Actions

Work Header

flower moon

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Sander had told Robbe to meet him at the entrance to the Gryffindor common room after their last lessons of the day, but he had been waiting there for at least ten minutes and had yet to catch sight of him.

Robbe’s fingers twitched with nerves. Nerves at the thought that Sander might not appear, that he had forgotten or that it was all some kind of joke and he was sitting inside, laughing at the thought that Robbe, all that he was, could ever deserve him. Nerves at the thought that Sander would show up, and he would have to figure out how to be with Sander, alone, without revealing himself.

Even the Fat Lady was looking at him with a kind of sympathy, as though she had seen many others in the exact same position as him, waiting for a person who may never arrive.

Five more minutes, he told himself, after glancing at his watch just to make sure that he was actually there at the right time. Five more minutes, and then he would leave and forget that this had ever happened.

He leaned back against the wall, and sighed. The cold press of stone helped to ground him, sensation briefly overcoming the circling thoughts in his mind.

Even if not for the crush that he was harbouring, he really did need the help. He was a good student, he knew that. He worked hard, and he cared about his studies. If he was going to come gallivanting off to magic school while his mother was alone, he was sure as hell going to make it worth his while. But Defense had always made him uneasy, and hesitance was not a friend to success in a subject that depended on quick wits and quick reflexes.

His thoughts were broken when he saw a familiar mop of white blond hair. Every time he saw Sander, he was surprised at how much more he liked him. Like watching a favourite film over and over, finding new things to love with each viewing.

This time, he looked a little flustered. His face was slightly flushed as he carelessly shut the door to the common room, the Fat Lady letting out an indignant gasp at the treatment. ‘Shall we go?’ he said, raising an eyebrow as he started walking away, only looking back once to see if Robbe was following him. As if he was the one who had been late instead of Sander. ‘Come,’ he gestured impatiently with his hand.

Robbe was left with no choice but to follow. Though, after walking in his footsteps for at least a minute, he started to wonder whether Sander had any idea where he was going. That was, if he even had a destination in mind after all. As they wandered at pace around the upper floors of the castle, he was starting to doubt that trust that he had place in him.

‘Sander,’ he called. ‘Where are we actually going? The library and the Defense rooms are on the other side of the castle.’

Sander glanced back, before titling his head in the direction that they were headed. ‘We’re nearly there. Trust me?’ He smirked, but there were shadows beneath his confidence. A crack in the façade.

Robbe nodded, entirely serious. He had his doubts, yes, but he knew deep down that, in that moment, he would have followed him to the ends of the earth.

Then, the moment was over, so quick as to have almost never happened. Sander was off once more, and Robbe was just able to keep pace. Soon, they were stood outside of a wall on the fifth floor.

Sander was staring at the wall intently, waiting for something to happen. Robbe took a minute to catch his breath, taking in the empty corridor around them. It was silent apart from their breathing, the occasional movement of a foot against the floor.

There was nothing here.

‘Sander,’ Robbe said, but was cut off by a dismissive wave of the hand.

They stood there for a few moments longer, and Robbe was starting to lose patience. He knew that it was a trait of his house, but he had had a long day and he wasn’t sure how to respond to Sander’s hijinks.

He didn’t need to worry for much longer, however. There was nothing to distract him when, before his eyes, a door started to appear in the wall. He gasped, feeling the weight of Sander’s gaze on the side of his face. That familiar thrill went through him; the feeling of watching something impossible, something that could only be magic, rarely grew old. He was terrified, more than anything, of the moment that he become used to this, for the magical to turn mundane.

The door that appeared was only small, especially by Hogwarts standards. Only a little taller than Robbe himself. The wood was dark and plain, studded with heavy iron bolts, worn from age. It was not particularly inviting, looking more like the entrance to a dusty old store cupboard that had seen little use over the years. Entirely unassuming, but full of surprises.

‘What is this place?’ he asked, as Sander turned the handle and welcomed Robbe inside.

The room itself was relatively large, but had been arranged so as not to be uncomfortably spare. It was quite sparsely furnished– a large desk in the far corner and a stool before it; an easel with a large, blank canvas; a low table and a pair of plush armchairs with a pile full of heavy old books waiting to be read. Two steaming mugs sat near to each chair, inviting Robbe in.

On the walls, large murals hung alongside drapes of varying complimentary colours that helped to make the space seem less empty. It had a slightly haphazard feeling, as though things had been placed with little thought, but it was the touch of chaos that brought the space to life.

 Robbe didn’t know much about art, but didn’t look similar to anything that he had seen at Hogwarts so far. There were bold, abstract pieces in black and white that reminded him of visits to galleries with his parents when he had been much younger, too young really to find much interest in great art. Now, however, he found himself entranced, tracing the lines with his eyes, not so much looking for meaning in the images, but for understanding. It was odd to see art that was still, imbued with the personality of the artist rather than the subject.

Scattered among the larger paintings were sketches and half-images. The room an homage to works in progress. They reminded him of the doodles that he had seen in Sander’s notes, flashes of faces, some he recognised, some entirely unfamiliar. He even thought he caught sight of his own face, somewhere near the desk.

Sander was watching him from a safe distance as he explored the room.

‘I found it a couple of years ago,’ Sander said, making Robbe pause his investigation. ‘Or rather, it found me. The Room of Requirement. Though I’ve made a few additions myself.’ He sat himself down in the chair furthest from the fire, nonchalant on the surface, but he his shoulders were tight and tense.

Robbe gestured towards the art on the walls. ‘These are yours, then?’

Sander nodded, a little hesitantly.

‘They feel like you,’ Robbe said, quietly. ‘They’re beautiful.’ He regretted the words as soon as he said them.

‘Thank you,’ Sander said back. They shared a look, and in that was more than just the attraction that Robbe felt. Robbe smiled as they both took the time to accept the sincerity of the moment.

But it passed, as all moments must do.

Robbe dragged a hand over the desk, glancing briefly at its contents. Pencils and charcoal were scattered across the surface as those someone had been in a hurry. Large sheets of white paper covered the table, each with bold lines and swift sketches. It was a flurry of creativity, of thoughts in motion.

He paused, and looked a little closer. Hidden under a pencil pot and a few other innocuous sketches was the edges of what must have been a portrait.

He reached out to move it and get a better look, but was interrupted by Sander clapping. ‘Shall we begin?’

Robbe sat down in the empty chair, soaking up the warmth from the fire, and looked at Sander expectantly.

‘So, what would you like help with?’ Sander asked. ‘For example, every plant, both magical and mundane, hates me.’ There was a glint in his eye, at odds with his overly serious tone.

Robbe laughed, more at the idea that anyone or anything could hate Sander than at the boy himself. ‘I’m sure that’s not true.’

Sander placed an offended hand to his chest and gasped in faux outrage, ‘You think that I would lie to you? About Herbology, of all things? Wow, Robbe.’

Something inside of him sung at Sander using his name. It was a silly thing to be happy about, he was sure, but feelings were irrational and he was desperate to hear it again. ‘Okay, well, by the end of this year, I will get at least one plant to like you. Guaranteed.’

He allowed himself to look at Sander, truly look, for the first time since they had entered the Room of Requirement. The other boy’s face seemed different, illuminated by the warm glow of the fire; half in shadow, half painted in soft, golden tones, contrasting with his almost silver hair. Whenever Robbe saw him in the corridors or in the Great Hall, he was always the boldest, the brightest. Seeing him now, those walls were gone. Sander had brought him to, what he must assume, was his safe place. The least that he could do was to be honest in return.

‘I think I’m afraid,’ he said quietly, though there was nowhere for him to hide. He struggled to find the words to explain himself; he was much better at writing his thoughts than trying to express them out loud. Sander didn’t hurry him, didn’t show anything on his face other than curiosity, than the desire to understand. ‘Like, I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to have to know how to defend myself against these things.’

‘I can understand that,’ Sander said. Robbe thought back to the rumours he had heard, years ago, about a much more reckless boy; one who was talented but who hurt people without even realising. He couldn’t see much of that person in Sander here, now.

‘I know how to do the spells and counter-spells. I just… freeze, sometimes.’ Robbe finished.

‘Well.’ Sander rested his hand on his chin as he thought. ‘Did you bring your wand?’ He rose his eyebrows slightly suggestively, and Robbe snorted as he rifled through his hastily packed bag, eventually finding it buried somewhere near the bottom.

‘You don’t keep your wand on you?’ Sander asked, quickly drawing his own want from his waistband.

Robbe shrugged. ‘Why would I? I don’t really use it much unless I’m in lessons. Or in the greenhouses,’ he said, as an afterthought. ‘Sprout made me promise to always have it to hand, ust in case.’

Sander stood up, gesturing for Robbe to do the same. ‘She is a wise woman. Besides, you can’t be that bad if she trusts you to look after yourself in there.’ He walked towards the centre of the room, standing at the far end of large, plush red rug that Robbe’s feet immediately sank into.

His palms were growing sweaty and his grip on wand tightened as he faced the older boy. He had said that he had trusted him, and he did, but there is a primal fear that comes when facing a person who could easily outduel him, in a room where his body would theoretically never be found.

Standing opposite Sander, he felt briefly insignificant, like a bug that could be crushed with ease should Sander suddenly decide that he was no longer worth his time. He wasn’t much taller than Robbe, but with his wand help loosely in his hand, he oozed the easy confidence of a predator.

‘Relax!’ Sander said, walking over to him. ‘If you’re always this wound up when casting spells then I can see why you find it difficult.’ Sander’s closeness wasn’t helping the tension in his shoulders at all.

Robbe rolled his shoulders and tried to loosen his stance. Circling him, Sander nodded his slight approval at the adjustment and made his way back to the farther end of the carpet.

He lowered his wand, waiting for Sander to instruct him further. Whether they were going to be practicing the counter-jinxes he had seen in the textbook, or some of the other high-level spells. In one second, he was mulling things over in his mind. In the next, he saw a flash of blue light and wand was whipped out of his hand. He had barely blinked.

‘First rule of Defense Against the Dark Arts: never let your guard down.’ Sander said, his face alight with mischief, as Robbe trudged over to his wand.

He gripped his wand tighter, not willing to lose again so quickly. Of course, this was just a lesson between friends. There was no real danger or fight to it beyond any accidents that may occur, but he still had some pride and didn’t want to appear entirely useless in front of the boy that he liked.

This time, he was ready. That same flash of light, the whisper of a spell word under Sander’s breath, as Robbe deflected it.

He had seen Sander duel, once, back when Jens had fancied himself a Duellist and joined the club in fourth year before dropping it because it was too much effort. He had been unforgiving.

This wasn’t a duel, not really. It felt more like a friendly tennis match, Sander serving with low level attacks and Robbe parrying them.

Soon, they were both laughing as Sander throwed increasingly silly jinxes his way, some of which must have been made up.

‘See?’ Sander said, glowing with happiness as Robbe disarmed him for the third time in a row. ‘You have the knowledge and the skills to manage duelling, at least. You just need to get out of your head.’

He was right, and although Robbe knew that their playful sparring could hardly count as a proper duel, it was one of the only times that he had had fun and been able to relax, simply trading and countering spells as though it was a conversation and not an argument. ‘It’s not just duelling, though,’ he said. The doubts about his other weaknesses already reemerging.

Sander seemed to sense the sudden dip in Robbe’s mood, walking back over to him and placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. It may as well have been a coal from the fireplace for how it burned, from his skin to his heart to his gut. If his next breath was a little shakier, no one had to know.

‘Look,’ Sander started, but Robbe could only pay half attention, the other half fully distracted by the soothing movement of Sander’s thumb. ‘This is only the start, okay? We’ll go over some theory for those counter-jinxes to help with your essay, and I already have a few ideas for what to do next.’

Robbe nodded, and with a final friendly slap, the hand left his shoulder. They made their way back to the chairs, discussing theory and writing notes. Sander was a good teacher, clearly explaining any concepts that he struggled with, even if he found himself asking questions just to keep his attention.

That evening, they almost missed dinner, leaving with the promise to meet up again at the greenhouses that weekend.

Upon entering the Great Hall, he was barraged with questions from his friends about his lateness, but it had been worth it.

 

 

Sander had not lied in the Room of Requirement. He was truly, truly clueless when it came to Herbology.

When he had asked Professor Sprout if he could use the greenhouses to help Sander with his Herbology, and she had barely glanced up before giving her approval. She really put too much trust in him sometimes. He had hoped that it wouldn’t backfire in the form of either of them being slightly mauled by venomous tentacula, not from them simply trying to pot a plant.

Sander was looking at the pot that he had just broken with pure despair; Robbe was torn between laughter and commiseration, amusement winning out at the end as he laughed at the other boy’s dramatics.

‘It’s not very nice to laugh at people in their vulnerable moments, Robbe,’ Sander spoke, his voice muffled from where his head was resting in his thickly gloved hands. His lips were starting to curl, however, so Robbe didn’t feel too bad about it all. ‘It’s okay, I know I’m hopeless.’

‘How did Professor Sprout even let you take the NEWT?’ Robbe teased.

Sander rolled his eyes at the barb. ‘Maybe she felt bad for me, unlike some people.’

‘That’s actually why I’m helping you. Sprout told me she would give me fifty chocolate frogs if I could help you get a passing grade.’ Robbe tried his best to keep a straight face, but couldn’t help cracking.

‘Wow,’ Sander gasped. ‘And here I thought we were friends.’ Sander was only going along with the joke, but Robbe took the words to heart.

‘We’re friends?’ he asked, feeling shy suddenly under Sander’s gaze.

Sander’s demeanour shifted. He straightened up from where he was lounging against the bench and smiled that little smile, the one that Robbe had only ever seen aimed at him, that hinted at uncertainty. ‘I should hope so. I don’t show the Room of Requirement to just anyone, you know.’

The past few days, even beneath all of their light conversation, had constantly teetered on the edge of vulnerability, and Robbe wasn’t sure what it meant, for either of them. He wasn’t sure what it was about Sander that made him want to honest, even when they were joking; to reassure both Sander and himself at the reality of their burgeoning friendship. That all of this did mean something, for both of them.

With the swell of warmth at their growing friendship, however, came the crushing weight of that familiar anxiety that he was going to take this good thing and ruin it.

It didn’t matter, then, that Jens had forgiven him. That they had ostensibly moved on, even if Jens clearly still pined for Jana, even if there had been other issues. His crush had brought about parts of himself that he didn’t like, that he didn’t want see again.

He couldn’t forget the end of last year, the look of sheer betrayal on Jens’ face after Robbe had confessed that he had been the one to spread the gossip about Jana kissing someone else. The way that he had walked away in anger, leaving Robbe to stew in his guilt for weeks. The conversation that he’d had with Jana, when it became clear that although she could forgive him, she might never trust him again.

He couldn’t forget the agony of that summer, truly isolated. His mother had been starting to get worse again, and he had long since lost any friends that he had in his hometown. He wrote many letters to his friends that went unsent; long apologies and rambling missives. In the end, he sent one to Jens and Jana each, not in the hopes of reply, just to help clear the air. Honesty for the sake of honesty.

They had met up that last week, at Jens’ request, and that hug had felt the sweetest. Not because it sent shivers down his spine – that crush was truly dead and gone – but because of that pure relief, that he not unforgivable.

Things were better now. They were so much better. He could live his life openly, like the old Hufflepuff head boy Milan had told him. After coming out, Milan said, it had been like being able to breathe for the first time. His friends accepted him, nothing bad had happened at school, so why did he feel like he was still holding his breath?

There had been a pressure, Robbe shrinking himself to make it easier for those he cared about to reconfigure him in their minds, even though he hadn’t changed.

It was in these moments with Sander that he felt relief. Sander didn’t know him, hadn’t known him before this September, not in any way that mattered. There were no expectations. And although Robbe felt the embarrassment of crush whenever he was in Sander’s presence, he relished in the freedom that came with being just himself.

He was supervising Sander, watching closely as he filled a new pot with fresh soil until he told him to stop. Sander looked at him expectantly as Robbe presented him with a range of seeds, which he laid out carefully on the bench. Each he had chosen because of their ease to care for – the kinds of plants that even a cursed three year old would struggle to kill.

‘Take your pick,’ he nodded at the seeds. ‘And choose carefully.’

Sander inspected each of the seeds carefully, lifting each up to his eye a little theatrically. Now that Robbe knew that Sander was an artist, he saw it in so many of the other boy's gestures and actions. Even now, when it was clearly a bit silly, it felt as though Sander was looking at each for signs of artistic potential, as though he could divine from the seed what it would look like when grown.

‘Do I get to know what any of them are, or do I just go with my gut?’ he asked, after looking at each. There wasn’t much visual difference between them – at the end of the day, a seed was still a seed, but Robbe had to admit that he was curious which Sander would choose.

‘You get to know that they're all fairly simple to grow, but other than that, let them speak to you. There is no wrong choice.’ He said, feeling like an old, unhelpful wizard.

‘I feel like this is a test somehow. Or a trick.’ He squinted at Robbe. ‘Are you sure none of these are going to eat me?’

Robbe pretended to seriously consider him. ‘You’re right, now that I think of it, I probably shouldn’t have put the flesh eaters in my starting lesson, but I’m sure you'll manage.’

‘They wouldn’t be able to resist me. I’m delicious,’ Sander said with a perfectly straight face.

Robbe laughed, hoping that Sander wouldn’t be able to see the flush that spread over his face. It was difficult to hide out here in the light of the greenhouses, the light from the late afternoon sun illuminating everything in shades of honey and gold.

It took Sander a little longer, but soon, he made his decision. ‘This one,’ he said, proudly holding up one of the smaller seeds, a deeper brown that the others, but otherwise unremarkable.

He placed it gently in the bed of soil as Robbe talked him through it, telling him about things like drainage, and how often and how much to water. Soon, it was hidden from sight, ready to be taken care of.

‘The most important thing is to be patient. Plants are like people. You need to give them a little bit of time before their ready.’ Robbe said, handing the pot over to Sander. Just before he could take it, Robbe pulled it back. ‘Wait! The actual most important thing: you have to give it a name.’

Sander snorted. ‘Do all of the plants here have names?’

Robbe looked back at him seriously. ‘Of course they do! How else would I talk to them?’

Sander looked at him with disbelief, like Robbe was something from a dream; an imagined creature, not meant for this world. ‘Of course you talk to the plants.' He said quietly.

‘My mother...’ Robbe started. He paused, taking a second to gather his thoughts. ‘We used to garden together. She always said the best thing to help plants grow is kindness. And good fertilizer.’ He smiled at the memory, trying to ignore the subtle sting that came with it.

‘Used to?’ Sander asked softly.

Robbe shrugged. ‘So, what are you going to call it?’

Sander held the pot out in front of him, looking at it intently. ‘I think I shall call it... Ziggy.’

‘Ziggy?’ Robbe laughed, but Sander was fully serious.

‘Ziggy Stardust? You know, David Bowie?’

‘Uhhhh,’ Robbe was lost. ‘Is that a wizard thing?’

Sander put Ziggy back on the bench and pointed at Robbe. ‘Next study session, I am totally introducing you to David Bowie. Forget about Defense Against the Dark Arts, this is far more important.’

‘Sounds like a deal. I’ll just tell my teacher I was preparing for the Bowie exam when I fail Defense.’ Robbe said.

‘It's a much more difficult exam. But I heard the teacher is open to bribery...’ Sander trailed off suggestively.

Robbe raised his eyebrows. He was sure he was blushing enough for people to see from miles away. ‘Is that so? Is it worth the risk?’

‘You’ll never know if you don’t take it.’ Sander said, and Robbe was sure that he saw his eyes glance down, for the briefest of seconds, to his lips.

He wanted to be brave. To give in to this feeling. He wanted to understand, in the fullest sense, the freedom that Milan had told him about, but it was so difficult to stop being afraid.

He had kissed a boy, that summer. It had been fast, drunk, messy; he had quickly realised that it was a mistake. All he had wanted was a brief moment of comfort, after feeling so lonely for so long. HE had thought then that he would feel brave, to kiss a boy in public, surrounded by people who didn’t matter. That it would be meaningful; a turning point in his life. He had felt nothing. All that it had done was compound his shame.

Sander would be different, he knew. But he also knew that he wasn’t ready, not yet.

The moment passed.

 

 

In their next ‘lesson’, Sander had upped the difficulty.

In the Room of Requirement, there now sat an ominous wardrobe. It waited for them where they had duelled last time, the area of the room quickly being designated for practicing practical skills.

It didn’t take long for Robbe to guess what Sander had planned, and he hesitated as he walked into the room. Boggarts were dangerous territory. He didn’t dare think about the trouble that they would get into if it somehow got loose.

‘Don’t tell me that you’re scared already,’ Sander said, jokingly. He strode past Robbe, leaving his bag by the door and rolling up the sleeves of his jumper.

Robbe eyed the wardrobe warily, thinking of the last time that he had nearly faced a Boggart, years ago. He had chickened out then, and he was tempted to chicken out now.

Third year had been the time at which he had started to feel the gap between himself and his classmates, even his Muggleborn friends. It was not just the cultural differences between the Muggle and magical worlds, but the keen feeling that there was something inside of him that was different, and that he too afraid to acknowledge. That there were parts of him that they would never be able to understand.

When they had brought out the Boggart one week in Defense Against the Dark Arts, Robbe had wanted to run away. He had already been struggling in the subject. The idea of thrusting children into a world in which they had to spend seven years learning to defend themselves against threats which, in many cases, they hadn’t even known existed, seemed cruel. Not that he had ever brought this up, especially not to his friends, who thrived with the chance to show off in duelling or best pixies. His greatest talent was to blend in, to exude insignificance.

They had queued up, Robbe waiting at the very back of the line. He didn’t know what his Boggart would manifest as, though he had his suspicions and they all tended towards revealing things about himself that he was not ready to accept. All he really knew, standing at the back of the room, was that his classmates were lucky. He knew, rationally, that their lives were not all easy, that he wasn’t the only person in that room with doubts eating away at him every day. But student after student walked up and the Boggart shifted from snake to spider to clown to, in one case, a particularly aggressive chihuahua. He couldn’t help envying them, that their fears seemed so simple.

The class had finished before they had reached the back of the line. Jens and Aaron had grumbled about not getting a chance to face it, but Moyo did not seem concerned at the loss. If anything, the relief in his eyes matched what Robbe felt.

That night, at dinner, he had received two letters. One from his father, telling him that he had left. One from his mother, distraught and alone. Lamenting the fact that everyone that she loved had left her.

He did not go back to class for the rest of the week. When he returned, they had moved on, something about the various creatures of the Great Lake.

‘I’ve never dealt with a Boggart,’ he said, eventually.

Sander looked confused. ‘But it’s on the practical test for the OWLs.’

Robbe only shrugged. ‘I did very well on the theory paper.’

‘Talk me through the theory then, before we get started.’

Robbe relaxed a little as he went through the steps, the frame of mind and the words needed to handle the creature. It calmed him to think about the course of action, until he remembered he would actually have to carry it out.

The distraction helped to calm him down a little. Failure, he thought, was not so scary in front of Sander. It was more the uncertainty about what would come through those doors. If someone were to ask Robbe what he feared most, he would not be sure how to answer. There were several options that he could pick from, a charcuterie board of existential dread.

There was a pause, after Robbe had finished talking through the theory. Silences were easy with Sander, he had found. He didn’t feel a need to fill them like he sometimes did with his friends. There was room for them to simply be, without pretence.

‘It’s okay, you know,’ Sander said, finally. ‘To be afraid, or unsure.’

‘Is it okay to get expelled because you summoned a Boggart to the Room of Requirement and then accidentally let it escape?’ Robbe tried to tease back, but his tone came out too sharp. His wand trembled slightly in his hand.

Sander’s eyebrows raised. ‘Oh, so you don’t have any faith in me at all, is that it?’ He joked back. Robbe envied how calm Sander was, how nonchalant. He felt like he shouldn’t have found that smug grin so attractive; that he should be above it all. Yet there he stood, fallen deeper than anyone.

He rolled his shoulders and took a few calming breaths. ‘Just do it,’ he said. ‘Rip off the plaster.’

Sander nodded, and carefully opened the door, backing away to a safe distance.

A dark shape emerged, indistinct as first, floating ever closer to Robbe. He had witnessed this process in third year, remembered the way it had mutated over and over to perfectly match all those who opposed it. He didn’t remember the way that it paused and shifted, the surface rippling as it deliberated. He felt like he was being studied, scrutinised. Picked apart.

It felt like years, before it started to truly take shape. He had started to wonder if maybe it had decided Robbe’s biggest fear was simply anticipation; waiting for a moment that would never arrive.

When he saw what the Boggart had become, he did not care very much for the exercise anymore.

Frozen in place, he watched as a near perfect representation of his mother emerged. If he had not known that it was a Boggart, he would have been fooled, for the briefest of moments.

Upon closer examination, there were details that were a bit off. The colour of her eyes, for example, were not the rich brown that he knew them to be, but almost black. It was unsettling, to say the least.

The mother in front of him now was vulnerable, and she was angry. Betrayed at Robbe for abandoning her again when she had needed him most, accusing him of not caring.

Robbe lowered his wand. This was not his mother, he reminded himself. These were not things that she had ever said to him. But the facsimile was convincing enough that none of those things mattered. He should have anticipated this, he supposed. That the Boggart would find the deep part of him that he was wrong; that he was a bad son, a failure.

He tried to conjure up the energy to dispel the creature. He simply wanted it to be over, and to never talk about it again. But the thought of using Ridikulus, of turning his mother into a joke, sickened him.

He felt drained, empty, and he turned away. It was stupid, he knew. Turning his back wouldn’t make the creature disappear. But he simply couldn’t bear to look anymore, to hear the words that it spat at him. The same words that he would tell himself, over and over, from the mouth of the person that he cared for most in the world.

He heard the sounds of Sander dispelling the Boggart; the thump and clack of the wardrobe as it was locked away; the signal that it was safe again.

He had forgotten that Sander was there, and the reminder that he wasn’t alone filled him with a hot flood of shame.

Sander approached him carefully, like he was a startled animal. He reached out a hand to touch Robbe’s shoulder, but pulled it back. Robbe craved that warmth, desperate for a brief moment of contact. He wanted to curl up into him and melt away; to simply be allowed to take comfort in another boy’s arms.

‘Do you want to talk about it?’ Sander asked, voice low and soft. Robbe tried to focus on his voice, on the soft crackle of the fire beneath it.

Did he want to talk about it? He wasn’t sure. Jens knew, though only the vaguest of details. He had only ever alluded in letters to his home life, and he didn’t like to bring it up at Hogwarts, where it all seemed so far away.

‘I don’t know,’ Robbe said, after a long silence.

There was the reassuring pat of a hand on him arm, all too brief before Sander was halfway across the room, rummaging through his bag. ‘I have just the thing,’ he said, triumphantly pulling two purple boxes from his bag.

Robbe laughed when he saw the chocolate frogs, at the memory of their last conversation. Sander brought them over to the table and chairs, face proud and pleased, like a dog waiting to be praised for fetching a stick. It was, without a doubt, the least cool that Robbe had ever seen him. It soothed the part of him that ached at Sander seeing his greatest fear.

‘Here,’ Sander said, passing Robbe one of the frogs as he sat himself down with great aplomb, tearing into his own box without care.

Robbe sat down, carefully opening the lid and taking out the frog before it could decide to escape, quickly eating the delicious treat. Sander was right; it did make him feel a little better, a little steadier.

‘Who did you get?’ Sander asked, mouth still full, holding up his own Dumbledore card before tossing it carelessly aside.

The fire burned on as they sat and talked mindlessly about nothing. Trading stories about their friends and classes, laughing at the stupidest things.

When Robbe felt more at ease, he spoke seriously. ‘My mother has Schizophrenia.’ He said quietly. ‘It’s mostly okay, but it started to get worse again over the summer. She decided to admit herself to an institution around the same time that term started. Told me that we wold be both starting new adventures together.’ His hands trembled slightly. He held them together as tightly as he was holding himself, folded up in the armchair.

‘It’s a good sign, that she wanted to go.’ Sander said.

‘I know.’

There was another of those long silences, Sander fidgeting in his seat like he was building up to something.

‘I’m bipolar,’ he said.

Robbe nodded, taking the time to absorb the information. ‘Okay. What does that mean, for you?’

‘It means that sometimes, I have manic episodes. I’ll feel like I can do anything, or I’ll feel too much, too fast. And then I’ll crash.’ Sander said, plainly. ‘I take medication for it. And I have a very good therapist.’

‘There are wizard therapists?’ Robbe asked, and Sander snorted.

‘That’s the detail that you pick up on?’ He looked less tense than before, despite his incredulous tone. His shoulders had dropped, his whole posture loosening.

‘Thank you for telling me,’ Robbe said.

Sander shrugged. ‘It’s not really a secret. Besides… I’m sorry about the Boggart. I probably should have thought that one through a bit more.’

‘You couldn’t have known.’ Robbe reassured him.

‘We should probably stick to other defensive spells for a while before digging up more emotional trauma.’ Sander said. It was an apology, of sorts, which Robbe accepted with a smile before returning to shallower, safer waters.

 

 

It was breakfast, on a Monday morning, and for some reason Sander was looking for him.

It wasn’t that they didn’t talk to each other now and again in the Great Hall, or in the corridors, but they rarely sought each other out. Not out of shyness or secrecy, although Robbe wouldn’t say to spending more time with Sander in any capacity, but it had become more natural for them to be alone, together. He wasn’t sure how to be around him in front of other people, yet. Especially not at this time of day, after a bad night of sleep.

He continued eating his croissants, feigning nonchalance, while his friends looked on with expressions ranging from confused to smug. Jens elbowed him when Sander reached their place at the table. He looked particularly excited about something, and Robbe eyed him suspiciously.

‘I have something to show you,’ Sander said, waiting by Robbe expectantly.

‘Go on, Robbe. He has ‘something’ to show you,’ Moyo tried to make something approaching an innuendo, but it was too early for any of them to really come up with any good material. Even Jens rolled his eyes before shoving Robbe up from his seat. He nearly spilled his coffee at the gesture, swatting his friend in the arm as he quickly finished his drink.

Sander had already started to walk away – he had a bad habit of that, though Robbe had a worse habit of following. He grabbed one last pastry, eating it hurriedly as he caught up with Sander.

‘So, what are you taking me to see?’ He asked after he had finished, licking the icing off of his fingers.

Sander seemed a little distracted, before stopping in front of the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. The Fat Lady acted surprised to see him again so soon, melodramatic as usual as Sander gave the password and vanished. After what had been less than a minute, he returned, slightly out of breath. He smiled genuinely as he held something out to Robbe.

It was the plant that he had potted a couple of weeks ago, the first hint of green peeking proudly out from the soil.

Robbe smiled as he took it from him, remembering their last few study sessions in the greenhouse as he examined the happy little sprout. Sander had been asking him questions constantly, becoming increasingly worried that he was doing something wrong and had already killed his charge. It had been endearing, seeing him care so much about something so relatively inconsequential.

‘See? I told you that it would all be fine, so long as you watered it correctly and gave it some time.’ He said, handing Ziggy back.

‘You know, Senne and the boys have been giving me weird looks for weeks because I kept talking it,’ Sander said, holding the pot in his hands like it was something precious rather than a common herb planted in a cheap pot.

Robbe looked back, smug. ‘It worked though. Don’t second guess my advice again. I am a plant god.’

‘I should go and put it back,’ Sander said, rolling his eyes at Robbe’s cockiness. ‘Wait here.’

At that, he was gone again, returning somehow even quicker than the first time. ‘What lesson do you have first?’ he asked.

‘Potions,’ Robbe replied. He would have to leave soon if he wanted to get to the dungeons on time.

‘I’ll walk you there,’ Sander said, as he started to walk towards the stairs.

He knew that they would probably both be late, but he wasn’t going to deny himself more time in Sander’s company.

It was early enough that people barely even noticed Sander as he strode around the corridors with his head held high, laughing at Robbe’s jokes, talking about his own plans that day. It was easy, and it felt so right. He didn’t know how they had become so close, so quickly. Falling into friendship like an apple falling from a tree; like this was where they were always supposed to be. He had accepted his feelings, and was accepting that Sander was never going to like him back, but this was enough. It had to be enough.

It didn’t change the stab of jealousy he felt when girls looked so greedily at Sander. That they could want him, so easily and so openly. People knew that he was gay – Sander knew, of course – but he tried to quash his feelings down. One girl glared at him pointedly as the neared the dungeons, the corridors now mostly empty as lessons would start soon.

‘What was that about,’ Robbe asked idly, following the girl with his eyes until she disappeared from view.

Sander shrugged. ‘I don’t know. We went out together for a few weeks last year. Maybe she’s jealous.’ He said, offhandedly. As though even joking about the possibility of there being anything for her to be jealous off wasn’t enough to throw Robbe completely off balance.

‘Why did you break up?’ he asked.

‘I think she expected me to be someone else. People always seem to want to be with me until they get to know me.’ He paused, melancholy. Robbe’s heart broke for him, then.

‘I don’t think that’s true,’ he said, before he could take the time to think about it. ‘You have so many friends.’

Sander shook his head. ‘That’s different. With Senne, we’ve known each other for years. With everyone else, it’s easier to wear a mask. Be what people expect me to be.’

‘I get that,’ Robbe said, thinking to his own years spent drowning while he pretended to be perfectly fine. Even now, he would rather suffer alone than burden his friends with his real problems and doubts. ‘But you don’t have to hide around me.’ It was almost a question; Robbe searching for some kind of confirmation that he wasn’t imagining things, that there was something special between them, however it might manifest.

 He was drawn in by those eyes, searching his own. He had barely even registered their slow migration towards each other until the moment was destroyed.

Sander shook his head slightly as Robbe heard his name called from further down the corridor. He looked away for one second to see Zoe and Yasmina waiting for him by the entrance to the Potions classroom. When he looked back, all he saw was Sander walking quickly, like he was trying to run away from what had nearly happened.

Robbe cursed, angry at himself for letting this happen. The girls were waiting for him with curious gazes, and he folded his feelings away as neatly as he could. Pasting a smile on his face, he greeted his friends and went about his day as if nothing had happened.

If he didn’t see Sander again that day, well. It was fine.

He was fine.

Chapter Text

It had been almost a week since that moment in the dungeons, and Robbe hadn’t really seen or spoken to Sander since.

He had sought him out in the corridors and courtyards, watched longingly through windows just in case he caught sight of that white blond hair, those green eyes. But Sander proved difficult to track down, and after the first day, he started to accept the avoidance. If he was a bit quieter that week, the boys had yet to call him out on it. If he was less attentive in lessons, Zoë and Yasmina leant him their notes.

Part of him desperately wanted to chase Sander down, knowing the places that he was most likely to be. But if truly wanted to be alone, Robbe would respect that. Part of him wanted to be angry – at the unsurety, at being so close to what felt like happiness and to have it pulled away from him – but he couldn’t really bring himself to be angry at Sander. He had been angry at himself for so long that he simply didn’t have the energy.

It was a Hogsmeade weekend, and he and the boys were lounging on a low wall on the outskirts of the village. All of them were layered up in warm jumpers and hoodies to protect against the early November chill, watching the world around them go by. The boys were joking about something, as always, the background noise sitting somewhere between comforting and grating. It was hard to be around happy people when you just wanted to soak in your own misery and confusion.

Especially when the happiest person in question was Aaron. He was stuttering out grand announcements about his love for Amber, about how his whole world had changed. ‘Guys, you don’t get it,’ he said, continuing to dig his own grave but being too deliriously cheerful to care. ‘It was like angels were singing.’

They had kissed at a party in the Hufflepuff common room the previous night, and though all of the boys had seen it, he had felt the need to describe it in ludicrous detail ever since. Each description had gotten increasingly cheesy, and even Robbe couldn’t help a smile at his lovestruck friend.

‘Don’t bully me just because you’re jealous,’ Aaron said, his face lighting up as Amber walked over to them. ‘Amber!’ He jumped up, excited, but still clearly shy. They had both been drunk tonight, so this was the moment to see if it had meant as much to her as it had to him.

Moyo and Jens looked on with anticipation, but Robbe couldn’t focus. Even as they kissed, as the boys cheered and the couple walked away hand in hand, he could only see Sander.

There he was, walking around Hogsmeade with Senne, laughing as though nothing had happened. He looked striking as always, in his worn leather jacket, a cream jumper that Robbe had never seen before underneath. His hair peeked out beneath his folded beanie, and Robbe clenched his fists together.

He wished, more than anything, to be able to hold him. To know if his hair was as soft as it looked, to be held back.

As a couple of sixth year girls approached them – friends of Noor’s, he could see – he wanted to look away. They were laughing flirtatiously, carefree, being everything that Robbe couldn’t be. It was reassuring somehow, to see Senne shut the conversation down fairly quickly. To notice the weariness in Sander’s whole being.

Maybe it was a blessing that he hadn’t seen Sander after all. Now, he was burdened with the thought that he had done this to him.

Sander looked over at him, for just the briefest of seconds, and then they were gone. He sighed, not wanting to torture himself over what he thought he saw in Sander’s gaze – tiredness, sadness, longing.

An elbow hit him in the stomach, and he nearly fell off of the wall in his distraction. Jens was looking at him, inscrutable. Even Moyo was more subdued now that Aaron and Amber had snuck off.

‘Is everything okay?’ Jens asked.

Robbe shrugged, looking down at his shoes. ‘It’s Sander.’

Jens and Moyo shared a look. Robbe wasn’t sure what it was supposed to mean, but the two of them conspiring over anything was rarely good.

‘What’s going on with you two?’ Moyo asked.

‘Nothing,’ he said. Both boys scoffed before he even finished the word. ‘Seriously. I messed up.’

Jens looked at him with raised eyebrows, waiting for him to elaborate.

Sighing, Robbe stood up from the wall. A wash of feeling flooded him, and he needed to move, to work some of his frustration out, even if he knew that it would be fruitless. ‘We were hanging out a lot, helping each other out with school things. I already liked him, but then I got to actually know him. I was just trying to keep my feelings under control. Then, after that time at breakfast, we nearly kissed. I think.’ Robbe kicked uselessly at the wall. ‘Fuck. I miss him.’ He said finally, quietly.

They sat in silence for a bit, the boys taking in what Robbe had told him.

Jens turned to glare in the direction that Sander had gone. ‘It’s shitty of him to just leave you like that.’

‘No. I mean, maybe, but I can understand.’ Robbe said. He felt small, under the scrutiny of his friends. Stupid, for being in this position again. Even Aaron could find love, stumbling into it desperately. Yet there he was, doomed to fall in love with any handsome boy who was nice to him. It left him feeling pathetic and weak, how much he cared and wanted to be loved.

‘Fuck that, man,’ Moyo chimed in. The others looked up at him, not surprised at the outburst – Moyo was never one to keep his feelings to himself – but at its direction. ‘Have you actually spoken to him?’

Robbe paused at that. ‘That’s the first time I’ve seen him since Monday.’

‘Go talk to him! What’s the worst that could happen?’

Robbe tried not to look Jens’ way, but couldn’t help it. It was the elephant in the room. Even if their situation was okay now, could his friendship with Sander survive this? It was so new, and raw. They had revealed so much of themselves to each other.

Worse, Robbe wasn’t sure if his own heart could take it. If they never spoke, he could live forever with the possibility that they had both simply been too afraid. Some part of him would rather that than have his heart broken. He could picture Sander’s rejection, a gentle let down that would hurt him more than a cruel blow.

‘Maybe Moyo is right. That felt weird to say,’ Jens said, accepting the expected punch to the arm that Moyo sent his way with a ‘fuck you’. ‘Maybe he’s scared.’

‘I don’t know.’ Robbe trailed off, but he was already taking the words to heart.

He turned the idea over and over in his head that night, barely sleeping, working his way through every possible outcome.

 

 

Yasmina was getting annoyed with him.

Honestly, he was getting annoying with himself. He had been unable to focus since yesterday, his mind consumed with Sander. With thoughts of how kindly he had treated him, of how he had shared with Sander pieces of himself that he thought that he had locked away. With how Sander had made him feel alive and understood, for the first time in a long time.

As he sighed once more, limply turning the page of his Charms book, Yasmina thumped her own work down on the table.

‘Do you want to talk about it?’ She asked, not unkindly.

Robbe looked out of the window longingly, like if he stared for long enough, Sander would magically appear and all of this waiting would be over with. It was too stuffy in the library, and he fidgeted in his seat. Even though it was raining outside, he craved the freshness of the cold autumn air  to distract him, help clear his mind.

‘I think I did something wrong.’ He said, more to the window than to Yasmina.

‘Did you kill someone?’

Robbe turned to look at her, incredulously. ‘No!’

‘Did you hurt someone? Did you commit a crime? Do we have to find some kind of magical lawyer?’ She carried on.

Robbe cracked a smile. ‘No, no.’

Yasmina gave him a gentle look, gentler than he could really bear in that moment. ‘Is it about Sander?’

Robbe shrugged, tearing up his sheet of parchment into smaller and smaller pieces. She reached out to still his nervous hands. ‘I think I’m in love with him.’

She rolled his eyes at him. ‘Really? I couldn’t tell. You’ve been so subtle about it.’ At his expression, however, she stopped her teasing. It was the first time that he had said the words out loud. The first time that he had even really admitted it to himself at all. Of course, he was in love with Sander.

‘So what does that have to do with all,’ she waved a hand to encompass Robbe and his mess, ‘of this?’

He told her what had happened, leaving out the more private parts of their time together. ‘I know that I need to talk to him, but I’m scared.’ He admitted.

‘Robbe, look at me.’ He lifted his eyes to Yasmina’s. Her deep brown eyes were warm and full of sincerity. ‘It’s okay to be afraid, but you can’t always let it get in the way of your life.’

He knew that she was right, but it was still difficult, being the bold one. Making the choice to do something, even if it was scary. But he had done it before, when he had come out and told the truth to Jens.

 ‘Just think about it, okay. I need my study partner back now that Zoë is busy with Senne all the time.’ Yasmina laughed as she packed up her things. ‘And on that note, I’m going back to the common room. See you at dinner?’

‘Sure.’ He said, putting his own things away, his thoughts already preoccupied with Sander. ‘Yasmina?’ he called out just as she was about to leave. They heard a loud shushing from the direction of Madame Pince’s desk. ‘Thank you.’ He whispered.

 

 

Robbe found himself waiting outside of the Quidditch pitch later that day. The Gryffindor team were just finishing practice – he had just seen a few of the chasers leaving. On a rainy Sunday, the last thing anyone wanted to be doing was training, outdoors.

He had no way of knowing whether or not Sander was there. No way of knowing where Sander would be if he wasn’t, apart from the Room of Requirement, and he wasn’t sure that the room would let him in at the time being.

Yet he couldn’t shut down the anticipation at seeing Sander again. There was no guarantee that anything would happen. He was still half convinced that he would be rejected, that he had lost Sander for good. Even at the thought of that, he felt sick. But he longed so much to see Sander again, to simply be near him, to be in his orbit once more, that he wasn’t even sure he minded.

He was so lost in his spiralling thoughts that he almost didn’t notice the boy in question, hurriedly leaving with Senne at his side.

‘Sander,’ he called, moving towards him before he could talk himself out of it. His body shook with nerves, his gut churning like the sea in a storm. Nails dug into the palms of his hands as he steeled himself.

Sander looked surprised to see him. At least he hadn’t immediately run away. It was a good start. ‘What are you doing here?’ he asked.

Senne looked between the two of them and shook his head, giving Sander a swift goodbye. Robbe barely noticed him leave, unwilling to let himself look away from Sander in case this was the last time that he got to be so close.

‘I just wanted to say that I’m sorry,’ Robbe started, tripping over his own words with the speed that he was speaking. His fingers fiddled mindlessly with the strap of his bag.

Sander eyed him warily, taking an unconscious step back as though he needed the distance, preparing himself for bad news. ‘What for?’

Robbe searched fruitlessly for the words, as if he could simply pluck a reason from the air instead of having to lay himself bare and trust Sander not to break his heart. ‘For what happened in the corridor last week. I clearly made you uncomfortable, and I’m sorry for crossing that line.’ He took a deep breath, wanting a werewolf to emerge from the Forbidden Forest and tear him apart. But it was daylight, so that seemed unlikely. ‘But I don’t think I can be friends with you without being honest.’

Sander’s face was completely blank. Even if he hadn’t moved any further away, he had already distanced himself emotionally from what Robbe was about to say.

‘I have feelings. For you.’ He blurted out, not being able to bear the look on Sander’s face any longer.

It took him a moment to register the words; for his eyes to come alive once more, like the winter thawing out into spring. Painfully slowly, he moved closer, lips moving into that familiar smile. ‘You have feelings for me?’ he asked eventually, quiet enough that only they could hear it, even though they were the only ones around.

Robbe nodded, helplessly. It would be so easy to close the distance between them, but he didn’t dare. They both felt fragile, like if the other moved to quickly, they would splinter and break.

‘We’re so stupid,’ Sander said, lifting a hand to Robbe’s face, but not quite allowing himself to touch.

He ached to let go and lean into it, but he needed Sander to finish talking. Even if the way that Sander’s eyes kept flickering from his eyes to his lips was distracting; even if he felt that wolfish smile in every part of his body.

‘I was avoiding you, because I thought that I was making you uncomfortable. I’ve been told that I can come on a little too strong, sometimes,’ Sander said.

‘Wait, you were flirting with me?’ Robbe lauged, as Sander planted his face into his hands, groaning at their incompetence.

He straightened up, moving his hands to Robbe’s shoulders, and his body grew tense as a drawn arrow. ‘I was so obvious! I thought that you knew, but that you just weren’t interest back.’

Robbe looked at him with bewilderment and infinite, infinite fondness. ‘My friends are never going to let us live this down.’

Sander reached out a hand to gently brush Robbe’s cheek, and he sighed in pure relief. It was amazing that so small a touch could break the dam of tension between them. That hand on that cheek was, in that moment, the centre of his entire universe. All things revolved around this: the hesitation, the tenderness, the brief stab of fear that comes before letting yourself fall.

‘Can I kiss you?’ Robbe breathed.

Sander surged forward as soon as the question came out of Robbe’s mouth, lips touching, just briefly, but enough.

This, he thought, was what Milan had told him about. Freedom.

Sander had brought both hands up to cup his face, simply staring at him and smiling before kissing him once more, giddy. Robbe clung to him, hands wrapped in his shirt, wanting him ever and ever closer. Not just because of the wanting, but because he had never felt this right before. He wished that there was a spell to trap this feeling in a bottle. It felt like more than magic.

He sighed as Sander started to pull away, nuzzling his face into his warm neck.

‘I have to go,’ Sander said, voice deep with regret. Robbe gripped him briefly closer until he felt he could loosen the grip of his fingers on Sander's jacket.

They kissed once, twice, three more times before Sander slowly backed away, hands holding on to each other until the last possible moment. Both boys stumbled a little as the moment came for them to let go.

He was so lost in happiness that he didn’t even notice the rain.

 

 

In the Great Hall, the next night, Robbe found a note underneath his plate.

The handwriting was unmistakably Sander’s, and he couldn’t help smiling as he read it, completely ignoring the conversation around him. It only told him to meet him at the Room of Requirement after dinner, but beneath the words was a swift sketch of Robbe, happiness emanating from the picture.

He folded the note up carefully, putting it in his pocket, but from the look Jens was giving him he had been anything but subtle. ‘Is there something you want to tell us?’ Jens asked, already looking smug. Moyo and Aaron had both turned their attention on Robbe.

‘Nope,’ he said, shovelling down his dinner. He refused to give them the satisfaction. Besides, this thing with Sander was so new that he didn’t want to jinx it. Some part of him still wanted to take steps to protect himself, however he could.

It was private, just for them. He wasn’t sure how letting the world in would affect that, even if some other part of him wanted to yell from the rooftops that Sander fucking Driesen was his boyfriend.

Jens clapped his shoulder. ‘As long as you’re happy,’ he said, turning to his food.

He tried to sneak off after dinner, but it was impossible to do anything sneakily with the boys cheering him on.

When he arrived at the room, he immediately worried. What if Sander had changed his mind? What if it was all some kind of trick, designed to humiliate him.

Then he remembered their kiss, remembered everything that had come before. That wasn’t fake, he told himself. He had to trust himself, and trust Sander. Insecurity and fear had led him to some of the lowest moments of his life; as difficult as it was to try and turn them off, he refused to let them ruin his happiness now.

As he approached, the door appeared as it always had, and all the tension left his body. There stood the familiar door, unassuming and small. The gateway to Sander’s little corner of the world, to safety.

Robbe stood there, his hand resting on the cold iron of the handle for a few seconds, steeling himself. When he opened the door, he noticed a few changes to the room, though the general design and layout were still the same.

Where once there had been only walls, there no was a large window, arched and archaic in the style of every other window at Hogwarts. It was dark outside, but he could only imagine how the room would look with the soft light of day streaming in. On the large windowsill, in pride of place, sat Ziggy. He went over to inspect the little plant, still growing and healthy despite the changing seasons. He gave it a few gentle words, even if he wondered if it was technically cheating to grow a plant in a room that changed to fit specific needs. He would let Sander have it.

The fire still roared against the darkness, and the chairs were still neatly arranged around the smaller table. The desk was still pushed up against the far wall, though it looked even more chaotic now. His fingers twitched with the desire to walk over and sift through Sander’s drawings, but he tried to resist. It was enough that Sander would let him in to where he felt safest; he wasn’t going to invade his privacy further.

He was walking over to the chairs when he noticed the walls. They were still art covered, filling the room with life and colour, but as he paid closer attention, he saw his own face reflected back at him. Dotted around were careful recreations of their time together. Some looked rushed, as though Sander couldn’t wait to commit the memory to paper, to make it permanent. Some looked like they had been painstakingly worked on.

He felt a little overwhelmed, not quite being able to believe that this was real.

The door opened and Sander walked in. Robbe jumped at the sound, feeling a little guilty for being so nosy.

‘Sorry, Senne was talking to me about Quidditch plays, and when he starts talking about Quidditch it is very, very difficult to get him to stop.’ Sander spoke in a hurry as he took off his jacket and his stupid, heavy boots.

Robbe walked forward tentatively to meet him, wanting to wrap his arms around him. To kiss, and kiss, and kiss, but he was afraid to make the first move in case it had all been a dream.

He didn’t have to worry. As soon as Sander was free of his shoes, he planted a swift kiss on Robbe’s lips, leaving him briefly dazed and craving for more. Robbe leaned back in, accidentally headbutting Sander with his eagerness. Their laughter eased the tension, and they kissed easily, simply relishing in being together, until Sander pulled away.

He walked backwards, dragging Robbe with him until they reached the edge of a bed. A bed that he was sure hadn’t been there before.

‘This is new,’ Robbe said, grinning at Sander suggestively.

‘Not really,’ Sander said. ‘I would sleep here, sometimes. When things would get difficult.’ Robbe shifted to sit opposite him, hands still joined. ‘I’m in a better place now, for the most part, but I thought it would be nice. I wanted to share it with you.’

Even though he had been here before, it was different now. He was being allowed in in a different way. Being allowed to use this as a safe space, too. He breathed a little shakily as he pulled Sander in for a soft kiss, hoping that it was enough to express everything that he felt in that moment. No one had ever let him in in this way, and he was a little overwhelmed with the speed and intimacy of the gesture. Not when he had so little to offer in return.

Hours passed quickly in that room. With the curtains shut against the darkness outside, time didn’t exist. They had nothing to tell them how long they spend drifting in that bed, whiling away the time with kisses and conversation.

‘Do you ever think about parallel universes?’ Robbe asked, somewhere around the second hour. He was running his hand through that hair, wondering with each stroke at being allowed the privilege. ‘It’s a Muggle theory,’ he went on at Sander’s lack of response. ‘That there’s a universe out there for every possibility or potential action. Everything that could happen, has happened.’

Sander shook his head. ‘I don’t know that much about Muggle science. It scares me, sometimes. Makes me too aware of my own thoughts.’

‘Why?’

Sander shrugged.

‘I think it’s beautiful.’ Robbe whispered. ‘That there could be a Robbe and a Sander, lying just like we are now, only in a world where there’s no magic. Or where the curtains are a different colour.’

‘Yellow curtains,’ Sander said, voice soft. He was quieter, after that.

Robbe easily distracted him with kisses.

 

*

 

‘I saw you before, you know?’ Sander said, Robbe’s hand still idly running through his hair. It stilled at Sander’s words.

‘What?’ he asked, raising himself to look Sander in the eye.

Sander was looking his way, but his eyes were distant, lost in the memory. ‘In the greenhouse, at the end of last year. The moonlight was shining down on you. I thought that you were a ghost, or an angel.’ He looked at Robbe shyly. ‘That’s part of why I came to speak to you that day.’

‘Wow,’ Robbe replied. He wasn’t sure how to compute Sander’s words. The idea that he had seen him, that Sander had wanted to reach out to him all this time, was a lot.

He remembered that night. It had been the same day that he had come out to Jens, told him about his crush and about spilling Jana’s secrets. It had been the last week of term, close enough for summer for it to be worth the risk. He had been avoiding the common room, hunkering down in the library for the most part during the day and slinking off to the greenhouses at night. It had been the only place, really, that he felt like he could be at peace. Even if sometimes tears blurred his eyes, a combination of anger and sadness and frustration, from a deep well of repression, it was a place where he could simply feel with no judgement.

He had gone so many years, unnoticed and waiting and wanting, desperately wanting, to be seen. And all this time, this whole long summer, wallowing in his lowest moments, someone had seen him. Seen him, and wanted him, and wanted to be seen as well.

His body felt too small for the intensity of his feelings. He was alight with wonder and lust and drunk on love and affection. He didn’t want to call it love, truly, not yet. Familiar fears still hounded him, trying futilely to protect himself against disappointment. But it seemed useless to put out sandbags when the banks had already flooded.

‘I want to draw you,’ Sander said, pulling him out of his thoughts.

Robbe snorted, glancing at the walls around them. His own face, lovingly rendered. ‘You already have,’ he said, a little stupidly.

Sander waved his off. ‘I want to draw you properly.’ If that wasn’t properly, then Robbe wondered what was.

‘Should I pose like one of your French girls?’ he asked, raising an eyebrow. Sander looked at him askingly. ‘Don’t worry, it’s from a film.’

‘We should watch it together,’ Sander spoke as he rolled from the bed, taking a seat at his desk instead. Robbe watched intently as he sorted through pencils and paper, differences that Robbe couldn’t perceive, but were clearly important choices. The bed was colder and emptier without him there. Some part of him ached at the loss, even if he was close. Yet, it was fascinating to see Sander the artist at work.

‘Is this okay?’ Sander asked, almost as an afterthought, pencil already almost touching the paper.

Robbe nodded his consent. ‘Should I move, or?’ He felt suddenly shy under Sander’s gaze. This was a different kind of intimacy – one that pretended at objectivity. He was no longer being simply looked at; this was being studied, layer by layer, piece by piece. An eye, a stray hair, a soft quirk of his lips. Each part examined and reconfigured. He didn’t feel as uncomfortable as he thought he would, though.

‘How did you get into art?’ he asked, though Sander was so focused he wasn’t sure at first that he had heard him.

He put down his pencil after a second, brow still slightly furrowed with concentration. ‘I’ve always loved to draw. I think I’m just lucky that my parents have always encouraged it. It’s not always easy in Wizarding families to have that kind of choice and acceptance. Hogwarts certainly don’t think that it matters,’ he snorted.

‘Is that why you don’t enchant your pictures?’

Sander shrugged. ‘Maybe? I’m not sure. I think a still picture can sometimes say so much more than any enchanted portrait.’

He sketched for a little bit longer, before putting the paper down. ‘Can I see?’ Robbe asked, making grabby hands as Sander moved closer.

Sander was a little hesitant about showing him the drawing, but relented after a bit of pleading. ‘It’s not finished yet,’ Sander hedged. ‘Picture it bigger, up on a canvas maybe, in intense colours.’

Robbe had no words. After seeing the drawings scattered around, he had thought that he was prepared to see himself as he was, right at that time, though Sander’s eyes. The other pictures had been drawn through the lens of memory, but there was an immediacy to this.

Looking at it, he realised that it wasn’t just Robbe being exposed, but Sander, too. Robbe didn’t really understand art – his parents had taken him to one or two art galleries when he was younger, but it had never really made much of an impression on him. He could see now, though, the vulnerability in the act of creation. It may have been his face on the page, but Sander was in every stroke, his feelings bleeding through the lines.

It was intense. He found that it didn’t frighten him, however. Rather, he felt encompassed with warmth, excitement. Sander had found him, and he kept finding him.

‘It’s beautiful,’ he said. He gave it back, not able to look at it for too long.

Quietly, almost too low for Robbe to hear. ‘You’re beautiful.’

In the moment, Robbe had blushed to the high heavens and they had kissed as though they had all the time in the world.

 

 

‘Why do you like Herbology so much?’ Sander asked, though it came across more as an accusation.

They were down at the greenhouses, Robbe talking him through handling poisonous and venomous plants. They would be getting to the flesh-eating ones soon enough and he wanted his boyfriend to be well prepared.

He stilled his hands as he took the time to think. He knew that Sander was mostly being sarcastic given the mild difficulty he was having, but he couldn’t come up with a funny answer. ‘I told you before, about my mother. How we used to garden together?’ Sander nodded.

‘With Herbology, it’s just an extension of things that I already know how to do. And it feels calming, even when dealing with more dangerous plants. There’s logic to it, but it’s also messy and organic.’ He slapped at one of the smaller flesh-eaters away as it tried to draw closer to where he was perched. ‘Plants generally like me, and I like them back. Mostly.’

‘With magic,’ he continued. ‘It still feels sometimes like it’s something that I shouldn’t be able to do. Like there’s a wall between everything I knew before, and everything that they teach us here. Herbology bridges that gap.’

‘That makes sense,’ Sander said, now fully distracted. ‘I can’t imagine what it must have been like, growing up without magic. I was lucky, I guess, to be raised with it. And lucky that my family didn’t suck all of the joy out of it. The stories Senne has told me about his family…’ he trailed off.

‘It’s not so bad,’ Robbe shrugged. ‘It’s just different. I used regret ever coming here, you know.’ He confessed. Sander looked at him, surprised. ‘I love magic, and I love my friends, but it’s oppressive here, sometimes. You get invited into this world and it’s wonderful, but it’s full of rules and dangers that you had no idea even existed. There’s literally a forest on the school grounds where you’re not allowed to go because it’s so dangerous! It’s so stupid!’ Robbe laughed, before his face fell again.

‘I used to worry that all of this was making my mother worse, as well. She doesn’t have anyone else, really. And then I come back and tell her about all of these amazing and impossible things. I don’t know. I worry too much.’ He smiled, self-depricatingly.

‘How is she?’ Sander asked.

‘She’s doing well, actually.’ Robbe’s mood lifted at the memory of the letters he had received, from his mother and her doctor that morning. ‘They think that she’ll be ready to come home by Christmas. Do you want to see her present?’ he asked. He was already on his way to the far side of the greenhouse, searching for the little terrarium he had made.

Inside, he had placed a variety of plants, both Muggle and magical. There were a few succulents, some of which he had charmed to glow in soft shades of blues and purples and greens at night. Some of the more psychedelic species of fungi were dotted around it, as well as a perfect fairy toadstool with a tiny model frog sitting on its cap.

‘She always talks about wanting to see some of my magic. I think she gets sad sometimes, that there’s this whole part of my world that she’s not really allowed to be a part of. So, I wanted to bring a bit of magic back home to her. It’s not finished yet.’ He said, a bit embarrassed under Sander’s scrutiny.

Sander was looking at him with pure adoration. ‘She’ll love it.’

‘I told her about you, actually. I hope that that’s okay?’ Robbe hedged. He wasn’t really sure where they were when it came to telling people, but after last year, he didn’t like keeping secrets from his mother anymore. He didn’t want to keep the things that made him happy secret, not from her.

Sander was lost for words for a second. ‘That depends on what you said,’ he said, eventually.

‘Oh, just terrible things, really,’ Robbe teased, moving into Sander’s space.

‘You’re such an arsehole,’ Sander pushed him away, but he was smiling in the way that never failed to make Robbe weak in the knees.

‘I told her that I met a boy who makes me feel everything,’ he said.

They shared a brief kiss, both starting to melt into the other before Robbe reluctantly pulled himself away. ‘Stop trying to distract the teacher,’ he said, as stern as possible. Which, in that moment, was not very stern at all. Sander sighed dramatically as he turned back to the bench. Robbe watched over him intently, gently correcting any of his mistakes, explaining what he had done wrong and what to do next time.

‘You have to be patient!’ he said again as Sander rushed through everything.

‘How can I be patient with you here, hm?’ Sander said, pouting a little. His eyes fell to Sander’s lips and his resolve started to fade.

He steeled himself. ‘We’re not leaving until you finish this, properly.’ He said, which seemed to get him to focus more than before.

Robbe drifted around the greenhouse as Sander finished, inspecting the plants, looking for new leaves, roots and flowers that were ready to be taken to the Potions storeroom. He knew that they were nearly out of Wolfsbane, and Madame Pomfrey could always use more Dittany. He gathered handfuls of the useful parts of the plants to drop off when they made their way back to the castle.

He could feel Sander’s eyes on him. It was a strange, new sensation; to be watched and wondered at. He was so used to watching, to being the observer, that to be on the other side of it unsettled and thrilled him in equal measure.

Sander kept staring when Robbe finally looked up from his chores, taking the two packets with him as they packed up to leave.  ‘Are you coming to the match tomorrow?’

Robbe put his finger on his chin, pretending to think. ‘I don’t know...’ he teased. ‘My schedule is pretty tight.’

Sander snorted, moving fully into his space. ‘I think you could make an exception.’

‘My friends are going to get so tired of being dragged to matches to watch their friends’ boyfriends.’ Robbe said offhandedly, freezing after the words left his lips.

‘Is that what we are?’ Sander questioned. His tone was still light, but his eyes were serious, vulnerable. ‘Boyfriends?’

Robbe wanted so much for it to be true. To be able to cement them in his mind as something that had a name, and meaning. ‘If that’s what you want?’ he said back.

A smile spread across Sander’s face, the one that made Robbe feel warm and loved in every part of his being. ‘Of course, I want.’

If someone had told him last year that he would have ended up falling in love with Sander Driesen -that they would be kissing, carefree and happy – he would have laughed in their face. This was everything he felt like he had never deserved. And he could feel it, the fragility, as much as he could the intensity. But he wanted to have the joy, for once, instead of the worry that in the future, his heart could be broken.

Robbe laughed, then, with relief and happiness as he reached up to kiss his boyfriend.  The (gardening) gloves were off, and they were free to do with each other as they wanted.

Well, maybe not exactly as they wanted, what with the tentacula looking particularly interested in the back of the room.

Sense briefly overcame him as he dragged Sander out of the door by his jacket, making sure to lock up before kissing him once more.

Chapter Text

Robbe left the Transfiguration classroom only to be surprised by sudden darkness. He laughed as he leaned into Sander, felt the quick peck his boyfriend gave him on the head. ‘Guess who?’ he said lowly, right by Robbe’s ear, and he was glad that his face was covered because he knew that he was bright red.

He pulled Sander’s hands from his face, spinning around so that he could look at him, kiss him properly. ‘What’s gotten into you?’ Robbe asked, smiling into every kiss. Their relationship was still new and they hadn’t really had a talk about how public they wanted to be about it, although they weren’t exactly subtle, either.

‘Can’t I surprise my boyfriend after a long day of school?’ He asked, pouting a little.

Robbe gave him a sceptical look, but didn’t refuse the contact. If anything, he leaned impossibly closer, resting his head against Sander’s own until he pulled away. ‘Want to sneak out?’ Sander asked.

He paused, fully taking in his boyfriend. Sander’s eyes were alight, he was already bouncing on the balls of his feet. It reminded him of a dog that had just been told it was going for a walk. As soon as Robbe gave the okay, he knew that they would be off; that Sander would rush him off his feet with some kind of thoughtful surprise.

It felt nice, to know that this wasn’t a trick. If it was one of his friends, he would have immediately assumed that it was the lead up to a prank, and although Sander was definitely starting to get on with his friends more that Robbe cared for, he could see the sincerity in each of Sander’s gestures.

He nodded, pulling Sander in for one last, quick kiss, before he was following in Sander’s wake once more. This was a familiar sight, watching the boy stride ahead, blazing and bold, barely even registering the people that were in his way.

The corridors were busy, flooded with students leaving their last lessons, weary from a day of work, or gossiping loudly with their friends. He felt unburdened by their troubles – seeing Sander had completely lifted his spirits, even if he was still a little tired. They were untouchable.

Sander looked back, to see if Robbe was still there, smiling when he saw him and waiting to let him catch up. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘I can get a bit excited, sometimes.’

‘It’s okay,’ Robbe said back, walking forward. ‘I can keep up.’ Sander raised his eyebrow at that, looking him up and down as if to joke about Robbe’s height, when Sander wasn’t even that much taller than him. It felt a lot more like being ogled than being belittled.

Robbe winked back, and Sander – the ineffable Sander – blushed. He hoped that he never stopped being surprised by him, that even years down the line, he could still discover newer, deeper waters, that only made him love Sander even more. He was thrilled and terrified in equal measure that he was even thinking that far ahead.

It was his vulnerability, as much as his confidence, that drew Robbe in. That Sander would lead the way, but doubt that he would follow, as though he didn’t know that Robbe was helpless not to. Robbe was drawn to him, like there was a string that tied them together and he could feel every tug. He wished that was better at expressing his feelings, at making sure that Sander knew how he felt. He tried to get it across with every touch, every joke, every look.

They arrived at a statue of a witch with one eye, who looked particularly perturbed about the situation, and he watched as Sander whispered secret words, wand out.

The statue began to move, revealing with it a staircase that led into a long, dark passage. Of course, he had heard rumours of the numerous secret passageways around Hogwarts. The boys had made use of them often in their third year, but only those that went to other places in the school. They hadn’t managed to find any of the others, though not for a lack of trying.

He could feel Sander’s eyes on him as he watched, making his way down before the other boy could beat him to it. He expected to be plunged into darkness when he heard the witch moving back to her original spot, but just as she covered the gap, lights flared up all along the tunnel. It seemed to go on forever. He shuddered a little at the thought, moving closer to Sander. Once, as a child, his parents had taken him on a visit to a mine. To his child’s mind, those hastily constructed tunnels had gone on for miles, like staring into an abyss. He had been petrified at the closeness, at the weight of the earth above him threatening him with every step. He knew now that it was all safe, but the fear had remained as fear tends to do.

Sander, beside him, was completely at ease. ‘How did you find this place?’ Robbe asked. He hoped that it led somewhere significantly more pleasant than the tunnel itself. It was earthy and cold. They could have been in the long distant past – there was nothing new here, nothing to signify the changes of time.

‘Some boys in the years above us in Gryffindor showed it to us, before they left. They wanted to pass on the legacy, hope that we would use it to get up to no good.’

Robbe leered at him. ‘Is that what we’re up to? No good?’

Sander’s arm was thrown loosely around his shoulder, relaxed, like it simply belonged there. ‘That depends on your definition.’ He joked, before tensing up suddenly.

Robbe froze, his anxiety spiking at Sander’s reaction. He looked around, trying to find potential dangers, but all he could see was a fat little spider on the wall closest to his boyfriend. He laughed, his own tension and fear easing. ‘You’ve lived at Hogwarts for seven years, and you’re still scared of spiders?’

He rearranged them, so that he was on the spider side. He had always been unbothered by bugs, having once gone through a tarantula phase himself. When he started at Hogwarts, he had almost gotten a pet spider, though Jens had quickly proclaimed that they would no longer be friends if that were to happen.

Sander’s grip on his hand was still tight, but he was calmer now. ‘They move weirdly! Things should only move like that in nightmares, not in real life.’

‘They’re cute,’ Robbe said, firmly. Spending the amount of time that he had helping his mother in the garden, or being in the greenhouses, one quickly grew used to all sorts of insects. He would have picked the spider up, but he had a feeling Sander would not see the humour in it. Arachnophobia was no joke. Moyo and him had once put a fake spider in Jens’ bed as a prank, and he didn’t speak to them for a week.

They arrived in the cellar of Honeydukes. If he had had any doubt as to their location, the bright colours and smell of chocolate and sweetness heavy in the air certainly told him. His mouth watered, lunch a distant memory. ‘Are we breaking and entering right now?’ Robbe asked.

‘Only a little,’ Sander shrugged, all rakish charm, his fear clearly forgotten. ‘Come on.’ He climbed up the stairs and led Robbe into the shop itself. He shook his head in bewilderment, smiling at the pleased look on his boyfriend’s face.

The shop wasn’t as busy as he had anticipated it would be, but he realised that he had only ever been there on school trips to the village, and it was almost always the first place students stopped at. Weirder still, no one so much as looked their way as they walked out of a room that they definitely should not have been in. The owner even waved Sander over, chatting familiarly, like they were old friends.

Sander walked back to him, hands full of free sweets. Robbe raised his eyebrows. ‘Are you cheating on me to get free food?’ he said, taking a piece of fudge and eating it before Sander could stop him.

Sander held out a green jellybean. ‘Do you trust me?’

‘There’s no trust when it comes to Bertie Botts, Sander.’ He had learned that the hard way, way back in second year when the boys had thought that it would be hilarious to start pranking every one with every flavoured beans. He had eaten far too many vomit and bogey ones to be tricked again.

‘Come on. We’ll both eat one, on three.’ Sander counted down, a milky white one in his own palm. After one bite, Robbe’s mouth flooded with that awful, sadly familiar, snot flavour and instantly spat it out.

Sander just laughed at him, his hand still full. ‘You-‘ he was swiftly interrupted by Robbe’s revenge, as he passionately kissed him with full bogey bean breath.

‘-betrayed me!’ Sander finished, still laughing as he pushed Robbe away.

They drifted around the village like leaves blown in a lazy wind, taking in the decorations now that it was December. Hogsmeade was quiet, the cold weather encouraging most of the other residents and regulars to stay inside. Lights glimmered in the trees like the stars above them as the sky began to darken. It had yet to snow even this far north, but frost was beginning to form on the windows and their breath turned white in the air. Neither of them seemed to mind or care. They were wrapped up in each other, lost to the world. Voldemort himself could have been standing next to them and Robbe doubted that he would notice.

He felt so light, so free, relishing in Sander’s presence.

They stopped in the Three Broomsticks for a warm dinner, neither wanting to return to Hogwarts just yet. They drank their way through several steaming mugs of butterbeer, counting time through glances and laughter and kisses. Time ceased to matter, when he was lost in those eyes, in their easy flirting, safe in the knowledge that they had each other, that they weren’t letting go.

It was only the Three Broomsticks, the pub that they all went to, that was friendly and familiar. But sitting on a table at the back, they could have been anywhere. It was a perfect moment. Robbe pulled out some of the cheesy magic tricks he had learned as a child, back when he thought that it was the closest to real magic he would ever get. He made a chip disappear before pulling it out from behind Sander’s ear.

He laughed at him, hand gently stroking his face, like he was cherishing this moment, savouring it before its inevitable recreation. ‘Where did you learn to do that?’ he asked, never looking away from Robbe’s eyes.

‘My dad showed me. I used to do little magic shows for my parents. I had a top hat and a plastic wand and everything.’ He thought of the smiles on his mother’s face, the way that he glowed with pride whenever he made her laugh, even if it meant making a fool of himself.

Sander quirked a brow. ‘Are there pictures? I need to see this.’

Robbe kicked him under the table, Sander laughing into the next kiss, whispering things that shouldn’t be said in public in his ear. His hand trailed lower, resting on Robbe’s lower back. They didn’t even finish their drinks before deciding to leave.

Robbe flung himself onto Sander’s back, letting the older boy carry him back to the Honeydukes cellar, even if he nearly tripped several times over the cobbled pavement. They stumbled back through the passage, all fear gone. It couldn’t touch them anymore; they were in a golden bubble, a dream, shushing each other when they got too loud even if no one could hear them down there, in the dark.

They let their joy take them back to the Room of Requirement, barely even noticing the subtle changes. The minute differences that reflected their needs a desires. A record player now spun, with – what Robbe presumed – must be Bowie playing in the background. Sander wouldn’t allow for anything else, he was sure. The sheets on the bed had changed to blue, the pattern familiar to Robbe’s owns sheets at home. This room was theirs; this night belonged to them.

*

‘How many Robbe’s and Sander’s are lying like this?’ Sander whispered, head resting on Robbe’s shoulder. He thought back to their previous conversation, in this very room. On this very bed.

‘Infinite,’ he said. Their date had taken on the quality of a dream. He felt blurry around the edges, not just from alcohol and desire, but from pure contentment. He couldn’t remember the last time that he had felt this relaxed, him and Sander curled around each other like cats in front of a fireplace soaking up each other’s warmth.

Sander gripped him tighter; Robbe placed a gentle kiss on his forehead.

‘None of them as happy as we are.’ Robbe watched Sander’s face carefully, wanting to memorise every detail. Every look, every sigh, every breath, to crystallise in the amber of his memory, preserved.

He noticed the subtle way that Sander’s breathing, once calm and deep, had become ever so slightly more laboured. How his hands twitched. How the light was starting to leave his eyes.

He kissed Sander’s forehead, mumbling some reassurance, running his hand down Sander’s back. Calming, soothing.

Sander looked at him. ‘The only way to keep this feeling is to die with it.’ He said, not looking away.

‘Don’t say that,’ Robbe gentled, his concern growing.

There was silence. The record had played itself out and was skipping intermittently in the background. The wind picked up outside, futilely blowing out destruction.

He just wanted to keep Sander here, where they were both safe.

‘I think I need to go,’ Sander said. The boy in his arms now was so much smaller compared to the one who had waited for his Transfiguration lesson to end, who charmed shop owners while essentially breaking into their shops, who had laughed so freely.

He briefly held him closer, but Sander wasn’t a child. ‘I can go with you, if you want?’ He said, instead.

Sander was already half dressed, pulling his clothes back on even if his body seemed to drag with every action. He nodded, a little reluctantly, and Robbe started to pull his own clothes on. If he happened to steal Sander’s sweatshirt in the rush, then neither commented on it. The sight pulled an almost smile out of Sander, even if everything about him screamed exhaustion.

They made their way slowly back to the Gryffindor common room, Robbe keeping up mindless chatter along the way. Sander left him at the door with a squeeze of the hand, and Robbe squeezed back, not wanting to let go. But he knew that he had to.

He walked the long way down to the Hufflepuff common room, alone.

*

‘And what time do you call this,’ Jens said, when Robbe returned to the Hufflepuff common room. It was mostly empty now, only a few stray third years sitting by one of the round windows, yawning, but stubbornly refusing to go to bed.

It wasn’t particularly late, but the whole of Hogwarts was starting to wind down as end of term tests and exams were on their way. Jens was alone by the fire, looking relaxed. He really was strikingly handsome, especially in the light of the fire. It was easy to see sometimes why he had been so infatuated.

Robbe sank down in the chair nearest to him, taking a second to just let the past few hours sink in. He was tired, the kind of tired that sat in your bones and made you heavy. He wasn’t sure how to process the events of the night; the highs and the lows.

The common room was probably one of his favourite places at Hogwarts, especially at times like this, when it was free from the chaos of other people. Plants lined the windows and sat on the floor, filling the room with a feeling of freshness and life. It was rarely overwhelming, here. The colours were soft, everything within it rounded and homely. It was like living in a hobbit hole. He was glad that he could enjoy the space again, relish in its safety. Knowing that even after the troubles of last year, Hufflepuff and Jens would always be there to welcome him home.

He sighed, staring into the fire, seeing everything and nothing in the flicker of the flames. ‘Everything okay, loverboy?’ Jens asked, smirk on his face.

Robbe rolled his eyes, giving Jens the finger.

‘How was your date?’ he said, tone softening a little.

‘It was nice,’ Robbe said, though he was still subdued. ‘We snuck out of the school, went around Hogsmeade for a bit. Then we went back to the Room of Requirement, to spend some time alone, together.’

‘But?’ Jens picked up on Robbe’s quietness.

‘But, nothing. Or, well. I don’t know. I’m worried about him.’ He said out loud what he had not wanted to even think earlier. It was different, giving voice to his concerns. It made them real, more tangible.

Jens took a sip of the steaming mug that had been warming his hands. ‘What happened?’

‘Nothing in particular.’ He wasn’t sure how much to share; how much he was allowed to share. Sander was allowed his secrets and his privacy, after all. ‘I don’t think he’s feeling well right now. I just hope that he doesn’t feel like he has to put on a mask for me, too. That he knows that he can tell me if something is wrong.’

Jens hummed. ‘I get that. It’s frustrating, watching someone you care about pretend like they’re okay, even if they’re not.’

‘Do we have to talk about this now?’ Robbe huffed, knowing where Jens was going and not liking the direction.

‘I’m just saying. We never really properly talked about anything, you know? I was so angry at you, at first. Then, I didn’t really have anything to distract me over the summer because my relationship was over and we weren’t talking. I wasn’t really in the mood for Moyo and Aaron’s shit. So, I spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts.

‘Was I really such a bad friend that you didn’t feel safe talking to me?’ Jens finished. It was the least sure of himself Robbe had seen him since he had first developed his crush on Jana. He was struck by the sudden honesty and vulnerability.

He fidgeted in his seat, shifting position to give him time to think about his answer. He looked anywhere but at Jens. ‘It wasn’t that,’ he started. ‘I’d spent a lot of time kind of repressing everything, to the point where I had convinced myself that you would all hate me if you knew that I was gay. Like, I wanted to isolate myself before you could reject me. And then Jana kept confiding in me, and I just was very drunk and very sad, and I couldn’t help myself. I wasn’t thinking straight.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Jens said, and Robbe was so startled by the words that he interrupted with a confused ‘what?’

‘I’m sorry,’ Jens tried again. ‘For not seeing that you were feeling like shit. You were in pain, and I didn’t even notice until it all blew up in our faces.’

Robbe swallowed, his eyes watering, though he would never admit it. ‘I thought you were going to apologise for wanting to make a terrible joke about how I’m never thinking straight.’ He joked. The air around them was heavy, but not tense. It was like a cloud had been following the for months, and it was only now that they were actually talking about it. Letting it rain so that they could finally dispel what was between them and move on.

‘Low hanging fruit, Robbe. I’m above that.’

‘You’re right,’ Robbe smiled. ‘I’m the only one allowed to make gay jokes. Pretty sure I remember that one from the gay handbook Milan gave me before he left.’

‘Anyway,’ Jens pulled them away from their tangent. ‘What I was trying to say is, sometimes people need to take their own time. So long as he’s safe. It’s natural to feel worried, but maybe he just needs time. It’s obvious to everyone how much he adores you, Robbe. Do you trust him?’

Robbe nodded. ‘I do.’

‘It’ll be okay, man. You guys are so fucking in love, you’re almost as bad as Aaron and Amber. Just take it how it is, don’t stress yourself and make it worse.’

‘We’re nowhere near that gross,’ Robbe snorted, but the look Jens gave him told him otherwise. At least they weren’t constantly making a show of themselves in the common room. Probably because they didn’t share a common room, but whatever. ‘Thanks.’ He said, one last moment of sincerity creeping in.

Jens stood up and stretched, yawning loudly. ‘That’s what friends are for,’ he said, smiling his charming little smile. Robbe watched him leave. He wasn’t sure how long he spent staring into the fire, wondering if he had done the wrong thing, if he should have taken Sander to the medical wing. Wondering if it had been anything that he had said or done that had triggered Sander’s downward mood.

After nearly falling asleep in the armchair, he finally dragged himself to bed, weary in the knowledge of how early he would have to be up later that day.

 

 

He tried not to let Sander weigh too heavily on him, but it was difficult to shut his concerns out entirely. He hadn’t slept much, too busy wondering if Sander was okay and replaying the events of the evening. He tried to shake it off, but the worries followed him around as closely as his own shadow.

When he saw Zoë and Senne heading for the library the next day, he went after them, calling out their names. They paused awkwardly in the door, both looking surprised at Robbe’s sudden appearance. Madame Pince’s shush echoed pointedly, even though he wasn’t technically in the library, and he whispered out a quick apology.

‘Is Sander okay?’ he asked, trying to come across as calm, but his desperation shone through. His hands trembled slightly as he fidgeted, waiting for Senne to anything. The longer it took, he more he worried. Had Sander even gone back? Had he vanished somewhere, done something? No. He shook off the thoughts, trying to put into practice Jens’ advice. He took a calming breath.

The couple shared a look, Zoë throwing a quick wave Robbe’s way as she walked off to their usual corner of the library. Senne shifted them out of the doorway; Robbe had barely noticed the stream of students walking in and out, occasionally knocking into shoulders or throwing the boys angry looks.

‘How much has he told you?’ Senne asked, wanting to protect his friend and not tell truths that Sander might not have wanted Robbe to know.

‘What, about being bipolar?’ Senne nodded, face relaxing. Robbe could still see, though, the slight strain around his eyes. He suspected he looked the same. ‘He mentioned it a few weeks ago, before we got together.’

Senne paused, choosing his words with care. ‘He’s okay,’ he said, finally. ‘He’s on a downswing. It happens, sometimes, and it sucks. There’s not much we can do other than be there for him. He’s sleeping right now, but he told me to give you this.’ He handed over a piece of paper, carefully folded, of the same stock and weight that he knew Sander preferred for his art. It felt heavy in his hands, like it held all of the secrets of the world.

He kept it in his hands, unopened.

He couldn’t say that he wasn’t a bit disappointed that Sander didn’t want to see him, but he could understand. Nobody really wanted to be seen at their most vulnerable, in their lower moments. Afraid to let people close in case what they saw only ended up pushing them away. He had not been so dissimilar, putting on a mask around his friends out of fear.

To distract himself from his spiralling thoughts, he had spent some time thinking about what he could do. Just little things, to show Sander that Robbe was thinking about him; that he missed him. That this didn’t change anything.

He rummaged around in his bag until he found what he was looking for. When he pulled the chocolate frog out, Senne tilted his head in confusion. ‘Thank you?’ he said, voice lifting with uncertainty.

‘It’s not for you. Could you give it to Sander, please?’

Senne’s mouth quirked up, the bemused smile that he had often wore when pining after Zoë. He felt small, under Senne’s gaze. The futile optimism of a child hoping that baking his mother’s favourite cake, or telling stupid jokes, or putting on silly little skits and shows would alleviate her pain, like putting a plaster over a gaping wound. As he had grown older, he had understood that there was selfishness in these gestures, the strain around her smile when she would force herself to act happy to save Robbe the pain. That sometimes, the best thing to do was the little things, like doing the dishes and keeping the house tidy. Acts of service and solidarity, that said I am here for you through thick and thin.

Senne must have picked up on his doubts, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. ‘Sure. Don’t start treating me like an owl, though. You two are going to have to talk to each other eventually.’

Robbe nodded, smiling with relief. ‘Thanks.’

‘Don’t worry about it. And look, it sucks, but these things happen. He’s got a good support system, here. He will be okay. Just give him some time.’

Patience, he thought. He had enough practice at that.

Senne said a swift goodbye and left to join Zoë. Alone, he perched on one of the windowsills by the courtyard. The chill of the winter air kept him awake, and he breathed it in. The crispness, the freshness. So many people hated winter, but he could never quite bring himself to. It reminded him of Sander: intense, yet fragile.

He unfolded Sander’s note, taking care with the movement. The last thing he wanted was to damage it somehow.

It was another drawing of him, this time against the backdrop of the greenhouse. It was mostly black and white, but there were splotches of watercolour that brought the picture to life; the earthy greens and browns of the plants complementing Robbe’s eyes, his hair, his clothes. Grounded, but somehow still ethereal. Where Sander existed in the contrast – the abstract, the harsh black and white – he saw Robbe in colour.

Next to the picture were just two words – I’m sorry – quickly sketched. He didn’t know what Sander was apologising for, but he hoped that he wasn’t going to pull away because of this. He wanted to tell him that he had nothing to be sorry for; that nothing was broken or ruined in the wake of their date; that Robbe didn’t love him in spite of being bipolar, and that the reality of the situation wouldn’t scare him away.

That he wasn’t scared at all. Concerned, maybe, for any pain that Sander was feeling. Worried that he might be isolating himself out of fear. But not afraid, not anymore.

 

 

Robbe sighed as he picked at his dinner that night. Sander still hadn’t been seen, which made sense - he was probably sleeping still. Senne seemed calm and relaxed at the Gryffindor table, laughing at Luka and Max, even if it was still a little strained.

He thought that that should make him feel better, but he couldn’t just switch his feelings off, as much as he might try.

After picking his fork up and putting it immediately back down for the hundredth time, Jens poked him with his own. ‘You’ve got to eat, Robbe.’

‘I know.’ He felt listless and anxious at the same time, his body tired but his brain racing.

‘If he doesn’t want it, I’ll eat it,’ Aaron shrugged, having cleared his plate in minutes. He had to eat quickly to make time in his schedule for making moony eyes at Amber while she laughed with Jana and Luca.

He forced himself to eat some potato at the least, and picked at the chicken. More than anything, though, he was just making a mess on his plate.

Moyo was eyeing him, more seriously than usual. ‘Is this about Sander?’ Jens and Robbe shared a significant look, speaking without words.

He nodded. ‘He’s,’ he paused, thinking through how much he wanted to say. ‘He’s not doing so great. I just feel so useless, you know?’

Moyo put his own fork down. This was the quietest Robbe had seen him in a while. Their friendship had taken a bit of a hit when Robbe had come out, and he had seen his friend grappling quietly with his own issues ever since. They rarely talked about serious things. It was always easier to just pretend things were okay, even if you were struggling. ‘I know what that’s like.’ Moyo said, looking around at the boys as though testing the waters, to see how they would react to his honesty. ‘My mother is bipolar.’

‘Really?’ Robbe said, before he could think about it. That he and Moyo had had some kind of common ground this whole time, and never spoken about it because of what, exactly? It had taken years of friendship for them to feel even remotely comfortable sharing details about themselves.

‘Yeah,’ Moyo said, still a little tense, like he was waiting for someone to say something offensive, whether on purpose or through misplaced good intentions. ‘She’s the best mum in the world, but it’s still hard sometimes. Especially being so far away from her. You just have to take it day by day. Minute by minute.’

Robbe smiled an almost sad smile. He wished he had a better way to show his gratitude, or some way to say that he understood, truly, more than the others could. That, although Sander helped with his own guilt, he couldn’t help but feel like he was now projecting all of that back onto him.

‘I didn’t even know that you had parents,’ Jens joked. ‘How come we never talk about this stuff?’

Moyo slapped him playfully. ‘I don’t know, man.’ The conversation swiftly changed topic, as it always did. They didn’t like to linger on things, but Moyo’s honesty sat with Robbe for the rest of the evening. He thought that his friend looked a little lighter, too, as though he had been bottling his own feelings up for years and was finally starting to loosen the lid.

 

 

He threw himself into his exams, relishing in the brief moments he would get to see Sander in the corridors or at meals. He wasn’t around often, and he and Robbe had yet to speak about anything, really. He didn’t want to come across as clingy or overbearing, so he tried to give Sander his space. He hoped it was the right thing to do, but it had been a full week since that night and neither of them had moved.

Sander still looked tired, his aura dimmed, but he had been smiling more around his friends. He would still looked at Robbe with those eyes that made his knees as weak as a jelly-leg jinx.

Instead of really talking, they had been passing a lot of notes. Hardly long love letters or worthy missives. Just little sketches and drawings, each one saying I love you, and I’ll wait for you, and I miss you, without ever having to use the words.

Robbe had been working on a story, told through stick men. He was no great artist, but each instalment had made Sander’s eyes a little brighter; had made him laugh during quiet moments. Sander had given him sketches of Robbe and of himself, and of the things that reminded him of Robbe. Pictures that radiated warmth and light, buried beneath the inherent vulnerability.

As well as studying, he had been working on a plan. After he had gotten Professor Sprout’s permission (which she was too quick to give, really, without fully asking Robbe what he intended to do), Robbe had spent the time that he hadn’t been studying or pining setting up something for Sander, waiting for the right time to share it before the winter holidays.

On a Friday evening, he grabbed Sander on their way out of the Great Hall. ‘I have something to show you,’ he said, stealing Sander’s words from the day of their almost kiss (how could he ever forget them).

Sander looked drained, but humoured him still, raising a cursory eyebrow and smirking suggestively. ‘And what might that be?’

Robbe gave him his best mysterious looks. ‘It’s a secret. Do you trust me?’

His face softened, but Robbe could see the tiredness underneath. The underlying seriousness of the question he was asking. Always, always, Robbe trusted in him. He hoped that Sander trusted him in turn. ‘Of course, I do,’ he whispered.

Robbe clasped Sander’s hands in his own, bringing them to his lips and kissing them simply because he could. ‘Then, come,’ he said, turning away and striding down the corridor in full Sander style. He could the soft exhale of Sander’s snort, the gentle tread of his booted feet behind him.

It was odd, being the person leading. He tried not to let his doubts show, but he was worried that he was doing the exact wrong thing. That Sander would have told him if he wanted anything, any attention; that he was imposing. That all Sander needed was peace and quiet. Or, that he had woken up and realised that Robbe wasn’t what he wanted after all. He wondered if Sander ever doubted, when spiriting Robbe away or putting forward ideas that might backfire.

He stilled his thoughts, taking himself out of his mind by letting the sights and sounds of Hogwarts overtake them. The warmth of the castle, where it should have been draughty and freezing cold in the chill of early December evenings. That feeling in the air that came every December, the combination of students, weary of exams and essays, and the incredible optimism of the holidays. The same feeling that came at watching the first snowfall of the year.

When they stepped outside, they were met suddenly with a wall of cold. They pulled their jackets and scarves close and huddled together for warmth, walking that little bit quicker to fight the chill.

A few flakes of snow drifted down, taking their own sweet time, sticky softly on the cobbles.

Anticipation: that was the feeling. That anything could happen, good or bad. Infinite possibilities with infinite outcomes. A million worlds spreading out from every action, though they would only ever see one.

He breathed in the crisp winter air, relishing the slight burn of his lungs. Each and every intake of breath a reminder that he was here and alive, now. That despite everything, he was happy. He was determined to be.

They slowed as they reached the greenhouse, looming out at them in the dark. It was secluded, down here. Not many students bothering wondering around the outskirts of campus at night – unless they were up to no good.

Sander shot him a confused look. ‘What’s so secret about here?’ he asked, looking pointedly at one of their familiar spots.

‘What was my very first lesson – the most important thing?’

‘Patience,’ Sander said, with the tired tone of voice of someone who had had this exact point used against him several times. Which he had, but the fact reminded that it was true.

‘Exactly,’ Robbe finished. They stood there, for a second, just enjoying the peace of the moment. The greenhouse was only lit by the light of the nearly full moon, hanging proudly in the sky, and the residual light from the school.

Robbe undid the lock, and let Sander in first before firmly shutting the door, and the cold, behind them.

He took out his wand, and a few of the plants, scattered irregularly around the room, began to open up. Each one shone like a tiny moon, luminescent. A large flower sat in the middle of the central bench, opening up under the moonlight, reflecting it from its pale petals. Tiny lights, like spores or will-o-the-wisps hung in the air, drifting idly like jellyfish.

‘It’s like we’re underwater,’ Sander’s voice, quiet. There was something heavy, meaningful, about the silence. It felt sacrilegious to break it.

When he looked at Sander, he saw that he hadn’t moved. Suddenly, he felt shy. It was just them now, and with every second that passed it became harder to shut down the voice in his head that said that he had crossed a line. ‘Is this okay?’ he said. ‘We can just go back to the dorms, if you want. No pressure.’

He watched as Sander took out his own want, making a few of the fallen leaves that were usually scattered on every available surface rise and swim through the air, like little green fish.

Sander walked over to him slowly, pulling his worrying hands apart before lifting them to his face. Robbe close his eyes and sighed into the touch, just letting himself relax in Sander’s warm hands. He wanted to look – he always wanted to look – but sometimes, it was overwhelming. All of this feeling, always feeling so new. He hadn’t understood that he could feel so much, still. That it wasn’t just the quick burn of lust or a spontaneous teen crush, fast and intense and transient. That he had never felt so right.

He looked into Sander’s eyes, their foreheads resting together. In the pale light of the room, illuminated by unearthly light, Sander looked ethereal. Entirely unreal, a dream of a boy. If he was an artist, his fingers would be twitching now. Not with the familiar twinge of anxiety, but with an irrepressible need to commit this image to paper so that he could never forget it.

‘Of course, it’s okay,’ Sander whispered. The space between them, the silence, felt so fragile and breakable. As if either of them were to say the wrong thing, it would shatter and leave them both uncertain and wanting.

Sander’s thumb brushed Robbe’s cheeks carefully, running along the lines of his cheekbones, before he dropped his hands. Before he knew it, he was being pulled into a hug. Sander nuzzled into his neck, and if he felt wetness from the other boy’s face, he did not mention it. He just kept running his hands through Sander’s hair, tenderly. An unspoken promise that he was there for him. That he would be there for him, unconditionally.

They stood there for an eternity.

Eventually, though, Robbe’s stomach began to rumble. He laughed, awkwardly pulling away, bring Sander’s attention to the small picnic he had set up on the floor.

Robbe had spent much of the day bothering the house elves for food – and by bothering, he meant being nice to them and asking politely. They were familiar with most of the Hufflepuff students coming by and poaching food. He had laid out the spread on a plush blanket, one that his mother had made for him. It was knitted, slightly worn with time, but it comfortable. It was one of the things that made him feel safest, whenever it all got to be too much. Next to the food were flasks of hot chocolate, the smell of which was making his mouth water. He had been too nervous to eat dinner properly, earlier.

‘I’m sorry,’ Sander said. The first words since they had sat down and started eating.

A pang of fear went through him, that Sander was going to break up with him. While he still had half a croque in his mouth. He steeled himself for bad news. ‘What for?’ he asked, hoping his voice was level.

‘For making you worry.’ He paused, and Robbe let the silence sit between them until he found the rest of his words. ‘It’s going to be like this, sometimes. I’m going to be like this. You shouldn’t have to deal with.’

The hollowness in his voice broke Robbe’s heart. The words sounded practiced, rehearsed. Like he had been planning on breaking up with Robbe for his own good, out of some desire to protect him from himself. As though this had happened before, and someone had told him that he was just too much. That he felt like he had to isolate himself in times like these, even if he wasn’t sure that he wanted to be.

Robbe put down the sandwich he was eating, and looked at his boyfriend. He rested his hand on Sander’s, trying to be soothing without crowding him. ‘I’m not leaving,’ he said, quiet, but firm as iron.

‘Everyone leaves, eventually. I just ruin things. I’ll ruin this, too.’

‘Look at me,’ Robbe said. It took a while, but Sander eventually turned his head. ‘I’ve never felt better than when I am with you.’ Words were not his strong suit, but f only Sander knew that every kiss felt like he was able to truly breathe for the first time. That he made him feel lighter than air. That if Robbe was the earth, and the green that grows, then Sander was the sunlight and the water and the air.

His grip on Sander’s hand tightened with feeling, wanting to express himself from every pore. ‘You make me so happy.’ He said, quietly.

Sander fell into him, leaning his head on his shoulder as Robbe returned to his food. With his free hand, he continued to stroke Sander’s hair. It was one of his favourite things to do; to mindlessly run fingers through those soft strands and wonder at how he was allowed this, at how Sander had allowed him into his life. He kissed his forehead, feeling Sander’s breath on his skin, and felt warm and alive and content.

‘We don’t have worry about the future right now. Let’s say that we only ever have to think about the next minute.’ Robbe said, lifting Sander’s chin so that he could look fully into his eyes.

Sander looked doubtful, but played along regardless. ‘What will we do this minute, then?’

‘This minute?’ Robbe paused, pretending to think too hard about it. ‘This minute, we’ll kiss.’ He smiled, waiting for Sander to nod his consent before kissing him with all of the adoration that he felt.

‘This is nice,’ Sander said, his grip tightening around Robbe.

‘This is nice,’ Robbe said back, smiling into Sander’s hair.

There was still a weariness, and a wariness to them both. But the space between them was vanishing. They weren’t there to fix each other; Robbe knew that he wasn’t going to make Sander better, and he didn’t want to. He just wanted to share the burden, and to be there for him. To know that they could sit there, alone, together, and be safe.

 

 

Robbe woke up feeling blurry and safe and warm. It took him a minute, but he slowly remembered the events of the night before. Of Sander’s doubts, their little picnic. Of holding Sander fast and never wanting to let go.

Arms were folded around him, holding him close. The sound of Sander’s breathing reassured him; the steady in and out of each breath. He wanted to twist around, to see Sander’s face, but he didn’t want to wake him up. Instead, he lay there, dozing between sleep and wakefulness, relishing in the comfort of being in Sander’s arms.

They had shared the bed in the room of requirement before, but never like this. It was a different kind of intimacy, waking up with someone. Always, with Sander, something new.

He remembered bringing Sander up. How he hadn’t wanted to go back to his own bed, fed up after having spent so much time there. How he was weary, but still spared that smile. The one that Robbe knew, now, meant love. The room had been ready, as it always was, to receive them. As though it had known, and prepared itself, like they were two travellers taking shelter from a storm.

They had both had snowflakes in their hair, though they were only just visible against the white of Sander’s hair. The chill in their bones melted quickly in the reassuring warmth of what felt now like their room; their special place to hide against the world.

Sander moved in his sleep, humming a little, his grip tightening as he grew closer to waking up.

‘Robbe?’ he mumbled, bleary eyed and woolly voiced. Robbe finally allowed himself to look at his watch. It felt wrong, sacrilegious, to even acknowledge that time could exist here. The light that peeked beneath the curtain was sheer white, the kind that indicated that the snow had stuck. The world outside was quiet, muffled. Not even the birds bothered to make a peep.

He grimaced a little at the numbers he saw. They had missed breakfast, for sure. If they stayed here, they were on their way to missing lunch, as well. It had been months since he had slept in so late.

He turned around, the arms around him loosening just enough to allow the movement before enclosing him once more. ‘Hey,’ he said gently. Sander was sleep rumpled, his hair messy and his eyes still a little distant. It was the first time he had seen him in such a state, and he wanted to keep the memory close. To have the image be as accurate as possible in his mind’s eye, to carry with him for the winter holidays, which seemed like they would be impossibly long.

He kissed Sander on the forehead and hugged him impossibly closer. Sander’s face rested in the crook of his neck, breath warm against his skin.

It was a bevy of new sensations and new sides to Sander, and he wanted to catalogue each and every one. ‘How are you feeling?’ he asked.

Sander made a snuffling sound, digging even deeper into him. ‘Tired,’ he said, after a few seconds. ‘Stay with me?’ he asked, suddenly vulnerable. As though Robbe had the willpower to move away.

Looking at Sander’s eyes, his messy hair, his dishevelled aura, he wondered how Sander could think that he could ever leave him. Not when the outside still held the cold of winter, the cruel reminder that time crawled on and that reality was waiting for them outside of that door.

No, he thought. They could stay in this little pocket of the world for a bit longer. He closed his eyes, and slept in further. They could find food later, stay holed up here all day if need be. The world could wait.

 

 

The winter holidays encroached upon them ever faster. He had avoided thinking about it too much thanks to Sander and the general stress of exams, but it hit him as he was helping prepare the Hufflepuff common room for their annual Christmas party.

Ever since first year, when he had become friends with Jens (and by proxy Aaron and Moyo) they had had a Christmas party, to share gifts and squeeze out the last few days that they had together before leaving for the holidays.

As their circle of friends had grown, so had the scale of their event. It had never been a big deal, always a relaxed time to drink and eat snacks stolen from the kitchens; to share gifts and stupid jokes and usually get in one last prank on one another.

Robbe wasn’t sure if Sander was quite up for it yet, and he didn’t want him to force himself for Robbe’s sake, but he had invited him anyway. It would be the first time he had invited a boyfriend to join them, and even though they had all met (Hogwarts was a pretty small school, almost everyone knew everyone), he was still nervous.

Jens gave him a pat on the shoulder, reassuring and solid. A poorly decorated tree stood in the centre of the room. For some reason, they always let Aaron decorate - it was a tradition, by this point. Garlands rested between the windows, and they had put festive decorations and little hats on the plants that were dotted around the room.

The sun had set, the room being lit by warm light of the braziers and the fires. A menorah was lit, burning brightly on the table.

It wasn’t always been easy, being friends with the boys, through everything that had happened. But he was grateful for the difficulty. Before they had been close in the ways that boys are close - they would talk about girls and partying and schoolwork and pranks, which he enjoyed, but always seemed a little artifical. It was reassuring to know that they could be open now. That they didn’t need to bottle everything up until one of them exploded.

He shared a smile with Moyo. After his revelation at dinner, they had spoken more about their own experiences and worries. It hadn’t been an easy conversation, but Robbe was finding that sometimes you had to fight through the difficulty. That opening up was a process that took time, but that they had both felt better for it.

The girls arrived soon after that – the Hufflepuffs at first, Jana, Luca and Amber. Yasmina followed, smiling warmly at Robbe, though she was still cold towards the other boys. Sander showed up last, trailing after Zoë and Senne, looking like a child that they had dragged to a dinner party. He lit up though, when he saw Robbe at the door. They kissed like they hadn’t seen each other in weeks, even though they had spoken earlier that day, to much fuss from the boys.

It was still odd, seeing Sander with his friends. Two worlds colliding, even if they had never been fully separate. They boys were lightly teasing; not too far to push limits, but enough to say that they accepted him as one of their own, and that meant no special treatment. They had some sense of what had happened and weren’t stupid enough to outright ask about it, though he kept a close eye on Aaron nevertheless. Bless him, he didn’t always have the forethought to think before he spoke. Luckily, Amber was there to distract him for the most part, but it hadn’t stopped him from blurting out questions about his and Sander’s sex life. Robbe groaned, hiding his face in Sander’s neck as his boyfriend just laughed. He could hear the slap and Aaron’s indignance – ‘Is it wrong to ask?’

It was nice, to have almost all of the people that he loved in the same room. To know that soon, he would be reunited with his mother. He had received letters from both her and her doctor earlier that week, confirming that she would be home by the holidays.

Even Noor had joined their little gang, giving Robbe a kinder smile than he deserved after their brief and disastrous relationship last year. No one deserved to be used like that, but she seemed content now, chatting to Yasmina and Zoë, talking to Sander about art. She was still the coolest girl that he knew. This felt like the first tentative step towards righting another wrong. Maybe they could even be friends, one day.

Robbe was standing on the outskirts, where he had always felt the most comfortable. Close enough to hear the hum of conversation: to tune into discussions of plans to meet up; of anxiety about school; of teasing about crushes. To share smiles with his friends, laugh with them, but removed enough to simply take it all in.

Before, he had distanced himself because it was easier. He didn’t have to face rejection if he kept up his walls, if he kept masking his desires. To take time and calculate how to be the Robbe that he thought his friends had come to expect. Now, he just enjoyed watching his friends, basking in the warmth of their presence.

Sander looked over at him from his spot in Robbe’s preferred armchair. He still looked a little tired, but his smiles were reaching his eyes. He walked over to Robbe, giving him a soft hello and an even softer kiss. Robbe fell into him, as he always seemed to do. ‘Want to sneak off? He asked, voice deep and teasing.

Robbe quirked a brow. ‘And what do you have in mind?’

‘Come,’ he said. Robbe rolled his eyes as he followed Sander, like he always would do. Only Yasmina noticed their swift departure, giving them a knowing look.

‘Where are you taking me?’ he asked.

‘Where do you think?’

It was obvious really, where they were going. Where they always seemed to end up, not that Robbe minded. Soon, he would have to go without seeing Sander’s face every day. He knew that it was only two weeks - if that - but it was the longest he would have gone without seeing his boyfriend since they met. If he was even clingier than usual, neither of them really mentioned it. If anything, Sander seemed clingier, too.

The Room of Requirement was decorated for the holidays in a haphazard way, as though Sander had only just remembered and thought to have it appear any differently than normal. It was odd, seeing Sander’s art as the backdrop to festivity. Where it once might have appeared harsh, all bold strokes and sharp lines, it was softer now.

‘I wanted to show you something.’ Sander was suddenly shy, not quite able to look Robbe in the eye. ‘I hope it’s not too weird.’

Robbe wondered what could possibly be too weird that even Sander would think it.

Sander walked over to the covered canvas at the back of the room, the one that sat next to his desk. He ripped off the sheet like he was ripping off a plaster, wanting the pain to come quick and sharp, but there was no pain. He had nothing to fear.

On the canvas was the sketch that Sander had shown him, weeks ago. Lifetimes ago. The first time that Sander had seen him; a perfect moment, encapsulated in rich colour and full of feeling.

He didn’t know how to react. It was a peculiar thing, to be so loved so openly. To know that they both held each other’s hearts in the palms of their hands, and to trust that they would be safe. He wondered if he had looked like that in greenhouse, the other night, once again under the light of the moon. Wondered at how things had changed. The painting held undertones of melancholy, a reminded of Robbe’s loneliness, but also of how far they both had come.

‘It’s beautiful.’ He said, after a long silence. The tension left Sander’s body. As he walked over, mistletoe sprouted from the ceiling. They both looked up, laughing as they kissed.

‘You’ll have to paint one of us together, one day.’

He had spent so long trapped in his own head; clinging on to the past, using it to fuel his worries about the future. All that really mattered, he knew, was the now.

He wasn’t that boy, sitting alone in the greenhouse anymore.