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when i sing, you sing harmonies

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Courage is yellow. This surprises Phil every time, even when it’s the most popular potion that he makes, he always feels that it should be red, or even gold. A strong powerful sort of colour, the type that should be on banners or armour. Not a cheerful little sunflower shade that looks perfect on tiny lemon cakes. When Phil adds white icing petals to them they look like daisies.

Winston, perched in a teacup, says, “If only you could change the colour somehow. Like with magic or something. If only you could do that.” Phil is always amazed at just how much sarcasm Winston manages to project through his squeak of a voice.

(Phil actually had tried that once on fulfilment, which comes out as an awful inky black colour that he couldn’t get to look nice on any cake. Attempting to remix the potion had only succeeded in making it as dark as an oil slick, from fulfilment to frustration. He’d thrown the entire batch away and never tried to change it again).

“Also,” Winston says. “We had another letter from the council.”

Phil puts the little tray of courage in the front window. “Right.”

“Do you want me to read it? It’ll probably be the same as the rest.” They have a little pile of the council letters. They appear at random, propped up on one of the glass jars of vanilla ices. They’re impossible to destroy or get rid of. Phil’s tried everything but the pile never gets smaller. Winston deepens his voice. “Dear Mr Lester. Regarding the matter of your unusual and important gift, which you continue to use to help humans, at great upset to the magical community of-”

Phil turns each little daisy of courage until they’re neatly facing the same direction. “Stop.”

“I told you it would be the same. They always start that way. We remain deeply saddened by your misuse of this-”

Phil says, “You don’t need to keep reading it, I know what it says.”

The letters are always identical, the council don’t even put any real effort into them anymore, not like they used to in the early days, when at least two of them would show up, in full hats and robes, to deliver a personal scroll that outlined all the different ways that Phil was disappointing everyone. Why wouldn’t he think about going into surveillance, or monitoring of some kind? The last time it had been his aunt, who had removed her hat and said, very quietly, “it’s such a shame. You could be doing so much more with it.” Her aura was the colour of fulfilment, heavy and dark on her shoulders. It caught Phil’s breath a little to look at it. He’s sure it hadn’t always been that colour. “It could be of so much use to us, Phil. Don’t you understand?”

That line is always in the letter too. Winston, shifting himself in his teacup, reads it with all the drama of an actor trying to reach the back of a theatre, tiny paw held aloft. “Don’t you understand, Phil? Don’t you understand?”

Phil does understand. It’s just that the council doesn’t. They don’t understand what it’s like to see the colours in someone’s aura shift and dance as they eat a cube of joy, or to watch the otter held unknowingly in the the crook of someone’s elbow screw up its face in delight from the aftereffect of cream laced with contentment. How could they understand that?

“We’ll write again,” Winston finishes. “We’ll keep writing. We can only hope to find, one day, that you have changed your mind.”

No one had ever understood, not really. How the auras were sometimes colours, sometimes animals. His mother’s aura is a cat, usually curled up on her shoulder, Martyn has a little French bulldog that bounces around his ankles. A rare gift that apparently doesn’t come around very often. Some other witches could see faint flickers, a light haze caught in the strand’s of someone's hair, but to Phil they’ve always been as solid as if he could reach out and touch them.

He spent most of his time at council gatherings with other young witches (trying to pass the time while their parents attended meetings in their formal robes) asking him over and over: what’s mine like, what does mine look like and sometimes having to lie (especially to the boy who had a snake looped right around his neck, how do you explain that to a person). Phil is a good liar, a confident liar, because he knows no one can ever lie to him in return. He can see everyone’s true feelings, the innermost workings of every soul he comes across; haloed around their head, hanging on their back, twined around their waist. A thousand hearts on a thousand sleeves.

Winston says, “Kindest of regards, The Witches Council. Fancy signature. Ornate wax stamp. No mention of me. Again.”

Phil pats his head. Winston hates that. “Maybe next time.”

“Should we draft a reply?” Winston means should he draft a reply. He has narrated numerous ideas of how they should write back to the council, all a little sassier than the ones Phil would like to send.

“Do we ever?”

Winston huffs. “You never let me have any fun.”

Phil feeds him some crumbs as he mixes up some satisfaction. It’s a wonderful shade of violet that he pipes into the middle of his butterfly cakes. The university two blocks over is having its graduation ceremony and he thinks some of the students might wander over. Satisfaction, a fulfilment of one’s wishes and expectations. It had taken a while to get right.

“Don’t give them all away for free again,” Winston warns, but he’s readying himself, fluffing up his fur and clambering onto Phil’s shoulder. Winston loves the fuss that customers bring. “I know you’re going to.”

Phil positions himself behind the counter, tidies his hair and straightens his apron. “I won’t. I promise.”

There’s a lot of students, in their capes and mortarboards they look like some version of witches themselves. Their auras mix together so wildly that everything looks like paint thrown onto a canvas, explosions of colours and then some animals. One girl has a huge bird of paradise, all rainbow feathers, its chest puffed out with pride. The girl, having no idea that she carries such beauty right on her shoulder, says, “Is that a hamster?” through a mouthful of satisfaction butterfly cake.

“Yes,” Phil says, leaning forward to let her pet Winston, who accepts it with grace. “And congratulations.”

She says, “Thank you! It’s weird, but I was so scared this morning, about graduating and everything, but I feel so much better now. It’s almost like I feel, like, a sense of-”

“Satisfaction?” Phil guesses.

“That’s right!” She smiles. “What do you put in these cakes?”

Phil’s had to refill the tray multiple times. Right now in the kitchen, the potion is brewing itself, spoon spinning around his cauldron. He’s never sold so much so quickly. “Oh, nothing really. It’s just standard cake. Nothing special.”

She laughs. “No, don’t say that. They’re magic, I love them.”

The bird on her shoulder spreads its kaleidoscopic wings. It looks down at the red panda under the arm of the boy next to her, then at the mouse of the girl at the till, batting at the tassel of her mortarboard with its paw, then back at Phil. The colours hang over them all, like the canopy of a tent.

Phil says, “Magic? I don’t think so.”

He closes two hours early. That many people in one place, that many auras with their unseen colours and unseen noises, always exhausts him, as though he has to fade a little to make sure that they keep their brightness. He makes some tea, fills a saucer for Winston, and stares at the letters from the council.

“They’re getting more frequent,” Winston points out, approaching his saucer of tea. “Have you noticed that?”

Phil says, “No,” which is a lie, and a pointless one at that. Trying to lie to your familiar is impossible. Winston huffs his disapproval. “Sorry, I just mean- It’s been weekly, hasn’t it? For, like, the past three months. I thought they’d forgotten about me.”

Winston, cheeks puffed out with tea, says, “As if that would happen. You’re the best aura reader they’ve had in years and you decided to move to London and make cakes for humans. They probably start all of their meetings talking about you, there’s probably a photo of you in the main hall, I bet they spend all their time just wishing that you would appear and say that you’ve changed your mind and you want to go into monitoring after all.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“Of course not. I’m not cut out for that kind of life, and you definitely aren’t.”

Phil idly thinks about eating the last fulfilment cake but he’d made a promise to himself, fairly early on, when the shop was still half empty and the council still did face-to-face visits, that he would never eat one of his own creations. No matter how sad he feels or how lonely things get. He’d once made a small perfect cube of confidence (confidence is cream coloured, the same shade as a spotlight or a camera flash) after a council visit that he hadn’t handled very well. He’d thought Phil, if you eat this then next time you’ll be able to stand up to them, you’ll be able to say that you just want to make people happy, not to monitor them, or to trick them or try and catch them out. You want to help them. You’ll be able to say that right to their faces, with their formal robes and their scrolls. But he couldn’t do it. He had to crush the cube down and sprinkle it over some eclairs, and when the council had come back he had stood, very meekly and politely, behind the counter and said nothing.

(The reality, really, is that he doesn’t think there’s a potion for what he’d want to make for himself. There probably isn’t even a word for it. Acceptance possibly, but Phil’s always wanted more than that, since he was a little boy with a hamster for a familiar instead of a cat, all the other kids freaked out by the fact that he could see their inner most secrets hanging around their heads. Phil’s always longed for something like belonging.

“I think,” Winston said. “That belonging is really more of a state of mind, not an emotion. You won’t be able to put it in a cake.”

Phil knows. He’s tried.)

“Still,” Winston adds, “I wasn’t lying when I said that they probably talk about you in all their meetings.”

Phil knows that’s true. Martyn is a secretary at the council and sometimes feeds back, on his monthly visits to Phil’s shop. Of all his family Martyn visits the most, aura at his ankles, wearing his robes on the street in broad daylight and not getting a second look because robes, on Martyn, just look right somehow. “I’m proud of you though. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently,” He always says, before he steals all of Phil’s shortbread.

Phil sets the pots and pans to wash themselves in the sink, the brooms and mops to clean the floors, and heads upstairs with Winston on his shoulder. A customer had made Winston a little wicker bed, with a green, yellow, blue duvet that matches Phil’s, probably expecting that it would go into a neat hamster cage, not in the middle of a forest of houseplants and fairy lights.

Phil had tried to talk to Winston about a cage when they first stepped into the real world, because the hamsters here don’t really get carried around on people’s shoulders and sit in teacups. They also don’t talk, but that’s another thing entirely. Winston had refused the cage, even though it was a pretty decent one with two storeys and a wheel (“a wheel,” Winston huffed, insulted by the thought). And so he sleeps on Phil’s windowsill, between the boston ferns, looking straight into the window of the hotel opposite, eavesdropping and people watching, because he’s a terrible gossip.

“The letters are getting more frequent.” Winston says.

Phil pulls the scrap of cotton duvet up to Winston’s chin. “I know.”

“You should set up a meeting with them. Eventually. They want you to. After how badly the last one went.”

“I’m never going back there,” Phil says. “You know that. They don’t understand, I can’t make them understand.”

Winston, softly and half asleep, says, “You could try. You’d be better at it than you think.”

Phil says, “I doubt it.”

(Phil always makes Martyn love. More specifically, the light, rose tinted sort of acceptance that comes with knowing that someone appreciates you, even if they’re not very good with saying that sort of thing aloud. Love is red, obviously, and Phil pipes it into the middle of his cherry bakewells and watches Martyn’s smile get a little softer around the edges. He clings to Phil a little bit tighter when they say goodbye and adds something like be strong little brother, you’re the bravest person I know. Phil says how? because this is a little play that they have going, where they both know their lines, and Martyn says because you’re here, aren’t you? In a world that isn’t your own. There’s no magic anywhere. Phil always wonders if that’s brave, really. It must be if Martyn thinks so.)

*~*~*

The shop attracts buskers. It’s opposite the music college, the university campus is two streets to the left, and there’s a row of cafes to the right with outside seating; whole crowds of ready made audiences. The spot outside the shop is the prime area and they’ve had a lot of buskers in the months that they’ve been here. The guy with the glockenspiel that Winston hated. The guy with the cello that Phil, actually, really liked but he could never quite get him to look up from under his fringe and accept anything on offer (cakes, praise, a whispered request to come inside if Phil was feeling brave. Which he wasn’t usually). The girl with a saxophone. The duo with their banjos which Winston had especially hated because he hates folk music.

Their current busker is Dodie. She plays the ukulele and her voice drifts into the shop as if the air is carrying it. Her aura is yellow, as though she’s being bathed in sunlight from every angle. (“She’s better than the banjos,” Winston says. “But still-”)

Dodie is already outside when Phil goes to open the doors and set out the sign. She’s always there when he opens up and still there when he’s closing down. He’s not entirely sure if she goes home but she looks like someone who would live under a toadstool or in a raindrop so there possibly isn’t a home as such. He sometimes wants to ask Dodie if she’s like him, are they alike, to see if she would catch his meaning but it should be obvious from her aura. Phil wants her to be, wants someone else to be like him, so badly.

“Hello!” Dodie says.

“Good morning,” Phil replies. He stands the sign up. It says All You Need is Cupcakes and a Little Bit of Magic. Come inside! “You’re here early. Again.”

“It’s better to start early. Once I start playing I can’t stop and I’d rather be here first thing.” She blinks at him and her aura blinks too, just once, like an eclipse. “You’re here late.”

He is. Winston usually serves as his alarm clock but even Winston had overslept this morning. “Only slightly. It’s not like anyone’s waiting for me.”

“I was!”

Phil almost shuts the sign on his fingers. “Really?”

“I have a new song and I want you to hear it.”

Dodie’s songs are always sad. Even if they’re happy they still make Phil sad, a gentle bloom of longing that sits in his chest and means he can only say that’s really good Dodie or really like it. “Is it about him still?”

The glow of yellow darkens as she frowns. “Not all my songs are about-”

“I didn’t mean-”

“Some of them aren’t. A few of them aren’t. That one last week, that wasn’t.”

Phil’s fairly sure that it was. “I know it wasn’t.”

Dodie smiles at him, weakly. “Writing songs about someone who said you were terrible at writing songs is odd, right?”

“You should write songs about whatever you like.”

“But I’m writing songs about someone I actively dislike.”

Phil says, “Coffee,” and from her confused look, “This sounds like the kind of conversation that you shouldn’t have before coffee. I can make you some. And then I’ll come back to hear your song.”

Phil has debated putting confidence in Dodie’s coffee for the past week. He has a whole milk bottle of it ready for that exact purpose. He hovers near it, in their kitchen, while Winston doffs his Wednesday morning top hat from his teacup and says, “Do you think confidence is what she needs?”

“You don’t think so?”

“I don’t think she lacks confidence.”

“But that’s what all the other buskers needed.”

(the guy with the glockenspiel had left because he finally did what he’d always wanted and moved to Germany to become a professional glockenspiel player. Both Phil and Winston were surprised that was actually a thing. The guy with the cello had finally gone to his audition for the Royal Philharmonic. Phil had made an awful pun about Philharmonic that cello guy has probably never forgotten. The girl with a saxophone joined a jazz band. The duo with their banjos are currently on tour around the UK and are also married. Buskers always need confidence. It’s always the same).

“I don’t think that she’s like the other buskers,” Winston says. “Do you?”

Phil launches over the counter so quickly that he nearly tips Winston over. “You see it too? I keep wanting to ask her, but I’m not sure, and I’d normally be able to tell, you know? I’ve always been able to tell before, and her aura isn’t quite like a magic one, but I could always just, I don’t know, try and find out some other way, right?”

Winston wrinkles his nose. “I meant that she doesn’t have a musical based dream that we know of. What did you mean?”

Phil stands back. “Nothing.”

“You think she’s a witch? You thought she was a witch?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“You were hoping she was a witch?”

Phil repeats, “It doesn’t matter,” but it’s useless even trying to pretend otherwise to his familiar, so he says, “I hoped she was. It gets- sometimes it gets- I only see Martyn really, and it would be nice to have someone else here.”

Winston says, “I’m here!” and doffs his hat again, as if to say who else do you need? but he knows. “I just think she just needs a push somewhere, not confidence really, but just a little bit of extra something. A thing that would make her take that leap for herself. Rather than just staying here and being by herself.”

“Are we talking about her or me?”

Winston pretends that thought has only just occurred to him. “Well, both of you, I suppose.”

“I don’t need to leap to anything. There’s nothing for me to leap to."

Winston makes a hmmmm noise that lasts for far too long. Phil gets hold of his potions book. Everything he’s ever tried is jotted down in neat little columns; the emotion, the colour, the consistency, how it turned out, and the impact. Confidence (milky white, easy to put into cream or coffee, has never failed) is just above faith (brown, almost solid, never looks appetizing) and conviction (bubblegum blue, sort of sticky). Phil flicks back and forth through it. “Trust? Like, trust in her own abilities? Assertiveness? Courage? Bravery?” He stops. “Bravery. That’s it?”

Bravery: a light caramel brown, soft, perfect to use in fudge or brownies.

Winston fluffs up his cheeks with his paws. “That’s what I’d go with. Personally.”

Phil had made bravery only once. For the girl with the saxophone. He’d changed his mind about giving it to her when she helped him with a series of difficult customers (especially the Great Chocolate Orange Cake Incident of March 2017). It was currently sat under a freezing spell in the back of one of his cupboards. He pats the top of Winston’s head and says, “Good thinking.”

Winston says, “Well, obviously.”

*~*~*

“You didn’t have to make me fudge!” Dodie exclaims. “Just the coffee would have been fine.”

“I just made some.” Phil puts down both a mug of coffee and plate of four cubes of fudge (liberally laced with bravery) on the table next to her. “You can’t just have coffee on its own. You have to have something sweet to go with it. That’s the whole point of the shop.”

The street is getting busier, the waiters in the cafes around the corner are starting to put their tables and chairs outside. They always wave to Phil, politely, and he always waves, equally politely, back. Sometimes they come into the shop, looking tired and fed up after long shifts, and he always makes sure he has a jar of energy sweets next to the till so he can drop them into their change. Phil arranges his own set of (bright blue) table and chairs while Dodie neatly eats the first two fudge cubes.

She says, “Do you ever think that there’s more than this?”

Phil blinks, wonders if he mixed up bravery and existentialism. They’re similar colours. “Than this?”

Dodie casts the hand not clutching her ukulele in front of her. “This little corner of London.”

“I don’t-” Phil stops, watches her eat the third cube. “I don’t really leave this little corner of London.”

“Not ever?”

“Not ever.”

“Why?”

“It’s a bit much for me,” Phil says. Too many colours, too many secrets on display, too many auras flying overhead and dodging underfoot, held under arms and on shoulders, all far too excited to notice that Phil can see them. The colours get brighter. Animals get louder. Numerous tube rides with his eyes closed and his hands over his ears.

“It can be a bit noisy,” Dodie replies, sympathetically. “If you’re a quiet person.”

Phil says, “I suppose. Do you want to play me your song now?”

Her aura is dazzling, all of a sudden. A molten lava sunshine that Phil has to duck his head from. “Actually, no. It’s about him, you were right. But I think I’m not going to write songs about him anymore.”

Phil smiles at her. “Okay.”

“I think I’m going to go home and make a demo.”

“That’s great.”

“And then I’m going to take it to some record labels, just small ones, but they might like it.”

“They definitely will.”

Dodie eats the final cube. “Wow. I’ve been thinking about that for ages but now, I feel like I’m actually going to do it.”

Phil, like he always says, like he said to the glockenspiel, cello, saxophone and banjos, says, “It must just be the right time for you.”

When he goes back into the shop Winston has walked right up onto the top of the cake stand, obviously watching through the window. He watches Phil step behind the counter and smooth his apron. “Bravery was right?”

Phil pushes his glasses up his nose. “Bravery was right.”

“So, we lost another busker.”

Phil says, “But you hate the ukulele. You said that you still hear it in your sleep and it’s the soundtrack to all your nightmares.”

“I hate the ukulele but I liked her.”

Phil sighs. “Yes, Winston, we lost another busker. She’s going to take a demo to record labels and they’ll take her because she’s brimming with confidence and her aura’s like fire at the moment, so, yes - another busker.”

“I wouldn’t mind keeping the next one.”

“That’s not the point.” Phil watches Dodie pack her things away. “They’re never happy, are they? I like to see them be happy, I like to help, you know that.”

“Which is all very noble and lovely, but-”

“We have this talk every time,” Phil points out. “Every single time.”

Winston says, “I wouldn’t mind keeping the next one. Just leave them to their own devices and don’t try and help. They might decide to stay, you never know.”

“I can’t see that being the case.”

“They might.”

“Fine,” Phil says. “Fine. I won’t do anything with the next busker, I won’t even speak to them unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“And they won’t leave.”

“Even if they have banjos again.”

Winston shudders, every strand of his fur bristling. “I’d like to add a small disclaimer regarding banjos.”

“No disclaimers. I won’t help. I won’t do anything. But that’s still no guarantee that they would stay.”

The day is busy. The waiters and waitresses all come in for their extra strong coffee and energy sweets (Energy: metallic silver, solid, perfect for making pear drops, similar to getting an extra shot of espresso). The steady stream of students, the new students, just into their first week, get ambition (Ambition: a deep currant red, turns into jam, goes with anything but mostly in the middle of a Victoria sponge). Winston gets petted a lot and told how adorable he is.

No one wonders why there’s so much noise coming from the kitchen when there’s only Phil behind the counter. No one asks how he manages to keep replenishing the sweets and cakes when it’s just him. Whenever the next batch is ready the saucepans clatter together like they’re asking for his attention. They seem louder but that could just be because they’re not soundtracked by a ukelele anymore. Phil feels the lack of Dodie more than he’s felt the lack of any busker before. They never stay. Even without his help, they would never stay. Not here, in this tiny corner that Phil has fashioned for himself, purposely quiet and bracketed on all sides.

Winston wonders what the next one will be like. He hopes a violin, or possibly the flute. Something calming. Phil sets the dishes to wash themselves and listens to him chatter away until the chatter, abruptly, stops. He looks at Winston.

Winston says, “Or the piano.”

Phil loves the piano. Winston knows this. All of their terrible, exhausting, colourful and noisy trips on the tube have been to recitals, to listen to the duelling pianos in Covent Garden, the sad ones in the corners of bars. But that was when Phil didn’t find journeys into the centre of the city quite so tiring. He says, “That’s unlikely. No one would be able to roll a piano over here.”

“We’ll see,” Winston says. “That corner’s never free for very long, is it?”

Phil shakes his head. He drops two cloths on the counter and, with a tap of his wand, lets them start cleaning. “I think they just use it as an audition for the music college. And they just need a little bit of-”

“Stop that. You’re not getting attached to this one, remember?”

“No,” Phil says. “I’m not.”

*~*~*

The next busker has a piano. Phil and Winston both stare at it from the window, two days later. It appeared overnight, covered with a sheet of black tarpaulin and apparently abandoned, but definitely a piano. Winston says, “well……” and Phil can only say, “A piano,” flatly and obviously.

No one comes to claim it all day. Winston, setting himself on piano watch, reports back almost hourly. A man had hovered around it but not sat down. Someone had half lifted the cover and then left. It stays outside the shop like a huge dark island that nobody particularly wants to join.

Dodie comes in, shedding a sunny glow on everything. “I came to say goodbye! Properly.”

“Oh,” Phil says. He’s awful with goodbyes. “That’s okay, you didn’t need to. It doesn’t need to be an official goodbye, you can still come back. If you wanted to.”

Dodie says, “Of course I will! But it’s just to say that one of the labels want to sign me! They want me to do an EP, and then maybe an LP, and when I’m writing now the songs are different. It’s the most amazing thing, it’s like I woke up that day and just thought-”

“It was time to take the leap,” Phil supplies. “That’s amazing, Dodie, it really is.”

“You should come and see me. They want me to have a show, I could give you the details, and you could-” Phil is shaking his head before she finishes. “Right. I forgot. You don’t go into the centre of London.”

“Maybe,” Phil says, but he means no. He feels a stab of regret at the dimming of her aura. “I hope it goes well, you deserve it.”

She beckons him out from the behind the counter. Phil goes, like a Victorian lady being called up to dance, and isn’t prepared for Dodie to hug him. The yellow surrounds them both, so heavy in the air that Phil can almost feel the heat of it on his face. He fists his hands into the sunflower print of her dress and sighs. It’s sadder than he expected. Dodie laughs. “It’s not forever. I’m not going far away.”

They don’t tend to come back, is the thing. Once you give someone courage, or confidence, or bravery, or any other of things that Phil has put into cakes, sweets, cookies, fudge, brownies, anything, over the years, you start to learn that. They start flying away and don’t stop. Dodie will be on a UK tour soon and will probably never give the cake shop she used to busk outside of another thought. Phil says, “I know. I know it’s not.”

Dodie buys a tea and a ginger snap biscuit (the tiniest hint of cheerfulness running through it), scratches under Winston’s chin and is about to leave when she says, “Is that a piano?”

The tarp is fluttering in the breeze, almost revealing what’s underneath. Phil says, “We think so.”

“Who’s we?”

Winston, still accepting chin scratches, gives Phil a long suffering look.

“No one! Just me.”

Dodie says, “A piano. See? That’s such an upgrade from me.”

“I think that would be pretty difficult.”

Dodie hugs him once more and is gone while Phil is still blinking sunbeams from his eyelashes.

The piano stays outside all day. No one plays it except for Phil, who lifts the tarp in between tidying away the outside tables and touches one of the keys. It’s a beautiful piano, a heavy dark wood with some carving on the legs, but it’s not very well cared for. There’s marks and smudges, and it sounds (even to Phil’s untrained ear) very out-of-tune. The stand has two moleskine notebooks, with scrawling writing, and music that is so badly crossed through that Phil can’t read it.

He sneaks back later, in his pyjamas and breathing clouds of ice, and with his wand. He hasn’t done much practical magic for a while, not beyond making his cooking and cleaning supplies work by themselves, but he touches each individual key until they sing, as clear as a bell chime. He covers a few of the marks, repairs the wood in some places, not enough that anyone would really notice but enough that he knows he’s helped in some way.

The piano looks both well loved and unloved at the same time. Phil picks up one of the notebooks and, illuminating the words with his wand, looks at the scribbled over music notes. In some places the paper is torn. In some the notebook owner has just drawn a sad face in the margin, or an exclamation mark, or something that Phil thinks says delete this.

He’s already running through the ways that he could help this person (confidence, definitely some confidence, maybe self-belief. Phil hasn’t tried that yet but he’s sure he could do it. Maybe mellowness, or peacefulness) before he can hear Winston’s high pitched voice saying stop that. You’re not getting attached to this one, remember? as clearly as if he was perched on Phil’s shoulder.

He puts the notebooks back.

*~*~*

No one claims the piano the next day. Or the day after that. Winston gives up his watch and retires back to the counter. Phil decorates cupcakes with warmth (marmalade orange, makes solid cubes, tastes a bit like a pumpkin spice latte) for all the customers that come in with scarves and gloves, their auras shivering in sympathy. He worries that the piano might be cold and wraps some old blankets around each of its legs. He’s taken to patting its lid, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, as if to say I haven’t forgotten you. It takes up all the space. Any other potential buskers are completely put off. Winston sees a few guitar case holding students wandering around outside, completely confused.

“Whoever they are,” Winston says. “They’re by far the laziest busker we’ve ever had.”

Phil can’t stop thinking about the notebooks, the whole whirlpools of crossings out. He wants to know what the music underneath sounds like, if it’s happy or sad, light or heavy (he’s assuming both sad and heavy). With each page the delete this gets larger, with arrows pointing at particular sections. Phil could take his wand and lift all of that black ink off the pages, he knows he could, he could leave the notes completely free and bright. The order to delete this is the only thing that stops him.

Customers start asking if it’s his piano, have they reported the piano, does Phil want them to call someone and remove the piano? (Phil does not, he could magic the piano away himself, if he wanted to, it would only take a little practice). He politely says no to all queries. The piano continues sitting outside. Phil continues going out to tell it good morning and good night.

Winston says, “I have a bad feeling.”

Phil is making dreaminess (to soothe and quiet -
). “About what? The piano?”

“More about who the piano belongs to.”

“I don’t think it belongs to anyone. If it does then they’re not taking very good care of it. Or of themselves.”

*~*~*

The next day there’s someone at the piano. Phil, coming out to set up the sign and chairs, jumps with surprise and half shouts. The someone keeps hitting one key in a slightly betrayed way, like they can’t work out why the piano is suddenly in tune. The key sings one perfect note over and over.

Phil says, “I-” and, “Is this your-” but he can’t quite finish his question, whatever the question is going to be, because the someone’s aura is unlike anything he’s ever seen. It’s a moth, huge and black, with transparent wings that are folded up, casting a shadow that only Phil notices. It gives Phil a distrustful look, flutters its wings once, and is still.

Phil says, “Is this your piano?” finally. He has to lean to the left, around the moth, to try and make eye contact. “It’s been here a while, and we weren’t sure if anyone was coming to collect it.”

The someone is a man, probably a few years younger than Phil, waves of curls in his hair and freckles scattered up one cheek. That’s all Phil can really see as his head is bowed, aware he’s being looked at and determined not to look back. His back and shoulders are stooped, accommodating the weight of the aura he can’t see.

Phil has never seen an aura be quite so black. He wants to reach up and push the moth away. “I was just asking if- I’m Phil, by the way. I should have said that, I should have started with that. This is my cake shop and-”

“I’m Dan. This is my piano.”

“Right,” Phil says. “Okay.” He feels entirely too colourful beside Dan, in his green shirt and blue apron. Pink icing is caught on his sleeves and probably in his hair. When Dan looks at him he might shield his eyes. That’s if Dan looks at him. “It’s been here a while. By itself.”

“By itself? It’s a piano.”

Phil looks at the blankets wrapped around the piano’s legs and says, “Of course.”

“I didn’t mean- We just had a disagreement.”

“You and the piano?”

Dan finally looks up. His eyes are the colour of affection (a deep brown, same consistency as chocolate, makes a great mousse) and his face is softer than Phil had expected, from the nonchalance of his voice and the aggressiveness of his notebooks. There’s a frown at his eyebrows and creased in his forehead. “A minor disagreement. It wasn’t doing what I wanted it to.” He taps at one key again. And again.

“I just wasn’t sure if you’d actually turn up to claim it.”

Dan says, “Has this been tuned?”

“What?” Phil says. “The piano? Tuned? Of course not, absolutely not.”

“And someone’s tied blankets around the legs. And I think repaired some-”

“In case it got cold,” Phil interrupts, defensively.

Dan wrinkles his nose and says, “Cold?” in a confused way but the moth, from his shoulders, tilts its head to one side and regards Phil with great interest. “And I was always going to come back and claim it. I just needed to be away from it for a while.” He runs his finger across the top of the piano. “Has someone been repairing this?”

“Why would someone do that?” Phil replies, but he’s blushing from his cheekbones to his temples.

Dan’s eyes fix somewhere on the pink travelling to Phil’s cheeks. “You own this shop?”

“Yes.” Phil does an awkward swoop of his arm across the shop window, the A Sprinkle of Magic sign. “This is mine.”

“Is it okay for me to be here? I didn’t think to ask, it was just everyone in college was saying this is like the prime spot, but when I actually got here I couldn’t do anything. Nothing was right.”

“And then you argued?”

“And then I left,” Dan agrees. “I didn’t mean to leave it for so long.”

“You’re in the music college?” Phil gestures to the building opposite. “We get buskers from there all the time, you’re welcome to stay, I really don’t mind.”

Dan says, “I was in the music college.” The moth seems to grow in size, hunches itself right over Dan’s head, wings catching on his hair. His shoulders slump a little more. “I left. Pretty recently. I don’t think I was technically supposed to take the piano, but they keep it in the back of the hall, you know? Just because it doesn’t look the best. Or, it didn’t used to look the best. I seriously think someone’s repaired it, like, secretly, did you notice-”

Phil can’t stop looking at the moth. “You stole it?”

“I suppose. But no one’s been over to claim it, have they?” Dan, for a split second, smiles. Too quick for Phil to catch (he wishes he could, wishes he could have grabbed it in his hands and held it there) but there’s a dimple, maybe two dimples, and the moth is all of a sudden actually moth sized, caught on Dan’s collar. Phil takes a breath to say something, anything, but Dan frowns again and everything is back. “You’re sure I can stay?”

“I’m sure,” Phil says, after a dazed few seconds. “Like I said, we get lots of buskers.”

“Have you had a piano before?”

“No. But I always wanted one.”

It’s Dan’s turn to blush. When he does the moth ducks its head, seems to release its grip. “You have?”

Phil says, “Yes,” and, with far too much feeling, “I love the piano. I’ve been waiting for a piano.”

There’s a pause, where Dan seems entirely unsure on how to respond and keeps hitting the G note again, before he says, “Then I apologise in advance for the complete disappointment that I’m going to be.”

When Phil goes back inside he says to Winston, in the prime spot on the windowsill, “Did you see the moth? I couldn’t stop staring at the moth.”

“You couldn’t stop staring at him,” Winston replies.

*~*~*

Dan doesn’t so much play the piano as play two minutes of something, stop, mumble something to himself, then sit staring at the keys despairingly, like they’ve betrayed him in some way (the two minutes of what he plays is beautiful. Phil can sometimes still see the notes hanging in the air afterwards, like he could catch them).

He says good morning when Phil does, and he accepts coffee but will never come into the shop to get it and will also never ask for it. Every time Phil offers Dan looks surprised, every time Phil says hello Dan to him he looks completely astonished, like Phil should obviously be speaking to someone else. The only thing he says to Phil without Phil instigating it is are you sure you still want me to be here. My playing’s not bothering you, is it? Phil says no but thinks but you never play, Dan, you never play anything. The first two weeks pass like that - Dan staring morosely at the piano, Phil staring at Dan from inside the shop, and Winston staring between the two of them.

“He’s very sad,” Winston observes. “Isn’t he?”

Phil hums noncommittally because Winston is obviously leading into the that doesn’t mean that you should make him any magic cakes part of the conversation. “I guess so. I haven’t spoken to him much after the first day.”

He’s tried. But speaking to Dan is difficult. Not because of Dan himself, but because of the moth. Phil has never seen someone’s aura be so large and so dark, has never seen an aura actually weigh down someone’s shoulders before (he wonders if Dan can feel it, if Dan ever actually stops to study his posture, if his whole back aches from phantom pain). It’s also the first time that an aura has been genuinely interested in him. It’s beyond the excitement of the ones in the shop, and on the Tube. The moth, when Phil approaches, watches him with intrigue, and never looks away. Once, when Phil was bending down to hand Dan his coffee, the moth had reached out a transparent wing like it wanted to touch Phil’s face. Phil had jumped back and spilt coffee all over his apron.

(there is a small white lie though, one that Phil is continually trying to tell himself, which is that speaking to Dan is difficult because of Dan. Dan and his affection coloured eyes. His hair is creativity (chestnut coloured, light and fluffy, perfect for walnut whips), the pink flush to his cheeks is love, not the gentle rose coloured love that Phil gives to Martyn. The soft brush of instant love, instant infatuation (difficult to make, forms into nests that break if you handle them wrongly). He has smiled at Phil only once, that first time, when there may have been dimples, and never again, and Phil has never wanted to make someone smile so badly. He wants to hold out his wand and lift the crossings-out from Dan’s notebooks, the frown from his eyebrows, the moth from his back.)

“But you want to,” Winston says.

Phil, not entirely listening, says, “I want towhat?”

“Speak to him,” Winston replies. “More than you are.”

“He doesn’t talk very much.”

“And neither do you,” Winston says. “That’s a great combination.”

Phil takes Dan a coffee and some of the mini butterscotch pies from the shop window, the ones that are just pies, no magic or potions of any kind.

Dan, who hasn’t accepted any cakes from the shop so far, exclaims, “I love butterscotch pie!” with such happiness that his voice sounds like someone else’s, half a pitch lower and softer. The moth reduces in size as he eats the first one.

Phil feels like he’s never made anyone anything before, as happy as if this is the first successful cake he’s ever made. “I can make you some more, if you like.”

Dan looks up at him. Making eye contact with Dan is like being given a rare gift that you weren’t really expecting but is everything that you ever wanted and were hoping for. “I can’t pay you.”

“You can pay me with your playing.”

Dan snorts. The moth increases back to its normal size. “My playing is only worth, like, one single cake. A rock cake, maybe. A burnt one.”

“That’s not true,” Phil says. “I like your playing, you don’t do enough of it. I always start listening and then you stop.”

“I stop because it’s terrible,” Dan says, but he has the same surprised look that he always does when Phil speaks to him. “Don’t say it’s not, because it is. I know it is.”

“I never hear enough of it.”

“That’s the point,” Dan says.

Phil leaves the coffee and the remaining butterscotch pies on the piano bench. The moth beats its wings and leans into Phil’s path, blocking him from leaving. Phil steps to the side, out of its way (he’s never touched anyone’s aura and doesn’t plan on ever starting). The moth makes an anguished little noise. Dan sighs.

There’s a customer in the shop, a girl with a satchel and a violin case. She’s petting Winston, stroking his fur in the wrong direction in a way that makes Phil’s hair stand on end in sympathy. When she turns around Phil vaguely recognises her as one of the music students. She says, “Oh! I thought you were in the back room, with all the noise.”

Phil can hear the spoons and pans, happily clattering away in the kitchen. “That’s just my assistant. My new assistant. He’s very shy.”

If he remembers correctly this girl usually gets assertiveness (a peppermint green, soft fondant that goes with anything) because she’s first violin in the college orchestra but the second violin never listens to her. He’s made a few emerald macaroons with assertiveness centres and he hands them over while she looks out the window and says, “Is that Dan Howell?”

Phil hesitates, paper bag of macaroons held aloft. “Sorry?”

“He’s so talented,” she says. “It’s a shame that he’s so hard on himself.” She frowns out at Dan. “I wonder how he got that piano?”

Phil, feeling suddenly protective and swallowing down the urge to say stop staring at him, says, “It’s mine. I just had it here and we, um, carried it outside. And there it is.”

“Because one went missing from the college, and I thought-”

“Nope. Not that one. That one’s mine.”

The girl just keeps staring at Dan. Phil wants to throw all the macaroons away and not let her have a single one. “We all wondered where he went. He just left one day, in the middle of-”

“That sounds,” Phil interrupts. “Like his own personal business.”

She takes the bag of assertiveness. “Tell him that we’re thinking about him. And his place in the recital is still free, if he wants it.”

Phil says, “Of course,” and watches her leave. She stops at the piano bench and looks like she tries to start up a conversation. The moth reels back on its haunches and bats its wings into a frenzy but Dan stays still. The girl leaves.

When she does, Dan turns back, looking into the shop, straight through the window to the counter. Phil holds his hand up, not a wave, just a symbol of hey, I’m here. The moth stops fluttering and settles back on Dan’s shoulders. Phil smooths across Winston’s back, tidying his fur up, and sighs.

Winston says, “Stop that.”

Phil pulls his hand away.

“No, not that. This. What you’re doing right now.”

“I don’t think she actually needs assertiveness that much anymore.”

“He’s a human.”

“So I need to find something else to go in the macaroons. I was thinking maybe kindness, I know it’s basic but we’ve never -”

“Staring out of the window and wishing, and all of those things that you do normally but now with added pining.”

“Or intelligence? Is that a thing that would even work? It’s a hard thing to quantify, isn’t it, intelligence? But I’ve never tried, what colour do you think it would be? I think silver, but I’m not sure why.”

Winston huffs.

“And I didn’t stare out of the window and wish that much.” Just sometimes. When the London around his tiny shop sometimes seemed a bit too loud and far away and the council letter pile seemed taller than usual and he’d had to tell one too many lies about his very shy assistant in the kitchen (one day, one day he’ll be able to walk someone in there and say no look, I’m a witch, that’s all, the noise is the kitchen working by itself, a dream of being able to follow the biggest secret of his life with that’s all). But, as he tries to tell himself, he chose to live here, in the human world. He chose the secrets and not venturing out of a very small pond of streets and the accidental times that he’s taken his wand with him in public and the looks customers give him, heads on one side, like there’s something about him that they’re endeared by but also find very strange. A world not his own that he’s trying to forage a tiny place for himself in.

Winston’s wrong, though. The pining didn’t need to be added. It was already there.

*~*~*

Phil says, “Good morning. You’re here early.”

He’s surprised. Dan, since he came to reclaim the piano, has been at the shop every day but strictly only from 11 onwards. Today, he seems to have arrived before Phil got up and already has a paper cup of coffee from Somewhere Else that he guiltily hides behind his back when Phil notices. The moth makes one almost graceful swoop of its wings. Dan says, “Am I? How late am I usually?”

To reply makes it obvious that he’s been keeping track of Dan’s comings and goings so Phil says, “I don’t know. You’re just not normally here at this time.” He stands the sign up. “And also with imposter coffee.”

“I wasn’t going to wake you up to make you coffee.”

Phil thinks I wouldn’t have minded. I would have done it without question.

“What does the sign mean?” Dan asks. “And the name?” When Phil frowns at him he says, “The magic. Why did you call your shop A Sprinkle of Magic?”

Winston had thought it was a terrible name. His exact words had been, hey! Why don’t we just call it I’m A Witch And I Make Magic Cakes instead, but Phil hadn’t listened. He is magic, and his shop and everything inside it was magic, so why not? He liked the idea, still likes the fact, that for all the secrecy he shows in his life he can proudly have his true self on display, in pastel font on a sign, and no one questions it.

Until Dan, that is. Phil says, “Because my baking’s magic.”

Dan smiles, the smile that seems to surprise himself and makes the moth shrink. “Your butterscotch pies aren’t that good.”

“I won’t bring you another plate of them then.”

Dan says, “I lied. They’re magic, literal magic. Please.”

“You could come in. If you wanted to.”

Dan hesitates. Phil sees it, the seconds where the moth regains its size and then suddenly slumps across Dan’s back like it can’t support its own weight. “I can’t. I have to-” Dan waves his hands over the piano keys. “You know.”

Dan still hasn’t been inside the shop. He looks through the window, and sometimes he lingers at some of the displays, but he never comes inside. He only comments on the pies that Phil brings him and never mentions any of the other cakes that he stares at, or what he thinks of them, what he thinks of the shop’s bright inside, the blues, greens and yellows. He very rarely mentions the existence of the shop at all.

Phil says, “Okay. But, you’re welcome to come in, anytime, you know that right? I can make you anything you want.”

“Can you make me actual musical talent?”

“Probably.” (Musicality: a peachy orange, forms like jelly, cut into treble clefs and put on top of cupcakes).

Dan laughs. But Dan never really laughs, just exclaims ha! at a pitch slightly higher than his normal voice (even if Phil thinks his actual normal voice is the low, soft one that he’s heard only once). “Right. Can you get on that please?”

Phil brings him a plate of butterscotch pies instead, and some coffee that he’s spun a caramel nest on top of. Dan touches it with his fingertip and watches it disintegrate. Phil says, not for the first time, “I’d like to hear you play more.”

“So would I,” Dan replies.

*~*~*

They get another letter from the council. Winston scratches at the envelope with his claws and Phil watches as the paper slowly heals itself, each tear gently folding over. Winston begins, “Dear Mr Lester. Regarding the matter of your unusual and important gift, which you continue to -”

“There’s no need to do this every time.” Phil puts the envelope with the others. He’d moved them into one of the kitchen drawers the night before, but had woken up to find them back at the counter, propped against the vanilla ice jar.

“They could put more effort into these. It’s just getting lazy.”

Phil presses his thumb onto the council seal. He had thought, or hoped, that they would have forgotten about him by now, that there were more important things to discuss than him, but apparently not. Council meetings are every Tuesday and the letters always arrive on a Wednesday. Like some witch, in their formal robes and hat, would suddenly put their hand up and say should we send Phil Lester another summons? and everyone would agree. Martyn frequently gets accosted in the maze like corridors of the council building by people whispering aren’t you his brother? Is it true, what they say about him?

His hands, when he’s carrying Dan’s coffee, are shaking. Dan watches him spill at least half the cup on his walk from door to piano and says, “Are you okay?”

Phil says, “Of course. I’m always okay.”

The moth’s wing extends. This time it actually touches the top of Phil’s head, catching on the strands of his hair. It feels soft, like velvet, and oddly like it’s trying to be reassuring, smoothing down the flyaway gaps at his fringe.

Dan sighs, a deep release of breath that actually makes him sit up straighter. “You’re sure?”

“I just.” Phil looks into Dan’s coffee cup, now half-empty. “I just got a letter. That’s all.”

Dan says, “A letter? Do people even send those anymore?”

“Some people do.”

“It’s probably nothing to worry about.”

Phil blinks at Dan, who wears his own worries across his shoulders, with wings. “I- You could take your own advice about that.”

“It’s easier to give advice than to follow it,” Dan says. The moth’s wing retracts from Phil’s hair. Dan sighs again, but longingly, like he’s just lost something. “And if it is something to worry about, then.”

Phil waits. He puts the coffee remains on the piano bench, the cup rattles in its saucer. He tidies it up, in the shade of the moth’s wingspan, and says, “Then, what?”

“I don’t know,” Dan says. “It’s probably nothing is, like, the sum total of my advice. Sorry.”

Winston has torn the letters to shreds by the time Phil returns. The pieces float around in the air, trying to find their missing part, until Phil smacks them down with his hand. “You’re on the counter!” he tells Winston. “Someone could see!”

“No one looks past the cakes,” Winston protests. “I could tap dance across the till and no one would say anything. The only person who looks past the cakes and actually at you is the pianist who never plays the piano.”

“He doesn’t look at me,” Phil says.

Winston tilts his head to one side and says, “Really.”

*~*~*

Dan’s two minute sonatas reduce to one minute, and then to a sad thirty seconds of something lilting and beautiful. Sad in the way that Phil, having begged Dan to play, actually can’t stand and listen to something so full of longing. Sad in the way that it could have been written for Phil (but not possible. Dan doesn’t even know Phil, they don’t really know each other). Sad in the way that Dan could just walk over, take Phil’s heart from his chest and say can I have this? and Phil would say of course, it’s yours.

More and more students from the music college keep wandering over, hovering near the piano and then leaving when Dan gives no acknowledgement or sign that he’s even seen them. Phil serves them cakes and biscuits and huge wedges of brownies and blondies and resists the urge to say stop BOTHERING him. Dan never reacts but the moth buzzes and recoils and grows in size with every person who approaches.

The whole thing is getting too much. Phil wants to march outside and ask Dan what makes him write music like this, what made him leave the college but also drag a piano with him, what kind of sadness is he carrying that could make his aura a moth, of all things, because Phil’s never seen an aura like a moth but then he’s never met a person like Dan either.

He’s used to watching people, observing and chatting and getting a general idea for how he can help them, what he can make. He’s not used to being unable to stop watching someone, being unable to help, having a whole potion book of ideas but no clue of what he could possibly make Dan.

Dan has spoken to none of the steady stream of students with their violins, cellos, trumpets and clarinets, but he immediately turns to Phil when Phil comes outside. “Where have you been?”

“I didn’t want to interrupt your fan club,” Phil says, with more sarcasm than he’d meant to. Witches are terrible at sarcasm, usually, but he’s never been a usual witch. “Sorry. I meant that you looked busy.”

“They just want the gossip on why I left. No one really cares about listening to me play.”

“I do!” Phil exclaims. “I do. I’ve been listening to you all day.”

Dan flushes. The moth extends its wings. “I’ve just been playing the same piece of music all day.”

“I know. It’s beautiful.”

Dan says, “Is it?”, with much more hope than Phil was expecting. “It’s something I’d been working on, before. It’s thirty seconds because I drew over the rest.” He holds up one of the notebooks. Phil pretends to be seeing the crossings-out for the first time. “I kind of wish I hadn’t now but, that’s me, always regretting my terrible decisions.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s- I wrote it when I was feeling- It’s hard to explain, but I-”

Phil says, “You don’t have to tell me.”

“No, it’s fine. It’s just- it’s about feeling like you-” Dan stops, curls his fingers around the cover of his notebook. “Do you ever feel like you can’t find where you’re supposed to be? Even when people tell you that this, or there, or college, or uni, is what you’re supposed to be doing, but you just feel so lonely there or, like, left out. In a city full of people. Do you ever-”

Phil says, “Yes.”

“Oh.” Dan looks at the pastel of Phil’s apron, the brightness of icing (cheerfulness, fondness, charisma) sprinkled up his arms. “I didn’t think-”

“I don’t leave the shop,” Phil says. “I don’t leave this street. I used to, but it’s loud. It’s too much. But now it’s like hearing all the noise from far away.”

“That’s the same as-”

“I’ve never said that out loud before.”

Dan smiles, hesitantly, enough for the half-moon dimple to deepen and then disappear. “Now you have.”

“That’s why I like your music,” Phil says. “All of that. I understand it.”

The moth touches Phil’s cheek. He flinches, not enough for Dan to see, but it’s unexpected because he’d somehow forgotten that the moth even existed. The curve of its wing sweeps the curve of Phil’s cheekbone and Dan, hesitantly, says, “Not many people say that. I always have to apologise for it being too sad.”

“Is that why you left college?”

“One of the reasons.”

Dan leaves his notebooks on the piano, he always does. Phil had tapped a spell on each of them, to make them weather repellent and safe, but he hasn’t opened them since the first few days, when they were abandoned. Dan always puts them neatly back on the stand before he disappears, always somewhere between Phil bringing in the sign and then going back for the chairs. They always say good morning but never say goodbye.

Phil opens the first notebook- the huge capitalised delete this, the clouds of black obscuring the notes beneath. Only the first two pages are still intact, the thirty seconds of music that still gets played. He taps his wand to each of the following pages in turn and drags all of the black up and off, floating away on the wind and then evaporating. He does both notebooks, until they’re both clean and full of neatly transcribed sheet music. Phil runs his hand across each line, following the pitch, before he puts the books back.

“What did you do?” Winston says. “I saw you. What did you do? You’re going back on the whole thing, you said that you wouldn’t get attached, you always get attached.”

“I’m not attached.” Phil moves around the kitchen, sending the pots and pans to sleep. Winston watches accusingly from one of the shelves. “I’m not.”

“Actually, you’re right. You’re not attached.”

“Thank you. Like I-”

“It’s more than that. It’s different.”

Phil accidentally wakes up one pot instead. It clatters angrily on the stove while he prods it with the wand. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say.”

“Do you like him?”

“There’s nothing not to like.”

“Do you like him?”

The pot finally goes back to sleep. Phil walks to the shelf and holds out his palm for Winston to step onto. “Why are you asking me this?”

“All those people,” Winston says, delicately settling himself in Phil’s hand. “And he only speaks to you.”

“I took the crossings-out from his notebooks. Both of them. He said he regretted ruining the music and that’s why he only plays the thirty seconds that he still has and so I wanted to help.”

Winston presses his teeth, very lightly, into the skin of Phil’s thumb. Phil jumps. “That was a stupid thing to do. How are you going to explain that?”

“I’ll say I don’t know anything about it.”

“Do you like him?” Winston repeats.

“You know the answer to that,” Phil says. “You’re my familiar. You feel my emotions, you know.”

“I feel your emotions faintly. Like a whisper of what you’re feeling. But with him it’s like you’re yelling in my ear, like you’re holding me right to your face and shouting as loud as you can. You’ve never been that loud with anything. Anyone.”

Phil holds Winston up to his face and whispers, as softly as he can, “I like him.”

“That’s terrible.” Winston makes his way across Phil’s arm and up onto his shoulder. “Really. That’s the worst thing that could possibly happen.”

In the morning there are two council letters, the first time they’ve ever had two at once, and Winston is shocked that he doesn’t even try and scratch at the envelopes. Dan, outside, is holding both his notebooks, a look of complete astonishment on his face. The moth, suddenly shrunk to medium size, is tangled in the curls of his hair.

*~*~*

“Did you know anything about this?” Dan says. His voice is muffled because he’s face down on the keys, his forehead emitting a low bass note. “The notebooks?”

Phil’s glad Dan can’t really see him because he’s an awful liar. “What’s wrong with them?”

“Nothing’s wrong. It’s just that everything’s back. It’s like I never scribbled over anything. It’s all there.”

“But that’s good, right?”

Dan sits up. The moth is still perched on one of his creativity coloured ringlets. “It’s impossible.”

“But good?”

“I don’t know,” Dan says. “I can’t process it at the moment.”

But-” Phil says, for the third time. “All your music is there. It’s like you never crossed it out. You can play it in full now.”

Dan gives him a searching look, eyes flickering around Phil’s face. The moth reaches out. Dan’s gaze seems to reach out too, but falls down somewhere in the space between them, dropping to the floor. Dan ducks his head and the moth quadruples in size. It bats its wings so fast that they hum. “I suppose,” Dan says. “That someone could have copied them out. Maybe they’re new notebooks.”

“That’s probably what happened.”

“Anyone else would be happy about that.”

“You’re not?”

“I’m not sure I actually deserve that amount of effort.”

“That’s not true.”

“You don’t know me,” Dan says. “I’m very frustrating. My mind doesn’t stop.” He taps a fingertip to his temple. “I procrastinate, then get annoyed with myself. I get sarcastic about things that I genuinely like. My mother can tell the difference between my fake smile and my actual smile, who has an actual smile, why would you need to-”

“So can I,” Phil interrupts. Dan comes to a complete stop. “Tell the difference between your fake and real smile.” He jabs his thumbs to his cheeks. “The dimples.”

Dan, for a second, sits with his mouth half-open and a steady rise of pink across his jaw. The moth is Winston’s size, perched on his shoulder, wings still buzzing. The humming is starting to get under Phil’s skin. Dan says, “Why are you so,” with a clear full stop. Why are you so what.

The strum of the wings is unbearable and, in irritation, Phil reaches out to bat the moth away before he even realises what he’s doing. He has to change his hand’s course so it lands somewhere on Dan’s collarbone, the pad of his thumb half on Dan’s jaw. Dan makes a started uh noise as Phil tries to salvage the situation and says, “It’s going to be okay,” while patting his open palm to the space above Dan’s heart.

Dan finally says, “You’re nice to me,” and Phil guesses that was the end of the sentence. Why are you so nice to me.

When Phil pulls his hand back the moth leans as if to follow. “You’re not nice to yourself.”

*~*~*

He tells Winston, “I’m making him a cake.”

Winston says, “Oh, Phil, no.”

“The moth,” Phil says, “It’s because of the moth. It doesn’t stop, it’s constantly moving and on his back and it doesn’t give him time to think and I just want him to get some peace, that’s all. One cake. A single cake. It’ll be the only one.”

“No, it won’t. You know it won’t.”

Peacefulness: a very light silver, forms a very light icing that’s easy to burn, good for a glaze on top of tarts or doughnuts.
“Just some peace,” Phil tells Winston. “Just a bit. For him to have a break.”

“From what? Himself?”

Peacefulness is difficult to make. Phil’s burnt it more times than he’s successfully managed to get it onto a tart, but this time it goes perfectly. He stirs it once, twice, with his wand, and sets the plates and cases to arrange themselves. Winston, in a pout, shuffles back to the main counter. When Phil pours the mixture onto one of the freshly made doughnuts the glaze is so clear that he can see his reflection in it.

He knows even then that this isn’t the one cake, the single cake, the only cake. He’d make an entire shop of cakes for Dan if it would get rid of his frown, the disappointed look he gives the piano, the sad curve of his back when students from the college try and approach him. The moth, Phil would do anything to get rid of the moth.

The moth does not return these feelings apparently. When Phil walks back out, single perfect doughnut on one of his best plates, the moth extends a wing and looks almost like it missed Phil and was waiting for him to come back. Phil holds the plate out to Dan.

Dan quirks one side of his mouth. “Not butterscotch pie?”

“No. Something new. I just baked it, it’s still warm.”

Dan says, “I like the icing. It doesn’t go with your pastel aesthetic, but I like it.” He picks the doughnut off the plate. “Thank you.”

Phil doesn’t stay to watch him eat. He returns to the shop and serves a steady stream of customers. At some point, in between a generosity brownie and a slice of patience cake, the piano starts up. The lady at the till, patience in one hand and trying to pet a very grumpy Winston with the other, says, “How lovely!”

The music is the same tune as before, but to a different tempo, slightly faster but also somehow calmer. It seems to move in the air outside the shop, catching on the leaves and the glass of the windows. Phil wants to throw open the door and let it inside.

“That’s the boy who dropped out of the college isn’t it?” the customer says, still stubbornly patting Winston, who is resolutely refusing to look at either her or Phil. “I work admissions over there. He was such a talent. Everyone was so frustrated when he left.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s him,” Phil says. “It must be someone different.”

“He left right in the middle of his recital. There was a rumour that he’d destroyed all of his compositions, but I always-”

Phil thinks she shouldn’t be gossiping so much about students’ lives and that he should attempt to make some discretion or subtlety for next time. “Like I said, I don’t think it’s the same person.”

He hears her say “Daniel?” as she leaves and hears Dan, in the moments before the shop door closes, say, “Hello,” back. His soft voice, the real one.

Phil looks down at Winston. His cheeks are puffed out, every strand of his fur on end. It’s supposed to emphasise his bad mood but it just makes him look more adorable than usual. Phil tells him so. Winston huffs.

*~*~*

When Phil goes out to collect the plate (just before closing, when dark is setting in) Dan turns to him and smiles, both dimples. He says, “Phil!”, like it’s the most pleasant surprise in the world to see Phil here, outside his shop. He looks softer at the edges, his cheeks are flushed and the affection of his eyes is sparkling more than any glaze Phil could ever make. “I played a lot today.”

“You did,” Phil says, smiling back. “Everyone loved it, I told you it was good.”

“Did you love it?” Dan continues to dimple. “I don’t mind about everyone else, I want to know what you thought.”

Phil tilts his head down, for the plate, and the lack of eye contact is the only reason that he’s able to say, “I loved it. It was beautiful. It’s like you wrote it for me, like I said before. I wanted to hold my hands up and catch it.”

Dan, when Phil looks, has an expression of such fondness that Phil almost thinks he messed up the potion. “You can’t just say things like that.”

“I can if they’re true.” Phil holds the plate under his arm and realises, with the sight of the emerging stars, that this is the first time that he’s seen Dan at closing time. The first time Dan hasn’t run away in between Phil’s cleaning up. He says, “You’re here late.”

“It was a good day,” Dan says, somewhat dreamily. “I’m trying to make it last longer.”

“You could come in for a coffee. I’m nearly done closing up.”

The peacefulness apparently only stretches so far. Dan says, “Oh no, that’s okay. I should be leaving.”

“You don’t have to.” Phil watches the gradual fade of Dan’s dimples. “There’s no rush, it’s not like I have anything else to do.”

Dan says, “No,” gently but firmly. “I really have to go.”

Phil wants to ask go where? Where do you go that isn’t here but Dan is gone, disappearing in the two seconds where Phil turns to pick up the sign and then turn back. Where do you go that isn’t here, in front of my shop.

It takes another few seconds, maybe ten or eleven, when he’s tying the tarp back over the piano, to decide that peacefulness isn’t going to be the only thing he’s going to make for Dan, that he would bake a cake a day, every day, if it would make Dan stay after closing time. Keep a dimple in his cheek. Float the music past thirty seconds. If there’s a chance that Dan might step into the shop. Phil gets attached to humans most of the time, Winston would say all of the time, that Phil’s never met a human that he didn’t get attached to and want to help in some way, but Dan - Dan is different. Dan is beyond all of those things and beyond everyone else Phil has ever met. He doesn’t even want to help Dan, because help seems so basic and not big enough for what he feels. He wants, with more feeling than he’s ever wanted anything, for Dan to be happy.

Winston isn’t puffed up with annoyance anymore and, when Phil comes back into the shop, he sighs with resignation and says, “I know what you’re going to do. I felt you yelling about it.”

“The peacefulness brought the music back, but I don’t think it was enough.”

“Enough for what? I thought this was just about the music.”

“He’s still sad,” Phil says. “He’s still too sad. The moth’s still there.”

“The moth’s his aura,” Winston points out. He pads down from till to counter to cake-stand, where he starts pulling one the sugared almonds off the fairy cake slices. “It’s difficult to change someone’s aura.”

“Difficult doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.”

Winston holds the almond neatly in his claws. “Some people are just a little bit sadder than other people. It doesn’t mean-”

“I hate the moth. I hate everything about it, I hate how much weight it puts on his back, I hate that it always stares at me and tries to touch my hair-”

“You know that auras mostly just act out the person’s true feelings, right?”

“- and I hate that it makes him slump and fold over. It’s like an existential crisis on his shoulders. And it gets smaller when he’s happy, so I think I could make it disappear for real, I definitely could.”

“You don’t usually do this.” Winston takes a thoughtful nibble of his almond. “You don’t give more than one emotion to someone. Or you don’t help the same person twice.”

“It’s not going to be twice, it’s going to be as much as he needs.”

“What’s the end goal here? He’ll leave, when you make him happy. They always do.”

There’s some irony in that, Phil supposes. That he spends hours concocting potions, and making the perfect pastries and sponges to hide them in, and dedicating his time to making people happy when, Winston’s right, the happiness makes them leave. Happiness apparently does not relate to spending time around Phil.

“Do you want him to leave?”

Phil swallows. If he had an aura, and if that aura was a moth, then the mere thought of Dan leaving would have it deflating right onto Phil’s back, forcing him onto his knees. A vision of Dan waving at him through the shop window with Phil’s heart in his hands, smiling and dimpling and saying I’m just going to take this with me, is that okay?

“I want,” he says. “For him to be happy.”

“And I”, Winston says. “Would like for someone to stay for you. At some point.”

*~*~*

Phil thinks the bravery should be next. A light caramel brown, soft, perfect to use in fudge or brownies. After that he thinks calmness (smooth and velvet red, as light and sticky as marshmallows), and then possibly confidence (cream coloured, the same shade as a spotlight or a camera flash). A whole mixture of things that should cause another piece of music, maybe a symphony, an opera, ready to be played by an entire orchestra. Dan’s Smile in B Major. The Moth Off His Back in G Minor. Dan Walking Into The Shop in a key that Phil can’t decide upon because there’s no soundtrack that could possibly fit that.

The bravery doesn’t go very well. It had been so easy to make last time but now his saucepan clatters its way from the stove, the spoons refuse to stir, his measuring jug hides on one of the top shelves. Phil has to hold all of his remaining utensils in his arms, squirming and wriggling like a litter of kittens, while he points his wand at the offending saucepan, freezing it in place.

“Maybe it’s a sign,” Winston says, watching everything unfold from the bookshelf. “A sign that this is a bad idea. They know you’re making it for someone who’s already had something.”

“There’s no rules to this.” Phil looks down at his kitchenware, in varying degrees of escape. “And if there were, then I’d be the one making them. Please, guys, we’re making bravery and that’s the end of it.”

The saucepan throws itself onto the floor with a metallic clang.

Phil tells it, “Fine, I’ll use the cauldron,” and walks into the pantry, where his cauldron is sat underneath his herb cabinet, covered with an old starprint blanket, probably gathering dust from lack of use. His mother had made him bring it, but cauldrons aren’t really the best for making cakes. He’d tried a few times, on simple things like cheerfulness and chirpiness, but it’s hard to judge the quantity and the level of ingredients when you’re just dropping things into a huge abyss. The chirpiness in particular hadn’t worn off anyone for weeks.

The saucepan follows him, dragging itself along the tiles, sad little scraping noises that seem to say no, I can change, I’m sorry.

The cauldron makes an entire vat of perfect bravery. Enough to make a mountain of fudge. His spatula and plates decide to cooperate just in time to cut it into perfect squares, dusting each piece with sugar.

“Bravery,” Phil tells Winston. He holds the fudge out, it would only fit on his largest serving plate (it had dragged itself from the cupboard like it had been woken from a long sleep). “Ta-da!” Winston doesn’t look impressed. “Ta-da?”

“Bravery,” Winston agrees. “Made in the cauldron no less. Are you going to reply to the inevitable letter about that?”

*~*~*

The letter appears the next morning, stuck to the inside of Phil’s bedroom door. Dear Mr Lester. Regarding the matter of your unusual and important gift.

The cauldron gets the entire second paragraph to itself. Is this suspicion correct, Mr Lester? Reports tell us that you used your cauldron last night, this would be the first time since you chose to move to Human London. Is it too optimistic of us to hope that you wish to return to the magic community? What catalyst has caused this sudden use? Could we arrange a personal visit, at your earliest convenience. Please confirm what would be best for you.

“You made me fudge?” Dan says. He’s wearing a scarf, curled casually around his neck. The moth is curled possessively over the top of his head. “This is new.”

“I made a whole batch yesterday.” Phil has selected only the best most perfect pieces for Dan, arranged into a little pyramid. “So, here you go.”

Dan accepts the plate. “I’ll play as much as I can today, to say thanks. You could- maybe it’ll make you want to reach up and catch it again. I mean, I hope it’s that good again, it could have just been a fluke, but I-”

“It’s not a fluke. And I’m sure it will.” Phil can feel himself blushing, can see the moth watching the pink brush across his face.

Dan gets one single patch of blush on his jaw, as perfect as if someone had painted it there. “It was a nice thing to say. I’m usually awful with praise and I just get all snarky and dismissive so no one really gives me praise anymore, but, it was a nice thing to say. I thought about it all the way home.”

Phil attempts to joke, “You thought about me all the way home?”, but it comes out breathless, like he’s losing entire gasps of air just by having this conversation.

The moth extends both wings. If Phil was two steps closer then he’d be completely enveloped in them. Dan says, “Yes,” and leans forward too. “You say things, sometimes, and I don’t think I fully get them at the time, but I think about them, on the tube, or on my street, or when I’m in my flat, and then I’m like, he said those things to you. You say these things, and you have no idea. I’ve played piano for years, forever, and I got so much fake praise and, like, disingenuous people, and all the people who just want to get the gossip on why I walked out of my recital, and I hate disingenuous people, and-”

“I’m not disingenuous,” Phil says.

“You’re not. You’re absolutely not. All of that angsting and you were here the whole time, just across the street.”

Phil looks at the fudge, wonders if it's emitting some kind of honesty spell. “I’m always here.”

“You don’t leave the street,” Dan remembers. Phil nods. “But you used to?”

“A while ago. And only to listen to pianos, in the end. It was worth all the noise.”

Dan smiles. “And now I brought the piano to you.”

“You did. I don’t think I’ll ever make enough fudge or butterscotch pie to deserve that.”

Dan ducks his head, pushes his chin into the folds of his scarf, and says, “It took me four hours to get it over here.”

“The piano?”

Dan nods. “I left, the day of my recital, and I was never going to go back but I kept thinking about this piano, and it was always at the back of the room and no one except me ever played it. So, I sort of felt like I’d left it behind. And, honestly, I’m the biggest procrastinator ever, but if I decide to do something then- I knew I had to go back for it. The practice rooms are twenty four hours and I went there at 1am. I didn’t think I’d be able to get it up the kerb, to here, but some guys came over and helped me. It used to be such a sad looking piano. It looks better out here.”

“It probably likes being outside.”

“And also you repaired it. And tuned it.”

Phil blinks down at Dan, who has now successfully buried most of the bottom half of his face in his scarf. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“I like pianos. And I saw your music, all crossed out.”

“It’s not crossed out anymore.”

“No.” Phil has to push his hands into his pockets just in case they, somehow, reach out and unloop Dan’s scarf, just in case he touches Dan’s cheeks with the pads of his fingers to make the dimples appear. “No, it’s not.”

“I don’t know why I wanted to bring it here. I know it’s the number one busking spot and everything, but I never wanted to- I’m not great at playing for an audience, not really, and I get anxious about people hearing my stuff, and I-”

“Then who are you writing music for?”

“I don’t write music for anyone. Or, I didn’t. Until I was here.”

Phil says, “Dan.”

“It sounded sadder, when I played it in the college. It’s happier when I play it here, with you.”

Phil says, “Come into the shop. Just for a second.”

Dan laughs, the same sharp burst of ha! “I feel like I’d turn everything in your shop to coal just by touching it. It’s the prettiest place I’ve ever seen.”

There are three customers outside the shop, all giving Phil concerned glances. He hasn’t changed the sign to open, hasn’t put out the table and chairs. He’s not sure if he’s even unlocked the main door. “I’ll come back,” he tells Dan. “You can tell me if you like the fudge.”

Dan says, “You made it. So I know I will.”

*~*~*

It’s just after lunchtime, just after the waiter and waitress rush, when Dan bursts through the door. Phil jumps, scattering a few slices of battenberg, and says, “Dan!” He’d been waiting for music all morning, the glorious music that Dan’s new bravery would cause, the beautiful swell of Dan finally giving his entire heart into something and saying-

“Do you want to go for a coffee with me?” Dan says. “Or a drink, or dinner, or anything really, we can keep within these four streets, I promise. I don’t need to go far, I just want to be with you. Near you.” The moth has slid further down his back, when it spreads its wings it almost looks like a butterfly.

Winston, on the till, splutters with shock.

Dan, delighted, says, “Oh, hello there! I didn’t know that you-”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Dan is already in the process of scooping Winston into his hand. He freezes. “I shouldn’t pick him up?”

“No. No, that’s fine. I meant the coffee, or drinks, or dinner.”

Dan, being brave, having the type of bravery that comes in slices of fudge and means that you say exactly what you mean, says, “This is the first time I’ve been in your shop. I never did before because I thought I wouldn’t be able to leave. Not in a weird way. Just, that seeing you here, would be just too nice of a thing to see, too good a thing to see. I could write symphonies about you in this shop. I could write symphonies about you.”

Winston, held to Dan’s cheek, gives Phil a horrified how much bravery did you GIVE him? look.

“I used to leave early,” Dan adds. “Because I hated the idea of saying goodbye to you.”

Phil, helplessly, can only say, “Right.”

“Why isn’t it a good idea? I thought- I don’t think I was misjudging anything, because it seemed like- Am I misjudging it?”

“No. The complete opposite.”

“You have a boyfriend,” Dan guesses. “You have a girlfriend. You have a boyfriend and a girlfriend.”

“No, it’s-”

“The hamster’s really possessive of you.”

“Sort of. It’s hard to-”

“I’ll take you somewhere quiet. I promise. And it won’t be far. I’ve been wanting to ask forever, since I saw the blankets on the piano.”

“Dan, it’s hard to explain, but I-”

Dan says, “Please.”

Phil says, “Yes,” because how could he say anything else. How can he do anything against please?

Winston makes a horrified huff noise that only Phil can hear the true disapproval in. Dan just runs his thumb over Winston’s ear reassuringly. “Really?” He looks completely delighted, a level of happiness that Phil could never make a potion for because it would be impossible to replicate.

The moth flutters its wings, almost delicately.

Phil says, “Really,” and, even though they’re in a shop filled with every cake, sweet and pastry you can imagine (pastel colours and fairy lights and plants, and secret wands and a cauldron hiding in the kitchen), Dan never takes his eyes off him. Phil has never been the direct target of someone’s bravery before, he curls his fingers in the belt of his apron and says, “Really,” again, because he feels like he should.

Dan echoes, “Really!” back. “Okay. Okay, I- When? When did you want to-”

“We can have the coffee now,” Phil says. “And the dinner later.”

He half-leads Dan towards the kitchen, in a daze, until Winston has a tiny coughing fit that makes Dan say, “Oh dear!” and tap his back, and makes Phil remember that, right, his kitchen is full of enchanted crockery and potion books. He turns to go upstairs, to his flat, and Winston almost has an asthma attack because that’s where Phil’s robes are, where his broom is, where the letter from the council is still stuck to his bedroom door.

He stops. Dan walks into him, very gently, toes into Phil’s heels. Phil says, “Maybe outside.”

“Okay. Can I bring the hamster?”

Winston glares, as he’s sure to do throughout their entire conversation. Phil says, “He’s fine here. Just put him back in his teacup.”

Dan does, and also pulls out his phone to take a photo of Winston. “Look how adorable that is!” he says to Phil.

Phil, recognising Winston’s we’ll talk about this later stare, says, “Yep, completely adorable.”

He makes two coffees while Dan stands at the other side of the counter, watching him like the act of making coffee is the most fascinating thing he’s ever seen anyone do.

Dan says, “As soon as I got here I thought, what kind of ridiculously sweet person wraps a blanket around a piano? And it was you. And then when I asked you, you said you didn’t want it to be cold.”

Phil snaps the lids on the coffee cups and turns. “It was here for a while. And it’s been frosty, in the mornings.”

“Do you remember what else you said?” Dan asks, hopefully. He’s not blushing, it’s the tone of voice that Phil usually associates with a creeping pinkness across Dan’s jaw, but there’s nothing. He supposes that you don’t blush if you’re brave. He misses it.

“I said I’d been waiting for a piano,” Phil says.

Dan beams. “Exactly.”

*~*~*

“The thing is,” Dan says, when they’re outside, shoulder to shoulder on the piano bench, “That I can play the piano, it’s the actual, creating music that I’m not great at. I think you have to be a certain type of person and I’m not sure if I’m it, you know? Nothing I write is ever good enough, it’s- I never find anything inspiring. I never look at anything and think, I want to write a song about that. Not usually, anyway. It’s, like, do you ever look at people and think wow, I want to make a cake for them, or-”

“All the time,” Phil says. “I think that all the time.” Their knees are one inch apart. Phil could turn, by accident, as if to look for a customer, and they would be touching.

Dan stops midflow. “You’re just an unnaturally nice person.”

“How can you be unnaturally nice?”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I meant, you’re exceptionally nice. Nicer than anyone I think I’ve ever met.”

“Not really.”

“You tuned and repaired my piano. And I know you did something to my notebooks, even if I can’t work out what, and you bring me coffee, and you listen, and I meant all those things I said. I don’t normally- I don’t normally talk this much. I find it difficult to be honest sometimes. With other people and with myself. That comes back to the being bad at writing music thing, I suppose.”

“You’re not bad at writing music. I’ve heard your music, it’s beautiful. I told you.”

“I think,” Dan says, practised and as if this is something he’s said many times before, “That you have to be a certain type of person to make music. You have to be able to see, something, I can’t think of the word, but something in just normal stuff, you have to see-”

“Magic?” Phil supplies.

Dan looks up at the shop sign and smiles. “Yeah. But that’s impossible. London’s the greyest, most unmagical place I’ve ever seen.”

Phil, who walked out of a place that was overwhelming with magic, so much magic that he wore it like a cape, could feel the pinpricks of it every time he moved his hands, had a hundred wands confiscated because it’s too much for you, Phil, how do you DO that, says, “I don’t think it’s unmagical.”

“You’re just proving my point on you being too nice a person. It’s completely unmagical and grey-”

“You can see magic anywhere.”

“- and I’m basically a grey and unmagical person myself. Loving music and wanting to make music but lacking the motivation to actually do it.”

“You’re the most un-grey person I’ve ever met,” Phil says. He wants to add and I can see auras. I’ve seen auras of every colour in the rainbow and some I didn’t even know existed. I’ve met people whose auras are more than one colour, auras that are so bright that they stay in the air. And I’ve still never met anyone like you.

Dan looks at Phil. The same look that he gives Phil every morning, as if he’d expected Phil to close the shop and move during the night, and seeing him is the greatest surprise that Dan’s ever had. “You meant what you said? About later? That I can see you later?”

“We can see each other later,” Phil stands up. He’s left the till for too long already. Winston, for all his cuteness, can only hold customers’ attention for a limited time. “You can see me whenever you like.”

The music, for the rest of the day, is pure joy. It bounces and chirps happily in the air, and everyone who enters the shop does so on the balls of their feet, like they’ve been caught midway through a dance. Winston taps his paw on the side of his cup. One of the cafe waitresses twirls Phil across the shop floor, tries to spin him underarm but fails when he somehow hits his forehead with his own elbow.

“His bravery was for you,” Winston says, drily, somewhere in between the early and late afternoon rush. “The thing he needed to be brave for the most was being honest with you.”

Phil says, “Yes. I got that.”

“Don’t try and downplay it. I see you. And I see him.”

“Can’t I just.” Phil looks down at Winston. Winston looks away. “Can’t I just have something for myself? Someone for myself?”

“I want that for you. But, he’s a human.”

“We’ve had this shop,” Phil says. “For three years now, right? I’ve made so many things, helped so many people, so many emotions and he’s the first one, the only one, to actually have an emotion about me.”

*~*~*

Dan waits at the piano with his hands clasped in front of him, as polite as if he’s waiting for the right moment to ask Phil if he wants to waltz. Phil self-consciously puts the tables and chairs away, and then the sign, all the time expecting that Dan will be gone when he comes back, that the bravery will wear off and Dan will leave.

Dan does not. He stays under the streetlight and the canopy of the moth’s wing, and waits.

Phil deposits the sign in one of the cupboards, removes his apron and tries to tidy his hair. Winston says, “You should wear the red jacket. It suits you the best,” and waits patiently as Phil carries him up to the flat and his little wicker bed. “I’ll be pinned to the window until you get home. Don’t be late.”

Dan is still there when Phil steps outside (wearing the red jacket because Winston’s fashion advice should never be ignored). Phil waves, even though Dan is only a few steps away, and the moth reduces in size to the point that Phil can barely see it, perched on Dan’s shoulder.

Dan says, “Hey, you’ve got-” and gently cuffs the back of his hand across Phil’s cheek. “Icing. And some in your hair.”

“There’s icing in my hair permanently.”

“I should get used to it then.”

Phil blushes. Dan does not. “Where did you want to go?”

“I haven’t decided. It was kind of, um, spontaneous, me asking you today. I’ve thought about it, so much, but, I don’t know, I never thought I’d actually get you here, in real life, so I hadn’t thought much more past the point of asking you. Where do you want to go?”

They go to one of the cafes, a literal thirty step walk ending in one of the waiters exclaiming Phil! I thought you never left the shop! and getting them one of the best tables outside, tapping the menus and saying it’s free, Phil, everything’s free for you. I can’t believe you’re outside

“I go outside sometimes,” Phil tells Dan, just after they order wine, because this is somehow important to clarify. “I just don’t go far, that’s the point.”

Dan says, “But, you said that you used to, when you wanted to listen to pianos. Why did you stop?”

Phil ponders this. That had been a little while ago and he had hugely underestimated his own capabilities, crouching on the floors of tube trains while people asked if he was okay, entire explosions of colours over their heads.

“It’s just very loud,” he says. “Isn’t it?”

“You’re not from a city then?”

“No. The complete opposite.”

Dan waits for Phil to elaborate, then tries to guess. “Somewhere near here?”

“Somewhere very far away.”

“Wow. Mysterious.”

“I don’t mean to be. I just left, a little while ago, and a lot worked out how I wanted it to, but then a lot of it hasn’t. Not yet.”

“Why did you leave?” Dan asks. He instantly adds, “You don’t have to answer that.”

“I felt like everyone wanted me to do something that I didn’t want to do and I didn’t want to let anyone down.” Dan looks startled. “No, it’s not, there’s no bad feeling or anything, I didn’t leave on bad terms. It was just a big step, coming all the way here, no one really does it where I’m from.”

Dan says, “Fuck, where are you from, the moon?”

Phil laughs. “That would be amazing. But, no.”

“I could take you to hear some pianos. If you wanted. You get used to the noise, after a while, and it’s worth it.”

Phil thinks I could get used to the noise if you were there and is surprised to find that he’s said it aloud, without meaning to.

The moth flutters its (now small) wings. They catch all the beams from the street light, scattering across Dan’s face. Dan says, “I could take you. I want to. I know quiet places.”

“I don’t know if-”

“I’d find the quietest places possible for you, if that’s what you want. It would be okay.”

“I feel like it would be okay if you were there.”

“And I feel okay when you’re there. So it’s win-win.”

Phil smiles because Dan’s smiling, and it’s infectious, the freckles and the dimples and the soft creases that make up his smile. He has a distinct sense of having wished for something and suddenly finding that it’s been granted, like he asked for something and it arrived, perfect and wonderful, sat at a piano. Phil isn’t in the habit of having wishes granted, which seems unfair when your parents are both witches and could literally conjure up everything on your Christmas list but never did because it was important to learn that you can’t just magic things how you want them, Phil, things don’t work like that. Maybe he magicked Dan into existence, without realising. Maybe Dan is saying all the perfect, right things because Phil is dreaming them up.

“Phil,” Dan says, still smiling. “Come back.”

Phil blinks. “What?”

“You looked like you were far away.”

I understand, his mother had said. She used a special tone for him, her gifted younger son, the one who was more sensitive, more awkward, felt everything just a bit too much, falling off every broom and tearing every robe. Why you want to go to London. Why you want to help people and make people happy, but sometimes people just aren’t happy, Phil, don’t you want to stay here? With us?

“I was. I’m back now.”

He’d been very optimistic, when he’d left. He was going to do all sorts of cool things, like your standard human, things he’d never been able to do before. Go to bars and museums and galleries and wear clothes that he’d chosen himself that absolutely were not robes and listen to street musicians and go to shows and just do something different every night. Meet someone he liked and have a nice dinner with them, on a little green table and chairs, on the street at the start of autumn.

None of those things had really happened. Except, suddenly and incredibly, the last one.

*~*~*

Dan walks him back to the shop. Phil, glancing up, sees Winston (his face is squashed against the bedroom window). Dan doesn’t see anything because he’s only glancing at Phil. His eyes drop to Phil’s mouth, then Phil’s eyes, then his mouth again. Phil says, “So, that was-”

“Can I see you again?”

“You can see me tomorrow. I’ll be here. So will you.”

“No,” Dan says. “I mean, can I- You know what I mean.”

Phil catches Dan’s gaze, on its way back to his mouth, and holds it still. “You can see me again.”

Dan smiles, says, “Okay,” and takes a step forward, scuffing his shoes across the pavement. He says, “Okay,” again and kisses Phil on the cheek, far back enough to almost be at the hinge of his jaw. Phil feels the moth’s wings flutter against his chin and sighs.

Dan says, “I hate saying goodbye to you.”

“You never said it, you always just left.”

“I know.” Dan kisses Phil’s other cheek, in the same spot. “I just couldn’t do it.”

“Can I say goodnight instead?”

“Goodnight is fine.”

When Phil kisses Dan back it’s just a peck, somewhere on Dan’s cheekbone, a millisecond of a kiss that makes Dan grab at Phil’s sleeve and say is that it? laughing enough that Phil can press his mouth against one dimple and then the other. The moth bats its wings enough that Phil can hear it, drumming in his ears, just as loud as his heartbeat. He says, “Goodnight Dan,” and watches his breath catch in the curls of Dan’s hair.

Winston, when he gets upstairs, says, “He’s still brave?”

“I think we both were. Are. We both are.”

Outside, there’s a sudden build of music. Completely joyful and full of happiness, the notes seem to bounce and sing, floating up to Phil’s bedroom window and inside, where he stands still in the motion of taking his jacket off, one arm in and one out. He wants to catch it and store it in a jar.

Winston says, “The moth gets smaller sometimes, have you noticed that?”

Phil can’t go near the window. He stays with his jacket hanging from his left arm and says, “I had.”

“It’s still big but sometimes it’s just sat on his shoulder.”

“I think it shrinks when he’s happy. If he was really truly happy then it would probably disappear completely.”

“You think that you could do that?”

Phil says, “Me? How could I?”

It would be beyond any potion he’s ever created, that type of happiness. It would be like the music, twisting and twirling its way around Phil’s bedroom as if twined on a golden thread, as soft as caramel, ready to spin across a millionaires shortbread or into the sponge of the greatest thing Phil would ever make.

*~*~*

Martyn used to say “But, Phil, what about your broom? That would mean you could just fly anywhere, right? You wouldn’t have to deal with the people and the colours.” He always nodded encouragingly to Phil’s broom, propped up in the corner of the kitchen. “It would work. Why would you take the tube and walk places when you don’t need to?”

Martyn tends to forget all of Phil’s faults and failings, in particular the part where Phil has never successfully flown a broom in his life. He’s too clumsy and lacking in coordination, knocking tiles off every roof in their street while Martyn swooped around in teal colour robes shouting encouraging things then eventually ended in, “Wait, Phil wait,” as Phil inevitably fell off and had to be caught inches from the ground.

“You could,” Martyn says, has said, repeats numerous times. “You could do it.” The same tone of voice with which he would yell hey Phil, you’re doing it!! when Phil very much was not.

Martyn repeats things a lot. “I worry about you here, by yourself, without us.” “Maybe I should visit you more often, should I? Do you want me to?” “Be brave, little brother. You’re here, aren’t you? In a world that isn’t your own. There’s no magic anywhere.” All worried, all the soft concerned tones of someone who is a good person and an even better brother.

Today, Martyn, suddenly in Phil’s kitchen (bulldog under one arm, a wedge of Victoria sponge in the other), says, “Who’s the guy with the piano?”

Phil, still in his pyjamas, has to take a second to blink at Martyn. The Lesters are not morning people. He doesn’t think he and Martyn have ever spoken to each other before 9am before. “He’s the new busker. He’s been there a few weeks.”

Martyn says, “Uh huh,” knowingly.

“It’s not-”

“I actually shouldn’t condone it, should I? Magic rules and all that. But you live outside the rules, don’t you? Here in normality.”

“You’re here early,” Phil says. “I wasn’t ready, I haven’t made you anything.”

Martyn looks at his feet. The dog in his arms whimpers. “It’s not a social call, Phil.”

Phil holds out his hand for the letter before Martyn has even retrieved it from the pocket of his robes. The dog jumps to the floor, tail between its legs. “They’re all the same.”

“This one might be different.”

“I won’t open it.”

“It’ll just open itself.”

Phil crumples the letter in his fist. “Martyn-”

“I didn’t want to! I don’t want to but it followed me home and it’s been throwing itself around the flat until I brought it here, and Cornelia was just getting really-”

The letter slowly uncrinkles itself. Phil watches.

“It’s pretty insistent. You’re not doing anything that you shouldn’t be, are you?”

Phil laughs but it’s weak. “Besides leaving my magic life, choosing to help humans instead and using my special one-off gift to make cakes?”

“Besides that,” Martyn says. He casts his eyes, slowly and obviously, to the shop beyond and outside. To where Dan is, presumably, at his piano.

“No,” Phil says. “Nothing.”

“You can tell me. You know that.” Martyn uses much the same tone that he’s used in the past, years ago, coaxing Phil onto a broom, through council corridors, on the very first day that the shop had opened. You’ve got this. You know that. It’s not fair. Martyn knows it’s not fair. He adds, “You can tell me anything,” just to drive the point home.

The envelope tears itself open, with more drama than is needed. The letter, finally free, flies into the air in front of Phil’s face. Phil gets a glimpse of your unique gift needs to be protected, to be used properly. You cannot expect to do that where you are before he smacks it down to the ground.

Martyn watches. “I could give you broom flying lessons again. It would help, it honestly would. No one would see you. You could go wherever you wanted then.”

“I can’t fly. You know that. I’m terrible at it.”

“Mum worries about you, stuck in this little shop. You could see anywhere you wanted, you could go anywhere and-”

“Here isn’t so bad.”

Martyn says, “The human with the piano.”

Phil drops his head to the floor. The letter is already propping itself up on its corners, delicately ironing out each fold. Phil’s name is all over it, the sudden lack of Mr. Lester is disconcerting - please come and meet with us, Philip. Please, Philip, we can discuss this matter. Philip, you’re lost, come back to where you belong.

Martyn says, “Right. I understand.”

They both watch the letter catch the breeze in the air, ride it right over to the kitchen door and then pin itself against the heavy oak of the frame.

Phil says, “Are you staying?”

Martyn smiles a pale imitation of his usual smile. “Of course.”

Phil makes him love. He always does. There are a hundred different types of love, variations that Phil has never even attempted. Devotion and infatuation and adoration and passion and yearning. He tries not to go near much of those because how would you know that the feelings were genuine? His creations are meant to give a gentle push to something already there but love, actual love, can so easily be twisted and made into something other.

What he makes Martyn, what he always makes Martyn, is different. It’s just the gentle, comforting feeling of knowing that you’re loved, instead of the emotion itself. A nudge to say, hi, I’m your brother. I love you, twirled on top of a vanilla sponge cupcake. The dog, overcome, curls up in Martyn’s lap as Martyn fondly ruffles the side of Phil’s hair and says, “The human with the piano,” again.

“The human with the piano,” Phil agrees.

Martyn makes a go on gesture with his hands.

“There’s nothing to-”

“Lies,” Martyn says, mournfully. “From my own brother.”

“I’m not lying.”

“You’ve made him one of your cakes, I’m guessing.”

Phil says. “I’ve made him two.”

Martyn raises his eyebrows but keeps his eyes on his plate. “You don’t usually do that.”

“I don’t. Not usually.”

“This isn’t usual?”

“No, he’s not.”

Martyn waits until he’s leaving, halfway out of the door with a whole tub of Phil’s shortbread in his hands, before he says, “You know these don’t end well. Humans and witches. You know that.” He looks as apologetic as when he’d handed Phil the letter. “They never do. And that won’t be on you, even if you got past the council, the human never accepts it. It’s too much.”

“I’m never too much.”

Martyn touches his hand to Phil’s face. “Be strong little brother. You’re the bravest person I know. I didn’t want to bring you that letter. But there’s going to be others. Be careful with your heart.”

This is apparently his new parting line. He pushes his hand through Phil’s hair, messing up his fringe, and spins on his heel, robes flying everywhere, dog jumping happily around his feet. He strides off across the street and doesn’t get a single odd look or glance. Martyn is, and always has been, completely at home in his own skin, completely at home anywhere. Phil adores him and is envious of him in equal measure.

When he goes back into the kitchen the saucepans have all gathered around the door, a neat little semi-circle tilted up to the letter, which has multiplied. There’s now nine identical squares of parchment, covering the top half of the door.

Philip they say. That place is dark and lacking magic. You are wasted there because you are neither dark nor lacking in magic. You cannot possibly find anything worth keeping.

*~*~*

Dan, at the piano, flushes and says, “Hi,” to some area of the sky above Phil’s head. The bravery has worn off and the moth is huge, the spindles of its legs caught in the fabric of Dan’s coat. He’s stooped so far above the piano that he could touch the keys with his nose.

The only part of Dan that Phil can easily reach is his ear, so he touches that, just the curve of it with his fingertip. “Hi.”

Dan tilts his head until Phil is half-cupping his cheek in his palm and then sits up. “Hi.”

Phil laughs. “You already said-”

“It was a terrible hi. I wasn’t sure- I thought that I would try and play it cool and aloof. Just in case you thought last night had been a terrible idea after all and you wanted to let me down gently but didn’t know how, so I-”

“It was the opposite of a terrible idea.”

“I think so too. It was the only good idea I’ve ever had. And my life is a whole stream of bad ideas.”

Phil kneels to put Dan’s coffee and butterscotch pies on the piano bench. “That’s not true, Putting your piano here was a good idea. Starting to play here was a good idea.”

“That means my good ideas only started with you.”

Phil stays kneeling. “Well, that can’t be right. I don’t really inspire good ideas.”

“You inspire lots of things.” Phil looks up. Dan, on the bench above him, blushes again. Phil had missed the blush, in the twenty-four hours that it was gone. “I don’t know what made me suddenly ask you yesterday but I’m glad I did. And everything I said was true. So. I just wanted you to know that.”

Dan’s blush forms in patches. One is on his chin. Phil wants to kiss it and does. When Dan laughs, surprised enough that it’s his real, high-pitched, laugh, Phil kisses his open mouth, pushes his fingers into Dan’s hair. He knocks the pies off the bench, spills the coffee everywhere, clicks their teeth together, but Dan sighs like it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him, pulls at Phil’s apron until Phil falls forward on his knees, half into Dan’s lap. Dan’s elbow hits one of the piano keys, and then another, a series of perfect musical raindrops as he drags his knuckles along Phil’s jaw, the moth’s wings passing through both of their hair.

Phil pulls back. “Hi.”

Dan touches his thumb to Phil’s bottom lip. “We already said that.”

“That was a proper hi.”

“Oh, that's what it was? Come back and say hi to me later, in that case.”

Phil, regretfully, disengages himself and stands up. “I’ll bring you more coffee.”

Dan shakes his head. “No. I’ll come into the shop for it.”

Phil says, “Really?”

“I could write,” Dan says, “Entire symphonies about you in your shop. You don’t know how often I used to stare through the window.”

“I do. Mostly because I was staring out at you.”

*~*~*

Winston waits until Phil has set out the first lot of creations (madeira cake infused with patience, piles of muffins topped with generosity) on the counter before he says, “Those letters are much more pleading than the last ones. Did you notice? The council doesn’t usually plead.”

“They shouldn’t have given it to Martyn.” Phil balances the final muffin precariously on top of the mountain of muffins. “That’s not fair.”

“Obviously trying new tactics to get your attention.”

“I suppose.” Phil looks out of the window at Dan, who is sat with his hands hovering over the piano keys. The moth, which had shrunk a little when he’d been speaking to Phil, is even bigger, almost sitting on the bench itself. It’s only a curl of wing away from enclosing Dan in a cocoon. When Dan sighs his entire back curves with it. Phil hates the moth, hates it, hates the fact that it’s there, permanently on the shoulder of someone that Phil likes so much. Loves so much. Maybe loves so much. Is it too early for that?

Phil isn’t sure, he’s not much in the practice of loving anyone. If he was to try and make anything to sum up his feelings towards Dan it would be want. Because he does, he wants. To make Dan smile, to calm Dan down, to push the moth right off Dan’s shoulders, to be always at Dan’s side as he plays piano, to be at home with Dan, to walk Dan into the kitchen and say hi, here’s my cauldron. And also my broom, I can’t fly that. And my saucepans, they’re enchanted to make the cakes for me. Also, the hamster’s my familiar and he talks, to share all of those things with Dan and for Dan to say-

Dan drops one of his notebooks on the floor. It’s a throw that ran out of energy halfway, the book slips sadly from his fingers and lands face down.

Phil gets the potion book.

Winston says, “Three? No, Phil. Two was irresponsible, three is just-”

“He needs to-”

“He’ll get there on his own.”

“I want him to be happy!” Phil exclaims. “I want him to be happy so much, and I hate that moth, Winston, I hate the moth so much. How did someone like him get an aura like that? He should have a dog at least, or an otter, something good, something nice that he can hold in his arms, not on his back. Why does it have to be on his back?”

Winston is silent for a second, claws tapping the side of his teacup, before he finally says, “Two was unusual, but two could just be that he needed more than peacefulness, that you made a mistake and wanted to try something else. Three is getting overly attached.”

“I am overly attached.”

Winston watches him flick the pages back and forth, and back and forth. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

Dan’s mind, Phil thinks, is a stormy muddle of- well, of something. It has to be, to have a moth as an aura. A thunderclap of insecurities and worries and inadequacies and dreams that he deliberately keeps a fingertip away. Phil wonders what’s worse - to keep yourself hidden away in one street, or to sit at a stolen piano just across from the place you ran away from. Why would you run away from a college and end up outside the cake shop opposite? Taking hours to lift a piano over the pavement, by yourself, and then leave it abandoned for days.

There’s a spell for it, easing worries, but Phil had never learnt it because he’d never needed to. He didn’t need to press his wand gently to people's’ temples and recite words he always pronounced wrong because he had, has, a gift. A rare and unusual gift. Discovered when he was eight-years-old and making his mother hot chocolate to cheer her up after long days at the council and her, blinking and staring into her cup, saying Phil, did you put something in this? A witch who never needed to use a wand.

Calmness - smooth and velvet red, as light and sticky as marshmallows.

It’s impossible to put with anything. The consistency of it doesn’t match with anything. Phil usually cuts it into little shapes, hearts and stars and crescent moons, dusting them with powdered sugar before putting them in the window, but there’s something that makes him hesitate about giving his tiny fragile red velvet heart to Dan (because Dan, somewhat obviously, already has the real thing, just as fragile). He cuts the calmness into musical notes instead.

Winston says, “But you gave him peacefulness already.”

“That’s different,” Phil replies, working on a treble clef. “Calmness comes from the mind. It settles the storm. Peacefulness is just, like, contentment. It’s a mood. Calmness is somewhere here.” He taps at his chest. “You know?”

Winston looks at the scattered musical notes. “No.”

“He deserves to be calm.”

“I’m not implying that he doesn’t,” Winston replies.

Phil takes the plate of marshmallow music out to Dan, alongside a cup of coffee with several cubes of calmness floating on top. Dan holds the plate in his hand for a second before reaching up and touching the pad of his thumb to the inside of Phil’s wrist, just above his pulse point. Phil, hopelessly, says, “For you.”

“I can’t make music so you brought me music?” Dan looks down at the treble clef, the bass clef, the octave clef that had already broken in half because it had been impossible to shape. Crotchets and quavers and semiquavers. “Is that what this is?”

“Something like that.”

Dan touches one of the semiquavers. “How long did this take?”

Phil estimates probably an hour. He still hasn’t changed the sign in the shop door from Closed to Open. He says, “Not long.”

“If I eat them are they going to give me actual musical talent?”

“You have actual musical talent.”

“Not really.” Dan puts the plate on top of the piano and pulls out his phone. When Phil raises his eyebrow he says, “It’s Instagram worthy. From me that’s a really huge compliment.”

Phil says, “Oh,” and immediately jumps to the side when he realises that he’s in frame.

Dan says, “No, stay, I want-”

“I hate having my photo taken. I always look like a startled deer.”

“I promise you that’s not the case,” Dan replies. He takes the photo of the plate from several different angles, mumbling to himself, and Phil is halfway back to the shop when he says, “Thank you.”

Phil, changing the sign from Closed to Open, three hours late, says, “You’re welcome.”

*~*~*

The letter from the council multiples still further, scattering from the door to the wall and starting to step across the front of the shelves. The spoons have built what looks like a fort, for protection, causing the letter to go around them and onwards towards the stove. Phil has to cast six banishing spells before it retreats, but he still can’t get rid of the original eight. They stay stuck to the back of the door. Philip, there is nothing keeping you there. What can possibly be keeping you there? He’s complimenting the spoons on their fort construction when Dan, from the shop, says, “Phil?”

Phil jumps and hisses, “In the drawers!” to the spoons, who instantly panic and drop into a pile, all on top of one another. Phil sighs and walks through to the shop.

Dan is stood at the counter. His empty plate and cup are stacked in front of him. The moth is almost the same size as Winston, sat on Dan’s shoulder. When it sees Phil it flutters its wings in time with the growth of Dan’s smile. Dan says, “Who were you talking to?” Phil is about to panic and say the spoons before Dan continues. “It doesn’t matter. I was a bit- I was in a weird mood today. I’m sorry. I get like that sometimes. I woke up with all of this stuff in my head and I couldn’t wait to get here and get started but when I actually sat at the piano it was gone. But then I felt sort of clear and relaxed later, and I actually managed to write some down, but not all of it, and then I thought, well I just wanted, to come in here and see you.”

Phil says, “I’m glad you did.”

“Do you want to go somewhere? I’ll take you wherever you-”

“I’d like to stay here.”

Dan smiles. He says, “Here?” and gestures to the shop around them. “You spend all day here.”

Phil shakes his head and points upwards. “No. My flat.”

There’s a sudden gasp from one of the shelves that can only be Winston, probably on the verge of bursting out and saying that’s a terrible idea but Phil honestly doesn’t care. He holds out his hand and says, “If you want to.”

Dan looks at Phil’s open palm. He swallows. The moth’s wings beat so hard that its entire body vibrates. “I want to.”

Phil’s flat is an oddly put together assortment of rooms. He’s not sure what the previous owner actually did with them, or if they were related to the shop in any way, but the entire flat reminds him of a poorly put together jigsaw where you walk in through the kitchen, have to go down three steps into the living room, then up another five into what Phil thinks is a cupboard, and then around a corner and up two more steps into the bedroom. Dan, treading softly behind him, looks completely enamoured with the entire place, tracing his fingertips along the doorframes and across the leaves of all the houseplants.

Phil is halfway through apologising for the layout before he realises that they’ve ended up in the green-blue of his bedroom and Dan is staring, open-mouthed, at the walls. Or, rather, the constellation of stars that are exploding across them.

“Are those stickers?” Dan asks. “They can’t be. They look real, they look like you threw a net into the sky and stole them.”

Phil, who had done exactly that, stood at Martyn’s side while he plucked down each star with a fishing rod, says, “No, just stickers.”

(“I thought,” Martyn had said. “That it would be a nice moving in present. Moving out present. I know humans probably buy each other vases and new wine glasses and stuff but, we’re not humans, are we?”

Phil had taken the basket of stars into his bedroom, on the first day, and thrown them into the air, let them catch themselves against the blue wallpaper and settle wherever they wanted to).

Dan touches his finger to one star. “They almost feel hot, it’s weird. Where are they from?”

“My brother gave them to me,” Phil says, standing awkwardly in the middle of his own bedroom. “When I left.”

Dan gives him a curious look. “You know, most people would say moved away, or moved out, or something. Why do you always say that you left?”

“Because that’s what I did.”

“What did you leave?”

The moth is getting smaller. It’s still Winston sized but Winston sized when Winston was newly formed, a tiny baby hamster perched on Phil’s six-year-old fist. It jumps from Dan’s shoulder to the crown of his hair, looking at Phil the entire time. Its wings catch the light of the dozens of stars, glowing blue. It looks almost pretty.

“Expectation,” Phil says, finally, watching the moth’s progress through Dan’s curls. “People wanting me to do things that I didn’t want, nothing bad but just not things that I wanted to do. It was like constantly disappointing people and that’s- it’s not the best way to be so I left.”

“And came here to open a cake shop.” Dan finally pushes himself away from the wall. “I know what that’s like. Not the opening the cake shop, but the expectation. I’ve been playing the piano since I was seven and it was pre-destined that I would go to a music college and be incredible and I wanted to be incredible, but it’s a hard thing to aim for sometimes.”

“But you are.”

Dan says, “That’s just because I play my best music around you. For some reason.”

“For some reason?”

“Not for some reason. For all the reasons. Where did you come from? How were you here the entire time without me knowing?”

“I could say the same to you.”

“I wrote some of the best music I’ve ever written today.” Dan takes two steps closer, then one more, starlight dancing on his cheeks. “And it was all from talking to you. I get here and I’m like I can’t I can’t and then I see you, or I speak to you, and it’s like, actually, I can. Where did you come from?”

“Far away,” Phil whispers. “Somewhere really far away. And I can’t take credit for the music, it’s probably just the cakes and the coffee.”

“I never ate the cakes. I gave them to some kids from the college. And the coffee went cold.”

Phil blinks. His hands, reaching out for Dan of their own free will, freeze in mid-air, a breath away from the fabric of Dan’s coat. “You didn’t eat them?”

Dan says, “Nope. I was going to, but they were too pretty and then these people asked if they could try them and-”

“You never ate them,” Phil repeats.

Dan looks hesitant, like he’s said the wrong thing but isn’t sure what that wrong thing actually is. “I’m sorry. I know you made them for me, but-”

“But you said that you were calm, and that your mind felt clear, and that you could write more and that you felt better.”

“Yes,” Dan says. “From speaking to you.”

Phil says, “To me,” and bridges the gap to curl his fingers into Dan’s coat and pull him closer. He’s slightly too needy, pulls with too much urgency, so Dan half-trips over his feet and has to grab at Phil’s waist. But maybe that’s what Phil wanted. He repeats, “To me.”

“It turns out,” Dan says, “That I can really only play my best music if I imagine playing it for you.”

The moth, in the very tip of Dan’s fringe, is batting its wings so hard that the breeze of them catches in Phil’s hair. It’s so close to him that it could probably hop over into his fringe, let him take the weight of Dan’s suddenly small aura for a second. He puts his hand to it, into Dan’s waves, and feels the softness of a wingbeat on his fingertip. But the moth doesn’t move. Phil pushes his other hand weakly against the buttons of Dan’s coat until Dan gets the message and starts trying to shrug it off without losing contact with Phil for longer than two seconds. It takes a while.

Phil says, “Please,” and Dan, in a tangle of fabric, says, “What, anything, what do you want,” so Phil says, “You, here,” as Dan desperately tries to pull a still-buttoned coat from his back while saying, “I am here, I’m right here.”

Phil wants to make the coat disappear, he could make the coat disappear, even if that would cause some difficult conversations later, but he just pulls up and up and finally reveals a very rumpled and pink faced Dan, who throws the coat halfway across the room and says, “Who even puts that many buttons on coats anyway?”, before he touches his hand to Phil’s face and kisses him.

The starlight catches on the tips of Dan’s hair, on the moth, fluttering and spinning, seems to filter itself through every gasp and sigh that either of them make. Dan drums his fingers on Phil’s side, across his chest, like he’s playing the piano, like he’s playing an entire quartet of pianos, like the very sight of Phil is enough to write concertos about, music to fill a hundred black notebooks.

The stars multiply, through the tension of Phil clutching his hands into fists, subduing his magic and simultaneously throwing it around the room. Dan, with his face pressed to Phil’s shoulder, doesn’t notice.

After a while Phil doesn’t either.

*~*~*

(Martyn, catching each individual star and dropping it into Phil’s waiting basket, said, “You’re leaving. You’re really actually leaving.”

Phil, far too sadly for someone holding a basket of constellations, said, “Yes.”

“Is it because of the council? And the whole being unique thing?”

“Everyone’s unique.”

Martyn turned to face Phil, forgetting he was holding a fishing rod and almost taking Phil’s left ear off. He could, really, be catching stars with his wand but Martyn always has to do things slightly off centre. Phil yelps and ducks. “Sorry. But, I know everyone’s unique, it’s just that you’re, like, especially so. Aren’t you?”

“I don’t want to be.”

“I know you don’t. I just wish that you didn’t feel like it’s something you have to run away from.”

Phil pulled at the cuff of his robes, because he wore robes, back then. The dark green of the Lester family, a colour that didn’t suit him. “The only thing I’m running away from is having my- whatever this is- my-”

“Gift,” Martyn supplied. “Your rare and unusual gift.”

“Having my gift used to track people, and monitor them. I don’t want that, I want to use it my way, I want to help people.”

Martyn hooked a shooting star halfway through its swoop to Earth and spun it down into Phil’s waiting hands. “Still, London. Why London? Human London?”

“There’s a lot of people there.” The shooting star in his palm still fizzed and shook.

Martyn looked down at it, smiled, and said, “Make a wish, Phil.”)

*~*~*

Dan, curls pushed up on one side, moth on the other, says, “The stars have moved. And also, like, bred or something.”

Phil shakes himself awake and pats down the mess on Dan’s head. The stars have doubled, the shooting star has bounced up to the ceiling. Phil says, “No, they’re exactly where they were.”

Dan gives the one on the ceiling a doubtful look. “I obviously wasn’t paying attention.”

“Maybe not.” Phil pulls one ringlet around his finger, watches it spring back.

“I was distracted.”

“Really?” Phil hums. “By what?”

“I have no idea. There’s absolutely nothing here worth looking at.”

Phil laughs and is still laughing when Dan kisses him. The shooting star arches across the ceiling until it hits one of the corners. Phil twists his fingers into Dan’s hair and is about to say something along the lines of I won’t open the shop today I won’t open the shop ever again we can just stay here right here with you exactly like this forever when there’s a fanfare from the kitchen. Dan jumps.

“That’s just my alarm clock,” Phil says, weakly. It sort of is, if Winston playing a tiny golden trumpet counts as an alarm clock.

Dan half pushes himself up on his elbows. “You have to open the shop?”

“I don’t have to. We can stay here.”

Dan considers it. Phil watches the emotion pass over his face, the moth skittering along his shoulder, but then he says, “No, I don’t want you to be late because of me. I’m still going to be here.”

“You are?” Phil hears the hope in his voice. It’s sincere and so full of want that he could pluck it from the air and put it straight onto a cake.

Dan smiles. “Not here but at the piano. I can be back here later, I mean, I hope I will. I just have some things to do today. I was productive yesterday.”

Winston starts the trumpet up again. He also appears to have gotten the spoons involved, if all the clattering is anything to go by. Phil sighs and sits up. “Okay.” He has to take another few seconds before he rolls himself off the bed and says, “Okay,” again.

His clothes are strewn across the bedroom floor. There’s a star in the pocket of his jeans which he has to surreptitiously stick back to the wall when Dan is recovering his coat from the opposite corner. The spoons clatter and Winston plays (Phil really regrets giving him that trumpet) right through them dressing, cleaning their teeth and then Dan pressing a kiss to the collar of Phil’s shirt and saying, “Bring me some coffee?” before he disappears through the side entrance.

Winston, in the kitchen, blows the trumpet right into Phil’s ear and punctuates each burst with, “Why would you? Are we not getting enough letters? Are these letters not pleading enough for you? Couldn’t you have just carried on with the dates and the cheek kissing?”

There are letters are everywhere. Phil has to banish each individual one until they’re back to the original eight, stuck on the door.

“You realise that there’s going to be more, once they know about him.”

“It’s just letters. I can deal with letters.”

“But it’s forbidden. This isn’t you running away from them wanting to make you a monitor again, this is real, actual law breaking, this is-”

“I know. I know it’s forbidden.”

“Then why?”

“He didn’t eat the cakes.”

Winston ponders this, his whiskers shake with the concentration. “But he said he felt clear and relaxed. I heard him. I was on the shelf.”

“I made him clear and relaxed,” Phil says. “Just me. No magic.”

Winston sighs so hard that every strand of his fur ruffles. “That makes it more difficult.”

“No, it doesn’t. It makes it perfect.”

*~*~*

Dan plays music all morning. He doesn’t even stop when Phil brings him coffee, just leans his head back to accept a kiss to his forehead (awkwardly placed as Phil’s balance isn’t great and he mostly rubs his nose into Dan’s hairline but that’s okay). It’s the same tune that he’s played before but with more to it, somehow, layers on top of it, extra flourishes here and there that make Phil stand and just let it rush over him. The music seems to grab at his hand, as if to pull him along. Dan, watching him, smiles.

Phil whispers, “Coffee,” because he doesn’t want his voice to spoil the music in any way. “And butterscotch pies.” He points to both cup and plate.

Dan whispers, “Okay,” in reply. As Phil turns to walk away the music suddenly gets lighter. Phil turns back. Dan says, “I might go back over to the college today. To see if they’ll have me back. Maybe. Probably not but it’s worth asking if-”

Phil pushes his mouth right to Dan’s ear to say, “That’s amazing. And of course they’ll have you back. You know that.”

“I’ve been thinking about it over the past few days. I guess I’m just feeling a bit happier recently. And I’ve got to make the most of that while it’s there, right?”

“It’s not going anywhere.”

Dan stops playing. The sudden lack of music makes Phil sigh. Dan says, “I hope not. Because I’m talking about you, if that wasn’t immediately obvious.”

“It was.”

“I’m going to go over the college and then maybe I thought I could come back and then we could- maybe, if you wanted to, go over to Covent Garden and-”

“Oh,” Phil says. “No- that’s- I’d prefer to stay here. If that’s okay.”

The moth, perched back on the very top of Dan’s head, grows and has to move back down to his back, right between his shoulder blades. Dan says, “That’s okay. I’ll come into the shop later, there’s-”

Phil curls his hand around the back of Dan’s neck and kisses him. At some point his elbow ends up on the piano keys and he’s sure that his knee crushes half the pies and he should really stop doing this when the angle is so awful but Dan smiles against Phil’s mouth and the students (sitting lazily and calmly across the steps of the college) whistle and Phil thinks the angle isn’t awful, it’s actually just right.

When he pulls away Dan makes a disappointed noise and brushes their noses together. Phil says, “Later. Later. You can tell me how it goes with the college.”

Violin Girl is in the shop when he re-enters, petting Winston and waiting for macaroons that Phil has forgotten to make. She quirks an eyebrow at him and says, “Everyone’s been wondering why he’s playing so much. It makes sense now.”

Phil blushes. “I’ll get the macaroons. They won’t take long.”

“He’s played more in a few weeks here than he did in months at the-”

“Macaroons,” Phil says. “I’ll just-”

He has to set the saucepans and the mixing bowl off at a lightening speed, and his assertiveness comes out more pea green than the usual peppermint. The macaroons end up being the best ones he’s ever baked. They look like a solid layer of mush squashed into the middle of a jewel.

Violin Girl politely accepts them. “I didn’t think he’d ever compose anything original again.”

Phil’s fairly sure that there’s assertiveness in his hair. He starts cleaning the counter and pretends that she hasn’t said anything, as though talking about Dan, discussing him with someone who isn’t Winston, would shatter whatever protective layer he’s trying to pull over both of them, keeping Dan close to his chest and safe and loved and happy and not gossiped about. Violin Girl waits to be asked for payment. Phil says, “They’re free. Just this once. I messed up the filling.”

She says, “Oh, thanks!” and still doesn’t leave. “It’s just really nice to hear his pieces, I didn’t think he’d ever written a full one, but he’s got all those-”

“He probably found it difficult to write with all the constant monitoring,” Phil interrupts. “That’d probably make it difficult to find inspiration.”

As always he aims for sarcasm and fails. A human ability that he’s never grasped. She smiles winningly at him and says, “Well, he’s found inspiration here! Thanks for the macaroons, I’ll pay double next time.”

Phil makes protectiveness (a dark blackberry purple, the slightly artificial taste of American cereal) and some more daisies of courage. Dan plays and plays, all day, music that continually rises and falls, but the fall is never too far and the rise is like being lifted to somewhere that you’d never thought of before. If Phil could get a recipe for that feeling, if he could make it with anything, then it would be a bestseller. Actually, he probably wouldn’t sell it, he’d keep it for himself, and for Dan. A private stock that would never run out. The music makes him feel comforted and warm, with a tiny whisper of did you inspire that? How could you inspire that?

“He keeps looking in here while he’s playing,” Winston says, drily. “So I think it’s a safe bet that you did.”

But even Winston looks a little dreamy eyed. He always picks up some semblance of Phil’s emotions, of his mood, but Dan seems to put Phil on stereo blast. “What does it feel like?” Phil asks him. “The music? I can’t describe what it-”

“It feels like belonging, Phil. That’s what it feels like.”

*~*~*

Dan, at the piano, watches Phil approach and lights up from every pore, as if he’s covered with all the stars from Phil’s bedroom. He says, “Were you listening?”

Phil says, “Of course I was. You’ve been playing all day.”

“Not all day. I went over to the college and had a meeting with one of my tutors, somewhere in the middle. They said I can restart, if I want, I just need to do the recital and then, I could go back.”

Phil is hit with a sudden shock of realisation that Dan returning to college means Dan no longer being outside the shop. They leave he thinks they always leave. He says, “That’s great, Dan.”

“It’s really if the recital goes well, which it absolutely didn’t last time, but- and I wouldn’t be far away. I’d be right across the street.”

Phil blinks. “Sorry?”

“I mean, I’d be right over there.” Dan gestures to the college. “I could meet you here, I’d come over here all the time and-” He looks at Phil, who must be wearing his confusion all over his face. “Did you think I’d leave just because I stopped busking here? Or that I was just using you for the cakes and coffee?”

Phil says, “They don’t usually stay.”

Dan wrinkles his nose. The moth gets bigger. “What, are you dating a million other buskers? Do we need to have a busk-off? Because I’d be awful at that, I-”

“Dating?” Phil interrupts.

“Are you?”

“Dating a million other buskers? No, just- just you. If that’s okay.”

The moth shrinks, right down to the buttons on Dan’s coat. Dan says, “That’s okay,” with attempted nonchalance, but the dimples give him away.

“We should go to Covent Garden,” Phil says, suddenly. “Tonight. If you still wanted to.”

Dan looks up. “You want to?”

“Yes. I absolutely do. I just need to close up and then- It’s a long time since I went on the tube or anything so I’m sorry in advance, but-”

“I forgive you,” Dan says. “In advance.” Phil smiles and is picking up the sign when Dan adds, “Did you like it? The music? I wasn’t sure if it was too sad.”

“It wasn’t sad,” Phil says, tucking the sign under his arm and not looking at Dan. “It reminded me of home.”

He half-expects Dan to say but you ran away from home but Dan looks too dumbfounded to say anything so Phil pre-empts the unsaid question and adds, “I mean, it makes me feel like I could live in it. Your music. Like someone’s made a home for me and it’s exactly the type of place where I should be.”

Dan says, “I don’t know how you’re real. How are you a real person, actually saying these things to me, how,” and, “That’s what I wanted. I wanted to write something that you’d like.”

“You wrote something that I love.”

*~*~*

Phil half regrets agreeing to Covent Garden as soon as he steps back into the shop, is hit (halfway through untying his apron) with a series of flashbacks from the last time he tried to go on the tube and ended up having to sit with his eyes closed and his hands over his ears while a very kind lady next to him kept asking if he was okay. Her aura had been a pine marten that jumped all over the seats and curled backwards and forwards around her ankles. It had stared at Phil, along with the auras of everyone else in the carriage. Cats and otters and owls and frogs and one huge dog, all under a cloud of bluegreenorangepurple. He’d rushed off, gasping for air, leaving the lady and her pine marten behind, and hadn’t even made it to the pianos. He and Winston (shivering in his pocket) had gotten straight into a taxi and come back home.

“It’s all too much,” Winston said then and says now, watching Phil put his coat on. “You remember.”

“It’ll be different when he’s there.”

Winston knows all of Phil’s emotions and feelings about half a heartbeat before Phil does but even he looks a little surprised. “You’re really going?”

“I’m really going.”

“On the tube? To Central London?”

Phil pats the upper pocket of his coat. “You can come along if you want.”

“I think I should probably give the two of you some privacy. And someone needs to supervise the brooms, you know how distracted they get.”

The brooms, stood in a neat line while they wait for Phil to draw the blinds, start clattering together indignantly.

“It’s true!” Winston tells them.

“I won’t be late.” Phil shuffles one foot to the other, and taps his pocket again. It feels wrong to go into the city without Winston for support, a comforting presence at his side, whispering encouragements that only Phil can hear. Winston follows the motion and shakes his head. “I can hide you pretty well, and no one would know, we’ve done it before, and it was-”

“You’re delaying.”

“I’m nervous.”

“You don’t need me,” Winston says. “At your side or whispering stuff because he’ll be there. For both of those things.”

“It’ll be different when he’s there,” Phil repeats.

Winston nods, wisely. “It will.”

*~*~*

It almost is. Dan says, “Wow, you really do hate the tube,” in a soft, surprised way, and lets Phil tuck himself under his arm, even though they’re both too tall (and too close in height) for it to work.

A man standing opposite them has a spider monkey, it swings and jumps on all the safety railings, and chatters with joy when it realises that Phil is there and can see it. Someone further down the carriage has a deep purple that slides off her hair. It clashes horribly with another aura of luminous green, they combine in a thick slime that Phil can almost feel on his skin. He pushes his forehead into Dan’s shoulder and closes his eyes.

Dan turns a little, so that they’re in the corner by the doors. “We can get off at the next stop. I didn’t realise- When you said that you didn’t- I didn’t realise it was so bad.”

The spider monkey is shrieking at something that Phil can hear tapping around on the floor. He doesn’t look. He wishes, not for the first time, that he could fly his broom, that he’d mastered any one of the teleportation spells. He wishes that he was Martyn and picked everything up instantly. “It’s okay, really. It’s just overwhelming sometimes. I’ll be fine when we get there.”

“We’ll get a taxi, next time. Or I’ll rent a bike. Or we can walk.”

Phil shakes his head. Taxis, somehow, are worst. The space is even smaller. He doesn’t have the balance for a bike. “It’s fine. Just talk to me.”

Dan wraps his arm tighter around Phil’s shoulders, his fingers end up brushing Phil’s jaw. The moth drums its wings almost sympathetically. “I started the recital. Last time. I think I was probably halfway through it. But I think- it’s hard to explain, but I maybe felt like you do now, here, because there’s an panel watching you, and there’s only four of them, and they sit far away to give you space, but it was like they were on my back. Like there was something leaning on my shoulders.”

“Something on your shoulders?” Phil mumbles, somewhere in the vicinity of Dan’s collar.

“Is that what it’s like for you? You said it was too loud.”

“Too loud, too colourful, too much of everything really. I suppose it is kind of like a weight. You just have to try and shake it off. Sometimes. It’s hard.”

Dan rubs the pad of his thumb in soothing circles underneath Phil’s ear. “I could have picked any other piano, besides that one. There were others that would have been easier to move, but, it’s the piano I used to practice on, and I only practiced on it because everyone told me not to bother, because it was broken and out of tune.”

“It’s not anymore.”

“No,” Dan says. “It’s not.”

*~*~*

It’s better outside. Phil can finally breathe, looking up at the firework display of colours that only he can see. There are a lot of people with orange auras, the soft peach shade of musicality, but that makes sense. There’s also lots of little songbirds, another aura that Phil always associates with music, another reason why Dan’s moth makes him so sad (on the long list of why Dan’s moth makes him sad. Even calling it Dan’s moth chips an edge from his heart).

Dan, fingers curled on Phil’s sleeve, asks, “Okay?” He follows Phil’s gaze and frowns, confused, because Phil is watching two hummingbirds dance around the entrance to the Opera House. “It’s not too busy?”

“It’s not too busy. It’s fine.”

Dan sighs, relieved. “We’re going somewhere quiet. I only go to quiet places, I promise.”

Tonight’s quiet place turns out to be a small corner bar that serves tapas and has a solid oak fortepiano in the centre with two seater tables orbiting around it. The walls are dotted with photographs of people playing the piano, a sepia cloud around them, including one photo that Dan lingers near. It’s of a boy with long hair, a fringe that hides half his face, and black earrings, he’s turned away from the camera in the act of playing, his hands are fluttering balls of motion, and Phil knows it’s Dan just from the curve of his back.

He touches the glass above Dan’s blurred fingers and says, “That’s you.”

“Yep.”

“I probably heard you play at some point, when I was out in the square.”

“You should have come in.”

Phil wants to reach into the photo and pull Dan’s back straighter, turn him to face the camera. There’s a spell for that, being able to move photographs. He could get his wand and come back. “You don’t play here anymore?”

“I used to play at a few places around here.”

“But you stopped?”

“But I stopped,” Dan agrees.

The waiter’s aura is a very cheerful squirrel that perches on top of his notepad and gives Phil a very interested look. They end up sat underneath Dan’s photo, Dan eyeing himself suspiciously while Phil orders far too much food because he’s nervous and the squirrel keeps bouncing forward and tapping the menu, like it’s recommending things.

The orange settles in a mist above them, high enough in the rafters that Phil can ignore it. There’s only one waiter and one other table (a man and woman, and their cat and dog, holding hands and holding paws). It’s fine, it’s peaceful. Dan taps his fingers on the table, dancing over invisible piano keys, and Phil suggests, “You could play the piano here. I’m sure they’d let you.”

Dan stops. “Maybe not.”

“I understand if-”

“Maybe not yet. That’s what I should have said.”

“You picked my shop because it was the prime spot for busking,” Phil says. “Why did you do that if you still-”

“I was testing myself,” Dan interrupts. “And also because of the piano. I wanted it to be in the best spot and then you were there, so- I’ve never played as much, I’ve never actually been as good as I am when I play there. I’ve never been as good as when I play for you.”

“You’re playing for a whole street of people.”

“Not really. Not to me.” The waiter brings over their drinks. A small glass of dark something for Dan and a martini glass of aquamarine something with an entire pineapple and a cocktail umbrella for Phil. “What did you mean when you said the buskers don’t usually stay?”

Phil uses the umbrella stem to stir his cubes of pineapple. “Exactly that. They don’t usually stay.”

“Do you try and make them stay?” Dan sounds unsure but like he’s trying to hide it. His tone goes up and down, covering an entire scale and not quite finding the right note.

Phil, honestly, says, “Yes. Sometimes. But not because of that, I like having people outside the shop, I like the company and I like being able to say good morning to people and have people ask me how my day is going. But they always go off to do other, more exciting things, with their music and they’re not going to come back and visit a cake shop, are they?”

Dan looks at him, steadily. The moth does too. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Phil thinks well you say that now because Dan probably will go. Back to college and then beyond. To places that Phil can’t follow him. But Phil isn’t supposed to follow Dan anywhere, he’s supposed to help him and then let him go. Those are the rules. Or, they were the rules, always have been the rules, but he’d broken them instantly when it came to Dan. He pulls at a loose thread on the tablecloth and watches it repair itself underneath his fingers.

Dan repeats, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“It’s fine,” Phil says. “It’s fine if you are.”

“The recital’s in two days. My music won’t be done by then, so I’m not sure what I should-”

“It’s not done?” Phil looks at his hands and realises he’s, somehow, mended every tear and smudge on his side of the tablecloth. He pulls his sleeves right over his knuckles. “But it sounds perfect.”

“It’s not. It’s absolutely not.”

“But what did you play last time?”

“Chopin, I think. Or I was trying to. I didn’t get very far, like I said. I don’t know how far I’ll get now, but it’s worth trying, right? Again? If I imagine that you’re watching me then it won’t be so bad.”

The waiter has to pull up a second table to accommodate the apparently never-ending tagines of food that Phil has ordered. He gives the squirrel an accusing look. The squirrel doesn’t look remotely affected by this. The waiter exclaims, “Oh!,” and points to Dan’s photo, “Is that you?” and Dan, suddenly very interested in a pot of patatas bravas, says, “No,” at the same time as Phil says, “Yes, that’s him.”

He decides, on the spot, that he’s going to come back. With his wand and a spellbook that he hasn’t looked at in months, and he’s going to turn Dan around in that photograph. Tap at the frame until it’s in glorious colour. He tries to relay this to Dan through a look, a look that tries to say why are you running from things and towards them at the same time? Why are you doing that? Running from a recital to play piano across the street, sitting underneath your photograph and denying it’s you Phil doesn’t miss the part where the only thing, the only person, that Dan seems to deliberately run towards is him. He smiles, pushes his tongue against his teeth, and looks at Dan.

Dan looks back. “Sorry, yes, that’s me. I just realised.”

*~*~*

The square is busier when they step outside. There’s still orange, but it’s caught up with purples and greys and some really beautiful shades of pink that Phil hasn’t seen before. There’s a street performer practising fire breathing (Phil, who has seen actual fire breathing, frowns) and her aura is flame red, caught in the flicks of her hair and flying off in sparks. It’s getting too loud. He links his arm through Dan’s and shivers.

Dan pats Phil’s clenched fist. “Too much now?”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. Thanks for- thank you for coming, for letting me take bring you here. I know that you don’t like it, or that it’s-”

“It wasn’t so bad with you.”

Dan breaks off whatever stream of words he was about to begin with a startled, “Oh. That’s- Me too. It was like that for me too.”

They get a taxi. It’s as awful as Phil remembers. The driver is chatty and has a swan in the passenger seat. Its huge wingspan takes up the entire front of the cab and it makes a huge noise at the sight of Phil, fluttering all its feathers at once. He sits as far into the corner as he can and pulls Dan in with him, bunches Dan’s coat in both his fists and sighs.

Dan says, “Did we stay out too late? I should have remembered that it gets busy, we should have left like an hour ago.”

The swan squawks and all Phil can do is echo, “It was better with you, it was perfect with you,” to the moth, perched on Dan’s collarbone.

*~*~*

In Phil’s head it goes something like this: they’ll be in the shop, no, outside the shop, Dan will be playing the piano, his hair will be perfect ringlets and he’ll be wearing his earrings and sitting up straight. The moth will have flown away. Phil’s hair will be tidy, his fringe will actually be cooperating for once, and there won’t be smudges of icing on his face. His uniform will be perfect and neat.

He will catch Dan’s hand on route to the next key and say, Dan, I’m a witch. I’m from a whole family of witches. Actual wands and cauldrons and broomsticks type of witches. Except I’m not like them, I never was. I have a gift that apparently only comes around once in a century. I’m special, I’m unique, but I didn’t want to be either of those things. And so I left, I came here, and I just wanted to be normal and to have a normal quiet life and I wanted to help people. And I promised myself two things, which was that I would only help a person once and that when that person was helped and ready to move on that I would let them go.

And Dan will look down at their clasped hands and say, Right, or maybe something like, I understand or, How do I fit into this, your promises?

And Phil will say, They’re rules as well as promises and I broke them both, I broke them all, for you.

*~*~*

The shop is scattered with brooms and dustpans that look suspiciously like they left it too late to clean and dropped to the floor as soon as they heard Phil approaching (or, rather, heard Phil approaching with a human). Dan asks, “Were you throwing your brooms around?” and there’s no other way to answer that, no explanation at all that he can offer, so Phil shrugs and has to say, “Yes. Yes, I was.”

Dan looks oddly delighted by this, like he’d expected nothing less. He curls his fingers tighter around Phil’s wrist, where they’ve been since the taxi, since getting out of the taxi, since the walk across the pavement through the front door. “Can I stay?”

The only possible answer to that is Yes, mumbled into the space beneath Dan’s ear, on the red triangle of blush by his chin, against the scratchy knit of his sweater. Dan shudders and says, “I will, I am,” and then, “Did you put up more stars?”

They’re somehow in the stairway to the flat. Phil has no concept of having even moved, a terrible feeling that he has somehow teleported them both without his wand. The walls there are usually a plain grey that Phil keeps meaning to hang pictures on, but now they’re covered, both sides, in stars. Entire solar systems, obviously migrating from his bedroom. He pushes Dan against one wall and hopes that he doesn’t notice them twinkling.

A star shoots off the wall and into Dan’s hair. Phil doesn’t remove it.

*~*~*

The star is still there later. The moth stares at it distrustfully as Dan rolls closer to Phil’s side of the bed and says, “I’ll play your music soon. For real and in full.”

Phil feels like he’s floating. He’s worried that he might actually be doing so and has to pat the mattress for reassurance. “My music?”

“The music I’m writing for you. About you. I’m going to call it Rhapsody for Phil.” Dan must see something on Phil’s face that he wasn’t expecting because he instantly adds, “Or, something else. Something less cheesy. Or less forward. Is it forward? I didn’t think it was, I just thought that it should have your name in the title if it only exists because of-”

“It’s not cheesy. Or too forward.”

“Really? Because you look kind of worried about it.”

The star in Dan’s hair flickers. It probably reflects in Phil’s eyes. “I’m not. It’s only that you can’t rename music, can you? It’d be named after me forever.”

Dan looks confused. “Yeah, it would be.”

But what about when you leave, Phil thinks. They always leave. That’s the entire point. Phil gives them what they need to follow their dreams and be happy and then they leave because Phil isn’t enough to stay around for. Dan will leave with a Rhapsody for Phil and Phil will stand back behind the shop counter and wait for the empty space outside to be taken up.

“That’s-” Phil begins and fails. “That’s a really nice thing to do.”

Dan smiles but his eyes are still worried. There’s a frown between his eyebrows that Phil presses his mouth to.

“I didn’t mean to say nice, I meant to say amazing, it’s the best thing anyone’s done for me, it’s just that I’m not used to- I never know what to say, and I don’t even know what a rhapsody is, so I-”

“A rhapsody,” Dan half-says, half-hums as Phil moves down to his jaw, “Is a beautifully happy piece of music. It’s an expression of feeling when how you feel is so wonderful that you want to share it with everyone. I don’t write them. I’ve never written one. I never had anything to feel that strongly about.”

Phil stops with his nose pushed into Dan’s cheek and has to gather his thoughts for a second. “That’s exactly what that music sounds like. That’s exactly it.”

“I don’t want to play it until it’s ready so I’ll just do something else, at the recital, but I’m still nervous, a bit, well, a lot, like I could do with some extra confidence or something, just to get me through it, and then-”

Phil lifts his head up. “Extra confidence?”

Dan shrugs. “If that was a real thing that you could just get.”

Phil runs his thumb along Dan’s collarbone and knows, instantly, completely, with every part of his heart, that he’s going to make an entire vat of confidence. Put it in Dan’s coffee, his butterscotch pies, send entire clouds of it into the air where it can float around Dan permanently.

“But,” Dan says, “It’s not. So I’m just going to have to repress all my natural darkness and pretend at least.”

“You might not have to.” Phil continues to watch his thumb’s progress, back and forth on Dan’s clavicle.

Dan huffs a breathy laugh. “What, are you just going to magic some up?”

Phil avoids answering that question honestly by kissing Dan instead. He removes the star at the same time, knocks it back to the wall with a gentle push of his fingertip and sends it spiralling up past his headboard and into the ceiling.

*~*~*

Confidence is cream coloured, the same shade as a spotlight or a camera flash, easy to put into coffee or tea or to whip up into a cream. It goes with everything, can be put into anything, and it’s normally so quick and simple to make that Phil doesn’t even realise that he’s doing it. Today, though, it takes forever. It has to be just right, it has to be perfect.

This morning’s council letter is in a black envelope. It had chased the bowls around the kitchen and knocked all the magnets off the fridge door to set itself in the direct centre, so Phil would see it as soon as he walked in. From there, it’s oddly been very quiet but Phil can feel it there, waiting.

The confidence forms like a cloud, the best texture Phil has made. He pushes at one of the peaks with a spoon, fills the centre of seven miniature butterscotch pies.

Winston states, “So, we’re ignoring the letter.”

“I’m not ignoring it. I’m aware of it.”

“But not going to open it?”

Black envelopes mean rule breaking, breaching the old magic laws and being summoned to explain yourself. Phil’s never had one before because his rule breaking has always been of the gentle, just on the line of revealing himself to humans, variety. The line had always been a little bit more secure, a huge thing not to be crossed but to be skirted over, Phil with his toes right on the edge.

“You know what it’s about,” Winston continues. “You know.”

Dan makes Phil want to jump over that line. He did from the first instant that Phil saw him and has done so until the most recent instant, stars falling off the walls into his hair and saying I’ll come back, after the recital, I’ll come back and tell you how awful it was and Phil saying No, no, you have to wait, I have something for you.

Phil pipes a perfect spiral of confidence onto a polystyrene cup filled with his strongest coffee. “I know what it’s about.” He adds an extra layer. “It won’t be relevant after today.”

“You’re that sure that he’s going to leave?”

“It’s what happens,” Phil says. “Every time. That’s how this goes. He’ll get back into the college and then he might come back, for a few minutes, to say goodbye but then he’ll go. And then the letter will be pointless and it’ll just destroy itself.”

The letter vibrates gently on the fridge door, as if aware that it’s being talked about. Winston watches it. “What if he doesn’t do any of those things?”

Phil starts to put the pies into a cardboard container. “I thought you were against this, you’ve just said the same things, all along, and-”

“I’m your familiar,” Winston points out. “I say all of the little things in your head aloud so you can hear them properly.”

Phil writes Good luck Dan!!! on one of the “A Sprinkle of Magic” notecards that he’d made and never uses. He adds From Phil as if that wasn’t immediately obvious and then and Winston. Winston begrudgingly adds his paw print just underneath the t.

Dan is outside, his coat buttoned right up to his chin and a whole stack of sheet music under his arm. He’d decided on Ballade in G Minor at the last minute, after hours of debating between that and Love’s Sorrow. Phil hadn’t liked the sound of the second one. Dan smiles as Phil approaches but he looks anxious. The moth is huge on his back, so large that it looks, from a distance, like Dan has wings. He says, “Hello!”, as though he and Phil haven’t seen each other for months, that they hadn’t just been together, an hour ago, when Dan had suddenly remembered that all his sheet music was in his flat and had to leave.

There’s a mark on Dan’s jaw that Phil put there. He touches his knuckles to it in the motion of handing Dan his coffee and says, “Hello,” back.

The lid can barely stay on the cup with the sheer amount of cream underneath it. Dan accepts it, along with the box of pies. “Are you trying to make me hyperactive before this? Or, like, so high on sugar that I don’t feel nervous?”

“Something like that.”

“It should take about two hours, I think. I didn’t get even halfway through last time, but- I don’t know. If I’m back earlier than that then I’ve walked out again.”

“You’re not going to walk out again.” Dan huffs under his breath. “You’re not.”

“You have a lot of faith in me.” Dan sips his coffee as best he can through five layers of confidence. “Thanks.”

“You’re going to be great.” Phil pushes forward and kisses Dan, probably crushing the cake box between them. Dan, with no free hands, leans into Phil and mumbles something that Phil can’t quite hear. Confidence tastes like cinnamon. Phil repeats, “You’re going to be great,” touches his nose into the curve of Dan’s cheekbone, “Really. Come back and tell me about it.”

Dan looks starry eyed. Phil’s not sure if it’s the confidence or some stowaways from his bedroom walls or if it’s just him, but the moth spreads its wings to catch the sun and Dan says, “I will, I absolutely will,” with such conviction that Phil thinks that maybe it’s the last one, maybe it is just him, for once.

Winston and the letter have had a minor altercation when he gets back to the kitchen. Winston is triumphantly sat on his haunches while the letter, now off the fridge, tries to repair some new tears in its folds. It waves an indignant corner at Phil and Phil only then realises that it’s out of the envelope.

Dear Mr Lester. We have written to you on numerous occasions, in varying tones, regarding the matter of your gift, which you continue to use to help humans. We have expected, for some time, that this would eventually lead to

Phil, to Winston, half-shouts, “Stop reading it.”

“I’m not. It’s reading itself. I hate it when they do that.”

“Stop,” Phil tells the letter.

The letter does not. Enhanced relations with humans. We had anticipated this. It would have been foolish and naive of you to think we would not. This letter is a formal invitation to the Council, please attend on the 22nd October at 2pm. If you do not do so then we will have no option but to extend a summons, at a time and date convenient to ourselves. We wish to draw your attention to Acts Twenty-One and Twenty-Two of the Witches Code, which confirms that relations between a witch such as yourself and a human are

Phil smacks his wand, with more force than he’d expected, into the centre of the letter. It catches fire, briefly, goes up into a ball of flame and smoke and then reveals itself, completely unharmed.

Forbidden. You are, of course, aware of this fact. It is a key part of the teachings to all young witches, even one as special as you are, and you understand the repercussions of such a union. Ask yourself if this human is worth it. They will not be. We look forward to your attendance.

Winston, picking up his usual lines in a play that’s gone wrong, says, “Kindest of regards, The Witches Council. Fancy signature. Ornate wax stamp.”

The letter explodes in a burst of blue light and scatters tiny pieces of ash all over Phil’s kitchen counter.

Winston watches the debris settle. “Well, you couldn’t have hidden from it any longer.”

“I wasn’t hiding.”

“No, just burying your head in the sand.”

Phil, sadly, says, “Maybe.”

*~*~*

Phil’s heard, in the vague way that everyone’s heard, somewhere, if a distant relative or a friend-of-a-friend who’d fallen in love with a human and had to give up their powers for good. It had happened to a friend of his mother’s, that his parents had gone to the wedding (“A human wedding,” his mother had said, on getting the invitation. “There’s not even any fireworks in the envelope.”) and then to visit them when they had settled in Aberdeen. He should ask his mother more about her - how did she tell her wife? Does her wife even know? What does the sudden lack of magic feel like? The sudden absence of it, crackling just underneath your skin. Does she still reach for her wand sometimes? Does she forget?

It all, really, hinges on whether or not he loves Dan, even though the answer is obvious he still wonders. After almost twenty-seven years of not being entirely successful with that sort of thing he doesn’t know what it should feel like. Does he love Dan? (yes, says the tiny voice in his head). Would he give everything up for Dan? (probably). Will Dan stay, once he’s back to college, taking his rhapsody into the world for everyone to hear? (no, why would he).

Phil wonders if he should reply to the letter, the pieces that the dustpan is now clearing away, to say: this isn’t needed. I don’t know if I love him and he won’t stay anyway, so I won’t need a meeting. People don’t stay with me, with this gift or whatever, I’m the temporary solution that pushes them onto better things. It’s not a gift. I don’t know why you always call it that.

Winston watches him mope around the shop for at least four hours, picking up and putting down the lids of all the cake stands and rearranging the same display multiple times. It’s halfway into the afternoon when they both realise that they’ve never changed the shop sign from Closed to Open.

Does he love Dan? Does he dream about coming home to Dan, here, with scattered sheet music covered in icing crumbs and stars on every inch of ceiling? (yes). Does he want to go to every single one of Dan’s piano recitals, no matter how far into the centre of London they are? (yes).

Phil pushes around an arrangement of individual victoria sponges until they’re in a perfect circle. How would you know? He’s spent for too long being overwhelmed by people, by the noise and the colour of them, hiding in council corridors, the back of schoolrooms, a tiny shop in a tiny corner of London. Hiding from everything. Does he love him? How would he know?

*~*~*

It’s another two hours before Dan bursts back through the door , moth’s wings glittering in his hair, his coat askew, all of his notepaper swirling around his ankles. He exclaims, “I got in!”, and throws his arms open.

Phil feels his heart, like the letter, go up in a blue flames, and knows the answer to all of his questions.

Dan drops his arms slightly, repeats, “I got in,” in a confused way.

Phil realises that he’s crushing one of the victoria sponges in his hand. The flames of his shattering heart almost reach his throat (if he had his wand then the whole place would be ablaze).

“I came straight here,” Dan offers, still sounding perturbed by Phil’s reaction. “I haven’t even phoned my mum yet.”

Phil means to say That’s great, Dan, I’m so proud of you, but he can only manage, “You came here?”

“Where else would I have come - you’re here.”

Phil steps forward, into Dan’s falling arms, rests his chin on Dan’s shoulder, clutches his hands in the back of Dan’s coat. Dan wraps his arms around Phil instantly, sighs with immediate relief. “That’s amazing, Dan, I’m so proud of you.”

The moth trips down from Dan’s hair to brush against Phil’s wrist. Dan says, “It went really well. Like, so well, better than it’s ever gone, and they talked about my original stuff and they want me to have a show and I just- I never thought that-”

“I did,” Phil says. “I thought.”

“Could we go somewhere?” Dan asks. He looks over Phil’s shoulder. “Wait, did you even open the shop today?”

“I forgot.”

Phil can’t see Dan’s face very well but he watches the slow deepening of one dimple. “Other things on your mind?”

“A bit.”

“Anything in particular?”

Phil presses his forehead, once, into the curve of Dan’s neck and steps back. “A few things, I suppose. Nothing in particular.”

Dan leaves his hands outstretched for a second, like he hasn’t quite caught on that Phil has left, then huffs a laugh when he realises what he’s doing. Phil immediately wants to hug him again, to say you came back I can’t believe you actually came back, and to ignore everything about the letter, to pretend the letter doesn’t even exist. Phil would give up every single spark of his powers on the spot, right now, throw every star back up into the sky.

They got to Fulham. It’s not far and they walk through misty clouds of gold that radiate off all the bars and restaurants on the way. Fulham is all glitter, auras the giddy colour of champagne, peacocks preening at people’s feet. Dan drums a melody across Phil’s knuckles and says, “I used to play here,” to one of the goldest places they pass.

Phil stops. The building doesn’t look much like anything, just an open doorway, two doormen, huge clouds of shimmering light coming from it and then a staircase. “Here?”

“Well, up.” Phil must look confused. Dan clarifies, “It’s a sky bar,” and points upwards. “It’s forty stories up, the walls of windows just up there. I didn’t used to-”

“Can we go up there?” Phil interrupts. He can see the walls of windows, looking out onto the early evening sky (into the sky). It would be like flying, he thinks, with less falling off. “Can we?”

“There’s a dress code,” Dan says. He’s still in his (now creased) shirt and suit from the audition but Phil is in jeans, sneakers and a shirt covered with tiny flamingos that Winston hates. “They used to be pretty strict about it.”

One of the doormen suddenly says, “Hey! Magic guy!”

Phil, feeling like he’s actually falling the forty stories, very politely says, “Pardon?”

“You run the cake shop. The Something of Magic shop, Coating of Magic? Cakes of Magic? Something with-”

“That’s me.” Phil, looking at him properly, remembers. The doorman is a huge, burly guy with an identically huge, burly doorman on the opposite side of the entrance. They’d come into the shop together and proceeded to emit waves of such longing and pining that Phil had to open some of the windows. Their auras were a red panda and a chubby legged shetland pony that hadn’t left each other alone the whole time.

Phil had given them both honesty, baked in solid squares of shortbread.

“Best shortbread we’ve had!” says the doorman. He beams affectionately at the other doorman, who beams right back. The panda is curled right around the pony’s neck, face buried in its mane. “We recommend you to everyone.”

Phil thinks that he’s probably beaming at both of them. “Thank you.”

“You want to come up? Don’t worry about the dress code, you’re a special case. Just bring us some more shortbread next time.”

Phil doesn’t know what he’d put in the shortbread next time, watching them both smile at each other across the doorway. He feels guilty when he and Dan walk through it, like they’re breaking through the connection.

Dan, in the lift, raises his eyebrows. “What was in that shortbread?”

Phil thinks about the letter, probably rejoining each speck of ash in his kitchen as they speak. “Nothing in particular.”

*~*~*

The sky bar has a grand piano, as black and gleaming as the auras of all its guests. There’s a lot of lynxes, panthers and one huge raven that sets his gaze on Phil (and Phil’s sneakers) as soon as he enters. He thinks that If he could imagine the perfect piano for Dan to play then it would probably be this one, hidden from view in the quietest corner. The bar is already playing music, a low thudding bass that follows them over to the piano, and undercuts Phil saying, “Did anyone even listen to you when you played here?”

Dan shrugs. “I kinda prefered it. I used to see if I could make at least one person drop their stupidly overpriced cocktail and look at me for a second. It didn’t usually happen.”

The auras in the bar are as heavy as molasses, but as light as air when he looks at Dan. “Play something for me, I’ll listen.”

Dan says, “Well, I would hope so,” but he doesn’t say no.

They get drinks. Dan gets an espresso martini. Phil gets an absolutely ridiculous thing that takes ten minutes to make and holds up everyone else. It has glitter and fruit and rose petals and is the syrupy blue of infatuation, a potion that Phil could never get right. He repeats, “Play something for me,” as he watches a chunk of mango get swallowed into the mixture. “Please.”

Dan has, without realising or maybe realising completely, sat them right next to the piano, with Phil as close to the wall as possible, Dan shielding him from the rest of the room. “Something like what?”

“I don’t mind. Your favourite thing.”

“My favourite thing is what I wrote for you.”

“Then play-”

“Not here. I don’t want you to hear it it for the first time here.”

“Then where do I get to hear it?”

“Somewhere that you’re not drinking toxic waste.”

Phil’s drink swallows another piece of mango. He says, “Hey,” weakly.

Dan reaches over to touch his fingers to the back of Phil’s hand, curled around his glass. “I’ll play you something. Right now.”

He plays Fur Elise, and then something sweet and soothing (almost a lullaby), and then a huge burst of sadness that becomes something else completely. Dan smiles at Phil’s confused expression and says, “That’s Love’s Sorrow.”

“That’s not how I expected it to sound.”

“That’s what I like about it.”

No one else shows any awareness of the piano being played. Phil feels an odd mixture of wanting to stand and yell at everyone to watch Dan (because how could anyone ignore Dan) but also wanting to keep Dan playing just for him, the two of them caught together in a jar, Dan at the piano, Phil in the quietest corner. Phil feels like he’s in a snow globe, one that’s been shaken and turned upside down, and all of the falling flakes are pieces of the black letter, like ash in the air.

Dan, suddenly back in Phil’s space, grazes his knuckles across Phil’s temple. “Is it getting too much?”

Phil, honestly; says, “No. It’s absolutely not.”

Dan plays something else, pretty and floating, which Phil drains the rest of his luminous infatuation. He thinks he might actually be past infatuation, if there is such a point. He doesn’t understand why Dan came back. He doesn’t know why Dan would choose to come back. The careful order of his list, the usual process, is torn up and thrown into the sky, up to where the stars should be. But that probably happened the moment he saw Dan, the second that Dan said this is my piano.

“I haven’t played any of those for so long,” Dan says when he returns, flushed at his cheeks and the moth so small that you wouldn’t know it was there unless you were looking for it. “I think the enjoyment had sort of evaporated, somewhere, but-”

“Can we go?” Phil asks. The drink, or maybe not the drink, has hit him all at once. One of the panthers is circling. The coal black auras above him are so close that he could reach up and touch them. “Would that be okay?”

Dan stops midway through a word that Phil thinks is his name. “Of course. Of course we can, we can walk back to the-”

“Maybe to your flat?” Phil says, because if this whole thing is going to come to an end, one way or another, then he’d like to see where Dan lives. Where Dan calls home. Just the once.

Dan smiles, very slowly, a slow build that turns into a grin. “Really?”

*~*~*

Dan’s building is one of the huge, 90% glass structures that Phil had thought London would be made up of, when he moved here, and not at all the type of place that he’d expected Dan to live in. It’s too bright, too much light getting in through too many windows.

Dan said, “Sorry in advance about the mess,” on the tube, Phil bracketed safely into the alcove by the doors. He says, “Sorry,” again in his hallway, as Phil trips over a pile of identical black zip-up shoes, and then, “Sorry about all of this, sorry about my everything,” as Phil knocks a stack of sheet music off a very old looking piano as soon as he enters Dan’s living room.

If the outside of the flat is surprising, then the inside absolutely isn’t. Phil would have pictured it looking exactly this. A storm of Dan - collections of his belongings scattered over the room, left exactly where they were dropped, but his DVDs and games are sorted in exact alphabetical order (and, apparently, by genre). There’s clutter and boxes and canvases leant against the wall and also an immaculately cared for glass terrarium on the windowsill. The piano is missing keys but is also perfectly polished and cleaned.

Dan says, “Sorry.”

“Why are you sorry? This is exactly what I thought it would be.”

Dan huffs a little exhale of an almost laugh. “Wow. I don’t know if I should be insulted or not.”

Phil touches the glass hexagon of the terrarium. “It’s perfect.”

“I mean, it doesn’t have stars, or much colour, or-”

Phil would hook every single star out of the sky if it would make Dan happy. “I can bring you some stars.”

“Really? Just get a butterfly net and scoop them down?”

“If you wanted me to.”

Dan says, “How are you real?”

It’s an impossible question to answer so Phil doesn’t try. He steps back from Dan’s windowsill and says, “I could ask you the same thing.”

Dan is paused next to the collapsed sheet music, his hand halfway outstretched as if he’s not quite decided whether to actually tidy it up or to leave it as it is, as proof that Phil was actually in his flat. “Did you really think I wasn’t going to come back if I got in?”

Phil toes his feet along the grain of Dan’s wooden flooring. “It’s just-”

“That I would say, hey, thanks for all the cake and stuff, and just go?”

“I hoped you wouldn’t,” Phil replies. He has a sudden urge to walk closer to Dan and does so, half kicking a box of gaming controllers on the way. He takes Dan’s sorry right out of his mouth and pushes it into the square of skin under his earlobe.

Phil has, somewhere along the way tonight, forgotten about the moth. His gaze hadn’t caught on it in Dan’s hair, on Dan’s collar, or Dan’s back, not since the moment they started walking. He doesn’t think about the moth now, as he trips over the same pile of shoes as they navigate back down Dan’s hallway (he feels, rather than hears, the sorry against his cheek, says it doesn’t matter it doesn’t matter back). He doesn’t see any glinting hints of wings in the silver glow of Dan’s room. He doesn’t hear the strumming of wing beats underneath Dan’s sighs (or his sighs, actually. Phil isn’t usually that loud but tonight he sighs and gasps like something is going to be taken away from him).

There’s a second, between one sigh and another, maybe one from him and one from Dan, when he thinks the moth might be gone. Actually gone. Dan is pushing Phil’s fringe up from his forehead and letting it drop back down and Phil half rolls them both over in an attempt to get his fingers into Dan’s hair.

Dan mumbles, “I don’t really have the energy for- I mean, not that I don’t-”

The moth is still there. It’s small, small enough to perch on the end of one curl, but it’s still there. It looks at Phil triumphantly.

Phil touches it with the side of his index finger. The moth brushes against him. Dan flinches. Phil pulls his hand away.

Dan gives Phil a confused look, mixed with sleepiness. “Sorry. It’s just your hand’s really cold, all of a sudden.”

It can’t be. Dan’s flat, and Dan himself, is as hot as a furnace. Phil says, “I’m going to keep a tally of how much you’ve said sorry tonight. It’s probably a hundred.”

“Probably more.” Dan returns to pulling at Phil’s fringe. “I know I keep saying this, but I’m really not going anywhere, I’ve got it all planned, when I’m back in the-”

“You don’t know what’s going to happen when you’re back with all those cool musician types,” Phil attempts to joke. It doesn’t come out right. “It’s fine. I’m not expecting to-”

“I’m going to play your music at the concert. In full. I want you to hear it for the first time there.”

“I’ll be there. Of course I will.”

“Good.” Dan presses their foreheads together. “It won’t be the same if you’re not there.”

Phil wishes he’d brought some stars with him, to hide in random corners of Dan’s living room, somewhere that Dan would never see but enough for Phil to know that he had them, enough to catch all the accidental wishes that Dan makes.

*~*~*

Dan stops halfway across the street to the shop (hair ruffled from sleep and then Phil ruffled from the doorway to his flat), and says, “The hamster.”

Winston is in the window, just visible underneath one of the curtains. His paw is initially up in a wave, but he drops it at the sight of Dan and gives Phil a stricken look. Phil gives him an identical look back. “He must have got out of his cage.”

Dan turns to look at Phil. Winston mouths, clearly, Don’t bring him inside. “I didn’t think! We were gone for hours, you were gone all night.”

“He’s fine,” Phil says, because it’s probably not the right time to mention that Winston can use the magic kitchen to make himself dinner and probably spent the night asleep on Phil’s bed.

Dan changes direction as if to walk towards the shop. Winston shakes his head wildly.

“No!” Phil exclaims. Dan stops. “I didn’t- I didn’t clean up yesterday, I need to get it sorted before I open.”

“I can help you.”

Winston signals all sorts of throat cutting and thumbs down motions. Phil says, “No, honestly, you need to go and amaze everyone.” He waves to the doorway of the college. “And then come and tell me about it.”

Dan says, “Okay,” leans over and pulls down Phil’s scarf enough to be able to kiss him on the cheek. “I’ll come over straight away afterwards. And whenever I get a break. I promise.”

*~*~*

The shop is covered in black envelopes. They’re everywhere. In the display cabinets, in the cake stands, all over his menu board, propped up on the shelves and all across the counter. At the sight of Phil they all start opening, the sound of tearing paper in unison is, apparently, not a great sound.

Phil says, “Oh.”

“Oh is right!” Winston squeaks. “Look at them! They started last night, when you left, and they’ve just been-”

The letters all begin speaking at once, the same content as before. Phil covers his ears and waits for the final Kindest of regards in chorus, an echo of ask yourself if the human is worth it from a few of the late starters. They explode in a glittery blue firework display that Phil would think was pretty, under other circumstances, when it’s not also mirroring his heart. Letter pieces float gently down on the breeze.

Winston says, “Well…”

“He’s gone to college today, there’s no way that he’ll-”

“You know that’s not true. He loves you.”

Phil stops, arm outstretched for the door to the kitchen. He looks at Winston. Winston looks unblinkingly back. “You don’t know that.”

“I know that. And you love him.” Phil doesn’t answer. “I knew this would happen.”

Phil opens the door. The dustpan and brushes march out. “I don’t know what to do.”

“It’s not really down to you. You know what they’ll ask.”

“If I give up my powers then I won’t be able to keep the shop, I won’t be able to do anything, I’m not much of anything without them, I-”

“They’re not going to ask you to give up your powers, Phil. You’re unique, they’re not going to make you ruin that for rule breaking. They’ll make you give up something else.”

“Dan,” Phil says. “You mean Dan.”

“I’m sorry.”

Phil watches the brushes clear away the remains of the letters, listens to the comforting swish-swish of parchment paper being swept off the floor. It’s like the letters were never there in the first place. “Why are you sorry? It’s my fault, I could see it happening as soon as I walked over to him, I knew what was going to happen the moment I looked at him, the moment I spoke to him, but I couldn’t help myself. He used his bravery for me. He didn’t even eat the calmness,
make him calm, he makes me calm, I don’t-”

Winston whispers, “You’re just making yourself feel worse.”

“The moth’s so small now. You can’t even see it’s there, unless you’re really looking for it.”

“The 22nd October is in two days time.”

“Why can’t I just have one person, or one thing, that’s just mine, just for me, why does everything have to be like this?”

“I don’t know,” Winston answers. “Because you’re special?”

“I’d rather not be.”

*~*~*

The day is quiet. Phil burns a whole batch of resilience scones and ruins a saucepan full of serenity. He gives Violin Girl a macaroon with no assertiveness. None of the potions are the right colour, his heart feels lost, his mind feels lost, nothing is the right consistency or the right emotion. The spoons clatter together nervously. He knocks things over, more than usual, too slow to save things with his wand. He hits one of the cake stand lids with his elbow, sending it off the counter and smashing onto the floor.

Dan comes back just in time for that one. He says, “Oh!”, startled, and pulls Phil away from where he was kneeling to collect the glass. “I can clean that up.”

Phil can hear the dustpan stepping to attention behind the door. “No, it’s fine. I can do it.” He looks up at Dan, properly. Dan looks happy and soft (not stooped or hunched in any way). The moth, when Phil finally locates it, is perched on the top of his ear. “How’s your day going?”

Dan, with complete sincerity, the type that Phil feels on his skin, says, “Amazing. I love it. I’d forgotten that I love it, somewhere, but I do.”

“That’s good, Dan. I’m really-”

“I’m pretending that you’re there,” Dan adds. “For some of it. Well, most of it. When I start worrying. If I imagine you’re there then it’s better, it’s so much better, and my music’s better, and I think they’re actually doing invitations, like formal invitations, to the show, and I-”

“Am I getting one?”

Dan blinks. “No, Phil, I don’t want to invite you, I don’t want you there at all. I definitely don’t want you to hear music that I wrote for you.” There’s a pause. Dan’s eyes flicker over Phil’s face. “That was a joke.”

“Right.” Phil exhales. “I know.”

“Are you okay?”

“Fine. I just- I have a meeting in two days, an important one, and I- I’m just thinking about it, that’s all.”

Dan says, “A bad one? Is it about the shop?”

“Maybe. I might have to-” Phil stops. Might have to what. Dan continues to stare at him. The cake stand lid is still all over the floor.

“Might have to what?” Dan asks, like he’s taken the words right from Phil’s mind.

“Give up something I don’t want to give up.”

Dan raises his eyebrows. “That sounds intense.”

Phil tries to shrug, to act nonchalant and unbothered, but he can’t. The shrug gets stuck halfway, his shoulders hunched, and whatever incredibly laid back and casual thing he wanted to say comes out as, “Will you come back after college?”

Dan looks surprised that Phil would even question such a complete certainty. “Of course.” He looks out of the window, across the courtyard. “Speaking of college, I should go back. I just wanted to come and say hi.”

Phil, softly, says, “Hi.”

Dan laughs. “Hi Phil. And don’t worry about your meeting. It’ll be okay.” He kisses him with his thumbs under Phil’s ears and glass crunching underneath their feet, and whispers, “I hope you don’t have to give up anything you don’t want to.”

It’s you, Phil thinks. There’s no possible way that I could give up you. He tries to put some element of this into the kiss, some level of neediness that Dan is in far too good a mood for, planting happy raindrops of kisses all over Phil’s mouth, like he can transfer his smile there somehow.

Dan eventually pulls himself away. “Please clean this glass up. And don’t injure yourself.”

The dustpan is close to knocking down the kitchen door. “I won’t.”

Phil stands in the window and watches Dan make his way back to the college (looking entirely too tall and too beautiful and just too much for his surroundings), swallows down the urge to shout no, wait, come back, or something equally dramatic. A woman walking in the other direction has four corgis, each on separate leads, tangling their legs together. He can hear Dan’s hello there! as loudly as if Dan was whispering it into his ear.

*~*~*

(Martyn repeated, “Make a wish, Phil. That’s a great star, I’ve never caught a moving one before.”

“I don’t have anything to wish for.”

“Phil.” Martyn’s expression crumpled. “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“What would you wish for?”

“I don’t know. To be happy, to have a nice life, to meet someone, to travel, anything, there has to be something that you want.”

Phil said, “No,” and let the star go. They both watched it arch back into the sky.

“You must want to wish for something,” Martyn said, making a valiant effort to recatch the disappearing star. “There has to be something.”

Phil replied, “Not yet,” which seemed to appease Martyn a little because not yet meant that there might, in the future, be something that Phil wanted enough to wish for. He’d actually meant never because the idea of Dan, someone like Dan, anyone, seeing past the shop and the powers and actually at Phil, seemed impossible. And impossibilities were wastes of wishes really.)

*~*~*

Dan comes back with an envelope embossed with Phil’s name. He holds it out in both hands. Phil, who hasn’t had much luck with envelopes of late, hesitates before taking it.

“It’s in two weeks,” Dan says. “And I’ll come with you on the tube, there and back.” He holds the letter out further. “Are you going to take this?”

Phil shakes himself into reality. “Of course, I just-” he takes the envelope. It invites him, Mr Lester, to the first performance of Rhapsody for Phil, a new and exciting original work by Daniel Howell. Phil traces the letters with his finger.

“I’ll come with you,” Dan repeats. “And make sure they save the quietest spot for you to sit and we can leave, after, straight away, because it’ll be busy and-”

“We’ll stay,” Phil protests. “Everyone will be there for you.”

Dan smiles. Phil pins the invitation to his menu board. “Are you still worried about your meeting?”

“A bit.” A lot. A heart squeezing soul clinging lot. “Sort of.”

“Can I help?”

“You can have dinner with me,” Phil says. “And then stay.”

They go to the same little restaurant from the first time, which seems to be months ago (years ago even). The inside is crowded so Dan sits outside without even asking, even though it means that he keeps his scarf on for the whole dinner. Phil watches the muddle of auras inside, pressed to the glass, and touches the side of his foot to Dan’s under the table. Dan smiles into his wine, which Phil assumes means you’re welcome.

They’re midway through the main course when Phil says, “So,” and then leaves a pause. “I’ve been really happy these past few weeks-” in a much more formal tone that he’d meant.

Dan inhales sharply, drops his fork onto his plate. “Are you breaking up with me?”

Phil says, “What, no, I, we haven’t even talked about-”

The moth is growing. It’s almost bird sized. Dan’s voice goes up a pitch. “About what?”

“It’s just that-”

“It’s just that what?”

“I’m not saying this right. I’m not saying it right at all. I’m really bad at this-” Phil casts his hand back and forth between them, almost spills his drink. “It doesn’t really happen to me.”

“I don’t believe that.” Dan’s face softens. “Have you seen you?”

Yes, Phil thinks. Every day. “I’ve been really happy, these past few weeks, and I just thought that it was important that you know that. That’s all. You make me happy.”

The moth shrinks. Dan says, “I know that. Just try and say it a bit less ominously next time.”

Phil whispers, “Sorry,” and really truly means it. He tightens his fingers on the stem of his wine glass. “I didn’t mean-”

“Also if you were going to say that we haven’t even talked about it since that one time then that’s only because it doesn’t feel like dating, to me. It feels like more. Do you know what I mean?” Dan’s voice is lilting with hope, do you know what I mean?

If Phil clutches this glass any tighter then it’s going to shatter everywhere. “I know what you mean. You know I do.”

If he had a wish now, if Martyn was stood next to him fishing stars from the sky, then Phil would wish that there had never been a piano. That there had never been a Dan with affection coloured eyes and crossed out notebooks to have a disagreement with it. If Martyn was next to him Phil would say you wonder why I keep myself hidden away in my shop? THIS is why. He stayed, he was going to stay, and now I’m going to have to give him up. Give something up, anyway. Phil is quiet through the rest of the dinner, even into dessert, which is the best part of any dinner and usually deserves constant narration of all their options, what his top three choices are and an entire review of what he ends up having. Dan watches him eat his chocolate mousse in silence and says, “You’re really worried about this meeting, aren’t you?”

Phil thinks I love you. He thinks it through paying the bill and walking back to the shop. He thinks it while he watches Dan scratch Winston under his chin and the soft white fur of his back, and he thinks it through Dan’s delighted little, “Oh!”, when he sees Winston’s bed, moved back onto the windowsill. He thinks it so loudly that he’s not sure why Dan can’t hear it, surely Dan should be able to hear it when it’s this much, too much for Phil to put into words. I love you he thinks, as Dan looks up to the ceiling and says, “Seriously, more stars? Where do you get these from?”

Phil manages to say, “The sky,” and reaches for him.

He doesn’t need to reach very far. His fingers are tangled in all the oversized knit of Dan’s sweater after half a step, holding on like the council are going to show up here, now, and make Dan disappear with a single wand flick.

Dan allows himself to be held. “Don’t be sad.”

“I’m not sad.” This is a lie. Phil half-corrects it. “I’m not sad when you’re here.”

“It’s the same for me,” Dan says. “It always is.”

Phil means to think I love you again, just to add a crescendo to the chorus, but instead he thinks, with the instant spark of a blue flame, I’d give up my powers for you, a thought that comes so surprisingly that he almost laughs with the utter honesty of it. His breath comes out with a sharp gasp that he masks with, “Dan.”

“Phil,” Dan replies.

Dan’s right, there are more stars. More stars than Phil had noticed. When he turns off the lights (“But I want to see you,” Dan complains, each word breathed right into Phil’s neck) the room is still illuminated in silver. Phil runs his hands up and down Dan’s sides, probably leaving perfect fingerprints behind, tiny little reminders that he was there, whatever happens next.

Dan, at the point where everything has reduced to just the two of them in a silver room, when Phil has forgotten anything that isn’t Dan, says, “I love you.” The words pass from his mouth to Phil’s and Phil says, “What?”

The moth is miniscule. It’s thimble sized. Phil can just about see its wings casting a shadow onto the wall behind his bed. “You heard me,” Dan whispers. “I know you did.”

There’s a pause where Phil should say it back. He knows he should. It’s there, bursting from his heart. I love you. I’d give up everything for you. I’d fish every star from my ceiling. I’d repair every piano in the world. I’d write rhapsodies every day. I love you.

He replies, “I heard you,” instead, and presses his forehead to Dan’s, heavy from the weight of every word he isn’t saying.

*~*~*

“I’m going to be busy,” Dan says, the next morning, in the mismatched square of Phil’s kitchen. “The next three days, with the recital and everything. They want to ask me loads of questions and I have to go to the venue and I’m not sure- I’m not going to be around very much.”

Phil, rinsing coffee cups at the sink (which he never normally does manually. They usually rinse themselves), says, “Oh. That’s okay.”

“Can I call you?” Dan shakes his head. “It’s- I’ve never asked for your number. How have I never asked you that?”

“I don’t have a phone.”

Dan looks as shocked as if Phil had just told him, hey, your aura’s a moth, it lives on your back, it changes size when I look at it. “You don’t have a phone? How do people contact you?”

“They don’t.”

“Should I write you a letter?”

“Just come back in three days, that’s all.”

“I can’t not speak to you for three days. You have that meeting tomorrow, you have to tell me about that.”

“I can tell you in three days.”

Phil doesn’t want to think about what exactly he’ll be telling Dan in three days. Or to think about three days without Dan. He goes downstairs to open up the shop while Dan gathers together his notebooks and music for college.

Winston, none too happy from having spent another night in his cage, grumbles, “Good night?”

Phil says, “I love him.”

Winston takes a second to respond. “That’s terrible news.”

“I know,” Phil replies, each syllable is wet sounding, wrapped in a sob. “It’s also the best thing ever.”

Dan goes to college with icing in his hair. The icing is the dark cherry red of love. The heart swelling, breath catching, star wishing type of love that Phil usually can’t make. The type he’s never been able to get right because he’s never felt it. Or, had never felt it before. It’s in Dan’s hair and on Dan’s check and smudged against his collar and Phil, kissing him against the shop door, probably stains his shirt with it but he doesn’t care.

Dan laughs and says, “Look at me.”

Phil doesn’t laugh and agrees. “Look at you.”

He looks at Dan all the way across the courtyard, all the way into the college, looks at Dan even when Dan isn’t there anymore.

He freezes the love and puts it in the darkest, most hidden corner of his smallest, most unused cupboard.

*~*~*

The morning of the 22nd, Phil walks into the kitchen to find Martyn, letter in his hand and dog at his feet, an expression of complete regret on his face. Phil says, “No,” at the same time that Martyn says, “Sorry, Phil. They thought it should be me.”

“It’s not 2pm. The meeting’s at 2pm.”

Martyn holds out the letter. Dear Mr Lester. Please accept this letter as confirmation of a change to our meeting time. This will now be at 10am. Kindest of regards.
Phil repeats, “No.”

“I thought I could fly you there.”

Fly”, Phil states, as if Martyn (in his eternal optimism) has forgotten all about Phil’s balance issues. As if Martyn hadn’t spent a disportionate amount of time rescuing Phil as he fell from brooms of varying heights. Phil’s a terrible broom passenger, he’s too tall, all elbows and knees.

Martyn nods hopefully. “You won’t have to deal with anyone on the way.”

Phil can’t argue with that. “I’ll fall off.”

“I’ll catch you.” Martyn looks Phil up and down, the peak of his fringe to the toes of his Converse. “You should be wearing your robes.”

Phil remembers the last time he went to a council meeting. The one he and Winston refer to as The Last Time, in all capitals, the meeting where he declined all offers for ways he could use his gift and said that he was leaving instead. The meeting that had gone so badly, so upsettingly, that all the auras he saw all the way home had recoiled from him.

“Robes,” Martyn repeats. “You have to.”

The robes are located in a sad abandoned bundle in the attic. Martyn stares at them, obviously thrown down in a fit of anger, before he folds them neatly over his arm. Phil hates robes. He doesn’t look cool like Martyn does, he doesn’t look regal like his parents. The colour, the Lester Green, representing his family’s love of plants and nature, makes him look paler than usual.

He asks, “What do you think they’re going to say?”

Martyn looks at his feet. “What did they say last time?”

Phil lies, “I don’t remember.”

“Yes you do. You were really upset when you came out.”

The Last Time, coincidentally, was also the last time he’d been on a broom with Martyn, who had to fasten his hand into the fabric at Phil’s back to stop him tumbling into every chimney as they flew home, repeating whatever they said isn’t true, Phil, you don’t need to leave, but his mind had been made up.

“They asked me what my aura looked like,” Phil says, finally.

Martyn looks confused. “And that’s a bad thing? You can just look in the mirror, can’t you?”

Phil takes the robes. “Where did you land the broom?”

Martyn, higher pitched, repeats, “Can’t you?”

“I don’t have one,” Phil says. “I never did. I never had. I can just see everyone else’s.”

Martyn’s mouth stays open. He blinks rapidly. “How can that be right? Everyone has one.”

“Not me.” Martyn moves as if to hug him. Phil dodges it. “It’s not- look, I dealt with it ages ago, Martyn, I can’t do anything about it. It is what it is, it’s probably the only reason why I can see everyone else’s, or why everyone’s auras are so interested in me, or, I don’t know.” Martyn still looks stricken. “It’s fine, don’t be upset.”

“It’s not fine. It absolutely isn’t fine. Did you tell them, last time? Is that why-”

“I don’t want to talk about last time.”

Martyn gives him a long sad look. “Put your robes on, Phil.”

Phil does so. The robes are too short in the arms, they skim his wrists and his ankles. The green, as it always does, always has, casts shadows onto his cheeks and under his eyes, making him look tired. He sighs at himself in the lopsided mirror of his bedroom and Winston, climbing into bed, echoes it back.

“There we go!” Martyn says when he returns, artificial cheeriness so thick that Phil could cut it into slices. “Much better!”

“Is it?”

It takes a while to get them both onto the broom. Even Martyn’s patience almost runs out as Phil tries, and fails, to get himself steady. “How can someone have no balance, Phil? How is that even a thing?” Phil wants to snap back I don’t know, maybe all the balance was in my aura but it’s a little too soon. Martyn doesn’t need to hear about any of that, any of Phil’s wonderings about whether all the things he lacks should have been illuminated around him instead. “Just, look, lock your knees together, like- no, not like that, what even is that? Like me, like what I’m doing.”

“I’m going to fall off,” Phil repeats, morosely.

“I’m going to catch you.” Martyn throws his arm around Phil’s waist. “I’ll always catch you.”

Martyn waits until they’re somewhere over Piccadilly Circus (or Phil thinks it’s Piccadilly Circus. He spends broom flights with his eyelids closed to slits. He can just about make out the colours) before he finally asks. He must have been wanting to since he came into the shop but Martyn would never ask anything until he knows Phil’s ready to answer it. “Is this about the guy with the piano?”

His tone is casual. Phil’s knuckles are white around the broomstick. “Yes.”

“I thought it might be.” Martyn tightens his grip on Phil’s waist. “I knew it would be. What are you going to do?”

Phil opens his eyes wide. Definitely Piccadilly Circus, he can see the swirling whirlpools of cars, the synchronised colours of the shops. “I’m going to give up my powers.”

Martyn hesitates, which is answer enough, before he says, “They’ll never let you do that. You know that they’re not going to let you do that.”

“But it’s the-”

“You’re unique, Phil, there’s been no one like you for centuries, remember? Remember when the High Council had to come to the house and meet with-”

“It’s the rules. That’s what happens. You fall in love with a human, you have to give up your magic, everyone has to do that.”

The broom falters for a second before Martyn steadies them. “You love him.”

“Yes.”

“I’m telling Mum and Dad.”

“That’s fine.”

“Phil.” Martyn stops, tries again. “Phil. They’re not going to let you give up your powers.”

“It’s the rules.”

“They’ve never followed the rules when it comes to you.”

*~*~*

The council is underneath Postman’s Park, the entrance hidden just to the left of the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Martyn misjudges the landing (Phil’s fault, apparently, still not sitting properly) and they hit an arrangement of rose bushes near the fountain, almost breaking Martyn’s invisibility spell. A group of children feeding the ducks look alarmed. Martyn lands elegantly, bouncing onto his toes, while Phil stumbles, tears his robes, and gets petals and thorns in his fringe.

Martyn fixes the tear in half a second. “Where’s your wand?”

“In the shop.”

“You didn’t bring your wand?”

Phil says, “No.” He tries to comb the petals from his hair. Martyn doesn’t help, just stands looking noble as his robes catch the breeze. The green brings out Martyn’s eyes, catches the sharpness of his cheekbones. Phil’s robes now have mud on the cuffs. “I just want to get it done and then we can go.”

Martyn folds his broom into one of the folds of his robe. He waits until they’re across the park, at the crawling ivy that hides the council doorway, before he, firmly, tells Phil to, “Think about what you’re going to say.”

“I have.” Phil watches him pull the ivy away. The door is very ordinary looking. Phil remembers the absolute disappointment that he’d felt coming here for the first time and seeing just a standard door when he’d expected huge stone archways and columns. “I really have.”

“Think about it properly.” Martyn taps the door with his knuckles three times and then lies his palm flat. There’s a steady creaking as the gears of the lock start to move.

“This whole thing was wasted on me anyway.”

Martyn sighs. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you left because you wanted to use your powers to help people.”

“But I-”

“And isn’t that exactly what you’ve done? Or, what you’re doing?”

The door makes a very underwhelming click noise to confirm that it’s ready to be opened. Martyn pushes it with his fingertip and they both watch it swing back to reveal a cramped little corridor, twenty steps forward to twenty steps up. Phil remembers.

“It doesn’t sound like it’s wasted to me,” Martyn says. “Does it?”

*~*~*

Phil had forgotten how much he hates the council building. Or, maybe, he’d never really forgotten but the feeling had just been lying dormant because he could pretend it was a place that didn’t exist while he ignored and destroyed their letters. The corridors, as he follows Martyn’s quick stride, used to have happy memories of trying to entertain himself while his parents attended meeting after meeting, watching Martyn race around the halls on his broom because he was too scared to try. Martyn’s outstretched hand, his high pitched voice bouncing off the walls, c’mon Phil, it’s not that scary.

It wasn’t, in the beginning. It had only become scary later. The overwhelmingness of all the auras trying to get his attention. Older and more important witches constantly wanting to speak to him. Hiding in every dark corner he could find. Martyn staging a never-ending play of broom crashes and dramas to keep the attention away from him. Martyn’s hand on his shoulder, the up and down of his breaking teenage voice, sorry Phil, I wish it wasn’t like this.

Martyn puts his hand firmly on Phil’s shoulder as soon as the whispering starts. A steady build of is-that-him, it-must-be. “Just ignore them.”

Phil tries. The majority of auras at the council are cats, of varying breeds and sizes, or a dark midnight blue that hangs from the walls like velvet curtains. The whispering builds and builds but Phil doesn’t look around at anyone. There could be five people or five hundred people. He looks at the floor, Martyn keeps pushing him in the right direction.

Is that him? It must be him, look, he’s with his brother.

“I can’t come in with you,” Martyn whispers, apologetically. “I asked but they said no.”

I wonder why he’s here, he never comes here. I should ask him what my aura is, I’ve always wanted to find out. Do you think he’ll tell me?

Martyn pulls Phil to a stop. “Just say what you feel.”

They’re at the high council doors. Huge arched stone with metal trimmings and a giant steel lion’s head that tilts to one side and pronounces, “Mr Lester. And secondary Mr Lester.”

“That’s me.” Martyn bows. “Secondary Mr Lester.”

Phil, who felt sure that he must be Secondary Mr Lester, blinks.

The lion ignores him. “Mr Lester. You may enter, they are waiting.”

Martyn takes his hand from Phil’s shoulder and scuffs his knuckles, once, to the side of Phil’s head, pushing his hair in the wrong direction.

Phil leans forward, just a little, into Martyn’s touch and then pushes himself away. The door handle, below the lion, is heavy and takes him four goes to open. The lion sighs. Phil sighs.

Martyn, from behind him, says, “Be strong little brother, you’re the bravest person I know.”

Phil, who isn’t sure about that fact, has never been sure about that fact, the confident proclamation of a brother as kind as Martyn is, doesn’t respond or look back. He steps through the doors and hears them close behind him. They lock with a stomping bass note that rumbles under his feet.

I’m in love with a human he rehearses. I’m in love with a human and I want to give up my powers for him. I don’t care what it takes. I don’t care how rare my gift is or how many centuries it’s been since someone had it. You can take it from me and bottle it up, give it to someone else, I don’t want it. You don’t understand what it’s been like, how long I’ve been looking for this. And now I’ve found it. I’m in love with a human and I want to give up my powers.

“Philip,” someone calls from above. “Don’t just loiter about down there. Come up please.”

There’s an echo around him, Philip, come up please, over and over.

Phil takes a deep breath and does so.

*~*~*

He has to walk up four stone steps and then up through a box of light into the floor of the council chamber. The council seats surround him from every side, sliding up from the floor in waves, all of them empty. Phil blinks and looks straight ahead to the heavy oak table where the five members of the high council sit.

They’re all there. Two women and three men, each in grand gold trimmed robes, the only people Phil has ever seen with two auras, colours and animals. Colours perfectly arched around their heads, animals sat politely by their sides.

The man sat on the far right is one of his father’s closest friends. Phil used to call him Uncle Garret and watch him shoot sparks of colour from his fingers. His aura is a bengal cat that regards Phil with obvious distaste. Garret says, “Hello Philip. Thank you for coming to-”

“I’m in love with a human and want to give up my powers,” Phil replies.

The witch next to Garret (Phil doesn’t recognise her. Her robes are a blinding purple and her aura is a lynx) looks horrified. Garret, to his credit, doesn’t break stride. “Can I at least introduce everyone first? This is Freya, Kester, Dara and Eamon. We are the high council and we’re very grateful that you-”

Phil begins again. “I’m in love with a-”

“A human,” the one Phil thinks is Kester interrupts. He’s smiling, his robes are a glowing orange and his aura is a butterfly with huge watercolour wings. “You said that. We know that. The meeting is actually about that, as the invitation said.”

Freya manages to soften her horrified expression into something a little more neutral. “We weren’t overly happy with the shop, as we made clear, but we were prepared to live with it, and whatever you were doing there. But actually falling in love with a human?”

“We expected it,” Dara interjects. “We knew it would happen.”

“It was inevitable but disappointing all the same.” Freya arches her eyebrow. “Magic and non-magic just don’t go together.”

“There’s magic everywhere,” Phil says. “If you look for it. You don’t have ownership of it anymore than I do. I’ve found more magic moving to human London than I ever did here.”

“Does he know?” Kester asks.

It appears to be an unrehearsed question, or one that’s been asked at the wrong time. The rest of the council all give him surprised looks. Phil tries to play innocent. “Know what?”

Kester keeps smiling. “Does he know? Your human?”

Phil drops his head. “No. He doesn’t know.” All five look at each other. Freya’s lynx yawns. Phil tries again. “I’m in love with him and I want to give up my powers.”

“There’s no possible way that we can allow that to happen,” says Eamon. His voice is low and melodic, like it’s catching on the wood of the seats around them. “Your powers are unique. To lose them would be a loss to you and to the entire magic community. They are already being wasted.”

“They make people happy,” Phil protests.

“They could be so much more.”

“Then-” Phil closes his eyes, swallows, takes a second. “Then I’m sorry that they didn’t get given to someone else.”

“We have a suggestion,” Garret says. His tone is already apologetic. Phil braces himself for the impact to his heart. “Losing your powers is not an option, so there has to be an alternative. Do you trust this human?”

Phil, instantly, replies, “Yes.”

“Then you must tell him. Everything. The whole truth. What you are. Face to face, don’t try and get around it. You have to tell him. And then, one of two things will happen. One, he accepts it, in which case we wish you luck on this endeavour and hope that your trust in him is not misplaced. We will be content.”

Phil says, “Or?,” and the word comes out of his mouth already broken.

“Or he does not accept it.”

“Doesn’t accept me you mean.”

“Does not accept it,” Garret repeats. “If this is the case, then we politely ask that you create, if that’s the right word, a cake for him. A forgetfulness cake. If you catch our meaning.”

Phil does. Their meaning catches on every tiny crack in his heart and squeezes.

“You will do this,” Eamon says. “The next time that you see him.”

Phil says, “But,” and, “I wanted to give up my-”

“That request has been denied. You will do this the next time that you see him.”

There’s more than a degree of finality in his tone. The conversation, if it was actually a conversation, is over. Garret looks apologetic but the other four start talking amongst themselves. The lynx yawns again. Phil feels a sudden burst of courage, as strong as if he’d just bitten into a sunflower cupcake. “What if I don’t?”

Garret looks half-impressed. “Well, then we will complete it for you. And it won’t be as pleasant as a cake.” There’s a pause where the entire high council stares at Phil and he stares back, hoping they ignore the fact that he’s clasping and unclasping his hands. “You’re dismissed Philip. We’ll be watching.”

“I didn’t want any of this,” Phil says. “I only wanted to have my shop and stay where I was, I never wanted to be gifted, and I don’t see why you can’t just let me be with him. It doesn’t matter to you. It doesn’t matter to anyone except us.”

Freya yawns, exactly like her lynx. “Does he love you?”

Phil, surprised, answers, “Yes,” after too much of a pause.

“Then he will accept you and there’ll be no issue,” she says, with complete confidence.

“You’re dismissed, Philip,” Garret repeats. “We’ll be watching.”

Phil starts, “This isn’t,” and ends, “Fair,” stood outside the main door, looking back at the steel lion’s head. Dismissed against his will. The lion raises an eyebrow. “I wasn’t done. I hadn’t finished.”

“They cast you out?” Martyn observes from behind him. Phil feels his hand, a solid weight between his shoulderblades. “How did it go?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“They told you not to?”

“No. I just- I can’t tell you. If I say it outloud then it turns into something that’s really happening.”

“It’s really happening.” Martyn turns Phil, sets him off back down the corridors. “You don’t have to say anything, but it’s happening.”

*~*~*

Phil isn’t sure of the exact point where he realised that he didn’t have an aura. He’d thought that it had just been that you couldn’t see your own, when it became apparent that all of the people he encountered had no clue what theirs was. But everyone else who has had this gift of his, in the centuries before him, has been able to see their own aura. Bright and glowing in a bathroom mirror. On the strands of their hair in a breeze. The warmness of being constantly caught in light. What a wonderful ability! Garret had said, back in the days when he was Uncle Garret and Phil was still the darling of the council hallways. Being able to see your own aura! I could only dream of such a thing.

What’s yours? Martyn said, jealously. Can you, like, pet it? Or touch it? Can it see you? I wish I could see mine.

Phil hesitated at every reflection he could find, wondering if today was the day that it would reveal itself. A colour or an animal. Either was fine. But there was nothing. Just everyone else, clamouring for attention. An entire zoo of auras, a kaleidoscope, all wanting him to look at them. Or maybe they were just wondering where his aura was.

The gift is broken. It doesn’t work for him. He should be able to return it, with a receipt, a note saying this purchase is faulty. Because the only aura he’d ever wanted to see was his own.

*~*~*

Winston watches Phil enter the shop through the kitchen. Martyn had dropped him off at the back door after a broom ride where Phil had said nothing and Martyn had said are you okay is it okay over and over until Phil had wanted to jump onto the nearest roof just to free himself from this brotherly protectiveness that he doesn’t deserve.

Winston says, “Robes.”

“Robes,” Phil agrees. He makes no movement to open the shop.

“It went well then?”

“It went horribly.” Phil sits down on the kitchen floor. The pans and spoons stare down at him from the counter. “I don’t- I don’t understand why I always have to be made an example of, I don’t know why I always have to be different, I never wanted to be.”

“What did they say?”

“I have to tell him. And if he doesn’t accept it then I have to make him a forgetfulness cake.”

Winston widens his eyes. “If he doesn’t accept-”

“Me. If he doesn’t accept me.”

The spoons clatter in what Phil likes to think is sympathy. He feels tired, so incredibly tired, the inevitability of whatever spell he’d tried to cast around himself and Dan (and he’s terrible at protection spells, he really is) folding out of existence like someone dropping a shade. He’d known it would happen. He’d known from the beginning, he was just pretending, just kidding himself. He’s not meant to have the things that he wants, people aren’t meant to stay around him when there’s a whole world elsewhere.

“There’s a letter,” Winston cuts into Phil’s thoughts. “For you.”

Phil frowns. “I’ve just been there. They can’t have-”

“It’s not from the council.”

The letter is on the main shop counter. It’s really just a piece of notepaper folded over with Phil’s name, or what he thinks is his name, scrawled across the front. He knows who it’s from as he unfolds the note, it takes three goes with his shaking hands, touching his fingertips to the terrible handwriting that he’d once lifted off crossed out music.

sending you a letter. i said i would right. the last person i wrote a letter to was my grandma about twenty years ago and my handwriting hasn’t improved since then. my grandma has a phone by the way, she texts and emails and follows me on twitter and literally everyone in the world has a phone except you. i’m buying you one not being able to speak to you when i want to is the worst thing ever because i always want to speak to you and here i am sending you a letter like we’re in harry potter or something and i’m only doing it to tell you that i miss you. i‘ve never missed anyone the way i miss you. the rehearsals are going okay there’s a really quiet corner that i’m going to get them to put a chair in for you and i’ll literally look at nothing except that one corner when i’m playing. i’ll come to the shop tomorrow is that okay? not that i’d know if it wasn’t because you DON’T HAVE A PHONE but i’ll come to the shop. tomorrow. and i missed you. was pretty much all i wanted to say.

Phil hears a whimper, a sad little noise that’s a gasp caught up in a sob, and realises that it’s from him when it happens again, but louder. “When did he leave this?”

“I think he slid it under the door this morning.” Winston looks concerned. His whiskers are drooping. “He sounded happy, he was talking with some people outside.”

“If I give him forgetfulness then does he forget all of his music? Everything that he’s done?”

“I think,” Winston says, delicately, stepping around every word. “That you could tailor it so that he’d only forget the one thing.”

“So that he’d only forget me.”

Winston doesn’t say anything further. He bows his head. When Phil strokes him he accepts it, despite the fact that Phil rarely pets him anymore, Phil hasn’t treated Winston like a pet since he was a kid, but he feels the need to hold him to his face and push his nose into his fur. Winston puts his paw onto Phil’s cheek and says, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. You said this would happen.”

“This is one of the rare occasions that I’m sorry to be right.”

Phil sniffs. He didn’t realise he was crying until he notices the teardrops in Winston’s coat. “I have to bake something.”

Winston blinks. “Now?”

“It’s important.”

(Martyn, landing not entirely gracefully in the little yard at the back at the shop, had fastened his hand to Phil’s flowing sleeve and said, with deep meaning, “You should have told me. About your aura. I’m your brother.”

Phil looked at Martyn’s aura, happily curled up underneath Martyn’s robes. “Why? What could anyone do?”

“What did they say, the council, when you told them?”

“That not having an aura must be incredibly lonely. And also that it’s probably a sign that I’ll always be alone.”

Martyn looked stricken, like he was taking Phil’s sadness for himself, in handfuls. “You’re not alone.”

“They leave,” Phil said. “After the cakes, after the happiness or the courage or the assertiveness or the joy or anything, they leave. But he didn’t. He never did. He didn’t even eat all of them, but he still stayed for me.”)

Phil puts Dan’s letter and Dan’s invitation right next to the still frozen love.

*~*~*

He bakes a cake. One last cake, just in case, a huge rainbow sponge of happiness, never-ending happiness, the type of happiness that sits neatly in your heart forever, a contentment that Dan deserves, that will stop his sad moods from becoming complete melancholy. He can do this one last thing.

Happiness of that level comes out in multicolour with a vanilla flavouring, the perfect lightness and consistency. Phil covers it all with buttercream, and then tiny shreds of butterscotch scattered across the top. He spins caramel into nests, shapes marshmallows into musical notes. There’s so much happiness in it that he feels like he’ll turn the cake sour just be standing near it, by touching it. Just like what Dan had said about the shop, in the beginning.

Phil wants Dan to be happy. He wants Dan to be happy so badly.

The recipe for forgetfulness makes him slam the potion book shut. Forgetfulness is a pretty sky blue fondant that looks wonderful on everything. Phil thinks he could eat it himself, if he has to give it to Dan. Is forgetting worse or better than remembering but knowing something is lost?

The potions he’s given to Dan are all on turned down pages. Peacefulness: which had helped him play again. Bravery: which had, unbelievably, made him speak to Phil. Calmness: which Dan hadn’t eaten. Calmness: which Phil had brought to Dan just by being himself. Confidence: which had helped get him back into the college but he could have done it by himself.

The music, Rhapsody for Phil, dreamy and lilting. It feels like belonging, Phil. That’s what it feels like. Phil wouldn’t know, would never have identified the emotion because he’s never belonged anywhere unless that somewhere is with Dan.

He just wants Dan to be happy. He wants Dan to be happy so badly.

*~*~*

“That,” Dan says, “Is a huge cake.”

It’s early, earlier than Phil had expected, he hasn’t prepared, he isn’t ready, his apron and hair are askew. Dan, by contrast, looks perfect. Phil wants to catch him in a frame and take him to the council. See? Wouldn’t you want to give up everything for him? Look at him. Phil looks. Dan flushes.

Phil kisses him. He almost takes out the cake with his elbow and Dan isn’t in any way prepared so they click teeth and bump noses, but Phil wouldn’t want it to be different. He wouldn’t change any awkward moment of it. He could have pretended for longer, they could have sat outside at the piano, before he said any of what he’s about to say, but there’s no point. He doesn’t see the need to prolong the slow sad cracking of his heart when he can just smash it all in one go.

“It’s for you.” Phil pushes the rainbow cake along the counter. There’s a wedge cut out of it, ready and waiting on a plate. He passes it to Dan. “Try some.”

Dan looks confused but does so. The confusion melts away into a beautifully blissed out expression. “This is amazing.”

“It’s for you,” Phil repeats, watching Dan eat. “It’ll keep for ages, you can just put it in the fridge and have a slice a day if you wanted.”

“It can keep me going through rehearsals.” Dan plucks up one of the marshmallow notes. “Did you get my letter?”

“Yes. It’s the best letter I’ve ever had.” Phil is aware of how sad his voice sounds. The sad bass notes of the old untuned piano, unable to find the correct tempo or scale. “I’m going to save it.”

Dan hums around his forkful of cake. “Then I’ll write you more.”

“How are the rehearsals?”

“Really good. Surprisingly good. Weird not to be playing in front of your shop but I just pretend you’re there and then it’s fine. It’s better than fine.” He looks up at Phil, through his eyelashes, and Phil thinks he could actually just send forgetfulness cakes to the whole council, every single one of them, or maybe he could just press pause here, somehow, create a place just for him and Dan. Is there a spell for that? There must be. “I missed you.”

“I miss you,” Phil replies.

“Miss me? I’m right here.” Dan finishes his slice, pushes icing around his plate. “How long did this cake even take? Is this why you haven’t been open for, like, four days?”

“Sort of.”

“How was your meeting?”

“Terrible.”

Dan reaches for him. It’s hard around the mountain of cake but Dan manages it, hooks his fingers around Phil’s wrist. “Was it about the shop?”

“No, it was about- it was sort of just about me, in general.”

Dan frowns. “You in general?”

“I have to-” Phil looks at Dan, leant halfway over the counter just so he can be touching Phil in some way. “I have to tell you something.”

“We talked about you saying things ominously, Phil.”

“I don’t mean for it to sound like that but, I just, I have to tell you.”

Dan looks concerned, the line between his eyebrows almost gains another level. A frown on top of a frown. His eyes dart across Phil’s face. “What is it?”

“I should- maybe I should show you instead, and then I could explain properly, once I’ve-”

“Phil,” Dan says. “Please. Just say whatever it is.”

“I’ve been thinking, all day, and yesterday, about how to tell you and-”

Phil. Just tell me, it can’t be that bad.”

“I don’t want-”

“You’re married,” Dan guesses, voice suddenly up several octaves. The moth, previously hidden on his collar, is instantly bird sized. Dan hunches under it. “Your husband’s in the attic with your secret children. The shop’s actually a front for an organised crime gang. You hate the piano.”

“That’s not-”

“Then, just tell me.” The moth throws its wings over Dan’s shoulders. “Otherwise I’m going to believe that all of those things are true.”

Phil stands, disengaging Dan’s fingers from his wrist. “Come into the kitchen.”

“Is that where your secret husband is? Oh my god, is he your assistant? Is he the one making all that noise in there sometimes? Are you going to introduce me to him?” Dan follows Phil towards the kitchen door, slowly, half falling over his own feet. “You want us to meet each other?”

“I don’t have a secret husband,” Phil says. “Or any husband. Or children. The shop is just a shop. And I love the piano, you know I love the piano.”

There’s noise coming from the kitchen, as always. Dan blinks at Phil.

“Let me explain it properly,” Phil tells him. “That’s all.”

He opens the door, steps inside. The shuffling of Dan’s feet follows him and then comes to an abrupt stop. The spoons, jumping around from pan to pan, shake in fright, turn to Phil as if to say a HUMAN!, before throwing themselves back into their drawer. The potion book, open on the counter, closes. All of the ingredients, halfway through measuring, very slowly back against the wall.

Winston, dropping perfect icing petals onto cupcakes, freezes mid motion.

Dan, eloquently, says, “What the fuck.”

“You asked me, about the shop name, you remember?”

“And you said, because my baking’s magic,” Dan half squeaks. When Phil turns to look at him he’s pressed to the doorframe, hands splayed out at his sides. The moth is covering his entire back. “Magic.”

“When I named it I didn’t really-”

“Is this a joke? Are you filming me? Is it going on Youtube or something? How are you doing this stuff?”

“It’s magic,” Phil says. “I’m magic. What I told you, about leaving home, and coming here, it’s because I have a gift, something unusual that people don’t have and everyone had these ideas for what I should do and I didn’t want any of those things, I just wanted to be myself and to have something that was mine.”

“You’re magic,” Dan repeats. “You’re, what, you’re a witch or something? You have an enchanted kitchen that bakes for you?”

Phil says, “Yes,” because there’s nothing else to say.

“You took the crossing outs from my notebooks. You fixed the piano.”

“Yes.”

“The stars are real.”

“Yes. You can have one, you can have all of them.”

Dan’s hands are clenching and unclenching, still pushed against the wall. “Prove it.”

Phil gets his wand. Dan, at the sight of it, releases a huge burst of almost hysterical laughter. The laughter stops when Phil gently casts a whole arch of tiny shooting stars. They dart around the kitchen and, eventually, into Dan’s coat, into his curls, bumping against the backs of his fists. Dan opens one hand, holds it in front of him and watches stars jump from fingertip to fingertip.

The dimples appears, faintly and unsurely, but just about there. Dan pushes one star with his index finger, sending it back towards Phil. Phil, catching it, feels something like hope.

“What’s the gift?” Dan asks.

The hope glides right through Phil’s grasp. “Sorry?”

“You said you had an unusual gift. What is it?”

Phil thinks no no no we were so close, watches the stardust settle on Dan’s hair. “I can read auras. Not many people can. There’s one witch a century or something that can do it. They’re colours, or they’re animals, and that’s why I don’t like crowds, because sometimes it’s too loud, it’s too much for me. They wanted me to go into surveillance because if- if you can see auras then you can-”

“See people’s real emotions,” Dan interrupts, flatly. “What they’re really feeling.”

“I opened the shop so I could help people.”

“Help people? With cake?” Dan’s tone starts confused and then, then, the realisation. His eyes widen. Phil hears, somewhere, the crash of a thousand piano keys, all at once. “What’s in the cakes? Are they magic cakes? What do you-”

“I give people what they’re lacking.”

“What they’re lacking?"

“To help them! It doesn’t change their personalities or anything. Just, like, extra courage, or a really small piece of strength, or calmness, things that they need to help them get something they want or for them to be happy, it’s not permanent, it’s just to give a boost and to give-”

“What have you given me? What am I lacking?”

“You’re not lacking anything, I didn’t mean- you’re perfect, you know you are, I love you, and there’s-”

Dan makes a startled gasping noise. “You’re saying that for the first time now?”

“I mean it. I love you. I loved you straight away, instantly, and I usually just- I’ve never wanted someone to be happy as much as I want you to be happy, and I know, I know it’s hard to understand but it’s not like that, it’s not a-”

“What have you given me?”

“Peacefulness. And then bravery. And calmness, but you didn’t eat that, and confidence, but you didn’t really need it. I just wanted you to be happy.”

“Sometimes people are just sad, Phil, that doesn’t mean that you have to try and fix it, you’re supposed to help them through it and talk to them, and you did all of those things too. You made me happy just by yourself.”

“That’s not usually the case with me.”

Dan looks at him, casts his eyes all over Phil’s face. “What’s my aura?”

“It doesn’t matter what your aura is, it’s just what it represents and-”

“What’s my aura? What’s your aura?”

“I don’t have one.”

The moth, by this point, is huge. The biggest Phil has ever seen it. The tips of its wings are almost grazing the ceiling. Dan says, “You don’t have one?” and all the previous ice in his voice is cracking. “What does that mean?”

“Yours is a moth. It sits on your back and it goes up and down in size and I want, so much, to take it away and let you just stand up straight and-”

“A moth.” Dan spins around, smacks his hands over his shoulders, waves them around his head. It would be funny if Phil wasn’t currently trying to hold himself together. One extra moment, one extra word from Dan and he’s going to shatter completely. “I hate moths. I hate them. Why did you have to tell me that?”

That’s the extra moment Phil was waiting for. “You asked,” he manages. “You asked.”

“You shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t do any of this. People need to make their own choices, you can’t just be like, oh, you ran away from music college and came here to play the piano? Here’s some bravery! Here’s some happiness! You can’t just do that.”

“It’s not like that.”

Dan’s hands are tangled in his own hair, like he can feel the moth somehow. “I’m leaving.”

“You don’t have to leave.”

“This is a lot to-”

“I don’t want you to leave.”

“I don’t want to stay,” Dan says. “Right now. I don’t want to stay. It’s too much for me to deal with. You’re always too much for me to deal with.”

The hope that had fallen through Phil’s hold disappears completely, obliterated by five words. He has to gather everything back up, folds his arms across his chest to keep his emotions in check. “You’ll come back?”

“I don’t know. Can you let me out of the shop please?”

Phil does so, slowly, nothing in him wants to cooperate. He drops the door keys. His traitorous hands clutch at Dan’s sleeve (Dan says Phil, please, this isn’t fair) and hold on, try to cling even as Dan gently shrugs him off. When he unlocks the door the click of the gears sounds final, a full stop, an ending. He never should have tried to convince himself this was a possibility in the first place. “I love you,” he tells Dan. “I’m sorry that this is the first time I’m saying it. But I always was saying it. You just couldn’t hear me.”

“I heard you,” Dan replies. “And whatever cakes you make, whatever cakes you made me, you could never make anything that explains what I feel about you. But you should have let me do all of those things by myself.”

Dan leaves.

The stars fall from the ceiling in the kitchen and in Phil’s flat above, hitting the floor like raindrops.

*~*~*

The council somehow know that it didn’t go well. There’s already a letter waiting when Phil finally goes back upstairs, walking like he’s wading through reeds that keep catching his ankles. The stars have lost their sparkle in the fall (or maybe that’s what happens when wishes get broken). He doesn’t get past the first sentence of the letter before he destroys it, leaving the pieces of parchment in a pile in his sink.

“I’m sorry,” Winston says.

“Why? It’s my fault.”

“It’s no one’s fault.”

The huge rainbow cake stays on the counter, missing only one neat slice.

“I’m not going to open again today.”

“We haven’t opened for about a week now. Haven’t you noticed the people queuing outside?”

Phil doesn’t think he’s capable of noticing anyone who isn’t Dan right now. “I’ll put a sign up.”

“Saying what?”

“I don’t know, Winston, closed due to owner’s terrible decisions. Closed due to owner being useless. Closed due to owner really not being able to focus on anything right now.”

Winston pushes himself against Phil’s hand. Phil pets his head. “It’s really not-”

“They don’t stay,” Phil says. “We know they don’t. They never do. He was never going to be any different. I don’t know why I thought it could be.”

“Because he loves you.”

Phil shakes his head. “He left the cake.”

“Well I don’t think it was really the first thing on his mind.”

“He has to have it,” Phil says. “That was the whole point.”

There’s another letter from the council when he goes into the kitchen. The spoons are still hiding in their drawer, Phil can hear them quivering as he opens up the envelope.

Dear Mr Lester. Thank you for carrying out our request. It may surprise you but we are sorry that it did not go as you would have hoped. We have had much discussion as to whether your human’s reaction is classed as a non acceptance of your gift but must observe that it does seem to be the case, especially if he does not return. We are prepared to allow four further days, to give this potential opportunity a chance, if there is no further action then we must politely ask you to create the forgetfulness cake. As discussed, we will do this ourselves if it is not done by you in the required timeframe.

Phil whispers, “Kindest of regards, The Witches Council. Fancy signature. Ornate wax stamp.”

The invitation to Dan’s recital is still on the menu board, covered with smudges because Phil can’t resist pressing his fingers to it whenever he walks past. Rhapsody for Phil. Played in full for the first time.

*~*~*

Martyn, when he visits, says, “Sorry little brother. I wish it could have gone better.”

There’s no shortbread for Martyn to steal because Phil hasn’t baked for two days. The kitchen lies dormant. The saucepans and the spoons are still.

“What happens next?” Martyn asks, wandering around the shop searching for anything edible.

Phil frowns. “Next? I don’t know- I’ll probably reopen and think about-”

“Not here. With you and the piano player.”

Phil has hung up a Closed Until Further Notice sign which covers most of the glass on the door but you can still see around it, if you kneel down and really focus. He’d seen Dan this morning, caught in a tiny three centimetre gap, walking over to the college. The moth is huge. Dan was hesitant and didn’t stop to speak to anyone. He wasn’t wearing his coat. He hadn’t looked at the shop once. Phil had pushed his forehead against the sign and sighed so hard that it hurt his ribs.

“Nothing,” Phil says. “He left because he wanted to. He chose to. And if he chose it then that’s the right thing.”

“And you’re fine with that?”

“No. I’m very much not fine with that.”

“But you’re just going to stay here. In this same shop on these same streets, exactly like you were before.”

“It’s safest like that.”

“Safe? Safe for who, Phil? He got you out, didn’t he? You were the happiest I’ve seen you ever. You’re not going to fight for that? At all?” Martyn reaches the potion book, starts flicking through the pages. “Safe isn’t always a good thing. Safe sometimes just means scared.” He reaches the page with bravery on it, the page turned down. “You should make yourself this.”

“I made that for Dan.”

“And it helped him play the piano?”

“No. It made him come and speak to me.”

Martyn purses his lips. “And that counts for nothing?”

Peacefulness: which had made him look at Phil properly, made him write a rhapsody. Bravery: which had made him speak to Phil, say everything that he wanted to say. Calmness: which Phil had given to him. Confidence: playing the piano in a sky bar.

“He wrote a rhapsody for me,” Phil says, by way of reply.

“You should probably go and hear it then.”

Saving the quietest corner of a music hall. Standing by the doors of the tube, sitting in far off alcoves of restaurants. Dan always positioning himself to protect Phil from the world. Fingers wrapped around his wrist. The steady drum of moth wings. All of the stars falling when he left.

“What’s the alternative?” Martyn asks. “To stay here, closed off from everything? Is that what you were planning to do? Take a risk, Phil, go and see him, hear your music.”

Phil has only ever taken one risk in his life and that, in itself, had turned into more of a safe option. To run away into a little shop in a quiet street. He’s not an adventurous person, things happen around him rather than to him, he is the instigator of nothing. Is he really going to stand back and watch the council give someone he loves forgetfulness. Is that really a thing that he’s going to let it happen.

Martyn pulls one of the stars up from the carpet and throws it to Phil. “Make a wish.”

*~*~*

The venue is on the South Bank. It takes Phil four tries to walk out of the shop, each time he turns around and walks straight back in. Winston, on the till, says, “Do you want me to come with you?”

Phil’s hands, carrying a box of the leftover happiness cake, are shaking. “No, I have to do it myself.”

“I’ll wait here,” Winston says. “Right here. And when you come back with him I’m going to introduce myself properly.”

“I never mentioned you,” Phil suddenly remembers. “In that whole thing, I never mentioned you.”

Winston shrugs. “You would have messed up my introduction anyway. It’s best that I do it. I’ll be watching for the two of you.”

Phil holds out his fist and lets Winston push his head up and down his knuckles. A gesture that neither of them have done since Phil was a (very socially awkward and lonely) teenager. He runs one finger under Winston’s chin and leaves.

The street is fine, the street is no trouble at all, Phil knows the street, he knows the auras that he’s going to encounter, he knows where to cross when it gets too busy. The tube station is another story completely. Or it’s too many stories all at once. Wave after wave of colours hanging over his head. Cats and dogs and birds and one huge black horse all chattering and clambering for his attention. He gets stuck in the ticket barrier from the Noise of it all and has to be freed by the owner of the horse aura. The horse snuffs impatiently.

The tube, somehow, isn’t as bad. Phil stands in the corner by the doors, curls his body as if Dan is there, as if he’s leaning into his side. He holds his hands behind him so that he won’t use them to cover his ears and looks at a clear spot on the ceiling where none of the auras meet. Someone on the train has a monkey that shrieks for the entire journey but Phil almost doesn’t hear it. He hums, gently, under his breath, sections of music that he’s heard Dan play. When the doors open he lets out a huge gasp of air and takes the stairs to the street two at a time.

He half taps his shirt pocket to say Winston we did it, we took the tube but Winston, of course, isn’t there. Winston is waiting for him in a teacup, probably rehearsing exactly what he’s going to say to Dan when Phil brings him home.

The choice of words makes him stop, almost tripping over a slow moving fox. Bringing Dan home.

The street is busier. There are more birds, but there usually are in the city. Eagles and kestrels and ravens and hummingbirds. Phil doesn’t look up. He clutches the cake box and looks down at his feet, counts his footsteps, the exact amount of paces that he needs to get to Dan.

The music hall is right next to the carousel. The carousel turns out to be even worse than the tube train, a whole pile of gold plated animals, yelling children and then actual animals, crawling all over each other. The sound is awful.

There’s a sign on the hall that says “Closed for rehearsals” and the doors are locked, but none of those things would stop Phil. He magics the doors open, steps inside and, blessedly, closes them behind him.

The only thing he can hear is a piano. And also a whisper of himself. loved it. It was beautiful. It’s like you wrote it for me. I wanted to hold my hands up and catch it. The music stops. There’s the sound of someone mumbling, then the G note being hit four times in succession.

Phil follows the sound down a corridor, then down another one, past a coffee machine and to a chair with Dan’s coat thrown over it. A door saying Rehearsal Room Three. Please knock before entering.

Phil knocks three times. When Dan says, “Yes,” Phil says, “It’s me,” like it’s the first line of something. A slow build into a cadenza.

When he opens the door Dan has stood up from the piano. The room is small. The moth is huge. Its wingspan takes up the entire wall. At the sight of Phil it buzzes and flutters, won’t look anywhere except at him.

Dan says, “I.”

“I brought you the rest of the cake.”

Dan looks confused. “The cake?”

“It’s important that you eat it.”

“Why? What’s in it?”

“Happiness,” Phil says. “The type that you deserve. Like, a slow building happiness that you can keep with you. Because that’s why I do this. Or that’s why I was doing this with you. I just wanted you to be happy, I want you to be happy, so badly, and I’m sorry, it was never about taking away free will or any of that, I just love you, so much and I tried to make a cake for you, a feeling-of-being-loved cake, but it was impossible, it was so-”

Dan says, “I”, again, and then, eventually, “I’ve been thinking about this. About you. I’ve been thinking about nothing else except you.”

“So, please just take it, like I said, you can save it, it’ll last for ages, and-”

“Wait. How did you get here?”

Phil stops. “What?”

“How did you get here?”

“I took the tube.”

Dan smiles. Actually to say Dan smiles is a complete underestimation of whatever Dan’s face does. Dan glows. His dimples are so deep that Phil could put his thumbs into them. “You came here on the tube? By yourself?”

“I stood by the doors. Like we did.”

Dan says, “Phil,” in a helpless, there’s nothing else to say, sort of way. “You hate the tube.”

“But I love you.”

“I don’t need the cake. I don’t need any of your cakes again, I don’t think.”

“Oh.” Phil looks down at the box in his hands. “That’s-”

“I’m already happy. I already know that I’m loved, that you love me, for some amazing reason. I know all of those things. And I can’t make cakes but I can write music, and you heard it, didn’t you? The music.”

“Yes.” Phil’s heart dances, some remains of the hope he’d dropped coming back to life. He grabs it with both hands. “You wrote it for me. You said you did.”

“It’s not magic-”

“It is. It is to me.”

“It’s not magic and it’s still weird that you’re magic, but I think I can deal with it, but, anyway, the music is me saying it back. That you make me happy. That I hope I make you happy, and also-”

“Also?”

“Also that I love you.”

Phil smiles, hopes that his smile looks anywhere near as blinding as Dan’s does. When he looks Dan is a few steps closer and the moth, the moth is-

Phil says, “Wait,” holds Dan’s hand and twirls him, underarm, touches Dan’s hair, his shoulders. “Wait.”

Dan accepts being ruffled. “What?”

“The moth.” Phil combs through Dan’s hair, pulls at Dan’s collar. “The moth’s gone.” He kisses Dan’s temple, pushes his nose against Dan’s cheek. “It’s gone.”

“What does that mean?” Dan asks, somewhere between worried and confused.

“That it’s not dragging you down anymore. It’s gone off your shoulders.”

“I don’t have an aura anymore?”

“Like me!” Phil exclaims. He feels slightly giddy, all his anxiety having bubbled over with nowhere to go. “Exactly like me.”

Dan, looking the same level of giddy, like they could both float away on a cloud, says, “That’s okay then. I wasn’t sure about the idea of a moth on my back anyway.”

“I hated it. It would never stop looking at me.”

Dan shrugs. “I understand where it was coming from.”

They get the tube together, after the cheek kisses had progressed into something more and the cake had been crushed, rainbow sponge all over Phil’s coat, and Dan had whispered can I come home with you? while Phil struggled with the buttons of his shirt and a rehearsal room really wasn’t the best place for this and Phil whispered yes yes yes back.

They stand in the alcove by the doors, Dan in front of Phil, facing him, blocking the rest of the carriage from view. Phil can see the colours of everyone else's’ auras on Dan’s face and touches his hand to the reflection of it. Dan wrinkles his nose and laughs. The sound drowns out every other noise on the carriage. The only music Phil ever wants to hear.

*~*~*

Winston, top hat in hand, says, “Hello!”

Dan lets out a hyena shriek. “The hamster talks! Of course the hamster fucking talks, why wouldn’t-”

“This is Winston.” Winston holds out a paw. Dan shakes it between his index finger and thumb. “He’s my familiar. He helps out in the shop.”

“Of course he does. Hello there.”

The stars are back on the walls. Dan gazes at them, turning and spinning, following a shooting star’s path right up the staircase. Phil coaxes the spoons from the drawers, where they give Dan a (still very wobbly) group bow. He twirls gold from his wand, huge bubbles that Dan bats into the air, shapes musical notes that play perfect pitch when Dan touches them. Despite all of this, Dan still doesn’t take his eyes off Phil.

He sends a letter, before they go to bed, listening to Dan and Winston talking in the main shop. Dear council. He accepts it. He accepts me. I will not be responding to any further letters. Sincerely, Philip Lester. He sends it off on the wind as Dan comes into the kitchen. “Hello.”

“Hello. What was that?”

“Nothing. Just a letter.”

“That you threw into the sky? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that though.” Dan watches the spoons file themselves away. “I wrote you another letter. Yesterday. But I never brought it here.”

“What did it say?”

“I think you can probably guess.”

*~*~*

Winston, in Phil's pocket, says, "I regret the top hat."

Phil, out of the corner of his mouth, whispers, "I told you not to wear it. The bow tie's fancy enough."

"It's an event." Winston sounds horrified. "I have to make an entrance."

"You're going to be in my pocket the entire time, remember?" Winston sighs. "I'll get you food from the buffet, I promise."

Someone on the train has an aura the exact colour of Dan's blush. Phil follows it all the way off the platform and up the steps. His new shoes squeak awkwardly against the floor, his tie (the knot magicked perfectly so he doesn't knock it askew) is the tiniest bit too tight. He clasps and unclasps his hands, drops his Oyster card (the Oyster card Dan had presented to him last week for all of our journeys by the door of the train), retrieves it while also trying not to touch the badger belonging to one of the guards. It's not very elegant. Winston sighs.

"I'm nervous," Phil mumbles as they finally get out onto the street.

"Why are you nervous? Dan isn't nervous."

That's true. Dan hasn't been nervous at all. Phil has heard the music in pieces, little flashes of it while Dan hums to the spoons, whistles to Winston, sings under his breath. He still, even here, even now, isn't sure if he's ready to hear the whole thing at once, in a room full of people. He thinks it might be too much, but the sort of glorious Too Much that's actually just the right amount. Phil thinks he might cry with happiness, cry actual starbursts (because the stars, somehow, are continuing to multiply now that Dan has moved in. They spring up under Phil's feet as he walks through the kitchen, appear under his hand if he touches the wall). Dan says please don't, I'm not sure how I could explain that to people.

"I think he's just excited for me to hear it." Phil walks slowly, avoiding auras and trying not to jolt Winston. "Look, there's the river."

Winston, who has never seen the river because they've never made it this far before, sticks his head (top hat and all) out of Phil's jacket. "Look at us, getting the tube, walking by the river, out in crowds."

Phil smiles. "We could even go out of London next. We could go on a plane."

Winston doesn't answer. His eyes are wide, casting from the carousel to the rows of bars to the river to the fairy lights strewn in all the trees. Phil touches his thumb to his ear, following the curve of his fur. Dan had wanted to come with him, to leave the final rehearsals and drinks and come all the way across London just so that Phil would have company but Phil had said it was okay. The tube is easier. He still has to stand by the doors and he still has to focus all of his gaze onto any empty patch of ceiling that he can find, but it's better. It's even better when Dan's there but then most things are. We can go anywhere you want, Dan says now, always with his eyes trained on Phil's face, always in the alcove by the exit. We can go anywhere.

They have Dan's picture in the foyer of the music hall. He's facing the camera and smiling, hands hovering an inch above the piano keys. His back is straight, not a curve or a hunch in sight. Phil still looks, sometimes, without meaning to, for the glitter of wings on Dan's hair.

"Are you here for Rhapsody for Phil?" one of the ushers asks him.

"Um, I am Phil," Phil replies, awkwardly.

"Oh!" she replies. Her aura is a penguin that looks as surprised as she does. "Come with me, we're saving a seat for you."

The seat is by itself, in the quietest corner. He has his back to a wall and is sat one step up from everyone else, and there's a pillar to his right that almost cuts him off from the rest of the room. He has a perfect view of the stage and, really, it's like it is just him, Dan and the piano. There's a leaflet on his chair that he picks up. A few extra photos and a tiny interview with Dan on the back page. There's only five questions and Dan had worried about his answers so much that the interview had taken four hours over two separate meetings and three locations. Phil lets Winston run up onto his shoulder, where he settles himself and says, "Read it to me."

(he'd said that yesterday morning too, when a letter came from the council. Winston didn't do his council voice or tear the letter. Phil, clearly and slowly, had read Philip. This will be our final correspondence. For all it may surprise you, we are happy that you are happy. Despite our continuing disappointment over your gift we accept your decision and believe the time is right to draw these letters to a close. The letter hadn't exploded. Kindest of regards glowed on the page until the whole thing just gently evaporated.)

The questions are simple. When did you start playing? Why did you start playing? And then, the fifth question, probably asked at the very end of the interview marathon, Who is Phil?

Winston laughs. "Straight to the point. I like it."

The lights dim. Phil sits up a little straighter. When Dan walks out no one applauds because, apparently, that's not the done thing at piano recitals, you only applaud at the end, Phil, don't applaud anywhere else. Dan gives the audience an awkward little wave. He's wearing a silver sequined jacket that looks like every star in the flat fell on him. He sparkles and glitters.

Phil applauds.

He actually makes enough noise for an entire arena of people, watches Dan laugh, delighted and dimpled, taking his place at the piano with nothing on his back. Sheet music with no crossings out. Dan had practised his introduction with the spoons, numerous times, but now he just manages, "Hi, my name is Dan. And that was Phil."

(Who is Phil? Answer: "That's impossible to answer in a sentence. He's just- he's magic".)

The letter from the council had ended with We remember what you said, at our meeting, about there being magic everywhere and you may be right. We are glad that you have found yours. Phil read it to Dan before he walked to college, when he came back at lunchtime, when he came home at the end of the day. "They're glad," he said, over and over. They're glad that I found my magic," while Dan looked confused and said, "But, you already had your magic."

"No, Dan," Phil said, insistently, happily, a happiness that he could never bake, a happiness that he never thought he'd have for his own, watching Dan greet Winston, tap his hands to all the saucepans. "They meant you. I found you. You're my magic."

He sent a tiny gold heart floating across the kitchen, where it planted itself (with a smack) on Dan’s chin. Dan peeled it off, pressed it to his lips, and sent it back, right onto the beauty spot under Phil’s eye, before he stepped closer and replaced it with his mouth.

"And this is a rhapsody for him," Dan finishes. "Probably the first of many. So, uh, thanks." He smiles at Phil, turns slightly so he may as well be playing just for Phil, and begins.