It all started with magic. As most things did, really, when it came to England.
As he noticed Valentine’s Day growing nearer, England had exhumed his ancient spell-book from its hiding place, and gathered all of the accurate ingredients, despite their rarity. He’d worn his best twelfth-century robes, patterned with roses, and polished his favourite goblin-made cauldron. Its cast iron, now sleek and black, gleamed invitingly on the fireplace, practically begging to be used.
The finishing touch was England’s old pointed hat. It stood straight on his head, meticulously embroidered with silver stars that, when hit by sunlight, glimmered rather beautifully. A good wizard, of course, was nothing without a good hat — and England was rather proud of his, crafted centuries ago by an old witch in Scotland. He puffed out his chest and stuck up his chin, feeling all the more admirable—
His train of thought was interrupted by a loud, obnoxious laugh. “Dude,” spluttered America. “What are you wearing? You look like Gay Merlin.”
Ahem. Back to the point.
England was attempting a rather advanced love potion, you see. A love potion for—well, it doesn't matter, as he hadn’t been planning to use it on anyone—why, of course not! How dare you imply…as if he were some enamoured schoolgirl…Christ! Someone as dignified and refined as England would never stoop to such levels of treachery, not in a hundred years. Or, well, a thousand. No, this potion was a small, harmless experiment, nothing more. A way to test his own skills, amuse himself with a long-forgotten art…
“Why’s that frog just standing there?”
“Shut it, America.”
“Would you stay still, for God’s sake?” England snapped.
America squirmed some more. “It’s damn hard to do that when you’re rubbing that thing on my arm!” He complained. “Seriously, what is that?”
“Bloody Spanish moss, this is!” He retorted, outraged. “Tillandsia usneoides, Alfred, picked fresh from Bermuda—”
“Tee-lan-zee-what?” Groaned America. “And don’t call me Alfred, man, you only did that when I was a colony.”
England gave him a truly commendable glare. America stuck out his tongue.
“Stop whinging on about your bloody arm, and stop moving. Truly, America, can’t you see how serious this is?”
“You won’t even tell me what this potion’s for,” He objected. “And I can’t take you seriously when you look like Dumbledore. No offence.”
“I hate you.”
From its corner, the frog croaked in agreement.
“Why are you rubbing it on me, anyway? It feels kinda pointless,” continued America, giving him a shove. “Look, my skin’s starting to go green!”
“It’s not pointless, you git. See, it says here…” England retorted, picking up his musty, tattered spell-book. The title, Dark Spelles for Shrivel-Hearted Witches and Wizards, was barely readable under a layer of grime.
America shuddered. “That thing looks evil.”
“It is,” replied England. Its thick leather binding was starting to come undone in some places, hinting at its old age—and whenever he turned one of its yellowed pages, a layer of dust would lift into the air, making both of them cough. He cleared his throat and started reciting.
“O’ Reader of these wretch'd pages, hark carefully to mine own w’rds—ah, bollocks, that’s too early on.” England’s eyes skimmed over the jumble of exotic ingredients and cryptic instructions until they found the passage he needed. “Thou must obtaine the herbe that is knowne as the mosse of Spain, found in lands of great distance. Aft’r finding the af'remention'd herbe, thou must encase the plante in the scent of one thee careth for. See? Rubbing it on should do…”
“England,” Gushed America. “I’m the one you care for?”
England scrunched up his nose and shared a look with his frog. “Dear God, Alfred. You'll make Lilybeth nauseous.”
"You named your frog Lilybeth?"
"It's a perfectly respectable frog name— STOP LAUGHING."
“That should be enough,” He said after a little while. America’s arm was starting to look a little red, and the plant a little wilted. He cleared his throat awkwardly and tossed it inside his cauldron, all dark and menacing. The potion bubbled harshly for a few moments, then turned a pleasant shade of pink, pearly and smooth.
“Yes, it does seem to be getting on quite well,” observed England, satisfied. He’d followed every step perfectly—the potion even smelled wonderful, like roses and French perfume and French shampoo and French—
England frowned and looked at his spell-book, face flushed red. He couldn’t let America notice. With great effort, he directed his mind back to the only remaining step of the potion. It required the collaboration of another person—well, he had America for that, didn’t he? And the incantation itself seemed quite simple—common Medieval Latin, nothing more…
True, Beware the final phase! was printed on the pages in large, ominous script, but England wasn’t worried, not at all. Thou must complete this act with great care, said the first line—Hah! Rubbish! No, England was a great wizard. Nothing would go wrong, as long as America did as he was told.
England picked up his frog. “You’ll bring me luck, isn’t that right?” He muttered, staring into its beady little eyes.
Lilybeth didn’t answer, but England decided to take that as a yes.
He straightened his hat and turned abruptly to face America, who was sniffing the air with closed eyes and an enchanted grin.
“Right! I’ve only to do one last thing,” he announced grandly, fixing America with a determined stare. His friend blinked behind his glasses and shook his head a couple of times, evidently breaking out of his love-potion-induced trance.
Then he gulped. “England? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Don’t you start making a fuss over nothing!” England snapped as he threw the white fabric over America’s tall, muscular body.
“This is so creepy, dude. What if something goes wrong?”
“And your frog keeps staring at me. Why’s it staring? I don’t like it.”
“Christ, stop talking!”
“Englaaaaaaaand,” whined America, voice muffled by the sheets. “Great Britain. Arthur. Man, I have such a bad feeling about this…"
All he could do was scoff. "I refuse to believe you'd doubt my marvelous magical abilities."
"When even was the last time you did magic?”
He stopped to consider. “The eighteenth century, I reckon.”
"WHAT? Not that time when you..."
"We don't talk about that time." It had involved nudity, donkeys, and many, many years of no one talking to him. England tried not to think about it, ever. "And that spell was much more complex."
America’s reply came in the form of a pained moan.
“Right.” Said England impatiently, and smacked the Alfred-shaped lump in front of him when it tried to edge away. Hard. “I swear to Christ, America, keep moving and I’ll hex your arsehole shut.”
That seemed to do the trick.
It was quite simple, really—England had to read out the individual phrases of the spell, and for each one America had to say a one-word incantation back, loud and clear. Just like church, really! Except it was witchcraft, because the two things can be surprisingly similar and equally evil.
England took a deep breath, opening his arms wide over the cauldron. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. He looked down at the spellbook and began to recite the incantation.
“Ad amorem…” He paused.
“Factum!” America said back, in his clumsy accent.
England nodded—so far, so good.
“Primo luna crescente in die Venus in ortu solis…” He continued, and then paused. Had he just said Venus…? England squinted at the dusty page, bowing his head lower. Yes, the book clearly said Veneris—how silly! He’d read it wrong. “Wait, America…” He started, not bothering to look up, but it was too late.
“Factum!” America exclaimed.
England glanced over at his friend, ready to admonish him, but could only stare in horror as he saw the white sheets fall to the ground with a strangely graceful thump. “Bloody hell!” He shouted, feeling his heart burst out of his chest. His panicked mind conjured the spellbook's clear, large warning: Beware the final phase… “America! I’ve killed him! I’ve killed my best friend!”
He raced to the bundle of white cloth, expecting to find America unconscious or injured beneath it, and instead—
Well. Fucking shit.
America was gone. Disappeared. Utterly absent.
After a little while of staring at the empty spot where his friend had been a few minutes before, a croak came from behind him.
England looked at his frog. Lilybeth looked straight back.
And then he knew what to do.