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Derek had known Stiles was his mate since Fourth Year, and to say that Derek had been unready was an understatement.

The first few weeks of term were themselves something of a trial for Derek. Transitioning from Beacon Hollows to Hogwarts was confusing for the werewolf part of him, and tiring besides. The wolf always became confused moving between the Hale Pack and the Hufflepuff Pack - restless, and hurt. It was small comfort that Laura was no longer around to muddy up the waters; Derek loved his sister, but her presence in Gryffindor had just made the pecking order more confusing.

There were always far too many bodies in the Great Hall that first night, far too much movement, and the wolf was busy ingratiating itself with the Hufflepuffs Derek hadn't seen in months. Derek stumbled through the small talk, the how-are-yous and how-was-your-summers, trying to figure out the new pack structure now that last year's Seventh Years had moved on.

Professor Deaton had hurried in all the little firsties, tiny and confused and excited and scared, collectively. They'd been hustled up to the Sorting Hat, and Derek had roused himself enough to clap politely with every new Hufflepuff addition. They'd been more than halfway through, inching towards the end of the alphabet, when Deaton had stopped.

"...Genim Stilinski," Deaton had called out, unsure, and around the titters one of the tinier ones had stepped forward. Eyes pick enough to catch moonbeams in.

"Just Stiles," he'd said.

Deaton had nodded that all-seeing, all-approving way of his. "Stiles, then," and motioned him towards the Sorting Hat. It had barely touched Stiles's head before declaring him a Hufflepuff. Derek had clapped, he's sure, but half-heartedly; looking forward to the food that would appear on the table soon enough.

Derek had picked up the scent maybe halfway down the table. The rush of it hit Derek all at once - the owl Stiles had petted earlier, the half-melted chocolate frog in his pocket. A deep, set-in smell that could only be where he lived, the person he lived with - a man, Derek noted, his father, probably, a small house near a forest, near things that smelled dark and green - and the scent of him, spicy and soothing all at once; like cinnamon, maybe, warm and a little woodsy, sharp but comforting; and the clean smell of a boy who hadn't gone through puberty yet.

Derek had noted, distantly, the crack of the table under his hands, the scrape of his nails across the wood. Thought about the way his eyes would be sparking, luminescent blue, too obvious - he'd run out of the hall like a shot, and maybe the only benefit to already having a reputation for being slightly weird was that no one followed him.

It wasn't something Derek had been expecting. It wasn't something he was prepared for. He tried to write an owl to his mother that night, but he couldn't find the words, exactly, and didn't know if she would have any for him. Derek's parents had met in their mid-twenties at a Quidditch game between the Chudley Cannons and the Falmouth Falcons; they'd found each other in the crush of the stands, like something from a romance you'd find in the display at Flourish & Blotts. Uncle Peter met his mate on a summer trip to Italy, had brought Evie back after a whirlwind romance across Europe. Everyone in Derek's family had met their mate at what seemed like the right time, at the right place. Perfect.

And Derek was three steps away from mauling a child.

So, no, he doesn't write. Not that night, and not the next, and not anytime that first month. He's old enough to not have much contact with the First Years - he's not a Prefect, not with his attitude - and the First Years tend to run in herds anyway. It's easy enough for Derek to avoid them. To avoid him. Derek needs to - he needs to figure himself out. Get his balance back. Clearly, he needs his balance back, if he doesn't have control now.

It's not that Derek doesn't realize his shortcomings. Though the wolf is intrinsically a part of him and always has been - unlike his father, bitten as a child and somehow still occassionally uneasy with it - Derek realizes there are points where the wolf and civilization differ.Where the wolf and Derek have to differ, and it can be difficult for Derek to center himself around then. Not at all like Laura, who always seemed to be able to cow her wolf into submission. Derek needs time. Needs to think. He doesn't like change, doesn't like anything that upsets the status quo. When Laura went to Hogwarts four years ahead of him, he prowled her room endlessly; slept in her bed and stole the little odds and ends she left behind. His parents were concerned, but Uncle Peter was amused. Said they couldn't really blame him for being territorial, could they?

Derek is territorial. Derek gets mean, and violent, and doesn't like others playing with his things. He's the naughty little puppy of their pack, and he was concerned before that no one would be around to smack him on the nose now that Laura's gone. And now that Stiles is here - Derek is scared. He's scared of what he might do.

He spends a lot of time in the Room of Requirement that first month. It's been his refuge ever since Laura showed it to him when he was a First Year himself. Frankly, it's what Derek needs to get away from the other Hufflepuffs. Don't get Derek wrong - being a Hufflepuff is great. Really. As much as Derek grumbles about the overwhelming cheerfulness of his House, he thinks there's so much more pack here than among the others. At any given hour of any given day there are a half dozen people in the Common Room - eating, studying, playing chess, and any one of them would welcome Derek with open arms. Even the ones who think he's the resident sour puss - which is, well. not entirely undeserved. Hufflepuff always feels like a family den, and Derek has always felt like family.

There are some things they can't give him though, or he won't ask for. So he needs space to be alone instead. To quiet himself. To breathe. He needs it at home too, but it's so much more difficult to find at Hogwarts. There's always someone in the dorms, or the bathroom, or the classrooms. If the Room of Requirement wasn't around, Derek isn't sure what he'd do. Head to the Forbidden Forest, maybe, and take his chances there; Derek is frightening enough to come across in the middle of the night. When he wants to be.

So the first month is difficult, but not impossible. Confusing, but not completely disheartening. Derek still avoids Stiles when he can, but he catches the scent of him here and there; fluttering through the Common Room. He relies on secondhand news. Gossip tends to follow the older students, for obvious reasons, but even First Years can do something remarkable now and then, and it's always something of a game to keep an eye on them in the beginning. See if any one of them is particularly remarkable.

Derek knows that Stiles is: loud, talkative, friendly, adorable; that he settled in quickly; that he's remarkably good at Transfiguration; friends with First Years from every house, though particularly one in Gryffindor, from what Derek can smell - wood fires and Exploding Snap, the crisp wind that comes up Gryffindor Tower and nowhere else; that he has an owl, a tawny brown; that he's smart, it seems - smells like books and ink and potions ingredients, like he spends a lot of time in the library. He rarely makes it down to breakfast but always lunch and dinner, and he bribes some of the other students into buying him Chocolate Frogs from Hogsmeade; he collects the cards.

It's fall by the time Derek thinks he might be ready - to talk to Stiles, anyway, to see what he's like in person, really, to get close enough to breathe in the full, proper scent of him; for Derek to write his mom and ask for advice, ask what Derek should do, ask what anyone should do, when they're only fourteen years old - when the owl comes from Laura, parchment folded thick and heavy, and he never gets a chance to write that letter at all.

He stops taking chances on a lot of things, all told.

When he comes back to Hogwarts after the funerals, the wolf howls for Stiles so loudly it nearly brings Derek to his knees. He doesn't blame the wolf part of him, exactly; Derek's lost almost everything - Laura pale and wan and already back at work in the Ministry, Peter still tucked away in St. Mungo's - and Derek can't think of anything, really, that would make him feel better than curling up next to Stiles. Sleeping in his bed. But he can't think of anything that would be more dangerous, either; getting so close and wanting so much, wanting things Stiles would be afraid to give him, or to not give him. Giving into the urge to bite Stiles and keep him with Derek forever. It would be easy. It would be the most grotesque thing Derek ever did, the one he regretted the most, and it would easily make the worst time of his life that much more awful.

So he buries it, like he has so many other things, and moves on with his life.

| |

Stiles keeps getting lost on the way to the Common Room.

Which is pretty much the weirdest thing that's ever happened to him, actually. He's in his Fourth Year now; he knows the way to his own damn Common Room. He just can't quite explain why the hallways keep twisting themselves around. The stairs change on alternate Tuesday and the occasional solstice, everyone knows that - but the hallways?

After the third 'wrong' turn, Stiles throws his hands in the air.

"I get it!" he shouts. "You're trying to take me somewhere! I surrender, okay." Stiles can't quite explain it, but there's a sort of... good vibe the walls seem to be sending him. Hogwarts. Magic. Who the hell knew. "Where do you want me?" he asks, and gamely follows the hallway that stretches around the corner. He's pretty sure Hogwarts can't kill a student. The monster in the lake, sure, but the corridors? Seems a bit harsh. This is supposed to be a learning environment.

There's a door at the end of the hallway, a big oak door, heavy enough to need a few good tugs before it even cracks open. Stiles slips inside - he's a a slyph of a thing, when it suits him - and winces slightly when the door slams behind him and fades into the masonry. No exiting where you enter, apparently.

It's a nice room. Big torches on the wall. A bit smaller than he would have expected, but Hogwarts does tend towards the grandiose. There's a long, low couch inside, puffy and well-stuffed, good for sinking into until you disappear among the pillows. Red crushed velvet, or something similar. Honeyed wood with big carved feet. But the weird part isn't the furniture. The weird part is that Derek Hale is lying sprawled over it. He looks - wrecked, frankly, and Stiles all of a sudden feels like The Boy Who Should Not Be Here.

"Um," he says. Eloquent as always. "Hi?"

For a second, it doesn't seem like Derek even hears him. He doesn't lift his head. Doesn't say anything in return.

"Derek?"

When Derek does sit up, the only thing he does is stare at Stiles. Face twitching, slightly, as though he's not entirely sure Stiles is actually here. Which, hey, Stiles gets, he's not sure why he's here either. But then his eyes start flashing bright blue, and - look, it's not exactly a secret that Derek Hale is a werewolf? It's just one of those things no one talks about, and somehow Stiles doesn't think now is a good time to bring it up.

"Leave," Derek growls, and wow, Stiles is totally down with that plan.

"I... would? But I kind of can't."

"You can't," Derek repeats slowly, and Stiles really feels the need to explain, before he gets hexed.

"Yeah, I - I mean, I can, but I can't. Because there are no doors. And honestly, even if there were a door, I'd probably just end up back here. That's what keeps happening. I've been trying to get to the Common Room for the past twenty minutes, no joke."

He expects Derek to be puzzled, or confused, or even amused - Stiles brings that reaction about in a lot of people, even when he doesn't mean to - but he doesn't expect Derek to getangry.

"Fucking - Christ," he says, and runs his hand over his jaw. His very nicely chiseled jaw, Stiles has to say. No one could ever say Derek Hale wasn't nice to look at. "I'm sorry."

"Not your fault," Stiles says, and he doesn't understand why Derek winces again.

"You - forget it."

He sounds so weary that Stiles feels a bit like an ass, even though he's pretty sure none of this is his fault. He just doesn't get exactly why he's here. Maybe Hogwarts didn't want Derek to be alone? That sounds a bit weird, thinking about the castle as a person, but then again - magic. Anthropomorphisism of a castle is not the weirdest thing Stiles has seen in the past four years. Probably wouldn't crack the top ten.

Although why Stiles, is maybe a better a question. Derek has a few friends - the Reyes girl from Slytherin, and Isaac. Maybe Boyd, though Stiles thinks that might be less of a friendship and more of a very intense Quidditch rivalry. Hard to tell where one starts and the other begins. Maybe Stiles was just the closest person at all?

"It's cool," Stiles says. "Not like I had anything better to do with my time anyway. Scott abandoned me for Allison - again, might I add - and Deaton seems to think midnight is an appropriate time to commune with the stars and try a little astrology, so I'm pretty much at odds until then."

Derek is still staring at him. Like, really staring at him. Stiles is pretty sure they're blown past their previous eye contact record by about thirty seconds. And counting.

"So." If anyone can hold up a one-sided conversation, it's Stiles. "What's that anyway?" he asks, gesturing towards the crumpled letter in Derek's hand.

Derek stares at it for a moment, as though he'd forgotten it was there. His eyebrows do something... complicated, and for a second Stiles doesn't think he's going to get an answer. "Letter from the Ministry." Stiles would say Derek's face looks like stone, because there isn't a trace of emotion on it; but then the mask there doesn't just break - it shatters. "Laura's dead."

Oh, fuck me, Stiles thinks, because there isn't a wizard around who doesn't know what that means, who didn't follow the Hale Murders with a fervid, ghoulish interest. The only person Derek had was his sister. Everyone knew that. She'd sent him care packages every month like clockwork, and a Howler, once, when Derek had ended up in the hospital after a particularly brutal Quidditch game. She'd loved him, and he'd loved her. Anyone with eyes could see that.

Jesus. Stiles gets it, he does. It felt like the whole world had been ripped out from under him when his mother died. And at least he'd still had his dad. Derek --

Stiles doesn't know why he does it. He's not exactly Derek's best friend. It's not that Stiles and Derek Hale have never had a conversation - they're in the same House, Stiles is pretty sure he's at least asked Derek to pass the peas, or something - but Stiles can count the stuff he knows about Derek on two hands, tops, and most of it came from the articles The Daily Prophet ran after the Hales were murdered. Stiles isn't sure that really counts. It's a stupid idea, but Stiles does it anyway. Maybe because he's That Guy - the one who feels everything, the one who can't walk away even when he should. Knock him down eight times and he gets up a ninth.

Stiles takes two steps forward and wraps Derek in a hug like nobody's fucking business. Like when Scott's mom finally kicked Scott's dad out, and Scott spelled the jerk out of the wards himself. Like when Stiles's dad found out Stiles was a wizard. Like every time Lydia's parents bought her French silk robes instead of spell books, or Danny's parents asked him if he had a nice Pureblood boyfriend, or Jackson looked in the mirror and couldn't stop. Like every bad thing come at once, and someone canceled Christmas besides. Stiles hugs like there is no tomorrow and he's battening down the hatches anyway.

Derek is a solid, hot, angry thing; condensed rage, like Stiles is holding back a hurricane, pushing back destruction with only two hands, and he has a moment of genuine oh motherfucking shit, because he's probably about to be hexed into next week if Derek doesn't just decide to kill Stiles with his bare hands; when all of a sudden Derek goes loose, all of his muscles giving out at once, and Stiles tries not to stagger, a little, under the sudden weight.

Derek's face is tucked into Stiles's neck, the barest bit of stubble against the skin there, and Derek doesn't cry, exactly, but he makes a small sound that Stiles isn't examining too closely. Less emasculating for them both.

"It's fucked up," he says. "I'm sorry. I know." He doesn't know what he's saying, actually, after a while. Just a steady stream of babble, every comforting meaningless thing he can think to say. He means every one of them. The words aren't as important as the sound anyway, as just knowing that someone if there to say it.

Stiles isn't certain how long they stand pressed together - Derek breathing into Stiles's neck, Stiles babbling like a crazy person, one stroking through Derek's hair, the other trying to span the breadth of his back. Derek clings, ever so slightly, even as he's starting to let go. Stiles supposes he can chalk it up to the high emotion of the moment, but man - he never would have classified Derek as a cuddler.

"Thanks," Derek says, and it doesn't even sound like it's been dragged out of him by rampaging centaurs. He's taken a few steps back now, like he was embarrassed by what just happened. And Stiles gets that, really, it's cool. Stiles is just extraordinarily enlightened for a teenage boy. "I really - I needed that."

"Anytime," Stiles says, and he means it. He is the undisputed champion of hugs. Everyone knows this. He holds cuddling hours every Thursday before and after dinner in the Common Room. Jackson's been known to partake now and again, and if that isn't a ringing endorsement, Stiles doesn't know what is.

"Not everyone would have - " Derek looks uncomfortable, for a second. "Most people wouldn't have."

Stiles shrugs it off. "We're Hufflepuffs, right?"

After a minute, Derek nods.

"So we stick together. Honey badgers for life, yo," and holds out his fist to bump. Stiles wouldn't say Derek is a paragon of Hufflepuffliness - Stiles's word, thank you very much - but no one said he has to be. What Stiles has come to discover, really, is that House is sometimes less about where you fit and more about where you belong. If there is someone around here who needs more loyalty and friendship than Derek Hale, Stiles has not seen them. Except - okay, Jackson Whittemore aside. Douche.

Derek just stares at him.

Stiles shrugs. "We'll work on it." He looks down at his shoes for a second. The uneven hemlines of his robes; he's always stepping on them. "You okay? For now, anyway?"

Derek stares some more. At least his eyes have stopped flashing blue. That's gotta be a good sign, right? "The door's back," he says, which Stiles takes as another pretty good sign he's free to leave.

"Okay." Stiles thinks about his Astronomy homework, and his Potions essay, and how thoroughly Lydia is going to destroy him in Ancient Runes tomorrow. "You want to go to dinner? Because I have to tell you, I find emotions exhausting. And it's a Thursday, which means there's going to be pudding."

There's a brief moment where Derek hesitates, and Stiles thinks - wow, yeah, okay! - but Derek just shakes his head.

"No. No, I need..."

"More time alone, I get it." Far be it from Stiles to tell people how to grieve, or whatever. He just wants to make sure Hogwarts doesn't end up with a new ghost haunting its hallways. "Just not too much, okay? I charge very reasonable rates for my hugging services. One chocolate frog and I'm yours!" he says, and runs out the door. Feeling very much like he's done his good deed for the day.