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Robbe was in the greenhouse, again.

It was the start of his sixth year at Hogwarts, and it had been a long summer. Standing there, alone among the myriad plants, he felt like he could finally allow himself to breathe. Thoughts of his mother, of Jens, of the fear that everyone would know, after all this time, what he had barely been able to accept about himself.

There was no one to judge him here, aside from the plants themselves (a danger in and of itself), and Professor Sprout, who had only ever encouraged the scrawny boy who had made his home in her classroom.

Robbe did not believe in fate or destiny - studying Divination had made sure of that – but he did wonder at happy chance that had brought him to Hufflepuff and his eccentric head of house. He was absolutely certain that he should not be allowed to enter the greenhouses on his own, nor that he should have a key for just such purposes. Professor Sprout had entrusted him with it at the end of his fourth year, and it had taken all of his strength not to cry at the gesture. She hadn’t commented, only made him promise that he always use the correct equipment and to keep an eye on the venomous tentacula.

Hogwarts didn’t always feel like home, but the greenhouses helped to soothe him in his pangs of homesickness and anxiety. It was enough.

Classes weren't due to start until the next day, and the welcome feast was bound to start in the next few hours, but after reuniting with his friends on the train, he craved these few quiet moments for himself.

The smell of fresh green and earth filled his lungs and he smiled to himself as he catered to some of the less dangerous plants. The repetitive actions brought him peace, speaking in a gentle voice to each plant, telling them sweet nothings and small encouragements. His mother had always told him that talking to plants was the best way to help them grow healthy and strong. He didn’t see why magical plants should be any different.

It made him think of their garden, at home. He had tried to place charms to keep the flowers and herbs alive and beautiful for his mother to return to, but as he had left, he had seen the leaves just beginning to wilt.

He was startled by a knock on the glass.

A figure stood at the door, the low sunlight glinting off of white-blond hair.

Sander Driesen.

Sander was the last person Robbe expected to be knocking on the door to the Herbology classrooms.

Robbe knew a lot about Sander Driesen. Everyone at Hogwarts did, it was impossible not to. A brash Gryffindor who was as beautiful as he was talented was always sure to draw attention, both good and bad. There were stories of him ‘snapping’ in a fifth year Potions lesson, putting his whole class in danger. Britt certainly had her own tales about him from their brief time together.

Robbe had never seen Sander this close before. He had always seemed a distant star. In the same universe as Robbe, but burning bright galaxies and galaxies away. He allowed himself a moment to just look before he unlocked the door.

Sander’s eyes were the green of a sea after a storm. Robbe had never noticed that before. Now that he had this information, he was not sure if he wanted it.

He let Sander in.

Sander took a step forward before stumbling quickly back, his eyes widening. “Fuck. Watch out!” he shouted, pointing somewhere beyond where Robbe stood.

Robbe spun in place, hand reaching for his wand. He cursed as his hand found only empty air. For a lack of any other options, he grasped around for anything he could use against the tentacula, finding only a small handful of pebbles.

Before he even registered the fact that the tentacula were still all in their right place, that they hadn’t even moved an inch towards them, he heard a snort.

“The look on your face,” Sander laughed. Robbe floundered, unable to speak. “Is Professor Sprout here?” Sander continued.

“What?” Robbe’s brain was still trying to recover from the moment of adrenaline.

“Professor Sprout? I need to see her for something.” Sander was leaning casually against one of the long benches. It was odd, seeing Sander surrounded by the greens and browns of the greenhouse, of the bold, bright colours of different flowers. He stood in stark contrast, a study in black and white with his pale hair and dark clothes.

Sander shifted, and Robbe blinked his way out of his brief stupor. “She’s not here, sorry. She’s probably getting ready for the welcome feast.”

Sander nodded, not looking at Robbe. For a few seconds, the only sound that could be heard was the light tapping of his fingers on the bench behind him, absentmindedly.

“I would watch my hands around those,” Robbe said, stumbling a little over his words. A few the of the less aggressive carnivorous plants were inching slightly closer to Sander’s fingers. They were shy, but they wouldn’t hesitate to take a bite if someone wasn’t paying attention.

Sander moved away from the bench as he warily eyed up the plants behind him. “Thanks,” he breathed.

Robbe smiled back. “So, why do you need Professor Sprout? I might be able to help?” He said, after a few moments too long spent in silence. Sander looked up from the plants that he was idly inspecting and shook his head.

“I’ll find her later, don’t worry.”

Before Robbe could reply, Sander was gone, the glass door closing with a soft click.

Robbe realised his hands were still clutching the pebbles. He let out a breath as he placed them back where he had picked them up from. Sprout would kill him if he made a mess.

He looked back at the door. Through the glass, he could see Sander’s back, swiftly retreating, the sun still glinting off of his hair.

He decided to ignore the small pang in his gut when Sander vanished up the hill, never once looking back.

 

The Great Hall was too loud.

Robbe was pleased to be there, and was happy for each new member of his house, but there was something hollow about the experience. He tried to put on the same façade of enthusiasm as everyone else, but he was tired. Even when the cheering ended and the feast finally began, Robbe couldn’t quite bring himself eat as much as he once would have.

Jens nudged him, and Robbe lifted his gaze from half-eaten food on his plate. “You okay?” He asked, his face creased in concern. Even with such an expression, Jens glowed.

Robbe wondered what luck it had been that they had met each other on the platform six years ago, both Muggleborns, both as confused as each other about what was happening, convinced that it was some kind of elaborate prank. Yet where Robbe had felt increasingly out of place over the course of their first year, Jens simply thrived. He was born for a life of ease, though Robbe knew that he cared and worked hard to maintain his smooth, chill image.

It was easy to see why Robbe had fallen in love with him. This time last year, that brief touch and show of concern would have sent his heart and mind into overdrive. Jens paying him any attention would have given him a brief, cruel though of superiority over his then girlfriend, Jana. That she could have him in every way that he wanted, but that she would never have all of him. That there was still a part where Robbe mattered.

That was over now. In more ways than one.

Jana had given them both a small smile from further up the table, and Robbe was grateful even for that. These small gestures of kindness, and forgiveness, after a summer of punishing himself for breaking them up still seemed impossible to accept.

Robbe nodded back, but didn’t say anything. He forced himself to take another bite of the chicken. It was succulent, perfectly cooked and seasoned, but it tasted like dust in his mouth.

Jens sighed. Thankfully, he didn’t push the matter, but Robbe could tell that he wanted to. They both turned back to Aaron and Moyo, the two boys discussing their plans on how to prank the new first years.

With his attention drifting, he found his eyes being drawn towards that stand out head of white-blond hair. It was always a thrill, seeing Sander in his element. Like Jens, he thrived here. A boy whose whole essence was pure magic and light, a beacon of energy in otherwise cold stone halls.

Now that he had started looking, Robbe wondered how he could ever even think to look away.

But then blue-green eyes were staring back at him. How Sander had managed to him was a mystery. He didn’t stand out, didn’t burn like Sander did in the edges of Robbe’s awareness. There was nothing remarkable about him.

Robbe was ready to write the whole thing off as a coincidence until Sander’s lips turned up into a soft smile, in contrast to the bright grin that had been there only seconds ago, laughing with his friends.

Robbe looked behind him, expecting to see a beautiful Ravenclaw girl grinning back, dizzy with the attention, but no one else was looking. When he turned back, the moment had passed. But the churning feeling in his gut had returned.

He refused to so much as even glance at the Gryffindor table again, determined to finish this dinner, and this year, in peace.

It was futile, he knew. He could already feel himself falling. He sighed. Another crush on a straight boy who was so far out of his league was the last thing that he wanted or needed.

 

It was the first Quidditch match of the year: Ravenclaw versus Gryffindor.

Like Zoë, he was ostensibly there to support Yasmina, Ravenclaw’s seeker and their close friend. Like Zoë, however, his eyes were being drawn over and over again to the bold gold and red of the Gryffindor team. He could only hope that he was slightly more subtle about his growing crush than Zoë was with hers.

His attention drifted again to Sander. For a seeker, he was surprisingly difficult to miss. He could see him, high above the pitch, watching the match with an eagle eye and watching Yasmina even closer. Sander was a good seeker, so he had to know that Yasmina was an even better one. Ravenclaw had been close to winning the cup last year, and it was clear that neither team had forgotten it.

A wave of cheers rose from the Ravenclaw stands, the girls all yelling their support as Ravenclaw scored another goal. It was a close game, and the tension was palpable.

Robbe had missed this. True, he found certain parts of the wizarding world dangerous or stupid or just downright odd, but it was difficult not to get swept along with the magic. He remembered the first time he had ridden a broom, watching the world shrink beneath him and with it, his troubles. There was freedom in flight, even on a rickety old broom.

One of Ravenclaw’s chasers was nearly hit by a stray bludger, only saved by the sharp veer she had taken to watch as Yasmina suddenly dived. In the same second, Sander followed, speeding faster than seemed possible towards that small burst of gold as it flittered near the Gryffindor stands.

Both seekers were within arm’s reach, hands stretching towards the snitch as Sander just caught a second before Yasmina could grasp it.

Robbe could imagine the disappointment and frustration on Yasmina’s face, to have been so close and yet to still miss out, but Sander was jubilant. He flew up towards the stands, showing the snitch off to his cheering housemates, many of whom held banners with Sander specific slogans. A group of second year girls nearly fainted with pure glee as he looked their way.

It had been over a week since their conversation in the greenhouse, but Robbe was becoming increasingly fascinated by him. Since that moment, he realised that he had rarely seen Sander alone. This was the Sander that he had known before, cocksure and loud, the boldest boy in the room, with a laugh like gold.

They hadn’t spoken since, but Robbe could remember every time he had felt Sander looking at him. How many times he had looked back, just for a second. He had an ever growing list of moments, a catalogue to ruminate over every night as he wondered what it meant, if it could possibly mean anything at all.

As he was thinking, he felt those eyes on him again. Sander was still high up, although he had moved from showing off the snitch to celebrating in the centre of the pitch with his teammates. Soon, they would fly to the ground and make their way to the Gryffindor common room and have one of their legendary parties. Robbe had attended one last year by pure chance, and it had been an experience he could not forget despite how much he drank.

But in that moment, Sander was drawn towards him, just as he was drawn towards Sander. As though there was something deep in their bones, in their stomachs, that tugged when one of them so much as thought of the other.

This was what made so difficult for him to pull away from this futile interest in Sander. He could rationalise that, to his knowledge, Sander was straight (he had only even seen him with girlfriends, but he knew better than to assume. Even he had briefly been together with Noor before they realised they maybe were not that compatible). He could tell himself that Sander was so far out of his league that they were playing a different game. It didn’t matter, because every time they had made eye contact, Sander had seemed like a different person.

He was still the same boy who brightened every room he was, who drew friends and admirers to him like a moth to the flame, but Sander’s looks were always almost shy, as though somehow Robbe, just Robbe, could make him feel anything, let alone shy.

Robbe blushed as he stared back, and smiled at the flush of exertion and joy on the other boy’s face. Sander smiled back, like he couldn’t help himself, and Robbe felt in himself a little flush of victory that he could have a moment so small and precious in a throng of students, all vying for their own such moments.

The feeling, that swarming in his gut, was a sharp reminder of the last time that he had felt this way. It was too similar to the rush he felt whenever Jens had noticed him, whenever Jens had put him first, or brushed against his arm, or patted him on the back in the way that friends do. He wanted to enjoy the moment, but the memories brought him plunging back down to earth. When Robbe had first flown a broom, in that very first flying lesson, he had been elated. But he was Muggleborn, and as much as they said flying a broom was like riding a bike, that had clearly been a lie. It had not been long before the crash, Robbe flying headfirst into a tree, breaking his arm and ruling him out of flying for quite a while. If Sander was the freedom of his first flight, then surely what came next would be the crash. He had to control himself, control his feelings.

Robbe twisted his fingers, the sudden nervous energy needing somewhere to go. Zoë looked at him in askance as they all stood up to leave, but she didn’t question the shake of his head, attention still drawn towards Senne and the Gryffindor team, now on their way to pack up and change and enjoy their evening.

He would try to keep his distance for now, for everyone’s sake.

 

Zoë was flirting with Senne, again.

Which was all well and good, except Zoë was supposed to be studying with him and Yasmina. Instead of being tucked up in the library, they were standing out in one of the cold corridors by the courtyard, Senne picking Zoë’s notes up off the floor after bumping into her ‘accidentally’. These small moments had been happening since at least last year, and going by the small smile on Zoë’s face, she might finally have truly admitted to herself that she did, actually, quite like the boy.

There was one small change in their routine, however. Sander was there, standing behind Senne, eyes mirthful as he watched his friend at the mercy of the girl that he liked.

It usually went like this: Zoë and Senne would ‘argue’, Senne would say something smooth, Zoë would roll her eyes, and then they would all move on with their lives.

This time, however, Sander sidled over to Robbe and Yasmina, commentating on events like they were watching a nature documentary.

Robbe tried to listen to his words, but was too distracted by the closeness of Sander’s body to his own. The other boy had stood where there was the least amount of space, and if it had been anyone else, Robbe would have felt crowded. Their dance of shared glances and missed looks felt significant somehow, and that thrilled and terrified him in equal measure. Despite having been out for almost half a year, there had been no prospects of any sort, even the relatively risk free ones in his Muggle hometown.

Sander was looking at him now, with a mischievous glint in his eyes. ‘Want to join our bet on when they’ll finally get together?’ he asked, bringing Robbe back to the moment.

‘I’m not allowed to gamble,’ Yasmina started, and Robbe was glad that she had covered for him because he seemed to have briefly lost the ability to speak. ‘But my bet is on never. Zoë is way too stubborn.’

Sander let out a low whistle. ‘Brutal, but fair.’ He turned to Robbe, and having his full attention was a bit like looking at the sun. Robbe wasn’t sure if he could look back without being burnt. ‘Are you a cynic like your friend?’ Yasmina smiled sarcastically at him. ‘Or do you believe in the power of love?’

Robbe laughed and shook his head, taking a moment to consider the question, even if it had been meant as a joke. ‘No, not quite,’ he said quiet in comparison to the rest of the conversation.

Sander’s smile softened. ‘Maybe you just need something to change your mind.’ He said, and something passed between them in that moment that made Robbe feel braver, bolder.

‘Or someone,’ he replied, not looking away for once.

Yasmina coughed, pointedly. Robbe remembered that he was in front of friends, in a crowded corridor, in broad daylight. He could feel his cheeks reddening, saw that Sander also looked lost for just a second before returning to reality.

Zoë and Senne had finally stopped arguing/flirting, Zoë looking as flustered as Robbe felt. Senne waved Sander over, and they both left, both glancing back.

‘Okay! Now that that’s over, we still have essays to write. Let’s go,’ Zoë said. At least she didn’t seem to have noticed anything weird between Sander and Robbe, but he could tell from Yasmina’s eyebrow raise that she would not let it go so easily.

 

Robbe and Yasmina would have lost the bet, if either had played. In fact, out of the pool that his friends had, the only person who had somehow guessed to the exact week was Amber. She had looked a little pained about the development, but Aaron seemed to be helping by annoying her out of it.

Heterosexual flirting, he thought to himself. Sometimes it seemed like a completely different game.

That being said, Robbe had never really been a good flirt. Even when he had tried with Noor for a few brief, very awkward weeks last year, he had only even had confidence when drunk. His moment of boldness with Sander had twisted in his mind to being the biggest mistake of his life. What if he had completely misread all of Sander’s signals, and he was only imagining the older boy’s interest in him. What if he was so desperate to be loved that he had made this whole thing up, and Sander was simply trying to be friendly?

Aaron returned to Robbe and the boys, settled by the fire in the Hufflepuff common room, and the sudden commotion of teasing brought him out of his head. He tried to tune in to the banter, but he found it easier to simply let it wash over him like the warmth from the fire as he sipped from his cup of coffee.

The boys were looking at him expectantly. ‘What,’ he asked, immediately wary. It was all too easy to get dragged into some ridiculous conversation or tricked by a prank with these boys, though that was part of why Robbe loved them. If he wasn’t so troubled by his thoughts, he would have given as good as he got.

‘What’s up with you and that Gryffindor?’ Aaron said, waggling his eyebrows quite aggressively. Clearly, he wanted to draw the attention away from himself. An impulse that Robbe could sympathise with, but not when he was the one being used as sacrifice.

Robbe flushed. ‘There’s nothing going on. With anyone,’ he added, probably too hastily if the sudden interested looks were anything to go by.’

‘Methinks the lady doth protest too much,’ Aaron replied in a goofy British accent. Robbe punched him in the arm.

Jens raised his eyebrows at him meaningfully. ‘Then why was Amber talking about you and Sander earlier?’ he asked. Moyo oooh-ed suggestively in the background.

Robbe was confused. He didn’t understand how Amber could have known anything – the two boys had barely even talked after all, and even then, never in front of her. Then he remembered: Yasmina. A brief sting of betrayal went through him. It wasn’t like her to share other people’s secrets, but of course things would spread. Even if they ultimately didn’t mean anything.

He sighed. ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I barely even know him.’

‘Well a few weeks ago, you had never even spoken to him and now you’re being friendly around the school, so clearly something is going on?’ Jens replied.

‘Hardly all around the school,’ Robbe retorted. From the look Jens gave him, he realised that he had only dug himself deeper.

‘So you’ve hung out then?’ Moyo asked.

‘No! We’ve talked two times, maximum.’

‘So you’ve been keeping count?’ Jens pointed out smugly as Robbe groaned.

‘I hate you guys,’ he said, as he hung his head in his hands. It was odd, talking about boys with his friends. After coming out and… everything else that had happened at the end of last year, he thought that it would be stilted. That he would be part and apart at the same time, a limpet hanging on to a group of boys who felt that they no longer had anything in common.

Instead it was somehow easy. They were teasing him now just as they had teased Aaron before, the other boy laughing raucously at Robbe’s awkwardness. A part of him was still afraid, however. Afraid that if he said too much, crossed yet another line, that that would be it.

The guilt from before still followed him, as it seemed to do for everything. He had been forgiven, and every time he and Jens spoke he was reminded of that, through actions rather than words. But it was one thing to be forgiven and another thing to truly believe in it. It would still take time, but Robbe was trying.

Moyo held out the bottle of firewhisky they were sharing to Robbe to commiserate, and he took a large swig, the liquor burning down his throat.

The conversation moved swiftly on as it always did, the boys’ attention rarely lingering on one topic before shifting to the next. Robbe enjoyed the warm buzz of the alcohol and the joy of simply getting to exist, as he was, with his friends as he had before.

Moyo and Aaron were deep in some kind of new elaborate prank plan when Jens nudged him. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ he asked.

Robbe tried to disguise his sadness, but his smile still faltered as he picked at the label on the firewhisky bottle. ‘There’s really nothing to talk about.’

‘But you like him?’ Jens asked, surprisingly serious. It wasn’t as though he was entirely unused to having serious conversations with Jens, but rarely with the other boys around.

Robbe looked askance at him, a face that said ‘are we really doing this?’ Jens just waited for an actual response.

He nodded, not daring to look up from the bottle.

Jens took a moment to soak the information in. ‘Do you want to do something about it or just keep pining?’

Robbe huffed out a laugh. ‘Me? Pining? You think this is pining?’ The firewhiskey had started to get to his head if Jens’ eyeroll was any indication. ‘Besides,’ Robbe continued, his tongue loosening, ‘look at what happened the last time that I did something about a crush.’

He immediately regretted his words. As much as they were friends now, best friends as they had always been, they had never truly talked about the way that Robbe had ruined his relationship with Jana. Robbe had apologised, had kept apologising in whatever ways that he could, in actions and words and distance, but he wasn’t sure if they were at the point where they could bring it up so lightly.

Jens’ eyebrows raised and he laughed as he took the bottle from Robbe. ‘I think this situation is a little bit different, Robbe,’ he said, taking a long swig, grimacing as it went down.

‘You know,’ Jens started, after a long silence. The common room was quieter now, several of the other Hufflepuffs having gone to bed, but there was still enough of a hum for their conversation to feel private and unheard. ‘You don’t need to keep punishing yourself.’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Robbe replied.

Jens looked him right in the eyes, and Robbe could remember the way that that would have made his stomach twist with wanting. He felt nothing now, other than anxiety about where the conversation was headed. ‘Don’t bullshit me, man. You did a shitty thing, but you weren’t the only thing that fucked me and Jana up, okay. I’m over it, she’s over it. You’re the only one carrying this around. Don’t let it get in the way of what you want, too.’

‘When did you get so smart?’ Robbe teased, but he couldn’t quite hide the sudden glint of tears in his eyes. He wasn’t one to cry, and he knew that these tears wouldn’t spill, but the combination of the whiskey and his friend’s honesty was proving to be a little much.

Jens punched him lightly on the arm, and they shared a smile as they both turned back to Moyo and Aaron. There was only so much emotional conversation they could have at a time – they were still teenage boys after all. But Robbe kept Jens’ words with him, running through them in his head.

 

Robbe knew that things would change now that Zoë and Senne were together, but he hadn’t anticipated that it would have any impact on his life.

Every Wednesday, between Potions and dinner, Zoë, Yasmina and Robbe would meet to study. They had started out as acquaintances, friends of friends, but after Jens and Jana had started dating, the boys and girls had all become closer. It had come to a head with fifth year potions lessons, with Robbe being an awkward third to Zoë and Yasmina’s well-established partnership thanks to an odd number of students.

He was grateful for it every day, apart from today.

They were sitting at their usual table, in the back near one the less frequently used parts of the library. The shelves here were dusty with disuse, books about obscure events in magical history and peculiar charms that had little relevance to their lives or lessons any more. It was a collection of odds and ends, but it had always been Robbe’s favourite spot. It felt like a secret, one shared by him and the many others who had found comfort at this very same desk, carved with the initials of students from years past.

It was the little details that made Hogwarts feel more like a home; that reminded him that there weren’t so many differences between Muggle and Magical, really.

Robbe was watching the rain drip slowly down the small window, feeling a slight chill through its single glazing, when someone turned the corner.

This was unusual in and of itself – most of the student body didn’t know about this corner of the library, or if they did, then they didn’t care to use it. All was explained, however, when Robbe saw who it was. Yasmina exchanged a glance with him as Senne and Zoë greeted each other.

‘Is it okay if they join us?’ Zoë asked, a little sheepishly. Robbe shrugged before he registered the ‘they’, then turned again to face the entrance to their hideaway just as Sander appeared.

Sander ran a hand through his damp hair, and Robbe felt a brief pang of envy, wanting to run his own hands through the soft looking strands. He dug a nail into his hand, telling himself that he really needed to get a grip.

His Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook and notes sat in front of him, untouched and now completely forgotten as Sander casually sat down in the seat next to him, as though this was all completely normal and fine. Which it was, because Sander wasn’t interested in him and he was blowing everything out of proportion.

He took a deep breath, making an effort to at least pretend to be reading the words in front of him, but he may as well have been reading a language he had never seen before for all that he was actually absorbing any of its contents.

The only sounds in the library were the tired flipping of pages, the occasional cough and the distant whisper of gossip. One thing that he usually appreciated about their little studied group was that they actually studied, the three of them not easily given to distraction and willing to help each other out with more difficult concepts.

Their focus became stifling, however, as Robbe couldn’t stop noticing Sander beside him. Watching him out of the corner of his eye, he soaked up the details as he normally would with a particularly interesting Herbology book. The subtle twitch of his fingers as he gripped his quill; the fact that he still used a quill at all when many of the students, Muggleborns in particular, had started bringing biros with them by the pound because of the sheer inconvenience that quills presented. There were doodles in the margins of his parchments, wisps of hair and eyes, the beginnings of a face, but not finished enough to be recognisable.

The moments when Sander would glance back, as if he could feel the weight of Robbe’s gaze, and Robbe would look away, busying himself with his work as though he had never been distracted. He didn’t need to look. It was enough just to bask in the warmth of his presence, in the quiet domesticity of studying together amongst friends. He wouldn’t be greedy, this time. This hunger inside him, this yearning, had only caused destruction before. Never again.

Robbe sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly as he finally gave up on pretending to read. It useless anyway; he was bad enough at Defense as it was without the distraction of the boy he liked being within a 5 foot radius. He was never going to get any work done like this.

Sander looked over at Robbe’s small commotion, dragging Robbe’s book closer to him.

‘Having trouble with counter jinxes?’ he asked. Robbe examined his face carefully for signs of mockery, but found nothing there but genuine interest. Defense was absolutely his worst subject, and he had always been a little self-conscious about it.

He shrugged. ‘Maybe,’ he said, just above a whisper. He was still conscious of the fact that both of their friends were sitting there. Yasmina was not always as subtle as she thought she was.

Robbe peered over at Sander’s own book, the pages of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi immediately familiar to him. ‘Having trouble with flesh-eating plants again?’ He couldn’t help the teasing smile that spread across his face.

‘Maybe,’ Sander replied, raising an eyebrow.

‘I thought we were supposed to be studying,’ Yasmina said. Her tone was deadpan she stared the two boys down. Robbe returned to his work, hoping to actually make a few useful notes at least – they had an essay due at the end of next week after all and he still barely understood the basics, let alone how he was going to use the spells in practice in a few weeks time.

Something tapped his elbow a few times. Not wanting to get his hopes up, he looked at the boy next to him once more. ‘I could help you out, if you wanted?’ Sander asked. Robbe swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry.

‘It’s fine, I’ll get it soon enough,’ he replied.

‘Don’t trust my credentials?’ Sander shot back. ‘I’ll be the best teacher you’ve ever had.’ Looking into those green eyes, at the slight vulnerability just beneath his cocksure grin, Robbe wanted more than anything to say yes. It would be the easiest thing in the world. Part of him was afraid to get to know Sander better. He liked the boy enough as it was; the sting of putting himself in a situation to really fall for him and know that he could not be wanted back wasn’t something that he wanted to entertain.

‘He really is good at Defense,’ Senne piped up. The two boths both jumped a little at the unexpected intrusion. ‘He’s helped loads of people in the Duelling club as well. You could do worse if you want the help.’

Sander smirked. ‘See, you have my references. Besides, it wouldn’t be for free.’

‘I don’t have any money, if that’s what you’re asking for.’ Robbe said, not sure what else Sander could want. Not wanting to entertain any other possibilities.

Sander snorted. ‘No, nothing like that. I, uh. I could really do with some help in Herbology, actually. I was hoping that you could help me out.’ He was shier now, as though this had been what he had wanted from Robbe all along and had been waiting for the courage and right moment to ask.

‘I can do that.’ He said the words before he even thought it through.

Sander exhaled, a sigh of relief leaving him as he grabbed Robbe’s hands. ‘Thank you! You won’t regret this,’ he said, sincere and excited.

Something in Robbe’s gut twisted, his hands sweating beneath Sander’s as he committed the touch to memory. Outwardly, he smiled, but as the others returned their studies, his hands shook.

Sander just wanted him for his Herbology knowledge and access to the greenhouses. Sander did not like him. This meant nothing, it was just a useful transaction.

Don’t get attached, don’t let yourself fall any deeper. Not again.

Robbe let out a shaky breath, giving Sander one last look before copying down more jinxes and counter jinxes. Sander smiled back.

In that moment, Robbe knew that he was absolutely fucked.