Will sighed and stretched, carefully working out the kinks in his back. He glanced sideways to Nico who was bent over and completely absorbed in his tattered, leather-bound copy of Jinxes for the Jinxed . He smiled softly to himself. The dusky sky outside the window was tinted with gold and pink and orange and in the soft light, with his dark clothes and unruly mop of dark hair, Nico reminded Will irresistibly of a black kitten.
He snorted at the thought.
Nico looked up curiously. ‘What is it?’
‘Nothing.’ Will had to bite his lip to keep from smiling. He gestured vaguely at the book in the other’s hand. ‘Um, how’s the Herbology essay going?’
Nico scowled immediately, tapping his quill against the parchment on the desk. ‘It’s alright. I am not a hundred percent confident that I got all the uses of Mandrake juice but it should be enough to keep Professor Demeter off my case.’
‘Well, my essay on the properties of moonstone is already nearly a foot long so maybe I should stop,’ Will said thoughtfully. ‘Although I found this really interesting volume on its uses during medieval times and how they were completely inaccurate and the problems associated with such careless handling. I thought about adding it but I was afraid it would be too much-‘
‘You think?’ said Nico, was dripping with sarcasm as he snapped Jinxes for the Jinxed close and yawned.
Will tried not to stare, but the other boy’s face appeared relaxed and tired, the dark shadows under his eyes more pronounced, and in the fiery glow of the setting sun, Will had difficulty remembering why he had feared him in the first place.
His cheeks burned and he cleared his throat at an unnecessarily loud volume. ‘Oh, yeah, I almost forgot! My mother sent me a box of homemade toffee the other day. Would you like to try it?’
Nico scrunched his nose, as was his habit whenever he was baffled or surprised, as Will had come to notice in the past few weeks. The expression was surprisingly unguarded and startlingly innocent. ‘I have never had toffee before. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.’
Will pretended to gasp in mock offense. ‘You, sir, never cease to surprise me.’
‘Glad to hear it,’ Nico responded drily.
Will rummaged around in his bag and produced a battered metal, tightly-sealed box. He offered a piece to the other and for a few moments, there was silence. Around them, a hush had descended over the library as students trickled out, until only a handful of fifth-year students remained. The sky steadily darkened, inky strays creeping over it as evening approached. Madam Alecto paced the aisles, her shoes scuffling along the stone floor and breathing hard as she kept an eye out for potential wrong-doers.
Will was quite content in his chair, with the warm, caramel melting over his tongue and Nico by his side. Therefore, it was several moments before it occurred to him.
‘Oh, no,’ he whispered. Nico frowned in confusion.
‘What do you think you are doing?’ An almighty screech shattered the silence.
‘I forgot,’ Will cried, springing to his feet, and Nico followed suit.
Madam Alecto descended upon them, her gnarled hands outstretched and an expression of utmost fury etched upon her wrinkled face. ‘Eating in the library...! Get out! Out!’
They grabbed their belongings and dashed away from her, heading for the double doors and Will forgetting to check out his Potions book in his haste to evade the librarian’s wrath. They did not stop until they had put a floor between themselves and her and then they collapsed against the wall.
Will’s chest was heaving and his heart was beating a tempo against his rib-cage.
There was a pause. Then they both burst out laughing- Will, half-hysterical, and Nico chuckling more quietly.
He stopped breathing for a moment and could have sworn that time itself suspended as he stared at the Slytherin with something akin to awe. Nico’s high cheekbones were tinged with the softest of pink and his bangs fell into his dark eyes, which twinkled with mirth. He leaned against a gargoyle perched in its niche, his breathing steady and deep and caught Will’s eye. He grinned.
Will felt himself blushing again (it was becoming an unfortunate habit of his, really) and hastened to change the subject. ‘So, uh, you got a match against Hufflepuff coming up soon, right?’
Nico nodded and Will could not help but marvel at how comfortable the other had become around him, how far they had come in the weeks they had known each other. ‘Yeah. They don’t stand a chance, even though they have Percy as their Captain and Chaser and Frank as their Keeper.’
Will smirked and leaned next to him, gently bumping their shoulders together. It was a mark of their friendship that Nico did not cringe at the casual physical affection like he had done in the initial stages of their friendship. ‘Oh, yeah? What makes you so confident?’
‘Let’s just say we have a few tricks up our sleeves.’ Nico smiled slyly. ‘Piper came up with this new flying technique for the Chasers the other day-‘
He was interrupted by a furious shout echoing down the corridor, reverberating against the multiple surfaces in a haunting melody. A figure emerged from around the corner and Will groaned slightly at the fire burning in Lou Ellen’s green eyes.
‘William Solace!’ She snapped as she approached him. ‘Where in the name of Merlin have you been? Do you have any idea how long Cecil and I searched for-oh.’
Will straightened immediately and could feel Nico stiffen beside him, could feel him withdrawing into his shell, throwing up his defences as he tended to do whenever he was out of his depth. It seemed he had yet to forget- or forgive- his best friends for their indiscretion.
‘Oh, uh, hi, Nico,’ Lou Ellen said uncertainly, with a brave attempt at cheeriness. Said boy only gazed coldly back. ‘Will, uh, we’ll be up in the common room. Come up when you are free-‘
‘He’s free now,’ Nico interrupted her. His expression was inscrutable. ‘I’ll be going now.’
Will tried to reach for him but the other simply shrugged him off and walked away. (He had attained the unexpected, urgent need to apologise, although he was not sure for what. But the blank look on Nico’s face was so, so frightening.)
He sighed and carded his fingers through his wild, golden curls. ‘What do you want, Lou?’
The words came out harsher than he had intended and Lou grimaced. However, he did not say anything and after a moment, she resumed, ‘Cecil and I were getting worried about you. Let’s go back to the common room and we’ll see how much of our homework we managed to cover, yeah?’
She was clearly attempting to placate him and already regretting his curtness, Will nodded.
Slytherin defeated Hufflepuff in the match one week later, although it was a close thing. Percy smiled good-naturedly and bowed at the boos emanating from the yellow-clad part of the crowd and landed on the ground, where he shook Piper’s hand. Standing in the bleachers, surrounded by the cheers and laughter of the students, Will grinned into his scarf.
It seemed he and Nico would come face-to-face in the finale of the Quidditch season.
He could hardly wait.
The much-anticipated final match was held one month later. The day dawned clear and bright, the endless stretch of azure sky dotted with a few fluffy clouds.
‘Perfect conditions for the match,’ their Captain, Mitchell, informed them as they changed in the dressing rooms.
Will was leaning against the wall, separated from the rest of the team. His thoughts were jumbled and broken, like loose threads hanging around his mind. He felt nervous, far more than he had the right to. It would not be the first time he and Nico had faced off in a match, but that had been prior to his friendship to the boy.
Before he had acquired such confusing emotions about him.
He swallowed hard as Mitchell called out, ‘Let’s go, guys. Good luck.’
The cheers of the onlookers was a deafening roar, pressing against his skin and his brain until it felt like a physical weight. He breathed deeply and slowly, trying to settle his nerves. However, just as his heart managed to find a steady rhythm, his eye caught a familiar figure across the pitch. His stomach did a somersault.
Nico was the shortest on his team, and the most slender. The wind swept his hair back and forth. Will’s mouth suddenly felt dry.
After Piper and Mitchell shook hands, Madam Magaera blew her whistle and they took off.
Will shot like a bullet from the ground, hard and fast, until he had left the noise and the game far behind him. Up here, with the wind whistling past him, he felt calmer, steadier. This was better. This was familiar territory. Up in the air, there were no feelings to mess with his mind and no beautiful, dark-haired boys to distract him-
He spotted Nico circling the stadium below him, flat on his broomstick, barely more than a green blur as he cut gracefully through the air. Will shook his head and tried to focus on finding the Snitch. He tuned into the commentary again and amidst the thunderous applause and shouting came Gryffindor Ellis Wakefield’s voice.
‘And it’s McLean with the Quaffle, she’s shooting down the pitch-wham, a nice Bludger there by Octavian- now the Quaffle is in possession of Benvenuti and she’s heading towards the goalposts-‘
A collective groan rose from the stands, mingled with the jeers and hooting of Slytherins and Will knew Chiara had failed to score. No matter. There was still plenty of time until the end of the match or he could catch the Snitch.
He flew lower, spinning sharply and avoiding a well-aimed Bludger by Clarisse La Rue and ducking between the goalposts. He saw no glint of gold.
Slytherin scored twice in the next ten minutes and then Chris managed to get one for their team. Will stopped to cheer alongside the crowd and performed a few loop-d-loops to showcase his feelings. But as he turned to continue his desperate search, Nico blocked his path. He was smirking in his devious way that did funny things to Will’s heart.
Frowning and feeling rather hot around the collar (was it him or had spring arrived early?), Will tried to dodge but the other boy was persistent and continued to hinder his hunt for the Snitch.
‘H-hey, stop that!’ Will cried, his voice embarrassingly high. Nico only grinned in response.
They danced around each other for several moments and meanwhile, Slytherin scored once more, while Ravenclaw managed two.
‘Will, stop being a gentleman and knock him off his broom if you have to,’ Mitchell screamed at him as he zoomed past.
Nico dived towards him suddenly, hand outreached.
All thoughts came screeching to a halt.
The Seeker was silhouetted against the clear, blue sky, the golden sunlight streaming over him lighting up his features, throwing his features into sharp relief. There was smattering of light freckles across his nose and galloping gargoyles, he had a dimple, how had Will failed to notice that-?
The impact knocked all air out of him. A Bludger had hit him squarely on the back while he had been distracted. He toppled off his broom. He dimly registered Nico crying out in shock and outrage, but then he was falling...falling...falling through the air and nap sounded like a good idea right about now...
When he regained consciousness, it was white. The ceiling was stark, the sheets carrying the detached white colors and the scent of disinfectant. He was in the hospital wing. Will groaned slightly and tried to move. White-hot needles of pain erupted in his head and he jerked involuntarily.
‘Don’t move,’ cried an anxious voice beside him and Will turned his head to see his entire team along with Lou Ellen and Cecil crouched by his bed.
‘How are you feeling?’ Lou asked him.
‘That was a nasty fall you took, mate,’ Cecil added, looking uncharacteristically serious.
‘I’m okay,’ Will replied, grimacing. ‘What happened?’
‘Octavian,’ Mitchell replied grimly, and that was an enough answer for him.
Octavian was what everyone perceived all Slytherins to be- sly, ambitious and willing to do whatever he needed to do in order to achieve his aspirations.
‘That was way out of line, he had no right to do that,’ Chiara fumed. ‘Nico had already spotted the Snitch, it was hovering over your shoulder, there was no need for Octavian to attack you like that, and the match was as good as Slytherin’s anyway-urgh! ‘
She went off in a tirade in Italian that no one could interpret but understood the gist off anyway. Will smiled slightly at his friends.
‘So Slytherin got the cup, huh? I’m sorry, guys.’
‘It is not your fault,’ Paolo reassured him, in his heavily accented voice.
‘We’re just glad you’re okay,’ Mitchell added. He clapped him hard on the back and Will tried to conceal a wince. ‘We’ll see you around then.’
His team trooped out silently, covered in sweat and grime of the day. Madam Tisiphone followed them with her wand, carefully siphoning off the muddy footprints. He sighed and flopped back against the pillows.
That is when he noticed the brightly coloured arrangement in a glass vase on his bedside table. The large pale blue and white and yellow were artistically arranged with long stems of green leaves in between. It could not have been from his friends. Neither of them knew anything about flower arrangements, or even, sentimental displays of friendship.
‘Who brought those?’
Will was raised an eyebrow at the response his question elicited. Cecil smirked and Lou fidgeted uneasily.
‘What? What is it?’ He demanded after a moment’s silence.
‘Nico brought them, he came to visit you while you were asleep,’ Lou blurted out. Cecil burst out laughing.
And blinked some more. His heart rate accelerated and a red hue spread up to his ears.
‘He- he came to visit?’ Will squeaked. Cecil continued to roll around, tears now leaking from his eyes. ‘And he brought flowers?’
‘Yeah,’ Lou replied, shooting Cecil a dirty look. ‘I have been meaning to ask you, Will. What exactly is going around between you two?’
‘Nothing,’ Will squeaked again. ‘Absolutely nothing. What makes you say that? Nico and I are fine and dandy, do I look un-fine to you? We are-‘
‘Will,’ Lou interrupted his babbling. ‘Honey, listen to me. We are your friends and we just want the best for you. You don’t have to be afraid of us.’
‘There is nothing between us!’
‘Do you want there to be?’ Lou fixed him with a stern glare. Will dropped his gaze to his entwined hands in his lap. Did he? He was not sure. When he daydreamed about the those eyes that were as unyielding as marble and yet so much more, how gentle and kind-hearted and humane he was, wished others too could perceive that side of him and yet felt irrationally possessive of that exclusive knowledge...was that what it meant to like someone?
Cecil had fallen silent and was watching the proceedings warily. ‘If you like him, you should go for it.’
‘But- but- how?’ Will whispered. ‘He’s Nico di Angelo, a Slytherin. He’s gorgeous and clever and witty and an amazing Quidditch player. How could he ever like someone like me?’
‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait.’ Lou Ellen threw up her hands. ‘Where is this coming from? You are an incredible person, William Lesley Solace- talented, intelligent, kind and hard-working. It is Nico who should be honoured to receive your affections.’
He managed a watery, barely-there smile. He looked at his other friend. Cecil gave him a thumbs-up.
Nico visited him the next morning. He was dressed in Muggle clothes and Will considered it highly unjust how attractive he looked in them; the stone-washed black jeans hugged his legs snugly and the black turtleneck only accentuated the creamy skin and high cheekbones. A green-and-silver scarf was wrapped loosely around his neck. And as though to complete this picture of perfection, a giant bouquet was cradled awkwardly in his arms.
‘Hi, Will,’ he greeted hesitantly. He placed the flowers by his side, muttering almost inaudibly, ‘My sister made the arrangement; I’m not really good at this arts-y stuff...’
Will managed to focus long enough to offer a strained smile.
‘Uh- how are you doing? That was a horrendous trick by Octavian. You’ll be glad to know he got detention for the next week. Piper was all for kicking him off the team though...’
Will laughed shortly, though his heart was not in it. Everything felt fuzzy around the edges. His palms were sweating and he had the mad desire to keep swallowing every few seconds due to how dry his throat was. Apparently Nico had noticed his inability to concentrate because he trailed off.
‘Are you okay, Will?’ he inquired.
‘Um.’ Will paused. Took a deep breath. Paused again. ‘There is something I need to tell you.’
‘I think you are amazing,’ he blurted out. He buried his face in his hands immediately. Oh gods. That was awful. What on earth had possessed him? But considering that there really was no use crying over spilled potion, he went on, his voice muffled through his fingers, ‘I-I just- you are an incredible person and I-‘ He choked on air, his face burning. ‘I like you. I really, really like you.’
There was a loud silence.
Will dared not look up.
He looked up.
Nico’s eyes were wide, mouth slightly agape. A rosy flush filled his cheeks and there was something in those dark orbs, something Will had not seen before, something he was afraid to put his name to. He was not ready to venture down that path yet. ‘I-yeah. I like you too, Solace.’
It was like a huge weight had been lifted off his chest and he could have sworn he was hovering a few inches off his bed like a ghost, he felt that light-headed and giddy.
‘Good. I am going to kiss you now.’ He grinned.
Nico turned red.
Will gently pressed his lips to other's. They were soft and slightly chapped and pliant, molding against his mouth like they were puzzle pieces meant to fit. It was a small caress, a whisper of a taste, an ephemeral brush of skin but the sweetness of a possible future, a potential, filled his insides with trembling warmth and hope. He pulled back and smiled softly at the dazed expression on the other’s face.
‘You look like a tomato,’ he teased gently.
‘S-shut up, Solace!’
Will’s ringing laughter filled the hospital wing, high and clear like bells signalling the approach of spring and the promise of many good things to come.