used magic, though he hardly remembered it, a whirl of memory.

In the next moment, Bakugo was dumped on the ground, unceremoniously, as easy as a soap bubble popping.

The hatred in his eyes burned strongly enough for Izuku to slowly lower the helping hand he was about to offer. Izuku’s gaze moved back down to his wand, turning it over in his hands, trying to feel for the warmth he'd felt when he'd saved his mother.

“Was that you?”
Bakugo hissed, jumping back up to his feet, stalking closer. His eyes darted around the area, but don’t find anyone else to blame it on.
Izuku had no answer. He’d only performed magic once. The feeling wasn’t familiar yet. Last time, it’d felt like something had been torn from his chest, shooting out through his wand. The exhilaration had left him short of breath, but he felt nothing, now. He’d read stories about how wizards, once they had enough experience, used magic as easily as they took a breath.

It was a pleasant idea, but…

Bakugo scoffed. His grin was cruel, performative. He refuses to look Izuku in the eye.

“You’ve been looking down on me this whole time. Is that it? ...Next time, you fight with everything you’ve got. No more acting like you can’t do anything.”

“Kacch-”

“Don’t fucking talk to me.”

 

Bakugo stormed off, not sparing another glance. Izuku was alone again, holding a book he’d forgotten about reading, the scent of charred apples hanging in the air.
He couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt already settling in his stomach. Somehow, he’d always seen Bakugo as an immovable object, an obstacle to surpass. But, he was still human. Izuku decided he should apologize later, even though he didn’t do anything wrong.

His reading mood spoiled, new questions and worries crowding his head, he turned on his heel and started back to the guest room. He didn’t get very far.
Further inside, a pinprick of lantern light floated around the corner and down the hallway. It was starting to get foggy outside, and he had to squint to believe he was actually seeing it; that it wasn’t just a reflection of the witchlights on the window. But as the person drew closer, stepping from the foggy mirage he saw dark hair, dark clothes, and a bone-pale hand holding the lantern, too far to make out a face. It reminded him of childhood stories he’d heard about dementors, eerily drifting phantoms, lingering at the fuzzy ends of your vision, where mist meets darkness.

He knew it was illogical, but the resemblance unnerved him. Still, they were the only other person he’d seen awake besides Bakugo, which was a fact that became stranger the longer it stood. He thought maybe he’d approach, try and apologize for the mess. But just as soon as the whim crossed his mind and he stepped forward, an arm materialized out of thin air and grabbed his arm.

His anxiety flared, heart leaping to life in his chest.

He could reconcile beautiful waving trees with golden apples, and talking paintings, but disembodied arms floating in the courtyard HAD to cross the line.
He frantically pulled away, staring at the floating arm still stubbornly holding his arm. It was a sight right out of a surrealist painting, as if someone had simply unzipped the air, and pushed their hand through. That was the only way he could describe it, his mind reeling.

He was in danger.

His breath caught in his lungs, and when he reached for his wand, his assailant’s hand slid down to his wrist, pressing his arm behind his back.
He fought as hard as he could, but it was a short struggle. Just beyond the arm, he could feel a whole body: someone completely invisible was standing behind him. They were trying to wrestle something over his head, the other hand still holding his arm to his back, pulling his body backwards. Finally, they succeeded, Izuku finding his body enveloped in a heavy, silken cloth.

He opened his mouth to scream for help to the still approaching lantern-bearer, but an icy cold hand clamped over his lips before he can get a noise out.
“Sh. Sorry about this, but I’m doing you a favor.”
The cold urgency in this person’s voice made him look around.

He’d been pulled… under a cloak. He was surrounded by a strange, translucent fabric. Though, it felt velvety, soft to the touch, not the kind of plastic feeling he’d expect from something he could see through so easily. The thought sparked a dim memory, something he’d read about before: a cloak that lets people vanish into thin air.
The realization dawns on him. Of course, he was standing under an invisibility cloak. He peered up at the other person underneath the cloak, who removed his hand from Izuku’s mouth, noticing he’d realized the situation.

It was a boy who couldn’t have been much older than him, wearing a Slytherin tie. His eyes found dark hair- wait, light hair? It was hard to tell in the lighting, but his captor had two different shades of hair, his eyes similarly mismatched. His patchwork appearance hardly matched his uniform, honors-student crisp, neatly pressed. He was watching the approaching lantern light cagily.

Izuku’s gaze followed his. The figure was moving down the hallway now, passing by the huge windows set into the sides of the courtyard, getting closer.
Judging by the patchwork boy’s grim expression, he started to understand that he doesn’t want to be noticed by this person. He could scarcely breathe when the man entered, lantern bobbing into the room, casting the area in a pale, washed out light. It reminded Izuku of when police showed up to dimly lit crime scenes on cop shows, sweeping the beams of their flashlights around. Somehow, even though the man didn’t seem to notice them standing there, he felt like he was going to be found out: the camera panning to a grisly corpse, or in this case, the lantern man ripping off the cloak and expelling him. The Slytherin boy was holding a finger up to his lips: stay quiet.

The next few minutes, spent in agonizing silence, felt like an eternity.

Izuku had come to realize that this man was the groundskeeper. He was likely coming to investigate the explosion, takes his sweet time examining the area. He drifts around the area, with his lantern, unhurried: torturously unhurried. He’s a man in his early thirties, with long black hair, and in desperate need of a razor. Izuku was all too aware of the boy standing next to him, only inches away, both of them not daring to move. For the most part, they’re safe where they are, but for a single heart-stopping moment Izuku swears the groundskeeper sees right through the cloak. His eyes met Izuku’s for a split second, piercing straight into him.
It sent a shiver down his spine.

Unable to keep looking in his direction, his eyes moved back up to the taller boy, trying to read his expression.
Ah, he realized, only now noticing. How did he get that scar on his face?

The boy’s eyes move back to him, boring a hole straight through him. He suddenly feels quite guilty for looking, his eyes darting back to his shoes.
Blessedly, the groundskeeper moves on after a couple more minutes of picking around, examining the apple chunks spewed across the lawn, leaving as quietly as he’d entered. Izuku thought he might have been imagining it, but he tossed another glance in their direction as he left, just a snippet of a stare: pulling his hood back over his haggard, sleepless face and leaving.

Izuku stood silently, firmly as he could, a bead of sweat trickling down his neck.
Why did this have to happen to him on his first day?

Moments later, when the lantern light had completely vanished, the Slytherin boy pulled the invisibility cloak off their heads.
It was like coming up for air, from the bottom of a pool, relief flooding his chest. Izuku wheezed, just to remind himself he was still breathing.

“You really scared me..!”
He got the feeling he was being peeled apart, by those mismatched eyes. He smiled, nervously, just to show there was no ill will. He doesn’t react to Midoriya extending the olive branch, replying flatly.
“You’d be in serious trouble, if I hadn’t stepped in. Breaking curfew on your first night is a pretty bold move.”

This came as a surprise to Izuku.

If he was sorry for his bluntness, his face certainly didn’t show it. He tucked the cloak under his arm and started to walk away, already finished with the conversation.
He got to the doorway before Izuku even realized that he’d started to leave, struck dumb, still stunned by everything that’d happened. Scrambling to catch up, he nearly drops the book he’d brought.

“Hey, w-wait! That’s impossible! I researched everything I could about this school! Curfew isn’t for another hour!”

The patchwork boy gave him an odd look.
“Toshinori didn’t tell you.”

Izuku’s blank expression told the story before he needed words. Something in the other boy’s tense face relaxed a fraction.

“It’s earlier, for a while. They still haven’t tracked down all the night-roamers loose since last week’s pop quiz.”
The boy shrugged, as if what he’d just said wasn’t vague and terrifying enough.

“Oh.”
Izuku managed to squeak, resolving to walk a bit closer to the other boy’s side, from then on. What would have happened if he ran into one of those, instead of Bakugo…? For once, he was glad for his friend’s characteristic anger: all the explosions and screaming had probably scared them off. He voiced the thoughts, but the Slytherin boy only nods: not the conversational type.

He tried to follow the lead, but the silence hung, and he’d rather occupy his mind with idle chatter rather than think about what might be lurking in the shadows behind them from last week’s pop quiz.

“How long were you watching?”

“I was near, when I heard that explosion. I came, after that. You weren’t very discreet.”

“That was Kacchan, not me…!”

“Kacchan.”
He repeated Izuku’s nickname, slowly, as if saying the word was like biting into a lemon.

“You must mean Bakugo. He likely finds little more than a cheap thrill in breaking the nighttime rule. I find he’s the type with too much ambition, and not enough direction.”
Izuku was already familiar with the effect Bakugo had on people. When they were younger, he’d always shadowed his friend, the apologetic half to his overzealousness; cleaning up after the destruction in his wake. It almost felt like that now, too.

“That’s just ‘cause you don’t know him.”
He said, shooting a glance up at the taller boy, seeing the slight disgust on his face morph into something closer to surprise. His expressions were all similar in the way that they crept on slowly, like the emotion had to be wrung out of him: but they vanished all at once.

“I find you dangerously lacking in self awareness. He was trying to hurt you.”

“He’s not always like that!”

He earned a quiet shake of the head, at that.
“Doesn’t make it any better. If his attitude didn’t already tell me everything I needed to know, his style of spell casting is more than enough.”

“Oh, his explosions? ...How does he do that?”
He barely masked his excitement in the latter sentence, grinning, clutching at the book in his arms. His interest in the technique won out over his desire to defend Bakugo, this time. The Slytherin boy watched him warily, out of the corner of his eye, for a moment, before replying.

“He botches the spell on purpose. He messes up the hand movements or incantation just enough to destabilize it, and redirects the backlash onto whoever he’s victimizing. I suppose it makes sense for an impatient child to cling to such a rudimentary, raw power instead of learning the nuances of real magic.”

Izuku nodded along, fascinated with the explanation. Botching a spell on purpose to get an explosive reaction: no wonder he hadn’t heard of such an unorthodox method, in the books he’d studied all these years. What he’d been practicing with the apples made much more sense, to Izuku, now. It probably took a lot more skill than it seemed, controlling a rogue spell to a point of accuracy where he could explode such a tiny, quickly moving target in the air. Bakugo never ceased to amaze him, even now.

Somehow, by coming here, Izuku had thought it would be some grand bridging of the gap between them, finally putting them on the same platform. How naive, he realized. There was still so much distance between them.

They reach the wall of paintings in the stairwell, a strange hush falling over them as the boys passed. They didn’t say anything, but the silence was almost worse. Izuku could feel their countless eyes, pressing on him as they climbed, hundreds of eyes on him just through the curtain of evening shadow they were hung under.
The Slytherin boy didn’t mind, though. Izuku wondered how he was so coolheaded, even if that coolheadedness bordered on apathy. He pondered if this would ever become something mundane to him, just another day in the castle surrounded by strange, wonderful magic. It didn’t seem possible.

They reached the top of the stairs, and Izuku realized he was close to running out of time.

He still had one more question he needed answered. But he wasn’t sure what he wanted the answer to be, what it would mean for him. His desire to know battled with his fear of discovering the answer. However, Izuku should have already known which one of those sides always came out on top.

“You were the one who cast that spell on Kacchan, weren’t you?”
He winced at the sound of his own tentativeness. He didn't try to meet the boy’s stare, but he felt it pass over him, like the cold touch of a ghost.
A short pause, and an answer.

“Yes.”

He’d expected it, but it still formed a knot in his stomach. It made sense, after all.
Still, the voice that nagged at the back of his head only grew stronger.
If he’d really changed, from what he used to be, how come he’d only been able to use magic once?

“Thanks for that. I mean…”
I was practically defenseless.
He trailed off, suddenly not in the mood to finish the conversation, mind elsewhere. He gripped at his wand in his pocket, running his fingers over the bumps and dips in the wood.

They finished the rest of their trip quietly, neither of them challenging the silence.

Izuku recognized the statues flanking his room as they drew closer, but before he could speak up, he was interrupted.

“Gingersnap.”
The other boy’s voice was calm, breathing life into the stone as they awoke, beginning to move aside. The panel in the wall began to lift, revealing the room he’d left.
Izuku frowned.

“...I got the impression that was a secret password.”
He looked to the boy for an answer.
No response. The other’s eyes were focused on the chimera statues as they bent low, bowing to him.

“How did you know?”
Izuku tried again, his voice low. He found nothing in the other’s expression, just an impassive mask.
Instead, the patchwork boy turns on his heel, slipping the invisibility cloak from under his arm back over his body. The air ripples, and then he’s gone, swallowed up into the night around him.

“Knowledge favors those who are listening, Midoriya. Goodnight.”
Unseen once more, his voice echoed through the corridor, coming from all directions.

By the time the door was closed again, and Izuku’s back was against it, he realized the boy had known his name, known where he was staying. Sure, he could have just read it in one of the many papers covering his story, but...

A jolt ran up his spine.

He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was completely outmatched in a game he hadn’t even known he was playing.

Chapter Text

The next day, Todoroki found his seat near the back of his house’s table, at dinner. Everyone had been tittering about it all day, to the point where the ‘transfer student’ and bets on which house he’d be sorted into was practically all he’d heard about. He was three seats down from the rest of the clustered Slytherin students huddling near the front, all trying to get a look at the kid being led to the stool up on the stage. Even from behind the mass of nosy students, Todoroki still spotted a mop of green hair up on stage.

He was nervous, Todoroki noted, swaying left and right like a ship on the verge of capsizing in the waves. His face shone with sweat, fingers trembling as he approached the sorting hat.

The headmaster, Nezu, must have noticed. He pats the boy on the back, smiling kindly. He was a mischievous older man with a slight face, grey streaking his hair. Todoroki had talked to him only twice, but knew more than most would expect, having heard from his father: apparently he often transformed into a mouse to observe classes surreptitiously, and had quite the affinity for different kinds of magical teas.
One time Todoroki had seen him enchanting a fountain to spit water at unsuspecting first years.
Now, he wore a placid, innocent smile that didn’t suit his impish features; Todoroki realized he must have known about the camera-toting students in the crowd, looking to sell photos to the major papers for a quick buck. He placed his hand on Izuku’s shoulder, and leaned down to whisper something in his ear.

Izuku’s anxious expression melted into one of relief. Somehow, Todoroki already knew it was the kind of smile that would fit right in with hues of red and gold; warm as a fire, bright as the sun. The thought was more of a reminder than a realization. He’d known it from the start. Ever since the first couple of headlines, even: ‘Hero squib boy jumps in to save his mother without a second thought’. It could have been printed in red and gold ink, and it would have been just as obvious.

Nezu placed the hat on top of his unkempt head, the boy squeezing his eyes shut.
The hat was saying something to him now, and a hush fell over the room. Students at the head of the table were nearly falling out of their seats, trying to hear what it was saying.

He didn’t belong underground, in a damp, green-lit common room, anyways. He was much too meek, too earnest to really fit in. The other Slytherin students would tear him apart, if they sensed any weakness.
A kid like him would stick out like a nail in a board, only a matter of time before someone came along and hammered him down or bent him out of shape.
Yet, despite what he told himself, he couldn’t strangle the feeling rising in his chest.

“Gryffindor!”
They announced the result he’d suspected.
It was almost like seeing a poster for an interesting event that had already happened, or brushing past an old friend in a crowd, not noticing them. It was that kind of missed connection, a misty, inexplicable feeling of loss: the dull pang of ‘what if…?’.

But looking at the way the newly minted Gryffindor grinned again, hopping down and moving to join the rest of his housemates, Todoroki knew any other choice would have been wrong, selfish.

The room erupted into cheers, for the most part. A certain explosive Gryffindor didn’t look too happy about the decision, his friends practically holding him down in his chair.
Todoroki gauged his housemate’s reactions.
Aoyama slipped a smug looking Jirou three galleons. Shinso turned back to the table, immediately burying his face back into the book he’d been reading, Tokoyami reading over his shoulder. Monoma occupied the rest of the Slytherin students, whining about how Gryffindor house got all the attention, to everyone’s chagrin.

Todoroki sat alone.

Perhaps it was foolish of him to have hoped it wouldn’t be like that anymore.

The thought carried him through the day in a wash of gloom, performing as expected with a stiff, robotic precision. Usually, he resented his father’s late night training sessions, but with his poor mood, keeping busy almost seemed preferable. It was the ‘secret to his success’, as his father bragged to his colleagues, their extra sessions. But lately, he’d barely scraped through what his father planned for his evenings.
“Again.”

Todoroki’s vision blurred, his eyes unwilling to focus on the room before him anymore. He bit down on the inside of his lip, hard, trying to keep his fading consciousness rooted to his body.

He heard his father’s footsteps behind him, and he lifted his wand, trying to anchor himself back down to the ground.
Summoning a patronus was one of the most difficult conjurations to master, for any wizard. He may have been advanced for his age, but even his inherent skill wasn’t enough to carry him through this particular spell. He’d been stuck for nearly a week, now, having made zero progress.

He knew it wasn’t easy. Still, by now, he could transfigure items flawlessly without even blinking, sometimes without needing to use an incantation at all. It was giving him more trouble than it should, reasonably.
The steps were straightforward enough.
First, you had to think of a happy memory: and he supposed that’s where he ran into a problem. You were meant to cast those feelings outward, into a manifestation of that positive memory. It had to be something powerful, something that warmed your heart just at the thought alone, the kind of recollection that brightened a room.
He could probably count those kinds of memories on one hand. Most of them were patchwork storybook pages in the first place, a film strip missing half its cells; playing choppy, segmented scenes. He was too young to entirely recall when things were good with his family, having to Frankenstein together his siblings’ accounts until it resembled something he wanted to believe had happened.

There was only one that he remembered on his own.

He’d seen his mother, surrounded on all sides by his siblings, watching over the enchanted pans flipping their pancakes. They each tugged at her apron, begging her to make them different shapes. Touya and Natsuo were arguing about who’s favorite shape she should make first: Natsuo wanted to see a sailboat, Touya a cat. Fuyumi, in vain, had tried to keep order. He’d been watching the sun re-appear from behind the clouds on a stool near the other side of the room, casting light across his playfully arguing family.
For anyone else, it may have been a fairly mundane occurrence, and he knew that. But memory worked in strange ways, hardly remembering the bright, cheerful day-to-day moments. Pain and shame took precedence, and with all that had happened to him when he was younger, Todoroki surmised his childish brain had room for little else. The placid, harmlessly nice moments weren’t worth retelling by a campfire, thus, they often slipped the mind. But for Todoroki, what little he held onto from those moments were memories he held dear; especially after his mother had been sent away by the Ministry, what happened with Touya, and since he’d been kept from Fuyumi and Natsuo for so long due to his training.

Trying to use that moment in service of his father made him nauseous, the first time he’d attempted the spell. Now, a week in, he had gotten over that hurdle: but progress was slim.
Whenever he tried to hold onto the memory, remembering what Natsuo’s face looked like when Touya smeared flour on his nose, surprise twisting into laughter, the gentle smile on his mother’s face… he would only see his father in the corner of his eye, watching him. His spells had fizzled, or only amounted in formless wispy smoke, draining him of his energy. It left him short for breath, a feeling he despised, having to use such a treasured memory for a man he hated.

He wouldn’t stop talking, either: out of all his siblings, he was meant to be the one who would rise above. He wasn’t progressing as he usually did.
They’d been going for hours on end, tonight, Todoroki even having missed dinner at his father’s insistence.
He must have hesitated too long, trying to gather what energy he had left, because his father launched into another speech.

“This is for your own good, Shouto.”
Todoroki felt him standing there, just behind his shoulder. He didn’t lower his eyes, staring forward. His unflinching silence is the only kind of rebellion he can afford.

“If you’re going to become the top auror, you can’t let something like this stop you.”
Todoroki slowly lowered his wand, recognizing the way his father spoke when he was about to start ranting.

“They only accept the best of the best. If you want to stand above the crowd, you have to be better than the best of the best.”
Sure enough, he began to pace the tower as he continued on, slowly circling his son. Todoroki didn’t have the energy to reply, already using all his effort to stay upright.

“How could you call yourself a wizard, let alone an auror, with these pathetic attempts?”

Noisy.

“If you even want to have a chance at dethroning Yagi Toshinori, you’re going to need to show me more effort than that.”
Always about Yagi Toshinori, the current head auror. Even now, his father was transparent as ever. This wasn’t for his own good. He was meant to become an achievement, paraded around for the sake of his father’s pride, a self fulfilling prophecy from the moment he was born.
His father went silent, with a brash exhale, interrupting his thoughts.
He understood the cue, and obediently lifted his wand again. His father stood back, against the wall, arms crossed, watching him closely.

Todoroki closed his eyes.

He allowed the familiar memory to flood his senses, willing it to take him away from the chilly tower. He remembered the smell of pancakes, the feeling of the sun crossing the room, slowly brushing it’s warm rays over his toes. Fuyumi, Natsuo, Touya, Mother.
His eyes fluttered open when he feels a familiar tug at his stomach, coursing up through his wand.

A white jet of light bursts from his wand, crossing the room. He kept the memory at the forefront of his mind, but it felt wrong to see the pleased smile on his father’s face, felt like he’d tainted something precious for the sake of a prophecy he’d never wanted to fulfill. The warmth is draining from his fingertips, his eyelids growing heavier with each passing second.

His father’s form is easier to ignore, now, his vision melting together. His half-delirious mind rejoiced at the concept, his father vanishing into the shadows, never to return.
Without him in the way, his mother could come home, maybe even Touya…

Touya.

What was he doing, entertaining these delusions?
The jet of light grew stronger, nearly splitting the room in half. Energy curled off the beam, but Todoroki doesn’t have the capacity to notice he was doing a lot better than usual. His mind was poisoned with swirling thoughts of revenge, mingling with his faded remembrance of happiness, his father’s presence shadowing everything he’d known to be happy, rendering it sour.
A shape is forming at the end of the beam of light, something struggling violently to emerge, sending clouds of mist across the whole room.
The gentle warmth in the kitchen blistered, the sun against his face morphing into boiling water against his eye, the soft laughter of his siblings turning to a memory of his own screams, echoing out through the very same kitchen, no one there to save him. The end of the beam began to taper off, the form twisting into something hideous, foreign. The air is knocked from his lungs. The spell collapsed into itself, exploding with a loud pop, knocking Todoroki back. He felt his body give out under him.

His knees hit the floor. Static hummed in his ears, his mind going slack.
“Shit!”
His father. He felt a foot driving into his back, knocking him forward, toppling against the stone beneath him.

It’s freezing. He was unsure if he’d ever been that freezing, the world around him painted in cold shadows. Even the memory he had been clutching at feels darker now, like its brightness had been robbed, his family a group of strangers gathered around the stove.

“Don’t stop! Get back up!”
His father’s voice faded in and out, and he realized he was shivering, his whole body shaking. Another foot met his arm, curling over his face instinctually, his wand flying from his grasp.
Pure hatred coiled in his stomach, an ugly, writhing thing.
His wand rolled across the floor. If it had still been in his hands, he didn’t know what he would have done, staring up at his father with burning eyes.

Enji gathered himself, his outburst already fading, icy disappointment rearing its head to take the anger’s place. Todoroki didn’t move, under the weight of his father’s gaze, his limbs heavy.
“You aren’t leaving this room until you cast that spell. I’ll come find you in the morning.”

The way he spoke made it clear the terms weren’t negotiable. He left his son on the ground, still struggling to push himself into a sitting position, throwing the door closed behind him.
The silence that fell after the wood slammed back into its frame had an air of finality, but it filled Todoroki with relief, rather than any kind of dread, or guilt. He ran a finger over his scar just to be sure, the familiar ridges and bumps around his eye already long healed.
Falling onto his back again, he stared at the ceiling.
How long had it been since his father had actually struck him?
The transfer student’s words popped into his mind, before he could stop himself.
“He’s not always like that!”
Had he spoken like that once, when he was still desperate for approval?

“Doesn’t make it any better.”
Todoroki reminded himself, repeating the words bitterly, digging his nails into his palms until they turned a bloodless white.
Though it proved to be a herculean effort just getting back onto his feet, Todoroki wobbled over to the door, testing the knob.

Unlocked. He wouldn’t even have to expend the effort of an Alohamora charm, if he wanted to leave.
He scoffed, pressing his back against the wooden door.

What a cocky bastard, thinking his word alone was enough to intimidate him into staying here, without any way to ensure he’d obey.
If he wasn’t so exhausted, too much so to risk the long walk back to his dorm, there’s no way he would have stayed. He would have even accepted punishment, if that’s what it came to. He pressed down on the small voice in the back of his head accusing him differently.

Unable to stay standing for long, legs still shaking with effort, he slid back down to the ground, staring blankly at the nondescript room before him. He’d always thought it was meant to be some kind of garden. It was long past its prime, but the evidence remained- a long stone pathway flanked by empty stretches of pathetically thin dirt, marred by cobwebs thick enough to clog up the room’s corners. The only remarkable thing about the place had to be the large, completely busted fountain in the middle of the room, the subject of some strange rumors he couldn’t be bothered to remember. It must have been some overachieving Herbology student’s pet project. It’d been worthless achievement only to be abandoned after they graduated, after they got tired of showing it off, tired of taking care of it. His father having chosen this place to train him, of all discreet places in the castle, was an irony that wasn’t wasted on him.

Nothing would ever be able to grow here.

Chapter Text

Adjusting his brand new red and gold tie in the mirror, Izuku realized it didn’t quite suit him yet.
His green hair looked strange against the warm colors, his pale skin washed out by their intensity. Even the robes everyone wore were strange, purposely oversized, dwarving his reflection. He was sure he would get used to it, but for now, he didn’t recognize the scrawny kid in the mirror.
Izuku puffed out his chest, hoping to feel taller.

“Hey! Roomie!”
With a friendly whack to his back, he deflated just as quickly, his new roommate knocking the air out of him.
“Caught you off guard? Sorry about that!”
He apologized, with a toothy grin, patting Izuku’s shoulder just as enthusiastically. Izuku grinned nervously and let him, bobbling back and forth until Kirishima stopped.

“Somehow, I’m the one who’s sorry for all this.”
He gestured to the scorch mark stretching across the floor, and the new craters Bakugo had kindly gifted the ceiling when Izuku had tried to move in last night.

Kirishima scoffed lightheartedly, waving a dismissive hand.
“Ah, don’t worry about it! It’s been a while since we’ve seen Bakugo so… fired up! Feels like coming back home.”

Izuku snorted at the reassurance, still feeling guilty, despite Kirishima’s best efforts. Bakugo had been angry they had ended up in the same house, shouting all night about how lying cowards belonged in Slytherin instead. He had been grateful Kirishima was there to help him handle the situation. Izuku assumed they must have gotten close, because he seemed to have a good understanding of how to calm Bakugo down.

“Anyways, I thought I should ask you to walk together to class, since you’re new, and all. But I usually walk with Bakugo too, so I guess we shouldn’t risk it.”
He nudged Izuku with his elbow, with a goofy smile.
Izuku laughed, and told Kirishima he appreciated the offer, waving goodbye. It was a nice attempt to make him feel better. Still, he couldn’t help feeling a bit down about it.

It was hard, trying to find where he fit amongst the other Gryffindor kids. They’d already gone to school together for two years, tightly knit friendships having long formed.
He’d briefly met everyone already, and even now, they were heading off in their own groups.

Bakugo and Kirishima stuck together, a dark haired boy named Sero tagging along with them.

Kendo and Tetsutetsu were nearly inseparable as well. As nice as they seemed, always inviting him to talk with a smile, he felt like he was interrupting them whenever he joined their conversations. They seemed oblivious to the fact that everyone thought they were dating, but sure enough: he noticed Mina waggle her eyebrows at Sero when Kendo laughed at something Tetsu says, her cheeks flushed.

Mina was an energetic girl with bright pink hair, who seemed to float back and forth, teasing Sero, turning around to yell a joke to Kendo and Tetsutetsu. Impossibly, she was the exception of the house’s main friend groups: she seemed to be friends with everyone all at once.

The other kids, who’s names he’d already forgotten from the blur of introductions last night, all clumped together as well.

Everyone already had places they belonged. He’d just have to try and find one for himself, as hard as it was proving to be. People seemed intimidated by the media circus surrounding him, if they weren’t already deterred from him by his lack of magical talent.
He was some kind of celebrity, to the students, a new toy. He’d hoped his fame would help him make some friends, but the kind of attention he was getting was more akin to a crowd gaping at a zoo animal. Plenty of people talked to him, sure. But most of them had inane and even offensive questions about what it was like to grow up as a squib, and the rest of them either already had friends they were closer with, or were scared off by the opinions that some of the more puritan types in school had of him.

It felt so incredibly lonely, to be the object of interest for so many people and to feel entirely alone at the same time. The pedestal the media had placed him on had lifted him too high above the ground. The school pulled out all the stops in welcoming him here, rolling out the red carpet. Surely, Bakugo wasn’t alone in thinking he was looking down on them, boasting with all the special occasions and attention dedicated to him. ‘I didn’t ask for this attention,’ he wanted to tell them. ‘I was just trying to follow my dream in the only way I knew how.’

But when he got a dirty look in the hall from a student with secondhand books, glancing over his stack of brand new equipment gifted entirely from the school, he could never find the words he needed. It almost felt deserved.

After a particularly grueling Potions class, Izuku shuffled back towards his dorm, trying to get a chunk of candied wartroot unstuck from his head. He nearly ripped out his hair when a voice startled him, coming from behind.

“How’s it going, kid?”
Izuku, immediately stiffening to attention, turned to face his mentor. The auror was busy unwrapping a cauldron cake, but he paused, raising an eyebrow at the state of Izuku’s sticky hair.

“Class okay?”
He asked cautiously, humor at the edge of his voice, as if he wanted to joke around but genuinely couldn’t tell if Izuku was about to burst into tears.

“Ah! It’s, uh, all great! Thank you, Mr. Toshinori. I’m really enjoying it.”
He must have done a poor job disguising his dismay, because Toshinori’s skeptical eyebrow didn’t move an inch.
After a brief pause, he popped the cauldron cake in his mouth, and smoothed out the wrapper. Pressing it against the wall, he scribbled something on the wrapper with a quill he procured.
He handed the wrapper to Izuku.

“...Say, kid. There’s plenty of the castle you haven’t seen yet. I hear this is the best view in the place. Do me a favor and go check it out.”
Written on the wrapper was a short message scrawled in ink: directions leading to a lesser known part of the Divination wing, a slim corridor tucked away in the back of the area.
Reinvigorated by the prospect of exploring more of the castle, Izuku perked up. Not only was it a distraction, but it was a chance to take his mentor’s advice.
“Right!”

He clutched the wrapper like it was a winning lottery ticket, and scampered off.

Toshinori watched him go, amazed at the kid’s sudden energy surge. He could only imagine what the boy was going through, considering all the extraneous circumstances. But he never knew what to say, in times like that. However, he knew someone that would.

“...After all this time, you’re still helping me out, huh?”
He murmured, smiling to himself.

---

Izuku clutched at Mr. Toshinori’s instructions carefully as he climbed to the Divination wing. He wanted to do something right, for the first time since he’d arrived. Even he could follow instructions as simple as this.

The Divination wing was already out of the way, crammed in the highest part of the school, but it wasn’t hard to find. He was already taking a class here, loathed by most; but much appreciated by Izuku due to low reliance on actual spell casting. He scaled the ladder into the main Divination hall.
Last year, students had used a different room, but a recent accident with cursed fire had forced the teachers to temporarily move classes. The temporary situation was an attic studio with a drooping ceiling, originally used an observatory, the walls fitted with floor to ceiling windows. The floor was dappled with a myriad of throw rugs and pillows students used in lieu of seats. The pillows themselves weren’t quite musty, but the persistent smell of jasmine was universal no matter where you sat. The poor trimmings were continually victimized by students in the middle of nodding off having dropped or spilled their customary cup of jasmine tea (Thirteen said it opened up one’s senses).
As classes were held while the sun was high, the impressive windows would have served as a magnifying glass to a classroom of ants, frying them to a crisp- the room was designed to be used at night, after all. In response, great tapestries crowded the wide windows that made up most of the walls, old banners emblazoned with house mascots, loose fabric, quilting. The heat still rose, but instead of frying the kids, it slowly cooked them, muggy warmth held in by thick swathes of velvet curtain and oriental rug. Adding to the problem, their teacher was a strange person who only went by the name Thirteen- and while they clearly knew the material they taught, their voice was soothingly robotic. Normally it would have been pleasant, but it put most asleep in a room like the main Divination hall. The scent of tea and the shimmering, muggy heat rendered their lessons half incoherent. They found themselves in unfocused, sweaty daydreams instead, staring listlessly out the rare fragments of window still uncovered by bolts of fabric; meandering focus pinned by a bright pinch of lawn or lake or sky.

But Izuku never had a problem focusing. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t have a choice.

All his classmates were two years ahead of him, and using magic proficiently, for the most part. He’d been struggling desperately just to get by in his courses from day to day, and of course, he hadn’t been able to use magic again, yet. Mr. Toshinori had been kind enough to pull his teachers aside and explain the situation, but Izuku wondered how long their hospitality and understanding could possibly last, in a school meant for magic users.

It wasn’t a very well kept secret, either. He ducked from the main room into a slim corridor he hoped was the right direction, and instantly caught the attention of a group of upperclassmen lounging on a windowsill.

Their lazy, sun soaked bodies perked up again, chatter re-invigorated. He could imagine what they were thinking. Conversation had gotten stale: why not talk about the freakish little third year, instead? He ignored their whispers, weaving past, staring down at the instructions becoming wrinkled in his tightening grip. A couple standoffish Ravenclaws were further down the hall, and they too spoke in pointed whispers, their mouths hidden behind blue and silver scarves.

“Isn’t..” A mouselike girl leaned closer to her friend, whispering in his ear. “You’re kidding-?” A chorus of shushing erupted, the closer he came. Their voices fade in and out, as he walked by. It reminded him of changing the radio station, turning the knob, hearing only snippets of conversation. That was something else he missed about the non-magic world: voices whirling through static as he cranked the knob, slivers of reminders and announcements, and 2 for 4.99 if you call now. He felt their eyes, and walked faster.

“...Just a squib, after all?”

It escaped, just a hiss at the edge of their static whispers and giggles. It wasn’t meant to reach his ears. And yet, often what we least want to hear is what we end up listening most keenly for.

He had to swallow back against the knot rising in his throat. He feigned ignorance, bit down the swelling anxiety in his chest. Another few steps took him around the corner and through the first door who’s knob he could get a hold of. He took a wild glance around, finding he had ended up in some kind of storage room. He felt as if he could cry of happiness when he saw no one was there- safe from scrutiny.
He pressed his back up against the wall, needing to feel something solid, as if a physical reminder of the world could somehow anchor him from his whirling thoughts. The stale smell of cigarettes hung in this particular hall, an unfamiliar departure from the jasmine still clinging to all the rooms prior. It burned his lungs, but that might have just been the quick, shaky breaths he was taking, knotting his hands in his hair.

Everything he had been trying to ignore had been piling up at his feet. Having to put on a smile for the news, worrying about class and finding friends, worrying about Kacchan. He missed his mom much more than he’d ever anticipated, but he hardly ever had the time to write her a letter. It all washed over him, suddenly, completely, just because of a stupid comment- a carefully constructed house of cards collapsing under a tickle of wind.

“Just a squib.”
He repeated, biting at the inside of his lip.

“Who says that?”

An unfamiliar voice.

Izuku jumped, hand flying to the wand in his pocket. He scanned the room again, thinking he may have been hasty in his initial panic. He took a better look at the room, shelves of scrolls stacked high next to old star maps pinned to the wall, an impressive rack of crystal balls. But he still couldn’t find anyone.

“Hello?”
He asked, feeling ridiculous, taking a stiff step forward.
Someone must come here often, he noticed, surprised. He had expected the room to be dusty, as most storage rooms were, but it was tidy. A half finished game of wizard chess lay on a side table, wicker chairs scattered around. Someone had set up a loom in the corner, yarn in the middle of weaving itself into a brilliant crimson scarf. A loose ball of the enchanted yarn noticed him, rolling over and bumping into his ankle.

“So you’re the boy Toshinori talked about.”
He grabbed his wand, pointing it into the shadows that’d spoken to him, a useless threat.

“Hey, watch it, kid.”
The good humored voice didn’t belong to a figure, he finally realized. Slowly, his eyes focused on a portrait hanging on the wall opposite him, a face anyone would recognize.

“You’re Nana Shimura…!”
He breathed, realizing. His body snapped into a bow without him even thinking. How could he not bow to her? She was one of the best witches of the last generation, passing the torch onto his personal idol: and she was speaking to him. In other words, she was his mentor’s teacher who he respected very much, and Izuku might have been panicking a little about meeting her so suddenly.

“I-I’m honored to meet you..!”
Her face was worn with age, but any wrinkles she may have had were softened by the kind smile breaking onto her face. She laughed, quietly.

“Same here. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
He felt heat starting to rise in his cheeks. That could mean anything, from the newspaper rumors, to the student’s gossip, to his teacher’s praise. He didn’t know if it’d be worse to know, or better, so he changed the subject.

“Y-You scared me, a bit! Sorry if this is rude, but.. why the observatory? Don’t you belong with the other portraits of famous wizards?”
“Well, yeah, I have a frame in that room. But I’m hardly ever there. The old fogies tend to bicker about how things have changed, and what they think of the new teachers.. gets tiring.”
She feigned a yawn, jokingly. Despite her age, she still had a mischievous glint in her eyes, one that made her look far more human than painting.
“Besides. Toshi put this frame here for me, so I could admire the view. I used to love this place.”

He looked out the window.
Students dove through the air on brooms, leisurely tossing a quaffle. Quidditch practice.
Outside, Jirou and a couple other students he didn’t recognize were all working together to levitate their unsuspecting sleeping friend, a boy with jagged blonde hair, up into a tree. Their faces glowed with barely restrained laughter. The garden, further down, was being nibbled at by a couple of Knarls; he knew because he remembered reading about them, small hedgehog like creatures with a serious appetite for greens. Colorful birds splashed around in the lake, cleaning their wings.

It was just an ordinary day to the people outside the window, yet even now, he felt like he was staring at a painting rather than through a window. He’d spent the prior years of his life reading about magic as a grand construct, a precise art form. Seeing it exist so ordinarily, as easily as oxygen hung in the air, was a gap between him and the others he doesn’t know if he could ever fill. After all, it was only natural they’d take it for granted. Magic was something they’d always had in their daily lives.
Izuku stared at the scene, captured by strange melancholy.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it.”
Izuku said. He wouldn’t be able to see it for much longer, a voice in his head quietly reminded him. He’d return to a life of watching through scrapbook pages and crumpled photographs.

“What’s on your mind?”

Her voice wasn’t pressing, but he still flinched.

“Ah, I’m-“
“Fine? I wasn’t painted yesterday, kid.”

He fell silent, staring at his feet, not having any other excuses. She was right, but he hadn’t expected her to be so forthcoming about it. He pressed his lips into a thin line, struggling to find his next words. Remembering the slip of paper in his pocket made it easier to speak up again. If Mr. Toshinori had sent him here, he must have known this was going to happen, must have known she was going to be here.
It might be nice to be honest about his worries, unlike how he felt with the other people here, like he had something to prove.

“I’m worried. If I can’t prove to everyone that I can cast magic, I think I’m going to be expelled.”
He spoke before he could change his mind, his voice clipped.

“But you’ve done it before, right?”

The more he tried to think back to that night, the blurrier the memory got. Even the details he’d been completely certain of now seemed hazy in retrospect, slipping further from him the more he began to doubt himself. Had he really seen that light come from the wand in his hand?

“The spell I cast, the one that got me here.. what if it was just a fluke?”
Speaking his doubts into existence somehow made them multiply in intensity, made them feel more real. His heart hammered in his chest, feeling completely, entirely hollow.

“I don’t feel like I belong here. People avoid me, and teachers pity me. This world, this magic.. it’s never been mine in the first place. It’s just something I was pretending I could be a part of.”
Tears bit at his eyes again, pressing at his vision. He didn’t have the energy to be embarrassed about crying in front of his idol’s mentor. Putting what he’d been too afraid to confront into words had flipped a switch in him. Had he been pretending all along, just for the sake of entertaining a child’s delusions of magic, of fairytale endings?

“Look up.”
Her request was gentle, and he obliged.
“Toshinori told me about how hard you work, and how you excel in anything that isn’t spellcasting. There’s a place for you, at this school, magic user or not. You have to claim that place for yourself.”

Her words unraveled the knot in his stomach, slowly settling over him. It was still nagging at him, though. Magic user or not… what if he didn’t have a choice?

“Don’t lose yourself, in all this, kid. It’s only going to make it harder.”

A tug around his leg surprises him, and he realized the ball of enchanted yarn hadn’t stopped circling him. It was winding itself around his ankle, in a gesture that reminded him of an affectionate puppy bounding around its owners leg, wrapping it in leash.
He felt a sudden spark of whimsy piercing the fog of gloominess hanging heavy on his heart. Only here, did balls of yarn follow you around like a puppy, trying to encourage you when you felt down. Only here, did paintings try to encourage you to keep going. Suddenly, the empty cavern in his chest felt fuller, a bit lighter. He felt a bit of the same wonder he’d known on the first night he arrived, before his worrying buried it away.
He giggled, a rusty noise, crouching down next to the precocious little yarn ball. He patted it, and it rolled right onto his palm, warm with magical energy.

This was why he’d been so drawn to this world, with its impossibilities, with so much to discover. Even daily life was full of surprises, in the wizarding world; he wanted to learn about every nook and cranny of it, and become a top auror. He’d gotten so lost in what others wanted from him that he’d nearly forgotten what he wanted from himself.

It was incredible, what a couple of well meaning words could do. He gazed up at the portrait of Nana with a new admiration.
“I’ll try and put in a word with Nezu to have your teachers be more lenient with spellcasting for now. He owes me a favor or two.”

She told him, winking.

“If you’re asking me, though… I think you can do it.”

Her words were kindling to a fire.

He couldn’t do this alone: that much, he’d realized already. The next logical step would be to ask someone to help him learn spellcasting. Someone talented. When he thought of talent, he thought of Mr. Toshinori. But Mr. Toshinori was so busy with his teaching obligations as well as his full time job- Izuku knew he’d feel guilty asking.

But if not him, who?

Another name came to mind when he thought of talent, his mind moving along the well worn grooves of association. But he knew it wasn’t going to happen, just as soon as the thought crossed his mind. Bakugo was too impatient, too violent; not to mention holding a hell of a grudge at the moment. If Izuku so much as breathed in his direction, he’d be turned into target practice.
How did that old saying go, about speaking of a devil?
When Izuku went back into the hallway, he was standing right there.
Bakugo blinked, only surprised for a moment, before hardening over.

“Deku. You finally come to finish what you started?”
Izuku didn’t have time to answer. Bakugo was already rolling up his sleeves.

Chapter Text

Bakugo.
The last person he wanted to see had suddenly appeared in front of him, and worse, he was already angry. Reeling, Izuku desperately attempted to de-escalate.

“No, no, Kacchan, I-”
Bakugo interrupted him.
“Why else would you be here if you’re not trying to fight me? No one comes to this wing except me, so who told you, huh? Fuckin’ shitty hair, probably....”

He couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

Bakugo’s arms were full of books, Izuku noticed. Multicolored pens and tabs marked different pages, sticking out at frenetic angles. His eyes were red-rimmed and squinty with anger, blonde hair sticking up on one side more than usual. He had been working hard to get ready for midterms, but Izuku expected nothing less from him.

Izuku glanced back over at the corridor he’d come from. Bakugo certainly didn’t have any classes there, but then again, nobody did. The only thing in this wing was old, poorly ventilated offices and dusty storage rooms full of woven mats and crystal balls.

There was nothing he could imagine Bakugo would need here.

This is where he’d usually interject, stammering about how he was just curious to explore the castle. Instead, he stared quietly, hoping his silence could tease out an answer. If he spoke up, he would just be interrupted again, anyhow.

The silence was more than uncomfortable, and itt simmered to a boil, the other boy taking Izuku’s silence as a challenge.

“So, what is it? You’re just going to stand there and act like you haven’t lied
to me for the past 10 years of our lives?”
Bakugo spoke through gritted teeth. He had to grind out each word.

Irritation sparked at Izuku’s fried nerves, from the knowledge that nothing he said would be able to set this right. As his friend, he understood how Bakugo thought better than most anyone, and he’d already tried every approach in the book. It was like dealing with a wounded, feral lion. His pride was overbearing, and when it was hurt, he compensated even more aggressively. It wasn’t as simple as an apology
He still had to try.
“I wasn’t trying to lie! Why won’t you just listen to me? I wasn’t able to use magic until about a month ago, and-”
Bakugo pushed past Izuku to the top of the slim stairwell, glaring down from several steps up. Izuku bit back a laugh. He always found the higher ground in an argument, like he gravitated to it. It reminded him of the days he would push Izuku down the slide and yell down at him, still standing at the top.

It made him unexpectedly bitter. After everything he’d done to get here, he wasn’t expecting instant acceptance and respect. But he’d hoped to be able to finish his sentences. He’d hoped for at least a step closer to mutual understanding from the both of them.
But whenever they spoke, Bakugo still always found a way to stand above him.

The sun lit Bakugo from behind. Everything was dusky and bleached, color drained with light.

“For a coward who likes to apologize instead of fight, this is a piss poor apology. So if you didn’t come here to apologize, then fight me already.”
He dumped his books at the top of the stairwell. He reminded Izuku of a dog straining at the end of its leash, waiting for you to come just another step closer.

The unfamiliar bitterness had sunk further into him, making his heart brittle. He wasn’t nice enough to let himself be pushed around and intimidated, an Izuku shaped punching bag for whenever Bakugo didn’t know where to direct his bottled up emotions.

“...I didn’t come here to fight you. I didn’t come for you at all. Not everything I do is about you.”
The words tasted like rusted pennies.

He wasn’t sure what came over him, in that moment.

Desperation and years of frustration had possessed his body. He had grown tired of constantly defending, arguing that he didn’t want to fight; making himself small enough to be stepped over.

Bakugo didn’t want to hear it.

Anger blazed in his eyes, and he grabbed for his wand, jabbing it aggressively at Izuku.
“Petrificus Totalus.”

In a flash of bright purple light, his arms snapped to his side. When he instinctively tried to shout in response, he found his lips wouldn’t obey him either. He could only move his eyes, but the furious gaze shifting up from Bakugo’s wand to his face was worth a thousand venom-soaked words.
Fighting fair. What a joke.
He knew this charm: the Full Body-Binding charm. He’d be impressed with it’s effectiveness, but he was too busy teetering in place, like an unsteady statue.
He felt like one of those tiny plastic army men, frozen in a single pose, easy to knock over. His muscles had frozen. No matter how he tried to catch himself as his body fell squarely backwards onto the stairs, he was helpless. The impact knocked the air out of him. He slid down a couple stairs, Bakugo’s footsteps accompanied with his laughter as he walked away, stepping over Izuku’s body like it was nothing more than a bump in the road.

“If you’re such a prodigy, figure out how to undo it yourself.”
Bakugo sneered, tossing one look back at the boy laid out on the staircase.. Izuku can’t even watch him as he goes, unable to move his neck, staring up at the arched ceiling. He couldn’t reply, couldn’t say the Full Body-Binding charm is impossible to undo without control of your body- but Bakugo wasn’t going to listen, either way.
He was alone again.

His body was still, but his mind buzzed with manic energy, a plug with no outlet. His wand was in his pocket, pressing against his hip in his robes, just a useless stick. If he had control of his body, he wasn’t entirely sure if he would have burst into tears or screamed in frustration.

He stayed there, immobile, not having the chance to find out.
Midday light gracefully brushed its arc over the ceiling, vanishing to the soft touch of silvery moon.
He watched the candles hanging in sconces on the wall burning lower and lower, shadows creeping over the ceiling.

He wondered if this was what it felt like to be a doll, stuffed and on display. His arms might have been made of cotton, for all the feeling he had left in them. Anger having worn off, he felt subdued and listless. His head swam with all the things he should have said instead.

One of the problems with being petrified was that when your elbow started to itch, you couldn’t do anything about it. Izuku had been draped over the staircase for several hours by this point, and a persistent itch on the inside of his elbow was starting to drive him insane. When the initial shock of being unable to move his body wore off, it became more annoying than frightening. The stair underneath his chest was jutting uncomfortably into his ribcage. He had long acquainted himself with every bump and crevice in the patch of ceiling above. He would never complain about long, sleepy divination classes again.

His stomach growled, a pathetic noise. He’d missed dinner, definitely. The staircase underneath him had also moved several times, as staircases in Hogwarts were wont to doing, taking him even deeper into the unused part of the castle. He’d already been in a pretty remote place to begin with, so he wasn’t hopeful about his chances of ending up somewhere familiar. At least that would explain why no one had stumbled by him on accident yet. His initially overwhelming wave of emotion had faded, leaving him spent on the ground, empty. He just wanted to go back to his dorm and sleep.

Sighing, he accepted the fact he’d just have to fall asleep here, closing his eyes.

…Wait. Sighing? Closing his eyes?

Izuku’s eyes flew back open. Experimentally, he sighed again, feeling his lips twitch in response, his eyelids fluttering.
He tried to move his hand, managing to lift a finger. Had it worn off? Glancing up at the long shadows cast by the stubby candles across the ceiling, it seemed plausible enough. Reinvigorated, Izuku tried to shake off the numbness in his body, mustering all his strength to sit up again.

His stiff back popped as he pulled himself up, like a sheet of bubble wrap. Blood rushed to the pinched skin he’d been lying on for hours, and he felt as though he could cry from relief.

He examined his surroundings. Sure enough, he didn’t recognize the landing the stairwell now led to, another older part of the school judging from the cobblestone flooring worn from years and years of traveling feet.

“Hello?”
He spoke, experimentally, his voice hushed. No one was around. It must have been past curfew again; and he wasn’t eager to get in trouble by making a lot of noise. The groundskeeper from the first night still haunted his dreams, the way his piercing gaze had cut right through that invisibility cloak.

Izuku shuddered at the memory, trying to push himself onto his feet to get back to his dorm, legs wobbly as a newborn deer.
He found regaining his coordination wasn’t as easy as he’d hoped, toppling back to the ground, wincing at the feeling of the concrete slamming into his kneecaps.

As much as he hated to admit it, walking back to his dorms like this might not be smart. Even though the school had already assured the students all the night-roamers from last week’s pop quiz had been rounded up, everyone remained unconvinced. Besides, he wasn’t even sure what direction he should try walking.
But even then, where would he go…? The castle wasn’t the safest place in general, especially not the uncharted areas. He’d heard stories of secret rooms guarded by horrifying five headed creatures, of doorknobs that drooled acid and statues that spat fire at unsuspecting students. On any other day, he could have been excited. But his usual shiny daydreams of the castle’s depths had lost their luster over the course of those hours lying on the stairs, like a fairytale book bleached out and ruined by the sun.
He heard a door creaking open, nearby. Craning his stiff neck, he peered down the hallway it had came from; a corridor he didn’t recognize, lined with doors and faded, dusty tapestries.

Someone was talking now, faintly. He could make out a couple of words, something biting about disappointment, and failure.
Izuku winced. His wand felt heavy in his pocket.

He knew he shouldn’t eavesdrop, anymore, but he really couldn’t help it. After spending hours hoping for someone to come by, he was drawn to the voices, hoping they could help.

Leaning on the banister, he managed to pull himself to the top of the staircase, crawling towards what he’d heard. It was embarrassing, but he’d rather be embarrassed than lost and half paralyzed on a staircase after dark. The people were still talking, and he could hear them more clearly now.

“You know the rules by now. You’re smarter than to try and break them.”
Bad news: they played by the rules. He was actively breaking the rules right now, being out past curfew. In fact, his mere existence at the school broke a litany of rules in the first place. He hoped they might pity him anyways, considering the circumstances.
In the best case scenario, it was a somewhat understanding adult who could help him reverse the spell and send him back to his dorms. Worst case scenario, he’d drag his pathetic body right to the feet of that terrifying groundskeeper, and get expelled immediately for breaking curfew.

“I’ll find you here in the morning.”
Izuku saw a man round a corner in a dark cloak, and immediately assumed the worst case scenario.

He ducked into a nearby shadowed doorway, sucking in a breath, holding it until the man had passed. In an uncharacteristic stroke of luck, he wasn’t noticed. Looking at his back, however, Izuku realized it wasn’t the groundskeeper at all, recognizing the close cropped red hair and muscular physique.

It was Enji Todoroki, Slytherin house head and his Defense against the Dark Arts teacher. Even if he hadn’t seen that hair and a glimpse of his face in the dim candle light, he would have known that gait anywhere: he stomped everywhere he went, like he had a personal grudge against the ground under his feet.

He knew he should call out to him, and try to get help. But somehow, Izuku didn’t see it turning out well. Ever since he’d joined the man’s class, he’d been unnecessarily cold, taking every chance he could to single him out and humiliate him under the guise of ‘making him stronger’. He also looked to be in a horrible mood, storming away from whatever disappointment he’d been dealing with.
It struck him as strange, wondering why he was having such a serious conversation so late at night, in what seemed to be an abandoned collection of Herbology displays.

Izuku crawled back out into the hallway, after the older man was long gone, breathing a sigh of relief. Perhaps he’d follow the sound of Mr. Todoroki’s loud, tromping footsteps; using them like a trail of breadcrumbs to guide him to a more familiar part of the castle.

“What are you doing on the floor?”
He hadn’t gone unnoticed by all.

Izuku jolted, whipping around as well as his partially-paralyzed body let him. He found the source of the voice.
A pale face peeked out from a doorway at the end of the hall. He immediately recognized the distinctive scar, the Slytherin tie, and the mismatched eyes peering down at him.

The patchwork boy from his first night here.

Had he been the one Mr. Todoroki was speaking to so harshly? The thought was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t the time to bring it up. He had so much to explain about his own situation before he could even think about asking questions.

He felt his cheeks going red, for several different reasons.
This guy probably thought he was some kind of delinquent. He had run into him after curfew two times now, even though both times his rule breaking had been wholly unintentional.

He still didn’t know his name, despite consistently greeting him in class each morning. He was an odd case, sitting on his own wherever Izuku saw him, separated from the crowd. At first, Izuku had been naive enough to believe he’d want to make friends, given as how he didn’t have a group like everyone else he’d met in school.
After a couple of painful attempts at conversation, he’d learned his solitude wasn’t a coincidence. He kept up a wall, fending off questions and comments with a quiet, icy stare as good as a barbed wire fence marked ‘keep out’.
The brief conversation they had on his first night here was more than anything he’d given anyone else, he’d gathered, just from watching the way he spoke with others.
The only person he’d seen him voluntarily engage with was that ponytailed Ravenclaw girl, Momo.

He didn’t know if he could expect help, or a door being slammed in his face. Both seemed equally likely.

Izuku forced a smile.
“C-Can you, uh.. help me up?”

He managed to pull himself a bit closer to the room, legs dragging behind him.
The boy’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, and he moved to help, to Izuku’s great relief.
Before he could start to thank the boy, however, he stopped short again.
Patchwork boy seemed to hesitate, staring down at the divide between the room and the hallway. Somehow, despite his polite silence, it felt more scathing than a derisive comment would be. Did he really have to think so hard about it?

“Please? I know it’s a bit ridiculous, but I can’t really move..?”
Izuku tried again, his smile faltering.
The other boy blinked, his eyes focusing on Izuku again. He looked mildly stunned, pulled from whatever windswept daydream he’d entered. He stepped over the threshold without another second of hesitation, and rolled his sweater sleeves halfway up his arms, crouching.

Unexpectedly, he hooked his arms under Izuku’s body.

“Ah, um-”
He lifted the boy’s whole body into a bridal carry, with ease. He barely strained under the weight, tucking Izuku against his chest. He didn’t even pause to address the situation, seemingly eager to get back into the room he’d exited. The way he treated it so casually made Izuku wish he could also gloss it over, but his heart was beating like he’d chugged five coffees and danced a samba.

“...Right! That’s fine too, I guess!”
Izuku blurted, a bit too quickly, trying to ignore how hot his cheeks were getting. He was a little too conscious of where their skin was touching, a wrist brushing against his arm as the sleeves of his robe fell loose below him. He looked as if he’d be cold to the touch, with his icy pale skin and chilly demeanor, but he was warm.

THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE, IZUKU.

Thankfully, his legs were still just dead weight in the other’s arms, or he would have panicked and jumped ship by now. Ever since he’d been saved on that first night, he’d had a few daydreams that looked almost like this, but he’d die before admitting it to anyone.

“If you can’t move your legs, I’m not just going to leave you lying there.”
The boy replied, cocking his head, as if it was the only logical choice he could have made. He was unreadable as ever. Carrying him from the hallway and into the room, he nudged the door closed with his foot.

Chapter Text

Crossing to the center of the barren garden, his savior lowered Izuku onto the edge of the concrete fountain sitting in the middle of the room.
His legs dangled numbly below him as he sat. Izuku let out a shaky breath, still a bit flustered. He was grateful for the help, but utterly embarrassed by the outcome.
“What happened.”
The other boy’s voice was so flat, it came out more of a statement than a question. Izuku nearly winced.

“I was, uh, cursed, and it’s just wearing off.”
With another cursory glance at his useless legs, the other boy seemed to grasp what had happened. Recognition flashed in his eyes.

“Oh, the Full Body Binding curse? You should have told me sooner.”
He pulled a wand out of his pocket. Izuku had previously admired how he held it during class, the few times he’d given demonstrations. He moved with it with the casual ease of a seasoned pro, like it was an extension of his arm. He’d seen some of the other students try to imitate his unruffled style, but none of them had the raw technical skill to back it up: and sure enough, Todoroki performed the complex countercurse without even blinking.
A bolt of light enveloped Izuku’s body, like a shock running down his spine at first, lifting goosebumps on his arms. There was a strange sensation, like his skin was fizzing. It didn’t hurt, but he felt as if he’d been placed in a soda bottle and shaken around, especially in his legs. The feeling faded quickly enough, and after, he found he could move perfectly fine again. Izuku flexed his fingers, savoring the mobility he’d taken for granted before now. He swung his legs back and forth experimentally: good as new.
Wasn’t that kind of counter curse pretty advanced for a third year…? He was continually impressed, terrified, and sinking deeper into this guy’s debt of gratitude.

“Thanks! You’re always saving me, huh..”

“Why didn’t you use a counter-curse?”
The thought occurred to him to lie, to say he hadn’t learned it yet. It would make sense. Most kids his age didn’t do spells so complicated. Counter curses were always more difficult than performing the curses themselves, just in the same way it was easy to inflict a physical wound but far more difficult to heal it. But the truth spilled out, before he could act on the urge to preserve his pride.

“I can’t really use magic.”
Lying to him after he’d been saved twice just would have left a bad taste in his mouth, but this was just as horrible. Izuku shriveled under the weight of his contemplative stare.
He was expecting judgement, but found nothing of the sort in his response, just a thoughtful nod after a couple of seconds.
It should have been reassuring, but all it did was remind him of how far he needed to go if he was to follow in his mentor’s footsteps. He wouldn’t just have to play catch-up, no. He had to put the pedal to the medal to have a chance of catching up with his classmates, let alone someone like the boy in front of him.

Did he take extra classes? He must, if he already knew an advanced counter cursing technique like the one he’d just used. Yet, somehow, when he thought of an honors student taking extra classes, his patchwork boy didn’t fit that image. He owned an invisibility cloak to sneak around after curfew, and he’d been missing from most of his classes for days now, besides Defense Against the Dark Arts. The teachers never mentioned it, and he had a feeling there was some reason they couldn’t complain, a kind of exception in place for a student as advanced as him. Still, sometimes he caught a sour look at the empty seat at the back of the room.

He weighed his curiosity against his anxiety, and decided to speak up.

“You’ve been missing in class, recently.”

“So you noticed.”
He didn’t sound surprised.

It’d only been a week since Izuku had arrived, and he’d been absent for three days by this point. Most were under the impression he’d come down with a nasty cold, but here he was, perfectly healthy. Thinking of the conversation he’d heard before arriving, things that previously just seemed odd were beginning to stack atop one another, becoming concerning.

“Yeah, of course I did. Who else am I gonna say hi to?”
Izuku joked, hoping to cut a bit of the tension hanging thick between them. He’d persistently greeted the other boy in class, since their strange meeting in the courtyard, who’d met him with cold ambivalence each day. Todoroki huffed, and it took Izuku a couple moments to realize that was meant to be a chuckle. It still felt like a victory.

“Of course you did.”
Todoroki repeated his phrasing, bemused. Izuku knew how he seemed to others, so it wasn’t surprising when they underestimated his keen eye. His timid, jumpy, rabbit-like demeanor obscured sharp observational skills. But he hadn’t missed it. In fact, the other boy didn’t seem shocked in the slightest. A traitorous idea occurred to him: that maybe his patchwork boy had been keeping an eye on him, just as Izuku had been watching him. It made his cheeks flush again. Mercifully, it was dark in the room, so he hoped it wouldn’t be noticed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He laughed, nervous.

He shrugged his shoulders, noncommittally.
“Nothing, really.”

Izuku snorted, his thumbs fidgeting in his lap. The elephant in the room was still looming over him, and he was eager to switch the topic.

“Can I ask why you’re breaking curfew?”

It was a question that spilled into additional, more pressing questions he had. He couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d overheard, why Todoroki had been left all alone here, why he was missing all his classes except one.

He was met with silence.

Hesitantly, he snuck a glance up at the other boy, and instantly regretted it: his eyes were icy steel.

He parted his lips, ready to blurt some excuse about how while he enjoyed the conversation, he seriously, really, needed to get back to his dorm now, but right on cue, Izuku’s stomach growled loudly. Embarrassed, he looks down.

“Can I ask why you skipped dinner?”
The Slytherin turned the conversation around, coolly. Izuku flushed from his neck right up to his cheeks.

“Um.. the whole paralysis thing. It’s a bit self explanatory. Kacchan, well… you saw how he can get.”
The other boy’s manner shifted at the words, only marginally, but noticeably nonetheless. He looked away, towards the doorway, the tightness in his jaw softening. Izuku wasn’t sure why, but he feels as if he’s invoked some kind of truce.

“Actually, I did too, to be honest.”
He paused, glancing over at Izuku again, and seemed to come to a decision.

“Hold on.”
Izuku watched curiously as he rose, sliding open the nearest window with a bit of effort. He whistled, a sharp, high, noise. The night answered, a shrill cry rising from someplace below, echoing faintly. Seconds later, to Izuku’s surprise, a white owl came flying up. It was a beautiful bird, dappled with brown and beige, slipping through the open window with a gentle cry. It landed on the ledge, shaking its glossy wings, nosing its beak into the cloth pouch clutched in its talons.

Izuku gasped as he recognized the object inside, his eyes lighting up.

“The bottomless bento box. That’s one of my mom’s favorite magic items!”
They used to be able to fit an entire picnic’s worth of food into those tiny boxes, finding a nice grassy hill to eat together, when the weather allowed. Izuku smiled at the memory, remembering he needed to write her back.

“There’s only one pair of chopsticks.”
The other boy had popped off the bento’s lid, the magical box unfolding its impossible amount of compartments, revealing a whole spread of carefully packed food. True to his word, there was only one pair of chopsticks, but what else had he been expecting? Confused, Izuku laughed, furrowing his eyebrows.

“I mean, it’d be weird if there was more than one pair, right?”
The boy stared blankly at him for a couple of seconds, until the implication finally sunk in: he wanted to share his food with Izuku.

“Ah! You don’t have to..! You must be hungry. I mean, you’ve only got one pair of chopsticks, too.”
He declined, politely, despite his stomach’s violent disagreement with the idea. The mismatched gaze sitting on his face was burning a hole through him.

The silence hung a bit too long.

“You could use our wands as chopsticks.”
Izuku froze, in the way you did when you weren’t certain you heard something right. Surely, he didn’t hear that correctly.

“...I was joking.”
The deadpan confirmation nearly knocked the air out of Izuku. It took him completely by surprise. He stared at the other boy, completely dumbfounded, as he cast a charm on his chopsticks. Izuku immediately recognized the hand movement: a Doubling Charm. Another pair of chopsticks sprung into existence, falling into his hand, which he passed to Izuku.

“Here.”
A strangled chuckle rose from Izuku’s throat, before he could help himself. So on top of intimidating wand skills, he had an unexpected sense of humor.

He places the bento box down on the fountain’s edge, in between the two of them, the tantalizing scent killing the protest rising in Izuku’s throat.

“..Are you sure?”
He shrugged again.

“She always packs too much, anyways.”

She? Izuku nodded, barely able to contain his curiosity, but not wanting to pry any more than he already had. The food looked homemade, too. Who would be so close to such a standoffish boy to go to all this trouble? Not that he cared, he reasoned with himself. Regardless of who made it, it was delicious, the first bite of fish melting on his tongue.

“Who sent this, then? The food’s amazing…”
He could barely hold himself from shoveling more down his throat, reminding himself not to get too hasty.

“My sister, Fuyumi. She worries too much.”
He sighed, but there was fondness in his voice. He snagged some of the cold soba noodles.

Sister, huh. He’s ashamed the revelation delighted him so much.

He recognized the name, though.
“Fuyumi Todoroki’s your sister? She’s amazing..!”

Fuyumi was a seventh year Ravenclaw with incredible skill in transfiguration, and everyone was anticipating her to become a professor at Hogwarts after she graduated. She already tutored countless first and second years in her free time, extremely popular with the younger kids, and showed great promise as both a witch and a teacher.
It made sense that someone as impressive as him had impressive siblings. But, didn’t that mean…?

“Wait, so you’re related to Mr. Todoroki, too?”
There was certainly a resemblance, now that he thought back on it. It was a nasty implication, if he’d heard everything correctly, while eavesdropping earlier. His appetite rapidly dwindled.

“I’m his son, Shouto Todoroki. I thought you knew.”
Izuku had heard Mr. Todoroki had a son too, but he hadn’t connected the dots.
“Well, ah..”
Truth be told, he had been too shy to ask during class, after Todoroki already knew his name that first night. He’d been waiting for him to answer some questions during class, so the teacher would call his name, but an overeager Ravenclaw named Iida kept putting his hand up at everything.
The patchwork boy finally had a name, but he wondered if he’d been using that nickname for too long to completely forget about it.

“You haven’t heard what the other kids say about me?”
He had. They hated his ‘rich kid attitude’, and that he didn’t even bother coming to class because he thought he was better than everyone else. They hadn’t said anything kind; he just hadn’t known who they were gossiping about, at that point. He suddenly felt ashamed for not stopping them, even if it was just to try and fit in.

 

“I don’t really talk to the other kids.. I don’t have any friends here, yet.”
Izuku fibbed to spare his feelings, but it wasn’t entirely a lie. He didn’t really have friends, not yet. Bakugo’s friend group had been steering clear of him ever since his first couple of days, with the exception of Kirishima. The rest of his house either had people they’d rather be spending time with, or were frightened by the media storm surrounding him. He couldn’t say he blamed them.

“You. The talk of the school?”

“Well, when you put it like that, it’s a little embarrassing.”

“No, I mean…”
Todoroki’s eyebrows knit, and he frowned. He seemed to be carefully choosing words
“Sorry. I don’t talk with the others much, either. Most of them don’t want to associate with me.”
He paused, soba halfway to his mouth.

“There was a rumor that my father had been pulling strings to put me at the top of the class, exam grades and all. Naturally, they’d resent anyone like that. I know I would.”
He’d either long accepted this fact, or did a fantastic job of hiding his emotions, Izuku observed. He couldn’t pity someone who had such a cool head about his situation, but he certainly empathized with Todoroki. His honesty was refreshing in its straightforwardness, and he felt like it deserved the same vulnerability in return.

“I know what it’s like, people looking at you differently because of your parents. I’m actually a halfblood, which isn’t so uncommon, but halfblood squibs..”
Izuku laughed, wryly, squeezing his lips into a thin line. When some people with two Muggle parents still managed to manifest magic, it seemed pretty pathetic to him that he turned out a squib even with one pure-blooded magic parent. The rarity of his case had even turned back on his mother, something he still hated to remember.

“Some of my mother’s colleagues actually started treating her poorly after I failed to manifest any kind of magic. They’d been perfectly kind to her, up until then.”
The memory made him grit his teeth.
“She’s a pureblood in a Ministry position, so you can imagine how certain types reacted to her having a squib child with a Muggle.”
They’d looked on her with cold eyes, ever since word got out about his lack of latent magical ability. Someone even left a threatening note in her desk, its origin untraceable. It just left her to wonder which of her coworkers was harboring such thoughts about her, in the end, unable to do anything about it.

Izuku knew it wasn’t his fault, but he still felt guilty.

“Sometimes there’s no way of knowing about the extent of people’s prejudices until you’re the one facing the backlash.”
Izuku said, kicking at the ground, still savoring the free movement of his legs. Todoroki scoffed.

“You can’t be hard on yourself for that. Blaming a woman for her child, calling them ‘defective’... It’s one of the worst things a person could do.”
Izuku blinked, surprised at the sudden venom in his tone.

He never saw Todoroki express emotion much further than annoyance or confusion. It was like day and night, now. His knuckles were bloodless, white, gripping his empty chopsticks hard enough to nearly splinter them. Conviction burned behind his voice, unlike anything Izuku had heard from him thus far.
He filed ‘defective children’ under conversation topics to avoid in the future, and if it had to do anything to do with the conversation he’d heard earlier… well, he didn’t want to think about it.
Instead, he jumped to reassure him. Izuku diffused the situation with a nervous laugh, a reflex he’d honed over years spent with Bakugo.

“Of course. Backwards thinking people like them just can’t be helped.”

He actually put a significant amount of blame on himself for the difficulties his mother faced, but speaking it out loud almost made him believe the opposite, if only for a second.
Todoroki seemed to have sensed his misstep, blinking rapidly, his grip relaxing on the chopsticks again.

He closed up again, just as quickly, having burned as bright and as temporarily as a match thrown into the sink.

“It’s late. You need to get back.”

Izuku couldn’t dispute that, but he wished he’d done a better job of reassuring Todoroki he was alright. He just nodded his agreement, not wanting to impose after causing so much trouble.

The moment of familiarity between them had shattered, both of them pulling back again; it had only lasted as long as a shared dinner.
There was even more on his mind than when they had started, however, troubling thoughts swarming his mind the deeper he thought about it.
The only class Todoroki hadn’t missed this week was Defense Against the Dark Arts, taught by his father. His father, who’s words were even more ominous in hindsight to Izuku. ‘I’ll find you here in the morning.’ Why was he here overnight, by himself, without anywhere to sleep besides the ground? Was it so regular an occurrence that his sister knew to pack food for him?
He tried to hide his distress, but he might have been doing a poor job.
Todoroki straightened up, replacing the lid on the bento box. They’d managed to clean out the whole box, minus a generous portion of pickled radish and carrots. To say she was overzealous was putting it lightly. Todoroki’s sister must have been trying to fatten him up for the winter.
He voiced the thought, raising an eyebrow, and gets hit in the face with something just as quickly in response. The silky touch of the Invisibility cloak was familiar, now, as it unfurled over his body. Todoroki had thrown it over his head, he realized.

“Here. Groundskeeper or not, you’ll be safer if you can’t be seen on your way back.”
He adjusted the cloak so it sat properly on him, pulling the hood down. Izuku moved his hand in and out of the sleeve; watching his hand disappear and reappear a couple times, in awe.

“I can really borrow this..?”
He still had much to learn about the magical world. Sure, he lived with ordinary magical objects in his household, like self washing dishes and bottomless bentos.. but rare items like invisibility cloaks made him feel like a starry eyed kid again.

“On the condition you’ll be seeing me again, yes.”
Todoroki said.
Flustered, another embarrassed smile twitched onto Izuku's lips. He knew Todoroki simply meant to return the cloak, but he couldn’t help reading a bit into the statement.

“What about you?”
Todoroki glanced away.
“I know some secret passageways. I won’t be seen.”
He spoke firmly, leaving no room for argument.

Izuku knew he was lying, but wasn’t brave enough to press him on the manner. He set his lips in a straight, determined line, nodding. What could he do to help someone who didn’t want to be helped? It reminded him of someone else he knew, the one who’d left him on the stairs in the first place.

“Right. See you again, Todoroki. ...And, uh. Thanks for saving me again, and for sharing your food.”
Izuku pulled the cloak’s hood over his head. His sudden invisibility gave him the rush of courage he needed to say what he wanted.
“For the record, I don’t believe what the others say about you.”
Maybe he couldn't help right here, right now, but having caught a glimpse of his soul, Izuku couldn't help the feelings rising in him. He'd find another way. He wouldn't give up, even if Todoroki tried to push him away again.

His footsteps echoed all the way out. Todoroki didn’t make a sound, when he walked back to the fountain, where he’d sleep. He paused, picking up the two pairs of chopsticks still resting on the concrete ledge, rolling them over in his palm.
In the corner of the room, he noticed a plant that hadn’t died yet; one he hadn’t seen before.

Chapter Text

Sitting across the table, Headmaster Nezu blew on his tea. The steam rising off it was bright blue, and it clouded the room.
Izuku bowed in his seat, not knowing how to start his apology.

He’d suddenly been called here, and hadn’t known what to expect.

It wasn’t anything good.

“You know we all want to see you improve. We took a calculated risk by inviting you here, because we were hoping to see you grow.”

Every word felt like another dagger in his heart. His heart rattled in his chest, a tinny, feeble noise.
All the doubts he’d been having about himself were materializing, like a thread pulled from a bad dream. He still didn’t know if he belonged here or not, and apparently he wasn’t the only one still wondering.

“But if we don’t see results, we have no choice in the matter. If you can’t perform magic, there’s no reason for you to be at a wizarding school.”
Nezu was still talking. He bowed his head even lower, staring at his knees with wide, nervous eyes.

“I understand.”
He choked out the words, biting against the tears clouding his vision.
The following pause was excruciating. With his head bowed so low, he felt as if he was awaiting the executioner’s axe; that with one grand swing, he’d be expelled, and it would all be over.
But instead, he was met with a gentle sigh, and a hand on his shoulder.
He flinched upwards.

“Show us what you can do during midterms. That’s how we’ll decide.”
Izuku saw the glimmer of hope, and he grabbed for it, holding steadfast. He was on his feet before he knew it, blinking the tears out of his eyes.
“Thank you so much! I-I promise I won’t let this chance go to waste!”

Midterms weren’t far, and he would have hardly a week to turn everything around. But it was a chance, and when Izuku got a chance, he chased after it until he couldn’t run anymore.

Everything would change, in a matter of a week. It came so suddenly, but somehow he’d known it was coming. He’d seen the way his teachers looked at him when he couldn’t perform the simplest charms, couldn’t even produce a spark or a puff of light. They thought he was a dud, and no matter how well he did in his other classes that didn’t require spell casting, he’d never be able to pass to the next year.
But even after he’d left the office, after a full day of studying, practicing, hoping, praying, nothing changed. The midterms were starting to feel less like a chance to prove himself, and more like a sentencing date.

He tossed his wand onto the carpet in frustration. He’d failed to levitate the feather on his desk for what felt like the fifteenth time, but he lost count a while ago. Sweat prickled at the back of his neck.
Thoughts of failure swarmed his head, clamoring for attention. His hands flew to his head, knotting in his hair, as if he could pry them from his head.

Collapsing into his chair, he bit down on the inside of his lip. He didn’t have time to wallow in pity. Pity didn’t buy dreams.
How had he summoned magic before? He remembered unbelievable fear, yet his body moved before he could stop himself. He’d grabbed his mother’s wand and channelled all his energy into a single thought: protect her. The longer he went on from that moment of sheer adrenaline, the more he started to wonder if he had actually cast that spell. Had it been a trick of light? A stray bolt of lightning that’d hit the Inferi?

The candle at his side flickered, having burnt itself down to the stump. He pinched out the timid flame, ignoring the sting. It must be late, by this point, if he’d let it burn so low. Sleep was weighing on his body, but he didn’t want to waste any time, not when he already had such little left.
Pressing his head down onto the desk, he let himself deflate, spent. He would just close his eyes for a moment.

He woke up with a stiff neck a couple hours later, still in the common room.

The sun was rising, and he could hear the sounds of other students just waking up in their rooms up the stairs, clattering and footfall.
The first thing he did was pick up his wand and try again.

He would be doing a lot of trying, and a lot less sleeping, in the days to come.

Classes were in full swing now, the promise of midterm exams looming on the horizon. He made use of Todoroki’s invisibility cloak while he could, slipping it on over his robes between classes, lifting the hood over his head and feeling himself vanish. He planned to give it back after their last class today, but he wished he could keep it longer.

To be able to walk across campus without feeling eyes constantly on his back, or worrying about people taking photos of him, was a welcome reprieve. He knew he was just a trend in the news cycle, that he would become old news soon enough, but it wasn’t coming fast enough. To know that everyone had their eyes on you, a great, unseen mass of people… it weighed on his mind, in everything he did, not wanting to make a single wrong step.

He’d asked Toshinori how he was able to handle his fame so gracefully. As the top Auror in his time, he had plenty of fans. It seemed impossible to always manage a grin and a wave to the cameras, to laugh off insulting articles written about him, but Mr. Toshinori pulled it off. He’d only smiled in response.

“The world can be dangerous, and people are always looking for reasons to stay hopeful. You-”
He had tapped Izuku’s shoulder, lightly.
“Are that hope to them, at least until the next story comes along.”

He didn’t remember what he’d said in that moment, clearly he’d had given some anxious, lackluster response. What he’d remembered was Toshinori’s fond laugh that came next, because it’d came like a jolt, warmer than a sip of hot chocolate after a snowball fight.

“I’m not going to act like it’s some kind of gift, or that it’s easy. You have to remember that they don’t know anything about you. They only know the face you show to the world, so why not make it a nice one?”
Bedraggled and teetering on the edge of panic the closer midterms drew, he didn’t want to show anyone his face right now, let alone a nice one.

Sleep was to become secondary until he could use magic properly again. Even when he’d gotten sleep, it’d been plagued by strange dreams: inside a fishbowl, camera lenses, the world spinning around in a golden cage.

He dipped into the empty transmutation lab to take off the cloak, folding it and tucking it at the bottom of his bag. He already missed the silky cloak against his skin, the way it let him disappear into a crowd, just another drop of water in the sea. Running a hand over his sleepy face, he pinched his cheeks a couple times, before pressing back into the hallway and into his last class for the day: Defense Against the Dark Arts.
The setup of the room was different, he noted as he walked in. The usual grid of desks had been pushed against the wall, students helping stack chairs, levitating them to the top of the taller stacks.

Izuku looked away, not wanting to watch.

There was a raised platform spanning most of the length of the room, now, oblong and scuffed wood. There was years of magical scarring on the thing, burnt at the edges, chunks missing in a few places.

He didn’t like how the professor, Mr. Todoroki, was standing at the edge, surveying the crowd of students below. He had a way of looking at the students that reminded him of a butcher sizing up pigs for slaughter.

This wasn’t how class usually started: they typically had to listen to an unwarranted, overwrought story about Mr. Todoroki’s glory days in Hogwarts as they settled in. Either that, or he’d have his son perform for the class the spell they were learning that day. Even on the days Todoroki wasn’t in any of his other classes, he’d always show up to his father’s. It made him unpopular with the teachers, and the fact that he was unapologetically so far ahead of the others made him unpopular with the students as well. Every time Mr. Todoroki called up his son to demonstrate, and he cast some wildly advanced spell without even blinking, a lot of students took it as showboating: which, for all intents and purposes, it was.
Mr. Todoroki was showing off how much further ahead his son was, just another daily reminder for the class, to know their place in relation to him.

The younger Todoroki would carry it out without question, without emotion. The other students complained about how cold and superior he seemed, but Izuku had doubts. Ever since that night they’d talked in the old herbology wing, he couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation he’d overheard between son and father, when he wasn’t too busy worrying about midterms. Todoroki had talked so disappointedly about how he had to go along with what his father wanted. Even if he showed no emotion, it must have been bothering him to go along with all the demonstrations and unsubtle power plays.

Izuku felt horrible for him, but he didn’t know what to do, not when he barely spoke to him half of the time.
They were friends, in a loose, confusing sense. Some days, he seemed comfortable and willing to talk, and others, he’d shut Izuku out. He still hadn’t figured out what separated those days from each other.

Still, he was much kinder than what the other students gave him credit for.

He’d even overheard a couple of students talking about how Fuyumi was the only good thing to ever come out of their family. It'd left a sour taste in the back of his mouth for the rest of the day.

The thought crossed his mind, and Izuku’s eyes flitted over the crowd. He easily spotted Todoroki, a couple inches taller than most everyone else. Plus, his candy cane hair was easy to pick out even in a crowd of black robes. He looked bored, leaning into the back corner, a languid hand twirling his wand between his fingers. Izuku started to edge his way closer.

“Everyone here? Good. This is a class you won’t want to miss.”
Mr. Todoroki was speaking now, pacing the platform’s length.

“Now, in your time here, I’ve educated you on several kinds of dangers wizards can face. What kind of dark magic and monsters are lurking in the shadows, how to notice the warning signs, weaknesses... But that’s NOTHING if you don’t know how to defend yourself against them.”
Izuku squeezed past a couple of Hufflepuffs, coming closer to Todoroki, but the next words grabbed his attention, holding him tight in place.
“Today, you’ll be sparring with your classmates.”

Magic duels.
A couple of heads turned towards him, others casting more subtle glances. Izuku pretended he wasn’t bothered, but it was as if all the quieter noises in the room had risen to a guttural screech; every muffled chuckle was an attack pointed at him, every sideways glance a hateful sneer. He knew most of his other classmates were nicer than that, but anxiety muddled his thoughts, morphing kind faces into cruel masks.
How was he going to spar with someone when he couldn’t even summon enough magic to levitate a feather?

“Should you get in a dangerous situation, this is the bare minimum of what you should be able to defend yourselves against. Dark wizards won’t be as forgiving or inexperienced as your classmates.”
He had started moving with a vigor Izuku rarely saw in him. Mr. Todoroki wasn’t built for teaching in a classroom, he realized. This was the part he looked forward to, the thrill of the battle, the sizzle of magic arcing through the air.

“Now, find a partner. I’ll give you a minute.”
He instantly made for Todoroki, without thinking. Just as quickly, his father came down from the platform and crossed to his son. They arrived at the same time.

The older Todoroki’s gaze slid over Izuku, his contempt hardly veiled. He paused, as if waiting for Izuku to scurry away, and seemed offended when he didn’t.

“I’ll be with my son. We want a fair match, don’t we?”
His tone indicated he hardly considered them pairing up as a ‘match’ at all. Izuku knew he was right.
He wouldn’t even be able to fend off an attack from the class slacker, Kaminari, and he frequently fried the sleeves of his robes with the sparking backlash of his own clumsy hand movements. Todoroki, the unchallenged leader of the pack, was out of the question.
The younger Todoroki examined the sleeves of his robe, worrying his thumb over a loose thread.

“...Sorry.”
He mumbled. A brief flash of irritation came across his face when his father placed a hand on his shoulder; but it faded, just a ripple over a still pond. He let himself be led away. It was hard to watch him walking away with his father, after what he'd learned in the garden that night, so Izuku looked away, muttering a quiet apology of his own. He'd have to find him after class.

Pursing his lips, Izuku swiveled back towards the rest of the class, feeling the uncomfortable pressure one felt when required to partner up in a class where you hardly had friends. He looked for Kirishima, but he was already standing by Tetsutetsu, comparing their wands (which were eerily similar). The other people he knew from his dorm were similarly occupied, Mina putting Sero in a headlock, Kendo and the blonde Slytherin boy she often tagged along with.

He noticed a girl he’d seen around before. She was looking around, similarly lost, and he impulsively stepped closer.

She was a Hufflepuff, and he knew it was close-minded of him to take house stereotypes so seriously, but it was enough to put him at ease. They upheld their reputation for being kind, and he rarely heard Hufflepuffs whisper around him the way Ravenclaws and Slytherins did. She had a persistent smile and bouncy brown hair that barely kissed her shoulders. He meant it in the nicest way possible when he thought she reminded him of a squirrel: lively, bushy tailed, and fuzzy. ‘Ochako’, he’d heard people call her, especially the froggish girl that usually hung out with her.

“Deku.”
A voice behind him. He turned, and sure enough, Bakugo was there: he jabbed his stubby wand into Deku’s chest.
“You’re with me.”

It wasn’t a matter up for debate. He was calm, about as calm as Bakugo got, but Izuku knew how to recognize the storm in his voice: the low roll of thunder warning of more lightning to come.

Especially after the stunt he’d pulled back on the stairs, he should have known he didn’t owe Bakugo anything. He didn’t owe him an apology, or an explanation for his sudden magical awakening, answers he didn’t even have himself.

Still, he cared about him, and while the others might not have noticed, Izuku knew when something was on his mind. Bakugo was sharp as a tack, but when it came to emotions, he could be alarmingly dense. He’d taken Izuku’s sudden change as a personal sleight, and was taking this chance to learn more about it. With anyone else, Izuku might have tried to talk through anything troubling him about the situation, but he knew that wasn’t how the other boy communicated. He spoke through glances and actions, and when things weren’t going his way, through fists, spells. And as nice as Izuku was… he wasn’t nice enough to become a punching bag for his sake.

The brown haired girl injected herself into the conversation, sensing the quiet tension rising between the boys.
“ If he doesn’t want to, he-”

“It’s fine. I want to.”
Ochako paused, pulling back, miffed.

To be honest, he was just as surprised as her.

But the more he thought about it, the more he realized it was true. If anyone could get him riled up enough to have a chance at using magic again, it was Bakugo. If the missing element was imminent danger, he could count on that from him, as sure as the sky was blue. Why delay the inevitable?

He wasn’t sure if it was the lack of sleep, or the chance of a breakthrough, but he couldn’t find a hole in that argument. A bout of unrattled, grave-ready confidence had come over him, smoothing away his anxiety in a single moment of dim hope.

If this had even the slightest chance of helping him cast spells again, he’d gladly duel Bakugo, as many times as he wanted. Besides… it’s what Mr. Toshinori would do, if he was in Izuku’s shoes: and what Bakugo himself would do as well. The boy in question seemed just as perplexed by his uncharacteristic willingness, slouching back into his default position, eyeing him warily.

Either way, he wasn’t expecting Ochako to step in like that, but it was pleasant nonetheless, to know someone would stand up for him. It warmed something inside him.

The rest of his class had witnessed Bakugo’s many, many attempts to single out and humiliate Izuku: whether it be from his inexperience, or just his sheer awkwardness. The reactions from his classmates ranged from amusement, to pity, to acting like they hadn’t seen anything. He smiled at her, a smile as reassuring as he could muster.

“...Seriously. It’s okay. I think Yaoyorozu is still looking for a partner.”
She saluted, backing off, her wary gaze still lingering on Bakugo.
“Well, good luck!”

She said it in the same nervous-happy way he imagined mothers would send their sons to war with, and fluttered away.
Bakugo narrowed his eyes, suspiciously.
“I’m not gonna go easy on you just cuz you’re two years behind.”

“Hah. I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
Izuku’s laugh is more of a cough. He performed the tired routine, appeasing his friend, mind too ragged to put any energy into it. His thoughts were elsewhere: even if he figured out what he needed to cast magic now, would he have enough time to learn all the basic charms? He knew their hand movements flawlessly, the incantations becoming mantras he murmured to himself in quieter moments, in vain hope they would somehow become a greater part of him.

Bakugo’s hand was suddenly in the front of his shirt, pulling him from his swirling, tangential thoughts.
“Are you even paying attention?”

Izuku grimaced, blinking away the clouds at the corners of his vision. He was just sleep-deprived and desperate enough to go along with the idea, having no other ideas. If this didn’t work, what would? What could he possibly be missing?
He pulled himself free, and followed Bakugo to the side of the room where the rest of the pairs stood lined up. Izuku came willingly, his thumbs running the familiar edges of his wand, asking what he asked every time: please.

Chapter Text

The rest of the class made themselves look busy, but Izuku could feel their curiosity, their eyes darting over in quick, nervous bursts. He was sure they were trying to catch his expression, the way he was standing. After several days of being the ‘new kid’ and the ‘media sensation’, he was used to how it felt to be watched, to know there was a huge, invisible audience lingering behind your every move.
Different from before, though, the audience wasn’t making him nervous anymore. No matter what he did, they’d talk about it: if he won, if he lost, if he did nothing. There was no use in hiding from their gazes now, whether he had an Invisibility cloak or not.

He wasn’t thinking like he usually did.
There was something in his sleep deprivation, his desperation to prove himself, that gave his thoughts a reckless edge. Something in his mind had flipped, a lightbulb in the dim, cobwebbed corner of his mind he rarely explored: the part of him that thought like Bakugo.
Reckless, hungry, victory above all. No compromises, no excuses, no going easy for sympathy’s sake.
After all, he was the one that Izuku had been chasing for so long. If he was going to fight Bakugo, he would fight his way. Maybe it would open up something in him that he was missing before with all his by-the-books, precise strategies.
If it wasn’t now, when was he going to do it?
He had to use magic, right here, right now.

Had he been mumbling to himself? He only now realized he probably was, the other nearby groups sharing odd glances.
Iida, the overprepared Ravenclaw, cleared his throat pointedly. The others returned to what they were doing before, staring intently at the wall as if to prove they weren’t eavesdropping, or gaining a sudden interest in tying their shoelaces.

“I’m sure I don’t have to tell you there are no rules in real dueling.”
Endeavor was up on the platform again, his son beside him. The resemblance in their faces difficult to ignore when they were standing next to each other like that. They had the same eyes, the same unforgiving slant to their jaw.

“Your opponent won’t shake your hand after, or pat you on the back. They’re coming for your blood, and if you’re unlucky enough to face a dark wizard, they’re not afraid to use the Unforgivable Curses.”

A murmur went across the room. One of the first things Izuku had learned about were the Unforgivable Curses: terrifying, forbidden spells that could kill, maim, and break minds. Even a wizard with no schooling would know the terror in a bright flash of green, the killing curse, Avada Kedavra.
“...But I would advise against casting any of those here, unless you want to get familiar with the inside of a Ministry prison cell.”
Judging by Bakugo’s expression, Izuku wouldn’t be surprised if he tried anyways. The younger Todoroki had moved to the other side of the platform, wand already in hand, barely listening to his father.
“Nothing that’ll seriously injure. When someone’s down or if they forfeit, they’re out. Take everything you’ve learned so far, and show me the results.”

In a flash of robe sleeves and darting hands, the elder Todoroki procured his wand, and before Izuku could blink, the air split with a bright orange light.
It happened so quickly he hardly had a chance to be worried for his friend. He recognized that spell, it was a dangerous spell that could explode the target if enough power was behind it- but the younger Todoroki waved it off with a flick of his wand. He muttered a countercurse, deflecting the spell like water off a duck’s back.

“Go on!”
Mr. Todoroki prompted the half-stunned class, deflecting a spell his son shot his way without even looking. Several panicked hands shot up in the crowd- what about bowing, weren’t they going to shake hands and then take ten paces away from each other?

Izuku knew Bakugo too well to let himself be distracted.
“Confringo!”
He ducked, an errant spell whizzing over his shoulder, connecting with an errant chair pushed against the back wall- splintering its leg clean off. Bakugo’s hand movement was wrong, but only the last second: a textbook, neat swish of the wrist, cut short by a violent jab of his arm. He remembered what Todoroki told him about Bakugo’s spellcasting style. He purposely botched parts of it, to make the magic volatile enough to blow up in someone’s face when colliding with something. The air his magic passed through seemed to shimmer, as if the erratic, loose spell had destabilized it.

He had to think. He was at a disadvantage. What can he do to defeat his opponent?

“Eyes on me, Deku.”
He remembered apple chunks, strewn far and wide, across the entire courtyard. Splintered chair legs, blown halfway across the room. He was still in one piece, but for how long?

Bakugo wanted a drawn out, painful duel. If he was going to be able to use magic at all, he needed to make it count: he needed to do the job in one hit.
Stupefy. It was simple, elementary spellcasting, a one hit knockout. A wizard’s bread and butter.
Izuku summoned all the energy he had, willing it to flow into his wand. He remembered everything he’d read: the wand is just an extension of yourself, a way to unleash the dormant magical potential sleeping inside. His stance needed to be firm but relaxed, his motions precise but smooth, voice commanding- he was the one using the magic, not the other way around.
“Stupe-”
“Confringo!”
The spell connected with his shoulder, this time, even as he tried to duck. Bakugo was aiming for his wand-holding arm, Izuku realized, eyes darting to the new scorch mark in his robe. Pain spiked in his arm, but even as his muscles screamed in protest, he lifted his wand again.

Firm but relaxed. Precise but smooth. Commanding. Keep your feet apart, but your shoulders lifted.

“St-”
His concentration was shaken, Bakugo firing off countless smaller explosions, nipping at his legs, his sides- one even comes so close to his head that he felt it ruffle his hair. He bit his lip, forcing back a frustrated retort.

“What, you trying to say something?”

This fight wasn’t fair.

What did he know about how hard Izuku had worked? He didn’t know the nights spent tirelessly studying, the days spent quietly yearning for a life outside the one he’d been given. Born into magic like a fish in water, he’d never known anything besides his own skill, surrounded by the evidence of his good luck: high natural aptitude, talent that bordered on prodigy.

Bakugo wasn’t fair.

He knew he had to focus, but something in him was splintering.
Bakugo’s voice cut to the deepest part of him, a child still chasing his heels, helpless on his own. Tears burned at the corners of his eyes. He felt hollow, as if someone had scooped out his insides with a spoon, leaving his frail, pathetic skin behind.

From the ground up, none of this had ever been fair.

Without warning, the hollowness in his chest flooded with pulsing, radiating anger.

All thoughts left his mind.

“JUST LISTEN TO ME, FOR ONCE!”

He raised his wand, thoughts of stance and wand movement swallowed up in a single, blinding instant of jealous anger. His mind went blank in a roar of white void, body flooding with heat that blazed in his stomach and throbbed all the way down to his fingertips. The world went white, and he squeezed his eyes shut. In his hopeless, half delirious state, he assumed it was a spotlight they were shining down on him, ready to laugh at his failure.
But with a slow, creeping realization, he recognized that feeling of warmth. It was like an electric shock, coursing through your body and shooting through your hands: leaving them friction-rough and shaking.

Startled, his eyes shot open, and drank in the scene before him.

Bakugo’s arms were crossed defensively in front of his chest, slanted eyes blown wide with surprise. His robes were singed, having absorbed most of the spell for him, hanging in shreds around his elbows. Izuku was on the ground, having been knocked back from the sheer force of his own spell.
He touched the still warm tip of his wand, looking back up at Bakugo’s scorched sleeves, stunned.

The class erupted into a buzz of murmurs, like a beehive that’d just been shaken.

He’d done it again, the same burst of formless energy in a single, blank-minded moment of emotion.

“Bakugo wins.”
It was true. Izuku dimly knew he was on the ground, but that hardly mattered, still staring at his wand. He pulled his gaze away, masking a grin, shoulders shaking with silent, disbelieving laughter.

“Get back to your duels if you aren’t finished.”
Mr. Todoroki informed the class, matter-of-factly, wrinkling his nose in distaste at all of the commotion.

He could have melted into a puddle on the ground right there, for all the tension that left his body, his mind. He couldn’t bring himself to care about the others watching anymore, and laughed until his stomach hurt, grinning down at the wand in his hand.
He knew he hadn't been imagining things.

“Why the fuck are you laughing? You got a hit in, but you lost.”
Bakugo grunted, his eyebrows taking a brief vacation from their near-constant angry furrowing to raise in confusion.
Right then, winning had to be the last thing Izuku cared about. He tried to answer Bakugo, but the more he thought about it, the funnier it was, still wracked with giggles. He blew out a long breath of air, trying to collect himself.

“Right, good job, Kacchan!”
He ran a hand over his face, attempting a cool, casual air. No big deal, he did magic all the time.
“Thanks. That helped a lot, actually.”

“...What?”
Bakugo looked like he’d bitten into a lemon. Only having succeeded at leaving his friend further confused and frustrated, he got to his feet and gave a hurried wave goodbye, not wanting to make it worse.
He wobbled to the side of the room where the other finished groups were waiting, rendered breathless and dreamy.

Casting magic once was a fluke. Twice was a pattern. He had something, and he finally felt like he could hold his head high around the others, no longer feeling like a sheep roaming with wolves.
A couple other students who’d already finished congratulated him, and he thanked them absentmindedly, still half dizzy with relief.
Todoroki was also standing by the wall, rubbing at his arm listlessly, watching the rest of the duels with distant eyes. Izuku crossed over to him, his mind coming back to the thought he’d had earlier.

“Your arm okay?”
Izuku glanced down, and Todoroki stopped, shifting to anchor his hands in his robe pockets.
“...S’fine.”
He gave a noncommittal shrug, with enough cool indifference to make Izuku briefly wonder if he’d done something wrong. He let his gaze drift back to the dueling pairs, an indifferent Tokoyami effortlessly fending off spell after spell from an increasingly desperate Mineta. He watched each spell being flung, a brilliant volley of lights neutralized with a simple flick of Tokoyami’s wrist, dampened as quick as a match underwater.
Talking to Todoroki could feel like that, sometimes, a swift, unspoken rebuttal: if he didn’t want you there, you would know.

“You were good up there.”
Came Todoroki’s quiet voice.
That was the second surprise of the day, just as pleasant as his fickle magic’s return.

Todoroki sounded unsure, which was new. He always spoke as if he was reading aloud from a boring textbook; like he couldn’t care less about whatever he said, but with the confidence of knowing what he said would be an accepted fact. Now, he seemed almost shy, but it was odd to think of someone so capable as shy.

“I don’t know what came over me, but I’m glad it did.”
“You looked possessed.”
Todoroki agreed, bluntly, but he wore a tiny smile.
Izuku laughed in relief, but now it was mostly because of Todoroki, not even his magic at this point.
He was usually impassive and aloof, but the Todoroki he’d caught a glimpse of back in the garden had been different. He’d been supportive, even, and now Izuku knew he hadn’t been imagining things. At first he had been scared that moment would fizzle and ice over, never to return. Nights like that could be as temporary as a butterfly landing on a blossom, only to flit away; everything slowly sliding back to where they began. You would move on and forget the face they briefly showed you, only seeing a stranger. But that hadn’t happened to them, not yet.

The warmth between them encouraged him. He was only starting to digest the implications of what had just happened in that duel, and he knew he couldn’t understand everything on his own. He had a question to ask, and he couldn’t back out now.

He stepped in front of Todoroki, breathlessly bowing.
He’d made an important step today, and it had given him the push he needed to not give up. But if he was going to pass those midterms, he needed help controlling what he could manage, and he could think of no one better to ask for help.
“Midoriya.”
He sounded surprised. It was scarcely different from the way he usually spoke, but Izuku could hear the lift in his eyebrows.
“Can you help me with spell casting?”
Izuku exhaled the words in one go, peeking up from under his bangs.
“I really, really could use the advice. ...Please.”
Todoroki’s eyes darted over to his father, currently pacing the stage, his lips pressed into a thin, uncertain line. He looked uncomfortable, his shoulders scrunching up, and Izuku was flooded with guilt.
He must be thinking of his extra lessons with his father, and about how busy his schedule already was. He already had so much on his plate, it was selfish to ask for anything more than the kindness he’d already been shown. He knew it was silly, but seeing that smile just now made everything he’d gone through this week feel worth it.
“Actually, you know what? It’s okay, I-”

“Yes.”
The blood already rushing to his cheeks comes on tenfold. Even Todoroki seemed a bit surprised, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“Todo-”
The taller boy brushed past Izuku, a burst of movement uncharacteristic of him.
“Look, we shouldn’t talk here. Meet me after class.”

He left the room, cloak in a black plume flowing behind. Unlike what he’d feared, the space that had opened up between them back in the garden hadn’t closed yet, but there was still something between them.

When Izuku glanced up, he saw Mr. Todoroki was looking directly at him.

Chapter Text

Todoroki paced the length of the hallway, focusing on walking in a straight line. One foot in front of the other, back and forth. He breathed slowly until his galloping heartbeat began to resemble his steps: slow and methodical.

When his father first heard of the transfer student, he was unhappy about how much attention he was getting from the media.
He’d huff and puff and use words like ‘drivel’, throwing the papers down on the table every time he’d seen yet another picture of the kid. It was the same picture every time, no matter how many different places the photographers caught him in. He was never ready for the camera, but they seemed to hound him wherever he went, the same stunned, deerish blinking on a myriad of different backdrops, different newspapers. His expression was comically similar if you laid all the papers in a row.

“Don’t get involved with this kid. You hear? He’s the epitome of everything wrong with the wizarding world.”
It was hard to take him seriously when the photo he was jabbing at wore such innocent doe eyes, turning and blinking at the camera ad infinitum. Todoroki had nodded anyways, letting his father ramble further on about ‘handouts’ and ‘bullshit miracle kids’ until he tired himself out.

He’d agreed to stay away, not thinking much of it. But a couple of minutes ago when Izuku had asked, directly in front of his father, he’d agreed to something entirely different. Not only was he getting involved with him, he was actively coaching him to become stronger competition.

Todoroki ran a hand over his face.

His only saving grace now was that he probably hadn’t heard the specifics, given Sero had hit poor Mina with a tickling charm during their duel and she’d been laughing loud enough to mask their voices. But Izuku had bowed in front of him, and there was only so many things that could imply- an apology or a request, and neither of them were good prospects. Unless he could come up with a good excuse, it was practically confirmation that they knew each other and had been talking.
His father wasn’t going to be happy about it, but he could deal. Rebelling so openly made him nervous, but it was also thrilling, and something about helping Izuku felt right.

The bell tower sung, thrice, and the rest of the class began to pour out of the room. Some of them were nursing light injuries, but almost all of them were smiling anyways, laughing, re-telling the story of their duels to their friends.

He spotted Izuku, and knew instantly when Izuku had seen him too, because his face brightened like the sun rising over a clear, open field.

Sometimes it was hard to look at him directly.

Todoroki suddenly became very interested in a fissure in the wall until Izuku had made it over.
His face was scrunched up in confusion, but Todoroki could tell he was on the edge of laughter.
“Well, hi. The way you flew out of there, I wasn’t expecting you to be right outside.”

He didn’t understand the joke.
“I asked for you to meet me after class. This is after class, yes?”
Todoroki replied.

“Well, no, like, usually... that means… never mind.”
To his surprise, Izuku had flushed, his cheeks flooding with ruddy pink.
Todoroki squinted.

“Are you cold?”
His red cheeks looked the part, like a gust of winter air had passed over his face. Izuku shook his head insistently, but it only seemed to get worse, the color deepening. Todoroki rifled around in his bag, but didn’t have a scarf or anything to offer him.
“Nope, don’t worry, all fine. So where are we going?”
Izuku asked, suddenly moving forward and speaking quickly. Todoroki followed, moving in front, pointing down a nearby staircase.

“Follow me.”
Todoroki led the way to the library.

“I hate these staircases. My back is still sore.”
Izuku lamented, frowning down at the ridged stone steps. Todoroki let the comment sink in, understanding slowly dawning on him.

“He left you on a staircase? That’s...”
Todoroki trailed off, not wanting to bring up any uncomfortable memories.

“Pretty cold, I know.”
Izuku giggled, and it was alarming.
It was more than cold, it was cruel, but Izuku was laughing it off. He was eerily resilient, and Todoroki admired him for it, but he also found a fresh distaste for Bakugo. How was he able to go to sleep that night, knowing that Izuku was probably still out there, uncomfortable, and at the mercy of whoever found him? For some reason, whenever he pointed out Bakugo's clear shortcomings, Izuku would leap to defend him. It didn’t make any sense. It made him think of the way that people spoke of his father, at times: phrases like ‘but he’s such a good man’, and ‘the good outweighs the bad’.

His father.

The aftershock of his blatant rebellious behavior was still running through him, like a silent buzz of electricity. It numbed out any feelings in him besides a low current of unease, like he’d turn a corner and find his father standing right there.

How was he going to explain this? If he managed to summon a Patronus, maybe he wouldn’t be so upset. If he hadn’t disappointed his father so often, maybe Touya wouldn’t have…

He shook his head, trying to dispel the thought, but it was futile.

His mind always came back to that.

No matter where he started, it was always the outcome. His thoughts were like thousands of pipelines, starting in entirely different places, but funneling to the same place at the bottom. His brother would intrude on his thoughts again, falling deep into that pool every time, and he still had the nerve to be surprised about it.

He moved his focus elsewhere.
Izuku’s chattering buzzed like a drone in the background, to which he could occasionally pick out words and reply. It helped to be around others, though he was at a shortage of friends in this place.
A question brought his back from his own thoughts, gaze pulled down to the boy he’d agreed to help.
“So, I guess what I’m asking is, what do you think I’m doing wrong?”

They had reached the front of the library, and as they entered, a couple of heads popped up from their books to stare bitterly at the still-speaking transfer student. Midterms were drawing closer, and the Ravenclaws were getting more neurotic by the day.

Todoroki guided him to the side of the large room, past the monstrous shelves, past the roped-off restricted section.
There were three rooms adjoined to the side of the library, each labeled helpfully with a plaque declaring them as ‘private study rooms.’ They went into the first one, an unfurnished shoebox of a room, only a table and four chairs besides the depressing, tiny painting of an owl hung on the wall which only served to make the rest of the walls look more bare. They were simple rooms, but effective for their purpose: completely soundproof, walls coated with magic proof paint, to avoid any real damage to the room for those practicing spellcasting.

“Whoa, aren’t these for older students doing serious research?”
Izuku asked, somehow still amazed by the dingy room.
Todoroki studied him, wondering what it was like to live life with such a rosy outlook.

“Yes, usually. But my father donated a significant sum towards them being built, so no one asks questions if I use them from time to time.”
An inexplicable craving for silence would sometimes come over him, one the Slytherin common room could never fulfill, with its echoing walls that captured and reverberated every tiny movement.

It was the same in the library, or in his room. Even in silence, there was noise everywhere, the chirping of birds outside the window, the turning of pages. Sometimes every tiny noise came into competition with his thoughts, each little chirp of birdsong outside like a shouting match inside his head. When it got too much to bear, he wound up here more often than not, wrapping himself in the room’s clean, luxurious silence. It wasn’t as if wasn’t as if the room had any kind of allure outside it’s silence, however. It was a dim, depressing box that reminded him of his father.

“I brought you here because you seemed like the kind of person who would get worried about property damage.”
He stated, bluntly. Judging from the way Izuku laughed, he’d been right, and a little rush of pride tightened his stomach.

“From the instant I walked in here, I was worrying about somehow destroying that painting.”
Izuku confessed, gesturing to the painting, a snowy owl on a tree branch.
“I mean… I don’t know, I’m still not in control of my wand! What if it explodes, or something?”

Todoroki lifted the frame off the wall from where it was hanging, revealing the swath of wall behind it. There were a series of runes carved into the wall behind the painting, ones he recognized from the couple of times he’d glanced over books on the topic, but not well enough to name.
“It’s only there to cover these up.”

He was about to launch into a brief explanation of runes, but found Izuku already speaking excitedly.

“Silence, shield, nullify.”
He read the runes aloud from top to bottom, effortlessly, shocking Todoroki.

“Ah, I see, so the walls are enchanted to absorb spells! That’s clever.”
Izuku stepped closer, examining the runes, brushing his finger along their contours. Todoroki blinked, schooling his expression back into indifference, but the surprise still lingered.

Ancient runes were an advanced topic, only offered to students beginning third year and up. He’d missed the first two years of classes, and Todoroki had only just started to learn, so how was he so fluent already? The only other person in their grade who would know something like that was Momo, but she was a model Ravenclaw, and knew most everything.
He hadn’t come here expecting to be impressed by the transfer student, having come from the position of taking pity, but he was anyways.
It was almost intimidating, remembering his father’s words about how this boy was to become his direct competition.

“I used to read magic books instead of bedtime stories, just as soon as I found out my mom was a witch, and I guessed I never stopped. I’m pretty well read on the more bookish topics, it’s just…”
Izuku explained himself, shrugging sheepishly.
“The spellcasting.”
Todoroki supplied, and Izuku nodded.

Fascinating.

His newly renewed interest in the boy outweighed any other concerns he might have had. He wanted to see this through.

“There are similar runes are carved on the bottom of the table and chairs, and they can survive anything you may throw their way. So don’t worry about that part anymore. Get your wand.”
His student obeyed, and Todoroki finally got a good look at his wand. It was made of english oak from the looks of it, and longer than he had expected for someone his size, yet it still suited him.
Reaching into his schoolbag, he pulled out a feathered quill, and placed it on the table.

“Try to make that float. I trust you know the spell.”
The whole situation was absurd. A student that was reading ancient runes fluently couldn’t perform a levitation charm, the simplest spell there was: it seemed preposterous. But sure enough, Izuku performed it well, incantation and wrist movement perfect enough to serve as demonstration, and nothing happened. Could he really only use magic in moments of pure desperation? It seemed impractical.

Izuku must have been thinking the same thing, because he looked nervous.

“See? That’s always what happens. What am I doing wrong?”

Todoroki asked him to do it again, studying the way he moved. There wasn’t any fault in his gesture and pronunciation, but he seemed stiff, like a store mannequin forced into a pose.

“It’s been like that for the whole year. It’s like I’m not improving at all.”
Izuku sounded miserable.
He was an open book, and looking at his expression was like peeking into his thoughts. He had been looking to Todoroki so desperately for an answer that when his advice didn’t work right away, he was getting anxious.

Todoroki pursed his lips, pulling out a chair and sitting. Izuku followed suit, with that same wide eyed expression he wore in the newspapers, staring at Todoroki with intense curiosity.

“What’s different now?”
Todoroki finally spoke, gathering his thoughts.
“You’ve used magic twice before. Why not now?”

Izuku paused, considering. Todoroki wished he had been able to pay more attention earlier, when he’d managed to send off that spell at Bakugo. He’d been too caught up in the tail end of his own duel, and had only seen the flash from the corner of his eye. Actually, that brief distraction is what lent his father the opening he needed to win, but he knew Izuku would just feel bad if he ever mentioned that.

“I guess… What I thought before was that I needed to be in danger. Like with my mother, or fighting against someone who I know is aiming to hurt. That’s why I thought dueling Kacchan might be the key, but even though I was in danger, nothing happened for the first half of the fight...”
He ran a hand through his hair, words starting to taper off into mumbles, his thoughts dissolving.

“What did it feel like?”
Todoroki supplied, trying to nudge him back on track.

“Like someone replaced all my bones with lightning rods and tossed me into a storm. It was exhilarating, and a little scary. Is that how it feels for you?”

Todoroki snorted. It sounded awfully violent. No wonder why he'd looked possessed earlier.

“Not at all. Unless I’m really angry, or something, I mean.”

“The last two times I managed to cast anything, I was overwhelmed with emotion. It was like I felt so much that everything converged on that one moment, and I stopped thinking.”
Izuku paused, wringing his fingers together.
“But I don’t know, anymore. It’s fine if I can use magic in those kinds of moments, but they’re not even specific spells, just releases of energy. If I can’t use magic anytime else, I’m not much of a wizard.”

He looked miserable, sitting there like a kid that’d been scolded, bent in on himself. It was hard to watch. He saw a younger version of himself in that posture.
He decided to say the words he’d needed to hear back then, the words no one had offered him.

“Cut yourself some slack. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself. I knew some kids in our year that weren’t able to use magic properly until near the end of their first year. You’re just learning, aren’t you?”

“But it’s not just me watching my progress. It’s Mr. Toshinori, and the news, and everyone at school.”

Todoroki remembered flashes of headlines, of failed prodigy sons and proud, sneering fathers.

“Yeah, they are. I’m not going to lie to you.”

His name had its moment in the sunlight, after Touya was expelled, and everything else happened. The papers were keen to pick his brain for all the gory details, like angry vultures, but Touya’s disappearance had left him empty, a pile of hollow bones with nothing left to give.

“I know it’s hard, but for now, it’s just me.”

He saw Izuku’s eyes go soft, and knew he’d chosen the right thing to say. Encouraged, he kept on.

“Listen, don’t think about any of that. Don’t think about how much you or anyone else needs this to work. Don’t even think about the incantation or the gesture. You know them. Just look at the feather and imagine it floating.”
When Izuku stood next, he was still staring down the feather intensely enough to burn a hole through it. Todoroki came up behind him, and without thinking, guided a hand over his elbow.
“Looser. Don’t think so hard about how the book tells you to stand, just stand like yourself. The little details don’t matter, all that matters is picturing that feather lifting off the table.”

He murmured, just above Izuku’s ear, watching the feather from over his shoulder.

He knew what the problem might be. Magic didn’t like to be forced. Everything about it was fluid, moving on it’s own regard. Controlling magic forcefully was like trying to grab a fistful of water, it would just slip through your fingers. You could guide it, but never control it- even wands themselves wouldn’t perform for a wizard they didn’t like. As the saying goes, ‘the wand chooses the wizard’. Izuku was so desperate for something to happen, he was letting his mind get overtaken by anxiety and all the pressures around him, trying to force results. He needed to let them go before his wand would begin to cooperate.

Todoroki stepped back, and Izuku’s shoulders flattened, his eyes fluttering closed. The boy let out a long sigh, as if to release everything trapped in his head.
It’s only me, Todoroki wanted to tell him. Nobody is watching you now.
But he was afraid that if he spoke, he’d break Izuku’s concentration.
Todoroki was brought into the world with the purpose of becoming a top auror, with no room for mistakes or slip ups. He knew what it was like to bear the heavy burden of expectations, and he saw it written over every part of the boy in front of him.
It was nice to see him let them go, for a moment, to see the tension in his body unravel.

“Wingardium Leviosa.”
The spell came like an exhale of breath. Instead of forcing them out, he let the words go.
A whisper of light filled the room.
The feather on the table twitched, and just as Izuku cracked his eyes open, began it’s steady, wobbling ascent.
The two of them stared at the feather, in nervous awe, as if they were watching a soap bubble that could pop at any minute.
But it hung there, just as surely as the sun hung in the sky.

Izuku looked like like he'd been given the world.

“Todoroki!”
He whispered excitedly, like he was worried about scaring the feather. His expression was bright as daybreak, bright enough to make Todoroki feel like he hadn't seen the sun in years.
It was the simplest spell, but his face was glowing. He had a kind of childish wonder, an innocence that hadn’t yet been scared out of him, despite everything he’d been dealing with until now. Todoroki found himself longing for that kind of innocence, at times, and to see it worn so unabashedly by a near stranger was refreshing.

In the moment, it greatly endeared him to Todoroki. He felt himself smiling, too.

Izuku eased the feather back down to the desktop with gentle ministrations of his wand, letting it flutter back to where it had begun.

“Wow, that was so much easier than I expected! I just cleared my mind, and it became so much more natural! I guess I was just thinking about a lot no matter what I tried, like what angle I should hold my wand at or how I’ve seen Mr. Toshinori or mom cast spells, or how far apart my feet were-..”

He was starting to mumble again. Todoroki couldn’t follow, but his eyes stayed on his face. He was all dimples and shiny smiles, bouncing on his heels, talking animatedly.
He had a lot more freckles than Todoroki had noticed at first.
They marched along the bridge of his nose, dappled his cheeks. From there they made a dive down to the hollow of his neck, thinning out at the crook of his shoulder. They disappeared under the collar of his shirt, which Todoroki found somewhat disappointing. He wondered how far they went, what shapes they took.

“...So it must have been that all along! Right, Todoroki?”
His name brings his eyes jolting back up to the other’s face, looking at him for an answer.

“Right.”
He replied, having no idea what Izuku had just said. Mercifully, that seemed to be the right answer, and the grinning boy bowed to him again.
“Thank you so much!”

Todoroki frowned, taking a step closer.
“You don’t really need to do that. It was all you, anyway.”

Izuku straightened back up, eyes shining, smile wobbly at the corners.
“Y-Yeah. I guess it was.”

No explosions, no backfiring spells. They hardly needed the spell proofed walls, but Todoroki was still somehow glad they had ended up here anyway. Talking to him was like stepping into water expecting a puddle and falling in over your head. There was much more than what he bargained for, and found himself submerged in what he’d found, captivated.
“I still have a lot to learn with spellcasting, so if it’s alright…”

“You can keep using this room, just ask the librarian’s permission.”

“No, I meant, could I keep coming here with you?”
He immediately thought of his father.
“I mean, I understand completely if you’re too busy, but look how much you helped me in one day. No one else has been able to do that.”
Izuku’s eyes were so hopeful that he would have felt like he was kicking a puppy if he said no. How could he deny such an earnest request? It felt wrong to get tied up in a manufactured rivalry when Izuku clearly wasn’t thinking of that.

“I’m not a teacher, but I can tell you what I know.”
He acquiesced. It wasn’t much of a choice in the first place. Todoroki wasn’t selfless enough to do this out of the kindness of his own heart. He didn’t talk to many people, and Izuku was one of the first people who he might have a chance to get closer to without the stigma of his father and his special privileges at school that usually kept other students away.
Despite his father’s wishes, he wanted to know Izuku more, hoped his positive attitude might infect him as well.
Stupidly, he wondered if he might see him smile again, in the way he’d smiled when the feather first lifted.
“That works for me! I’m so glad!”
Izuku’s response was much more enthusiastic than he thought he deserved, not being a professional teacher, but it was flattering.

He wasn’t equipped for this kind of tutoring, but he knew who could help him.