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The air was thick with magic, in the same way he imagined faith must swell in a place of worship. Such a high concentration of people who were raised with magic, and by magic, and come from magic; all in one place, worshipping and sharing and honing the craft. He knew belonged here the moment he stepped through the doors of the Great Hall. Even though his body almost vibrated with nerves, he held that much with a certainty. His biggest anxiety was over being placed in the same house as his brothers had been, as his father had, his whole family before him. The exceptions weren’t spoken about. But the people who placed in Gryffindor or Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, they were different . He couldn’t be lumped among them, he had to blend in, because he already knew he was different.

~

The walk to the Slytherin common room was long and felt like he was being escorted to jail, which -- in the dungeons -- he sort of was. But once that dusty fuckin’ breeder for head-lice put him in the right house, his anxieties had pretty much all melted away. He just looked around him, saw the sights, smelled the smells and accepted the fact that this was where he’d be living most of his life for the next few years.

~

When you shared a room with other boys, the wank conundrum came up (no pun intended). Deciding where and when it’s acceptable is also how you decide what kind of guy you are. Plenty just drew their curtains and fapped under their sheets, sweaty and frantic, others attempted subtlety and ultimately failed with about as much grace as someone trying to slowly unpeel velcro in a quiet, packed room. For a while it became pretty popular to use Muffliato , but when people were just trying to sleep and suddenly their ears burst with static, things could get heated. Most waited and used the bathroom, some worried about how the noise carried -- those same people were afraid to make full use of the toilet facilities for the first few weeks at school. The rest used the showers, or abstained . Tried to abstain.

There were stories of boys sneaking down towards the outskirts of the grounds, towards the forest to dig up buried smut and jerk off behind a bush somewhere. The trouble with that was a combination of the freezing cold temperatures and the extreme likelihood you’d get caught. Which is where most of the stories came from.

For the most part, Mickey didn’t mind jerking off in a room full of guys, gave him something to think about, and their grunts of annoyance at the noise only egged him on. He just told them it helped him to sleep and the more they complained the longer it would take (ha!), but he couldn’t care less otherwise. The heady smell of teenage boys thick in the air did it for him. Not that he could tell anyone.

~

He’d seen people play Wizard’s Chess when he was growing up. Two men leaned over a board in a bar, all dark wood and smoke hanging in the air. He never really knew what the game was, just that they’d say numbers and letters and the pieces would move around and smash each other. And it was brutal. He loved that. He didn’t get a chance to play until he went to school, though, only ever watched and never really learned. He was too busy focusing on all of the ways they’d break each other apart and magically put themselves back together at the end with the flick of a wand.

It was a war, that’s how he saw it. Clean and simple as that.

~

By the time the new first years were arriving, he felt as though he’d mastered the place. He knew the way of things, he knew how to pick on them the way he’d been picked on, the directions to give to get them lost, the tips to navigate ghosts, the portrait etiquette, and which teachers you should never mess with. By the time the next group was in, which included his younger sister Mandy, he felt like he was pretty well settled.

What he lacked though, was close friends. He tended to keep to himself, because the Milkovich’s had a reputation, and one that didn’t make other little pure-blood snobs want to align with them. Most people gave them a wide berth, and while his older brothers used that to their advantage to form gangs and rule the school, Mickey just isolated himself, and used it only to threaten when he absolutely had to. Of course there was something to being able to just stare at someone and get your way, but he felt pretty lonely all the same.

He started spending his free time playing Chess or wandering the grounds, practising his magic when he was completely alone -- god forbid someone witness him giving a shit about his academics. Not that he excelled at anything anyway, the Milkovich’s mostly were able to stay in school because of their family influence.

It wasn’t as if he was completely alone. He had his “pet”, his cat. The giant mass of dark matted fur spent more time away from him than near him. One stark blue eye blinked slowly at him from across the lawn, the other scarred and closed. Like one of those babydolls with the broken eyelid who always looked like she was winking at you. A mouse was wedged in his mouth, long dead by the looks of it. Mickey wouldn’t call Attila company, per se. It was more that he was the biggest, most bad-ass looking pet he could find and he thought it would be cool. But this thing was haunted, he learned pretty quick how much it carried on it’s shoulders. It had learned how to growl at him even while it ate. It was constantly talking, yowling and grumbling and hissing, but everything sounded more like a rumbling roar. It took him a long time to realise what was an angry noise and what was a purr.

Attila stared at him as he pulled the mouse apart, and Mickey swallowed as he stared back, as if Attila was making him watch. Like he might be the mouse some day if he didn’t appease his cat. He wasn’t sure who was the pet in this situation, actually. He was starting to sweat by the time Attila slinked off towards the forest. Mickey felt sorry for whatever that cat encountered.

~

Mandy didn’t sit with him at meals. She sat with a group from her class. He hated that she took to social situations so easily, she seemed to be able to navigate the sea of people around her so much easier than he ever could.

He always found her hanging out with her “group”. Fuckin’ bitch. Still his sister, still loved her, but what a bitch.

His eyes were locked to hers as he approached, out of necessity more than anything. He was almost in talking distance when he noticed one of the boys standing with her was wearing red and gold instead of green and silver. That just… didn’t happen. Not often. Not with families like theirs. And what looked like a fuckin’ Weasley. He looked the guy up and down like it was an invitation for a fight, hair redder than the house colours, he didn’t seem all that intimidated and it shook Mickey enough to turn his attention back to Mandy.

“The fuck you hangin’ out with that guy for?”

“We have some classes together, why?”

“He’s a Gryffindor.”

“And?”

“And???”

Mandy stared him out, and they had a battle of ‘whose eyebrow can arch the highest’. “What do you want, Mickey?”

“You heard from Colin?”

“No, he doesn’t fuckin’ talk to me.”

Mickey looked like he was going to say something again, but then he stopped and stared at the red-head again, another challenge that was met with nothing more than a neutral expression. Mickey was made confused again by this and he looked at Mandy again with more force, “just fuckin’ find me later.” And he stalked off before she even had the chance to reply, all he could hear was her noise of annoyance and the guy saying, ‘that’s your brother?’

~

There was something so fuckin’ endlessly frustrating about his own sister choosing some Weasley Asshole Gryffindor -- or WAG, if you prefer -- over him. Least his older brothers entertained his company if he chose to hang around with them, so he felt like it was his choice isolating himself from them. But she fuckin’ actively chose the WAG over him, and seemed to fuckin’ delight in how pissed off it made him to be ignored in favor of the other guy. She got such a wicked little smile and the guy just plastered on a sort of goofy grin like a puppy that no matter how hard you kicked it always looked happy to see you.

And he really tried hard to kick him. Glaring at him any time he saw him.

Okay so maybe he could have tried hard, but since the guy just seemed happy to have any attention at all, it seemed best to just avoid him.

Same way he avoided anyone, really. He kept treats around so Attila would hang out near him and scare others off, or he’d find somewhere quiet to play chess.

As long as he looked intense enough about the game, no one even tried to play with him. Just always practising with himself. Learning his favourite ways to make them fight each other. And if someone lingered near him for too long, all he’d have to say is, “bet I could find a spell to shrink you to that size,” and have someone brutally attack another piece.

He caught WAG watching him a few times, but usually not for long. He’d glare once or twice and look away and by the time he looked back he’d have walked off.

~

It was the next school year before he actually spoke to him. Sat opposite him at the chess board and smiled and set down a little bag of pieces and said, “can I play you next?” Completely non-plussed, acting like they were friends or something.

Mickey’s face screwed up and he looked at the shattered pieces across the table in the great hall, and then back up at WAG. “Why?”

“I uh… you always play alone, I thought--”

Mickey grumbled something sharp before he stood, “leave me the fuck alone, Weasley,” abandoning his pieces as he took off out of the hall and away from him. Leaving him there baffled.

~

“I’m not a Weasley.”

It took Mickey by surprise and he turned his head so sharply a pain ripped up his neck. His face twists up and he looked up from where he was sat by the lake to see that stupid freckled face looking back. “What?”

“You said leave me the fuck alone, Weasley , but I’m not a Weasley.”

“Yeah see, I’m confused, because you clearly heard what I said and yet here you fuckin’ are.”

He blinked, “my name’s Ian.”

“I don’t care.”

“Gallagher.”

“Good for you.”

“So I don’t have to-”

“Leave me the fuck alone, Gallagher , you happy now?”

“You left your stuff in the hall,” he said, dropping down beside him and setting down a familiar bald velvet pull-string bag. He could hear his pieces rattling in it against his cheap fold up board.

“And great, you brought it back, could you piss off now?”

He just continued to smile in the face of Mickey, something he was pretty fuckin’ sure the kid had learned from his sister.

“What?”

“Why don’t you want to play with me?”

“What are you twelve?”

“No.”

“Why do you care?”

“One game, and I’ll go. It’s better when you play against other people.”

“Fine, what-fuckin-ever.”

He pushed himself away from the water's edge and emptied the bag out to set up the board. And then he sat opposite Ian and that was about the limit of his knowledge of how the game was really played. All these years of watching people play, and fiddling about with the boards and pieces, the most he’d learned was how to charm the pieces so they would move any way he told them to. He liked to make them fight, he didn’t know the rules. Only knew the names of the pieces so they would move.

Ian was staring at him expectantly, and Mickey looked up trying to disguise his panic. “You go first,” he urges.

“But uh… aren’t you supposed to go first when you play that colour.”

“Right, uh… I guess.”

“Used to playing alone, too much, huh?” Ian said, as if providing him cover for being so rusty.

Mickey nodded weakly and ordered a pawn forward. Ian then did the same and he felt safe for a while. Then Ian started moving his other pieces, and that’s really when things started to go downhill.

“Oh.”

“What?”

“I just didn’t know Knights could move that way.”

“It’s uh… Yeah, course they can.”

Ian continued to look unsure, but Mickey stood by it.

“Oh.”

“What now?”

“Are you sure you can… have you… are you cheating?”

“What?”

“Have you charmed your pieces?”

“I uh…” he turned red, but tried on a fierce expression to hide it.

“You did, didn’t you!”

“Shut your damn mouth before I shove my wand down it so far you’ll shit sparkles.”

“Woah, hey it’s no big deal, I’ve just never seen something like that before. Do you… not know how you’re s’posed to play.”

Mickey looked at him for a few long moments before he cast his eyes down, slightly ashamed to admit it but knowing no amount of shouting or scare-tactics would disguise the fact that he absolutely didn’t. Except once Ian just erupted in laughter, he was pretty ready to draw his wand.

“Hey, hey, hey, no -- I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing at--” he paused briefly to catch his breath, “I spent the whole summer getting my brother to teach me how to play just so I could play a game with you and talk to you!”

“The fuck-- why would you?”

Ian shook his head, laughs simmering down, and he looked at him with a softer smile. “I can teach you, if you want?”

Mickey blinked slowly, looking up at him with some surprise, “yeah?”

“Sure, still means I get to hang out with you -- long as you don’t mind hanging out with a Gryffindor.”

“Long as no one sees us,” Mickey said, quirking an eyebrow.

Ian scowled but it didn’t last long before he was smiling again, “fine, but you gotta teach me how you play, too.”

“What?”

“Ain’t you got your own rules?”

“I uh… I guess.”

“Teach me yours first and I’ll teach you mine.”

Mickey’s expression softened a little and the knots in his stomach eased, he reset the board and they started.

~

“You’re getting pretty good.”

“Yeah? Your version has a lot more fuckin’ rules than mine.”

“You’re almost as good as me, now, though.”

Almost ?”

“Gotta beat me before you’re better.”

~

“I win. Again.”

“Fuck you!”

“Maybe later.”

~

Mickey twiddled with the pieces as he waited for Ian. He hated the hospital, but he had a bed reserved here, and felt like he spent more time here than at home. Felt like he saw Ian here more, too. So it had it perks.

Ian looked as tired as he felt as he finally approached him, but he had a smile in place as soon as he saw Mickey anyway.

“Hey doc, what you got for me,” he says, quirking an eyebrow.

Ian just laughs as he helps Mickey sit up more comfortably and perches by his bed next to the board, already set up. “How are we playing today?”

“Your way, if you have the time.”

“Course.”

Mickey’s eyes traced Ian’s face. Long gone was the fluffy fringe and dark freckles, like brown sugar. His hair was cropped and pushed back out of his face, even though a few strands protested and flopped forward. His freckles were still there, but you had to look hard for them, and he was tall and lean and toned now. All these years, he still couldn’t decide if the guys eyes were blue or green, all he knew were the lines that framed them were deeper now. He hoped that just meant he’d made him smile a lot.

He’d traded Hogwarts robes for Hospital robes, just like Mickey had traded his for Hit-Wizard attire. He hadn’t hit his growth spurt yet, though. He maintained it was on its way, though.

“Come on, you got some, don’t you? Don’t hold out on me.”

Ian rolled his eyes and produced a little bar of chocolate from his pocket, pushing it forward. “This was going to be your prize if you won.”

“I ain’t a kid.”

“You sure? The way your eyes lit up just now at the sight of candy…”

Mickey sticks his tongue out and takes a bit out of the bar, instead of breaking off squares. Because he’s an animal.

“You working late tonight?”

“Hopefully not, but who knows.”

“You gotta go home some time, man.”

“I know, someone has to feed Attila. You think I’d leave him alone that long?”