The shrill ringing sound is so incongruous it takes him a moment to realize what it signifies. Minerva McGonagall pauses in her speech — while she won’t disagree that changes need to be made, she refuses to go so far as to start teaching her students Muggle science — and looks curiously at him from the fireplace.
“Is that a telephone?”
“Indeed it is, Headmistress,” he says. “As you can see, I practice what I preach. We’ll have to continue this later.”
He throws a handful of powder at the logs with one hand while grasping for the phone receiver with the other. It’s buried under a pile of scrolls and papers, but he manages to find it before the ringing stops.
“Dr. Deaton. To whom am I speaking?”
There’s a pause on the other end, as though the caller wasn’t really expecting anyone to answer.
“I, uh, yes, this is, ah — Isabella, from the Children’s Home?”
He thinks for a moment. There was an Isabella at the Beacon Hills Children’s Home in California; a thin blonde woman with nervous hands.
“Isabella! How wonderful to hear from you,” he says. “I hope everything has been going well since our meeting.”
“Ah, yes, um, thank you, it’s just, uh — you said, when you were here, you told me that I should call you if one of the children ever did anything — odd, you said — like, unnatural-like, and, well — ”
He’s already reaching for the suit jacket he keeps in his office for emergencies. “Say no more, Isabella; I’ll be there in an hour or two.”
“Oh, well, that’s, um, okay then, I’ll — I’ll just get him ready for you, I guess?”
“Much obliged, Isabella,” he says, then carefully places the phone down before throwing off his robes and tugging on the suit jacket, fingers snagging on the buttons. In theory, he could be at the Home in the next minute, but Apparating from Maine to California is a risky proposition at the best of times, and the quick journey would arouse suspicion as well. Better to Portkey to Sacramento, find a nearby car rental and drive the last 50 miles.
In his hurry to leave, he almost forgets to grab the wand off his desk.
He pulls up at the Home exactly two hours after the phone call, slowly parking the black sedan in the gravel lot out front. It’s a gray and sad-looking place, but he supposes that’s inevitable when you’re dealing with unwanted children.
Isabella is standing on the front porch by the time he exits the car. There’s a pale, skinny child of indeterminate age and gender perched on the railing, eyes hidden by a thick mop of brown hair.
“Hello,” he says, smiling. “How wonderful to see you again. And this is — ?”
Isabella bites her lip, frowns. “Inside,” she says. “We should — inside.”
She goes through the door and leads him to a small room at the end of the hall. He wonders briefly where everyone else is, but is wary of asking questions that a Muggle would see no need for.
The room holds a filing cabinet, a desk and three chairs. Only the child sits, head bowed low and fingers twitching against thighs.
“You said — you hinted,” Isabella stutters out, “When you were here, you — ”
“Yes, I remember,” he says. “And as promised..." He reaches into his jacket pocket; pulls out a small stack of bills. “First, however, I’ll need a few minutes alone with the” — him, she’d said — “with this young gentleman here.”
“He can’t speak,” she says, gaze following the money in his hand. “He — whoever had him last, they — his tongue’s been cut out.”
The room is silent apart from the rasp of small fingertips against denim.
“And...who exactly had him last?” he finally manages to ask.
She shrugs her shoulders; a sharp, jilted motion. “Angus found him lying with the dogs near the train yard when he went to throw them some scraps; called up the cops and they brought him here. Said no one was looking for him. He’s been here a week, hasn’t tried to write or sign anything. He — I knew I had to call you, after he — ”
“After he what, Isabella?” he prompts gently.
She nods towards the window. “We have a pond out back. Filled with all sorts of weird looking fish, all different colors.”
“We didn’t before,” she says.
And that’s — just not possible, on several different levels.
“They’re not real,” she says. “The fish, I mean. Or — they go through your hand, when you try to catch them, but they look up at you, like — like they know you’re there. So they’re not fake.”
“I see,” he says, even though he honestly doesn’t.
“But that’s not — that’s not why I called,” she says. “I wanted to, kept picking up the phone ready to dial, but I — I couldn’t make my fingers press the right buttons. Almost like, like it didn’t want me to.” She licks her lips, glances furtively at the window. “Then, the other day, some of the older boys were pushing him around, calling him names — kid stuff, you know — and then they just started coughing, coughing up — blood, the whole yard — splattered, and they all...” She trails off, pauses. “We had to call an ambulance.”
He looks at the child again. A bit small to have put several boys in the hospital, but sometimes things happened. It’s bad, but not irredeemable.
“He can’t stay here,” Isabella says. “You — you have somewhere to put him, you said?”
There’s no response he can give that won’t lead to more questions, and he’s anxious to get back to the Academy. It’s cool here, this far north, but he can already feel the sweat beading at the base of his neck.
“There’s no need to worry,” he says, and pulls the wand from his sleeve. He whispers the spell, waits until her eyes glaze over and her breathing slows.
“Come along, then,” he tells the boy. “Show me your pond.”
He feels almost bad, watching it curl into itself with a faint shimmer, but the boy doesn’t protest and follows him easily enough to the car.
He slips the cash into Isabella’s coat pocket, then sends a quick message to the Aurors, letting them know that Beacon Hills was in dire need of some memory spells without providing too many details.
It’s an awkward, silent drive to Sacramento. The Portkey is still lying in the alley, right where he left it, and the boy reaches out for the old sneaker unprompted.
His fingers barely have a chance to brush against its surface before they both disappear.
He takes the boy to his suite of rooms in the dorms. There are questions that need answering, but first —
“Drink,” he says, holding out a small bottle. The boy looks at him warily from under his bangs, sitting on the edge of the sofa.
“It’ll grow your tongue back,” he says. “It shouldn’t hurt.”
The boy doesn’t move.
“If you don’t drink it I won’t be able to teach you about magic,” he adds, and that’s enough to convince the boy to open his mouth and swallow the potion.
“And it makes you fall asleep while it’s healing you,” he says, but the boy’s already slumped over, out cold.
In the morning he makes pancakes. The smell draws the boy off the couch and into the kitchen.
“You’ll need to tell me your name if you want any,” he says.
The boy considers him for a moment.
It’s mumbled, but he hears it well enough.
“I meant your full name,” he says.
The boy — Stiles — sits at the table. “Should’ve specified.”
And — all right, he can grant him that.
He brings the platter of pancakes over and watches as Stiles rolls one up and stuffs it in his mouth without bothering to add any syrup.
“Where are your parents?” he asks.
Stiles ignores him and reaches for another pancake, glaring when he moves the platter away.
“Dead,” Stiles says. “Obviously.”
“When did they die?”
Stiles’ mouth twists to the side, fingers drumming against the table’s surface. “Two years ago, I guess.”
He lets him have another pancake. This one, the boy drowns in syrup on his plate.
“And how old are you, Stiles?”
“Nine in September, why?” The words come out garbled from behind a mouthful of food.
“I’m afraid you won’t be able to begin your wizarding lessons for another two years, then. We start our students off when they’re eleven. It’s the same age as the other schools but we try and keep you for two years longer, so if you get the full degree you’ll be able to attend a Muggle university, if you want.”
He doesn’t really know why he’s giving the boy his marketing spiel. It’s not like Stiles is going to suddenly demand to attend one of the more traditional schools.
“What’s a Muggle?” Stiles asks.
“Someone who doesn’t know about magic,” he says. “Like Isabella, back at the Home.”
Stiles goes back to eating.
“I take it your parents weren’t wizards?”
No answer, but if the child hasn’t heard the term Muggle before, that’s telling enough. Which means —
“How did you know the sneaker was a Portkey, back in that alley yesterday?”
Stiles looks up him, swallows. “You knew what it was, too.”
“Yes, because I’d used it before. How did you — ?"
“Oh,” says Stiles, tilting his head to the side. “Huh.”
“What is it?”
“Full now,” Stiles says, sliding off the chair and ambling back to the couch.
He spends a full month trying to get Stiles to tell him what happened before he came to the Home, but none of his usual methods for questioning students bears any fruit. Sometimes Stiles answers with a stream of babble only tangentially connected to the topic at hand; sometimes he stares blankly at the wall in silence.
There are options, of course — Veritaserum or Legilimency, followed by a carefully spun Obliviate to erase any memory of what could be seen as a breach of trust — but he’s reluctant to use magic here, and that magic, especially. Bad enough when used against a full-grown wizard; unthinkable with an eight year-old boy. There’s no telling what the long-term side effects might be.
He lets it go; starts teaching him the basics of magical theory and algebra instead. Stiles is smart but easily distracted, and sometimes it’s easier to just leave him alone in his private library, letting him flip through book after book.
He’s surprised at the boy’s complacency. Whoever “had him last,” in Isabella’s words, must have hurt him badly, and yet Stiles — despite his actions at the Home — isn’t an angry child, or a fearful one. He wonders every so often if it’s all an act, but — to what purpose? Stiles appears to have no agenda beyond getting chocolate stains all over the furniture.
He arranges to have one of the gardeners’ nieces, a nineteen-year old Squib named Amy, look after Stiles while he runs errands. He supposes she’ll do well enough to look after him once the fall term starts, since Muggle public school is out of the question under the circumstances. Stiles’ magic seems to pour out of his skin and into the air around him, overflowing. Things — happen, around him; shadows taking on shapes and colors and movement, and for all that it’s mesmerizing to watch it’s also vaguely unsettling.
Today, there are five frogs sitting on the dining room windowsill. They’re wearing top hats and every once in a while will jump up and rearrange themselves in a synchronized leap.
It would be odd even if Stiles were actively directing them, but — he’s not. He’s slumped over in an armchair, reading about the Goblin Wars of 1834 and chewing on a pretzel stick, spilling crumbs onto the rug.
He asks Professor Morrell about it during their weekly lunch meeting.
“It’s probably just excess magic manifesting itself,” she says. “You should consider yourself lucky he’s not blowing holes in your ceiling.”
“I think I might prefer the holes,” he says. “For it to manifest in such a structured way, and at his age...I’m almost afraid of what’s going to happen when he gets his hands on a wand.”
“I’d like to meet him,” Morrell says, eyebrows lifting in mock amazement. “Anyone who manages to scare the Shadow of the — ”
“Oh, not this again.” He sends a raspberry flying at her face with a flick of his fork. “You really don’t need to remind me that the words top secret and classified apparently mean nothing to you.”
The raspberry stops an inch away from her nose, then drops neatly onto her tart. “I always found it odd they’d never put us under Fidelius,” she says. “I think they’re actually hoping someone lets something slip. All that madness over in England, and no one here even knows — ”
“It was over forty years ago,” he says. “And there’s a reason for the silence. You can’t repeat a story that was never told in the first place.”
A skinny hand reaches over his shoulder, makes off with a bit of crust. He hears Morrell’s fork clatter to the ground, but his attention is focused on the incursion into his plate.
“You sound like a fortune cookie sometimes, you know that?” Stiles is saying, crunching loudly and bumping against the table with his hip. There’s a silver lizard napping in his hair. “You should grow out your beard; then you’d have something to stroke while spouting your wisdom.”
“You’re being rude,” he says mildly, and gives Stiles a gentle push towards Morrell. “Say hello to Professor Morrell, and then go back to the library and finish your worksheet.”
“Howdy,” Stiles says. “What do you teach?”
“Divination,” Morrell says, smiling in her inscrutable way. “And Latin. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. His eyes drop to her hands, face flushing pink. “Uh, sorry. For the interruption and stuff.” He grabs a raspberry off Deaton’s plate, then swivels around to head back to the library.
“That was actually fairly subdued for him,” he tells Morrell once Stiles is out of sight.
“Nonetheless, he’s a bit — loud,” she says, eyes gazing at the spot where Stiles had been standing. Her hands lie loosely curled on the table, but there’s something forced about their softness.
“He’s just a boy,” he says, oddly defensive. “They tend not to be the quietest of creatures.”
Morrell looks up at him. “Boys will be boys,” she says, almost singsong, and it’s an opening; an invitation for him to finish her thought.
He stays quiet; watches her watch him.
Finally she sighs, pushes herself away from the table. “He has a point about the beard,” she says, and just like that she’s Professor Morrell again.
“Sometimes I wonder why I keep you around,” he muses, and she pauses with her back against the door, smiles sharply in answer.
He lets her leave, suddenly weary. The Muggles have a saying about foxholes and bedfellows, he thinks. There’s a whole constellation of scars linking their bodies, years spent in darkness wearing strangers’ skins. When it was all over — when it all turned to dust under their hands and they’d been asked to choose their rewards — his only request had been for a school.
He hadn’t asked her to stay; still isn’t sure what it was that she’d wanted.
His thoughts are interrupted by a loud thump from the library. “It’s like living with a tiny drunk troll,” he mutters to himself.
It’s probably for the best that Morrell isn’t there to see the fondness that’s no doubt on his face.
Three days before Stiles’ ninth birthday (or what Stiles claims is his birthday, anyway; he supposes it’s possible the boy just wants cake earlier in the month), the first of the students arrive.
As always, he’s there to welcome them at the gates, reassuring the parents of the First Years that in the whole of its 38-year history, no one at the Academy has ever been eaten by bears. Or wolves, though that’s become a more awkward conversation in recent years.
Stiles is supposed to be inside the apartment with Amy, but he’s not surprised to discover that the boy convinced her to take him for a walk just outside the Academy’s entrance.
No one seems to mind that there’s a skinny, floppy-haired child staring at them, or that there’s a bright blue parrot sitting on his shoulder, so he leaves them be. At least this one doesn’t have an eye-patch and a wooden leg like the last one.
That night, Stiles comes into the study and sits cross-legged on the floor.
He’s putting the finishing touches on a speech for tomorrow’s dinner ceremony, but it can wait.
“Can’t sleep?” he asks.
He thinks that the boy must have nightmares, but he’s never heard — or, for that matter, seen — any signs of them, so maybe not.
“The kid with the big family,” Stiles says. “The ones who kept hugging.”
“Derek Hale,” he answers, even though Stiles hasn’t asked.
“Derek Hale,” Stiles repeats. “Why’s it...different, for him?”
Sometimes words don’t work quite the way they should with Stiles, and he has to guess at their meaning.
“Derek comes from an affectionate family,” he says, and decides there’s no harm in Stiles knowing the rest — after all, everyone else at the Academy does.
“He’s a born-wolf,” he explains. “It’s very difficult for him to leave his family — his pack — and come here for nine months every year. It’s difficult for them, too. That’s why they all come out to say goodbye. And why there’s a lot of hugging, as you noted.”
“How come he’s the only one at the school?” Stiles asks.
“And not his siblings, you mean? It’s very rare for a born-wolf to have magical abilities. There aren’t that many born-wolves to begin with, and maybe one every five generations or so has the capacity to be a witch or wizard as well.”
He glances at the clock on the mantelpiece. “I think it’s time we both got to bed,” he says. “You can learn more about born-wolves tomorrow; there are a few books in my library that mention them.”
Stiles nods and rises, looking preoccupied.
Somehow, he isn’t surprised to find Stiles asleep in one of the library chairs the next morning, books spread across his lap.
“I think I should go to school now,” Stiles tells him during winter break. “You can get me a wand for Christmas.”
“You’re nine years old,” he says, flicking open the evening paper to scan the headlines. “You’re too young to have a wand.”
“I could’ve lied,” says Stiles. “I could be twelve for all you know.”
“Hmm,” he says. “In that case, I suppose that means I’ll have to give you some Veritaserum, just to make sure you’re telling the truth now.”
“Fine,” Stiles mutters. “I’ll just buy a wand myself.”
“First off,” he says, putting down the paper to meet the boy’s stubborn glare, “Unless you’ve been picking pockets, you don’t have any money. Secondly, you don’t even know where the wand shop is. And thirdly, it’s against wizarding law to sell a wand to anyone under the age of eleven, and they have spells that’ll mark you as too young the second you step inside.”
He expects another round of arguing, but Stiles just goes quiet for a minute, staring at the potatoes on his plate.
“Where do the wands in the wand shop come from?” Stiles asks, curious now rather than sullen.
“The wandmaker makes them, as you might have guessed from the name.”
“Oh,” says Stiles. “Yeah, I should’ve figured that one out on my own.”
Spring begins with a House Elf strike, then a week of terse negotiations with the Aurors after several students are discovered running a bliss-potion operation out of their rooms. His history with the Department only gets him so far, and he barely manages to keep everyone out of jail when there’s a crisis with the mermaids in the nearby lake, followed by weeks of dealing with angry parents who disagree with his stance that any student stupid enough to go kayaking in mermaid territory in the future frankly deserves to be gored by spears.
Sometime during all this, Amy moves to New York to go to art school, and while he knows full well that he should find another sitter for Stiles, it gets pushed to the back of his mind while he’s dealing with everything else.
And the boy seems to do well enough on his own — no damage to any property or to himself, no complaints from anyone else — and it becomes less and less of a priority until suddenly it’s the summertime, and Stiles announces that he needs a uniform for next year.
“Check your math,” he says. “You’ll be a few days short of ten, then.”
“You said I needed a wand to go to school,” Stiles says.
“That’s because you do, Stiles.” He really doesn’t want to have this fight again.
“Okay,” says Stiles, grinning and bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“Yeah,” says Stiles, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a wand, of all things.
“Where did you get that?” he asks, heart sinking. Wizarding law doesn’t look kindly on wand-thieves, even those as young as Stiles.
“I made it!” says Stiles. With a flick of his wrist, the side table suddenly jolts forward, then tilts and falls with a crash. “I’m, uh, still getting the hang of it.”
He’s actually incapable of speech right now.
“Amy did the wood part,” Stiles says, a few seconds after they stare silently at the table. “I just brought her a birch branch and said I wanted something to play with. I even got her to hollow it out and make a seal so it could close it up, you know, after I put the core stuff in.”
“Yeah, the magic juice. The book said you need something like unicorn hair or dragon heartstring — which sounds disgusting, by the way — but I had to improvise since there aren’t any unicorns or dragons around here, which is a kind of a major failing of the Academy, like, we should totally have a few dragons out in the forest, how cool would that be — ”
“Stiles,” he says, getting his bearings back. “What do you mean, you improvised?”
“I mean I winged it, cobbled something together, contrived a solution — ”
“Stiles,” he interrupts, and Merlin, he needs to put a limit on how much the boy reads every day, if only for his own sanity. “You’re not going to tell me what’s inside that wand, are you?”
“Nope,” says Stiles.
“All right,” he sighs. “Can I at least try it out?”
“You’re not gonna break it open or anything, are you?”
“No,” he says, “But only because I know you’ll just do something even more ridiculous as a response.”
The wand is simple-looking, thicker than most but still elegant. A little short of eleven inches. He gives it a flick and nothing happens. “Accio pen!”
The pen stays exactly where it is. It doesn’t even wiggle.
Stiles grabs the wand back. “Accio pen!” The pen comes flying towards him, along with every other pen in the apartment. He can hear several thunking dully against the study door.
“Guess it only works for me,” Stiles says, batting away the pens with his left hand, his right still clutching his wand.
“Guess so,” he says.
“So, about the uniform — ”
“I’ll schedule a fitting,” he says. “And a haircut,” because the fewer flammable parts the boy has come autumn, the better.
“I hear your ward’s gotten his hands on a wand,” Morrell says the next time they meet. He wonders if that’s new, her refusal to call Stiles by his name, or if he simply hasn’t noticed until now.
“He’s certainly creative,” he says. “And on the bright side, his magic’s gotten much more controlled — no more dancing animals all over my living room.”
Morrell slants a quick look at him before returning her gaze to her teacup. “He reminds me of someone I once met.”
He doesn’t rise to the bait. “He’s just a boy,” he says, “and one of your students come September.”
“I suppose I’ll have to take some responsibility for him at that point.”
“It takes a village,” he says. “Or so I’ve heard.”
Morrell smiles down at her cup. He doesn’t ask her what the leaves say.
Stiles turns out to be a capable but unremarkable student for the most part — surprising, given his earlier precociousness, but perhaps that was just the result of boredom and solitude, and unfettered access to what in retrospect were some rather inappropriate books for someone his age.
His two friends are a boy named Scott who’s a natural on a broom but a disaster most everywhere else, and a girl named Erica who knows far too many spells that end in tears and pus-filled boils. Everyone else, Stiles more or less ignores.
At any rate, Morrell was right — the boy is now the responsibility of the Academy as a whole, and while he still keeps an eye on him and keeps him company during breaks, he’s no longer as concerned with his future.
He can’t be, not when the Academy is full of hormone-riddled teenagers sneaking each other faulty love potions and experimenting with sex spells and every so often kayaking in the mermaids’ lake because they’re all idiots, all of them.
“How’s his Latin?” he asks Morrell when he sees her, which isn’t nearly as often these days.
“Inventive,” she says; or: “A bit loud, still”; or, once: “Stark and bloodied.”
He’s a bit young for Seneca, he almost says in response to that last one, then remembers how he found Stiles, back at the Home with his tongue missing.
“He practices all time in his room during breaks,” he tells her instead.
“Very dedicated,” she agrees, “But only to the things that hold his interest.”
In February of Stiles’ third year, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Apparates to northern California and burns down Derek Hale’s house.
Derek’s uncle, away on business, is the only survivor apart from Derek himself. Everyone else is burned alive, the Fiendfyre reducing everything in a half-mile radius to ash.
Before the week is out, Peter Hale tracks down Kate Argent and tears out her throat. His mate was killed in the fire. By wizarding law, he is within his rights to act as he did.
By human law, he is taken into custody by a SWAT team and placed under 24-hour surveillance.
By wolf law, he rips his own heart out before morning.
All told, it takes him, Morrell and a team of Aurors seven hours, countless memory spells and two dozen cleaning charms to make the whole thing disappear, until all that’s left is Derek.
“Harris tells me that he’s missing some rare herbs from his storage room,” Morrell says, appearing beside him and matching his strides down the hallway.
“And he told you instead of me because...?”
“I believe he’s still reeling from your response the last time he acknowledged a break-in.”
“They’re teenagers, not mastermind criminals. If they’re getting past his protective wards, it doesn’t really leave me with a lot of confidence in his overall abilities.”
“It’s interesting,” Morrell says. “They didn’t take anything that would be useful for a lust potion or memory aid. Some of them you’d need for an Animagus spell, but you’d be missing a few critical components that need to be picked fresh from the forest. Several of the herbs are quite poisonous, though.”
“Why go though the trouble of mixing a poison when you could just throw a hex?” he asks.
Morrell hums in answer.
“Well, I’m sure the culprits will make themselves known soon enough,” he says. “We’ll just have to be on the lookout for someone with a horse’s head surrounded by internally bleeding classmates.”
“Speaking of horses’ heads,” Morrell says, “Your charge seems to have developed a certain fascination with Derek Hale.”
“Stiles has always been intrigued by Derek. He grew up with Muggles; they’ve got a thing for werewolves.”
Morrell stops suddenly, forcing him to turn around and step back towards her.
“There’s something odd about that boy,” she says.
“Stiles or Derek?”
“Derek’s far too straightforward to be odd.”
She’s being unnaturally straightforward herself at the moment, but all that means is that she’s playing a different game now, and he refuses to be drawn in.
“I’ve got parchments to sign,” he tells her, and walks the rest of the distance to his office alone, wishing she hadn’t mentioned Derek. What happened to the Hales last winter wasn’t his fault — the school board picked Argent, not him; she’d been an Auror for three years and none of her superiors had ever suspected an affiliation to a fringe purity group. There was no way he could’ve known what she’d been planning.
Not his fault at all, really; but he doesn’t like to dwell on it.
He notices Stiles watching Derek, after that. When Harris tells him that family tragedy or not, Derek’s on track to fail Seventh Year Potions, he suggests enlisting Stiles as a tutor, even though he’s only a Fifth Year. Chemistry and Potions are Stiles’ best subjects, in spite of his tendency to ignore instructions and come up with his own highly volatile concoctions.
He thinks Stiles can handle the work easily enough. This is the boy who made his own wand, after all, and refused to trade it in for a...more traditional one on his eleventh birthday.
Harris agrees, possibly seeing it as an efficient way to torture both boys.
The tutoring goes well.
“A little too well,” Harris mutters darkly. He’s ignored by the rest of the teaching staff, most of whom think Stiles’ and Derek’s new friendship is rather sweet.
He sees them sometimes, occasionally with Scott and Erica and Derek’s friend Boyd, but more often by themselves. Stiles chattering away; Derek watching him talk, eyes shadowed. Derek seems to at least tolerate Stiles, which is more than can be said for most of his own classmates.
It’s not his fault, he tells himself. The board appointed Kate; he simply hadn’t vetoed their decision.
Still, he asks that Derek join him and Stiles during the summer break, and holds back his surprise when Derek says that he’s already agreed to stay with Morrell, to work on his Divination.
“Ah,” he says. “You’re interested in becoming a Seer?”
He supposes it makes sense, given what happened. “Hopefully Professor Morrell has already tempered any expectations that you’ll be able to see your own future, or any future at all, for that matter?”
Derek nods, eyes glued to the floor.
“All right then,” he says. “You should still stop by for dinner sometimes, if only to keep Stiles from raising an army of giant wasps out of boredom. Again.”
Derek looks up at that, mouth shaping into something that’s almost a smile.
“He said he thought they were bees,” Derek says. “I think he wanted to see how they made honey.”
Derek doesn’t agree to come to dinner, but he shows up every Friday that summer nonetheless.
Stiles finally hits his growth spurt in his Sixth Year, and spends most mornings of the summer after stretched over the length of the sofa, sometimes with food balanced precariously on his chest.
“We do have a table, you know,” he says, plucking the bowl of cereal off him.
Stiles sticks out his tongue, flailing a bit in the process, and that’s when he sees the mark on his neck. It’s also when Derek wanders out of Stiles’ bedroom, scratching absently at his stomach on the way to the kitchen.
He leaves it alone until after dinner, when Derek goes for a run.
“You do realize he’s three years older than you,” he says. Stiles looks up from the dishes, sponges plopping dully into the water as his spell fizzles out.
“Seriously? You’re giving me the dad talk?” and there’s a thread of anger in Stiles’ voice — or maybe fear. It’s strange, coming from Stiles, who usually vacillates between cheerful and indignant.
“You’re not kicking him out,” Stiles tells him, because after the summer with Morrell, Derek has chosen to stay with them over breaks. Or, he realizes now, with Stiles, specifically.
“No,” he agrees. “But I am going to ask him to sleep on the couch from now on.”
“We’re not — it’s none of your business, but we’re not even having sex. So there’s no need to exile him out here.”
“Sorry,” he says. “My roof, my rules.”
“Fine,” says Stiles. He throws down the plate he was drying and slams the door to his room.
The next morning he finds Derek lying on the couch, Stiles sprawled on top of him, snoring lightly.
Derek glances towards him and his mouth sets into a thin line, but his hand doesn’t move from its spot on Stiles’ hip.
Trust Stiles to find a way to wriggle through a technicality.
He leaves it alone, after that. Stiles has never needed his protection, and Derek does seem to be doing better — more in control of his wolf — with Stiles draping himself all over him at every opportunity.
Morrell brings it up once, strangely hesitant, asking if perhaps they shouldn’t be concerned about Derek’s level of attachment.
“What do you mean?” he asks, distracted. Several Seventh Years (though not Stiles, thankfully) are in the hospital wing suffering from severe stomach ulcers, and the head nurse can’t figure out why or how to fix it.
“Just — Derek’s strength,” Morrell says. “And Stiles — ”
“Derek could never hurt Stiles,” he says. He knows enough about born-wolves to be certain of that, at least.
“No,” Morrell agrees. “That’s what concerns me.”
She looks tired, he notices, faint circles under her eyes and a certain brittleness to her words. But they’re all tired now, trying to figure this thing out, keep it from spreading further.
He wants to ask what she means, but they’re interrupted by the Charms professor running into his office — another student’s collapsed, and they rush out to help get him to the infirmary with the others.
A type of rare fungus, he figures out in the end; one that eats through stomach lining and multiplies with the application of further magic. They’d had to resort to Muggle medicines to kill it, and no one knows how it got inside Matt Daehler’s home-brewed Firewhiskey (how the Firewhiskey got inside the students is a far easier mystery to solve), but no one dies and only about two-thirds of the parents send Howlers.
All in all, he’s looking forward to a nice subdued winter break, except Stiles and Derek are apparently in the midst of an argument, which means that Derek decides to stay with Morrell and Stiles decides that the dining room works much better with a swamp as a carpet.
“Perhaps you could try talking to him?” he asks after several days go by. He’d promised himself not to interfere, but he misses being able to spread his paper out over breakfast without having to shoo frogs away from his eggs.
“He’s mad at me,” Stiles says. He looks more resigned than heartbroken, so it can’t be anything too serious.
“Can’t,” Stiles says. “I’m not really sorry, and he’s got that whole thing where he can tell if I’m lying.”
“So apologize for upsetting him. You are sorry about that, aren’t you?”
Stiles shrugs, running one hand over his head. He’s grown his hair out, and it tends to clump up like a rodent’s nest when he’s stressed.
“Yeah, I guess,” he mumbles. “Shit, I think I really am sorry about that.”
“Language,” he scolds gently. Stiles grins at him, levering himself up off the sofa and towards the front door. “And no visiting anyone until you’ve returned the dining room back to its uninhabited state.”
Stiles rolls his eyes at that, but takes a second to point his wand at the muck slowly encroaching into the hallway, moving his arm in a quick, complicated spiral.
“All gone,” Stiles says, and amazingly it is in fact all gone. “Don’t wait up!” he yells over his shoulder.
“Try not to get mauled,” he calls back, then winces when he realizes how that could be interpreted.
“There’s a reason I never wanted any children of my own,” he tells his empty apartment.
Stiles and Derek make up, he assumes, because Derek comes over for dinner that night with his things.
Morrell Floos him, once, a few months later. It’s the morning after the April moon and Derek’s not back from his hunt and a quick look proves that Stiles is missing as well, and she almost manages to work him into a panic until he remembers himself; throws out a simple tracking spell, then a more powerful one of his own design when the first fails.
The spell flickers out after a second, but it works long enough to lead him to the woods, where he and Morrell find the two of them curled up inside a hollow oak, under one of Stiles’ winter cloaks.
“Young love,” he tells Morrell, relieved and rueful for worrying.
“It didn’t work,” she says softly. “The tracking spell didn’t work, and they — ”
He doesn’t respond. Magic can be tricky with born-wolves; she knows that. As for Stiles — well, magic can be tricky with him, too, sometimes.
“Coffee,” he says instead. “I’d like to be well-caffeinated when I lecture Stiles for almost getting eaten and freezing to death.”
He rests his hand against the small of Morrell’s back, nudges her back towards the school.
“If you’re not inside in the next fifteen minutes I’ll get Harris to fetch you,” he says, confident that Derek, if not Stiles, has been awake from the moment he and Morrell entered the forest.
Stiles doesn’t suffer any ill-effects from his moonlit jaunt, but Morrell develops a cough, then a fever, and he’s forced to take over her classes for a week while she recovers under quarantine from what turns out to be a bout of Scrofungulus.
He visits her after the danger of contagion passes, and tugs Stiles in after him when he finds the boy skulking outside the infirmary.
Morrell’s staring up at the ceiling, propped up against pillows and eyes slightly glazed. He pulls over a chair to sit near her bed. Stiles perches on an empty bed across the aisle, getting a book out of his bag as though he merely wanted to come in here to study.
“I think he feels a bit guilty,” he whispers, but Morrell doesn’t seem to hear him. “Been a while since we’ve had to do the whole bedside thing,” he says, louder, and she turns towards him at that.
“A while, yes,” she says, voice dry and raspy. “Yet here we are again. You said — I know you believe that, about our silence, the stories. But it’s not right, is it?” and her eyes slip shut. “Because it’s all — there’s only so many out there. So of course they’re going to — what else, what else can they do?”
“She’s still a bit feverish, the poor dear,” the nurse says, jostling him out of the way to whisper a calming spell over Morrell’s head.
“Do you know, I actually like being a teacher?” Morrell says dreamily.
“That’s good,” he says, watching her face go slack in sleep. “Considering you’re one of the few I can actually tolerate.”
He glances towards Stiles, but the boy hasn’t taken his eyes off his book, hand stretched across the pages like a twitchy spider.
And he knows, knows that there’s something there, something Morrell wants him to see — but he likes being a teacher, too. This is the only skin that’s ever felt even halfway like it should.
In the springtime he asks Stiles what courses he’d like to take in his eighth year.
“Not sure I’ll stick around for the full degree,” Stiles says, surprising him.
“What are you planning to do instead?” he asks.
“Dunno,” Stiles says. “Maybe I’ll put on a top hat and cape, take my show on the road. Derek can be my lovely assistant.”
“The Aurors generally frown on using real magic in front of Muggles.”
“You wound me, good sir,” Stiles says with mock affront. “There won’t be a trace of wizardry at my shows.”
“Just sleights of hand, then?”
“Well, sleights of something, anyway.”
“Is this because Derek’s graduating next month?” he asks, suddenly realizing he doesn’t know what Derek has planned, either. It slips his mind, sometimes, that Derek no longer has a place in the world outside of school.
“Nah, Derek would wait if I asked,” Stiles says. “I just — I don’t know; seems like the time’s right to strike off on my own. On my own with Derek, anyway.”
“You’ll always be welcome here, you know,” he says, because maybe Stiles doesn’t.
“Thanks,” Stiles grins. “You won’t miss me too much, will you?” he asks, fluttering his eyelashes.
“I’ve actually been thinking of adopting a dragon,” he says. “That way I can continue constantly fearing for my living space and spending my wages on snack food. Though I’m told they’re much less moody than your average teenager, so that’ll be a nice change.”
“Yeah, yeah, you love me, really,” Stiles says, and he — he thinks about that small silent boy, compares him to the wizard standing in front of him and says, smiling: “Hmm. Maybe. Just a little.”
Stiles and Derek disappear in late June, the afternoon that Derek gets his degree. He’s not too surprised by the lack of goodbye; none of them are the type for emotional scenes. Stiles is just a few months shy of seventeen, and he figures that’s close enough not to go through the trouble of tracking the boy down. Especially since Stiles is staying in touch, in his own unique way.
Morrell never mentions either of their names, but sometimes she pauses in his office and runs her fingers across the postcards tacked to the wall, whispers something too low for him to hear.
Stiles sends the first one, featuring a snow-capped mountain with hints of a small town near its base, the same day he and Derek vanish from the grounds. It’s old; faded and creased, as though folded and re-opened dozens of times over the years. The ones that follow are brand-new, showing different towns and landmarks across the U.S.
They’re all blank on the back except for his name, scrawled in Stiles’ messy hand. Not “Deaton” but his full name, his original one. It’s a good thing he knows Stiles as well as he does, understands Stiles’ insatiable curiosity and need to show off what he’s learned. From anyone else, that sort of thing could come off as a warning, maybe even a threat.
As it is, he just rolls his eyes and pins them up on his wall after erasing the ink, and sometimes when he’s having a bad day and students are being their usual moronic selves, he likes to look up at the postcards and think, Well, at least I did one thing right.