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you're not alone (i'll wait till the end of time)

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Niv's first memories are mostly feelings, sensations he can remember if he really tries to focus.

The first memory is always his mom, singing something sweet and low, holding him close to her chest. If he closes his eyes, Niv can almost feel her warmth and the way she was smiling against his cheek. The way she used to hold him close, the way she used to braid his hair.

He remembers gentle hands, kind words, quick fingers. He remembers almost falling asleep during the process, remembers lots of different hairstyles, and a lot of time spent in the bathroom.

If he tries really, really hard, he can almost remember his mom's voice, and how she used to tell him that was their special time together.

When he doesn't try, Niv remembers his father.

It gets better with time, but for the first few months, he can't stop hearing his father's voice in his head, no matter how hard he tries.

He does his best to drown out the noises he wants to forget - raised voices and mean words -, but they always come back when he thinks he's done it.

There's a part of him that never stops fearing he'll eventually forget his mom's voice. He does his best for that not to happen, too, and while he does everything to forget his father, he holds on tightly to everything that can remind him of his mom.

They can call it group home as much as they want, but it’s still an orphanage for problematic kids. That’s just what it is, no need to beat around the bush that much.

Niv learns that the first day they bring him there.

For the first weeks, after his father left, Niv really thought he had a chance at something vaguely close to a family. A home. He met a lot of different social workers, a lot of different families, a lot of different parents.

He did his absolute best to look and be like a perfect kid, to hide the fear eating him from inside - because how can you really expect someone else to want you when not even your own father wanted you?

Niv did his best, looked his best, behaved at his best. Tried his best not to do anything weird or unusual, the things that the other kids - the ones that got to go home with someone - didn't do.

It didn't really matter.

It was something about his face, something about his hair, something about the color of his skin, something about his age - not quite as young as a lot of the wannabe parents wanted him to be. Something about his look.

Niv doesn't know what that something is.

He figures it has to be the same reason why his dad left.

He gets shuffled from home to home, from reluctant foster parents to reluctant social workers. Nobody seems to want him. Niv spends his time wondering what's wrong with him, what exactly is the reason he seems to be the only kid in the whole world no one wants.

When he gets to the group home, Niv understands he isn't at all the only one.

One of the nicest social workers tries to explain to him that there's nothing wrong with him, that it's just that he has some special needs, that he is a special kid.

Niv knows better than to hope he's special.

He learns soon enough that special really means weird.

That a lot of the families that hosted him in the past months think there's something weird going on with him. Niv doesn't really understand what they think it's wrong with him and if it's again something that has to do with the way he looks or with something entirely different.

(Or maybe that's just it. Maybe the thing that's wrong with him it's the fact that he never seems to understand anything. Maybe he's just stupid, like his father used to yell when he was angry or frustrated or tired. Niv remembers his mom yelling back at his father, defending her son, but maybe she was just nice. Maybe he's truly just stupid.)

The group home isn't a nice place, and it definitely doesn't feel like a home.

Not one of the kids there looks happy - and Niv can't really blame them. They're all different kinds of problematic, like they usually hear social workers whisper here and there when they think they can't hear.

They lash out at one another, and once again Niv can't really blame them.

He spends four months on his own, barely talking to the others, because he found out they're gonna pick on him no matter what he does, especially the older kids, and he'd rather not give them any reason at all.

He hides away as much as he can, steals one or two of the few books in the house, and hides under the stairs to read them. He still tries not to do anything unusual, but sometimes - especially when he's sad, or tired, or angry - it's hard. Really hard.

But he tries his best, still believes maybe he'll get his happy ending, that maybe this is just another short and ugly moment in his short and ugly life.

(Niv dreams of his mom, of her kind eyes and her kind smile and her kind words. Niv dreams of the only nice thing he ever had, the one nice thing he doesn't have anymore and never will have again. Niv dreams of his father, too, but those are mostly nightmares.)

It never happens.

Something else happens along the way, something that makes life a little more bearable: another kid gets to the group home, making Niv realize exactly why they think they're problematic.

Nils is angry, angrier than anybody Niv has ever met before.

He fights, tooth and nails, with anybody that tries to pick on him; and even though he's way smaller than most of the other kids, way smaller than Niv, he manages to defend himself.

Nils also seems oddly interested in him, and Niv doesn't really want to know why: if it's just because he wants to lash out at someone else or if it's because Niv is weird and stupid. He does his best to hide like he usually does, but Nils has a way to find him every single time.

"You can do it too," Nils corners him one day when Niv doesn't manage to hide well enough.

"Do what?" Niv asks, doing his best to sound confused. He is, a little bit, because he's not completely sure what the other kid means, or why he's so particularly bent on talking with him. But there's a small part of him that understands perfectly well what Nils is asking.

"You know what."

"No, I don't."

"You know," Nils shoves him a bit more gently than he could, and then leans closer, almost like they're talking about something secret.

Niv supposes they are, in a way.

"No, I told you I don't," he repeats once again, because he's learned that's the best course of action. Because he's still not completely sure this is not something... something else. Something that could possibly land him in a place worse than the one he's already in.

"You can do magic. I know you can, I saw you the other day."

Niv shakes his head and tries to look away, but he knows what Nils means and he knows exactly what happened that other day. He didn't do it on purpose, he didn't, he really didn't.

He always does his best to keep everything hidden deep inside, to avoid doing anything he shouldn't be able to do... but sometimes it's hard. Sometimes he gets really angry, or really scared, or really sad, and then things... things just happen.

Niv doesn't know why it happens, doesn't know if there's a way to stop that. The only thing he knows is that this is just another thing that sets him apart from the others, just another thing that marks him as weird. As someone who nobody would ever want.

And yet Nils is right here, right in front of him, and he's talking about the Thing like he knows what that is or why that happens. For a brief second, Niv feels hope again.

"How- how do you know it's magic?"

"Well, what else could it be?"

"I... I don't know."

"You didn't know you could do magic?" Nils looks shocked enough that Niv begins to wonder if that's just some sort of common knowledge he didn't know of.

"I don't know," he replies again, at a loss of what he should or shouldn't say.

Nils doesn't talk for a while, still hunched over and somehow balancing on his heels. He looks a bit confused, and a bit lost in thoughts. When he finally talks again, Niv lets out the breath he didn't know he was holding.

"So, you can do stuff. Like, weird stuff. But you don't know why you can. And you never met anyone else who could do those things?"

Niv thinks of his mom, beautiful and strong, with her own kind of magic. Niv thinks of his father, always angry and distant, away from home for the majority of the time. He knows for sure his mom would never have hidden something like that from him.

He knows nothing about his father, other than mean words and mean looks.

"I don't know."

"Okay, that's fine. It's fine, it's cool, I can tell you things!" Nils looks almost excited, for the first time in the whole conversation, and for once Niv doesn't have the feeling he'd just like to run away and be alone forever.

"What kind of things?"

Nils tells him about things. A great deal of them.

Nils tells him about wizards and witches and magic, tells him about spells and potions and schools made for their kind, tells him about magical creatures and a whole other world so close to them Niv can almost touch it.

As time passes, Niv starts to remember things. It's like a dam opened, after that first talk with Nils, it's like a river flowing inside of him and never, ever stopping.

He doesn't really want to remember things about his father, and yet he does. And at the same time he doesn't want to stop remembering, because those things can help him understand his mom better, can help him understand his own life better.

Niv asks Nils what exactly a Squib is, and he gets back a description of someone who definitely looks like his mom. He remembers that word being tossed around in angry whispers, and he thinks he understands things a bit better now.

There are days when he thinks he'd rather not.

But the newfound knowledge that the exact thing that made him weird is really something special, is enough to make him feel a little bit better.

That's probably why, when things just started to get better, everything gets even worse than before.

The group home has never been a nice place to live. It's a sad, grey place, without colors and happiness, and it gets even worse when the old supervisor leaves and gets replaced by someone who is apparently even less happy to be there.

Niv does, as always, his best to make himself smaller and disappear, to avoid creating any kind of trouble.

Nils doesn't.

Niv can understand why, really, he can. Nils told him about his father, someone who makes Niv's father look like the best dad in the world, and this new supervisor has more than a few similarities. He likes to yell. A lot. Sometimes he glances at a few of the kids with looks he really, really shouldn't have.

(Niv isn't particularly bothered by raised voice. He's used to silence, to those silent looks that say why are you even talking to me? A raised voice is still a voice, and luckily enough, he's not on the receiving end of the looks.)

Not all the other kids react like this, there are a lot of them who really don't like to be yelled at. Niv does his best to help if he can because they're already in a bad place and if there's anything he can do to make it slightly better, well... he'll do it.

The supervisor seems to take a direct interest in Nils, and things get even worse from that point on, until the day Nils just... run away.

The whole world collapses once again on Niv's shoulders, for the third time in his brief life. His mom died, his father left, and now the only person who he felt he could count on ran away.

Niv gets it, really. He does. He's not angry, he's not mad.

He's come to a point when he understands they have to do anything they can to survive. It all comes down to that, to survive long enough to get out of that place and then... survive in some other way.

Niv has abandoned the hope for some kind of family a long time ago. He doesn't really know what's going to happen to him, even if he manages to survive more years in the group home.

Nils has told him about some kind of schools, for people like them, but as time goes by Niv starts to think maybe he's not really one of them.

Maybe it was all a dream, maybe it was a prank of some kind, maybe they won't take him because his mom wasn't magical, and he isn't good enough.

Niv has been in the group home for a year and a half, the first time he decides to run away.

The first time he does it, he doesn't really know what he's doing. It's a sloppy attempt, he doesn't know where to go or how to hide, and to be fair he doesn't even know what he's trying to do other than get away from that place. They take him back after two days.

Things get way worse, after that.

So Niv runs away another time, after a few more months, and he manages to stay hidden for a few days longer than the first time. The third time he makes it almost to an entire week.

The fourth time is the one, he can feel it, the fourth time he'll manage to hide away long enough that they'll lose interest and let him be. Maybe he'll find Nils, somewhere out there, maybe for once things will go as they should go.

Niv makes it to Glasgow, and then almost makes it to Inverness. Which is already dumb as it is, because where did he think he was going? Where was he going to go, after that?

It doesn't really matter, because some kind of gruff retired policeman sees right through him and tries to do the right thing.

Doesn't matter that the right thing isn't really the right thing.

Drest, this is the name of the old man, talks with the group home supervisor, and then offers to take Niv home. Niv does his best to slip away unnoticed, but the old man is weirdly good at not letting him out of his sight, and he never has the chance to do that.

The ride home is long and silent.

Niv is already planning the fifth escape, even if he's starting to lose hope. At this point, he's starting to think this is mostly useless. It gives him a few days of respite, but then? Things get always worse when he comes back, and he has the feeling this won't ever change.

So, honestly, really, it's not his fault if he accidentally sets fire to the side mirror.

(Or if he tries to run away when they pull over to check on the damage. He does. It’s another failed attempt.)

Drest starts looking at him in a funny way, after that particular accident. It doesn’t feel dangerous, so Niv doesn’t pay that much attention to the old man’s glances, but he definitely feels them.

He doesn’t even try to come up with an explanation for the side mirror. In his experience giving explanations is never, ever a good idea.

It’s always better to pretend he doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s going on, otherwise they just start wondering if he had anything to do with what just happened, and that’s how you end up being the weird kid in five different foster families.

When they get back to the group home, Drest goes straight to talk with the supervisor - and Niv is almost glad, for a little while, because this means he'll be left alone for a bit.

He's a lot less glad when Drest comes back, after two more weeks, just to see him.

Niv tries to ask him why, but he doesn't get an answer. The only thing he gets is a poignant look, which he obviously doesn't know how to interpret, and a few minutes of silence.

After a while, Drest asks him if he's okay and if he's doing fine there.

Niv doesn't answer because it somehow feels like a trap, it feels like something is going to happen the minute he opens his mouth to say anything.

So he just nods, and Drest leaves after a while, unconvinced but still silent.

Niv ends up locked in the basement for an entire day and gets told he's never going to be adopted if he keeps running away. He snorts when the supervisor tries to use this particular threat to make him stay. Yeah, like he's ever going to be adopted either way.

(That earns him another full day of punishment.)

Niv knows he can't run away so soon again. He needs to wait a bit, to give the impression he's learned his lesson, to give the impression he doesn't want to do that again. And it needs to be more than a few days since he's already done it a few times.

Niv waits, but he never gets the right occasion because somehow, for some weird reason, Drest comes back again.

"Why do you do this?" Niv asks again, and again and again because Drest comes back a few other times and Niv still doesn't understand why.

It takes a while, but eventually, Drest gives him an answer.

It happens a few days after a particularly bad moment, an awful aligning of the stars that has a few of the older kids taking their anger out on someone, Niv deciding to intervene, and the supervisor finding out. Weirdly enough, Niv finds himself in the basement once again.

He's painstakingly waiting for the end of the punishment, without really knowing when this end will come, when the door of the basement opens and Drest makes his appearance.

"Let's go," he growls with a scary look in his eyes, but Niv's experience with danger tells him he doesn't have to be afraid.

So he follows, even if he doesn't know what's going to happen, even if he doesn't know why Drest is taking him to grab the few things he has and out of the group home. He follows because he reasons things can't get much worse than they already are.

Drest growls something menacing to the supervisor, flashing some kind of badge Niv doesn't even try to recognize, and then leads him to his car - which, by the way, has a brand new side mirror.

"Where are we going?"

"Away from here."

And that is completely fine by Niv.

Drest pulls over when they're far enough from the group home, almost twenty minutes later. He stops the car at the side of the road, lets out a tired sigh, and then turns to look at Niv.

"I'm sorry for all of this," Drest apologizes, and Niv doesn't have the slightest idea why, or what's going on. He doesn't talk, because he doesn't want to go back to the group home just yet, and he's afraid anything he might say will led to that exact outcome.

"You must be wondering what's going on," Drest sighs, resting his hands against the steering wheel, but Niv still doesn't answer.

The silence hangs heavy in the car.

"I know you can do magic," Drest blurts out, eventually, and Niv immediately tenses up, ready to deny or to just give some kind of excuse to save himself from whatever is going to happen in the next few minutes.

"I don't-"

"Don't try it with me, kid, I'm a wizard too."

There's another moment of silence, this time a stunned one, while Niv tries to process what he just heard. Or the fact that, if the old man isn't lying, he's talking with the first adult who knows how to do magic for the first time since... well, since his father left.

"I know what happened to you. I asked that fucke- the group home's supervisor, and he looked into your papers, and I did some researches. I know your father is a wizard and your mother..."

"My mom is dead. I don't want to hear about what else she was."

Drest sighs, and then nods.

"This whole system is fucked up, young wizards and witches shouldn't be left in group homes without supervision."

"We had supervision."

"Magical supervision. You could've hurt yourself. Could've hurt someone else," Drest sighs again and looks like he's about to add something else to those words. He doesn't, in the end, and Niv is left wondering what he really wanted to say.

"What I'm trying to say is... I don't think it's right for you to be there, in that place. It's not right for anybody, to be honest, but you? I can do something to help you."

"Why would you?" Niv asks bluntly because that's something he's been asking himself for quite some time, lately. "Why would you want to help me?"

"Do you want some bullshit like I think it's the right thing to do? Or do you want the truth?"

"The truth."

"Well, I don't know. I don't. I saw you when you ran away, and I thought I was going to do the right thing and get you back to where you belong. And when I saw that place..." Drest looks away, hands tight around the steering wheel. "It's not right."

"A lot of things aren't right."

"Yeah."

They both remain silent, after that, Drest still looking out of the front window, and Niv still looking at his own hands. It's not necessarily a bad silence, it doesn't feel tense, nor dangerous in any way. Niv would love for it to end, though, if only because he's still not sure what is going on.

"I have a few... connections. I have a pretty good idea who your father could be, and I could find him if you-"

"No!" Niv blurts out, a little louder than he'd like. The mere idea of seeing his father again makes him want to curl up on the ground and cry. And it's not like his father is ever going to want him back, so even if Niv wanted to find him... well. It wouldn't end well.

"No? You don't want to find your dad?"

"He didn't like my mom," Niv murmurs, eyes fixed on his fidgeting hands. "He definitely didn't like me."

"Well," Drest sighs again. "Sounds like a daft bastard. "

For a whole minute, Niv thinks this must be it, this must be the moment where he gets hauled back to the group home. Then Drest looks at him and offers a small smile.

"You can come with me. We can try, at least, but I promise you if at any point you don't feel comfortable, I can talk to a few of my friends and find you a new place to stay. Well, up until the moment you'll have to go to Hogwarts."

Niv has absolutely no idea what the heck a Hogwarts is, but that doesn't stop his heart from beating way too fast.

"You want me to stay?"

"Well, I want you to-"

"You won't send me back?"

"To the group home? Absolutely not. I told you, I won't force you to stay with me, I understand that you might be uncomfortable. We'll see what happens if that's okay with you."

Niv simply nods, because he has no idea how to explain the fact that almost anything else would be better than the group home.

He's still uncertain, obviously, because he has seen Drest just a few times, and maybe he wants to hurt him in some kind of way Niv doesn't really want to think about. He figures it's still better than the group home.

He can always try to run away.

It turns out not all men suck. It turns out not all of them want something in exchange and it turns out not all of them want to hurt kids.

Or maybe it's just Drest.

(Niv doesn't care, Drest is more than enough.)

He seems more than happy to genuinely care for Niv, without wanting anything in return. Niv is still cautious, but as time goes by, he starts really believing Drest means him no harm.

They live in a shitty apartment in Glasgow for a while, and Niv has never felt better in years.

After the first three months, Drest gets him a record player.

(He must have seen the reverent way Niv handles the content of the small and crumpled cardboard box, which holds the few things he got from his home. Things that were his mom's. He must have seen the way Niv looks at the LP record he never, ever got to play.)

Niv doesn't even know how that works, so Drest helps him set it up, and for the first time in his whole life, Niv gets to listen to the one thing he still has from his mother.

(He still keeps her small beaded necklace in there, up until the moment he understands Drest won't yell at him for wanting to wear that.)

"You wanna know a funny thing?" Drest asks him, while they're lying on the floor and listening to the very last song of the album. "I like Diana Ross, too. Your mum must have had really good taste in music."

It's a day full of first times: Niv hears someone say something nice about his mom for the first time in years, and it's a damn good feeling.

Six months later, Drest comes back home with a dangerous smile and asks Niv if he'd like to do something with his hair.

Niv isn't sure what exactly is going to happen, but he figures it can't be worse than the nest of unruly hair he has on his head right now.

Turns out Drest has asked for advice from a specific part of his family - which seems to be a big ass family - and has spent the last few months trying to learn how to deal with Niv's hair.

He does a good job of it, with strong but gentle hands. He's hesitant, at first, but he understands what he needs to do fairly quickly, and Niv ends up with a head full of beautiful braids.

It's the first time in years someone braids his hair. It's the first time in years Niv looks in the mirror and almost likes what he sees.

It almost looks like something his mom could've done.

(Niv starts crying in the middle of the bathroom, but Drest is right there to hold him.)

A few months later, they move to Killarney. After a year and a half, Niv begins to think maybe he won't get sent back to the group home.

Maybe he has finally found his family.

Chapter Text

Niv can’t really say it happened the first time they saw each other.

Because it definitely didn’t.

He remembers perfectly well that first day. All the excitement of the train ride and the anxiety of meeting new people - because meeting new people when you’ve been raised in Killarney, Ireland, and you spent the last three years of your life hanging out with deers and Porlocks in Killarney Magical Park, isn’t exactly easy.

Drest kept saying that Niv needed to meet people (not animals) his age. But then again, Drest lives in the middle of nowhere and has a whole park to run, so he never complained that much.

Niv begins his first year at Hogwarts with all the social skills he needs to befriend a dragon and absolutely no clues what is going to happen to him.

He has a lot of hopes and even more fears, and a good deal of anxiety that washes over him when he hears a few of the other kids talk about the Sorting Ceremony and he starts wondering what the fuck is that and why Drest never told him anything about it.

(If Drest never told him anything, it must be bad. Or maybe it's not bad, because if it was something dangerous, Drest would've definitely worn his ears off with warnings. But maybe it is bad, and Drest just didn't want to scare him. Well, too late for that.)

When they're all huddled together, waiting for the scary part to start, Niv takes all the courage he still has and turns to his right, asking the closest student what the heck do you think it's going on? Do you think it’s some kind of test? Like, magic test? Do you think we have to prove something?

"Don't know,” are the only two words he gets in response.

That’s the entirety of their conversation, and that’s it.

(So, no, it definitely didn’t happen the first time they saw each other. Nope.)

Niv doesn’t try again, and just a few minutes later they get to the Great Hall and Niv finds out the ceremony simply consists of wearing a silly hat.

That’s it, that’s how they get sorted into houses.

And it’s a bit silly, isn’t it? The fact that they’re sorted into houses based on personality? At eleven years old? If Niv had been sorted before Drest, he definitely wouldn’t have made it to Hufflepuff.

But, hey, that’s just how things are.

And Niv gets into Hufflepuff, and that’s kinda cool.

It's not hard to make friends after the first evening. Everyone in Hufflepuff seems really cool - or at least they usually never act in a downright unfriendly way. Not without reason, at least. And the other kids in his year are fine.

At the end of the first week, Niv has more friends than he ever thought possible.

All things considered, it's a good first year. Niv makes friends with almost everybody (and still misses Drest and the peaceful loneliness of their home), finds out that he's really good at some subjects and definitely less good at others (Potions will never, ever be for him). He manages to find a lovely spot, hidden in the treeline over the Black Lake, where he spends all those moments when there are just too many people.

His grades are good and Drest is happy to hear that: they exchange a lot of letters, and Niv manages to make friends with a lot of the owls, too. He makes sure to always go to the Owlery with snacks, and he's rewarded by a super-fast correspondence.

All things considered, it's a good first year.

Up until the last two weeks, when Niv somehow finds himself in the company of three other students and a fucking dragon. And Niv honestly has no idea what's happening there, he was just walking near the Forbidden Forest, minding his own business.

Near! Near doesn't mean in.

(As it turns out no, not even Niv is able to befriend a grown-up dragon.)

Afterward, when everything stopped being a life-or-death matter, Niv finds out that Folke, the second-year Hufflepuff he already knows, was walking near the same place with Giglio, a Slytherin of his same year. She was angry about something and Folke thought a nice stroll near the Forest was just what she needed to calm down.

And possibly not murder anyone.

The other student is another Slytherin, who apparently was also worried about Giglio and followed her to check if everything was okay. It takes Niv a little while to recognize them as the student he tried to talk to, on that first evening.

No one really knows why there's a full-grown dragon, a little outside the Forest. Nobody can really explain that. There shouldn't be dragons in that particular forest. Other, much scarier things? Yes. Dragons? Not really.

Another thing nobody understands is how the heck they all managed to survive and to stun the dragon up until a couple of the professors came running.

They're a bunch of kids, with little knowledge of magic, dragons, and survival, and yet they still made it out alive.

Drest is beside himself with worry, of course, and this is exactly why Niv begged everyone not to tell him what happened. The Headmistress insisted, and Drest sent seventeen different letters and then comes to pick him up personally the last day of school, to have a nice... chat with the staff.

Everyone can hear him yell from inside the castle.

The year ends, and Niv goes back home with Drest. He doesn't even try to pretend he didn't miss the quiet of his home.

 

Niv begins the second year with a few more hopes and fewer fears than the year before.

During the first months, he gets really close to Folke, because apparently that's what happens after the shared trauma of fighting a dragon at eleven years old. It turns out that they have a lot of interests in common, so they end up spending a lot of time together.

Folke is a Hufflepuff too, so of course, he likes food. But Niv finds out he's really into music - and when he does, they start talking more and more about it until the moment Folke finds out Niv knows how to play the ukulele.

(And bagpipes, obviously, but nobody ever wants to know how to play bagpipes. They just come with the Irish-Scottish heritage, Drest was very vocal about it and Niv had to go with it. That doesn't mean he has to tell people.)

Spending time with Folke also means spending time with Giglio, since they both seem to come as a total package.

Not that Niv’s complaining, honestly. He likes Giglio.

She’s scary as fuck, scarier than Drest when he’s worried and definitely scarier than a dragon. But she’s cool and fierce, and if she likes you, you’re probably gonna be okay.

Probably.

And it turns out Arun is not that bad, either. They get dragged into whatever Giglio is doing at the moment, so Niv gets to spend time with them too.

Niv likes it, but he’s got the very clear impression that Arun does not like him.

It takes him a long while to figure out that’s just the way Arun is. A little bit aloof, a little bit introverted, usually fine on their own.

Niv is pretty much okay with just knowing that Arun doesn’t hate him. He feels like that’s the absolute best he can ask for, so he’s fine with it.

They all somehow work just fine, as a group, balancing each other. Niv thinks it’s nice, having a tight group of friends he knows he can count on.

Not everyone is super friendly, at Hogwarts, and honestly? It’s nothing Niv hasn’t dealt with before, but the first time someone targets him and Giglio is there to punch the other kid, something warm spreads through his chest.

It's a nice feeling, having someone standing up for him. It's not something Niv's really used to.

Not up until Drest arrived, at least.

Folke even helps him with Potion, and keeps saying that Niv should find it easy. It's just like cooking, he says, and every time Niv flips him off. Just like cooking, how about that. He never, ever risks blowing up himself and an entire classroom when he's cooking.

It all goes splendidly well up until the point it doesn’t - and really, after the first year, Niv should’ve at least had some doubts.

Apparently, there's a nest of giant spiders - murderous spiders, for some weird reason it's never really friendly neighbors spiders - in the Forbidden Forest, and after centuries of minding their own business, they decided this was the perfect year to attack a few of the students.

And no, once again they weren't in the Forbidden Forest. Not even close. It's definitely not their fault if they were on the Quidditch pitch after dinner, just because Folke wanted some pointers from Giglio.

(Turns out she was the previous Slytherin's beater, for the three months before the captain decided she was way more into beating people than beating bludgers. The longest three months of the entire lives of all the members of the other teams.)

So, a bit like the year before, Niv finds himself fighting tooth and nail for his life, right beside Arun, Giglio, and Folke. Luckily, he's gotten better with offensive magic (and thanks Merlin he doesn't have to transfigure anything into a chalice.)

Arun saves Niv's ass a few times, and Niv makes sure to watch their back while Giglio yells at any spider that gets near her, and Folke does his best to keep them at bay.

There are way too many giant spiders for only four of them, but they manage to survive long enough for someone to hear all the noise and to call, once again, the Headmistress.

Niv manages to keep the thing hidden from Drest for a whole week before Drest somehow finds out and decides to send a fucking Howler one day at breakfast. By the end of it, Niv has never been redder in his whole life, and even Giglio (because of course Drest mentioned all of them) looks a little shaken.

(Niv catches a glimpse of one of the kids from the orphanage, smirking brightly from the Slytherin's table, and he can't find it in himself to be mad at Drest. Drest can be loud and he definitely loves to shout, but it's still better than indifference. Still better than being left alone.)

He spends the summer hanging out with Drest at the park, helping him with the animals, and just- spending time with him. It's still, after years, the best feeling in the world.

 

The third year is the one that really begins and ends with a whole, consolidated friendship for all of them. They get into the same wagon on the train and spend the first few hours catching up on their summer.

It feels even better than the year before, and Niv begins the year with the feeling that everything’s gonna be okay for once.

Of course, that’s probably the exact reason everything does not go okay, for the third year in a row.

Drest writes him something along the lines of try to stay fucking safe for one year at least, and the next day they find a student petrified in the middle of the library.

Because of course.

Niv does his best to not have anything to do with what’s happening, but it goes beyond him. After a few writings on the walls, it turns out whoever’s petrifying the students really does not like Half-bloods.

“You too?” Giglio asks when he sees how pale Niv is, after yet another attack.

“Yeah. My mom was a Squib,” Niv can hear the unsaid question in all of his friends. “My biological father is a wizard, my mom died, he left when I was six. I spent a few years in an orphanage, then Drest adopted me.”

Giglio simply nods, and Folke lightly squeezes his shoulder. They decide it’s better not to walk alone for a while, considering how unlucky they all are.

Niv goes back to the library with Arun, who’s silent as usual. They walk together through the corridors, an eye on the shadows of the evening and the other behind them.

"Parents are the worst," Arun says all of a sudden when they're nearing the library. It's not by far the first time Arun talks to him, and yet this somehow feels like it. Maybe it's because up until now it was always some kind of small talk, the usual stuff about subjects and homework, nothing much.

This feels like the first time they actually talk.

"Yeah, kinda,” Niv answers after a while, glancing at Arun without really knowing what to say. Arun never talks about their parents.

(Not that Niv does, he only talks about Drest, and that’s about it.)

"Yeah," Arun nods but doesn't say anything else, and Niv doesn't press because Arun never pressed him. It still feels like an improvement. It still feels great.

It feels considerably less great when they found out exactly what's happening in the castle - and where the fuck does one find a goddamn basilisk? Like, when you represent a group of people bent on restoring bloodline pureness, where do you go to buy a basilisk?

Is there an equivalent of the dark web, but for wizards and witches?

Niv finds it easier to focus on this kind of question rather than on the giant poisonous petrifying snake trying to kill him. After three years - and by now Niv has started to think there must be some kind of curse on him, on all of them, because this is getting ridiculous - he knows where to get his comforts in those moments of danger.

And they all survive once again, even with Giglio and Folke stuck on the other side of the danger, with the usual dose of sheer luck and a whole heaping of something else.

Like the fact that apparently, Arun can speak with snakes - even giant ones - and that Niv can basically summon a huge Gryffindor sword out of thin air. Arun doesn't really want to talk about the Parseltongue thing, and Niv doesn't even want to think why the fuck he can summon something that belonged to Godric Gryffindor himself.

(The Headmistress says that it must mean Niv is at least in part a living descendant of Gryffindor, but Niv doesn't want anything to do with his biological family. Especially not this. This just makes him angrier than he was before.)

This time Drest doesn't send a Howler, and comes straight to the school in person, just to yell at the Headmistress (and every other staff member) exactly what he thinks of their ability to keep the kids safe.

Unexpectedly, Niv survives the end of the school year and the third year exams, too.

"Hey, would you like to come stay with us?" Niv asks Arun on the last day of school, while they're hanging out at his spot near the Black Lake. "For a few weeks, I mean, like- for a summer vacation. If you want, you don't have to, it's not a-"

"Yeah, I'd like that."

Turns out that almost dying together for three years in a row makes people grow closer.

During the summer or the third year, Drest and Niv find a badly mistreated Hodag and Niv decides to call him Muffin. What he didn’t expect was for Muffin to follow him all the way to Hogwarts.

 

There’s nothing like beginning a new year with a magical creature to hide in your dorm, and the utter certainty something dangerous and possibly very deadly is gonna happen sooner or later.

(Sooner more than later, seeing how things usually go for them.)

The fourth year marks a few changes, for Niv first of all. Maybe it's the anxiety that comes with hiding a Hodag in plain sight, maybe it's the stubbornness that comes from nearly avoiding death three times, but Niv doesn't fit anymore in any of his previous robes.

When he gets to Hogwarts, Giglio spends the first night making fun of him and his newfound... size. Up until the moment he points at her new robes, and Giglio stops making fun of him and starts trying to break his fingers.

Change doesn't come only for him, no. Apparently, it's a teenage thing.

Folke looks taller too, and Niv notices how Giglio notices. She notices quite a lot of times.

Arun is the only one who looks almost the same as the year before. Well, who looks almost the same as always, not just the year before. Niv thinks he can recognize a few signs of growing up - something in their face, maybe a centimeter or two in height - but nothing much.

The point is yes, Arun looks pretty as always.

(The first time he has that particular thought, Niv comes to a sudden halt while walking in the middle of the corridor, and Folke crashes into him. Well, fuck.)

It's about February when their group starts noticing things about something in the Forbidden Forest - voices, here and there, noises that shouldn't be heard, worried creatures. Niv knows way too much about animals and magical creatures' behavior, and in times like these, he dearly wishes he didn't.

"We should just... look the other way. Have a normal year, for once. Think about homework and Quidditch and stuff like that," Niv sighs, closing one of the books Arun nicked from the Restricted Section to help them figure out what the heck is happening this time.

"Folke and I have the fucking O.W.L. this year."

"Yeah, that too."

"But we all know we won't do that. And even if we did," Arun sounds as resigned as they all look. "We would still be in trouble by the end of the year. We always are."

Niv groans loudly, shoving the book he was reading against Arun’s face.

“We know that, but hey.”

But just like Arun said, things get worse by the end of the year. Like they usually do.

It turns out that whoever it is that all those insane cultists are following, doesn't really like them. It's unclear if he doesn't like them as in students, them as in teenagers, them as a particular group, or them as generic human beings.

Possibly it's everything at once.

It also turns out, after a whole thing in the Forbidden Forest (and this time they definitely were inside the forest, there's no denying that), that Arun's parents are also part of the thing.

The cultist thing.

"So... those are your parents?" Niv asks when everything is over. After they narrowly escaped yet one more death, this time at the actual hands of fucking cultists. And honestly? Arun's parents didn't seem overly concerned with the possibility of Arun's earlier demise.

Niv supposes that's what happens when you don't join the Purity Of Blood Cult.

"Yup."

Niv whistles, shoulder to shoulder with Arun on one of the beds of the really packed infirmary. Well, more like shoulder to head, but whatever.

"Well, welcome to the One Or Both Of My Parents Fucking Sucks club. Do you need a membership card or are you okay with just a t-shirt?"

Much to his surprise, Arun snorts out loud.

Niv won't mention the warm feeling inside his chest or the fact that his brain remains focused on the I made Arun laugh part for the next two hours. Nope.

 

The fifth year begins after half a summer spent with Arun - who didn't exactly know where to go, after the whole my parents are cultists debacle and was shuffled around the rest of the group's houses.

(The Headmistress said she would've gladly let them stay at her house, but seeing the sheer panic in Arun's eyes, they all took pity on them.)

“Can you be safe for just one year? One year, I don’t think I’m asking for too much, a single year out of fucking seven,” Drest says to him the first day of school, eyes almost begging.

“You think I don’t want that? You think I want to spend every year wondering what’s gonna try to kill me next instead of, oh, I don’t know, worrying about normal stuff like any other kid?”

Drest sighs and nods, probably just as resigned as Niv feels.

"Still. Try to be safe. And you," he points at Arun, who still seems a little bit anxious when it comes to Drest. "That goes for you, too. And for the other two heathens, you tell them I said that."

"You tell Giglio you called her a heathen. Unlike what you seem to think, I don't have a death wish."

Niv wants nothing more than to do what Drest asked and focus on his exams, on his first Quidditch game as a beater, on the fact that he should really start thinking about what he wants to do in the future.

Really, that's all he wants. To live something close enough to a normal life. Maybe to ask Arun if they want to go to Hogsmeade with him. Maybe just to think about asking them and panic for hours - because he really, really doesn't want to ruin what they have.

Normal stuff, like any normal teenager. Complaining about homework, complaining about teachers. Trying those art supplies Drest got him for his last birthday.

So obviously, by the end of the first term, they find out the new Potion professor is a vampire - and has a sister, who is also maybe his lover, and isn't that fucked up? And they don't even know if he's somehow tied to the Cultists Shit or if it's just their usual bad luck.

Also, for some dumb reason, the Headmistress doesn't immediately believe them, when Niv and Arun go to see her and tell her what they found out. Because of course, why believe the fuckers who are always right in the middle of danger. What the heck do they know?

So they spend all their free time trying to prove there’s at least one vampire among all the school’s staff. And studying, of course, because weirdly enough they’re all trying to be good students, too.

Five years of a lethal combination of school and mortal danger means that they’re all super good at multitasking.

(And Niv doesn’t ever mention how good it makes him feel the fact that Arun started coming to see every single Hufflepuff Quidditch match from the exact moment Niv makes it to the team.)

The rest of the year goes by between narrow escapes from sneaky vampires' attacks and usual students' stuff. They should probably start to wonder when exactly that became their everyday normality.

Niv isn’t even that surprised when he ends up being kidnapped by said vampires, because apparently this is his life now, and thrown in the Shrieking Shack.

He's way more surprised to be saved by a really pissed-off Arun. Really pissed-off.

And no, Niv's heart doesn't flutter at the thought of Arun being worried for him, and definitely doesn't skip a few beats when Arun sends one of the vampires right out of a window with a spell that Niv has never seen before. Nope.

The bright side is that the Headmistress definitely believes them, now.

Drest obviously isn't pleased to see Niv, battered and bruised, lying in one of the infirmary's beds. Niv knows he looks worse than usual, but he still tries to smile and pretend he's super fine because having a worried Drest at his side can bring nothing but more pain. A lot of it.

"One day I'll die of a heart attack and it'll all be your fault. And then you'll have to go live with my dumb cousin, and you'll miss me and regret the day you thought it was a good idea to pick a fight with a fucking vampire."

"You think I did that on purpose?" Niv tries to complain, and Arun snorts right beside him. No one, not even Giglio, will mention the fact that they stayed at Niv's bedside for the past two days, without ever leaving. Niv doesn't even try to pretend he's not affected by this.

He tries not to listen that night when Drest whispers a thank you for not letting him die to Arun, and Arun simply nods. His heart does what it wants, though.

 

Niv can’t really say it happened the first time they saw each other, because it definitely didn’t.

It was more like something that happened slowly, gradually, with every moment spent together, every shared class, and every narrow escape from death.

He couldn't pinpoint the first time he thought oh, so this is what it feels like to be in love with someone.

By the time Niv realized it, it was already too late.

 

The sixth year begins with what they can only describe as a conspiracy.

Because there's no way, no way in hell that something like a Triwizard Tournament is anything else other than an elaborate way to kill them all. It's so obvious it's almost too stupid to work.

Except it does, work. Because someone at the Ministry decides that's a splendid idea, not risky at all, and as soon as the news makes it to Hogwarts, Niv knows something awful is gonna happen.

The Headmistress knows it too, so she tries her best not to make it happen, and when it does, she calmly asks them - Niv, Arun, Giglio, and Folke - to avoid doing anything fucking stupid.

Giglio complains that's her final fucking year, and that she and Folke should only worry about the goddamn final exams. No one has any sort of hope that things will go in a different way from the past years.

(Drest sends another Howler. This time to the Minister of Magic.)

Not one of them goes anywhere near that blasted goblet, so obviously, the chosen champion for Hogwarts turns out to be Niv.

“Oh, look, someone’s trying to kill me. That’s so random. Never expected that to happen,” Niv groans, with his face halfway into a really yummy lamb roast. Folke pats him awkwardly on the shoulder, while from Slytherin's table Giglio winks at him and Arun looks half tired as fuck and half worried.

The only cool thing about it is that the school is weirdly happy to have him as a champion. Well, not everybody, obviously, there's a pretty loud and nasty group of Gryffindors that really, really don't like him.

Something about stealing the spotlight from one of them, something else about him being a Half-blood, turns out Gryffindors are racist too, something else about whatever. Niv doesn't really care about the name-calling and the other stuff.

Why should he? He's probably gonna die soon, and if he doesn't... Arun spends most of their days with him to help him prep for the upcoming tasks. That's a win-win situation for him.

"I'll be fine. We fought a dragon, acromantulas, a basilisk, crazy-ass cultists and vampires, there's nothing I can't face out there. As long as they don't add anything related to Potion, I'll be perfectly fine."

That's until Niv learns of the fucking Yule Ball, and of the fact that, as a champion, he's fucking forced to do that.Nevermind that he could die any minute now: this is by far the worst thing that ever, ever happened to him.

"Just... fucking ask them, Niv. It's not that hard," Giglio snorts when Niv has the stupid idea of confiding in her.

"Have you seen me? Have you seen them? I'm lucky enough they want me as a friend, and that's probably only because of shared trauma. Just because everything turned out great between you and Folke, doesn't mean that's gonna happen to me."

"You'll never know until you try."

(Niv realizes he could simply ask someone else, but somehow that particular line of action never seems like something he can actually do. He'd like to do this particular embarrassing thing with Arun, and no one else.)

Niv compromises by asking Arun to go with him as friends because he’s a coward just like that (that’s what Giglio says) and he really can’t manage to add rejection to the list of anxieties for this particular year.

He survives the Nundu because the others try to kill it and Niv tries to pet it - and this just goes to show that sometimes Drest isn’t right and petting all animals might be a good idea.

He survives the Yule Ball, somehow, with a moderate amount of embarrassment and a few fun dances.

He survives the second task, too, even though it becomes increasingly hard to look into Arun’s eyes every time someone mentions the fact that Arun was Niv's someone important to rescue.

The third task is, obviously, yet another attempt to kill them all - starting with Niv, for some fucking reason he still doesn’t know.

(Might have something to do with the fact that cultists with a passion for pure blood aren’t all Slytherin, weirdly enough. Maybe there are some Gryffindors, too. Old families. Things Niv really doesn’t want to talk about.)

He had been waiting for that particular shoe to drop since the beginning of the year, since the whole deadly tournament announcement. They all had been waiting, and that's probably the number one reason why Niv actually survives another brush-up with death.

Admittedly, it's a close one.

Niv gets back on Hogwarts' grounds and collapses to the floor, right next to an angry-looking Giglio and a still worried Folke. Arun is right there, too, hanging on to Niv's hand.

He's too tired to feel elated because of that particular touch - even though the smallest part of his brain is still excited because Arun isn't that big with physical contact. He's too tired, shaky, and probably still a bit shocked, but Arun's hand feels like a lifeline, and Niv hangs on to it.

Drest, who was on the stands waiting for something terrible to happen, comes running and crushes all of them in a bear hug. Which, to Niv's exhausted mind, is particularly funny because they're almost all taller than Drest.

"Never again," his dad says, and Niv would really, really love to believe him. Drest looks him in the eyes, with such strength and unwavering protectiveness that Niv almost believes him, for a moment. Just a moment, though.

They don't have the best track record at being safe.

But then again, they only have one year more to go. Maybe things will be better after school.

If they manage to survive that.