Cover made by reena_jenkins!
Tock, tock, tock.
Spencer groans. Someone keeps hitting his bedroom window. Each tap feels like a hammer to the head. Note to self, he thinks, never ever go out with Saporta again. He doesn't even try to open his eyes—even now, pressing his face into the pillow to block out all light, it's still too bright.
"Go 'way," he mumbles into his pillow. "Come back later."
Tock, tock, hoot, tock.
Owls, Spencer thinks miserably. Don't ever let up until they've delivered the fucking mail. He pushes himself up on his elbow to take a careful look. As soon as he spots the bright white feathers, though, it's easy to get up.
"Fucking finally," Spencer says as he lets Hobo in. "I had been thinking Ryan had got lost in Belgium."
Hobo hoots quietly and stretches her leg out. Spencer carefully removes the thin tube with the letter from her leg. "You must be tired, huh?" He strokes her gently before moving away to let her fly over to Mara's cage.
Spencer itches to rip open Ryan's letter right now. He's been waiting impatiently for a sign of life from Ryan ever since Ryan absconded to Belgium to study salamanders three long weeks ago. Spencer's own letters have gone unanswered so far—all nine of them.
No, he's waited this long, a few more minutes won't matter. He makes sure that the water bowl is filled and gives Hobo a piece of beef he keeps for the owls. Only when Hobo's settled down, does Spencer allow himself to read the letter.
Salamanders are amazing creatures. The more I learn about them, the more I want to know. The Flames have all sorts of interesting stories about them.
A French wizard, Didier Wampas, is showing me around, and I'm staying with him. He's teaching me so much, I wish I could stay longer than two months. You could come over for dinner, Didier's house is called "Chicoutimi". I connected it to the Floo Network. My French's getting better everyday.
Spencer sighs. He's a bit disappointed that Ryan's reply is so short. He knows he shouldn't be—he's seen Ryan in research mode before, when Ryan's entire world shrinks down to mastering a particular sort of spells or potions. Spencer wishes Ryan hadn't gone quite so far away. There are perfectly good specimens of salamanders in Cornwall. Ryan had argued that those on the continent behaved differently, of course, when Spencer had brought it up.
"I'll be glad when you're back in five weeks’ time," Spencer tells the letter. "I'm going crazy working with Greenwald."
It's not really Greenwald. He's a capable wizard, good with potions especially. The problem is that Greenwald's not Ryan. Spencer knows this. Every other auror in the department knows it, too, including Greenwald.
So Saporta'd had the grand idea of taking Spencer out for a night of "fun"--which, for Saporta, meant fire whiskey in stupid amounts. Spencer's pretty sure that if Ryan stays away for more than five more weeks, Spencer's liver will never recover.
Spencer puts the letter down on the table and rubs his eyes. It won't do to dwell on it. Ryan was so excited about this chance to go abroad for a short sabbatical that Spencer can't really mind him going away.
He's broken out of his reverie by another knock on the window. "Merlin's beard, what is now?"
It's the Daily Prophet owl. Spencer pays her and reads the Prophet over tea and toast for breakfast. Ministry announces more raids to reduce the misuse of Muggle artefacts is today's headline.
Spencer snorts and stirs his tea. As if those raids are actually helpful to make people stop tampering with Muggle artefacts. Instead, everyone is going to hide them more carefully now, and all those raids aren't going to end up with any more confiscations than those before. But, recently, there has been more and more incidents involving new technology, and the Minister is under pressure to show results. Spencer doesn't understand why people feel the need to tamper with gadgets that already malfunction often in their original state, especially since there are spells that are much more reliable than any of those gadgets.
Then there's an article by Rita Skeeter about the Hufflepuff Hotchpotch.
Recently, a strange affliction has appeared among Hufflepuffs—or is it really that strange? In the past week, St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries has reported several instances in which wizards and witches were admitted who have switched bodies—apparently. Telling Hufflepuffs apart is difficult enough, as their lack of distinctions prevents anyone from standing out.
Nobody has of yet any explanation of how this happens, as the wizards and witches in question come from all parts of Great Britain. As their only common connection is their Hogwarts house, perhaps they finally discovered a sense of humour—we should name them Ha-Ha-Hufflepuffs now.
Spencer grins. "Good one, Rita," he says. The witch in the tiny picture right next to her article winks at him.
The clock in the corner strikes three times. It's time to go to work. Spencer sighs, but with a snap of his fingers, he straightens his robe and summons his briefcase. He wishes he could remember more of what he said last night, but it's all blurred by the fog of fire whiskey. It was pretty good whiskey, Spencer must admit. If he's lucky, Saporta won't be in at all today, and he'll get a "get out of teasing for free" card.
Naturally, Saporta is the first person Spencer meets when he enters the Ministry. There's little teasing, though. Saporta's wearing the biggest pair of sunglasses Spencer's ever seen and he's still a bit pale.
"Morning, Saporta," Spencer says, determinedly cheerful. His own headache receded after getting a good breakfast.
Saporta looks at Spencer as though he's trying to figure out the quickest way to kill Spencer without actually moving. "Shut up, Smith."
Spencer grins and claps Saporta on the shoulder. "See you later," he says and takes the lift.
As he walks down the hallway to his office, he meets a lot of people grinning at him. It's enough to set up Spencer's inner alarm. Things are never right if people are grinning at you at 9 o'clock in the morning.
And, true enough, there's a note buzzing around in Spencer's office.
The note says, Come immediately to my office. New assignment. — Potter. Spencer's heart skips a beat and he barely resists the urge to pump his fist. Any assignment is better than sitting in his office with Greenwald hanging around all day.
Potter's door is open, and Spencer just walks in. It took them all a while to get over the hero-worship when they started—but, as far as bosses go, Potter's not too bad, Spencer thinks. He's fair, which is important.
There's already someone sitting in one of the chairs in front of Potter's desk. It's Brendon Urie, from—archives, Spencer thinks.
"Sit down, Smith," Potter says. He's frowning at a note.
Spencer sits down quietly.
"Hi," Urie says, smiling. He's almost vibrating in his chair.
Spencer suddenly doesn't have a good feeling about this.
"I'm sure both of you have read the Prophet this morning," Potter says.
"Sure," Spencer says, while Urie nods—a tad too enthusiastically, Spencer thinks. Please not the raids, he thinks. There's nothing more boring than going through other people's cupboards, trying to find the toy they bewitched for their kids.
"Then you'll know about the Hufflepuff problem," Potter says and looks up at them.
Spencer blinks. Next to him, Urie nods again, more subdued. Spencer glances at Urie, then back at Potter. "Uh, the—the Hufflepuff Hotchpotch, sir?"
"Exactly that." Potter leans back in his chair. "It's not quite as funny as Skeeter makes it seem," he says. "Right now, we still don't have any clue how it's happening or how to undo it, let alone who's responsible for this."
Urie bites his lip. It automatically draws Spencer's attention, although Potter doesn't seem to notice.
"The Minister wants this investigated because the Hufflepuffs are pretty upset."
"Well, it is a very serious affliction—"
Potter smiles. "Brendon, I think they're more upset about being the butt of the joke."
Urie grins wryly. "That, too."
"So." Spencer startles as Potter claps his hands. "I'm putting you two on the case. I expect you to work well with another."
"The two of us, sir?" Spencer didn't even know that Urie could work as an auror.
"Yeah. Ross is still off in—where is he?"
You should know, Spencer thinks. You signed the fucking release for sabbatical. "Belgium," he says out loud. "Five more weeks." After glancing at Urie, Spencer adds, "Sir, do you really think this ... problem needs a two-man team?" Next to him, Urie stiffens slightly.
"Absolutely," Potter says, with a cheery fake smile that reminds Spencer of the way he'd greeted Saporta just a few minutes ago. "There have been reports of a—well, I suppose Brendon can describe it better. Point is, you need a Hufflepuff on your team, and Brendon's passed auror training."
Potter shoves a thick pile of paper across his desk. "This is the case file. Now get out of my office, I have work to do."
"Of course, sir," Spencer says. He reaches out for the file in the same moment as Urie does and their hands touch. They both pull back and then it takes what seems like an endless minute of gesturing until Spencer goes ahead and grabs the file. "We will do our best," Spencer says by way of goodbye.
"Of course you will," Potter says.
Urie actually reaches over and shakes Potter's hand. "I'm grateful for this chance, sir."
Apparently not even Potter is immune to Urie's charm, because Potter smiles at Urie. "Use it," he says.
Urie positively beams at Potter, but then he destroys the good impression by managing to trip over his chair on the way out of his office. Spencer suppresses a sigh and follows Urie.
Urie's waiting outside, visibly vibrating with joy and smiling widely. Spencer thinks it should be illegal to be this happy and enthusiastic before noon. "I'm so excited," Urie says.
"My office is that way," Spencer replies. He was way more excited before he learned that he's going to be working with Urie. He starts walking down the hallway without waiting for Urie.
By the time he's sat down in his chair, Urie stumbles to a halt next to Spencer's desk. "Sorry," Urie says cheerfully. "I don't—this is my first investigation, you know. I don't really know how everything works. After I finished training, the only open position was in the archives and after the thing with the shrinking potion—well, this is my first time. Investigating, I mean."
"I wouldn't have realised," Spencer says dryly. He resists the urge to put his head down on his desk.
"Oh! I didn't even introduce myself, did I? I'm Brendon Urie."
Spencer closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "Spencer Smith."
"Pleased to meet you, Spencer." Spencer looks up again and wants to tell Urie to call him Smith, keep this on a professional level, but Urie's smiling at him. No, Brendon is smiling at him.
"Nice to meet you, Brendon," Spencer says instead. "Now, sit down, we have to go through the file."
Spencer meant for Brendon to sit down in the chair on the other side of Spencer's desk, but Brendon drags it over to sit next to Spencer.
Brendon can't even sit quietly—he's jiggling his leg and keeps bumping against Spencer's leg and his chair. He doesn't seem bothered, though.
Spencer steels himself and opens the file. "We know of six incidents, happening all over Great Britain."
Brendon frowns and leans forward, his arm brushing Spencer's. He must run hotter than other people, because Spencer notices each contact sharply. "And—oh, even the two people who swap come from places far away from each other. That's weird."
"'People have reported a strange noise, just before the swap happened,'" Spencer reads. "What noise?"
"It's difficult to describe," Brendon says. "It sounds faintly like music, but there's also this popping sound, and—"
Spencer turns around to face Brendon. "You've heard it?"
Brendon blinks, then he shrugs. "Yes," he says. "As far as we know, all Hufflepuffs can hear it."
"Oh." Spencer frowns. "But only Hufflepuffs can?"
Brendon nods. "But it doesn't sound like anything I know."
It explains why Potter wanted Brendon to be on Spencer's team—this way at least he'll know if there are any new cases.
Spencer turns toward the file again. There are some medical reports, complete gibberish and absolutely useless, and some witness statements from the afflicted people. There's no sense to be made out of any of that. Or perhaps it's because Brendon's insisting on reading them, mumbling words under his breath, breaking Spencer's focus every five seconds.
Spencer sighs and rubs his temple. He can already feel another headache coming. "We'll have to go to St. Mungo's," he says.
Brendon's quiet for a moment, then he nods. "Yes, we should go right away," he says. He sounds strangely earnest, his earlier exuberance all but gone. "There's just been another swap."
Brendon keeps up his end of the conversation all the way from Spencer's office to the public floo to the the waiting room of St. Mungo's. He doesn't seem to be bothered the least by Spencer's short and evasive answers.
"Why did you decide to be an auror?" Brendon asks as they walk down the hallway.
"I'm good at it," Spencer replies shortly. He doesn't want to talk about his life story, and he keeps being distracted by Brendon. He was only subdued for a few minutes and now he's back to being more excited than Spencer thinks the entire situation warrants.
On the other hand, Spencer's only ever spent a short while in the archives—it's dead boring. So perhaps Brendon's delight is understandable, but Spencer definitely draws the line at skipping.
"Is that all?" Brendon looks at Spencer and he's almost walking sideways. "You were good at potions and charms and transfiguration and—"
"Yes," Spencer says. They've reached the public floo network, but the first fireplace is busy.
"I always wanted to be an auror," Brendon says. "It's—it's something special, even now that You Know Who is a thing of the past."
"You're working in the archives," Spencer says—and almost instantly wishes he hadn't, as Brendon's face falls.
"Well, I'm not naturally good at everything," Brendon says. "I had to work hard to pass training and—never mind."
They're in front of an empty fireplace and Brendon turns to the small pot of floo powder. He seems to be smaller now, holding himself together tightly.
Spencer's a wanker and cranky, but none of that is actually Brendon's fault.
"Wait," Spencer says. He puts his hand on Brendon's arm. There's a smudge on Brendon's robe: a little bit of dust. Spencer can't imagine spending all his time down in the dungeon where the archive is located, only busy with retrieving case files and books for wizards and witches who actually get to use them.
"I'm sorry," Spencer says. "I'm—just a bit tired. And you know how Saporta is."
Brendon gives Spencer a brilliant smile. "Actually I do," he says. "You should've known better than to try and drink him under the table."
Spencer blinks. He hadn't known Brendon actually knew Saporta, and he finds himself a bit intrigued. He has a sudden flash of an image—Brendon and Saporta drinking, Saporta doing his usual octopus routine and being all over Brendon and—
Brendon throws a handful of floo powder into the fire and says loudly, "St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries," before he steps forward and is gone.
Spencer curses loudly and follows him quickly.
St. Mungo's is the usual chaos, and today it seems to grind even more on Spencer's nerves. Also because he stumbles right into Brendon when he gets out of the fireplace.
Brendon's standing just in front of the fireplace, patting his clothes to get rid of the ashes. Spencer doesn't look where he's going, so he ends up with an armful of Brendon, who clings tightly to Spencer to prevent them from falling over.
Spencer inexplicably notices that Brendon feels nice in his arms. Then he promptly steps back—right back into the fire. He jumps forward again, missing Brendon this time, but he lands weirdly and almost falls onto his butt. Brendon grabs Spencer's robe and pulls him upright.
Everyone in the vicinity is looking at them, some of them grinning, and Spencer feels his cheeks heating up with embarrassment.
"Your reflexes need some work," Brendon says, sounding amused. "I assume you weren't the best at flying."
"I was good enough," Spencer says shortly. He straightens his clothes, but the ashes cling to the fabric. With a swish of his wand, he cleans his robes. As an afterthought, he also cleans Brendon's.
"Thank you! I always forget to do that." Brendon smiles at Spencer and adjusts his robes. "My mum used to tell me that I should have the spell tattooed onto my arm, so I'd remember it."
"My mum does that sometimes," Spencer says. "Well, she writes it onto her forearm. She's not the type to get tattoos."
Brendon grins. "I opted to get a different tattoo," he says.
Spencer's curious and about to ask what said tattoo shows, but then the fireplace behind them bursts to life, and Spencer grabs Brendon and pulls him away from the fireplace and into the waiting room.
"So where do we start?" Brendon asks and Spencer remembers that they're here to actually do some work. He feels chagrined and it makes him cranky again.
"We should find the healer responsible for the bodyswaps," Spencer says. He tries to flag down one of the healers in the waiting room, but now that they've lost their entertainment value, no one pays them any attention. It doesn't help his mood one bit.
"I'll ask the witch at the information counter," Brendon says. He doesn't wait for an answer from Spencer before he starts walking.
Spencer follows him grumpily. "You'd figure they'd want us to look at this immediately," he says. "They knew we were coming; someone should have been waiting for us."
"They seem to be exceptionally busy today." Brendon turns toward the witch, smiling broadly. Spencer notes grudgingly that Brendon seems to be better with people than Spencer is. This is normally Ryan's part, although Ryan isn't able to charm people as effortlessly as Brendon—Spencer always says that it takes time to apprecicate Ryan. Brendon, however, seems to have a real gift for charming people.
"Hi, we're here because of the Hufflepuffs who swapped bodies. We need to interview them and the witch or wizard who's responsible for their case," Brendon says simply, and earns a smile from the usually frenzied and cranky witch at the counter. The last time Spencer came here with Ryan, she made them wait for half an hour before she would deign to answer their questions.
But today the witch smiles at them. "They're on the fourth floor."
Spencer blinks. The fourth floor is reserved for spell damage. Jackie, who’s working there as a healer, has all sorts of funny stories about her patients, including Lockhart.
"So you know it's a spell?" Spencer frowns. If they already know what caused this, they could've informed the Ministry, and Spencer and Brendon needn't have come. It's just a wasted morning.
The witch scowls at them. "Healer Smith will tell you more about it," she says. "But we had to put them somewhere."
Brendon gives Spencer a look Spencer can't quite interpret, then smiles at the witch again. "Thank you," he says. "We appreciate you taking the time for us, even though you're so busy."
The witch smiles at Brendon and shrugs. "Some wizard presented his new-fangled type of cauldrons in Diagon Alley and, of course, the whole thing just blew up when he tried to prepare a growth potion."
"We will be off then and leave you to your work," Brendon says, still smiling. Then he grabs Spencer's arm and actually tugs him toward the stairs.
Spencer pulls his arm free after five steps and glowers at Brendon, who seems unimpressed.
"We'll have to find this Healer Smith," Brendon continues.
"I know where to find her," Spencer says.
Brendon grins at him, which is slightly upsetting to Spencer. Normally people tell him to be less of a prissy bitch (Ryan) or offer help with getting the stick out of his ass (Saporta). Either Brendon's much happier about getting out of the archives than Spencer realised, or he's mental, because nobody is this patient.
Going up the stairs, Brendon manages to trip an impressive five times.
"You should look where you're going," Spencer says—but even to his own ears, his words are lacking their usual heat.
Brendon smiles. "Tried that, still tripped over my own feet."
By the time they reach Jackie's ward, Spencer still hasn't been able to decide for himself if Brendon's enthusiasm is off-putting or adorable. He thinks the fact that there's even an option besides annoying on the table might be a clue. He also has an ever-growing amount of questions he wants to ask Brendon—Spencer doesn't quite understand why anyone would want to do something they're not good at, and yet Brendon tried to be an auror, only to be relegated to the archives. Perhaps he met Saporta down there. Saporta often has to serve some kind of punishment and perhaps he was sent to the dark and lonely archives to keep him out of trouble for at least a day.
"Where are we going?" Brendon looks around. "When we came here, my parents always—"
"Brendon?" Spencer asks when he sees Brendon biting his lip.
"Oh, it's—one of my sisters had to spent a few months here. Spell gone wrong, you know." Brendon seems hesitant to divulge more information than that, for basically the first time.
Spencer's intrigued. He wonders what kind of spell went wrong and what it did to Brendon's sister. But one look at Brendon's face makes Spencer pause. Brendon looks sad and Spencer decides that perhaps right now isn't the best time to ask questions.
"I know where we can find Healer Smith," Spencer says. He's sure it must be Jackie—he doesn't know any other Smith working on this floor.
They find her brewing up some relaxing potion.
"Hey, Jackie," Spencer says. "They let you do potions unsupervised?"
"Hey, dearest brother," Jackie says grinning. Brendon looks startled. "What brings you here?"
"Work," Spencer says.
"Oh!" Jackie snaps her fingers. "You're working on the bodyswaps?"
"Yes," Brendon says. "The Ministry decided we should have a look at it."
"Late, as usual," Jackie says, sighing. Then she notices Brendon. "I'm Jacqueline Smith. Call me Jackie."
"Brendon Urie." Brendon shakes Jackie's hand. "Spencer hadn't mentioned he had a sister."
"It hadn't come up!" Spencer says in his defense, but Jackie just laughs.
"You'd think he would remember his baby twin sisters, given how much he always complained about us when we were younger."
Brendon grins. "I know how you feel," he says. "I'm the youngest."
Jackie sighs, but Spencer knows she's only pretending to be put out. "Did your older siblings blame everything on you, too? Older brother or sister?"
"Of course they did," Brendon says. "And both. Two of each kind, actually."
"So you're not just the youngest, you were the baby of the family," Jackie says. She and Brendon seem to be getting along great. Spencer doesn't know how he's supposed to feel about that. Jackie makes talking to Brendon appear so easy, but Spencer keeps getting sidetracked by Brendon's eyes and his lips and just his entire Brendonness.
Now Brendon and Jackie are commiserating about always getting hand-me-downs, which is so not true in Jackie's case. They only got one book from Spencer. Brendon, on the other hand, laughs, a tad embarrassed, when he talks about wearing his brother's old robes. "At least they only had to change the name tags," he says. His smile makes Spencer want to hug him.
Spencer thinks he might have a problem.
Jackie seems to sense that she's brought up a sensitive subject, and changes the topic. "So you're my brother's new partner?" she says, grinning. "I hadn't known he's already managed to scare off Saporta. By the time Ryan gets back from Belgium, there won't be any other wizard willing to work with Spencer."
"I did not scare off Saporta," Spencer says. "Because I never worked with Saporta."
"Details," Jackie says. "You have to know that my brother's a bit peculiar," she says to Brendon. "He needs to warm up to people."
Brendon laughs. "I noticed," he says, and Spencer feels his cheeks heating up again.
After clearing his throat, Spencer says, "We're not here to chat—we actually need to do some work here."
"You could always come back for a cup of tea when you're done," Jackie says, winking at Brendon. "I have many more stories about Spencer I could tell you, Brendon."
"Jackie," Spencer says, but Jackie just winks at Brendon again, and then she bewitches her ladle to keep stirring the potion.
"Follow me," she says. "It's this way."
Brendon falls into step next to her, leaving Spencer to make up the rear.
"We haven't been able to figure this one out yet," she says. "To be honest, we're pretty happy for any help."
"But you're suspecting a spell? Since you put them on this floor and all." Somehow Brendon makes the same question sound much nicer. Must be his special talent, Spencer thinks.
"Actually—no." Jackie shrugs. "It's just that a spell's the most likely, don't you think? But in the meantime, we had enough beds free to actually put them together into the same ward and they had to stay somewhere."
Spencer thinks Jackie's smiling way too much at Brendon. She's old enough to flirt with whomever she wants, but Brendon—Spencer thinks Brendon should be off-limits. Spencer has to work with the guy, that's it. "So what's actual the deal with the bodyswaps?"
"Physically, there is nothing wrong with them," Jackie says. "It's only that their consciousnesses have switched bodies and—well, you can see for yourself in a minute."
"Why are you keeping them then?" Spencer glances at her.
"As long as we don't know why it happened, we cannot allow them to go home," Jackie says. "They might spread it. At the moment, we're mostly keeping them confined, and trying to keep them calm without having to sedate them all day. It's a very upsetting situation to them."
Jackie points to a room. "Hannelore Abercrombie and Madeleine Johnson," she says. "The latest case. All the other ones are on this floor, too. You don't need me watching over you, right? I need to get back to my potion."
Spencer suspects Brendon will want to keep her around, but to his surprise, Brendon says, "No, we're fine. We'll check in with you after our interviews."
"Good luck, then." Jackie smiles. "I hope that you'll be able to find out more."
They knock on the door. "Come in!" two women call out.
"Good morning," Brendon says as they enter. "I am Brendon Urie, this is Spencer Smith. We have been assigned by the Minister of Magic to investigate your case."
One woman is lying on her bed, reading; the other's knitting. They both nod at Brendon.
"We need to ask you a few questions," Spencer adds. "Who is Miss Abercrombie?"
"I am," the knitter says.
Spencer startles, surprised, as the woman speaks in two voices. But the other woman's mouth is closed, although she's smirking.
Abercrombie sighs, again in stereo. "Yes, we each speak with both voices," she says. "It's very disconcerting."
Brendon sits down in the chair next to her bed. "But perhaps it'll also be the clue we need to figure out what happened to you," he says. "Please, if you would just answer a few questions."
"Sure," Abercrombie says. "I hope you'll be able to help us. The sooner we can go back to being ourselves, the better."
Brendon smiles at her and gets out his notebook.
"Well, that was a waste of time," Spencer says when they're back in Spencer's office. After talking to all the patients, Spencer and Brendon know more details, but they still aren't any further along in finding out how this happened or how to fix it.
"At least we got out of the office," Brendon says and stretches. Spencer catches a glint of colour where Brendon's pushed his sleeves up a little.
"Is that your tattoo?" Spencer asks despite himself. They're supposed to work, but all of their information mounts up to just one gigantic mess. Spencer's not looking forward to working through all of it to find the parts that make at least a little bit of sense.
Brendon startles, then laughs, a warm, flowing sound. "Yes," he says. He leans in close, waggling his eyebrows exaggeratedly. "Want to see?"
Spencer supposes it's supposed to come out suave, but Brendon looks ridiculous—hot, but also very ridiculous, and Spencer has to laugh. "No," he says. "Perhaps later."
Brendon grins. "Spencer Smith," he says, "you aren't as difficult to crack as everyone says."
"What—what do they say about me?" Spencer raises an eyebrow. He knows that many people regard him as difficult to work with because he demands their best efforts.
Brendon pokes Spencer's arm, like Spencer's a dragon and Brendon a wizard with a deathwish. "Just that you're hard to get to know," he says. "And that you carry a torch for Ross."
"I do not," Spencer says.
"I'm glad to learn that," Brendon says. Before Spencer can ask why the bloody hell he means by that, Brendon points at their notes. "We should get started, don't you think?"
Spencer doesn't like it when he doesn't know what exactly is going on. Brendon's strange: sometimes he's an open book, frankly telling Spencer all about that time he couldn't bring himself to degnome the garden ("They looked so peaceful! And then they wreaked havoc in the vegetable garden, and I had to clean it up by hand."), and other times—so far, most often when Spencer wants to know things—Brendon becomes quiet and enigmatic and changes topics. So far Spencer's not found any commonalities and it's driving him bonkers.
"We should," Spencer finds himself agreeing, anyway. He'll have more than enough time to figure Brendon out.
They spread out their notes. "I'll make a chart," Spencer says and conjures up a map of England.
"I'll read you the notes," Brendon says. Whenever he reaches for the first one, his hand brushes Spencer's. Spencer should just move a fraction to the left, away from Brendon, because every time they touch he's distracted.
Unfortunately, he can't blame Brendon's inherent distractiveness for the chart, which doesn't show any clear pattern, as Spencer had hoped.
"You have to agree, a spell seems most likely." Brendon says. They've spread out their notes on a free table. "No potion I've ever heard of can account for such an effect."
Spencer shakes his head. "I don't believe it's a spell," he says. "See, Abercrombie lives in Nottingham and Johnson in London. And here, Richard Dufresne from Truro switched bodies with Linda Skinner from Leeds. No spell could account for the distance between the afflicted parties. It must be a potion, nothing else explains how all these people could be affected."
Brendon leaves through one of the many spell books on the table. "But it can't be a potion. See, they were all doing different things when it happened: Abercrombie was knitting—Landon was asleep, even. Not one of them were eating or drinking anything."
"Perhaps it's something that doesn't take effect immediately," Spencer says, but it's a weak try. They'd asked everyone for a full list of activities up to a full fortnight before the swap, and couldn't find something they all had in common.
Brendon frowns. Spencer has to squash the weird desire to smooth down the creases on Brendon's forehead with his finger. "In that case, if it were a potion, don't you think there would be more cases? To have such a wide-spread effect, there must be a very large amount of potion."
Spencer hums. "Unless you were only looking to affect certain people."
"We haven't found any connection between anyone," Brendon says. "See, only two pairs have actually been in Hogwarts at the same time, and even then they weren't in the same years. And here we have an almost 90-year-old man being swapped with a 16-year-old girl."
"That was awkward," Spencer says. It had been extraordinarily weird to hear the old man speak with his own voice and the voice of the 16-year-old girl; neither had been able to stop laughing, so they heard both high-pitched giggles and deep rumbling guffaws.
Brendon snorts. "No more awkward than you asking Marie whether she’d botched her apparating."
"It was a sensible question!" Spencer protests. "You know yourself how many things can go wrong during apparating."
Brendon sighs. "I do," he says with the tone of someone remembering a particular incident rather than the detailed and gruesome tales he'd been told by his teachers, parents, and older pupils. "But I've never heard of someone apparating into another person's body."
"It would explain the voice thing," Spencer points out.
"Their own body shouldn't have a voice left, though," Brendon says. "And why would the other person's voice move? Besides, only one person actually reported having apparated in the week prior to the swap."
"Okay, so it's probably not faulty apparating," Spencer concedes. He rubs his temples. All of this back and forward, yay and nay, this or that, is giving him a headache. He startles when he feels Brendon's hand on his neck, gently pressing his fingers against Spencer's skull.
"I know this spot," Brendon says. "It releases the pressure. It's good against headaches."
Spencer's effectively frozen up. People don't just come up and touch him—Spencer's very particular about keeping his personal space, and he can't remember the last time someone just touched him this easily. It might have been when that Spanish wizard had stayed at his parents' house while attending a conference in England and—Spencer stops that line of thought abruptly. It's been a while.
Brendon strokes Spencer's neck and combs his fingers through Spencer's hair. "Is it helping?" he asks.
Spencer nods with some effort. It's not simply helping, it makes him want to put his head down on the table and purr.
"It's probably a tension headache," Brendon says. "Your shoulders are really tense."
"I worry a lot," Spencer says.
Brendon lets his hand rest on Spencer's shoulder as he leans in and says quietly, "Perhaps you shouldn't worry quite so much."
If only it were that easy, Spencer thinks, with Ryan going to Belgium to do research—Ryan, who manages to still get lost in the Ministry of Magic. Jackie loves her job at St. Mungo's, but it's not always the safest workplace, and Crystal had chosen to go and work in fucking Edinburgh.
Spencer's so lost in his thoughts and the feeling of relief that his headache is subsiding that he jerks upright when Brendon speaks again.
"But you do agree with me, then, that it's more likely to be a spell." Brendon's grinning.
It takes Spencer a moment to realise that Brendon's talking about the case. He shakes his head, careful not to move too much. "I said nothing of the sort."
"Then please explain how a potion would account for their voices blending," Brendon says triumphantly, beaming widely. It makes Spencer want to—do something.
It must be those memories about the Spanish wizard. He'd had a mouth that could work wonders, and Brendon's lips remind Spencer of that. That's all, Spencer thinks.
Spencer opens his mouth, but in truth he has no idea how a potion might link explicitly to two people in order to blend their voices. The culprit would need exactly two samples of the same potion, which means there would need to be six different potions to account for all cases, and even Spencer isn't paranoid enough to think that anyone would go to such great lengths, especially as no other effects than the bodyswapping have been recorded. If there’s malice behind this, Spencer finds it very difficult currently to even see what it would be. He admits as much to Brendon.
Brendon leans his chin on his hand, his eyes twinkling. "So you do agree with me."
"Not yet," Spencer says. "I just concede this one point."
"Then please explain to me," Brendon says, in the manner of someone delivering a death blow, "the noise that precedes the swap. All potions I know take effect silently."
"A hallucination." Spencer can hear the uncertain tone in his voice, and he knows he's lost this argument. He blames the lingering effects of the headache.
"One that all Hufflepuffs in Britain share, even those who aren't affected? That's one bloody big hallucination."
Spencer sighs. "Okay," he says. "What is with this weird noise anyway?"
Brendon shrugs. "It sounds a little bit like music," he says. "But not quite. It seems overlaid with some popping sound that's somehow familiar. I can't place it, although I'm sure I've heard it before."
Brendon's eyes have that faraway look of someone being lost in thought, and Spencer finds it hard to look away. He doesn't think he's seen Brendon be this still all day. So he's startled when Brendon suddenly looks up and straight into Spencer's eyes.
"I will tell you when I can remember," Brendon says, his voice light.
"What do you think the purpose of all of this is?" Spencer points at the papers strewn on the table. "What does someone have to gain by doing something so random?"
Brendon shrugs. "Perhaps it's just a prank," he says.
"I'm leaning toward that," Spencer says. "Pranks seem to happen to Hufflepuffs a lot. Besides, who would want to harm a Hufflepuff? It's not like they're the most dangerous wizards."
Brendon's smile dims a bit. Spencer wants to hit himself, but then Brendon sighs. "We're all too familiar with that," he says.
Before Spencer can say he's sorry—and why is he even feeling sorry? He usually never does—Brendon gets up and stretches. His shirt rides up just a little bit, and Spencer finds himself mesmerised by the thin sliver of skin he can see. "It's time to go home," Brendon says.
Spencer looks at his clock, surprised to find it already at dinner time. "Yeah," he says.
"Unless—" Brendon's biting his lip when Spencer looks over. "Unless you want to discuss a bit more over food at the Cauldron?"
It's almost terrifying how much Spencer wants to say yes. He wants to spend the evening with Brendon, ask him about all the bits and pieces Brendon keeps skipping over—all his stories about his family are years old, and he always has this wistful sort of tone when he talks about his parents. Spencer wants to know why Brendon wanted to be an auror—there are so many prestigious positions in the Ministy and while Spencer admits that the aurors get more respect than some others, surely there must have been something that came easier to Brendon, that he wouldn't have had to worked quite as much for. Spencer wants to know if Brendon's ever had any wizards, Spanish or otherwise, in his life who kept him awake at night and made him blush over breakfast. Spencer wants to sit Brendon down and figure out all the parts he doesn't understand yet.
Spencer's not used to wanting that. Under torture, he might admit to perhaps having had a crush on Saporta, but that can just as well be touch starvation—Saporta, just like Brendon, doesn't really respect other people's personal spaces. Brendon's different, though. Spencer actually wants to get to know Brendon better, and that's new. And it's scary.
So, of course, Spencer runs into the opposite direction, far away from what he actually wants to do. "Sorry," he says. "I already have plans."
"Of course." Brendon nods. He looks the tiniest bit disappointed and Spencer feels bad—not bad enough, though, to take it back, make a fib about rearranging his other plans. "Well, then see you tomorrow morning."
Spencer watches after him as Brendon leaves. He withstands the urge to bang his head against his desk. Just barely, though. By Merlin's beard, Spencer really has to go home now before he does something stupid like run after Brendon.
When Spencer gets home, there's a strange owl sitting on his windowsill. It hoots, sounding annoyed, and flies away as soon as Spencer gets the note off its leg. The note simply reads:
Come for dinner tonight.
Spencer's torn. He misses Ryan and his stupid face, but after last night's shenanigans, Spencer doesn't feel up to being good company. He's tired and his headache is threatening to come back. He keeps rereading the note, weighing the options.
Just then, Hobo wakes up. She rustles her feathers and picks at the cage, hooting quietly.
"Wait, I'll let you out."
As Spencer looks after her, Brendon's image rises up in Spencer's mind unbidden. He remembers Brendon's face as Spencer outright lied to him about his plans for the evening, and suddenly Spencer feels like he has to make the lie a truth so he can live with himself. He also suspects that if he stays at home, he'll just keep thinking of Brendon all night.
And then he's standing in front of his fireplace, holding a handful of floo powder. He calls out, "Chicoutimi!" hoping that he got the pronunciation correct and he's not going to end up in Chile or somewhere.
But even before Spencer has a chance to blink the ash out of his eyes, he hears a familiar voice saying, "Ah, there you are."
Ryan's sitting at the table, surrounded by half a dozen notebooks and even more books. He could've been sitting anywhere—the Hogwarts library, the kitchen table at Spencer's parents' house, their shared office at the Ministry—and the sight makes Spencer smile.
"Would it really have been so difficult to tell me where you were staying before this morning?"
Ryan shrugs. "I kept moving around."
Spencer translates automatically. "You got lost," he states.
"Didier found me," Ryan says. "Hey, are you going to cook dinner for me?"
Spencer grins. "I remember you inviting me to dinner," he says, but he moves into the kitchen and checks the cupboards.
"Do you really want to eat something I cooked?" Ryan keeps scribbling into his notebook, his quill scratching over the surface.
Spencer pauses and remembers the time Ryan managed to burn eggs beyond recognition. "Change of topic," he says, instead of answering Ryan's question. He needs distraction, so he can stop thinking about Brendon and the way his smile makes Spencer feel warm. "Tell me about your work."
It's a surefire way to get Ryan talking. Not that Spencer gives a shit about salamanders. But it provides a nice distraction from Spencer's thoughts. Ryan's voice is Spencer's usual soundtrack when cooking—Ryan's utterly rubbish at feeding himself, so Spencer invites him over often, to keep both Spencer and his mother from needlessly worrying that Ryan's going to starve.
"... and after mating they eat their partners."
Spencer pauses in stirring the stew he's thrown together. "What?"
"Just making sure you were still listening," Ryan says. He gets up and looks over Spencer's shoulder. He knows exactly how much Spencer hates that. Spencer huffs in response, but Ryan just leans in closer. "You were replying in monosyllables."
"I was making encouraging noises," Spencer says. "There's a difference."
"Well, yeah, I couldn't decide whether you meant to say, 'Oh, that's very interesting, Ryan, please keep talking to me about your research,' or, 'By Merlin, just shut your trap already.' The noises are remarkably similar."
Spencer raises an eyebrow. "That's because they're one and the same," he says. "Besides, supper's ready."
Ryan's Spencer's best friend, which is probably why Ryan gives Spencer a grace period that lasts until they've finished eating. "So, you are pretty quiet tonight," Ryan says. "I thought you'd be more interested in how I was doing."
Ryan perfected that half-sulky, half-disappointed tone during their teenage years. Spencer wishes it wouldn't work quite as well on him because Spencer does feel guilty now. He does want to talk to Ryan and let himself be distracted, but he seems unable to stop thinking about Brendon.
"It's nothing," Spencer says. "It's just work. I miss you." That, at least, is true. He sends the dirty dishes into the kitchen with a quick banishing spell.
"So any rumours I might have heard about a certain fire whiskey contest are greatly exaggerated?" Ryan's smirking and Spencer groans.
"Bloody Saporta," Spencer says.
"Victoria, actually," Ryan says. "So it's true?" He seems amused more than anything else. As soon as the dishes are gone, Ryan summons his notes and the table's covered in paper.
Spencer shrugs, idly stacking up a few books. "Don't believe everything you hear."
Ryan pauses mid-scribbling and eyes Spencer. "If you were still hungover, you would be angry," he states. "You would tell me all about how Gabe is a despicable human being who's way too good at talking people into doing stupid shit."
"Perhaps I'm too hung-over to tell you that," Spencer says.
"Rubbish, I know that you have some of my hangover cure at home," Ryan says. "And last time you told me this particular rant, you were throwing up while listing all of Gabe's obvious character flaws. Come on, spill, what's going on?"
Spencer really has to stop getting into drinking contests with Saporta. "Nothing," Spencer says. He wants to wince because it comes out sounding more like something.
"You know, the more often you say nothing, the more often I will have to ask."
Spencer sighs. "I've been assigned the Hufflepuff case. It's only been a day, but it's slow going."
"So?" Ryan shrugs. "That happens. You remember the time we hunted for that spellbook for three months? It usually doesn't send you into a fit."
"I'm not having a fit," Spencer protests. "Just—it's been a day."
"So what's the reason for not telling me all about it? Spencer, you love ranting. You specialise in it."
Spencer rubs his eyes. "It's nothing big," he says and curses when he realises his blunder.
"Nothing big, eh?" Ryan leans over the table, grinning at first, but then he starts to frown before he starts to smirk again. "I know that face and—Spencer Smith, are you having boy troubles?"
"No," Spencer says forcefully. And because a good offence is the best defence, "Where is your boy tonight?" It's a catchphrase that was created by another Ravenclaw boy Ryan was madly in love with during fifth year. It was a difficult year because Wentz had clearly felt flattered by Ryan's worship, but had been in love with a younger Gryffindor.
Ryan blinks. "My boy?"
"Didier," Spencer says.
"Oh, he had to go to some local wizards' meeting. And don't try to distract me." Ryan reaches for Spencer's hand and pats it. "Who is it? Please tell me it's not Saporta?"
"Sap—oh, fuck you." Spencer shakes his head. "It's nothing really, just, I'm working with this Hufflepuff and he's an absolute menace."
It's kind of close to the truth, Spencer tells himself. Brendon's turning out to be really detrimental to Spencer's mental health, at least.
Ryan grins. "Does he also have a name?"
"Brendon Urie," Spencer says, breaking his habit of referring to all his colleagues by their last name.
Ryan whistles. "I see."
"Uh, you know him?" Spencer hopes Ryan doesn't.
"He's pretty noticeable," Ryan says. "He's kind of loud."
Spencer feels bad as he nods, like he's treating Brendon meanly just by agreeing with Ryan. But this is a safe topic, Spencer thinks. Perhaps he can get by with just focusing on what annoys him about Brendon. "Just—how can one person talk that much? He doesn't ever stop, and sometimes he hums to himself. I think he's afraid of silence."
Ryan opens his mouth, but now that Spencer's started, he can't stop. "And he keeps tripping over everything. I was already considering shortening his robe and fixing his ties with a spell because, seriously, nobody can be that clumsy."
Ryan's grinning now. Spencer doesn't think his attempts at deflection worked as well as he'd hoped. He says the next best thing that comes to mind. "When he's thinking, he keeps sliding his feather against his cheek and it makes this annoying quiet swoosh-swoosh sound. He's so terribly noisy, and Potter made it clear to me I'm supposed to play nicely and—what?"
Ryan's laughing. He throws his head back and laughs. "Are you sure you don't have any boy troubles?"
"No, I haven't," Spencer says icily. "This is me complaining about an annoying co-worker."
It doesn't come out very convincing. Spencer could have just as well shouted denial! denial! at the top of his voice.
"Of course," Ryan says.
"He's really annoying," Spencer repeats as a last-ditch effort.
Ryan's now biting his lips, trying not to laugh. "I believe you," he says in the most insincere tone Spencer's ever heard. "So he's—loud and clumsy?"
"He's always in my way," Spencer says. "He's just so—" Spencer wishes he had something better to explain why Brendon was so annoying to him. Then he thinks of something. "He's not you," Spencer tries. "I work so much better with you."
"You didn't complain half as much about Greenwald," Ryan says.
"He wasn't this bad," Spencer says.
Ryan coughs. "Spencer, you hate Alex."
"I don't. I merely dislike him a lot." Spencer simply prefers Greenwald to not be in the same room as Spencer.
"And yet you didn't complain."
"Oh, I did," Spencer says. "Didn't you read my letters?"
"Of course I did," Ryan says. He waves his hand, accompanying each sentence with a snap of his fingers. "Ryan, I'm bored. Ryan, today Greenwald was late and stinking like a badger's burrow. Ryan, are you still alive? Ryan, I'm bored. Ryan, no, really, are you dead in a ditch somewhere?"
Spencer frowns at Ryan. "I wrote a lot more in my letters," he says.
"I shortened them slightly." Ryan leans forward, crinkling his notes.
"You shouldn't do that," Spencer says.
"Oh, they were very repetitive, especially the parts where you were already planning my funeral."
"I was really fucking bored, okay? And I meant your notes."
Ryan looks down and shrugs. "I already copied those. Now please keep telling me about dear Brendon Urie."
"Why? He's annoying me," Spencer says.
"Because you noticed him," Ryan says.
"Ryan, that doesn't make any sense."
Ryan sighs. "The way you talk about him—"
"—doesn't mean anything," Spencer interrupts him. "It's just Brendon Urie with his stupid hair and his stupid smile, and did I tell you that he pokes his tongue out when he concentrates on writing? Who above the age of twelve still does that?"
"So you just noticed the way he smiles and what he does when he writes, which by the way means you are watching him, and yet it's nothing?"
Spencer can feel his headache spike. Perhaps he has a delayed hang-over. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with the things Ryan just pointed out. "He pokes his tongue out, Ryan."
"And you noticed him poking his tongue out."
"I didn't want to notice him," Spencer says.
Ryan grins. "That's perhaps the first true thing you've said in minutes. So why, Spencer, did you notice him?"
"I wish I knew." Spencer shrugs helplessly. "He's—he's just different than what I expected."
"How so?" Ryan's normally only this interested in Spencer's love life when things are going really fucking wrong.
"Don't look at me like I'm a trainwreck about to happen," Spencer says.
"Ah, I think the train's already gone off the rails. Answer my question, Spencer."
Spencer takes a deep breath. "He's sweet," he says finally. "He's actually a pretty capable wizard, and he's so happy to get out of the archives that he puts up with my worst behaviour."
Ryan snorts. "The other guy in the archive lost an arm and a leg in a freak accident. Did he say why he ended up there?"
"No," Spencer says, "and that's the curious thing. For all that he talks so much, he doesn't say a lot about himself and I want—"
Spencer bites his lips, but to no avail. After not quite twenty years of friendship, Ryan's become really good at following Spencer's thoughts. "You want to know," Ryan says in a very delighted voice. A tad too delighted for Spencer's taste.
"I don't," Spencer.
"You don't want to want to know, but you totally do." Ryan looks at Spencer triumphantly.
Spencer blinks. "You lost me there."
"You want Brendon," Ryan says.
Spencer contemplates protesting again—but to what avail? Ryan's right. "It doesn't make sense," Spencer says. "I barely know him and he's annoying and—what are you laughing about?"
Ryan smirks. "It's all right to admit that you like someone," he says. "You don't have to have a reason."
"Says the person who likes everyone with two legs and a mouth," Spencer says back, but Ryan ignores him.
"I guess it was his mouth," Ryan says. "Can you imagine kissing that?"
Spencer can. He can imagine it so well that he zones out for a moment. He wonders if Brendon would be gentle and submissive or if he would kiss Spencer roughly, and from there it's a tiny step to imagining Brendon's mouth on other parts of Spencer's body and—
Ryan pokes Spencer. "Earth to Spencer," he says. "Wow, you've got it bad."
It's eerie when Spencer has to agree with Ryan because Ryan's the more sensible one. Mostly because that hardly ever happens.
Spencer sighs. "You wouldn't happen to have any fire whiskey on hand?"
"Sorry, no," Ryan says. "But Didier has this chocolate liquor."
"I like to live dangerously," Spencer says.
Later, after he's poured them two generous glasses of a thick, dark-brown substance that smells much sweeter than any alcohol Spencer would normally imbibe, Ryan says, "If you like to play with danger, why aren't you taking a risk with Brendon?"
Spencer doesn't have any answers to that question—at least, not any good ones. Instead he drinks.
Spencer's—well, he's not exactly afraid of going to work, but he's suffering from yet another hangover and feels like something the dog ate and spewed out again. Fortunately, Ryan gave Spencer more of his hangover cure potion and within half an hour Spencer feels like an actual human being again.
Unfortunately, the potion doesn't remove the entirely inappropriate feelings Spencer's having for Brendon. He only leaves for work when he can't put it off any longer. To his embarrassment, Brendon's already in the office, open books strewn all around on the table.
"Good morning," Spencer says.
"Good morning, Spencer." Brendon smiles. "Did you have a good night?"
"I visited Ryan," Spencer says. "He invited me to dinner. It was, uh, nice."
Brendon nods. "I went to the archives last night," he says. "I found a few incidents that are a bit similar to what we are seeing. Nothing fits quite right, but perhaps it's a start."
Now Spencer feels really like a tosser. While he was off getting drunk and being stupid about Brendon, Brendon actually worked.
"Here," Brendon says and pushes a few files over to Spencer's part of the desk. "These involved potions, so perhaps you want to take a look at them."
Spencer takes the files and flips through them. "I thought we'd agreed that it couldn't be a potion?" It comes out slightly teasing—much less confused than Spencer's feeling right now.
Brendon shrugs and smiles. "I thought we couldn't afford to ignore any leads."
Working through the files is more difficult than Spencer had thought it would be. Half of these potions he's never even heard of, so he spends several hours looking for more information, since the wizards and witches who wrote these reports didn't seem to be big fans of writing more than the bare minimum about the cases.
"Do you know what the 'elixir of six herbes' is?" Spencer asks Brendon. "I can't find it anywhere."
Spencer wishes the potion books had indices. He's looked through seven thick tomes already and not even a slight reference to a potion made of six herbs.
Brendon frowns. "Doesn't ring a bell," he says.
"And the six herbs?" Spencer doesn't feel particularly hopeful, but it can't hurt to ask. "They wrote it with an additional e here—I can't tell if that's simply a spelling mistake or on purpose."
"There are a few collections of six herbs," Brendon says. "Most commonly you have skullcap, bilberry, allspice, nettles, sage, and yarrow. These are used in many healing potions."
Spencer frowns. "I don't think a healing potion would make people switch bodies," he says.
"I'm sorry," Brendon says. "I can't think of anything else."
"It's all right," Spencer says. He sits up and cracks his neck. When he glances at the clock in the corner, he's surprised to find it's already well into the afternoon. "We missed lunch," he says. He's only managed to work through about a third of the files Brendon gave him.
"We could eat an early dinner," Brendon says. Then he blushes. "Oh, I mean, just if you're not busy or—"
Brendon looks cute with a blush high on his cheeks. It almost terrifies Spencer enough to drive him to turn Brendon down again, but he didn't miss the slightly resigned note in Brendon's voice. Somehow, Brendon thinking that Spencer doesn't want to spend time with him and offering anyway is enough to make Spencer push aside all his worries. He can have dinner with Brendon. Friends have dinner together, and he could be friends with Brendon.
"No, I think that's a splendid idea," Spencer says and then he wants to kick himself. Splendid, really? He sounds like his own grandmother.
Brendon beams. "I know the perfect place," he says. "I'm almost done with this file and then we can go—I mean, if you're ready, too."
Spencer glances at the file, then at the pile of potion books. He's not going to find this potion anytime soon and his back is aching and he's hungry. "I'm good," Spencer says. "So, where is this perfect place?"
"Are you sure they're open for business?" Spencer scrutinises the tiny eatery. It's just off Diagon Alley, in a side street that doesn't seem to attract many people. The building's not quite decrepit, but even for a wizard house it looks strange.
Brendon laughs. "Yes, they are," he says and pushes open the door.
The inside is much roomier than Spencer expected. It's also much cleaner, to his relief. A young witch comes out of the kitchen and beams at them. "Hullo, Brendon! Oh, and you brought a friend." She winks at Brendon, who inexplicably blushes.
"Good evening, Breezy. This is Spencer. We work together."
"Oh, I see," Breezy says. She's grinning and Brendon blushes even more. "You have free choice of table, boys. What do you want to drink?"
Brendon orders a lemonade and, after a short moment, Spencer decides to do the same. It would be nice to wake up without a hangover for once.
Breezy disappears into the kitchen.
"So," Brendon says. "What do you think?"
"It's ... nice," Spencer says. "Homey."
Brendon beams as if Spencer had just praised his own restaurant. "Dallon and Breezy had been thinking forever about opening a restaurant," he says. "Breezy is an amazing baker, too."
Spencer is just about to ask who Dallon is when a tall, lanky man comes out of the kitchen. "Two lemonades," he says and puts down the glasses in front of them. Then he smiles at Brendon. "The usual, Brendon?"
Spencer has the strange urge to growl at the guy.
"Yes, please," Brendon says. "Um, Dallon, this is Spencer. Spencer, that's Dallon, Breezy's husband."
"Pleased to meet you," Spencer says. "You're Breezy's husband?"
Now Dallon grins at Spencer in exactly the same way Breezy was grinning earlier. "Yep," he says.
Spencer decides to ignore that, just like the leer Dallon gives Brendon. "Is there something you can recommend?" he asks Brendon.
"Brendon always eats the beef à la Breezy and a piece of her chocolate cake," Dallon answers in Brendon's stead. Spencer gives him an annoyed look, but Brendon doesn't seem to be be bothered.
"The beef comes with potatoes and a secret sauce." Brendon leans over the table conspiratorially. "She won't tell anyone the recipe, not even Dallon."
"A few secrets help to keep the love alive," Dallon says.
"Well, I'll take that," Spencer says. He's glad when Dallon disappears into the kitchen again.
"I'm sorry," Brendon says.
"Huh?" Spencer blinks. "What are you sorry for?"
Brendon shrugs and smiles abashed. "I normally come here alone. I should've known that Breezy and Dallon would be curious."
Now it's Spencer's turn to shrug. "That's not your fault," he says. "Ryan also wanted to know about you."
"Oh, the great Ryan Ross inquired about me?" Brendon leans his chin on his hand. He seems to be both excited and surprised.
"Yes, I mentioned that we were assigned the case." Spencer sips his lemonade. "This is very good."
Brendon smiles. "And he didn't solve the case for you?"
"Uh, we didn't talk about the case, not really." Spencer grins. "Ryan didn't even know about it—when he's on one of his research stints, I count it as a good day when he remembers to eat."
Brendon laughs. Spencer thinks he looks pretty and completely content in the moment. Then he notices what Brendon said. "Why did you think Ryan would solve the case for me?" Spencer asks.
"Well, you know," Brendon says. He's drumming his fingers on the table. "It's just—you and Ross, you're like. You're the best team, so I thought, when you said you were going to visit him..."
Spencer puts his hand on Brendon's and squeezes it. "I was assigned to work this case with you," he says. "Ryan's been my best friend since we were little. That's why I went to visit him. I wouldn't do that to you."
Brendon bites his lips and shrugs. "I thought—it's my first case, so perhaps you wanted his input. From someone more experienced, I mean."
"You're doing pretty well," Spencer says and means it. "I don't understand why they put you in the archives, to be quite honest."
Brendon sighs. "My parents," he says. "They—they didn't want me to become an auror, because they thought it was too dangerous. So when I finished training, they wrote a letter to the Minister and then I ended up in the archives."
Spencer's absolutely stunned. His parents weren't too happy, either, but they always supported his choices—as well as Crystal's and Jackie's. He can't imagine how it must have been to go through training, which hadn't been easy, and then be denied work as an auror, because his parents interfered.
"That's an outrage," Spencer says angrily. "How could they?"
"They meant well," Brendon says. He looks up and Spencer finds himself speechless at the resignation in Brendon's eyes. "Working with you is a pleasure, though."
Spencer's mind briefly diverts to other pleasurable activities before he reminds himself that he's trying to become friends with Brendon. Friends, nothing more. "It's been a pleasure for me, too, so far," he answers.
Brendon smiles at Spencer. Just then Dallon turns up with their food. "Beef à la Breezy," he announces. He's grinning at them. "Or should I come back later?"
Brendon pulls his hand back from Spencer's. Spencer misses it immediately. "No, I'm starving," Brendon says.
The food actually is fantastic. The sauce is just the right kind of runny, the beef's tender and delicious, and the potatoes are crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside.
"This is fantastic," Spencer says. "I want to drown in this sauce." As soon as he puts his cutlery on the empty plate, it disappears with a quiet pop.
Brendon grins. "Tell Breezy," he says. "She loves getting compliments." Another pop and Brendon's plate's gone, too.
"Who loves getting compliments?" Breezy's coming out of the kitchen. She's bringing their cake.
"If this cake is only half as good as the beef, it'll be amazing," Spencer tells her.
Breezy laughs, high and clear. "Thank you," she says. "I'll let you know that Dallon proposed to me after eating this cake." Then she goes back into the kitchen. Spencer thinks that usually she would probably sit here, next to Brendon, keeping him company. He wonders if Dallon and Breezy are giving them this much space on purpose.
Brendon grins. "Fortunately, she's taken now, so we're safe."
"I could still propose to you," Spencer says smiling.
Brendon blushes and busies himself with his cake. "This is amazing," he says with his mouth full.
Spencer bites his lips. He doesn't know where that came from. He's been trying so hard to be friendly, but they keep slipping into flirting. Brendon's leaning over his cake, eating like a starved man, the fork clanking against the plate every now and then. Spencer thinks that perhaps he overstepped an invisible line there. They finish their cake in silence.
"I guess it's time to go home now," Brendon says afterwards. He's oddly quiet and avoids looking at Spencer.
Spencer nods. He can't make any sense out of Brendon and this thing Spencer seems to have developed for Brendon. "Yes," he says. "It's late."
The next morning Brendon's back to his normal, cheerful self. Spencer's relieved to find Brendon at the desk, humming loudly and drumming his fingers on the desk. The beat sounds familiar. He looks up when Spencer enters. "Good morning, Spencer!"
Spencer grins back. "Good morning, Brendon," he says. "The Weird Sisters, right?"
Brendon startles. "Pardon me?"
Spencer taps out the drum line of "Do the Hippogriff" on Brendon's shoulder. "My sisters were obsessed with them a few years back," he says. "I think I know all their songs by heart still."
Brendon laughs. "It's a very catchy drum line," he says. "I'm still sad Flitwick didn't allow us to do the song in choir. It would've been amazing."
Spencer doesn't remember much about their choir—he'd been so busy with his classes that he hadn't even contemplated adding some extracurricular activities. It was enough to patch Ryan up after Duelling Club meetings, and to cheer for Crystal during Quidditch matches. Jackie had been in the choir, though, and—
"Jackie had a crush on you," Spencer says quickly.
Brendon looks at him, dumbfounded.
"Uh, sorry," Spencer says. "I just—I hadn't put together that you were that Brendon from choir and, uh." He's maneuvered himself nicely into a corner, as he basically just admitted to not remembering Brendon at all from school. Nice one there, Smith, he thinks.
But Brendon just laughs. "Flitwick told me that half the female students left the choir after my final year in Hogwarts," he says. "But I'm sure she's grown out of it by now."
Brendon winks at Spencer. It's adorable, and Spencer's smiling back before he can stop himself. He sits down next to Brendon, in front of his own pile of files and books. He stares at them dismally for a moment. He's half convinced that they're just wasting their time. The other half is busy telling himself he just doesn't want to read another dozen reports in handwriting that looks like chicken scratchings, with a plethora of spelling mistakes to boot.
Spencer startles when he's poked in the side. Brendon's leaning over, much too close—Spencer can smell his soap.
"The earlier you start, the earlier you're finished," Brendon says. "It's something my mother used to tell me when I didn't want to do my chores."
"It's, uh, a sensible motto," Spencer says.
Brendon beams at him and returns to his own chair. He's tapping out a beat with his thumb, humming softly under his breath and swishing his quill against the parchment. In the time Spencer goes through the first file, Brendon shifts his weight from left to right, leans forward, close to the text he's reading, sits back and stares into space for a short moment until he scribbles something down.
Spencer's surprised how quickly he's become used to Brendon—what he considered to be annoying only a few days ago has become somewhat charming in the few days they've been working together.
It makes working together much easier, at least. They spend the entire week going through the old reports with nary a result to show for their efforts.
"Oh, Brendon, listen, this potion could be—oh, no, it also kills the affected people after two hours." Spencer shakes his head. "Everyone's still alive."
"Perhaps I have something," Brendon says. "This wizard claimed to have swapped two cats—but he couldn't ever prove it." He slaps the file down on the pile of everything they've discarded so far. He rubs his eyes and sighs loudly.
Spencer glances at him, slightly worried. As the week progresses, Brendon has had more and more phases of a sudden sadness and almost a desperation.
"Anything new from St. Mungo's?" Jackie's kept them apprised with daily owls, listing their own attempts to heal the Hufflepuffs. Spencer hasn't had a chance yet to read today's message, though.
Brendon shakes his head. "No," he says, his voice a bit strained. "Everyone is otherwise healthy and, considering their situation, in very good spirits. But so far nothing they've tried has helped the least bit."
"Are you okay?" Spencer asks him quietly.
Brendon takes a deep breath and forces a smile. "Yes," he says. It almost sounds like he means it.
It's late evening when Spencer pushes away the last file. "And another no," he says.
Brendon's pouring over new spell books. He puts his head down on the thick tome. "I'm not sure we'll ever find anything," he says in the saddest voice Spencer's heard him use so far.
"We will," Spencer says with more confidence than he really feels.
Brendon snorts and throws his book closed. "It's so frustrating," he says. "The noise—it reminds me of something, but I can't put my finger on it."
Spencer gets up and pushes the books away from Brendon. "Let's get something to eat," he says gently. "Perhaps that will jog your memory."
Brendon smiles at him. "Perhaps it will."
The Leaky Cauldron is crowded, but they manage to get a table all for themselves in the corner.
"The food's not as good as Breezy's," Spencer says. "But they have the best beer."
"Then I will trust your recommendations this time," Brendon says. A pint later, he says, "This beer really is good."
"Told you," Spencer says and orders another round.
An hour later, they finally get their food. They're on round four, so Brendon actually whoops loudly when Tom puts their food on their table. A few people turn around, but Brendon just grins at them and starts digging in.
Spencer's kind of distracted by the way Brendon's lips move when he chews. And then Brendon licks over his lips and—prods Spencer. "Eat your food before it gets cold," he says.
"Or your food will eat you," they say in unison. Brendon dissolves into giggles, leaning heavily against Spencer, his breath puffing over Spencer's skin. Spencer finds himself thinking that he wouldn't mind if they stayed like that, like fucking forever, but surely that's just because of the beer. Except for how he longs to reach out and put his arm around Brendon's shoulders and—
Brendon pulls back. He's a bit unsteady, but he keeps eating. Spencer heeds the advice and turns to his own plate of food. It's ... it's not bad as measured by Leaky Cauldron standards. But he keeps thinking of Breezy's beef and the cake.
"Next time we're going to Breezy's again," Spencer says.
Brendon beams at him. "Next time," he says warmly.
A table nearby gets free and a group of witches and wizards sit down. Spencer's seen some of them around the Ministry, but he doesn't know their names. They don't seem to even notice Brendon and Spencer.
They're obnoxiously loud, which is par for the course for the Leaky Cauldron, but then they hear part of their conversation.
"—that Hufflepuff thing."
A young witch laughs—nastily, Spencer thinks. "But you have to admit," she says, "if it was going to hit anyone, it was bound to be the Hufflepuffs. It's just so fitting, isn't it?"
Brendon freezes, while the entire table laughs loudly.
Spencer bumps his shoulder against Brendon's. "Don't listen," he says. "They're being stupid."
Brendon bites his lips and looks down at his half-eaten food. "I think I'm not hungry anymore," he says quietly.
"Brendon, what's wrong?" Spencer reaches for Brendon's hand. "What's going on?"
"I'm—I'm scared," Brendon says. "Every time I hear a noise, every time I hear that noise, I panic and wonder if it's just hit me, if I'm—and they don't have any treatment yet, Spencer, and what if we don't find something and then they'll stay that way and—"
"Brendon," Spencer says patiently. "Brendon, that's not going to happen."
"You don't know that," Brendon says, but he sounds hesitant now.
"We will find the cure," Spencer says. "We're going to find out why this happens and who does it and we'll figure it out."
"Are you sure?" Brendon looks at Spencer, his eyes bright and full of emotions.
"Yes," Spencer says softly. "I believe it."
Brendon smiles. "Okay," he says.
Spencer orders them another round.
It's late by the time they go home, but Brendon's in a much better mood, so Spencer thinks it was well worth it.
"Good night, Spencer Smith," Brendon says, slightly giggly when they part. Spencer makes sure Brendon's coat is buttoned properly. It's cold outside, and Spencer doesn't want Brendon to catch a cold. Brendon leans in close, smiling so brightly, and Spencer's heart skips a beat.
But Brendon just sings, "Good night and goodbye!" before erupting in giggles.
Spencer has to smile, despite feeling a tiny bit disappointed. He rigorously shoves those feelings away and gently pushes Brendon into an upright position. "Good night, Brendon Urie," he replies. Then he carefully steps back, eyes not leaving Brendon, and waits for him to apparate home.
Brendon grins and snaps his fingers. It's emphasised by the quiet pop of apparating. Spencer takes another deep breath of the cold night air and then he goes home himself.
Spencer feels like he hasn't been in bed for even five minutes (it's been three hours) when he's woken up by an owl at his window. But he's an auror, so after he reads the message it only takes him five minutes to get dressed and floo over to St. Mungo's.
New case, please come immediately to St Mungo's.
Brendon's already waiting for Spencer when he steps out of the fireplace. "It's a 15-year-old girl this time, and a 40-year-old man. The girl's completely frantic."
"Why did they call us in immediately this time?" Spencer wants to know. Until now, the Ministry hasn't been in a particular hurry, and being pulled out of bed at 4 o'clock in the morning doesn't quite fit.
Brendon rubs his eyes. "I don't know," he says yawning. "I just got Jackie's note."
Spencer frowns. It's right—Jackie wrote the note. "If Jackie made us get up in the middle of the night out of concern for her patients, I'll be grumpy."
"I'll make you breakfast," Brendon says. "Come on, let's see what this mysterious new information is."
Amanda Johnson, 15, currently in the body of a 40-year-old man dressed in checkered pyjamas, is bawling her eyes out. "I was just, just checking my texts," she whimpers, the high voice of the girl overlaid with the soft lilt of an Irish man. "I know I wasn't supposed to after bedtime, but—" She cries so hard she can't speak anymore.
"It's all right, honey," Brendon says. He sits down by her side and takes her hand.
Perhaps it's the late hour, perhaps it's Brendon looking sleep-ruffled, perhaps it's the fact that Amanda sounds a lot like his sisters when they were fifteen, but looking at Amanda, sobbing in Greg Barnes's body, stops Spencer's brain short in its tracks.
He turns to Greg instead. "I was asleep," he says. "I woke up suddenly and felt a strange pulling sensation—like using a portkey, but not quite."
"Did you hear the noise?" Spencer's half given up on ever finding out what the sound means.
"No," Greg says. "I was asleep." Spencer suppresses a sigh and looks back at Brendon. Jackie's brought Amanda a calming potion and Amanda's slowly sipping it.
"I heard it," Amanda says. "It sounded like Marie's ringtone, so I wanted to check—"
"Ringtone?" Brendon asks. "What's that?"
"It's, uh." Amanda snaps her fingers at Greg, frowning. "Give me my phone," she says. Greg blinks at her, confused, so she hops down her bed and pulls something out of the pocket of Greg's bathrobe.
Spencer looks at it interestedly—it's a thin black rectangle with blinking lights. Music sounds when Amanda starts pressing things on it. "What's that?"
"I've assigned my best friend Marie her own ringtone," Amanda says. "She's a muggle, so when I'm home on break, we text a lot and—"
"What's a ringtone?" Spencer asks this time.
"It's the sound the phone makes when Marie calls or texts me," Amanda says. "So I know it's her and not my parents or someone else, you know?"
"That's fascinating," Spencer says. "So it's like knowing who's written to you by recognising the owl sitting on your windowsill."
"Amanda," Brendon asks slowly. "Did you do anything to your phone?"
"No!" Amanda shakes her head vigorously. "I promise, I didn't do anything."
She seems so scared that Spencer thinks they can believe her. He glances at Brendon and gives him a tiny nod. Brendon nods back and says, "It's all right, Amanda. So the noise reminded you of this ... ringtone?"
"Yes, but there was more to the noise I heard," Amanda says. "It reminded me of jewelweed."
"Jewelweed?" Spencer glances at Brendon and Jackie, hoping that they can clear this up, and sees them looking at each other with rather concerned faces. He ignores the tiny pang in his chest and looks back at Amanda.
"Yes, the seeds make this quiet clicking noise when they pop open," Amanda says. "They grow on the Hogwarts ground, right next to the lake, and in second year we had a real competition who could pop the most seeds."
"That helps us a lot," Brendon says. "You might have just given us the piece of information we need to solve this case."
"Really?" Amanda smiles at them.
"Really," Brendon says. He gets up and pushes at Spencer. "Outside," he whispers.
Spencer lets Brendon herd him out of the room. Jackie stays behind to make sure Amanda and Greg are well taken care of.
"What in the name of—" Spencer starts, but Brendon keeps pulling him down the hallway, all the way until they reach the potions room. Brendon immediately starts leaving through a large and thick book, ignoring Spencer entirely.
Jackie turns up after a minute and goes straight up to Brendon. "It can't be jewelweed," she says. "It has healing effects, but it wouldn't—"
"No, wait," Brendon says and shows her something in the book. "Do you see the—"
"Yes, yes," Jackie says. She stands right next to Brendon, holding one half of the book so they can both read it. "Oh, I see, someone tried to copy this and then—"
"—it went all bottom up on them. I guess they must have forgotten about this." Brendon points at a paragraph, his arm brushing against Jackie's chest. He doesn't even seem to notice, though.
Jackie says, "It's very possible that, if they forgot to account for that effect—"
"—and then it was out of their control." Brendon shuts the book.
"Perhaps they don't even know about it," Jackie adds.
"That could be." Brendon's smiling at Jackie, and Spencer's now entirely fed up with this nonsense.
"Full sentences please," Spencer says, a bit sharper than the situation warrants. "I take it you've solved the case?"
Brendon startles, and Jackie gives Spencer an annoyed look. "Don't be such a grump," she says. "And perhaps we ha—" She stops mid-word and looks right at Spencer. Then she grins. "Brendon will be able to explain it to you," she says, her voice sugar-sweet. "I'll leave you alone for a moment, I have to—I have work to do."
On leaving, she winks at Spencer and whispers, "No need to be jealous."
Spencer freezes. He's not jealous, thank you very much. But this is his case, and Spencer needs to know everything there is to know. He just doesn't like being shut out. Not that there even is anything to be jealous about.
Spencer hopes that Brendon hasn't heard Jackie's stupid little remark, but Brendon smiles at him, abashed. "Sorry," Brendon says. "But see here." He shows the book to Spencer.
"Jewelweed is a well-known medical plant," Brendon continues. "But it's also used to mask our wizard radio."
Spencer stares at the picture in the book. He remembers seeing the plant growing at the lakeshore—he always thought it was just some sort of useless weed. "But how?"
"There's a treatment for the radios—it makes it easier for them to receive the magical stations, whereas muggle radios just skip over those frequencies." Brendon taps the page.
Spencer reads the paragraph in question. "The plant can move?"
Brendon nods. "It's also called touch-me-not. The plant itself is rooted, but at contact it shies away. This ability allows us to hide the radio broadcast."
"I see," Spencer says. "But how does this explain the body-switching?"
"The seeds," Brendon says. "Whoever did this wasn't careful enough when they prepared the jewelweed. In the early 1930s, when people started to work on the radios, they discovered that the jewelweed kept sort of growing after it had been added to the potion. Instead of dispersing seeds like the original plant did, the essence of jewelweed in the potion worked on waves. Radios switched between different stations whenever someone came near them. It took those witches and wizards a few years to figure out that you had to heat up the potion until it turned a bright blue before you could apply it safely."
"And our culprit hasn't done this," Spencer says. "I see."
"I think," Brendon says, "that culprit is perhaps not the right word. Whoever did this might not even know that they did something wrong."
"Tampering with muggle artefacts sounds plenty wrong to me," Spencer says.
Brendon grins. "My brother used the potion to make our radio send messages to his girlfriend," he says. "My parents were not amused."
Spencer glances at Brendon and tries to remember any other Urie from his time at Hogwarts. "Your older brother?"
"Oldest brother, actually." Brendon sighs. "I'm the youngest. It sucks because my parents were already prepared for all the mischief I got into."
"True," Spencer says. "But your point is, there might not even be malicious intent."
Spencer taps the page. "So this potion hides our wizard radio—do you have an idea what it could be used for on phones?"
"It could be anything." Brendon frowns, counting on his fingers. "They could hide their phone signal, to have private conversations. But the spell also boosts signals: it's why we can make do with only one broadcasting station for all of Great Britain. They could also use it to prolong battery life. Or—"
"I get it," Spencer interrupts. "It's a multifunctionality spell."
"They might just want to get a better phone signal," Brendon says.
"Hm," Spencer says. He stares at the text and thinks about Brendon's brother using this potion. "If we have been using this potion all along, why haven't I—uh, we known about this before?"
"We were looking for earlier cases of switched bodies," Brendon says. "But no one switched bodies back then; it only affected the waves."
Spencer nods. "Well, it's the best lead we have," he says. "Now we only need to find this person and confiscate their phone. So how do we do that?"
Brendon grimaces. "That," he says, "might be a tad complicated."
"You are kidding me." Spencer stares at the map of Great Britain spread out on his desk. Bright lights are blinking everywhere Brendon detected the jewelweed potion. There must be a thousand lights.
Brendon sighs. "Unfortunately, I cannot make the spell be more precise. It simply shows all apparatuses that were treated with the potion."
Spencer sits down heavily. "So it also shows all radios."
"Yes," Brendon says. "As well as the transmitting stations. It would take us weeks to visit all of these."
"We don't have that much time." Spencer taps his fingers against the table. "Potter's not the worst boss, but I doubt he'll let us gallivant all over the country for the next few weeks—it could even take months." The lights keep blinking. They're rather annoying and Spencer's head starts to ache.
"We can't summon all items, either," Brendon says. "We have to know who performed the spell."
Spencer closes his eyes and rubs his temples. "So we have to construct a finding spell that is accurate enough to not count radios and transmitting stations."
"I have an idea," Brendon says. Spencer can hear him getting up and rummaging around. He doesn't pay Brendon much attention—finding spells are complicated enough when you know what exactly you're looking for.
Spencer's startled into looking up when Brendon sets down something in front of him with a low thump. "A crystal ball?"
Brendon folds the map up and pushes all the files and books away. "Yes," he says. "It's our best bet, I think, and—"
"Brendon," Spencer says. "Divination doesn't work."
Brendon snorts. "That means it never worked for you."
Spencer eyes the crystal ball. He's loathe to tell Brendon that he's right—Spencer opted out of taking divination because he considered it to be the least useful subject. "I think I will work on the finding spell," he says.
"Suit yourself," Brendon says. Then he leans over and bumps his shoulder against Spencer's. "Do you want to bet who's going to be right?"
"What?" Spencer looks up, but Brendon's smiling. Ever since Jackie sent them a note that the concentrated jewelweed potion was helping to reverse the body-switching, Brendon's been in an exceptionally good mood. Although they don't have the person responsible yet, having a cure takes the urgency out of finding them immediately.
Spencer, on the other hand, is not quite as happy. He wishes he could be, but it's only a matter of time until they find the person who caused this, and then their assignment is over. Spencer's liked working with Brendon more than he ever would have expected.
"All right," Spencer says. "What are we betting?"
"Supper," Brendon says beaming. "Loser pays."
Spencer smiles back at Brendon. "I think that's a bet I'm willing to take."
Two hours later, Spencer's pretty sure he's going to lose the bet—not because Spencer believes in the superior power of divination, but because Spencer can't make this finding spell work properly. It keeps 'finding' Brendon, much to Brendon's amusement when Spencer's wand bumps against him time and again.
"I promise that I don't have anything to do with the body-switching," Brendon says. "You have to focus more on what you want to find, Spencer."
"I know," Spencer grumbles. He's a bit embarrassed that he can't keep his mind off Brendon. He decides to read up on finding spells—perhaps there's something in the books on how to keep his thoughts focussed.
But half an hour later, Brendon whoops loudly. "Spencer, Spencer, Spencer, come here, quickly!"
Spencer stands behind Brendon, his hands on the back of Brendon's chair. His fingers are just brushing Brendon's back.
"Write this down," Brendon says and dictates Spencer an address in Gloucestershire.
"Is that where we need to go?" Spencer asks.
"This is where we need to go," Brendon says.
"How sure are you?" Spencer frowns at the name.
Brendon conjures up the school list of Hogwarts—each year after the first day of school the Ministry receives a list with the house assignments. He helpfully highlights the name of their target person. It's the first name after the Hufflepuff heading.
"It would explain—" Brendon starts, but Spencer's already getting up.
"Okay, let's go."
Margaret Chambers is preparing dinner when Brendon and Spencer apparate into her kitchen.
"Good evening, Miss Chambers," Brendon says.
In hindsight, Spencer should have seen it coming. Chambers screeches and throws the bowl of salad she was holding right at them. Brendon manages to duck out of its way. Spencer ... doesn't.
"Are you okay?" Brendon asks.
Spencer swipes the lettuce of his robe. He's drenched in dressing—vinaigrette, and the smell of vinegar doesn't help his headache. "Yes," he says.
"Who are you?" Chambers is edging away.
"Miss Chambers, we are aurors from the Ministry of Magic," Brendon says.
Chambers turns as white as a sheet. "Aurors?" she whispers before swallowing hard. "I haven't done anything!"
"Your phone," Spencer grits out. "We have information that you bewitched it."
"I didn't do any such thing!" Chamber sags against the kitchen counter.
Spencer wants to bang his head against the wall. They have the wrong person. He shouldn't have trusted Brendon and his stupid crystal ball.
Brendon frowns. "Then I'm sure you won't mind me checking your apartment for jewelweed." Without waiting for an answer, he gets out his hand and instructs it, "Revelio jewelweed."
Brendon's wand rises up a few centimetres above Brendon's palm, quivers in the air, turning that way and this way, before pointing straight at one of Chambers's kitchen cupboards.
"Of course I have jewelweed! It's a very useful medicine!" Chambers stomps over to Brendon. "And why are you even interrogating me like, like, like a criminal!"
"Miss Chambers," Spencer says, "we believe that a phone that has been tampered with using a potion containing jewelweed is responsible for what you might have read about in the Daily Prophet as the 'Hufflepuff Hotchpotch.'"
"Oh dear Cliodna," Chambers says faintly. "Really?"
"Yes," Brendon says. "Miss Chambers, we are not looking for someone to punish—"
"Although we might," Spencer throws in.
"Yes, we might," Brendon continues. "But more importantly, we want to prevent any more cases."
Chambers takes a shaky breath. "I perhaps wasn't quite, uh, truthful earlier," she says. "While I haven't tampered with my phone, I may have tampered with a phone."
Spencer glares at her. "Which phone?"
"It's, uh." Chamber sighs loudly. "It's my boyfriend's."
"Your ... boyfriend's phone," Spencer says. "Can we speak to him?"
Chambers turns bright red. "It's complicated," she says. "He doesn't actually know that I did something with it."
Spencer suppresses the desire to scream. "Then it is time you tell him," he says.
"I can't," Chambers says.
"I think," Spencer says to Brendon, "that perhaps we should take Miss Chambers to the Ministry for questioning. I'm tired of this."
"He's a muggle," Chambers says. "He doesn't know I'm a witch."
"What?" Spencer and Brendon say in unison. Spencer opens and closes his mouth, unsure what to say next. "You tampered with a muggle artefact," he says. "That alone is an offence according to—"
Brendon puts his hand on Spencer's arm, squeezing it gently. "We need that phone," he says. "The spell has to be undone or more people will switch bodies."
"He will be upset," Chambers says.
Spencer sneers. "Oh, of course, we shouldn't destroy his precious bubble," he says. "I'm sure all the people currently inhabiting someone else's body right now will understand, as they are not at all upset right now."
"... I will call him right away," Chambers says.
"You do that," Spencer says. "We'll be waiting here."
One hour later, it's over. Undoing the spell is very simple. Spencer had thought that getting the phone from the boyfriend would be a problem, but as soon as Lloyd had learned that Margaret had put a spell on his phone, he'd all but thrown it at Brendon.
Spencer listens to Lloyd and Margaret fight in low voices while Brendon unweaves the magic and, just as a precaution, secures the phone against any kind of spells.
"You were spying on me?" Lloyd whispers angrily.
"No, it was—the spell made your signal more reliable, that's all," Margaret replies.
Lloyd snorts. "Sure," he says. "That's probably why I couldn't get a signal 90 percent of the time, all right."
"He might actually be right," Brendon whispers to Spencer. "Her botched spell could have blocked the waves."
Spencer grins. "Why am I not surprised?"
Brendon smiles at him. "Miss Chambers, we are done with the phone."
Lloyd takes it warily. "And there are for sure no spells left?"
"For sure," Brendon says. "Mr Wainwright, please let me explain something to you."
As soon as Lloyd looks at Brendon, Brendon points his wand at him and says, "Obliviate."
Lloyd jerks, then smiles at them uncertainly. "Hi," he says.
Brendon smiles at him. "Mr Wainwright, we fixed your phone," he says. "I believe Miss Chambers has something to explain to you. Please excuse my colleague and me, we will now leave. Have a nice evening!"
Chambers all but shoves Brendon and Spencer out of the door. As soon as the door falls closed behind them, they apparate back into the office.
"I can't believe it," Spencer. "What do you think she's going to tell him?"
Brendon shrugs. "I don't know."
"I hope that she'll get a hefty fine," Spencer says. "Bewitching her boyfriend's phone!"
"She will get her due," Brendon says. "As soon as we turn in our report, the Department for the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts will be informed and they will surely raid her home."
"Most likely," Spencer says. He prods the map they've created. It's still full of bright lights. "What are we going to do about these?"
Brendon taps the map with his wand, and the map disappears. "Nothing," he says. "They're not causing any problems."
"They could be," Spencer argues. When Brendon doesn't answer, Spencer looks up—and frowns because Brendon doesn't look nearly as happy as he would have thought.
"Spencer," Brendon says slowly. "I think I would like to go and check up on the patients in St. Mungo's. I just—" He shrugs and smiles. "I just want to make sure that they're going to be fine."
"I understand," Spencer says. He reaches for Brendon's hand and squeezes it carefully. "Let's go right now."
Jackie smiles at them when they knock on their door again. "The potion is working very well," she says. "Except for Amanda and Greg, they've already stopped talking in the other person's voice."
"I'm glad," Brendon says. "That's such a relief."
"We expect that they'll start changing back soon," Jackie says. "I will keep you informed."
Spencer knows when he's being kicked out. He turns to Brendon and says, "I think it's time to celebrate. I also owe you supper."
Brendon smiles broadly. "Lead the way," he says.
Dallon grins when they enter the restaurant. "I knew that you would come back. Breezy's cake lures them all in."
Spencer grins back at him. "How do you know that it's not Breezy luring me in?"
Dallon snorts. "I'm not even dignifying that with an answer."
Spencer wants to retort, but Brendon grabs his hands and tows him to a table.
"We need to celebrate," Brendon says. "We solved our case."
"Congratulations! I'll be sure to bring you something really good," Dallon says and winks at them.
"I don't get him," Spencer says when Dallon's in the kitchen.
"He takes some getting used to." Brendon smiles at him. "So, Mr Smith, are you happy with our investigation?"
"Yes," Spencer says. "It was—" He bites his lip, but Brendon laughs.
"It went better than you expected?" Brendon's eyes are twinkling.
"Um, yes," Spencer admits. "I underestimated you."
"I will accept your apology," Brendon says. "Especially when it comes in the form of chocolate cake."
Spencer smiles. "I think I can do that."
Dallon brings them a bottle of champagne. "Only the best for you," he says.
Brendon giggles as they toast each other and their glasses clink against each other. "This is kind of ridiculous," he says.
Spencer grins at Brendon and squeezes his hand. "Only the best for you," he says, but it comes out more breathless and less teasing than Spencer intended it to be.
Dallon's still standing next to him. "Perhaps you have more than just the case to celebrate," he says.
Spencer blushes and tries to change the topic. "Can you bring us the usual?"
"Of course," Dallon says.
Brendon's quiet when they're alone again. "I'm going to miss working with you," he says suddenly.
Spencer feels the same way. "Well, Ryan's going to be gone for at least another four weeks," Spencer says. "I'm sure we could convince Potter that—"
Brendon turns his hand over and intertwines his fingers with Spencer's. He's smiling sadly. "But I'll be going back to the archives, anyway," he says. "If it happens now or in four weeks, that's—oh, never mind. It was fun working with you."
Spencer's holding on to Brendon's hand tightly. "Perhaps you don't have to go back at all," he says softly. "I—I mean, we, Ryan and I, we could use a potion specialist."
Brendon shakes his head. "I know you mean well," he says. "But I'm not sure Potter will go for it." He sounds so sad that it's breaking Spencer's heart.
"He said to use your chance when he assigned us the case," Spencer says. "I think you've done really well and we could convince him—"
Brendon puts his finger on Spencer's mouth, silencing him. But he's rubbing his other thumb over the back of Spencer's hand. "I really enjoyed working with you," Brendon says. "But please don't get ahead of yourself."
Spencer nods tersely. He'd like to get up now and write an owl to Potter, insisting that Brendon stay with him—well, with Spencer and Ryan, that they're a good team and they could be so much better with Brendon.
At least Brendon's smile is a tad happier now. "I will miss you," he says.
Spencer feels a bit overwhelmed. He wants to lean over the table and hold Brendon close. He wants to tell Brendon that he's going to miss him, too. He also wants to tell Brendon that he doesn't want to miss him and that they should—but he's too scared.
They just look at each other, neither of them speaking or even moving, until suddenly Breezy asks, "Are you ready for your food or do you need another minute?" She's standing right next to him, giving them amused looks.
"No, we're good," Spencer says. It takes him a moment to realise he's not ready to let go of Brendon, though.
"Perhaps," Brendon starts, but Breezy puts down their food on the table next to them and flicks her wand at the plates.
"The food'll stay warm," she says. "Take your time."
"Spencer," Brendon says softly.
Spencer takes a deep breath. Take a risk, he tells himself. He doesn't have anything to lose. "You don't have to miss me," he says.
Brendon looks at Spencer. His face is closed off. "I don't want to be your makeshift partner until Ryan comes back."
"I don't mean working together," Spencer says. "I just—I like you."
Brendon's smile is breathtaking. "That works for me," he says. "I kind of like you, too."
"The two of you are utterly ridiculous," Dallon says from the kitchen entrance. "Why aren't you snogging yet?"
"Go away!" Brendon shouts, laughing. "This is private business."
Breezy snorts. "Dallon," she says, "I think you should pack up their food. I think they're going to skip ahead to dessert."
Dallon swishes his wand and their plates turn into take-out containers.
Brendon grins. "I think they want to get rid of us," he says to Spencer. Into Breezy's direction, he yells, "I want a slice of your cake, too."
Breezy smiles. "You already have dessert," she says pointing at Spencer. "If you want cake, come back tomorrow. I want to know all the details."
"You would get along well with Ryan," Spencer says. "You're just as nosy."
"I'm looking forward to meeting him," Breezy tells him. "And now get out of my restaurant."
Brendon's still laughing when they apparate into Spencer's living room.
"Your friends are not subtle," Spencer tells him.
"They're just as subtle as I am," Brendon says. He smiles at Spencer, a bit breathless from laughing, and he looks absolutely gorgeous. "Hi," he says. "We're alone, I think."
"We are," Spencer says. The way Brendon's looking up at Spencer makes it easy for Spencer to lean down and press a soft kiss against Brendon's lips.
"Then I suggest we make the best use of it," Brendon says.
Spencer finds himself agreeing completely.
The next morning Spencer wakes up wrapped in Brendon. "G'morning," he mumbles, smiling.
"It's still dark outside," Brendon mumbles. "Go back to sleep."
Spencer nuzzles Brendon and sighs. He waits until Brendon's breathing's is relaxed and steady again before he slips out of bed. He quickly writes two notes and attaches them to Mara's leg. "Fly first to Ryan," he tells her quietly. "Make sure he signs that other note. Peck him if you need to."
Mara hoots in reply. Sometimes Spencer thinks his owl is more intelligent than many other human beings he meets. She flies away fast.
"Spencer?" Brendon sits up in bed, rubbing his eyes. "What time is it?"
"It's early still," Spencer says.
"Come back to bed," Brendon says. "This is the best time for cuddling."
"I hope you mean snogging by that," Spencer says, as he crawls underneath the warm sheets."
"Yes," Brendon says sleepily. "Bloody hell, your feet are like clumps of ice."
Spencer laughs and pulls Brendon in for a kiss. He hopes that his plan will work out and that in a few hours there'll be an owl sitting on his windowsill with a new permanent assignment for Brendon—to Spencer and Ryan's team. Spencer pointed out all the advantages in his note to Potter, and he's sure Ryan will agree to them, especially since Spencer stressed that it would allow Ryan to go on sabbatical as often as he wanted without leaving Potter in the lurch of losing his best team. Spencer doesn't know who Brendon's parents are friends with at the Ministry, that they could pull strings to have him kept in the archive, but he figures Potter has enough power to override pretty much anyone.
He guesses that Ryan will tease him endlessly about the note, but at least he tried.
"So who did you need to send an owl to this early in the morning?" Brendon asks later, when their lips are swollen and red from kissing.
"You'll see soon enough," Spencer says.
They fall back asleep quickly, and later they're woken up by five owls simultaneously scratching at the window: Mara, back from Potter, who's written only four words in reply to Spencer's letter: yes, you can have Urie; Hobo, with an amused letter from Ryan; Jackie's owl Lilliput asking Spencer if he's shacked up with Brendon yet (Brendon blushes when he catches sight of her note and says, "I think we can be sure she's over her crush on me"); an owl from the Ministry with detailed instructions for Brendon ("You need to stay down there for another week?" asks Spencer, and Brendon laughs and replies, "Well, I need to hand over everything."); and last an owl Spencer doesn't recognise. It won't budge until Brendon's read and replied to the letter.
"My parents," Brendon says. "They write that they're happy for me if I am."
"Are you?" Spencer asks softly.
Brendon laughs. "Yes," he says. "I am happy." He smiles brilliantly at Spencer.
"I think we have the proper cake to celebrate," Spencer says.
The cake tastes even better when they share a plate and feed each other bites.