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The Crimson Wand and Cauldron

Chapter Text

“Stop!” Kurt raced forwards, drawing his wand. “Freeze!”

            “He’s too fast!” Monika pulled out her own wand. “Stupefy!” The spell ricocheted off the wall of the alley, and the Aurors all ducked as the jet of red light shot back at them, shattering a window.

            Mike swore, casting his own Stunning Spell after the dark figure. “We’ll have to fix that, later.”

            “That’s your main concern?”

            “Enough!” Erwin shouted, pulling out his wand. “Chasing him isn’t going to work, we’re going to have to corner him. Monika, to the left! Kurt, close in from the right. Mike, you’re with me.”

            “Roger!” Monika and Kurt spilt off in opposite directions, and Mike and Erwin charged forwards.

            Erwin aimed his wand ahead as he continued running. “Levicorpus!

            “Uno reverse!
            Mike yelled as a neon green explosion smelling faintly of singed paper sent Erwin’s jinx shooting back at them. “What the fuck kind of spell was that?”

            Erwin grit his teeth, running harder. “Celeritius!” he cast, and his feet began moving faster, practically spinning as he and Mike rocketed forwards.

            The figure turned a corner, but skidded, faltering as Monika and Kurt appeared from branching alleyways. Before he could take another step, Mike had tackled him, sending both wizards falling to the ground. There was a brief scuffle, ended by Kurt shouting, “Locomotor Mortis!” The man shouted as he fell to the ground, legs snapping together, stiff and immobile.

            “Expelliarmus!” A thin wooden rod flew from the man’s hand, and Monika caught it.

            Mike grunted, flipping the man over and tapping his wrists with his wand. Thin, silver chains appeared from where the wand had made contact with skin, looping around the man’s wrists. They were slender and delicate-looking, but Erwin had been on the receiving end of them in more than a few squabbles, and knew them to be virtually unbreakable.

            Mike grabbed the boy, forcing him to his knees – yes, boy was the right word for it. He was small, smaller than even some of the first-years Erwin had seen at Hogwarts, and, when he raised his head, silver eyes flashing with murderous rage as he glared at Erwin, Erwin decided that there was no way he was older than fifteen. For a moment, he wondered how someone so young ended up on top of the Auror Office’s list, but he banished the thought immediately. It doesn’t matter how old he is. We’ve got him, and that’s all that matters.

            Erwin raised his wand, aiming it at the boy’s face. “Stupefy.” His eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell forwards. Mike grabbed him, hoisting him over his shoulder.

            “Well done,” Erwin said. “All of you.”

            Monika and Klaus nodded, barely-supressed glee in their eyes. “Not a bad mark for the resume, huh?” Klaus commented, tucking his wand into the sheath on his belt. Monika barely bit back a grin as she tucked hers into the pocket of her robes.

            Mike glanced at Erwin, and he nodded. The four wizards twirled on the spot, and, with a small pop, vanished.

 

“Wait, we forgot to fix the window.”

            “The clean-up squad can take care of that.”

            “They were laid off because of budget cuts last week.”

            “Oh, shit.”

 

Levi Kenneth Ackerman. Erwin read through the sheet in front of him. Age 13, no known living relatives. Hogwarts attendance: n/a. Wand: Unregistered, stolen. He frowned, flicking through the next few pages, detailing Ackerman’s crimes (mainly petty theft and robbery, although there had been one count of assault on a Ministry employee that had left the man in St. Mungo’s, and Barnaby Ewe had been missing since last October).

            “Smith.” Erwin turned, putting the docket back on the desk.

            “Nile,” Erwin nodded. “How goes the interrogation?”

            Nile scowled, crossing his arms. “That’s none of your business.”

            Erwin raised an eyebrow. “Well, I hope he starts talking soon.” Nile spluttered as Erwin turned back to the paper. “Are you sure this is right? According to this, he should be a Hogwarts fourth-year come September, but it also says he’s never even set foot in the castle.”

            Nile shrugged, moving to stand by his former friend. “Well, it happens more than most people think. There are some Muggle-borns whose parents never accept the truth or let them leave, and there are some really old pureblood lines that teach the kids at home – something about ‘keeping old spells with the real magic’. Then there are some kids who never get their letters for some reason or another – that’s really rare though.”

            Erwin hummed. “Ackerman. . .” he muttered. “That’s an old family, if I recall correctly. Rather unfortunate in the past few decades, though, I’ve heard. Didn’t their last known heir vanish almost a hundred years ago?” Nile shrugged. “Why wouldn’t Ackerman have gotten his letter?”

            Nile scratched at his beard (Erwin fought down the temptation to jinx it off; it hurt his heart just looking at it – he pitied Marie). “No clue. Exceptional circumstances, I would guess. Anyways,” he snatched the file up. “This isn’t your problem. It’s up for my department to figure out what Ackerman’s keeping.”

            Erwin nodded. “Very well. I’ll see you back at Hogwarts in September, then?”

            Nile scowled. “Unlikely, unless you’ve added History of Magic and Arithmancy to your repertoire.”

            Erwin nodded, expression blank. “You’ve truly given up on the Auror Office then?”

            Nile slammed the folder shut. “Good night, Smith.”

 

Keith set Erwin’s report down. “Excellent work, Smith, Zacharius,” he said. “Although,” he pointed at one part of the paper with the tip of his wand, dragging it across the page, highlighting the sentence. “I’d appreciate it if you could elaborate on this bit. What spell did you say he used on you?”

            Mike exchanged a glance with Erwin, then cleared his throat and said, “Uh, I’m not sure it was a spell – or, at least, not one like I’ve ever heard before.”

            “It was uno reverse, sir,” Erwin said, feeling more than a little ridiculous.

            Keith’s brow grew even more furrowed. “Uno?”

            “It’s a Muggle game, sir,” Mike quickly explained. “Card game. And reverse is a move you can use –” he snapped his jaw shut, turning pink behind his mustache.

            Keith sighed, putting his head in his hands. “At ease, Mike.” He groaned, muttering something under his breath along the lines of ‘stupid-stupid-stupid-why-the-fuck-were-they-sending-him-after-teen-felons-jinxing-his-interns-couldn’t-they-just-throw-him-in-Azkaban-with-the-rest-of-his-line-oh-my-god-this-was-the-worst-career-choice-ever-why’.

            “Sir –” Erwin began.

            “Ah, that’s right,” Keith looked up. “You two need me to fill out your internship forms, right?” His Self-Writing Quill, which, seconds earlier, had been signing large stacks of papers (filled out mostly by Erwin and Mike during the long hours of the night), flew over to two sheets of parchment that had shot over to lay flat on Keith’s desk and began scribbling.

            “Yes, sir,” Erwin said. “But –”

            “Remind me, who were the other interns in your year?” Keith muttered as the quill paused, a small blot forming where the tip pressed to the parchment.

            “Just Flagon Turret, sir,” Erwin replied.

            Keith nodded as the quill resumed its scratching. “Alright. I’ll be seeing you next year, for full-time positions, I hope?”

            Mike nodded, then turned. “Erwin?” he glanced back at his friend. “Smith, you coming?”

            “Give me a moment, Mike.”

            Mike frowned, then shrugged, leaving the office, shutting the door gently behind him.

            Keith glanced up with a frown. “Something troubling you, Erwin?”

            “Just thinking, that’s all.” Keith raised an eyebrow, then gestured at the younger man. “That boy we arrested, Levi Ackerman –” Keith huffed in obvious distaste. “That spell he cast was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.”

            “Yes, well,” Keith shrugged noncommittally. “There are plenty of street jinxes thrown around by wand thieves who’ve never spent a day at Hogwarts. Not every spell in the world can be documented.”

            “Yes,” Erwin said patiently. “I’m aware of that, sir. But his spell – uno reverse – had more power than a regular deflection spell. It was cast differently, too.”

            Keith sighed, rubbing his nose. “What are you getting at, Smith?”

            “I’m just saying,” Erwin said. “That it’d be an awful waste to let talent like that rot in Azkaban, don’t you think?”

            “It doesn’t matter how talented he is,” Keith said. “In fact, that gives the Department of Magical Law Enforcement even more reason to throw him into that fortress. It’s risky to let someone that powerful wander about unchecked – and without a moral compass.”

            “More crimes are born of poverty than people are willing to admit,” Erwin said. “In fact, a survey done in –”

            “What are you getting at, Erwin?” Keith asked. “Are you asking me to release Levi Ackerman? You know as well as I do that that just isn’t possible.”

            “Not release,” Erwin said. “I agree, that’s not an option. But the Ministry has laws regarding the arrests of underaged wizards, doesn’t it?”

            Keith looked up. “Erwin, what did you really want to talk about?”

            Erwin’s eyes flashed. “A proposal.”

Chapter Text

“Gooooooooood morning, boys!” Hange crowed, leaping into the kitchen. “How go the future Aurors?”

            Mike grunted, downing a cup of tea irritably, and Erwin just nodded, eyes ringed with dark circles.

            “Woah,” Hange frowned. “You two look worse than me, and I spent the summer scraping out bedpans and draining pus.”

            “Merlin’s pants, Hange!” Mike shouted, dropping his coffee mug on the table, spilling a few drops over the side. “We’re eating!”

            “Somebody’s grumpy,” Hange muttered, sitting down and crooking a finger at the coffee mug, which flew over and began pouring into a mug that slid itself under the spout. “Up late?”

            “Paperwork,” Mike muttered. “So much fucking paperwork.”

            “Who did you catch?” Hange asked as the cream pitcher tipped into their coffee.

            “Some kid, Levi Ackerman,” Mike muttered. “Big deal, apparently.”

            “Well, good on you!” Hange declared, smacking him on the back. Mike grunted, putting his head on the counter.

            “How was St. Mungo’s, Hange?” Erwin asked, changing the subject.

            Hange waved an airy hand. “Oh, nothing interesting. Learned a few new healing spells, chatted with some portraits, pus, bedpans, et cetera, et cetera. Nothing as interesting as catching a felon.” Mike grunted again.

            “Anyways!” they clapped their hands together. “What say you about traversing into Diagon Alley today, hmm?” With a flourish, they reached behind them, producing three heavy parchment envelopes bearing the Hogwarts coat of arms. “Our letters came today! Quite a few new books, too. . .”

            Erwin glanced at his watch. “That’s not a bad idea,” he said. “Mike, you up for it?”

            Mike grumbled. Exchanging looks, his friends grabbed his arms, dragging him out the door as he complained profusely.

 

“My, my, Erwin!” Madam Malkin declared, pinning the ends of Erwin’s sleeves. “You’ve grown quite a bit over the summer, haven’t you? Mike, too. Taller, stockier. . . why I’ll have to prepare completely new sizes of robes just for you boys!”

            Erwin chuckled. “You flatter me, Madam Malkin.”

            “It’s all the Auror training,” Hange crooned as Madam Malkin’s assistant, a chubby, redheaded wizard, took their measurements. “Turns them into oxes, it does!”

            “Thanks, Hange,” Erwin said dully. Hange stuck their tongue out at him.

            “Charming as always, Zoë, dear,” Madam Malkin chuckled, tapping the end of Erwin’s sleeve. “Multicorfors!” The thread unravelled, stitching itself back into the fabric to create the proper length. “Dress robes, dears?”

            “You know me, Ms. M,” Hange grinned.

            “Thank you, Madam,” Erwin said as Madam Malkin waved her wand, making the robes spiral over his head and lay themselves lie neatly on a nearby table.

            “My pleasure, dears,” she smiled. “Flegel, I think you’re nearly done with Mx. Zoë, there. Just add their House crests to the robes, here, will you, while I get the material for the dress robes? I think I’ll be able to tailor a Muggle suit for you this year, Hange,” she added as she thumbed through a stack of fabric. “Some black and maroon, I think it’ll go wonderfully with your eyes. And I’ve found some nice army green for you, Erwin. It would suit you, I think.”

            “You know best, Madam M.,” Erwin said as a sheet of green silk wrapped around him and a pair of scissors began snipping at it.

            “Oh, lay off the flattery,” she scoffed, waving her hand. “I’m not some authority figure you need to sweet-talk. Now, where’s Mike –?”

            Silence fell, broken by Hange snickering.

            Mike lay on the bench, half-buried in Hange’s countless shopping bags, Erwin’s hoodie bunched up under his head, snoring like a baby.

 

Hange tapped their wand experimentally against their new cauldron.

            “Lay off, Hange,” Mike called from the couch, lying across it, feet hooked off the end, as he made his bowl of popcorn hover over his face, holding his wand lazily.

            “But the advertisement said that it changes color according to the caster’s mood!” Hange protested. “The charm’s just not working!”

            “Hange, you got that from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes,” Erwin said, glancing up from his book as he sat at the kitchen island. “It’s not exactly a complex spell.”

            Hange put their hand to their chest, making a mock-offended noise. “How dare you!” they protested. “I’ll have you know that joke magic is extremely elaborate! Do you know how long it took me to spell that mushroom between Mike’s buttocks –”

            “Wait, that was you?

            “Who else?”

            “How did you even get into my common room?!”

            “Oh, Erwin!” Hange trilled, reaching into the mail bowl. “I forgot – this came for you earlier, with the school letters.” They produced an envelope of thin, Muggle paper, a stamp in the top corner and his name and their address printed neatly on the front. He took it with a frown, flipping it over, slitting the top with his wand. There was a small pop! and they yelped, jumping a bit in their seat as the dark metal of the cauldron flashed bright yellow. “Aha!”

            “What is it?” Mike asked, glancing over at them as Erwin unfolded the sheet of paper (Typed out and printed, with a signature scribbled at the bottom in blue ballpoint pen. Not a quill – ballpoint pen).

            “Azkaban administration,” he muttered, skimming through it.

            Hange choked on air and Mike shouted profanities as the bowl of popcorn crashed onto his face.

            “Episkey!” he gasped thickly, and there was a small snapping noise as his nose leapt back into place. “What?” he sat up, waving his wand at the shattered bowl and scattered popcorn.

            “Azkaban administration,” Erwin repeated as the glass and kernels gathered themselves up, flying into the bin, and a rag drifted over, wiping the grease from the ground. “It’s about Levi Ackerman,” he added.

            “I thought we were done with the brat,” Mike said, batting the rag away as it attempted to scrub at his mustache, which it seemed to have deemed a dangerous health hazard. “Did we forget paperwork or something?”

            “No, it’s just for me,” Erwin stood up, picking up his mug. “Sorry – I’ll be in my room.”

            “Erwin – Erwin, wait!” Hange called after him as he moved down the hallway as quick as he could, the door closing quietly beside him. He sat at his desk (the lamp flicked on by itself).

 

Dear Mr. Smith,

 

After lengthy consideration, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has decided to approve the proposal you had input to Mr. Keith Shadis, Head of the Auror Office. Mr. Shadis has spoken very highly of both you and your skills, and we believe that that, along with your experience in the Auror Office, qualifies you to serve as Mr. Ackerman’s handler during his time at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

            Naturally, this is no light task, and precautions will be taken to ensure that Mr. Ackerman will be secured during the school year. While the Sorting of students into their Houses is traditional, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement believes that it would be safer for all involved parties to have Ackerman join your house, as well as all your classes, upon beginning the school year. Further details will be given by Deputy Headmaster, Professor Filius Flitwick, upon re-entering the castle for the new school year.

            Please note that, should anything even bordering unlawful occur during the school year, both you and Mr. Ackerman will be expelled and sent to Azkaban.

 

Sincerely,

Dot Pixis, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Order of Merlin, First Class

 

At the bottom of the letter, a handwritten note, in the same blue ballpoint pen, had been written.

 

Ever the gambler, aren’t you?

 

Erwin breathed out slowly, placing the letter back on his desk and resting his head in his hands. He chuckled, rubbing his nose.

            Levi Ackerman. . . who are you, and what are you hiding?

Chapter Text

Erwin slid into the seat in the empty compartment with a small sigh. He rubbed his scratched hands ruefully, glaring at the barn owl perched in the cage on the overheads. The bird peered back with an equally grumpy look, golden eyes baleful.

            “Don’t give me that look,” he grumbled. “I didn’t ask for this either.” In fact, he was almost entirely positive that Titan – the runt of his cousin Zacharius’ own owl’s litter, and, by far, the most temperamental – had been gifted to him solely for the sake of spiting him, and for his cousin’s amusement.

            Titan clacked his beak, hooting irritably. Erwin scowled, looking back at the gashes on his hands and wrists. He’d hurriedly slapped a number of Band-Aids over them before leaping onto the train, but they were still bleeding.

            He jumped as the door suddenly thrown open, the glass rattling in the frame as it slammed in its frame. Titan hooted in alarm, flapping his wings, rattling the bars of the cage. “Egads!” A wild-eyed, messy-haired. . . person stood in the doorframe, grinning manically. A larger boy stood behind them, blond hair brushed over his eyes, a long, twisted stick in one hand. “Mike! Another first-year!” The boy, Mike, sniffed, large nose twitching. “Greetings, friend!” The person flicked their hand, still grinning. “Mind if we slide in? The other compartments are all full.”

            Erwin simply nodded, watching as the person flopped down across from them and the boy, Mike, lifted their trunks, as well as a cage containing a sleeping cat and a cardboard box with holes poked in the lid, onto the overhead compartment. Erwin had been told for his almost time about how lifelong bonds were formed on the Hogwarts Express. If this was going to be his company for the rest of his life, he wasn’t feeling optimistic. He didn’t care – he’d never really minded who his friends were, so long as they were interesting. And these two certainly seemed to fit the bill.

            “Ah, yes!” the person held out their hand. “Introductions! My name’s Hange Zoë, and that there’s Mike Zacharius!” Mike nodded, slipping into the seat next to Erwin with another sniff. “And, before you ask, I am neither male nor female. Don’t bother asking me about my original biology, but just know that I tried giving myself boobs once and failed miserably.”

            Erwin raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t human Transfiguration spells dangerous without proper training?”

            “Yup!” they declared cheerfully. “They were the size of beach balls before I could shrink them. . .”

            Erwin nodded, deciding some things were best left unknown. “Erwin,” he held out a hand. “Smith.” Hange shook his hand with such vigour that, for a moment, Erwin feared they’d tear his hand right out.

            “What’s this?” Hange suddenly had Erwin’s hand in an iron grip, and had brought it close to their face, peering through their glasses (held to their face with a neon strap) at the red-stained band-aids. “Incident with a sharp object?”

            “Somewhat.” Erwin shot a rueful glance at the cage over Hange’s head, where Titan perched, hooting triumphantly. “My owl, Titan.”

            “I see!” Hange crowed, strangely delighted at the sight of the wound. “May I?” They brandished, to Erwin’s surprise, not a wand, but, rather, the long branch they’d laid on the seat, which Erwin now saw to be a staff. Leather twine was wrapped around parts of it, various feathers and small bones tucked into them, with a small bundle of even more bones hanging from the curved end, right over what looked like a small ram skull embedded into the wood. A yellow crystal, glowing and pulsing with a strange light, hovered over the skull, bobbing slightly but staying with the staff.

            “Don’t worry,” Hange assured, holding the staff up again. “It’s safe – suits the whole ‘witch doctor’ thing, don’t you think? Works just like a wand – vine wood, dragon heartstring core. I’ll just fix up your cuts, yeah?”

            Erwin frowned, eyes still following the glowing crystal. “Isn’t underage magic illegal?”

            They winked. “Well, who’ll know?” And, without another word, they tapped Erwin’s hands, brushing his knuckles with the skull. “Episkey!

            Erwin held back a yelp as his hands suddenly burned white-hot. Hange unceremoniously ripped away his Band-Aids and grinned, showing him his hands, which were unmarked and unblemished, as if he’d never been scratched at all. Titan gave a forlorn coo.

            “Well, Erwin,” Hange grinned. “I suppose we’ll be friends now, no?”

            Erwin glanced at Mike, who’d yet to say a word. He sniffed, and Erwin chuckled.

            “I guess so.”

 

“Man!” Hange groaned, shoving their trunk into the rack over their seat. “Interning was cool and all, but hell, did it take a long time!” They flopped onto their seat, blowing a strand of hair out of their eyes. “I was trapped in St. Mungo’s all summer!” Their toad, a large, ugly brown one, affectionately dubbed Sawney by the doting Hange, that both Erwin and Mike hated with a passion, leapt onto their lap, croaking sullenly.

            Mike shuddered, scooting closer to the window as Sawney shot him a baleful look. “Guess so.” His tabby stared at Sawney from within his carrier, wearing a look nearly identical to his master.

            Erwin glanced at his watch as the train began moving. “What’s up, Erwin?” Mike asked.

            “Nothing,” he said, tucking his hand in his pocket. “So, N.E.W.T. year,” he said, changing the subject. “Should be interesting, huh?”

            Mike and Hange both groaned. “Don’t remind me,” they sighed, and Sawney croaked, long and loud (Mike made a horrified noise). “I don’t even want to think about it!” They slapped their cheeks. “Damnit – now I’m thinking about it!”

            “D.A.D.A. is gonna suck arse,” Mike declared, pressing his head to the window, watching the countryside zoom by. “Kruger’s gonna pound us into the ground.”

            “Don’t remind me,” Hange sighed, rubbing their forehead. “Oh, man, Transfiguration. I just hope Gross doesn’t go off on a million tangents again.”

            “Good luck,” Mike sighed. “You know, for a guy who hates magic so much, he sure loves talking about it.”

            Hange snickered. “Oh, but I won’t have to suffer as much as you – at least I can actually do something with Alchemy. But you, Mike. . . Muggle Music, really?”

            “My mother liked Turandot!” Mike squawked indignantly. “And I was the lead in last year’s musical!”

            “Yes, you were a great Veronica,” Hange chortled, then began singing in a high falsetto. “Slap me, pull my hair, touch me there, and there, and there –"

            “You don’t have much room to talk, you took Divination for two years!” he snapped. They laughed as he chuckled his balled-up jumper at them. “Why don’t you pick on Erwin for once, huh?”

            Hange shrugged, leaning back in their seat and petting Sawney (he croaked happily, and Mike shuddered, running his hands over the goosebumps springing up over his arms). “Well, I would, but he’s just so perfect, I can’t find anything wrong –”

            “He’s taking Magical Theory! Magical fucking theory!

            “— can’t really find anything wrong with prefects these days –”

            “We’re all prefects, dumbass!

            “— and a Quidditch Captain, too.”

            “I’mtheHufflepuffcaptainwhatdoyoumean.”

 

Erwin ran a hand through his hair as Mike wrung out the sleeves of his sodden robes and Hange dried out their cloak with waves of heat from their staff. “Just our luck, heh?” Mike commented, siphoning the water from his mustache with the tip of his wand. “Always raining on the first day, isn’t it?”

            Hange nudged him with their shoulder. “It’s tradition, Mike! Tradition!”

            Mike tugged the pointed hood of their robes over their head. “Go poke at a chimera or something, Ravenclaw.”

            “Go make kissy eyes at Nanaba or something, Hufflepuff.”

            “Ahem!” Erwin turned around from watching Mike give Hange an aggressive noogie while holding them in a headlock.

            “Professer Flitwick!” Mike dropped Hange, who landed on the ground with a squawk.

            Flitwick was obviously holding back a chuckle. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t break my prefect before they even had a chance to harass Mr. Berner, Zacharius.”

            “Moblit!” Hange leapt to their feet. “Of course! I didn’t even see him on the train!” They rocketed off, sending a very shocked group of second-year girls flying to the side, the doors to the Great Hall banging against the walls as they tore into the room, screaming at the top of their lungs. “Mooobbbllliiittt!” A shocked screech and peals of laughter confirmed that they’d found their target.

            Mike snorted into his fist, and Erwin chuckled. Flitwick looked amused as he nodded at Mike. “Go on, then, Zacharius. I need a word in private with Smith, here.”

            Mike raised an eyebrow at Erwin, then shrugged. “Yes, sir!” He saluted sharply, slamming a fist over his heart. “Don’t get detention without me!” he hissed at Erwin before jogging into the Hall.

            “Sir,” Erwin said respectfully to Flitwick, who looked like he was holding back a laugh. “Is this about the new student?”

            “Ah, yes.” The tiny Charm’s Master’s smile vanished almost immediately. “He’s in the dungeons with Professor Longbottom right now.”

 

Levi Ackerman was no larger than the last time Erwin had seen him, though he did look to be in a better state. His hair, which had been long and stringy when they’d caught him, had been shaved into the buzzcut all Azkaban prisoners wore. He was dressed in a set of plain black robes, the Slytherin crest stitched over the breast, and he had a pair of sturdy black boots on underneath. He was, however, still wearing a set of handcuffs, practically pulsing with the amount of charms and spells that had been cast on them, and he was staring moodily into the corner of the room as he sat on a chair in front of the fire, kicking his feet. Professor Longbottom stood behind him, wand aimed at the back of his head. He shot a quick, stiff nod in Flitwick and Erwin’s direction, not taking his eyes off Ackerman.

            “Thank you, Neville,” Flitwick said. “You may go now.”

            “Yes, sir.” Longbottom pocketed his wand and left the room, giving Erwin a quick squeeze on the shoulder as he did so. “Good luck,” he muttered in his ear.

            Flitwick turned to Ackerman, clasping his hands behind his back. “Levi Ackerman,” he nodded cordially. “How do you do?”

            Ackerman finally turned his gaze to Flitwick. “No worse than ten minutes ago, when you asked me the same question,” he said. Erwin was suddenly struck by how different his voice sounded – much deeper and colder than any thirteen-year old’s should be, but strangely melodic at the same time. “Yeah, I’m having the time of my life, chained up in a filthy dungeon, with about fifty spells cast on my arse.” His voice dripped with sarcasm.

            “I don’t think we need to remind you that you’ve been offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Flitwick said, carrying on in his high, squeaky voice as if he hadn’t heard the boy speak. “Now, here’s what’s going to happen. Ackerman, normally, had you attended Hogwarts the normal way –” the boy scoffed.”— you’d have been sorted into your House on your first day. Now, while there has never been a student that’s ever attended the school who hasn’t been sorted, I think we can make an exception for this, well, exceptional case. You, Ackerman, will be joining Erwin’s house, as well as all his classes.” Ackerman raised his face, meeting Erwin’s eyes. A flash of recognition crossed his face, quickly replaced by a dark scowl. “Now, this may serve as a great challenge to you, as you’ve never received a formal magical education, but I think we can both agree that it’s better than Azkaban.”

            “I don’t know,” Ackerman drawled. “At least Azkaban was clean.”

            For the first time, Flitwick showed a sign of annoyance, a slight scowl crossing his face. He tapped the cuffs around Ackerman’s wrists, and they fell off, vanishing before they hit the floor. “Stand up, and link hands.” For a moment, Erwin was sorely tempted to say no (Ackerman looked ready to bite his head off), but he held out his hand anyways. Ackerman narrowed his eyes, and, for the briefest fraction of a second, Erwin was certain he was going to knock both other men over and make a run for it. Instead, he took Erwin’s hand, the image of reluctance, scowling all the while. Flitwick raised his wand, tapping their interlocked hands. “Fiducieli!

            Erwin resisted a small gasp as a sudden, flaring heat burst up in his chest and hand. Judging by the slight tightening and twitch of Ackerman’s hand, he’d felt it too.

            “That,” Flitwick lowered his wand. “Was the most powerful Bonding Spell known to wizardkind as of right now. A variation of the Unbreakable Vow –” Ackerman twitched subtly, but made no other movement. Erwin’s eyes narrowed. “— but much less extreme. Ackerman, that spell will make it so that Smith will be able to locate you, no matter where you are. Erwin, should you ever need to find Ackerman, simply cast fiducielum –” he flicked his wand. “And you will be led to him. Now,” he clapped his hands together. “I do believe that that’s enough for now, don’t you?”

            Neither student said a word. “Well,” Flitwick glanced at his watch. “Why don’t you boys head upstairs, now? If I’m correct, then I do believe that you’re still in time for pudding.”

Chapter Text

Erwin slid into his seat at the House table, Ackerman trailing after him like a lost puppy (although the expression on his face was closer to an angry wolverine).

            “This is the Slytherin table,” he said, nodding at the long table. “And this is the other prefect, Rico Brzenska.” The silver-haired girl glanced at them.

            “Smith,” she nodded, glancing at Ackerman, who still hadn’t said anything. “Who’s this?”

            “New student.” Rico raised her eyebrows, but didn’t say anything, just shrugged and turned back to her tiramisu.

            Ackerman looked up and down the table, scanning the faces of the students, old and new, talking and laughing as they ate their desserts.

            “Pudding?” he offered, nodding at the table. “Spotted dick?”

            Ackerman’s silver eyes slid over to him and, slowly, he shook his head.

            Erwin frowned, but made no comment, taking a sip of pumpkin juice. He looked up, spotting Hange and Mike at their respective tables across the Hall. Mike’s jaw was hanging open, his jelly sliding off his spoon as he stared at them, eyes wide, and Hange’s gaze was leaping between Erwin, Mike, and Ackerman, slowly connecting the dots.

            I’ll explain later, Erwin mouthed.

            You fucking better, Mike mouthed back.

            The chatter in the hall died down as Professor McGonagall stood up, clearing her throat. “Good afternoon!” she declared. “To our students, old and new, welcome back, or to Hogwarts!” A round of cheering and clapping followed her words. “Now,” she said, voice clipped and stern. “Announcements. Mr. Filch has requested I inform you that seventy-eight new items have been added to the list of banned magical objects, copies of which have been posted in significant areas all over the school.” Her voice made it clear how ridiculous she found Filch’s attitude. “As well as a friendly reminder that Hallway Quidditch is not a sport, and should not be played under any circumstance.”

            Across the room, Mike coughed into his fist, and Hange whistled innocently. Erwin bit back a smirk as Rico rolled her eyes.

            “As always, the Forbidden Forest is exactly that – forbidden, as are any Limb-Servering Jinxes purchased from the joke shop Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.” A few giggles and hurried patting of pockets were heard across the hall. “Auditions for this year’s Frog Choir and orchestra will take place next Tuesday, after dinner, and signups for all other clubs will be posted on the House notice boards within the following week. Please remember that, though Hogwarts offers a number of different clubs, it is not physically possible for students to attend every single one of them, so, please, choose seven, at the very most. And, now,” she clapped her hands together sharply, and a few people jumped. “I do believe it is well past many bedtimes. Off you go, now!”

            Rico leapt to her feet as the other students began getting up. “First-years!” she shouted. “Slytherin first-years, over here!” She clapped, and waved her hand. “All Slytherin first-years, follow me to the common room!”

            Erwin stayed behind, watching as Ackerman stood, gazing around the hall, looking, not wonderous, as any other person setting foot in Hogwarts for the first time would, but, rather, bored. Completely and utterly uninterested, as if he would rather be anywhere else then there.

            “You’ll be staying in my dorm,” he told Ackerman. By sheer chance, he was the only person in the seventh-year Slytherin dorm – there had been more students when he’d first arrived at school, but they’d all gradually left: Jay McEnroe had been taken out of school during their first year after he’d encountered an aggressive cockatrice (as far as Erwin knew, he was still a chunk of marble being poked at in St. Mungo’s); Jeffrey Link had been taken out after his mother had been found dead in an alleyway in their second year; Matthew Row had died after sneaking onto the battlefield during the Battle of Hogwarts during their third year, and Marcus Selwyn and Alex Macnair had vanished with their families after the very same battle. Erwin had been the only one left, and, consequently, had spent the past three years alone in the dorm – not that he minded.

            “No, shit, Sherlock,” he raised his eyebrows as Ackerman spoke to him for the first time. “Aren’t you supposed to be keeping an eye on me at all times?”

            “Yes,” Erwin replied calmly as the last few people began trickling out of the Hall. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be acting as your jailer.” Ackerman raised an eyebrow, still not looking directly at him. “You’re still going to be a student,” he said. “Just with a few more rules than the others.”

            Ackerman snorted. “Like me not being able to carry a wand? Yeah, that’s normal.”

            Erwin had been expecting it, but he was still surprised. “It’s understandable – I’m sure you’re going to get one soon. It’s not like you’re going to have to do much spellwork – you’re being forced into a seventh-year class right after coming into Hogwarts, I’m sure it’ll be difficult –”

            Suddenly, he’d been pulled down, forced to eye-level with the smaller boy. “As if,” the boy snarled. “Listen, if I’m gonna be here, then I’m gonna do shit, got it? I’m gonna be the goddamn best, and you can deal with that.” He let go of Erwin, turning and storming out of the Hall after the other Slytherins.

            Erwin watched as he marched out, straightening his collar. Interesting.

 

Erwin sat on his bed, watching as Ackerman walked around the room, looking around at the stone walls, casting his glance over Erwin’s Quidditch posters, Muggle boy band collectible photos, and the various moving photos and newspaper clippings.

            “Dark Lord fan?” he commented blandly, looking at a cluster of clippings from 1998. “Budding Death Eater?”

            “Of course not,” Erwin said. “You’ll find plenty of people were interested in that particular period of time. Ackerman didn’t reply, flopping onto the bed furthest from Erwin (Link’s).

            Ackerman watched as Erwin, Hange, and Mike nudged each other, laughing, at the top of the Tower of London. “So,” he said. “Slythering prefect and Quidditch Captain. . . Head Boy, too.” His gaze slid over to the older boy. “Hopeful Auror, too.”

            Erwin matched Ackerman’s gaze calmly. “House stereotypes don’t define people,” he replied coolly.

            “No, of course not,” Ackerman said, a hint of sarcasm in his tone. “Cunning, ambitious, creative, resourceful. . . you’re not any of that at all.”

            “A bit of ambition never hurt anyone.”

            “A seventh-year intern, already confidant of the Head of the Auror office, taking in a known felon?” Ackerman snorted. “Don’t make me laugh. If that’s not ambition, I don’t know what is. Quite a bit of cunning and resourcefulness too. . .”

            “I believe,” Erwin said. “Everybody should have the right to education –”

            The fist came flying out of nowhere, and Erwin dove to the ground, barely avoiding getting his ear clipped as Ackerman lunged at him. The two grappled on the ground for a few minutes before Erwin was finally able to yank his wand from the pockets of his robes and choke out a “Petrificulus Totalus!” Ackerman froze solid, and Erwin detangled himself.

            “What the hell?” he rubbed his shoulder where Ackerman had got in a punch, waving his wand to release the boy.

            “Stop spewing shit,” Ackerman said, standing up. “Don’t try to pass this off as some community service project. What are you actually looking for? A promotion? Pretty thing to hang onto your arm at parties? Quick fuck?”

            “Don’t be ridiculous,” Erwin growled. “I –” he clamped his jaw shut. Ackerman raised an eyebrow. Erwin noticed, for the first time, the color of his eyes – he’d known they were silver, but hadn’t noticed their true brightness until now. For a moment, they almost looked like the glow of a Patronus. “I’m interested,” he said. “That spell you cast, uno reverse –” Ackerman’s eyes narrowed. “It was like nothing I’ve seen before.”

            “So, what?” Ackerman asked. “You’re out to publish it in some journal and take credit?”

            “No,” Erwin said. “I’m rather interested in Magical Theory myself, and the creation of spells has always been a personal intrigue of mine.”

            “That’s fucking stupid,” Ackerman said. “Like I’d believe that.”

            “Well, I don’t have any Veritaserum on hand right now, so you’re going to have to believe me,” Erwin said. “I don’t have any ulterior motives. I swear.”

            Ackerman’s eyes flashed. “So I’m your project?”

            “If that’s how you choose to see it.”

Chapter Text

When Erwin wakes up, Ackerman is already sitting up, wearing his uniform, cloak draped loosely over his shoulders, and staring at Erwin.

            “Good morning,” Erwin said, sitting up, rubbing his eyes and running a hand through his hair. Ackerman didn’t reply.

            Erwin changed quickly, back turned to Ackerman (readjusting to sharing a room with another person had been tougher than he’d thought). When Erwin turned around, buckling his belt, Ackerman was staring out the window, watching as a group of grindylows swam by, flipping him the bird as they did so, sneering. Erwin’s eyes lingered, for a moment, on Ackerman’s collar, which had been flipped up, but didn’t take note of it.

            “Ackerman,” Erwin said. Ackerman didn’t move, but his eyes flicked over to the older boy. “How much –”

            “I have a name, you know, Smith,” Ackerman snapped. “And it’s not fucking Ackerman.”

            Erwin raised an eyebrow. “Alright, Levi,” he said. The boy sniffed. “How much magic do you know?”

            “Enough to put your N.E.W.T. arse to shame,” Levi said.

            Erwin raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything as he finished tugging on his boots and tossing his cloak over his shoulders.

 

Hange wasted no time finding them at breakfast, charging through the Great Hall towards their table like a small hurricane, leaving a wake of destruction in their wake. They slammed their hands down on the surface of the small table, breathing heavily (the House tables had vanished overnight, replaced by the small, round communal tables and the long buffet table stretching down the entire Hall against one wall).

            “You!” they pointed at Erwin, panting as if they’d just run a marathon (well, considering how far Ravenclaw Tower was from the Great Hall, that may well have been true. . .). “Have a lot of explaining to do, sirrah!” Today, they had exchanged their black school robes for the basic uniform, grey sweater with the Ravenclaw colors and crest tugged over a simple white shirt, boots laced over grey dress pants (although Erwin noticed that they’d looped their thick, heavy belt over their shoulder and across their body, not unlike a Muggle ammo belt, their staff tucked into the back).

            “And you!” they pointed at Levi, who raised an eyebrow. They suddenly beamed, eyes flashing behind their glasses. “Welcome to Hogwarts!” They plopped down next to Levi, who stared at them, seemingly debating between his fight-or-flight instincts.

            “So,” Hange suddenly leaned closer, and Levi raised an eyebrow. “Erwin tells me you have a very special brand of magic, hm?”

            Levi shot Erwin a glare. “Yeah,” he muttered, shuffling away. “The kind of magic that prefers not to be here.”

            Hange laughed, patting him hard on the shoulder, and Levi looked, for a moment, shocked. “I like you!” they declared.

            Levi suddenly looked up, and Erwin glanced over his shoulder as three trays landed on the table. Mike tucked his wand back into the pocket of his robes, sitting down next to Erwin. Levi met his gaze unflinchingly, casually grabbing an apple off a tray and taking a bite.

            Mike scowled. “And what if I’d poisoned that, knowing you’d grab it?”

            Levi swallowed very deliberately. He nodded at Mike’s hands. “Those aren’t the hands of a delicate potioneer – you don’t have the skills to stick something untraceable in here.”

            Mike’s scowl deepened, and Hange snickered into their hand, dragging their tray towards them. Erwin raised an eyebrow. Levi had hit the mark: Mike’s worst subject was Potion, with Slughorn only very reluctantly accepting him into the N.E.W.T. class.

            “And, besides,” Levi added. “That’s the tray you were going to give to four-eyes.”

 

It took nearly all of breakfast to explain the situation to Mike and Hange. Levi himself didn’t speak for the rest of the meal, simply eating his apple slowly, following Flitwick as he walked around the Hall, handing students timetables.

            “Ah, my favorite troublemakers!” he greeted as he walked towards the table. “Now, Zoë,” he surveyed a timetable. “Potions, Herbology, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Charms, and Transfiguration for your main courses, and Alchemy, yes?”

            “Sir, yes, sir!” Hange grinned, slamming a fist over their chest

            “Very well, that works,” Flitwick handed them the timetable. “Do make sure to apologize to Professor Fizzlehop about his cat, will you?”

            “I didn’t mean to transmute her into an orange!”

            “Smith,” Flitwick placed two timetables on the table as Mike laughed at Hange. “You and Mr. Ackerman are going to have the same classes, as previously discussed. And you, Ackerman,” he added, and Levi glanced up. “Do make sure to behave yourself.”

            Levi rolled his eyes as Flitwick turned to Mike. “Now, Zacharius – you didn’t forget your trombone again, did you?”

 

Levi is silent throughout the entire day. He goes through Herbology without a sound (Professor Longbottom had assigned him to clean a bucket full of shovels in the corner, something he seemed strangely excited to do), and didn’t utter a single word during Charms (although he did watch Nile struggling to create an empathy link with Hannes with a curl in his lip).

            It isn’t until after lessons that he says anything at all. Erwin’s walking down the hall with Mike and Hange, Levi trailing after them like a reluctant shadow when somebody calls out, “Smith!”

             The trio turned around to see Dita Ness, Monika, and Kurt running up to him. “Hey,” he said.

            “Hey. . . Erwin!” Kurt panted, leaning forwards on his knees. “Jeez, you lot walk fast!”

            Hange grinned and Erwin chuckled. “What is it?”

            “When are Quidditch tryouts?” Monika asked. Levi’s head turned ever so slightly. “Just so I can sneak some practice in, you know?”

            “Oh, right,” Erwin said. He’d been so preoccupied lately he’d forgotten about it. “Um, I was thinking next Tuesday? About an hour after dinner?”

            “Right!” Dita grinned, giving him a thumbs-up. “Thanks, mate!”

            “No problem,” he called after them as they ran off again.

            “Oh, damn, right,” Mike muttered as they kept walking. “Tryouts: I should probably set those up, shouldn’t I?”

            “Well, it’s not like there’s going to be any major changes on the teams,” Hange commented as they rounded a corner. A group of third-year boys quickly moved out of their way, shuffling with their cloaks and robes. “I mean, sure, there might be a few new people, but, all in all, it’ll mostly be the same people.”

            “Guess so,” Mike said. “But once we graduate this year. . .” he chuckled, shrugging.

            “Oh, shit, right!” Hange said. “That’ll be eight-nine percent of all the teams! Poof!”

            Erwin chuckled. “Hey, wait, hold on.” He turned around, quickly jogging back to the third-years, who had apparently been trying to shuffle away. “Sorry,” he held out a hand. “Can’t let you keep that.”

            The boys exchanged horrified glances, and one of them groaned, shoving his hands back into his robes, pulling out two bottles and a neon-green frisbee that snapped its teeth angrily.

            Erwin took the two bottles, glancing at the murky potions within. “Tongue-rot and Hippopotamus potions are against the rules. That’s. . .” he glanced at the colors in the linings of their cloaks. “Five points from Ravenclaw and Gryffindor each.”

            The boys looked at each other. “What about the frisbee?” the Gryffindor boy asked. The Ravenclaw boy stomped on his foot. “Ow!”

            “Hm?” Erwin tucked the potions into his pocket. “What frisbee?”

            The boys exchanged looks again, grinning, then turned and ran down the hall.

            Hange chuckled as Erwin walked back to them. “Saint Erwin, back at it again, huh?”

            “Sir, yes, sir.”

 

Levi’s flexing his hands when Erwin walks back into the rubbing his hair, still wet from the prefect’s bath, with a towel.

            “Problem?” he asked, glancing at the notebooks, binders, and textbooks piled neatly at the end of his bed. “Do you need help with the work?”

            Levi’s eyes linger on him as he sat down, tossing the towel to hang from the end of his bed. “No,” he said. “I finished it.”

            Erwin frowned. “Really?” he stood up, striding over to stand by Levi’s bed. He picked up a textbook, flipping to a page where a sheet of looseleaf torn from a notebook had been placed. He skimmed over the answers, gaze flicking between the page and the book. “These are all correct,” he muttered, brows drawing together.

            Levi held his hand out. “If you’re done,” he said. Erwin placed it back on the bed, still frowning.

            “How did you get all that?” Erwin asked. “Even the best students in the year would have had trouble –”

            “Bold of you to assume that you’re the best student in the year,” Levi commented, loosening his tie and folding it neatly on the bedside table. Erwin raised a prominent eyebrow. “And only someone who’d been listening to people rattle of shit about traditional magic would have had trouble with that.”

            Erwin crossed his arms. “And what sort of magic have you been listening to people talk about?”

            Levi’s eyes narrowed. “None of your business.” He ran a hand through his hair, eyes still locked with Erwin’s. Erwin cocked a brow, daring him to make the first move.

            “There are Quidditch teams here.” A statement, not a question.

            “Of course,” Erwin said. “Can you fly?”

            Levi scowled. “Would I be asking if I couldn’t?”

            Erwin hung his cloak up on the stand by the door (it reached up, tipping a hat as he walked away). “You’d have to ask Professor Flitwick if you’re allowed to join teams as a result of your parole.”

            Something flashed in Levi’s eyes – Erwin almost would have thought it to be desperation if he hadn’t known better. “Well, you’re Captain, aren’t you?” he said. “I’d have to be at the tryouts, anyways.”

            Erwin opened his mouth, but snapped it shut again. Can’t argue with that logic.

            “Confident of you to assume that you’d make the team in the first place,” Erwin said, sitting down at his desk, pulling his books closer. “The members of the Slytherin team are strong. Some of them have even been scouted out for World Cup teams after graduation.”

            Levi scoffed. “With you at the top of the list, I bet.”

            Erwin didn’t acknowledge his statement. “The members of the team have barely changed for the past few years. Even the most stubborn Gryffindor would have to admit we’re good.”

            Levi raised a finger, glancing over at Erwin. “There’s one difference between them and I, though.”

            “Oh? And what’s that?”

            His silver eyes bored into Erwin’s ocean blue ones. “They can play. But I can fly.”

Chapter Text

“Focus, now!” Flitwick chirped from his perch atop the stack of books on his desk. “The Protean Charm is of utmost difficulty!”

            “I don’t need anyone telling me that,” Mike grumbled, tapping the coins on his desk aggressively with the tip of his wand. “Come on, work with me!”

            “The itsy-bitsy coinsy listened to Hange,” Hange sang, tapping their own coins. “See, this is the part where you’re supposed to do what I told you to.”

            Erwin frowned, adjusting his grip on his wand. Focus. He tapped the coins. They shuddered for a moment, a golden light growing on the surface, but simply fell back onto the desk, as unresponsive as they had been the first twenty or so times.

            Levi watched Erwin’s futile attempts, twirling his own two coins around in his hand, letting them dance between his fingers, rolling them in and out of his palm.

            “What the hell are you looking at?” he grumbled as he caught Erwin’s gaze.

            “Just returning the favor,” Erwin said as he looked back at the coins. Alright, he thought. Concentrate

            Bang!

            Anka shrieked, falling out of her seat as Hannes’ coins exploded, sending the blonde-haired boy flying through the air, spewing profanities. Gelgar yelped, throwing himself out of his own seat and skidding across the ground, arms over his head, eyes squeezed shut, as Hannes crash-landed on his desk. Nifa, however, was not quite so lucky – the redhead screeched as Hannes landed on top of her, and the two landed on the ground in a groaning tangle of limbs.

            “My word!” Flitwick sighed, exasperated as the two students separated themselves, wincing and rubbing their rears. “Hannes, care to explain how, exactly, that happened?”

            “Uh,” the red-cheeked boy scratched the back of his head. “I dunno, sir –” he hiccupped.

            Flitwick sighed, waving his wand and restoring the chairs and table as the bell rang. “Everybody, practice the Charm, and bring the coins back next week! And, Mr. Hannes, that’s five points from Hufflepuff for intoxication.”

            Chairs scraped against the stone floor as notebooks and textbooks were deposited back into bags and people chattered as they walked out the door.

            Erwin tucked his binder into his messenger bag and stood before frowning, eyes falling on the coins Levi had left on the desk, sitting neatly side-by-side.

            “Erwin!” Hange called. “You coming?”

            “One moment!” he called back, picking up the coins. He turned them over in his hands, looking at the sides. Identical.

            He raised his wand, tapping one of them. “September first,” he said. “Uh, ninety-eight-nine.”

            The numbers on the side of the first coin changed, warping as they reformed into the date Erwin had said. At the same time, the other coin suddenly warmed up to the point of nearly burning Erwin’s fingers, and the numbers changed to match the other coin.

            Erwin’s eyes widened as he turned the coins around in his hand.

            Only someone who’d been listening to people rattle of shit about traditional magic would have had trouble with that.

            And what sort of magic have you been listening to people talk about?

            He chuckled, putting the coins down.

            Interesting.

 

Father! Father, wait!

            No, stay back –!

            Father!

            Erwin woke up with a start, sitting straight up and roaring in pain as his skull collided with the headboard. He massaged the top of his head, wincing as stars danced before his eyes, waiting for his breathing to even out.

            He placed his head in his hands, taking slow, deep breaths. His head slowly stopped spinning, heartbeat returning to normal. He took a final deep, shuddering breath before sitting up straight and carding his fingers through his hair, which had been mussed and was sticking up in different directions from his tossing and turning.

            He froze, eyes widening as he realized, with a start, that something was wrong.

            His was the only breathing he could hear.

            He ripped the curtains of his four-poster opened and nearly fell out of bed as he moved towards Levi’s bed. He tore the curtains open and swore when he saw nothing but a neatly made bed.

            “Shit!” He raised his arms and his dressing gown flew towards him, bursting out of his closet, and he tugged it on over his flannel pajamas as he shoved his feet into a pair of tartan slippers. He grabbed his cloak as he ran out the room, swinging it over his shoulder as he made his way up the stairs, tiptoeing through the silent common room (Flagon lay on a couch, feet propped up on the armrest, snoring loudly, his Transfiguration textbook open over his face). He pushed on the large, black, Gothic doors, wincing as he stepped out into the dungeon hallway. The stone wall moved shut behind him, as he looked around. The torches were flickering in their scones and a portly old wizard in a Hawaiian shirt in a painting growled angrily at him as he raised his head blearily off the card table, flipping him the bird. Erwin muttered a quick apology for waking him up as he made his way down the hall, glancing at his watch. Three a.m.

            “Students aren’t supposed to be out this late,” an old professor muttered as Erwin walked past her portrait.

            “Sorry, Professor Humptydump,” Erwin whispered. “Did you see Levi walk by? Short little guy with a buzzcut?”

            Humptydump yawned loudly. “Five points. . .” she muttered sleepily. “From. . . Slytherpuff. . .” she resumed her snoring.

            Erwin jogged up the stairs into the front hall. A suit of armor twisted around, rusty helmet creaking as it watched him.

            Should you ever need to find him. . .

            Erwin tugged out his wand, holding it over his head. “Fiducielum!

            A small ball of silvery blue light, similar to that of a Patronus, formed at the tip of the wand. Then, just like a memory, it fell from the tip of his wand, bouncing on the ground. Footprints formed where it touched the floor, and the front doors swung open as the ball of lights began travelling hurriedly through the courtyard.

            Erwin followed the trail of light, running through the front lawn of the school and down the cobblestone steps leading to the greenhouses and Quidditch pitch. He slowed down as he neared Hagrid’s cabin, casting a quick Stealth Spell over himself as he snuck past, the gamekeeper’s loud, rumbling snores fading away as the ball of light slowed down, the footprints forming at a slower, steadier pace, as if Levi had stopped running, changing into a calmer walking speed.

            The footprints led into the broom shed and back out again, and Erwin chose to end the spell, now having a solid idea of where the younger boy was heading. He tugged the hood of his cloak over his head as he walked onto the Quidditch pitch, privately thanking whatever deity that was up there that the grey of the mantle let him blend in easily with the night. He walked up the stairs of the bleachers, sitting in the back corner of the stands as he watched Levi moving through the air, eyes wide.

            His mouth was open by barely an inch as he lowered himself onto the magically-warmed seat, following Levi’s movements with his eyes as he watched the boy soar through the air, moving smoothly, somehow managing to make the school’s rickety, shaky old Shooting Star look like a Firebolt. He wasn’t just flying, he was. . .

            Well, flying.

            Levi suddenly flipped in the air, rocketing straight for the ground, broom spinning like a bullet as he shot towards the hard-packed pitch nearly fifty feet below him. Erwin’s eyes widened, reaching for his wand as the boy shot towards Earth, sending a small breeze that ruffled his hair, despite the fact that he was as far from the pitch as possible, while staying in the bleachers.

            At the last second, Levi pulled back up, shooting into the sky, levelling out and simply hovering in the air with such speed that shocked even Erwin, who was an accomplished Chaser himself (even having once done a small article in the sports section of the Daily Prophet), leaving him to do a double take as the boy seemingly teleported from a near crash-and-burn to hovering safely, easily fifty feet above the goalposts, which, themselves, were thirty feet high.

            Erwin watched as the younger man simply sat in the air, both legs swung over one side of the broomstick in a hilarious impersonation of sidesaddle, staring up at the full moon in the sky. Suddenly, he moved, and Erwin’s eyes widened with a miniscule gasp. Surely he can’t be thinking

            Levi moved fluidly, standing up straight on the broom, balancing perfectly on an overglorified piece of cleaning equipment almost a hundred feet in the air.

            Erwin’s jaw fell open.

            It widened even more as Levi suddenly tipped to the side, plummeting from the broom, gathering speed as he, once again, fell straight down, but, this time, without a broom. Erwin whipped out his wand, fully intent on casting a Cushioning Charm. However, his plans were once again derailed as, suddenly, Levi’s broom, which had been hovering in the air, fell as well, shooting down after him. It reached the same level as Levi, and, with what was much more upper body strength than any thirteen-year-old needed, Erwin was sure, Levi grabbed the handle, flipping himself back onto a comfortable seating position, gliding through the air tranquilly once more.

            Erwin smiled faintly as Levi continued to fly, content that he wasn’t going to do anything life-threatening.

            They can play. But I can fly.

            Erwin stood, making his way back down the bleachers and heading back to the castle, positive that Levi would be back in his bed by the time morning came and he ‘woke up’. Looks like there might be more changeups in the Quidditch team than we bargained.

Chapter Text

The figure moved slowly through the night, dark cloak making a soft swishing noise as it dragged over the dry grass that stretched for miles in every direction. The dry branches of the thin trees in the dark forest nearby rattled as a breeze blew by, rustling the tinder-dry grass and making the branches clatter against each other, sending an eerie melody through the dying plains. An owl hooted from deep within the woods, and, seconds later, the very bird flew away, a dark silhouette against the night sky for only a second before it vanished.

            The figure reached into an inner pocket, pulling on a black glove and raising it in front of him, hand aimed in the direction of the woods. “Follow the yellow brick road.

            The grass before the cloaked man parted, bending over and flattening towards either side. This continued happening in a mesmerizing sort of domino effect, a trail being carved into the calf-high brush, extending into the forest. The man began walking down the next path, slowly, deliberately, glove hand tucked into his pocket.

 

“My, my!” Hange chirped, holding a hand over their eyes. “Quite the turnout, wouldn’t you say?”

            Mike sniffed the air, glancing around, gaze drifting over the stands, which held a significant number of students, especially considering these were but tryouts. “Didn’t expect to see so many non-Slytherins,” he commented. “Even a few Gryffindors. . .”

            “Probably scouting out the competition,” Dita commented as he walked by, twirling his Beater’s bat. “You know how they are, those oh-so chivalrous folks.” He gave a short bark of laughter.

            “Line’s over there, Dita,” Erwin smirked, and Dita chuckled, moving back into the line of students.

            “Flagon not here this year?” Hange asked, leaning on their staff.

            “Nah,” Mike said. “Remember last year’s final match?”

            “Ah, right,” Hange chuckled, standing up again and tapping the end of the staff against the ground a few times (a few feet away, a Venus Flytrap sprung from the earth, twisting as it quickly grew to well over a foot tall, jaws snapping angrily at a small group of third-years who quickly scuttled to the back of the line). “Bludger right to the head. Sure, some’ve had worse, but he never was really all that into Quidditch, was he?”

            “No, I suppose not,” Erwin glanced at his watch as a tall second-year boy rushed onto the field, clutching a Comet 290.

            “Well, looks like you’re set, Captain!” Hange declared, clapping him on the shoulder. “See you later!” the two rushed off towards the bleachers. Erwin found himself envying them for a moment – while the weather was extremely nice, the glassy surface of the lake untouched by any breezes, and just enough cloud cover to keep the players from being distracted by the sun, it was still rather chilly, and, for the space of a second, Erwin considered joining his friends on the stands, which had a Climate Control Charm cast on them, adjusting the temperature to each specific person’s preference (his butt was cold).

            He sighed, shaking his head. “All right!” he shouted, and the talking instantly fell silent. He heard giggles from the crowd, and spotted more than a few cameras being whipped out. He pointedly chose to ignore the sixth-year girl leaning so far off the railing that, rather than showing off her cleavage as she presumably had been trying to do, she now looked like she was an inch from plummeting to the pitch. “First off, I would like you to pair off with another player trying out for a different position.” There was a brief commotion as people paired off. Erwin glanced at Levi, seeing that the second-year (who, admittedly, looked a great deal older than the thirteen-year old) had offered a hand to Levi, who’d reluctantly accepted.

            Erwin moved through the groups, glancing over them, moving pairs into different groups and splitting up a few until he had four groups of seven standing clustered on the pitch.

            “We’re going to do this in teams,” Erwin explained. “Look around you. The six people you’re with will be your team, for now.” A few glances were exchanged, along with tentative smiles from strangers and squeals of excitement from friends (though, admittedly, the younger girls seemed to be doing the majority of the shrieking).

            Erwin pointed at two teams at random. “We’ll be playing a short, fifteen-minute match,” he said. “The other teams, please wait to the side.” The teams quickly got into position, swinging legs over brooms and tensing up. Erwin placed the shuddering crate of Quidditch balls on the ground between them, flipping the lid over. “Ready. . .” he said. The players tensed up even more. “Set. . . go!” He gave the box a sharp kick, tossing the red Quaffle into the air as he did so, and the Bluders shot out of the box, rocketing towards the two nearest players. The first unlucky victim, a fourth-year girl wearing a baby blue hoodie over her Quidditch pants and boots let out a shrill scream as the Bludger shot towards her face. She flipped in the air, losing her grip on her Beater’s bat, the black ball missing her by inches, holding onto the broom by the hands, sobbing in shock.

            Erwin sighed, glancing down at his clipboard and crossing out her name. Shame. She had the muscles to be a Beater, too.

            The other player being attacked, a third-year boy with black hair and a pair of goggles strapped to his head, handled the situation a bit better. Instead of screaming and flailing about, the Chaser shot beneath the Bludger, rocketing towards the remaining Beater, who raised his bat and swung at the ball. Hard. A bit too hard. He yelped as he tumbled from the broom, landing face-first on the sandy ground.

            Erwin scratched out his name as well, drawing a small happy face next to the Chaser’s name, as a group of volunteers quickly rushed over, helping to his feet.

            He looked up, watching as two fourth-year girls yanked on the Quaffle, shouting, red-faced, at each other, arguing ferociously about who should get it while the other Chasers hovered nearby awkwardly (interestingly enough, the girls seemed to have renamed the Quaffle Sean and given it masculine pronouns, as well as a class schedule matching both of theirs’) (They were also on the same team, if Erwin wasn’t mistaken).

            Erwin sighed, rolling his neck and glanced at the Seeker, a dazed-looking boy with a copious amount of acne, who dipped up and down on his broom as he bobbed in a lazy circle around the pitch, mouth hanging open slightly. Erwin resisted a groan as he flicked his gaze up right over the boy’s shoulder where, lo and behold, the Golden Snitch hovered, flitting back and forth right next to the boy’s ear, no doubt close enough for the boy to hear.

            Erwin continued watching the performance for the remaing torturous ten minutes, occasionally making a new note. During the remainder of the game, three more players were knocked out: the enemy Seeker, who had charged for the lethargic boy upon spotting the Snitch behind his ear and ramming into a goalpost instead; the Keeper who’s been guarding those exact goals and had been startled out of what appeared to be a deep, contemplative internal monologue and slipped off his broom; and a sixth-year Beater with hair dyed bright green who’d swung excitedly at the two quarrelling girls as they got to close and ended up smacking himself in the face.

            All in all, Erwin wasn’t entirely sure that any of them had even mounted a broom before the tryouts (Except for the kid with glasses. He was cool).

            “Thank you,” he said after the time was up, resisting the urge to bash his head on a goalpost. “You’re welcome to either stay and watch or leave. The results will be posted in the common room next week.”

 

The second half of tryouts were far more satisfying. For one, most of the old players had been grouped in, and they were playing better than before. Dita shot between posts and other players, tossing the Quaffle teasingly between his hands, only dropping it when Kurt shot by, snatching it mid-toss with a cheerful cry of ‘thanks, love!’. Monika had kept more goals out of the hoops than Erwin had ever seen her, even having time to wave at the stands and pose for a few pictures. Rico and Frieda moved as a flawless team, chucking the Quaffle back and forth, and both Caven as well as the blond boy Levi had teamed up with were whacking the Bludgers around like their lives depended on them.

            As for Levi himself, well. . .

            The moment Erwin had blown the whistle, the boy had shot up into the air, faster than he’d been even that night, seemingly rematerializing above the goalposts. Nile had shot after him, but it’d still taken a good few seconds before he’d reached the younger boy’s altitude.

            Erwin watched the game carefully (though his eyes did flick to Levi a bit more than the other players) while a piece of chalk marked down the score on a blackboard he, Mike, and Hange had rolled down from an unused classroom.

            I never thought he’d try out for the Seeker position, Erwin thought as Frieda scored another goal, cheering as she made a victory lap, pumping her arms in the air. Nile’s been Seeker since third year. And, considering his strength, I thought he’d be better Chaser material. But I guess he is pretty fast –

            Just then, as if somehow summoned by Erwin’s thoughts, the Snitch flitted into the middle of the pitch, glinting teasingly in the sun. Levi spotted it half a second before Nile, and he was shooting towards it in a flash, neck-to-neck with the older boy. Erwin involuntarily tensed.

            Levi’s muscles tensed visibly as his broom gathered speed, and, as they all watched, he moved to stand. Even though Erwin had already seen it, he couldn’t help but reach for his wand.

            Levi let go of the broomstick, plummeting towards Earth Superman-style. Screams filled the pitch, with more than a few people standing up and pulling out their wands.

            Levi caught the snitch, wrapping his thin fingers tightly around it. His broom had shot down after him, and Levi landed on it with both feet, the broomstick coming up to meet him. The broom drifted to the ground, and Levi jumped off, walking back towards Erwin. He opened his hand, showing him the golden ball pinched between two fingers.

            “Good game,” he commented, dropping it in Erwin’s breast pocket and giving it a quick pat before turning and walking back to the castle, whistling as he went.

Chapter Text

“You’re kidding,” Nile snarled as Erwin pinned up the new Quidditch list.

            “No, Nile, I’m not,” Erwin finished poking in the last thumbtack. “I’m sorry, but he played way better than you –”

            “He jumped off his broom.”

            “He was resourceful,” Erwin turned around. “And he caught the Snitch before you. He was the clear winner.”

            Nile swelled furiously. “I can’t believe this,” he hissed. “First, you let a criminal into Hogwarts, and then you put him on the Quidditch team? Are you out of your mind? What if he –”

            “What, Nile?” Erwin pulled the strap of his bag over his shoulder. “What if he what?”

            Nile ground his teeth. “I’ve been Seeker for the past three years!” he spat.

            “And the faces on teams change,” Erwin said calmly.

            Nile fumed silently or a few more minutes before turning on his heel and whipping around, storming through the common room. Erwin sighed. Maybe it had been petty, replacing Nile with Levi, but he had been telling the truth – the younger boy had played way better than Nile.

            “Oh, sweet!” Frieda popped out from nowhere, draping an arm over Erwin’s shoulders. “List?”

            “Mhm,” Erwin nodded as Frieda whooped.

            “Oh, hell yeah!” she pumped her fist. “Thanks, Smith!” she gave him a quick squeeze before jogging off, robes fluttering behind her.

            “Ah, didn’t get on this time, eh?” Dita scratched the back of his neck, tugging at his bandana as he walked up. “Eh, I guess I did get shown up a bit, huh?”

            “Sorry,” Erwin said.

            “No prob,” Dita grinned. “Lemme know if the new kid breaks a limb, ‘kay? Just kidding!” he added as Erwin shot him a suspicious glance. “No need to be so uptight!”

            Levi had slinked out of the dorms during the conversation, and now stood next to Erwin, looking at the list. “You got on,” Erwin said.

            “Yeah, I know,” Levi huffed, running a hand absent-mindedly over his hair – it’d started growing out from Azkaban’s prisoner buzz cut, and the locks had begun flopping over his forehead. “Who was that guy earlier?”

            “Who?”

            “You know, the skinny pig. Rat mustache. Twitchy-brain.”

            “Oh, Nile,” Erwin said, turning to leave the common room, Levi trailing after him. “He was the old Seeker.”

            “Him?” Levi snorted as they left the common room, trailing down the dungeon hallway. “He flew like a brat who’d never touched a broomstick before. Where’d he learn, online?”

            “Nile,” Erwin said as they climbed the stairs. “Is from a very traditional pureblood family. He probably doesn’t even know what the Internet is.”

            Levi rolled his eyes as they walked past the massive House hourglasses documenting points (almost as tall as he was), and, for some reason, made a disdainful noise. “Purebloods,” he growled. “So stupid. ‘Keep the magic with the old families!’ ‘We don’t need Muggle inventions, we have magic!’” he snorted as they headed to their table where Hange and Mike were waiting. “Idiots.”

            “Aren’t you from a pureblood family?” Erwin asked as they sat down, Mike pushing a tray towards Erwin as Hange cheerfully tossed Levi an apple. “The Ackermans are an old line, aren’t they?”

            Levi shot Erwin a venomous glare cold enough to freeze over Hell, and probably sharp enough to cut through obsidian. “Don’t be stupid,” he snapped, taking a vicious bite of the apple, juice spraying over the table. “Maybe try doing some research before jumping to conclusions, Smith.” He grabbed a napkin, giving the table a harsh wipe.

            Erwin watched him with a raised eyebrow. Maybe I will.

 

A Wizarding Genealogy?” Madam Pince raised her thin, drawn-on eyebrows as she squinted suspiciously at the sheet of paper Erwin had handed her. “Blood of the Serpent? Lines of the Renaissance? Don’t tell me you’ve finally jumped the pureblood bandwagon, Smith.”

            Erwin resisted the urge to act on the rolling feeling in his stomach. “It’s for a research project,” he said. “Extra credit.”

            Madam Pince sniffed again, handing the list back to Erwin as she shuffled from behind her desk, heading towards the Restricted Section. “Add any more of those credits to your resume, and you’ll be able to keep using them in your next life.” She tapped the Restricted shelves with her wand, and there was a light, heatwave-like shimmering in the air as the magical barrier fell. “What does Professor Sprout want with old pureblood lines, anyways?”

            “It’s a paper about forgotten Herbology methods used by old lines,” Erwin lied smoothly. In truth, it was really just that Professor Sprout’s handwriting was the easiest forge – he’d lost track of the amount of times he, Hange, and Mike had gotten out of scrapes because of that.

            Madam Pince let out yet another sniff as she began shuffling away, bent over her walker (“I giver her five years at the most before she either keels over or retires,” Hange had whispered once during a study session. “Three, if she plans to live in the country with Filch and a thousand or so cats.”). “As long as neither of your little friends are here with you,” she said. “Put them back once you’re done, hear?”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Erwin said, raising his wand (although he would hardly call Mike little). He flicked the hornbeam rod, and books began shooting out of the shelves, piling themselves neatly in a hovering stack behind them. He continued walking through the Section, muttering the names of the books to himself as he gazed down the list, waving his wand absent-mindedly, the pile of tomes growing higher and higher. Finally, he sat down at a table in the far corner, the books splitting themselves up into sections and landing neatly on the polished mahogany, making the wood groan dangerously. Erwin sat himself down on the hard chair and pulled out a notebook and set of colored pens and highlighters, laying them neatly in front of him.

            The first book shot from the bottom of the pile, opening itself and lying in front of him. Erwin sighed, flipping open the notebook and clicking a pen. Back to the grinding stone.

 

Erwin swore internally, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes sockets, cursing his so-called genius. Why, why did I think this was a good idea?

            He sighed, lowering his hands as he looked down at the research he’d amassed during the past three hours.

            The Ackerman Clan, he read his notes in his mind, skimming down the neatly color-coded page. Pureblood line. Present in the Wizarding World since the late 11th century. He frowned, dragging a green highlighter over the next line. Last known living descendants of Salazar Slytherin.

            He reached over to A Wizarding Genealogy, flipping it open to the page he’d marked earlier. He winced as the front half of the eternally-growing tome landed with a loud thud on the table, a cloud of dust flying from the pages. Across the library, he heard Madam Pince let out a loud, annoyed, ‘shh!’.

            He flipped to the Ackerman page, glancing over the page as he jotted down notes from the information.

            The Ackerman clan, first seen in central Germany near the end of the 11th century, originated from the union of pureblood witch Lady Anais Slytherin, granddaughter of Salazar Slytherin, and half-blood wizard Constantine Ackerman, son of pureblood witch Lorelei Seymour and Nikolai Ackerman, Muggle shoemaker.

            Lady Slytherin was disowned by the line after her eloped marriage to Ackerman, and the family was shunned from Wizarding Society at the time.

            Lady Anais and Nikolai had four children: Cordelia Ackerman, a Squid who married a butcher from a nearby village and had twin Muggle daughters; Atticus Ackerman, who married a half-blood witch and died childless; Gwendolyn Ackerman, who died as an infant; and Octavia Ackerman, who married a half-blood wizard named Frederick Fuchs. Shortly after the marriage, Frederick died in an unfortunate encounter with a hippogriff, and Octavia gave birth to a baby boy named Marvel, whom she gave her maiden name.

            The line continues after Marvel’s birth. However, the family, still suffering from leftover persecution from Anais’ time, kept a low profile for the majority of both wizarding and Muggle history. There are a few notable appearances through history, however, including their allegiance with the wizarding Allies during the second World War (many of the combat spells still used today were thought to be the work of Lieutenant Ian Ackerman, who led a squadron comprised mainly of wizards); Sister Tabitha Ackerman, a nun, painter, and accomplished Healer during the Renaissance, many of whom’s works were credited to other artists at the time, such as Michelangelo and Raphael; Amadeus Ackerman, a member of the Continental Congress of the American Revolution; and, most recently, Kenny Ackerman, son of Julian and Bethany Ackerman, more commonly known as ‘Kenny the Ripper’, a supporter of his distant cousin, Lord Voldemort, during both the first and second Wizarding Wars, known mainly for his heinous deeds as a Death Eater, but also for a body count of over a hundred from his former occupation as a serial killer.

            Erwin slammed the book shut, eyes wide. Kenny Ackerman. He squeezed his eyes shut, thinking as hard as he could. Kenny. I’ve heard that name somewhere before.

            His eyes suddenly popped open. “Levi Kenneth Ackerman,” he breathed. Shit. Father, maybe? Relative?

            He waved his wands, and the books flew back into their shelves. He stood up, rushing to the far corner of the library, and knelt next to a pile of boxes as one flew from the middle of the stack towards him. It landed on the ground before him, and he began rifling through it. Aha. He pulled out the old edition of the Prophet and smoothed it out on his lap, looking down at the picture sneering up at him. The man was middle-aged, with a long face and sharp jawline, familiar piercing silver eyes staring scornfully up at him, the beginnings of wrinkles forming on the admittedly somewhat handsome face. The headline read Ripper Captured: The Last of the Death Eaters Behind Bars?

            Even as Erwin skimmed through the article, the picture of Kenny kept sneering at him, even raising his left arm at one point and waving the Dark Mark, sticking out of his pale skin on the black-and-white photo like a sore thumb. Erwin scowled as he tore the page from the newspaper, fighting down memories of green light on black midnight and phantom screams. he folded up the sheet, tucking it into his notebook, which he then tossed into his bag with his pens as he left the library.

            No assumptions here, Levi. That, I can promise you.

Chapter Text

Morning practice?” Levi demanded as Erwin finished scrawling the dates of practices on the calendar hanging in the common room. “Who the fuck needs morning practices?”

            “A team that wants to win,” Erwin said, standing up and capping the pen, dropping it in the macaroni-can pen holder on the side table (made by a first-year during her Muggle Art Club). “You signed up for this,” he reminded Levi as the younger boy scowled. “Remember?”

            “Yeah, whatever,” Levi snatched a lollipop from a first-year as they passed a group of girls. The little Hufflepuff whirled around with a start, but shrank at Levi’s sour glare, rushing after her friends.

            Erwin shot Levi a reprimanding look, sighing as the younger boy simply shrugged and popped the grape-flavored candy into his mouth. “Don’t see you eating often,” he commented as they walked into the Great Hall. “Mostly just drinking. Tea, is it?”

            “Hm,” Levi pulled the candy out from his mouth, giving his lips a quick lick. “Don’t need that much,” he said. “Small appetite?”

            “Any reasons behind that?” Erwin asked casually as they sat down, taking the plate of waffles Mike slid to him.

            Levi caught Hange’s enthusiastically thrown orange with a sharp glare towards the blonde. “No.”

            Erwin raised an eyebrow. “You know, most people –”

            “Mike!” Hange interrupted, nudging the mountainous boy with their shoulder. “Nanaba’s giving you that look.”

            Mike jumped. “What look?”

            Hange, Erwin, and even Levi stared at him, exasperated. Hange sighed, standing up and waving at the blonde-haired tomboy. “Oi, Nanaba!”

            “What the hell are you doing?” Mike hissed as the other Hufflepuff prefect stood up, walking towards them. “She’s –”

            “Hey, Nana!” Hange said cheerfully as the blonde walked up to them. “How’s it going?”

            “Good,” Nanaba said, glancing at Mike. “You, Zoë? Smith? Mike?” Mike nodded quickly. “And, uh. . . Leonard, was it?”

            “Levi,” Levi didn’t glance up as he peeled the orange, tossing the orange skin onto Hange’s plate.

            “Levi,” Nanaba amended. “What did you want to talk about, Hange?”

            “Well,” Hange leaned forwards on their elbows, grinning conspiratorially. “Just thinking. . . we haven’t really had a chance to hang lately, have we? We were just wondering if you’d like to come with us for the next Hogsmeade weekend? You don’t have plans, do you?”

            There was a scuffle under the table as Mike presumably attempted to stomp on Hange’s foot, but missed, crushing Erwin’s toes instead. The Slytherin jumped slightly in his seat, biting his lip as tears welled up in his eyes, shooting Nanaba a half-charming, half-pained smile.

            “No, I don’t think so. . .” Nanaba said, glancing at Erwin, face covered in obvious concern. “Aren’t you going with Moblit, though?”

            “Oh, he’ll be coming, too!” Hange grinned.

            “I suppose that’ll be fine, then,” Nanaba said. “See you then, then.” She smiled as she turned, jogging back to her table.

            Mike waited until Nanaba was a safe distance away before seizing Hange by the ponytail and giving them a Wet Willie. “What the hell was that?” he demanded.

            “Huh?” Hange leapt back away from him. “I don’t know what you mean!”

            “Fuck you, you know what I mean, you conniving little pest –”

            “Hey, Levi!” Hange suddenly moved around the table, scooting closer to the shorter boy. “Ever seen a chimera get dissected?”

            “No,” Levi replied simply, chucking a piece of his orange at them. They caught it between their teeth with a wink. “Sounds fascinating.”

            Erwin snorted into his milkshake.

 

“Now,” Professor Langar snapped her notebook shut, looking over the (admittedly tiny) class. “I know the first few months of the year haven’t been exactly monumental –” Frieda gave a short, stifled cough from across the room “— but I believe that we’ve now reached the point where things will get more interesting. We,” she clapped suddenly, and a few people jumped. “Will begin creating our own spells.”

            There were excited murmurs throughout the room. Next to Erwin, Levi glanced over at Langar, straightening slightly and removing his chin from his hand.

            “Before we begin,” Langar said, waving her wand at the blackboard. A piece of chalk flew into the air, positioning itself, ready to take notes. “Can anybody tell me what the basics of spellmaking are?”

            A few glances were exchanged. To Erwin’s eternal shock, Levi’s hand shot into the air. Judging by Levi’s expression, he, too, had been surprised.

            He wasn’t the only one. A few people had turned around to stare at the younger boy (he and Erwin were in the back row, by the window), and a few people sniggered. Langar blinked.

            “Ack –”

            “Levi,” Levi interrupted.

            Langar frowned, but didn’t reprimand him. “Levi,” she said. “Care to share with the rest of us?”

            “The basis of all Caster-type magic is language,” Levi said immediately, and a few shocked looks were exchanged throughout the room. “Wizards can’t tame magic – they can barely even control it. Casting spells is dangerous, always has been. It’s like leashing a rabid manticore with an elastic band. It’s enough, but barely. One misspeak, and you could end up blowing up the whole room, or causing your friend to grow a pair of horns, or something. It’s one of the reason creating new spells is looked down on unless you’re a professional.”

            Everyone’s jaws were hanging open, and Langar looked shock. “Very good, Levi,” she said after a moment. The chalk began moving, scrawling down what Levi had just said. “For today,” she said, addressing the whole class. “All we’ll be doing is examining the language behind the spells you already know.”

            “Impressive,” Erwin whispered to Levi as Langar continued speaking. “How’d you know all that?”

            Levi shot him an unimpressed look. “I’ve made my own spells before, shithead,” he muttered.

            Erwin nodded, remembering the neon green explosion. “Spellmaking runs in your family,” he commented absently, recalling what he’d learned about Lieutenant Ian Ackerman previously.

            Levi froze, glancing at him. “What the hell did you just say?” he whispered, voice quiet, almost dangerous.

            “Ah –” Erwin glanced back to the book. “Nothing. Forget it.”

            Levi frowned, but didn’t press the matter, resting his head back on his hand and turning to stare out the window.

 

Burning pain exploded across the side of his face. “What the hell was that?”

            “I’m sorry!” He scrambled backwards. “It was an accident!  I didn’t mean –”

            “ Easy as pie ? Seriously? What are you going to do, bake a cake?” Another slap. “How many times do I have to tell you? Word mean nothing if you don’t understand what you’re saying!”

            “But I –”

            “No excuses!” he roared. “ Now, this won’t hurt a bit!

            He screamed as pain exploded over his body – worse than the Cruciatus Curse, making him roll on the ground in pure agony as every cell in his body burnt hotter than an iron brand, tearing him apart from within.

            “Do it again,” the snarl was followed by the sound of a door slamming. “And get it right, this time.”

Chapter Text

Levi scowled, tugging at the sleeves of the Quidditch robes. “These are fucking ridiculous,” he declared. “Who wears fucking dresses when they’re flying? It’s, like, the ultimate safety hazard.”

            “I don’t know,” Erwin answered honestly, pulling on the green-and-silver striped sweater. “Traditional, I suppose. Keeps you warm in the air.”

            “Also provides drag,” Levi grumbled, pulling on his boots as Erwin tugged his own robes over his head. “Slows people down.”

            “While I’d love to hear about your battle against the uniform robes,” Erwin said, glancing at his watch. “We really do have to go.”

            Levi huffed as they walked onto the field, grey with the morning fog. “Morning, Er!” Frieda said cheerfully, waving at him as she bounced up and down on the spot. She wore a Hogwarts Quidditch Championship hoodie under her robes rather than the sweater.

            “Frieda,” he nodded. “All right, gather ‘round!” he called. “Okay!” he said once everybody had joined in a circle. “Welcome to this year’s Slytherin Quidditch Team!” there was a round of clapping and patting each other on the backs. “I see a few new faces,” Erwin mused. “Why don’t we start off with an icebreaker game?” He could practically feel Levi rolling his eyes as he raised a hand. A Muggle dodgeball he’d bought over the summer specifically for this purpose flew out of the shed, shooting towards him. He caught it, tossing it in the air. “I’ll throw this around, and we can all say our name, position, year, and a fun fact about yourself. How’s that?” Nods. He tossed the ball between his hands as he began talking. “My name’s Erwin Smith,” he said. “I’m the Captain of the team and a Chaser. I’m in seventh year, and a fun fact about myself is that I was a Commander in Cadets before Hogwarts.” He tossed the ball to the dark-haired boy with glasses – Sairam.

            Sairam caught it. “Sairam Vogel,” he said. “Chaser, third-year. Fun fact about me is that I play three instruments.”

            “Which ones?” Erwin asked.

            “Piano, guitar, and saxophone,” Sairam listed as he tossed the ball to the blonde boy who’d teamed up with Levi on the first day.

            He caught it with an easy grin. “Eld Jinn,” he introduced. “Beater. I’m in second year, and a fun fact about me is that I was a champion fencer in primary school.”

            “Cool,” Erwin nodded as Eld tossed the ball to Levi.

            The dark-haired boy caught it, squeezing it with such force Erwin, for a moment, feared it would pop. “Levi,” he muttered. “Seeker. Fir – uh, seventh-year, I guess?” he glanced at Erwin who nodded. He scowled. “Fun fact about me’s that I just got out of Azkaban.” He hurled it at Frieda as Erwin’s eyes flew open.

            She caught it with a laugh. “Fine, don’t tell us!” she grinned. “Frieda Reiss, Chaser. Sixth year, and fun fact about me is that I’ve got five younger siblings.”

            “Sounds awful,” Caven commented, catching it. “Traute Caven, sixth year. I’m in the dueling club.”

            Monika caught the ball last. She brushed one of her pigtails to the side as she spoke. “Monika Hertz, sixth-year Keeper.” She grinned. “I like candy.”

            “Fascinating,” Traute remarked dryly. Erwin caught the ball as Monika swung it back at him.

            “All right,” he said, grinning. “Now, who wants to start playing?”

 

Levi grumbled, rubbing his hair and glancing ruefully at the sky. It had started raining near the end of their practice, and they’d all been thoroughly drenched to the bone – apparently, the risk of hypothermia was not enough for Erwin to miss the ‘simulative climate’ (“We could have weather just like this on a game!”).

            What utter bullshit.

            “Bullshit,” Levi repeated to himself as he shoved his Quidditch robes – pesky, oversized body-parachutes – into his Hogwarts brand gym bag and tugging out his uniform. “Bullshit,” he said once more as he tugged off the T-shirt he’d been wearing under the robes and reached for his button-up.

            “Woah,” he heard a voice behind him and he whirled around, dropping the shirt, one hand shooting to the left side of his hip, other raised in the air instinctively. “Those are some nasty scars.”

            Levi scowled, lowering his hands as he recognized the brat who’d teamed up with him during tryouts (Egg Juice? Ed Gin? Elton John?).

            “Whatever,” he grumbled, picking his shirt up, wrinkling his nose at the sight of the dusty floor of the Slytherin changing room. He brushed as much filth as he could off his shirt and put it on.

            “Hey, you’re really good at flying,” the ridiculously tall second-year said, and Levi scowled as he finished buttoning the shirt, leaving the top few undone and popping the collar. “Why haven’t you tried out before?”

            “Circumstances,” Levi said shortly, loosely knotting his tie and letting it hang limply from around his neck.

            “You’re seventh-year, right?” the tree kept talking, and Levi resisted the urge to groan. “Haven’t seen you around much.”

            “Mhm,” Levi worked his way into the oversized grey school sweater. He scowled, seeing the sleeves dangling well over his fingers. He rolled them up, tucking up the baggy material as much as he could.

            “Well, anyways, I’ve never seen anyone else fly like you!” Levi rolled his eyes, sighing loudly. Does this kid not shut up?

            “That’s ‘cause there’s nobody that does fly like me,” Levi grumbled, tossing his bag into his cubby and sitting down on the bench to lace up his boots. “Now, scram.”

            Remarkably, the brat (Eld! That was his name: Eld. What a dumb name) just laughed, sitting down next to Levi. “Come on, lemme in on your secret. Seriously, that was amazing – jumping off your broom like that. I’ve never seen a Quidditch match end so quickly – even if it was a practice! Man, you’re way better than Nile, and people used to call him the next Harry Potter!”

            Levi raised his head slightly, furrowing his brow. “Nile?” he asked. “You mean that bearded rat?”

            “Heh, I guess his beard is pretty crappy, isn’t it?”

            “Hm,” Levi hummed noncommittally as he shoved his cloak into his bag and stood up. “Whatever. See you, Jinn.”

            “See ya, man!”

            Erwin was waiting outside the changing room, glancing at his watch, when Levi walked out. “That took you a while,” the older boy commented.

            “Idiot brat tried talking to me,” Levi grumbled, falling into step next to Erwin as they began walking up the hill back to the school (it worried him, how quick he adjusted to following the blonde). “That beater, Eld.”

            “You teamed up with him on the first day, didn’t you?” Erwin asked, watching as Frieda, walking ahead of them, nudged Traute playfully with her shoulder.

            “He came up to me,” Levi grumbled as they walked into the courtyard.

            “You know,” Erwin said as the front doors swung open. “It wouldn’t kill you to make friends with some more people.”

            “Yes, it very well could,” Levi grumbled as they walked into the Great Hall. “And I don’t need friends.” He said the word as if it left a bitter taste on his tongue. “I’ve got my hands full holding back the urge to kill shitty Four-Eyes or that mustachio pervert everyday.”

            “Glad I’m not on that list,” Erwin said jokingly as he scanned the room for Mike and Hange. “Huh, are they still asleep?”

            “Nah, I just need to keep myself from strangling you in your sleep,” Levi said casually, and Erwin chuckled. “Oi, what’re you laughing at?”

            “Levi!”

            Both boys turned around to see Eld waving at Levi from a table near the buffet table, where three more students sat with him. “Over here!” he grinned.

            Erwin shoved Levi lightly, and Levi glared at him. “Be nice,” he said teasingly, walking to their normal table.

            “Smith, you – argh!” Levi scowled, but he valued his pride too much to run after Erwin like a spurred lover. Instead he whirled around, marching stiffly towards Eld’s table.

            He sat down stiffly next to an ashy-haired Gryffindor who, for some reason, spluttered as Levi flopped down next to him. The two other students – Hufflepuffs – glanced up as Levi joined the table. One of them, a small ginger-haired girl, squeaked as Levi glanced at her, and the other, a tall, tanned boy with brown hair, raised an eyebrow.

            “Who’s your friend, Eld?” he asked, eyeing Levi critically. He scowled, glowering at him until he turned away (and for a bit longer afterwards).

            “Not his friend, for one,” Levi bit out as Eld said, “He’s Levi, the new Slytherin Seeker!”

            “Oh!” the girl looked at him, amber eyes wide. “You’re the new Seeker? The one who’s really good at flying?”

            Levi raised an eyebrow, leaning on the table with an elbow. “Well, you can’t really be a Seeker if you can’t fly, can you?”

            The girl giggled, and the ashy-haired boy snorted loudly. “Well, from what Eld says, this is your first time flying,” he said pompously, leaning on the table similarly to Levi. “Beginner’s luck doesn’t always last –” he chomped down on his tongue.

            Levi raised an eyebrow as the brown-haired boy grabbed the other boy’s grey-blonde hair, yanking his head back without even looking up from his scrambled eggs, and the girl wordlessly shoved a napkin into his mouth. “Does this happen often?”

            The unanimous grunt was all he needed as an answer. Levi snorted. “Well, that’s to be expected, considering how much his tongue flops around.”

            To his surprise, the girl laughed again – a tinkling noise, like crystal windchimes – and the brown-haired boy chuckled, standing up and sweeping the shocked Levi into a tight hug. For a moment, Levi debated between flight-or-fight, eventually settling for just staying stock-still as the boy ruffled his hair (which was now long enough to touch his shoulders). “I like you!” he declared with a grin. “Welcome, Levi!” he put him down, and Levi shook out the sleeves of his massive sweater with a scowl. “I’m Gunther – Gunther Schultz.”

            “Petra Ral,” the girl smiled. “And this idiot’s Oluo.”

            Levi rolled his eyes as Petra offered him an apple. “Sure,” he grumbled, holding back a smile.

            It wouldn’t kill you to make friends with some more people.

 

Hange glanced across the Hall as Erwin sat down. “Levi’s not with you?” they asked.

            Mike slid Erwin his tray, watching as a brown-haired boy swept Levi up in a tight hug. “You don’t need to watch him?” he asked.

            “No, it’s fine,” Erwin said. “It’s just breakfast, after all.”

            Hange shrugged. “All right, then.” They narrowed their eyes, squinting at Erwin. “Whatcu smiling about?”

            “Hm?” Erwin glanced up. “Oh,” he shook his head, ducking his head to hide the curve of his mouth as he took a bite of toast. “It’s nothing.”

Chapter Text

The branches clacked against each other in an eerie symphony as he walked through the woods, moonlight shining down from the spaces between, illuminating sections of the wood, leaving the rest shrouded in black. He couldn’t see anymore – but, of course, he didn’t need to. The spell was still strong, and his feet moved along the path drawn out clearly in his mind, sidestepping roots and stones his eyes couldn’t detect, even stepping over a squirrel as it shot across his path at one point.

            The door was concealed – of course it was. But that was their mistake, wasn’t it? His skin prickled as the path ended, hair on his arms standing up straight, goosebumps running down his back, a chill racing through his entire body, the force of the magic washing over him in a wave of power.

            Fools.

            He chuckled, raising his gloved hand. The boy had been right – they were closed, simple-minded, lumbering fools, all of them, convinced waving a wand a few times would be enough to keep anything hidden, that, even if someone could sense the spells, there was no way they would be able to dispel them – that they were just so strong that they needn’t fear anyone breaking their enchantments.

            Because magic was such an amazing thing, wasn’t it.

            Unbeatable.

            He pressed his palm against the trunk of the tree he knew was right, a jolt like a shock of electricity jumping through him as the heel of his hand touched the bark. He chuckled. He had to applaud their effort.

            Not enough.

            “Begone, thot!

            There was a soft whoosing noise as the spells vanished, and the tree branches rattled, grass rustling as a breeze blew through the woods, dispelling the last of the magic. The tree itself melted away, the illusion splashing to the ground and over his boots before vanishing completely. He knelt, brushing away the layer of leaves on the ground, revealing a simply ring protruding out of the ground. He hooked a finger through it, tugging. The dirt piled on top fell away as he raised the trapdoor, looking down at the stairs leading down.

            He chuckled. “Clever as always, little one,” he muttered as he began going down the stairs.

 

Erwin glanced up at his notes, raising an eyebrow as an owl barrelled through the window of the classroom, crashing onto Kruger’s desk and tumbling through the papers. The droopy-eyed professor paused, watching as the brown bird flailed on his desk, stomach-up, a frightening resemblance of a feathered beetle.

            He reached over, plucking a note tied to the owl’s leg. “Smith, Levi,” he said, and the younger boy glanced up. “You’re wanted in the headmistress’ office.”

            Mike shot Erwin a questioning glance as he stood up, tucking his things into his bag. Levi stood to follow him, tucking the pen he’d been twirling around in his pocket.

            “I didn’t do shit,” Levi said the moment they were in the hallway. “So what the fuck?”

            Erwin chuckled. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “I think I know what this is about.”

            “Which is?”

            “We’ll know in a moment.”

            “You know,” Levi commented as they paused, waiting for the stairs to rotate in their direction. “You’re really annoying sometimes.”

            “I am?” Erwin raised an eyebrow, looking at the younger boy. He snorted.

            “Yeah,” he said. “You’re all pensive and brooding, and you always speak in riddles. It’s like you don’t know how to communicate in any way other than riddles and dramatic speeches and shit.”

            “Is that so?” Erwin chuckled as they reached the gargoyle guarding the Head’s office. “Maybe you’ll give me some pointers, then. Pincushion,” he added, speaking to the gargoyle. There was a grinding noise as it moved to the side, revealing a moving spiral staircase rotating slowly upwards.

            “Dunno why you shits bother with all this magic mumbo-jumbo,” Levi muttered, standing behind Erwin on it. “So fucking weird,” he added, wrinkling his nose. “Haven’t you ever heard of escalators? Or LED lights, for that matter?” They moved off at the top. “And what’s with all the password shit? Alarm systems exist, you know.”

            Erwin raised an eyebrow. “You don’t seem to like magic much, do you?”

            “It’s fine, I guess,” he muttered. “But it’s so excessive.” He wrinkled his nose as Erwin knocked on the door. “It’s cool to use, but you don’t need to make everything fucking revolve around it. Who the fuck sends letters by owl? There is such thing as cell phones on this plane of existence – use them.”

            The door flew open before Erwin could reply, and the two walked in, Erwin bemused, and Levi scowling.

            “Gentlemen,” Headmistress McGonagall stood from her seat, nodding at them. Erwin nodded back politely, and Levi huffed, crossing his arms and looking away. McGonagall raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

            “Now,” she said. “I’m aware that your next class starts very soon, so I’ll cut right to the chase.” She clapped her hands together. “Ackerman,” she said. “You’re getting your wand.”

            Levi’s eyes widened as he whipped his head around to stare at her, and Erwin’s jaw dropped. “Your professors have all reported that you’ve been doing splendidly in class, even without performing any magic, and, after careful consideration, we have decided that, from now on, you will be permitted to carry a wand.” She reached into the pocket of her robes, pulling out a long, thin wooden box. Levi’s eyes were wide, silver orbs fixed on it, and he raised his hand slightly, as if to grab for it.

            McGonagall held the box up and Levi blinked, snapping out of her reverie. “There will still be very strict rules regarding your magic,” she said, and Levi narrowed his eyes. “You will only cast spells if you absolutely must: that is, to say, only in classes, or in life-threatening situations, which I doubt will happen anytime soon.” Levi scoffed quietly. “Smith will, of course, be keeping an eye on you whenever you’re using the wand, and it will be in his possession between classes and during non-school hours.” Erwin raised an eyebrow, and Levi’s scowl deepened. “Be grateful, Ackerman,” McGonagall said. “Scowl all you want, but –”

            “Better than Azkaban, I know,” Levi grumbled, and Erwin’s eyebrows shot up. He had never, in all his seven years at Hogwarts, heard anybody speak towards McGonagall with attitude like that before. “Can I have it already?”

            McGonagall frowned, but handed him the box. He slid the lid off, pulling out the wooden rob. Erwin watched as he turned it around, seemingly mesmerized as the candlelight reflected off the polished black wood.

            “Twelve inches,” McGonagall said. “Blackthorn wood, Rougarou hair core. Since we obviously couldn’t have you testing for your wand, it was custom-made, with you in mind.”

            Levi frowned, eyes troubled, for some reason. “Whatever,” he muttered. “Can I –”

            McGonagall sighed, waving her hand. “By all means.”

            Levi raised the wand, eyes fixed on the tip as he aimed it at the ceiling. He gave it a slow, tentative wave, dragging it in an arc in front of him. Golden light poured out of the tip, moving through the air to form two figures. A woman knelt on the ground, arms out, as a child ran towards her before the images dissipated, becoming a cloaked man running on the spot, and, finally, a snake rearing its head. It shot forwards, jaws out, vanishing in a burst as its massive fangs snapped shut over Levi.

            He lowered the wand. “It’s fine,” he muttered, turning to hand it reluctantly to Erwin. He took it, tucking it into his pocket, next to his own. His hand lingered over the pocket for a moment – the tip of Levi’s wand had been hot, hot enough to sear his fingertips, and the place where it rested against his robes was warm. He let his hand fall. He could tell that, no matter how much Levi bitched about magic, he still loved it – his expression while he’d been casting that spell had been enough to convince him.

            McGonagall nodded stiffly. “Very well,” she said. “Well, off you go, now! And stay out of trouble!”

 

There were two Hufflepuffs waiting next to the door when Levi and Erwin walked into the Great Hall: a ginger-haired girl and a brown-haired boy, who both seized Levi the moment he came through the doors, dragging him off to another table as he complained weakly. Erwin smiled, recognizing them from the night before, as he walked towards where Hange and Mike sat, waiting.

            “Brat sitting with the kiddies today?” Mike commented idly, picking a chunk of potato from his stew.

            “Hm,” Erwin commented idly, picking up the sandwich the other boy had grabbed for him.

            “‘S wrong, Erwin?” Hange asked, glancing up from their steak-and-gravy pie.

            “What?” Erwin glanced up. “Nothing. Why?”

            Hange waved their hand in front of their face. “You’ve got this look.” they said. “Like you’re thinking about shit.”

            “Oh,” Erwin chuckled. “Nothing. Just Levi got his wand today.”

            Hange choked on their pie and Mike spewed his pumpkin juice. “You’re kidding!” he gasped. “They’d give a felon a wand?”

            “Mike!”

            “Sorry,” Mike said. Then, lower, “They’d give a felon a wand?

            “Oh, come on, Mike,” Hange said, dabbing their lips with a napkin, tears in the corners of their eyes. “He’s not that bad. He’s actually kind of a sweetheart, once you get to know him.”

            “Is he?” Erwin glanced up, frowning. When had Hange and Levi gotten so close?

            “Mhm,” Hange took a gulp of water. “He’s the kind of dude with a hard, prickly exterior, and a soft, squishy interior. Like a honeycomb,” they added as an afterthought, frowning. “Or a cactus.”

            “Oh, god,” Mike grumbled. Erwin chuckled. Despite Mike’s complaints about the younger boy, Erwin knew Levi had begun growing on him as well – the extra fruit that kept appearing on Hange’s tray and the occasional pot of black tea that none of them, bar Levi, drank that kept magically appearing on the table were signs of that.

            “Do you have it?” Hange asked, scooting closer eagerly.

            “You’re not getting your hands on it,” Erwin chuckled. “Actually, I was wondering – do either of you know anything about Rougarou hair?”

            Hange furrowed their brows, and Mike frowned. “No,” Hange said. “Is that the core?”

            “Yeah,” Erwin nodded.

            They both glanced at Mike. “It’s used in America,” he said. “Say, Erwin. . . did they have him test for his wand?”

            “No,” Erwin shook his head. “It was made for him.”

            “Ah,” Mike nodded, though he still looked unsettled. “Ah. Okay. Never mind.”

            “Huh?” Hange twisted to look at him. “What?”

            “It’s nothing,” he said into his spoon. “Nothing. It’s fine.”

 

Erwin tossed the wand onto Levi’s bed that night as he tugged off his robes. Levi glanced up at him, raising an eyebrow.

            “I don’t see the point of keeping it from you in the dorms,” Erwin said, pulling his undershirt off over his head. Levi glanced away as he turned around. “I doubt I could stop you from taking it from me, anyways.”

            “Damn straight,” Levi muttered, picking it up. Erwin smiled, sitting down on his bed, picking up a novel.

            “Levi?” Erwin asked, opening the book.

            “What?”

            “What qualities does Rougarou hair have?”

            Levi glanced at him, raising an eyebrow. “What, you mean you don’t know?”

            “I’m not omnipotent.”

            Levi snorted. “Figures they’d choose that,” he muttered. “It’s supposed to have an affinity for Dark magic,” he said. “Like vampires and blood. Or some shit like that.”

            Erwin raised an eyebrow. “I see.”

            Levi’s gaze suddenly shot to him. “I don’t use Dark magic,” he said.

            “I know,” Erwin said.

            “I mean – it’s technically Dark magic,” Levi said. “But –” he grit his teeth, scratching his head, obviously irritated. “It’s classified as Dark,” he said. “But it’s not.”

            Erwin was sitting straighter now, focused on the younger boy. “Okay,” he said, nodding.

            “I – it –” Levi bit his lip, scowling. “Dark magic can be used for things other than hurting people,” he said. “It’s this shit again – classifying spells, saying what you can and can’t do; if you keep sticking things into categories, of course people are gonna use them the way you expect them to. It’s ‘cause they never give people a chance to use them for other shit.”

            Erwin nodded. “I see.”

            “Making laws about what people can or can’t do – they’re just making it more enticing. It’s like sticking a giant neon sign on, like, a blade of grass or some shit, saying ‘look at me, I exist’! I mean,” he threw his hands into the air. “Why? Why can’t people try new things? Why do wizards have to shove their heads up their asses and ignore the way the rest of the world’s developing? One day, they’re gonna get stuck, and they’re gonna realize that the Muggles have gotten so far ahead that they’re stronger.”

            Erwin watched him through focused eyes – this was the first time he’d seen the younger boy so passionate about something. Levi seemed to realize this at the same moment as Erwin, and the anger on his face dropped back into his normal expressionless mask. “Or something,” he finished lamely.

 

Wood exploded through the air and he let out a hiss of pain as he dropped to his knees, grabbing his cheek as splinters pelted him, embedding in his skin, one particularly large shard slicing down his face, leaving a long, deep cut.

            The phoenix feather, utterly spent, crumbled in his hand, turning to dust and falling through his fingers, landing on the ground in a pile of ashy powder. He raised a shaky hand, pressing it to his cheeks.

            Get well soon,” he said, voice quivering, and he felt the splinters removing themselves from his flesh and the wounds knitting together beneath his fingers, marks vanishing, scars vanishing.

            He looked down at the ground, and, tentatively, brushed a shard of fir that lay near him. He gasped, withdrawing his hands swiftly, pad of his finger burning – the wood was near scalding hot, heat flooding through his hand.

            “Too much.”

Chapter Text

Sairam shielded his eyes as he glanced out of the tent. “Sunny,” he commented.

            Erwin nodded. “You two’ll want to fly out of the sun,” he said to Traute and Eld. Traute nodded, expression dull, and Eld tapped his thigh with his Beater’s bat.

            Monika pulled back the flap of the tent, and the sounds of cheering and roars from outside got even louder. “Sheesh,” she muttered. “Talk about pressure.”

            Frieda chuckled, laying her head against Traute’s shoulder. “Well,” she said. “We’ll do it the Slytherin way, eh?”

            Erwin nodded with a small laugh of his own. “We either win amazingly. . .” he said.

            “Or fail miserably!” Frieda beamed, pumping her fist in the air. Traute groaned, putting her head in her hands.

            “Why do I love you?”

            Madam Hooch suddenly peeked through the tent flap. “Are you all ready?” she asked.

            Erwin glanced at Levi, who shrugged. Frieda grinned, and Sairam began muttering prayers under his breath. “Yes, ma’am,” he said.

            “All right, then,” she tilted her head. “Come on, then. Chop chop!”

            They left the tent to mixed cheers and boos. Levi’s eyes widened slightly at the sight of the crowds on the bleachers – half the stands were a solid block of silver and green, the other a mess of red and gold. Scarfs were fluttering in the light breeze, House hoodies and hats bouncing up and down with their wearers as they jumped up and down, waving flags, banners, and stuffed lions and snakes alike. The people in the front of the bleachers leaned over the sides, waving various different posters over the pitch.

            “Welcome, welcome, boys, girls, humans, owls, and otherwise!” Hange stood in the commentator’s booth, a stuffed snake glued to their baseball cap, wearing Erwin’s oversized Slytherin hoodie over their robes, holding a magically enhanced megaphone up to their mouth. “Welcome, welcome! Welcome to the first Quidditch match of the year!” McGonagall stood next to Hange, a red rosette pinned to her hat, wincing as the crowd screamed along with Hange.

            “Friends, we are starting the year off with a bang!” Hange declared as Erwin led the team to the centre of the pitch, where the Gryffindor team stood, waiting. “For the first match of 2002, we have the two greatest rivals in the entire fucking school –”

            “Language!” McGonagall shouted, voice echoing throughout the pitch. Laughter rippled through the stands.

            “Freaking school!” Hange amended. “Flipping?” they added as McGonagall glared at them. “Giant castle!” they decided, and laughter rang once again through the air. “Whatever! Today, we’ve got the greatest rivals known to Hogwarts back on the pitch! Indeed, this very rivalry is so intense that it’s started at least two major wars!” More laughter. “I give you. . . Slytherin and Gryffindor!”

            The resounding roar was so loud that Traute winced, covering an ear. Frieda giggled, waving at the crowd, and Erwin smiled. “Gryffindor’s known nation-wide as the Comeback Kings, snatching back both the House and Quidditch Cup in previous years. But Slytherin’s been making their own returns, and the Cups have been passed back and forth in the last few years. Let’s see who’ll come out on top this time, shall we?” Roars and screams filled the air, and Erwin was almost certain that they could probably hear them from London.

            Madam Hooch stepped into the centre of the field as the teams lined up facing each other. Erwin noticed Levi nodding at one of the Gryffindor Chasers – a second-year boy with grayish-blond hair falling over his forehead and tucked behind his ears. “Captains, shake hands,” Hooch said. Erwin gripped the hand of the Gryffindor Captain – Djel Sannes, a dark-haired seventh-year in Erwin’s Potion class, who’s wrinkled skin and eyebags made him look much older than he actually was. They exchanged stiff nods, squeezing as hard as they could, gazes stone-cold on each other, until Madam Hooch set the box on the ground.

            Erwin stepped back, swinging his leg over his broom, tensing as Madam Hooch flipped the clasps on the box. “Ready. . .” she said, and they tensed even more, muscles coiled. “Set. . .” Erwin quickly glanced over his team: Sairam was tense, grip shaking on his broom shoulders tight, sunlight flashing over the goggles Hange had lent him for the game; Frieda’s dark hair was pulled into a ponytail, the end of which she’d tucked into her robes, and her eyes were fixed on the box; Monika was licking her lips, pigtails hanging beneath her Keeper helmet, gloved fingers flexing over the handle of her broom; Traute’s expression was stony and blank, knuckles white on her broom handle, Beater’s bat held loosely in her other hand; Eld held onto his bat with both hands, legs clenched tightly on his broom handle. His gaze fell to Levi last: he’d pulled his hair, now nearing his shoulder blades, into a short ponytail, though some strands still fell around his face. His stance was relaxed, but his eyes were fixed on the box, silver irises bright.

            Erwin looked away as Hooch knelt, taking hold of the box lid. “Go!” The players shot into the sky, Levi and the Gryffindor Seeker competing for height as they flew above the rest of them. Hooch had tossed the Quaffle into the air, and Frieda had snatched it right from underneath the nose of a Gryffindor Chaser, one of Hange’s friends, a redheaded girl named Nifa.

            Erwin heard cheers from beneath them and risked a glance down. He chuckled as he spotted two of Frieda’s younger siblings, Abel and Dirk, jumping up and down and screaming as Frieda shot over their heads. She winked at them before tossing the Quaffle to Erwin who flipped in the air, snatching it and shooting off towards the Gryffindor goalpost.

            “And we are off!” Hange shouted. “Our resident Miss Slytherin, Frieda Reiss, grabs the Quaffle the moment the whistle blows, and it’s now in the possession of Green Team Captain, our very own Captain Eyebrows, Erwin Smith – oh, shit –!”

            “Zoë!”
            “Shoot!” Hange corrected. “Gryffindor Beater, Terry Anika, sends Erwy off course with a very well-placed Bludger – nice arms, by the way, Terry – and the Quaffle is going down, down, down – caught by Gryffindor newbie, Oluo Bozad!”

            Erwin cursed, shooting after the younger Chaser. Levi’s eyes followed Oluo and Erwin as they shot away towards Monika, who hovered in front of the goalposts. “And Bozad’s heading for Slytherin Keeper, Monika Hertz! Will she stop it? Or does the first point of the year go to Gryffindor – oh, no!”

            Sairam shot beneath Erwin, grabbing the Quaffle and lobbing it at Erwin who flew towards the other end of the pitch. “Uh, is Bozad okay?” Oluo was spinning in the air, broom pivoting on the spot as he clutched his mouth. “That’s a lot of blood – oh, Nifa’s checking up on him!” Nifa had flown towards him, and, after glancing over him, gave Hange a quick thumbs-up and mimed chomping down on her tongue. “Okay, he bit his tongue, but he’s gonna be fine! Don’t worry guys, he’s just a bleeder!” Students and teachers alike laughed as Oluo flew after Erwin, broom rickety in the air, robes significantly redder than before.

            Sannes was posed in front of the goalposts as Erwin shot towards him. He narrowed his eyes as Sannes readied himself, holding his hands out. Suddenly, at the last second, Erwin tossed the Quaffle straight up above Sannes’ head. Frieda caught it, flipping upside down and chucking it through the hoop.

            Screams and groans filled the air as the green side of the stands leapt to their feet, cheering. “And first point of the year goes to Gryffindor! A coordinated act by Erwin and Frieda has Sanne screaming profanities in the middle of the pitch – hey, how come he can swear, but I can’t?”

            Frieda and Erwin high-fived as they soared back to their end of the pitch. Frieda squealed, sweeping Traute up into a tight hug and Monika pumped her fist into the air. “Let’s go!” Sairam cheered.

            “Now, don’t get too excited!” Hange said as Hooch prepared to toss the Quaffle into the air again. “We’ve still – Jesus Christ!”

            Levi and Ian were shooting towards earth, neck-and-neck as they shot after the flash of gold that was flitting teasingly through the pitch. “Is that the Snitch?” Hange called, and there was a thundering noise as everybody scrambled to their feet, trying to see as the two players shot by, shoulders scraping as they raced for the upper hand.

            “Go Levi!” Frieda shouted. The younger boy snarled as Ian’s elbow rammed into his side, returning the gesture with a hard knock of his own. The Snitch suddenly switched direction, shooting beneath them. Ian faltered, but Levi flipped directly around, doing a sort of somersault in the air and rocketing after the Snith. He reached a hand out –

            “He got it!” Hange screamed and the Slytherin supporters screamed in ecstasy. Levi’s broom skidded to a halt, sending the boy tumbling off. He landed on the sandy ground of the pitch, stumbling a few times.

            He had barely a second to get his balance before he was knocked off it again, the rest of the Slytherin team charging forwards and sweeping him into a hug. Monika kept kissing him on the cheek while Eld squeezed him to his chest, his toes hovering off the ground, jumping up and down and screaming. Traute was grinning as Frieda hugged her, hopping around in a little circle, screaming, and Sairam did a little happy dance, screeching.

            Levi shot an annoyed glance at Erwin over the top of Monika’s head, and he chuckled. Bear with it, he mouthed.

            You’re enjoying this, he accused silently, glaring.

            So are you.

            Levi bit his lip to hold back a grin.

 

The common room had been thoroughly decked out for the ensuing party – posters hung all over the wall, and a few Muggle-borns and half-bloods were tossing around a beach ball and horse mask, roaring in delight as a number of purebloods watched on, utterly confused. There were people clinking bottles of butterbeer and firewhiskey, waving various different pastries and snacks in the air as loud, excited chatter rang through the stone wall. Outside the window, two merfolk helped a fifth-year, equipped with a Bubble-Head Charm, attach Slytherin banners, waterproofed Quidditch memorabilia, and, for some reason, a gigantic rendition of Hange, to the outside of the glass.

            Levi watched as the student and the mermaid argued about the placement of the Hange poster while the merman held the image, looking very uncomfortable. Erwin walked over to him, offering him a bottle of butterbeer.

            Levi glanced at it before taking it, popping off the lid and taking a sip. “Thanks,” he said grudgingly. Erwin nodded, taking a sip of his own drink.

            “Good flying today,” Erwin smiled. Levi shrugged. “Good on you for beating Ian,” he said. “Rico might be a bit upset with you about that.”

            Levi snorted. “Yeah,” he said. “I saw them after the game – hasn’t anybody ever told them about PDA?”

            “They’re not very good at affection,” Erwin chuckled. “It’s either awkward politeness or full-on, public, clothed fucking.” He frowned as Levi turned to stare at him. “What?”

            “Smith,” Levi said. “Did you just swear?”

            “Well, yeah.”

            Levi shook his head slowly, looking bemused. “This is too much for one day,” he said. “I’m going to bed.”

            Erwin chuckled as the younger man left. “I have sworn before!” he called after him.

            “Yeah, sure!”

Chapter Text

“Ooh, ooh!” Hange dragged Erwin and Mike behind them as they raced through the streets of Hogsmeade. Rather than their normal uniform, they were wearing a hoodie featuring characters from a Muggle anime and a pair of ripped jeans, fishnet stocking on underneath, combat boots laced up over Game of Thrones socks. “We need to go into Zonko’s! They say it’s on par with Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes!” Their hair bounced in the high, broccoli-like ponytail they’d tied on top of their head, secured with a bright pink hairtie, decorated with large green beads, a gag gift from Mike last Easter.

            “Yeah,” Mike said, voice slightly muffled from the piles of bags and parcels he held in his arms. “That’s what you said about the last six shops we went to. I still don’t see what was so amazing about beetle buttons.” He was dressed slightly less extravagantly than Hange. He was wearing a blue Buckingham Palace guardsman T-shirt and a pair of black sweatpants, and he was gripping Hange’s purchases with fingerless glove-clad hands – indeed, were it not for these exact gloves, he would’ve looked like he just rolled out of bed.

            “They were beetles, Mike! Beetles!”

            “Hange,” Erwin said, shuffling a few Honeydukes boxes so that he could actually see in front of him. “I know Zonko’s is probably very interesting, but can we please stop by somewhere we can put these down for a moment?” He, himself, was dressed a bit more like a normal person than the other two. He was wearing a red flannel shirt over a grey hoodie and tan pants, black school boots laced over the cuffs.

            “Oh, pooh!” Hange pouted. “You’re no fun!”

            “Would you rather carry all of these yourself?” Mike shot back.

            “Oh, hey, we can go into the Three Broomsticks!” Hange said quickly, rushing towards the tavern. Mike snorted with laughter as they followed them. The bell over the door clanged as they crashed through the door, Erwin and Mike following at a more leisurely pace.

            “Hm,” Hange scanned the room, frowning. “All around me are familiar faces. . .” They grinned, pointing. “There!”

            “Where?” Erwin glanced around.

            “Who?” Mike asked.

            “There!” Hange pointed at a table in the corner, where a brown-haired boy sat alone with a tankard of butterbeer. “Him!”

            “Who’s that?” Mike asked. “He’s in our year, right?”

            “Moblit Berner!” Hange said, in a voice that implied they should be extremely proud of them for knowing the name of another human being. “He’s in my House.”

            “Does he know that we’re –” Mike began, but Hange had already set off.

            The boy, Moblit, jumped as Hange plopped down next to him. “Hello!” they grinned. “Mind if we join, felagi?”

            “Uh,” he shuffled uncomfortably in his seat as Erwin and Mike joined them. “You’re the gi – uh, person, that sleeps on the common room couch. . .”

            “Yes!” they beamed, clapping the boy on the shoulder. “Say, Moblit. . .” They leaned closer and the boy made a squeaking, terrified noise. “What are your thoughts on Muggle science?”

            “I, uh –” he glanced at Mike, who rolled his eyes, and Erwin, who mouthed, just go with it. “It’s cool?”

            “Yes!” Hange grabbed him in a tight hug (the poor boy looked ready to pass out). “Excellent! We’re going to be friends from now on!”

            “Do I have a choice?” Moblit whimpered.

            “Nope!

 

Levi watched as Mike laughed loudly to a joke Nanaba had made. “He does realize he’s got butterbeer in his mustache, right?”

            “Probably not,” Hange took a sip of firewhiskey, dropping the tankard back on the table with a sigh. “Ah, young love,” they grinned. “Doesn’t it just make you want to grab the closest person of your preferred gender and start spinning around to invisible violins?”

            “No,” Levi grumbled, taking a gulp of butterbeer.

            Erwin chuckled, taking a sip of his own drink. “Leave him alone, Hange,” he smiled.

            Hange pouted, but slumped over the table all the same. “Ugh, this is so boring!” they wrinkled their nose. “C’mon, let’s go do something?”

            “Like what?” Moblit asked. Hange shrugged.

            “I dunno. Wasting money?”

            “Like hell,” Levi scowled.

            Hange threw their hands in the air. “Well, I don’t see any of you offering any ideas!”

            “Why don’t we take a walk around?” Erwin suggested, standing up. Hange shrugged, and Levi stood up.

            “You’ve never been to Hogsmeade before, right, Levi?” Moblit asked as they left. Erwin shivered slightly against the breeze – winter was on its way, and they were all dressed for the weather: he, himself, was wearing his school cloak over a thick jumper, boots laced up tightly over the cuffs of his pants; the sleeves of Hange’s Hamilton hoodie were tugged over their fingerless gloves, an army jacket pulled over everything, a pair of sneakers beneath (non-ripped) jeans; Moblit was simply wearing his robes over a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans; Levi, meanwhile, was practically swimming in Erwin’s hoodie and Hange’s jeans, both of which were rolled up many times just so he would be able to walk.

            “Ooh, ooh!” Hange bounced up and down. “Let’s go to the Shrieking Shack!”

            Erwin followed their finger to the building and Moblit began shaking his head furiously. “No way,” he said. “Hange, remember fourth year?”

            “Yes!”

            “Hange –” Erwin began.

            “What the hell,” Levi said. “Why not?”

            “Uh, what?”

 

Levi shivered as they slipped through one of the larger spaces between the boards covering up the shattered windows of the old building. “Disgusting,” he muttered, wrinkling his nose and brushing a cobweb off his shoulder.

            “Hey, you wanted to do this,” Hange reminded him, slithering in smoothly, avoiding the sharp edges of the glass. “Damn, that’s a lot of dust,” they whistled.

            “Why are we doing this, again?” Moblit whimpered, tumbling to the ground next to them. Erwin landed with slightly more grace, shifting his cloak to avoid things getting caught on it.

            Hange shrugged as they began moving slowly through the room, floorboards creaking beneath their feet. “Sheesh, this place has been through the rough,” they muttered, looking at the destroyed furniture. Levi hummed as he ran his finger tentatively over a snapped-off chair leg.

            “No ghosts, yet,” Erwin kept his eyes glued to the ground (the floorboards were making a bit too much noise for his liking) as they kept moving. “Hange, I think –”

            “Whoah!”

            Levi shot forwards, grabbing Hange’s arm as the floorboards beneath their feet suddenly gave away, yanking them back. Hange muttered a small ‘thanks’ as they peered over the side (Moblit grabbed their collars, tugging them back from the hole, looking panicked).

            Hange squealed. “Ooh! Ooh, Erwin, Moblit, look!” they dropped to their stomach, their head hanging over the hole. “It’s a tunnel!”

            “Hange, wait –!”

            “Hup!” Hange slipped over the side of the hole, tumbling on the ground as they landed on the earthen floor beneath. “Come on!” they called. “It’s cool!”

            “I know it’s cool!” Erwin said. “But I really don’t want to be eaten by some beast –”

            “Wuss,” Levi interrupted, sliding down to drop next to Hange. Erwin groaned, following them.

            “You’re both insane,” he growled as he landed next to them (Moblit landed behind him with a small squeak).

            Levi was peering down the tunnel. “It leads back to the castle,” he said.

            Hange gave him a surprised look. “How do you know that?”

            Levi stared at them. “How do you not?” he asked. “Weren’t you guys at school when the Battle of Hogwarts happened?”

            “No,” Moblit replied, dusting off his robes. “We left with the others.”

            “Huh.” Levi frowned, but then brushed it off with a shrug. “Sure, okay, then.”

 

Levi turned his head slightly to the side as another explosion rang through the air.

            “They’re getting closer,” he said, shifting his weight slightly, hand reaching into the folds of his cloak. “When are you going to let me out there?”

            “Soon,” his companion murmured, pale skin ghostly, illuminated by the light in his hand. “The others can hold them back, for now. No need to fight a dagger with a bomb, after all.”

            Levi sniffed slightly, turning to glance into the pitch-black woods. “I guess,” he grumbled. “Still, why wait? We have what we need, and those weaklings are barely putting up a fight.”

            The older man chuckled. “Impatient as always, little one –”

            “Don’t call me that.”

            “— but simply trust in our orders,” the man continued as if the boy hadn’t spoken at all. “He knows what he’s doing.”

            “Does he?” Levi snorted, crossing his arms. “Does he, really?”

            The man’s hand landed on Levi’s shoulder. “Patience,” he said again, firmer, this time. “You’ll get your end of our bargain. Just wait.”

            Wait,” Levi sneered. “Don’t you have any other words in your vocabulary? ‘Wait for it’. ‘Just wait a bit longer’. Always putting shit off. Almost makes me feel like I’m being cheated.”

            “Nonsense!” the other man laughed, and Levi’s skin prickled for a moment before relaxing, feeling no magic behind the man’s words. “Although, I’d have to admit it’s true – there’s a reason you’re our hidden trump card, after all. It’d be a shame if you left before our grand victory.”

            “Does it look like I care?” Levi scowled. “Your ‘victory’ doesn’t mean shit to me.”

            “Which you’ve made clear,” the man smiled, teeth glinting in the light of his spell. “Don’t fret – we won’t keep you longer than necessary.”

            There was a sudden flash from behind them, and both wizards turned to see a stream of dark light shooting into the sky.

            “There’s your cue,” the man muttered.

            Levi nodded, stepping back. “Don’t hesitate,” the man reminded him. “You have one job – one real job – and, if you want your end of the deal –”

            “I’ll do it right,” Levi snapped. “Yeah, yeah. I know. Don’t stress it, old man.

            “He’ll be dead by morning.”

Chapter Text

“Terry Anika, Ellen McDonald, Connor Murphy, and Nicholas Ruvie are all going with other people!” Hange groaned, flopping over their table. “And Rayna Samuels rejected me.” They pouted.

            “Wow,” Mike glanced over the top of the Daily Prophet. “Any idea why?”

            “I don’t know!” Hange threw their hands into the air. “I even got her a Venomous Tentacula! With a fancy ribbon!”

            “Wow,” Mike looked back down at the paper. “How could she have turned that down?”

            “I know!

            “You know, four-eyes,” Levi commented glancing up from his methodical peeling of his orange. “There are other options, you know.”

            “Oh?” Hange grinned, wiggling their eyebrows. “You offering? Normally I like my men a bit taller, but –”

            “Oi,” Levi snapped, bouncing his orange off their forehead. “I meant going stag, dumbass.”

            “I can’t do that!” Hange protested, dabbing orange juice off their forehead. “I have a very strict record of taking a new person to every event! I can’t break tradition now, when I’ve only got three more to go!”

            Levi raised an eyebrow as he plucked an apple from Mike’s plate (the older boy rolled his eyes, but didn’t protest). “And how many have you had before. . ?”

            “Twenty-six.”

            Levi choked on a bite of the fruit and Mike slapped him on the back. “Jesus Christ,” he gasped, massaging his chest. “How the shit – how many the shit?”

            “Two formal dances a year, the end-of-year school festival, and the winter ball,” Hange said, raising four fingers. “Plus, we’ve got our Leaver’s Ball at the end of this year, too. I’ve already got Sebastian Yamamoto for the Halloween Dance, and Hannah Dmitriev for the Fall Formal, and Keiji said he’d take me to the Leaver’s Ball if he and Nifa don’t work out that long.”

            “Jesus Christ,” Levi repeated, shaking his head. “You’re a fucking heartbreaker, you know that?”

            “Don’t encourage them,” Erwin muttered.

            “And here I thought Smith was the serial dater,” Levi snorted as he took a sip of tea. Erwin coughed into his coffee and Mike burst out laughing.

            “Please!” the taller boy chortled. “Guy could have anyone he wants, but, believe it or not, the closest thing he’s ever had to a relationship is Frieda during Spin the Bottle, of all people –”

            “We agreed to never speak of that again.”

            “I’m interested,” Levi said, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Miss Reiss, you say?”

            “I hate you all.”

 

“You know, you could always just go with Moblit,” Levi suggested as they walked to Herbology.

            “Oh, god, no,” Hange wrinkled their nose. “He’s – well, he’s not bad, it’s just that. . .” they screwed up their face. “It’s weird. It’s be like going. . . with my mom, ya know?”

            “No,” Levi said simply.

            “Ah, well,” Hange sighed as they walked into the greenhouse. “I’m sure I’ll find someone by Christmas.” They plucked an aconite flower from a plant and twirled it as they turned around, bending over slightly, hand behind their back, grinning. “M’lady,” they beamed, offering it to Levi.

            “Why, thank you, kind sir,” Levi rolled his eyes but plucked the flower from Hange’s hand anyway, doing a curtsy with excessive hand-waving. “People seriously fall for this shit?” he asked, tucking the flower into the tie of his ponytail.

            “I can be very charming when I want to,” Hange pouted, crossing their arms. “It’s not my fault you’re such a sourpuss.”
            Levi shrugged as they walked towards the centre table. “What about you, sniffy?” he asked. “Going with Louise?”

            Mike hummed as he inspected his pot. “Yeah,” he frowned. “This was supposed to bloom, right?”

            “You better name your first kid after me!” Hange nudged him, grinning.

            “Yeah, no.”

            “What about you, Levi?” Erwin asked as he poked at the dirt in his pot. “Are you going?”

            Levi shot him an exasperated look. “Like hell. Plus, am I even allowed?”

            “As long as I’m with you, it’s fine,” Erwin said.

            “Well, you’re not going, are you?” Levi snorted, wrinkling his nose slightly as the plant in his pot squirmed. “That’s so weird,” he muttered.

            “Well, who knows?” Hange grinned. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Levi, but you’ve had a lot of eyes on you lately.”

            The boys shot them a questioning look and they groaned. “Come on, are you all blind?” they sighed, rubbing their forehead. “Everyone’s talking about Slytherin’s new Mystery Boy –”

            “Is that what they’re calling him, now?” Mike asked. “Last I checked, he was still the Teacup Grumpypants.”

            “Oh, gag,” Levi grumbled.

            “Oh, pooh!” Hange shot back. “You could get any girl you wanted for the dance!”
            “Bold of you to assume I’m straight.” Mike doubled over laughing and Erwin choked on air.

            “Fine, then!” Hange said. “You can get anybody of your preferred gender for the dance.”

            “Yeah, no.”

 

“You know, you really should go to the dance this year.”

            Erwin glanced up at Mike from across the table, raising an eyebrow. “And why would I do that? Remember first year, Mike?”

            “Oh, come on,” Mike snorted, looking back down at his Transfiguration book. “Hange only got a little drunk. It was fine.”

            “Yeah. And cows can fly.”

            “You know, with the proper spell –”

            “Metaphorically, Mike.”

            Mike rolled his eyes, raising his wand to practice a motion. “You hide in your room too much,” he chided. “I mean, I know you don’t like them much, but you’re a natural charmer. Plus,” he added, raising his eyes slightly to smirk at Erwin. “It’s about time you got yourself a man.” He laughed as Erwin chucked a book at his head. He grabbed the spine, waving the notebook chidingly at Erwin. “No throwing things in the library, young man!” he said in a perfect imitation of Madam Pince. His smile dropped, however, when he made to hand the notebook back to him. “What’re you doing copying out A Wizarding Genealogy?”

            Shit. “Give it here, Mike,” Erwin said, but Mike was already on his feet, raising the book over his head and using his advantage as one of the few people taller than Erwin to read what Erwin’d written down.

            “What the hell, Erwin,” Mike said, frown deepening as he read through the notes. “This –”

            “Accio!” the book flew out of Mike’s hands, and Erwin grabbed it out of the air.

            “Erwin, you’re a first-class creeper, you know that?” Mike said as Erwin shoved it back into his bag.

            “I was just curious,” Erwin shot back, sitting back down. Mike rolled his eyes.

            “You used color-coded highlighters. Smith, you’re smitten.”

            “Don’t be ridiculous,” Erwin said, underlining a note in in his textbook. “I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on him, and I –”

            “Researched his entire family history? Yeah, that’s normal.”

            “Shut up,” Erwin muttered, flipping a page.

            “Erwin, the last time you were that thorough with researching someone was when you and Marie were still a thing, and you were neck-deep in the closet –”

            Mike rolled his eyes. “Seriously, Erwin, I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” he said. “What, do you want someone to come onto you first? That happens, like, every week, and the closest you’ve gotten to a date in the past five years is walking back to your common room with that fourth-year –”

            “Yeah, I’m hopeless with romance, I know,” Erwin snapped, opening another book. “I’m not looking, either.”

            “No, because you’ve already found it,” Mike said, waving his arms in the air. “For Pete’s sake, Erwin, just date the midget!”

            “I thought you hated him?”

            “Eh, he’s not so bad,” Mike shrugged. “And, honestly, Hange’s right. I mean, if it weren’t for Nanaba and your obvious infatuation –”

            “I’m not infatuated.”

            “— hell, I’d have made a move already!” Mike continued, and Erwin shot him a disbelieving look. “I’m pretty sure Hange could say the same.”

            Erwin sighed, putting his book down. “I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said. “Did you read the whole thing?”

            Mike raised an eyebrow. “No?”

            Erwin reached into his bag, sliding the notebook back across the table to Mike. His eyes widened at the last few lines. “Oh, shit,” he muttered. “Wait, he’s Ackerman, as in Ackerman?

            Erwin nodded mutely.

            Mike put his head in his hands. “Shit,” he muttered. “Shit, that’s a lot.” He sighed, handing the book back to Erwin. “Does he know?”

            “Honestly, I’m not even sure if he knows about this,” Erwin waved a hand at the notebook. “He’s just so. . .” he waved a hand vaguely.

            Mike shrugged. “But still –” he waved his hands. “Doesn’t mean he’s –” he waved at the book.

            Erwin rolled his eyes. “No.”

            Mike shrugged. “Whatever, Smith. But if you don’t make a move, somebody else’s bound to. All’s fair in love and war.”

            “I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.”

 

Erwin glanced up from his book as Levi walked into the room, tugging off his coat and hanging it up on the coatrack. “How was cricket?” he asked.

            Levi shrugged as he sat down on his bed, unlacing his boots and tucking them neatly at the foot of his bed. “Fine,” he said. “I mean, Oluo can’t bat for shit, Petra kept tripping, Eld kept bowling the ball in the wrong direction, Gunther fell into a hole, and our wickets were stolen by a dryad, but it was fine.”

            Erwin nodded as he took off his reading glasses, putting them on top of his book on the bedside table as Levi flopped onto his bed.

            Smith, you’re smitten.

            “Are you thinking of going to the ball?” Erwin asked casually as Levi tugged off his socks.

            Levi shot him a glance. “Why?”

            Erwin shrugged. “Just saying, if you want to go, you can.”

            Levi gave a short laugh. “Yeah, like you’d be able to keep me from going.”

            “I don’t doubt that,” Erwin smiled. “So, are you?”

            “Jesus, what the hell happened to you?” Levi grumbled. “You’re acting like a teenage girl.”

            “Just wondering.”

            Levi shrugged. “Well, yeah. Yeah, I’m going.”

            “Alone?”

            “Nah.”

            “Hange?”

            “No,” Levi shook his head. “Petra asked me after the game.”

            Erwin nodded, ignoring the ball of lead that seemed to have settled into his stomach. “Cool,” he said.

            If you don’t make a move, somebody else’s bound to.

            Goddamnit.

Chapter Text

Dust billowed beneath his feet as he made his way down the stairs, dirt clouding the air as he descended the stone steps. He squinted as the particles neared his eyes and raised his cloak, blocking his nose and mouth.

            The door as the bottom, too, was locked, but that was easily fixed. A quick snap of his gloved fingers and a quiet “open sesame!” had the pathetic wooden panel swinging open, revealing the small room carved into the stone beneath the forest floor.

            The box rested in the centre of the room, surrounded by a line, glowing faintly in the gloom. He paused before going further, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a coin. He tossed it into the ring surrounding the box, and narrowed his eyes as the metal suddenly warped, glowing white-hot and curling into itself as it crossed over the line of light. The destroyed chunk of metal fell to the ground, bouncing once before rolling awkwardly into a corner.

            The man sighed, rolling his neck. Even now, huh? He placed a finger on the ground, dragging it through the layer of dirt on the ground as he walked around the circle, feeling the curse sear through his glove to the surface of his skin as he moved.

            “Take it easy.”

            The spell fizzled out with a small pop, darkness engulfing the room once more. He knelt, reaching out and feeling the rough wooden surface. He exhaled slowly, a smile curving his cracked lips.

            He flicked the clasps open with his thumbs, wrenching the rusted lock apart as if it were nothing but a troublesome string. He closed his eyes, reaching into the depths of the box with his gloved hand, sensing, rather than seeing, the shards in his mind’s eye, lying at the bottom of the box –
            He grinned as he felt the pieces beneath his finger, heart pounding.

            Bright little thing, aren’t you?

            He took a deep breath before speaking again, magic leaping beneath his skin, filling the air around him, powered by what lay inside the box and his joy, overfilling as he finally, finally, found what he’d been searching for, ever since that day, feeling the shattered pieces beneath his fingertips.

            “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

            The glow of the spell filled the room and he barely held back a supervillain cackle as he held it up, together at last, running his fingers over it, hardly believing he’d finally done it.

            Your turn, Levi.

 

Levi shifted his weight as he frowned at his reflection, tugging irritably at his collar. “This is fucking stupid,” he decided with a small grumble, glaring at the mirror. “Why the hell do we need to get dressed up in this stiff, formal shit just to twirl around and eat bad food?”

            “It’s not that bad,” Erwin glanced up, looking at the shorter man. He’d shrunk one of Erwin’s smaller Muggle suits, the collar of the white shirt turned up, grey suit jacket buttoned over it. He scowled as he tugged at the silky white gloves that came with the outfit.

            You’re smitten, Smith.

            Erwin quickly glanced away, busying himself with smoothing out the wrinkles in his vest and tying the green sash around his waist. “Where’re you meeting Petra?” he asked, making a desperate stab at conversation.

            Levi shrugged. “I dunno, front hall?” he turned. “You still stag?”

            “Yeah.” Erwin nodded, then frowned. “Is that all you’re wearing?”

            Levi looked down, furrowing his brows. “What? You’re the one that gave it to me.”

            “It’s –” Erwin stopped, reaching into the pocket of his robes and crossing the room. He bent slightly as he looped a square of white silk around his neck. Levi frowned as he looped it, then tucked another piece of white fabric in the breast pocket of his jacket, folding it neatly and giving it a quick pat. “This, too,” he said, waving a cloak over from the closet. It draped over his shoulders, the soft trim of white fur nestled against his neck.

            Levi looked down at the fabric that very nearly dragged on the ground. “Wow,” he grumbled. “You really did have a growth spurt, huh?”

            Erwin chuckled, ignoring the ache in his chest. Damnit, Mike. “Let’s go,” he said.

            Levi nodded, and, a few second later, raised an eyebrow. “You know, to leave, we actually need to move.”

            “Of course,” Erwin shook his head. “Sorry. Let’s.”

            “You’ve been acting weird,” Levi said as they left the common room, squeezing past as sixth-year girl who stood in the hallway, dragging the ridiculously long train of her dress out after her, passing the silk through the door, pulling it hand-over-hand, engaged in an argument with her date, who stood next to her, holding an armful of silk (“I told you that you pronounced that shimmer spell wrong! It’s IM-prez-o, not EXTEND-o!”).

            “What do you mean?”

            “Kinda stiff. Weird.” Levi shrugged. “I dunno. Are you that much of an introvert or something?”

            “I –"

            “Oh ho!” Hange’s crow cut him off. “Snazzy!”

            Levi swatted at them irritably as they approached, grinning. “Shut it, four-eyes.” He frowned. “The hell are you wearing? You look like a vampire.”

            Hange put a hand to their chest, looking mock-offended. “Excuse me!” they protested. “I’ll have you know Madame Malkin thinks they match my eyes!”

            “Yeah, sure –”

            “Levi!”

            Erwin fought down the irritation that had risen in him without warning as they turned around. He hated to admit it, but Petra was extremely pretty in her white dress, red bodice laced up over her torso, matching train fluttering behind her as she rushed towards them, amber hair magically lengthened and hanging by her waist, shiny enough to use as a mirror. The corner of Levi’s lip twitched as she walked up to him.

            “Hey,” he said, looking both awkward and pleased at the same time. “You look good.”

            “You too!” she beamed as Eld, Gunther, and Oluo walked up behind her, along with a pretty, brown-haired girl holding onto Eld’s arm. She wore a Marie Antoinette-style dress, along with a matching hat, the faintly shimmering gold fabric (it must be magical) matching the golden patterns on Eld’s white suit. Oluo and Gunther wore matching blue vests over long-sleeved white shirts and brown pants, grinning as they knocked into Levi’s shoulder as a greeting.

            Hange tugged on Erwin’s arm, and both he and Mike glanced at them. “Let’s leave the lovebirds alone, shall we?” they grinned, and the three moved away.

            “Guys! Hey!” Nanaba seemed to materialize out of thin air, wrapping her arms around Mike’s waist and nestling her head into the crook of his arm. Her deep blue dress matched Mike’s cerulean dress robes, the gold trim matching the strands woven into her short blonde hair.

            “Nana!” Hange and Levi simultaneously whirled around, developing sudden, intense interests in a torch burning against the wall, striking up a conversation about how ‘that flame is particularly bright today!’ and ‘why, is that real fire?’ as their friends exchanged a very enthusiastic greeting (“Wusses!” Mike laughed as Nanaba lead him away).

            Another familiar face popped up in front of them. “Hey!” Frieda beamed as Traute followed her. She looked as if she’d stepped right out of a fairytale, the picture of an elven princess, green silk dress hugging her in just the right places. Traute looked slightly uncomfortable, but just as stunning her forest-green robes, hood pulled over her head. “You guys going together?”

            “Nah,” Hange grinned, waving their hand. “I managed to bully that kid – what’s his name again? Oh, yeah, Sairam – into going with me.”

            “Aw!” Frieda pouted. “Don’t be so mean to the little ones, Hange!”

            “You know me!” Hange grinned, waving after them as they bustled off. “Okay, Imma go find Sairam now,” they said, patting his arm. “And Moblit. See ya!”

            “Yeah, bye!” Erwin called after them. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he muttered. “Yup, not lonely at all.”

 

Petra giggled as she and Levi walked back to their table, where Oluo and Gunther were taking butterbeer shots. “You sure you haven’t danced before?” she asked.

            He rolled his eyes. “Pretty sure, yeah,” he said, sitting down and grabbing his teacup.

            “You’re good,” she said, picking up a cracker. “I mean, that twirl –”

            Hwochaaaa!” Oluo shouted, holding up a single grape, the fruit silhouetted angelically against the crystal chandelier over their table. Gunther roared, jumping on his chair, planting his boots on the seat, catching it in his mouth as Oluo chucked it at him.

            Levi rolled his eyes as they fell back onto their seats, laughing and exchanging high-fives. “How old are you two, again?”

            “Taller than you!” Gunther laughed.

            “That’s not an age, idiot,” Petra sniffed, but she was smiling. “You –”

            Fwhump. Amelia landed on the seat next to Petra, her massive skirts splaying around her. Eld sat down next to her, laughing loudly. Next to them, Oluo made a gagging motion.

            “That was so fun!” she beamed. “Oh, Levi, Petra, you have to join us for the couple’s dance!”

            “There’s a couple’s dance?” Levi muttered, but she’d already moved on.

            “Petra, have I told you how lovely your dress is?”

            “Yup!” Petra grinned, but the corners of her mouth were stiff. “Five times!”

            Amelia laughed, giving her a light shove on the shoulder, massive hat wobbling atop her head as Petra refused to budge – the Chaser was a lot stronger than her petite appearance lead others to believe.

            “Oh, Eld, I love this song!” she gasped as a sickeningly sweet song, possessing way too many violins and a singer whose soprano pitch was worse than attitude. “We have to dance!” She grabbed his arm, yanking him towards the centre of the Great Hall.

            “Oh, god,” Oluo muttered the moment they were out of earshot. “How can he stand her?”

            “She’s not that bad,” Gunther said as Rico and Ian flailed by, dressed in matching black robes and waving their arms like a pair of octopi, but even he looked uncomfortable. “But –”

            Ugh.” Petra dropped her head on the table. “She’s so. . . ugh!

            “Ugh,” Levi agreed, taking another sip of tea.

            Oluo nudged Gunther’s shoulder. “Just go cut their dance,” he said. “He’ll thank you.”

            “Um, no.”

            “Um, yes.”

            Levi rolled his eyes turning to the side as the others continued bickering, raising his teacup to his lips. He paused in his motion, frowning as a trail of goosebumps raced down his back. He looked up and spotted a green-robed figure rushing out of a side door, pulling their hood on over a shock of blonde hair as they vanished into the night.

            Smith?

 

Erwin massaged his forehead as he walked out of the Great Hall, moving through the bushes and ice sculptures placed along the pathways. He made a sharp turn down another path as a burst of giggles and stifled moans erupted from a nearby rosebush (nope, nope, nope, nope, nope).

            Why do I care? He moved through the gardens slowly, toying with the sleeves of his robes. It’s not like we’re

            You’re smitten, Smith.

            He groaned, running his hands through his hair and shaking his head with a scowl. It’s fine, he thought. Fine. Fine, fine, fine

            “No, that is not fine!”

            Erwin jumped, nearly flattening the person standing behind him. “Ah, shit!”

            Erwin turned around, and Levi ducked to avoid getting hit in the face by the sleeves of his robes. “Levi?”

            “What’re you doing out here?” Levi asked.

            “What’re you doing out here?” Erwin countered. “Isn’t the couple’s dance coming up soon –”

            “I’d rather be a gentleman and not flatten Petra’s feet again,” Levi replied. “I know she was just being nice, ‘cause I definitely crushed a few toes –”

            “Never mind,” Erwin cut him off, and Levi raised an eyebrow. “What did you mean earlier, what isn’t fine?”

            “Hah?” Levi furrowed his brows. “The hell’re you talking about?”

            “A few seconds ago, you shouted –”

            “Out of the fucking question.” Both boys turned around to see two people standing by the fountain.

            “Lover’s quarrel?” Levi muttered.

            “You’re nuts!” the first person – a girl, by the sound of her voice – spat. “Do you have any idea what that’ll do –”

            The second person – taller, the hood of a dark cloak pulled over his face – shook his head and muttered something that neither boy could hear.

            “Who are they?” Levi asked, voice low.

            Erwin shrugged. “Dunno,” he muttered. “Like you said, probably just a couple –”

            “That isn’t what I agreed to!” the girl shouted, features hidden in the shadows. “I’m not –”

            The man raised a gloved hand, holding a finger to his lips, and the girl stilled, arms stiffening at her side. “I won’t do it.”

            The man shook his head, and, presumably, said something else. The girl seemed to tremble for a moment, as if fighting the urge to slap the man (Erwin should know – he lived with Mike and Hange, after all), before whirling around and marching sharply down the path, stomping towards the greenhouses, Quidditch pitch, and forest.

            Erwin frowned, ready to stand up – in the middle of emotional turmoil and a pouting fit or not, he was still Head Boy, and he’d be damned if he let any students get eaten by one of Hagrid’s more temperamental manticores.

            A small tug on his sleeve stopped him, and he frowned as he looked down at Levi, who was still crouched in the bushes. “What?” he asked.

            Levi shook his head. “Just leave it,” he muttered. “No need getting mixed up in this sort of drama bullshit.”

            Erwin frowned. “I don’t particularly care about their romantic troubles. I do, however, care about keeping a student from getting torn limb-to-limb.”

            “She’s not going to die, Smith,” Levi snapped, still crouching. “If anything, you’re going to get yourself killed. Angry girls are not a force to be reckoned with.”

            Erwin raised an eyebrow, but turned nonetheless as Levi stood, wrinkling his nose as he brushed the dirt of the knees of his pants. “How would you know?”

            “I had a sister, dumbass,” Levi rolled his eyes, but didn’t say anything else as he turned around, strolling back towards the castle.

            Erwin shook his head with a small sigh as he followed the younger boy. “Sure, but –”

            Wait, what?

Chapter Text

Sister.

            Erwin flipped through the pages of A Wizarding Genealogy, frowning as he ran his finger down the paragraphs of the Ackerman page. His frown deepened even more when he reached the bottom. What in the world?

            He turned back to his notes, rifling through the heavily written-on pages, to the page he’d copied from the file given to him after Levi’s arrest. “Levi Ackerman,” he muttered. “Ackerman. . .”

            He scratched his head furiously, scowling as he turned back to the heavy tome on the desk. This doesn’t make any sense.

            He rubbed his eyes as he surveyed the pages for the umpteenth time. It’s gotta be here somewhere. . .

            He resisted the urge to smash his head on the table in frustration. How did I not notice before? He slammed the book shut, waving his wand and sending it flying back onto the shelf. His notebook shot into his back, the flap of which slammed down as Erwin slung it over his shoulder, marching out of the library.

            Ever tangled grows the spider’s web.

 

Levi’s eyes never left the older boy throughout the entire evening. He stared at him, near unblinking, all throughout dinner, barely touching his steak and gravy pie, and his gaze was fixed on him as they walked down the stairs to the dungeon. Even now, he sat on his bed, Charms homework lying abandoned in front of him, silver orbs burning a hole in Erwin’s back.

            Erwin glanced up, skin prickling from the intensity. “Like what you see?” he asked teasingly, trying to ignore the way his skin stood on end as the boy’s eyes seemed to glow from the ferocity of his stare.

            Levi didn’t reply, but he did look down, scratching an answer in his Charms notebook. Erwin, too, looked away, skin still prickling with waves of. . . something.

            “Come out, come out, wherever you are!

            Erwin jumped to his feet, wand clenched in one hand, barely managing to grab his notebook as it shot out of his bag with the other, teetering slightly as it tugged forwards, trying to reach Levi.

            “Finite!” Erwin shouted, and the notebook flopped in his hand, limp and lifeless. But Levi wasn’t done, yet.

            “Bend over backwards!” Erwin shouted as he was suddenly flipped in the air, heels shooting over his head, sending him tumbling to the ground. The notebook shot towards Levi, and the younger boy caught it, leaping onto his bed.

            “Accio!” Erwin shouted as he vaulted back to his feet. The notebook struggled in Levi’s grip, and the boy growled, dropping his wand to hold onto it with both hands. Erwin raised his other hand, and the blackthorn wand shot towards him.

            “Let go!” Erwin eyes widened as Levi’s voice rang through the room, heavy with power, and both wands flew from his hands, hurling themselves across the room. Levi stumbled back as the notebook stopped resisting, landing on his rump on the mattress.

            Shit. Erwin leapt towards him, crashing into the smaller boy and making them both fall to the ground in a tangle of limbs and cusses. Erwin rolled on top, pinning Levi down with his weight, gripping his wrists tightly until he hissed, letting go of the notebook.

            “What the hell, Eyebrows?” Levi spat, wriggling under the older boy. “What’s so freakish about that notebook? Your porn collection, or something? Some doujinshi?”
            “I don’t –” Erwin grunted as one of Levi’s flailing feet kicked him in the side. “— speak weeb!”

            Levi glared at him, and Erwin’s skin prickled as another wave of that feeling rushed over him.

            “Piss off.”

            Erwin gasped, the wind knocked out of him, as a sudden force rushed over him, making him slam into the wall. He collapsed to the ground as Levi scrambled to his feet, grabbing the notebook. He flipped through the pages, eyes widening as he read what Erwin had written.

            Erwin got to his feet, wincing as he held his ribs (he was sure he’d bruised, if not cracked, them). Levi slammed the notebook shut, glaring at Erwin.

            “What the hell, Smith?” he asked, voice quiet. Erwin kept his gaze on him as Levi hurled the notebook at him, Erwin catching it in the air. “What the actual, motherfucking hell?

            “Why aren’t you in the Genealogy, Levi?” Erwin asked. Levi’s eyes darkened, and his fingers twitched.

            “That’s none of your business. None of that –” he pointed at the notebook. “— is your fucking business.”

            “Why aren’t you in the Genealogy?” Erwin asked again. “Why is Kenny Ackerman the last listed heir?”

            “Don’t—!” Levi hissed sharply, hands flying up, clenching his fists. “Don’t,” he said, slower, voice low, “talk about him.”

            “You know him,” Erwin deduced, and Levi snarled. “You’re named after him. Is he your father?”

            “Keep talking, Smith,” Levi growled. “And I’ll show you what my magic can do.”

            “Who are you, Levi?” Erwin didn’t let up as he walked closer, hands lowering to his sides. “Why isn’t your name in the Genealogy? What are you to Kenny Ackerman? What is your magic –”

            Crash! Erwin ducked to the side as a spray of glass from a shattered vase shot between him and Levi, slicing through his shirt, grazing his chest. Erwin stared in shock at the thin line of red on his exposed skin and looked up at Levi, who was backing away slowly, eyes wide, fists clenched.

            “Hey,” Erwin raised his hands as Levi bumped into a bedpost, inhaling sharply and stiffening at the shock of the unexpected contact. “Hey, calm down.” His heart was pounding, mind racing. If Levi – calm, composed Levi – was out of it enough for his magic to be running wild –

            Levi’s wand flew into his hand and, instinctively, Erwin raised his own hand, hornbeam wand shooting into his grip. Levi’s eyes widened and he snarled, slashing his wand through the air with a shout – no, not a shout. The noise he made was unlike anything Erwin had ever heard, low and raspy, yet high and musical at the same time. If he’d been forced to compare it to something, he would have said it similar to a –

            Snake.

            At the same time Levi made the peculiar noise, Erwin’s wand did something very strange: a low, musical noise echoed from the tip, filling the air, sending chills down Erwin’s spine as he raised it, pointing it at Levi’s chest.

            “Stand down, Levi!” he commanded. “You –”

            The harsh, grinding sound of stone on stone was the only warning he got before a granite tail whipped through the air, wrapping around him and pinning his arms to his sides, wand flying through the air and clattering to the floor, still singing its eerie tune. Erwin gasped as the stone around him tightened, harsh scales scratching his skin and he looked up, coming eye-to-eye with a great stone serpent – one of the many coiled into the walls in the Slytherin dorms. It opened its mouth, carved fangs sharp as daggers, granite tongue creaking as it flicked out in a silent hiss.

            Levi, eyes still wild, tossed his wand aside and turned, running out of the room, footsteps ringing through the stone chamber as he raced up the stair, disappearing. “Levi!” Erwin shouted, still struggling against the snake’s hold on him. “Levi, come back!”

            He struggled again, hand flexing, fingers pointed at his wand. “Come on,” he muttered. “Come on, get over here, you stupid stick –” he cut off with a gasp as the snake’s grip tightened, shivering as the serpent’s ice-cold tongue flicked across his cheek, rough material harsh against his skin, leaving a red scrape. “Goddamnit –!” he wheezed as the snake’s stone muscles flexed. What kind of magic is this?

            Stone statues, he decided, were assholes.

 

Run.

            Levi’s feet pounded against the stone of a corridor as he raced through the halls, torches flickering in their scones on the walls –

            Flicker, flicker, flicker out

            He gasped as he skidded to a halt, slamming against the wall before turning sharply, running in another direction – he didn’t even know where he was at this point, the castle was so damn big and complicated –

            But he knew, oh, yes, he knew, he knew everything, he knew where they were, he knew these walls, these halls, he had the map –

            “Watch it!” a red-nosed Potions Master in dark green robes growled as Levi knocked into his frame, making his room rock about, bottles rolling from shelves, crashing to the ground –

            Crash, crash, crash, crash, the glass broke, it pierced their skin, their faces, their eyes, their heart, it pierced his chest

            He stumbled as he reached the stairs, knees colliding painfully with the stone edges as he practically fell up them –

            They raced down the stairs, spiraling in circles that went on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and the floor fell away

            “Ackerman!” Professor Flitwick, wearing a dressing gown, nightcap perched on top of his head, dropped his mug in shock as Levi ran past him –

            Ackerman, he was Ackerman, he was Ackerman, but he wasn’t Ackerman, but he was the Ackerman, and he knew he was the Ackerman

            “Ackerman, stop!” Flitwick screeched as Levi crashed through the front doors, which swung open, banging against the stone walls and probably waking the entire castle. “Why aren’t you in Slytherin –"

            Slytherin, why Slytherin, why did it have to be Slytherin, Slytherin has signed his death warrant and initialed his epitaph

            “Where’s Smith –?!”

            Smith, his name was Smith, oh, god, he was Smith, it was him, the boy, the one they couldn’t find, the time he failed, he was the teacher’s son

            Run.

 

Erwin collapsed to the ground with a gasp, wincing as he rubbed his ribs, which were now definitely bruised. He stood with another sharp intake, glancing at the stone snake as it retreated back to its niche, glaring at him as it curled up again – apparently, the final World Cup score, which the snake, being an (up until recently) inanimate object, had not been able to catch up on, had been enough to bribe the serpent to let him go (it seemed that stone ophidians weren’t quite so different from human teenagers).

            He stood, grabbing his cloak as he hurryied towards the staircase, giving the snake a wide berth, just in case.

            “Smith?” Frieda glanced up as Erwin entered the common room, securing the heavy material around his throat, pausing in her actions of stroking Traute’s hair as the other girl lay on the couch, eyes closed. “What’s up? Just saw Levi blaze through here, like the devil himself was on his tail. Lover’s quarrel?” she added, lips quirking up in a small smirk.

            Erwin shook his head, not bothering to address the last part of her question. “Did he go out?” he asked.

            “Yeah,” Freida said. “He was pretty – hey, Smith!”

            Erwin ignored her as he rushed out of the room and up the stairs, an idea formulating in his mind as to where Levi was. The idea was only confirmed when he got to the entrance hall and saw the front doors swinging loosely on their hinges, as if a small hurricane had just crashed through them.

            “Smith!” Flitwick cried, whirling around to face him. The short professor stood in the centre of the hall, wand raised. “I was just about to call Professor McGonagall! What in the world are you doing?”

            “What do you mean?”

            “You are supposed to be with Ackerman at all times!” Flitwick fumed. “And that includes when he’s running off into the night. Care to enlighten me?”

            “Uh, yes, sir,” Erwin said, mind working at a hundred miles a second. “Levi,” he said. “Is going to the Quidditch field. I told him to,” he added, lying smoothly.

            “And why is that?”

            “He forgot his schoolbag in the changeroom,” Erwin said, pieces falling into place as he moved along, the false timeline fitting together in his head. Silly thing, really – all of us laughing and talking as we left the changeroom, one bag is easy to miss in all of that, simple mistake, truly, a definite oopsie. “And we’ve got that Transfiguration essay due tomorrow, you know?”

            Flitwick huffed. “And why are you not with him?”

            “Bathroom,” Erwin said smoothly. “You understand, sir – when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.” He privately patted himself on the back for saying it in a straight face.

            Flitwick’s eye twitched, but he sighed, lowering his wand. “You and your silver tongue.” he chided. “That’s going to cost you one day, it will.” He waved his hand. “Well, go after him.”

            “Of course, sir,” Erwin nodded before running into the courtyard.

            Levi. . .

 

The spell wasn’t necessary this time – Levi was visible from the top of the hill, a small, dark dot in the middle of the Quidditch pitch, bathed in silver by the moonlight. Erwin made his way down the stone steps in the grass towards it, approaching him from behind, making enough noise so that the younger boy wouldn’t be too shocked from his approach.

            “How’re your ribs?” the question was quiet, soft enough to be mistaken for the rustling of grass as a breeze blew by.

            “Fine,” Erwin lied, walking towards him. “Mind telling me what that was all about?”

            Levi glanced at him, raising a slender eyebrow. “Why do you care?” He looked back at the pitch, gaze fixed on the centre goal at the opposite end. “You’re just stalling until the Aurors come to drag me back to that hellhole, aren’t you?”

            “No,” Erwin said, and Levi looked back at him, frowning slightly. “I didn’t tell Flitwick.”

            Levi’s brows drew closer together. “You lied,” he said. “For me. Why the hell did you do that? I tried to make a stone snake kill you.”
            Erwin chuckled, scuffing the ground lightly. “From someone who’s narrowly avoided being on the receiving end of many different killers’ spells, I can assure you that, if that was an assassination attempt, it was a very poor one.”

            Levi huffed, tucking his hands into the pockets of his pants. “If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead,” he grumbled.

            “That, I trust,” Erwin muttered, looking up at the hoop with Levi – the moon was positioned just so, so that the goal wrapped around it in a perfect ring. “Levi,” he murmured. “What happened to Barnaby Ewe?”

            He felt Levi tense next to him, the tension in the air tightening tenfold. “You’re an asshole, Erwin Smith,” Levi said quietly.

            “I need to know, Levi,” Erwin said, just as quietly. “I need you to tell me. Everything,” he added as Levi’s lips parted. “I need you to tell me about everything. Your magic, Ewe, your crimes, the Genealogy –”

            “Fuck the Genealogy,” Levi said. “It’s just blood. And blood doesn’t mean shit.”

            “It’s words.”

            “No, it’s not,” Levi said. “Words matter. The Genealogy doesn’t.”

            “You need to tell me,” Erwin said.

            “Why do you want to know?” Levi asked.

            “Because I think I could help you.”

            Levi gave a short bark of a laugh. “Hah,” he sneered, but the usual venom was lacking from his eyes. “That’s bullshit, Eyebrows. This isn’t some sappy teen drama, I don’t need a big, strong, emotional blonde to talk to.”

            “Fine,” Erwin said, irritation sparking within him. “How’s this, then?” he abandoned his patience, seizing Levi’s shoulders and whirling the shorter boy around to stare into his face. “You’re going to tell me everything, or else I’ll tell Flitwick how you ‘tried to kill me’.” Levi stiffened, eyes widening by a fraction of an inch. “Trust me, I will.”

            Levi’s eyes darkened, and he lifted his chin slightly. “Fine,” he bit out. “I’ll fucking tell you. But –” he said as Erwin opened his mouth. “Not now.”

            Erwin’s eyes flashed, but he slowly released the younger boy. “Fine,” he said, standing up straight, looming over Levi, who tilted his head up to keep eye contact. “But you will tell me.”

            “Yeah, yeah, whatever, stinker.”

            “Good,” Erwin sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Let’s go back then. That’s the only true part of what I told Flitwick – Kruger’s gonna eat us alive if we don’t hand in our essay –”

            He started at the feeling of a small hand against his side, and hissed as they pressed against his ribs. “Get well soon.” Levi’s voice was quiet, but strong.

            Erwin gasped as heat flooded from the spot where Levi’s palm was pressed to his side – it was intense, but not uncomfortably so, less like a blazing inferno, as he had come to expect from Levi, but more so like the docile flames of a family hearth – contentedness drifted over him like a soft blanket, bringing to mind a warm mug of tea, choruses of loving laughter, and a gentle kiss on the forehead, lulling him into peace.

            The pain that had been throbbing in his ribs faded as Levi’s hand withdrew, as did the sensation of warmth. “You’re a terrible liar, Smith,” he informed him, voice still soft as he drew back, turning towards the castle.

Chapter Text

The tension the next day was thick enough to cut with a knife, boiling between the two boys like an angry cauldron. Erwin, himself, believed that he was doing a commendable job of hiding it, but Levi was another story: the raven never ceased his open glare at the blonde, waves of fury rolling off of him, colorful sparks flying off the tip of his wand (gripped tightly in his white-knuckled fist) every few minutes.

            Mike and Hange noticed, too – and they weren’t the only ones. Frieda had froze mid-morning greeting, whirling around with a hurried ‘bye!’ after Levi had seized a strawberry from Hange’s plate, stabbing his fork through it and cracking the china; Nile’s sneer had melted off his face when Levi glared at him in the middle of Transfiguartion, the normal scathing remark he had for the short Seeker vaporizing as he quickly refocused his attentions on the kitten he was meant to be turning into a lizard (the reptile still had an unfortunate amount of fluffy white fur, as well as a long, fuzzy tail and a tendency to curl up in people’s laps and purr – the ears were gone, though); a first-year had actually turned around and walked down a different hallway after spotting Levi marching down the hall.

            “Okay, this is getting out of hand,” Hange declared at lunch, tossing down their fork and knife. “Whatever fuss you two are having, it’s driving me up a wall.” They stood up, giving Erwin a quick salute. “I,” they orated, “am going somewhere where the tiny geese living under my skin aren’t tempted to fly away in terror.” They grabbed Mike’s ear, dragging him after them as they marched out of the hall.

            Erwin sighed as Hange shoved past a group of second-year Gryffindors (“Out of the way, you lionhearted pipsqueaks!”). “Levi,” he said. “Can you at least act civil around the others?”

            Levi snorted so hard that, for a moment, Erwin felt genuine fear for the placement of his lungs. “As if,” he scowled. “I said I’d tell you, didn’t I? It’s not like you need to do anything on your part.”

            “That’s not the point,” Erwin said. “Keep going like this, and one of the teachers is bound to notice. And I doubt you want them to come around asking questions.”

            Levi’s scowl deepened, and he swiped a piece of toast from Erwin’s plate. “Anyone ever tell you that you’re a real annoying jackass?”

            “Not in those exact words,” Erwin replied.

            Levi rolled his eyes, swinging his leg over the bench and standing up fluidly. “I’m going over there,” he said, not sparing Erwin a second glance as he stormed across the Hall, flopping down next to Petra.

 

“Careful, Ackerman!” Slughorn said, hopping back a bit, stomach jiggling as a splash of potion flew past him, making the stones of the floor where it landed bubble like molten lava. “Amortentia must be treated with the utmost care, especially in the last few steps of brewing!” Levi scowled, and, once the teacher, had turned his back, stuck his tongue out at him. Hange snorted, tapping their cauldron (flashing various shades of deep purple and bright blue) with their staff.

            “Careful, shrimpy,” they said. “Keep that up and your face’ll be stuck like that.”

            “Good,” Levi shot back. “Then maybe people’ll finally start leaving me alone.”

            “Aw, come on! Your girlfriend wouldn’t like that, now would she?” Erwin quickly turned back to his potion, fanning his hand over the top surface of the brew as the conversation entered dangerous territory (or, as Mike had nicknamed it in one of his sessions of teasing the ever-loving shit out of Erwin: Levi’s Love Life, Which Erwin Still Denies He is a Part of).

            “Too bad for her,” Levi quipped, but there was a shadow of a smile on his lips as he tossed a handful of Nevermore rose petals into his cauldron and gave it a quick, counter clockwise stir.

            “How did you do that?” Hange screeched as the potion, formerly a misty white, turned a translucent, pearly colour. “This is sorcery!”

            “We’re at a magic school, shit for brains.”

            “Ackerman! Language!”

            “You got any idea what you’re doing?” Mike whispered to Erwin over his cauldron. Erwin glanced at the taller boy’s potion — a lost cause, if he had to give an honest opinion. While his potion was nowhere near the textbook perfection that was Levi’s, it was at least a shimmery white colour (“Unicorn skin!” Hange had once declared on a weekend trip to London while showing Erwin and Mike a T-shirt they’d grabbed from the carnival section of a clothing store), and the smoke was at least rising in helixes; Mike’s on the other hand, was a thick, chunky grey substance (Erwin could think of no words other than goop) that moved sluggishly around in his cauldron as he stirred it frantically, smoke rising, not in lazy spirals as the book claimed it should, but in a fast, continuous stream of black that filled the room with the acrid smell of burning rubber.

            “More than you,” Erwin said.

            “Ass,” Mike snorted affectionately. “Here, c’mon, lemme smell yours.”

            Erwin shoved his cauldron towards Mike, and he leaned forwards, taking a long, deep inhale. “Nah, sorry, all I smell’s the ingredients. And smoke.”

            Erwin hummed, looking back at the textbook. “Says that effects only work if the potion is brewed perfectly — otherwise, it’s either completely useless, or drives the victim insane with lust and obsession.”

            “Jesus.” Mike stared at his cauldron for a moment before picking it up by the handles and dumping the contents into the trashcan next to their table (which immediately began to bubble and hiss, the metal corroding and melting as the fruits of Mike’s labors consume it from the inside out). “What?” he asked in response to Erwin’s incredulous look. “I was going to fail, anyways. And, besides,” he added, a sly look overtaking his face. “I’d rather not see what you’d do to Levi if you were overtaken with ‘lust and obsession’.”

            A dead salamander landed on his large nose with a wet slap. “Fuck a trombone, Zacharius.”

            Mike snorted, peeling the dead amphibian from his face. “Hey, pass me some of that powdered unicorn horn, will you?”

            Levi nodded, leaning over the table, holding out the Tupperware full of sparkling silver dust. “Wipe your face off, that’s disgusting,” he added, wrinkling his nose as slime dripped down his mustache.

            Erwin frowned as Levi’s sleeve slipped back a little, showing off the bandage wrapped tightly around his forearm. “What happened there?” He nodded at his arm.

            Levi started, drawing his hand back sharply, leaving Mike to fumble for the Tupperware. “What?”

            “Your arm,” Erwin said.

            If looks could kill, Erwin probably would have been dead at least ten times over. “Nothing,” he snarled. “Scratched it. At breakfast.”

            “On a steak knife?” Hange asked drlyly.

            “None of your fucking business,” Levi growled, smacking the side of his cauldron with his wand, making the potion within jump, splashing at the rim.

            “Levi—”

            “It’s just a cut,” Levi snapped. “Petra bandaged it.”

            That shut Erwin up.

 

Slughorn inhaled deeply as he leaned over Hange’s cauldron. “Very good, Zoë! Nearly perfect: I can detect traces of my favorite aged mead, and I daresay the smoke spirals are the finest I’ve seen in years!” Hange grinned, tilting their chin at Erwin. He rolled his eyes—his own potion had received a ‘Fine, Smith’ and barely a sniff. Next to him, Mike stuck his tongue out at them (the remains of the trash bin were still sizzling on the ground next to him).

            “Oho!” Slughorn stopped as he stared at Levi’s potion. “What’s this?” He lifted a ladle, dipping it into the potion and lifting it out of the cauldron. The babble in the classroom died as Slughorn inhaled deeply. Erwin sniffed slightly as the pale smoke curled through the room, the misty tendrils bringing with them the most pleasant smell he’d ever encountered in his life: the smoky smell a room bears after a candle has gone out; the aroma of wildflowers carried on a spring breeze; and, beneath it all, the strong scent of black tea, mingling perfectly in a way he couldn’t have predicted with the other smells.

            “Very good, very good, Mr. Ackerman!” Slughorn exclaimed joyously. “Why I’d say this brew may be better than even my own!” He inhaled again, as did every other person in the room. A resounding, pleased sigh echoed through the room, and everybody looked around, goofy smiles on their faces, eyes clouded over, for a few moments. The spell was broken as Slughorn cleared his throat—a few people jumped, blinking as they looked back to Slughorn, seemingly dazed.

            “Excellent, Mr. Ackerman!” Slughorn declared, seemingly ready to burst with joy. “I, myself, smell crystallized pineapple, my favorite apple mead, and Venomous Tentacula leaves.” A few confused looks were exchanged, and a wave of giggles rippled through the room. “Ah, laugh all you want, but it’s truly an intoxicating scent, if you spend enough time examining it: a most interesting blend of mint, something akin to lavender, and, of course, the most potent smell of magic.”

            Nile snorted quietly in the corner of the room, leaning over to whisper to his friend. “Ah, I see you have a lot to say on the subject, Mr. Dok.” Nile jumped. “Care to tell us all what you smell?”

            Nile wrinked his nose as Slughorn gestured at him, and scowled before muttering, reluctantly: “Firewhiskey, firewood, and, uh—” he turned a faint shade of pink and muttered something under his breath.

            “I’m sorry, what was that, Dok?” Slughorn asked.

            “He said Chanel perfume, sir,” Levi piped up monotonously, the corner of his mouth flicking up ever so slightly.

            Everybody burst out laughing, wolf-whistles mixed in with the hoots, echoing through the dungeon. Nile turned red, glaring furiously at Levi.

            The ringing of the bell cut through the laughter, and there was a rush of rustling robes and pounding footsteps as everybody began shoving their textbooks into their bags, followed by countless loud gurgles as potions were emptied down the sink in the back.

            “Ah, not so fast, Ackerman!” Slughorn called as Levi picked up his cauldron. “I’d like to take a sample of your potion, if you don’t mind.” Levi frowned, but nodded, putting the cauldron back on the table. “I must say, I am truly impressed,” he said as he ladled the pearly concoction into a bottle. “Simply perfect—why, I haven’t seen such a fine potioneer in my class since—” he cut off with a frown, brows furrowing.

            “Sir?” Hange frowned. “Yoo-hoo! Professor Slughorn?”

            “Ah.” Slughorn blinked, shaking himself out of his stupor. “Of course—forgive me.” He plugged the opening of the bottle. “As I was saying, excellent work. . . Levi.”

 

“Ouch!”

            Erwin stepped back hastily, shoving his book back in his bag as he dropped to his knees to help the girl up. “Oh, sorry. Are you—” he paused.

            Petra looked up, wincing as she rubbed her forehead. “Watch where you’re—oh, hey, Erwin!” She blinked in surprise.

            “Petra,” he replied, fighting down the urge to whirl around and march down the hall and/or kick the girl into next year (Seriously, Mike, fuck you).

            She glanced around curiously. “Where’s Levi?” she asked.

            Erwin beat down the wave of jealousy in his chest. “Our dorms,” he said. “Why?”

            “Oh, it’s nothing!” she waved her hand, smiling. “Just wanted to say goodnight. Oh, well!” she turned around. “Bye, Erwin!”

            “Wait!” he grabbed her wrist, and she turned to look at him, surprised. “Hey, what happened at breakfast?”

            She furrowed her brows. “What do you mean?”

            “You know, his bandage. What did he cut himself on?”

            Petra’s frown deepened. “He didn’t. Did he say he did?”

             “He said you bandaged it.”

            Flashes of different emotions—Erwin spotted shock, confusion, worry, and traces of fear—crossed her face. “Nothing happened at breakfast,” she said slowly.

            “Oh.” He let go of her hand. “Okay. Okay, never mind.”

            “Huh? Erwin, wait—!”

            “See you, Petra,” he said, turning around and rushing down the hall.

            “Erwin!”

 

He ran a hand down his forearm, brushing his fingers over the blemish against the pale skin.

            “Thinking again?” his companion inquired as he stood above him, looking over the grounds.

            “At least I actually do some thinking,” Levi snapped. “Aren’t you supposed to be the mastermind or something? So far, all you’ve done is stand there while I do all the work.”

            “Now, now,” the man chided. “Don’t be like that. I assure you, this will all be over soon. I have everything under control.”

            Levi snorted, dropping his sleeve and leaning back, kicking the stone walls with his heels as he swung his legs back and forth. “Whatever.”

            “You’re too restless for someone your age,” the man commented. Levi scoffed, running a hand through his hair.

            “I’m too murderous and relied on for my age. I’d hardly say I’m normal.”

            The man laughed. “Fair enough.” Silence fell again.

            “When are they getting here?” Levi asked. “We’ve only got so much time. Something’s happening in there, I can sense it.”

            “Patience,” the man said calmingly. “Even if things get out of hand, we—”

            A wave of magic crashed over them, and both of them stiffened. “Someone’s here,” Levi gasped.

            The man’s eyes darkened. “Yes,” he said. “Do it.”

            “Don’t have to tell me twice.”

Chapter Text

Father! Father, where are you?

            Erwin! No, please, not Erwin! Erwin!

            Father! No, let him go—

            Run like the wind!

            Erwin sat up with a gasp, heart pounding, hand fisted in the fabric of his shirt, clutching his chest. He took a slow, deep breath.

            They’re back.

            He focused on his surroundings: the low, rumbling noise always present underwater; the dim, green-tinged light shining through the window of the room, rippling on the ground as it was distorted by water; the ticking of the clock on his nightstand. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes with a small groan. I can hardly remember anything from that night

            He jumped as he felt a small hand press against his forehead. “Go to fucking sleep,” Levi whispered. In his state of shock, Erwin could do nothing but comply, slowly lying down, Levi’s hand still pressed to his skin. “You’re supposed to be asleep,” he said, just as softly—a tone Erwin was far from accustomed to hearing from the normally crass boy. “Christ, Smith—you just love making my job harder, don’t you?”

            Erwin eyelids grew heavy as the throbbing in his brain dimmed. A slender finger brushed a strand of blond hair away from his forehead. “Sleep on it, Smith,” he whispered as his eyes slid shut.

            “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

 

He looked up as a rustling sound filled the air, and raised his arm just in time for a barn owl to land on it. The bird dropped a hastily folded-up piece of paper in his hand and gave his hair a quick peck before flapping its wings and flying off again.

            He unfolded the note, looking at the single word scribbled hurriedly onto it.

            Ready.

            He chuckled, balling up the paper and holding it in his palm. The note burst into flames, and he watched as the blue tongues of fire licked at it, consuming it slowly until he held nothing but a pile of ashes in the palm of his hand. He stood, brushing his hand off on his pant leg and pulling on his glove.

            His cloak rustled as he walked down the mountain, and he curled his fingers around the wand in his pocket, feeling it pulse with magic beneath his fingers.

            He exhaled slowly, watching his breath mist in front of him.

            Soon.

 

Crash!

            Erwin nearly jumped out of his skin as something crashed into the door of study hall, and he quickly got to his feet, throwing it open.

            “Oh, sweet Merlin.” He leapt back, just barely stopping himself from stomping into a puddle of ink slowly spreading from a shattered inkwell. “Who—oi!”

            He ducked as a textbook slammed into the wall just above his head, and caught it just before it crushed his skull.

            “What’s up—holy shit!” Hange dropped to the floor as a potion bottle crashed into the wall where their face had been a second earlier, shattering on impact.

            “Protego!” Another textbook bounced off the shield as Mike stepped into the hallway, Levi trailing after him. “The hell’s going on?”

            “I dunno,” Erwin said. Levi sniffed, crouching to wave his wand over the mess of ink on the ground. “Probably Peeves chucking things again, but I don’t see him—”

            “I don’t care!”

            “Babe, come on—”

            “No!”

            “You’re not listening!”

            “I don’t care!” the speaker—a girl—sounded beyond infuriated. “I don’t care? How could you, Traute? How could you say something like that?”

            In an instant, all four of them were pressed against Mike’s shield, shoving each other aside to catch a glimpse of the first fight ever witnessed between what had become known as Hogwarts’ golden couple.

            “‘M not deaf, ‘m I?” Hange asked, face smushed against the barrier. “‘R Cav’n ‘n Frie’a fight’n?”

            “For once, I agree, four-eyes,” Levi said, squeezed between Mike and Erwin, peering out from under their arms. “Shit, I didn’t think this was possible. It’s like, one of the laws of the universe. Gravity makes shit fall, free public Wi-Fi never works, and Trieda never fights.”

            “Shut up!” Mike said. “I can’t hear!”

            “What the hell do you think you’re doing, talking about them like that?” Frieda demanded. “They’re our friends—!”
            “I’m trying to protect you!” Caven pleaded. “Please, babe, just listen! I know what I know, and I’m telling you, he’s dangerous, and they probably are too!”

            “Who the fuck are they talking about?” Levi demanded.

            “Do I look omnipotent to you?” Mike asked.

            “Do you even know what that means?”

            “You don’t understand!” Caven cried. “Please, don’t! Just don’t! Love—Frieda, I’m begging you.”

            “I can’t even look at you right now,” Frieda spat. “Seriously, Traute, just go. I’ll find you later—”

            “Frieda!

            “Traute—let go!”

            “Please—” Caven’s voice broke. “Frieda, just try to stay on your own today, okay?”

            “I’m not putting up with this bullshit anymore,” Frieda snapped, and they heard her marching angrily down the hall, angry footsteps echoing off the walls.

            “Frieda—wait!”

            “Shit,” Hange said quietly. “Now I’m kinda glad I’m single.”

 

“Shit,” Mike hissed under his breath as Kruger deposited his kitten in front of him. It mewled happily, pressing its padded paw to the bars of the cage. “Fuck you, you adorable piece of shit! You’re not supposed to be meowing anymore!”

            Levi glanced up from his own cage, packed to the brim with lizards, as Kruger dropped yet another kitten in his lap. “Problem, sniffy?”

            “Oh, fuck you, lover boy.”

            Erwin rolled his eyes, looking at his own lizard. “Just hand it in already, Erwin,” Hange said. “It’s practically perfect.”

            “But, here,” Erwin gestured to the kitten’s underbelly. “It’s still just a bit too soft, and you can still feel some peach fuzz if you—”

            “Show off,” Mike grumbled. “Jesus Christ, Smith, you’re awesome. Fuck you.”

            “Aren’t you supposed to be the Transfiguration expert?” Levi drawled, dragging the tip of his wand down the kitten’s spine, the fur parting and flattening, turning into leathery green skin.

            “Fuck you both,” Mike scowled. “We get it, you’re a goddamned genius.”

            “Don’t call me that,” Levi scowled.
            “Fine. Prodigy.”

            “Yeah, well fuck you and your mustache.”

            “Boys, boys,” Hange crooned. “Hey, Levi, since you already have so many not-kittens, mind if I snag one—"

            “Yeah, as if, four-eyes,” Levi snorted, rolling his eyes. “Come on, like I’d –”

            The door crashed open and everybody swivelled around to look at it as a group of wizards in dark suits stormed in, silky grey cravats shimmering faintly with every movement, black pearl pins at their throats. Ministry-purple cloaks were slung over their shoulders, golden clasps shining brilliantly under the sunlight streaming in through the window.

            “Aurors,” Erwin muttered, frowning.

            “What are they doing here?” Hange asked as Kruger turned to look at them, frowning.

            “Sirs,” the professor frowned. “What seems to be the problem?”

            The Aurors ignored him as they marched through the classroom, drawing their wands in an eerily synchronized motion that sent a chill racing down Erwin’s spine.

            “They’re not normal Aurors,” Mike muttered, voicing Erwin’s thoughts.

            “Special Operations,” Erwin said quietly. “Something’s up.”

            “Gentlemen!” Kruger shouted, standing up. “I’m going to have to ask you to –”

            “Stand down, Eren,” Flitwick said as he entered the room, expression grim. The taller teacher turned to him with a small frown, leaning down as Flitwick stood on his toes, whispering in his ear. Kruger’s eyes widened before his expression settled, and he nodded, eyes dark. He stood and turned to look at the back of the room.

            Directly at Levi.

            Erwin’s heart turned to lead in his chest. “Levi,” he whispered as the Aurors walked towards them, wands aimed at the youngest boy, the other students swivelling around to stare. “Levi, what did you do?”

            “I –” Levi’s eyes were wary as the Aurors stopped, circling their desks. “I didn’t –”

            “Levi Ackerman?” one of the Aurors asked. There was a scar stretching over his right eye, touching the edge of his lip, and his long brown hair was pulled into a tight, thick braid that nearly touched his ankles, even after winding twice around his hip.

            “Alan,” Erwin stood up, ignoring Hange’s frantic tugging at his sleeve, recognizing the man from his internship. “What’s happening? Why –”

            “Sit down, Smith,” Alan barked, and Erwin frowned. “Don’t make our job any tougher.”

            “What do you mean?” Mike asked, standing up too.

            “Zacharius, Smith, sit down,” Alan said. “We’re only here for Ackerman.”

            “Why?” Hange snapped, leaping to their feet. “Come on, this vague movie supervillain intimidation really doesn’t work, you know!”

            “Smith, Zacharius, Zoë, sit down,” Kruger shouted.

            “What do you want with Levi?” Erwin demanded, but Alan ignored him.

            “Expelliarmus!” one of the Aurors shouted, and Levi’s wand flew from his hand. Another Auror caught it, and Levi jumped to his feet. There was a rustling of robes as all the Aurors trained their wands towards Levi’s heart.

            “Just spit it out, already!” Hange demanded, hands curling into fists. “What do you want from –”

            A jet of light shot out of one of the Auror’s wands, and Levi stumbled, crashing to the ground as silver chains materialized around his wrists and ankles. “Levi Ackerman!” Alan said as the chains glowed white-hot and the boy gasped in pain. “You are found guilty of breaching the terms of your parole in the manner of the most extreme, having brought fatal harm to your classmates –”

            “What are you talking about?” Erwin demanded as an Auror grabbed Levi roughly by his hair, forcing him to his knees. “We’ve been with Levi all day, he hasn’t done anything –”

            “I’d suggest you quiet down right now, Smith,” Alan growled. “You’re already in trouble as it is, and I’d advise you don’t risk anything else.”

            “Just tell us what happened!” Erwin roared back.

            It was Kruger who spoke up from the front of the room, leaning against his desk, eyes shadowed.

            “The murder of Frieda Reiss.”

Chapter Text

“Erwin, come here.”

            Erwin glanced up from his book as his father beckoned him over, a look of excitement on his face. Erwin folded the corner of the page down and set it on the coffee table before hopping down from the couch and moving over to where Aldo sat, wand in his hand.

            “What is it, father?”

            “Look.” There was a flower on the ground before Aldo, wilted, dry, and black, looking like it was ready to crumble to dust at the slightest touch. “I’ve done it.” Aldo’s voice was brimming with glee, and his eyes were bright with delight. “I did it, Erwin.” He beckoned his son over, and Erwin plopped onto the carpet in front of the flickering hearth in front of him. “I’m finished.”

            “Your project?” Erwin asked, peering curiously at the flower. “Are you going to tell me what it is, now?”

            Aldo chuckled, kissing him lightly on the top of his head. “Of course. Now, look.” He pointed the tip of his wand at the lily. “April showers.”
            Erwin’s breath hitched as an unfamiliar sensation washed over him, seeming to ripple out in waves from Aldo’s wand—his skin prickled as the hair on his arms and the back of his neck stood up straight, and his breath hitched, heartbeat speeding up as the room wobbled before him, head suddenly light as it swam. Aldo placed a hand on his arm, steadying him. “Look,” he whispered.

            Erwin focused on the flower, and his eyes widened. The dry, delicate petals were unfurling, the stem straightening, and the head standing up straight as color bloomed from the pistil, orange flooding through the blackened petals, the thin stem straightening into a pale green.

            “How did you—” Erwin stared at the flower with wide eyes as Aldo lowered his wand, arm shaking.

            “This is it,” Aldo said, giving Erwin another kiss on the top of his head. “This is it, Erwin!” He squeezed Erwin’s shoulders. “This is how they’re doing it,” he muttered, seemingly to himself. “Of course—nobody could trace it.”

            “Father?” Erwin asked, suddenly uneasy. “Father, you don’t mean—” A chill raced through him, and he shuddered slightly. “Father. . . this doesn’t have anything to do with the war, does it?”

            Aldo’s fingers tensed. “What do you mean, kiddo?”

            “Are you doing research for the Order of the Phoe—” Erwin began, but was cut off as Aldo placed a hand over his mouth.

            “Quiet, now,” he said, voice low. “I know we’re at home right now, but you need to be careful.”

            Erwin nodded, and Aldo moved his hand. “Father,” he said, and Aldo raised a cautioning eyebrow. “You aren’t are you?”

            Aldo sighed. “I’m researching magic,” he said. “Whether it has anything to do with. . . that doesn’t matter. And, if I happen to discover something groundbreaking,” he added. “Well, I wouldn’t withhold information if someone—”

            Erwin jumped as a loud bang rang through the house, echoing in his ears louder than a shot from a cannon. Aldo tensed, gripping Erwin’s hand in a tight, bone-crushing grip. “No,” he whispered.

            Another bang sounded out, as well as the sound of splintering wood. Erwin yelled as a sound equivalent to a small explosion nearly shattered his eardrums, and he heard glass shatter in the front hall as something large and wooden slammed into the wall.

            Aldo moved faster than Erwin could react, grabbing him and swinging the eleven-year-old over his shoulder—no small feat, considering Erwin’s recent growth spurt. He all but threw the kitchen door open as footsteps echoed through the house.

            Someone was here.

            Aldo pressed his wand into Erwin’s hand as he dug in his pocket with his other. “Go,” he whispered as the footsteps approached. “Run, run as fast as you can.” He wrapped Erwin’s fingers around his wallet as he opened the back door. “Take the Underground, go to your cousin Zacharius’ house—no, go to Hange’s house, tell their dads to take you as far away as possible. Leave London, go as far as you can—take a ferry to Ireland if you must—”

            “He’s not here.” Erwin’s blood turned to ice at the voice that echoed through the house—sharp as a knife, and cold enough to freeze flames.

            “Don’t be an asswipe, of course he is.” The other voice was just as cold, if not more, and completely emotionless, as if they were discussing something completely boring and mundane, and the trip was hardly worth his time. “Use your brain, beard-face. I told you not to kick the door.”

            “Death Eaters,” Aldo whispered, face ashen. Erwin paled.

            “Well, we hardly have time to search the whole house,” the first man said. “What do you—”

            “Come out, come out, wherever you are!” the second voice roared, and the same sensation from before crashed over Erwin, making him drop to his knees, head spinning, room doing cartwheels in front of his eyes. “Aldo Smith!

            Aldo shouted as he was suddenly ripped away, yanked brutally through the door by some unseen force. “Father!” Erwin cried, forcing himself to his feet, grabbing to counter to stay upright. “Father, where are you?” He ran forwards, Aldo’s wallet and wand still clutched tightly in his grip, stumbling into the hallway, falling to the ground again as his knees gave away.

            “Erwin!” Erwin looked up and froze in horror at the sight in front of him. Two people in dark cloaks stood in the living room, hoods pulled over their faces, one of them short, ridiculously so, coming just past the other’s waist. Aldo lay on the ground in front of them. “No, please, not Erwin!” he begged as the taller one tilted his head, running a gloved finter over the tip of his wand. “Erwin!”

            “Father!” Erwin stumbled to his feet. “No, please, let him go—"

            “Avada Kedavra!” He ducked as a jet of green light shot over his head, shattering the grandfather clock behind him, a loud clang echoing through the house as it fell over, his father’s wand flying from his hand.

            Quick as a flash, Aldo had grabbed the wand, pointing it directly at Erwin. “ Run like the wind! ” he bellowed.

            Erwin’s feet began moving on his own accord, and, suddenly, he was sprinting from the house, running through the garden, feet kicking up grass and dirt, rocketing through the woods behind their house, down the street, shooting passed houses and closed storefronts, overtaking cars as he kept running, unable to stop. His clothes had been ripped and a shoe lost during his mad dash through the forest, and he’d dropped his father’s wallet at some point, but it didn’t matter, not when he was running twice the speed of any train, lungs burning, feet still pounding on the ground furiously as he ran, the skin of his bare foot scraped, bloody, and full of blisters. Still, he didn’t stop, not until early the next morning when he stumbled onto the doorstep of the Zoë household, crashing through the front door and passing out cold on the floor of the front hall.

            The last thing he remembered before everything turned black was Hange’s scream for their fathers as they dropped their basket of laundry, and the pounding of Herbert and Alex’s feet as they ran down the stairs.

            When he woke up the next morning, he was in Hange’s bed, a wet cloth on his forehead as they sat next to him, sobbing openly, as Alex tipped warm tea down his throat and Herbert cast frantic healing spells on his abused feet and skin.

            The front page of the Daily Prophet bore a picture of his burnt-down house, his father’s face, and the Dark Mark.

 

Erwin’s eyes shot open with a gasp, and he lay still for a second, panting, drenched in a cold sweat, trying to figure out where he was.

            He received the answer to his question as the door to his holding cell slid open with a clang. He sat up straight, reaching for a wand that wasn’t there. He looked up at the two unfamiliar people in the room—the first, a tall man with shaggy black hair that covered his eyes and thick, black beard, so massive that his purple cloak barely reached the middle of his calf; the second, a young woman with long blonde hair, bangs hanging over her forehead and eyes, hands planted on her hips.

            Wait. Erwin blinked, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. That hair. . . “Mike? Hange?”

            “Erwin!” Hange pushed the locks of the blonde wig away from their eyes and rushed forwards, pulling him into a tight hug. Mike grinned as he lighted his own ‘bangs’ away from his eyes and moved the fake beard aside. “Thank god you’re okay!”

            “What happened?” Erwin asked. “What are you doing—”

            “We followed the Aurors after they arrested you two!” Hange said. “And then we stopped by the flat and I worked some cosplay magic. I’m so glad they didn’t move you before we got here!”

            “Yeah, and. . .” Erwin frowned, grabbing at their chest. “Did you shove oranges down your shirt?”

            Hange smacked his hand away. “Come on,” they said, with a bit more urgency, as they tugged another wig out from within their cloak. “The Ministry checks for concealment spells, but they don’t factor in Muggle disguises,” they said as they tugged the brown locks over his head and mussed the bangs about. “Quick, we’ve gotta—”

            “Levi.”

            “What?” Mike and Hange stared at him.

            “Where’s Levi?” Erwin asked, heart pounding. “We—I need to talk to him.”

            “Erwin, we don’t have time!” Mike said. “It was a big enough risk sneaking in here to get you, and he’s going to be under way heavier guard.”

            “I don’t care,” Erwin said, standing up. “We need to get him out of here. He didn’t do this, I know it.” But he did something else.

            “Erwin—!”

            “He’s down the hall.” Hange grabbed his arm and marched out, snagging Mike as they went. “Come on.”

Chapter Text

“Why did you do it?”

            He didn’t reply, simply twirled the wand around in his fingers, eyes fixed on the sky above.

            “Hey!” He felt, rather than saw, her clench her fists, knuckles white, eyes blazing with fury. “I asked you a question, asshole. Why did you—”

            “The stars are beautiful tonight,” he interrupted, and her jaw snapped shut with an audible clack. “Look up. See how they twinkle?”

            “You’re avoiding the question.” He hid a smirk at the way her voice quivered. “Why? Why would you—”

            “That’s for me to know and you to ponder.”

            “Fuck that!” she yelled. “How could you? I did everything you asked me to, and you—” she broke off with a small sob. “You took everything away from me,” she breathed, voice hoarse.

            He flicked the wand slightly, and she gasped, collapsing to the ground, grabbing her throat, eyes bugging out. “I took everything from you?” he asked, voice low. “Me? Is that really what you think?” His gaze slid to the side, watching as her face slowly purpled. “You haven’t got a clue about what’s going on, do you?” He dragged the wand absent-mindedly through the air. “This isn’t about you,” he muttered, looking back at the sky as she clawed at her throat. “No,” he continued in a low murmur as he spoke to himself. “No, not you.” He raised the wand and she landed on the ground, coughing and curling in on herself. “You were one of the believers, weren’t you?” he asked. “Shame. . . you could have done so much more.”

            She looked up shakily, tomato-red slowly receding from her cheeks. “What. . ?”

            He stood fluidly, pointing the wand directly at her chest. “Reality,” he said, “can be whatever I want.”

            A phantom wind rustled the grass and leaves, branches brushing against each other, as she stared up at him. She took a deep, shaky breath, eyes widening with horror as she slowly raised her hand to her face, watching as her fingers began crumpling to dust, the breeze that seemed to touch everything but the man carrying it away.

            “You can see her soon,” he whispered as her arms fell to her sides and she landed on her stomach, entire body decimated into a fine, silvery powder that seemed to vanish as it was blown away. “But I’ll have to wait, it seems.” He raised the wand again, holding it up to the moon as her empty robe fluttered to the ground.

            “Thank you, Caven.”

 

Taking out the lone guard posted at the door of Levi’s cell turned out to be a shockingly easy task—a one-man job, really, that Mike could easily take care of.

            “Sir?” Mike inquired, walking up to the Auror in front of the cell door.

            “Huh?” the man glanced up at him. “Hey, what do you—hey!” He fumbled for his wand as Mike yanked his wig off, but was halted in his efforts as the goliath of a boy socked him in the face, making the elder wizard collapse to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut.

            Erwin dropped to his knees, rifling through the man’s robes. “Here,” he said, tugging out a ring of keys. He knew better than to try unlocking the door with magic—he could practically feel the strength of the security spells pulsing from the three-inch thick slab of metal. He inserted a long, thin key and turned the lock.

 

Levi was curled up in a tiny ball on the cot, and jumped as the door slammed open, turning sharply towards them with an intake of breath. “Erwin,” he whispered, eyes wide as he stared at the other boy standing in the doorway.

            “Get up, shrimp,” Mike said, glancing nervously down the hallway.  “We’ve gotta go while the Aurors—”

            “No.”

            “What?” Hange stared at him. “Come on, don’t be stupid! We can figure something out—”

            “I said no, four-eyes,” Levi said, voice, shockingly, calm and low. “Just leave.”

            “The hell are you talking about?” Mike demanded. “Look, I didn’t put this shit on my head and break into here just to have you be a stubborn little shit—”

            “Levi,” Erwin interrupted, and Mike clamped his jaw shut. “I don’t care whether you want to come or not, but I need you to.”

            Levi narrowed his eyes. “What the fuck do you mean, Smith?” he asked, voice barely audible, eyes dangerously bright.

            Erwin held out his hand as he stepped closer to where Levi sat, knees pulled to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs. “Give me your arm.”

            “Leave, Smith,” Levi said.

            “Give me your arm.”

            “You don’t need to be here,” Levi said. “I can just make up some bullshit and get your name cleared. You can go back to that shitstain you call a school, and—”

            Erwin grabbed his arm, rolling back the sleeve, ignoring Levi’s cry of shock and Hange and Mike’s shouts. He yanked off the bandage, the one that had concerned him mere weeks ago, and unravelled it, tossing it to the ground.

            Mike stilled, and Hange whispered, “Holy shit.”

            A pitch-black skull, jawbone hanging open, a serpent the color of ink spilling from its gaping mouth, winding about, fangs bared, tongue out.

            The Dark Mark.

            Levi didn’t say anything as Erwin stared. “Your magic,” he said, grip tightening slightly on Levi’s forearm. The boy narrowed his eyes, but didn’t flinch. “It’s classified as dark. Why?”

            “I can’t tell you.”

            “It’s because you used it during the second war, isn’t it?” Erwin demanded, Hange and Mike hesitating behind him, not sure whether they should intervene, or if doing so would just make things work. “You created spells and used them against the Order. From You-Know-Who’s side.”

            “I was never on his side,” Levi hissed, reaching up to grab Erwin’s wrist. “I would never—”

            “Kill a man for investigating your brand of magic?” Levi’s eyes narrowed, and Erwin felt his short, blunt fingernails digging into his skin. “Levi,” Erwin said, blue eyes locked on silver. “Was it you? That night?”

            Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Levi jerked his chin in a small nod.

            Erwin rose to his full height, and, before Levi could react, raised his hand.

            He heard Hange inhale sharply as the sound of skin on skin rang through the room. Erwin stared coldly down at Levi, gaze searing into him as his head jerked to the side, hair covering his eyes, a red mark already blooming on his cheek where Erwin’s palm had made contact. Without waiting, Erwin grabbed him by the collar, yanking him up so that they were eye-to-eye.

            “What about this time?” he asked, voice shaking slightly. “Did you kill Frieda?” Levi’s eyes were dull as he shook his head. “Do you know who did?”

            “I can’t tell you that.” His voice was just barely a whisper.

            “Why?” Erwin demanded.

            “I can’t tell you.”

            “You—”

            “Guard coming!” Hange suddenly shouted, and Mike grabbed the back of Erwin’s shirt, tugging him away from Levi. “We need to go!”

            “Levi, come on, please!” Hange pleaded. “You can’t just—hey!”

            Erwin stumbled as Hange suddenly crashed into him, thrown by some invisible force. Levi was still kneeling on the cot, but his head was up, and he stared at them with laser-focused intensity, eyes blazing again, no longer muddled quicksilver, but clear, Patronus-coloured irises nearly white.

            “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” he said as a hoard of Aurors charged down the hall. “You’ve got no business here.” Instead of going for Hange, Mike, and Erwin, they veered right, storming into the cell. Levi disappeared behind a wave of roaring wizards, and the other three turned, simultaneously, and began marching down the hall.

            “What the fuck?” Hange whispered. “What spells did he cast?”

            “That’s the least of my concerns,” Mike hissed. “The Dark Mark Hange, didn’t you see?”

            “Of course I fucking saw, dumbass, but what—”

            “They’re going to take him to Azkaban,” Erwin interrupted, voice a dull monotone. “There’s no way he’s getting a trial, after he supposedly tried escaping. Not that he was getting one, anyways,” he added.

            “Erwin,” Hange said. “What you were talking about earlier—he isn’t actually—”

            “He is,” Erwin said. “And I still have more questions.”

            “What’re you talking about?” Mike asked warily.

            “We’re breaking into Azkaban.”

 

The motor of the car they’d highjacked from a parking lot rumbled as they drove down the road, Mike tapping the steering wheel in time to the song playing on the radio. Hange groaned, sliding down in their seat.

            “Can we please change it to WWN?”

            “It’s a Muggle car, Hange, it doesn’t have WWN.”

            Hange snorted, unbuckling their seatbelt and lying down across the backseats. “We have magic, Mikey, we can just—”

            “What do you think’ll happen if the Ministry sees a stolen car’s radio connect to WWN while said car’s heading for the North Sea, right after three teenagers broke out of the Ministry, leaving their ‘friend’ behind?”

            “I can sense your air quotes.”

            “Frieda’s dead, Hange.” Mike’s grip tightened on the steering wheel. “Fuckin’ dead. And Levi did it.”

            “We don’t know that!” Hange sat up (“Jesus Christ, I’m driving here!”). “He could have been framed! No, he was framed, but—”

            “He couldn’t tell us who,” Mike said sarcastically. “Look, I told you the brat was bad news, and then we find out he’s a murderer and a Death Eater on the same day—”

            “Let’s not talk about this anymore,” Erwin said, for the first time in almost two hours, still staring out the window.

            Mike sighed, turning back to look at the highway. Hange continued staring at the back of Erwin’s head.

            “Erwin,” they said. “Do you really think—”

            “Of course I do,” he said. “I know.” He closed his eyes, thinking of the way Levi had followed them around, talked, laughed, and lived with them. He thought of Levi sitting on his bed, holding back a smile as he doodled and complained about Petra trying to feed him at breakfast, and surprised himself when he felt, not jealousy, but dull pity. For who?

            “There’s something else happening, Erwin,” Hange said. “Levi wouldn’t have just done this for no reason. He—”

            “What, Hange?” Erwin asked. “What?” He turned to face them. “Levi’s a murderer, Hange. He’s not the guy we’ve been hanging around all year. And that thing on his arm proves it.”

            “Then why are we going after him?” Hange shot back almost immediately.

            “I have things to ask.”

            “You could have let the Ministry take care of that,” Hange said. “They’ve got interrogation tactics, and I you really didn’t care about him, you would have let them have him—”

            “I don’t care.”

            “Yes, you do! You always glance at him from the corner of your eye to make sure he’s with you, you always make sure you know where he’s been, you ask if he’s okay when even Petra’s backed off—”

            The wheels skidded as Mike pulled into a gas stop. “We’re out,” he said, picking up a baseball cap the car’s owner had left in the glove compartment and pulling it over his face (they’d taken the liberty of Transfiguring the license plate beforehand, so as to not attract attention). “It’ll probably take a few minutes, and then we’ll be at Cromer Pier in about an hour (they’d searched up their route on the car’s owner’s Google Maps) (they’d also vowed to leave a bouquet in the car when they eventually returned it).

            “I’m getting a snack,” Erwin declared, standing up and slamming the car door behind him, leaving Hange in the backseat.

 

He sighed as he dropped a box of Teacakes on the counter and the grumpy-looking man rung it up. He tugged absent-mindedly at his brown wig (and quickly adjusted it before it slipped off). What do they know? He slid a bill across the counter. It’s complicated. He’s. . . I just can’t. Not right now. Maybe not ever.

            The cashier tutted as he counted out the change, glancing up at the small TV over the register. “Christ, kids these days,” he said as he dropped a pile of coins on the counter. “Give ‘em the chance and they’ll shoot anyone in the back, eh?” He chuckled as Erwin pocketed the cakes and held out a hand for the change. He glanced up out of curiousity and his heartbeat froze.

            “Oi!” the cashier protested as Erwin drew away the coins crashed to the counter, rolling every which way. “What was that for—where’re ya goin’?”

             The bell jingled wildly as Erwin rushed across the parking lot and towards the car, slamming the car door shut just as Mike climbed in.

            “What’s the rush?” Mike asked. “We’ve—”

            “Shit, drive,” Erwin said. “Just fucking drive.” Mike frowned, but tapped his wand against the ignition and pressed the gas down anyways.

            “What happened?” Hange asked, reaching over for one of the Teacakes.

            “Turn on the radio, any major new channel, it’s probably on,” Erwin said. Mike twiddled the dial until the tinny voice of a broadcaster came on.

            “—suspected to have aided in the escape of Smith, and are possible accomplices of Ackerman.” Mike and Hange inhaled sharply. “If you think you’ve spotted Zoë, Zacharius, or Smith, please do not hesitate to call the police. We remind you once again that these three are highly dangerous individuals, and should not be approached under any circumstances—

            Mike slammed his hand down on the power button with a roar, and Hange slammed their fist on the seat.

            “Shit!” they cried. “Frieda’s dad—he works in the Muggle government for the Ministry, doesn’t he?”

            “Fuck,” Mike growled. “There’ll be Aurors on every street, and checkpoints, too, I suppose, now. Fuck,” he repeated, gripping the steering wheel tighter. “We can’t keep driving. We’ll be caught for sure.”

            Hange growled, mussing the hair of their wig. “This is shit,” they snarled. “Erwin, we don’t have any choice, we can’t go back to school now. We need to—”

            “Apparate,” Erwin said. “Mike, stop the car the next chance you get. We’ll need to find a place to Disapparate.”

            “Gotcha, chief,” Mike said grimly, turning the wheel. The smooth sailing of the car turned to rough, bumpy motion as they trundled down a dirt path into a small forest. Mike slammed on the brakes after pulling behind a particularly large tree, and they got out, the slamming of the doors seeming to echo in the quiet space, the noise of the road so close, yet so far.

            “On three,” Erwin said. “Cromer Pier, under the Pavilion.” Mike and Hange nodded. “One.” Do Petra and the others know? How are they taking it? “Two.” Poor Caven. . . right after they’d fought, too.  “Three.” Even if we manage to do this, what then? It’s not like we can go back to school.

            “Now!” They spun on the spot, and, with a small pop, vanished into the suffocating darkness.

Chapter Text

The crashing of waves was the first thing Erwin recognized as his feet landed against solid metal, his body materializing with a loud crack as his being ripped through time and space.

            “Woah!” Hange grabbed at a pole, clinging on like a panicked koala as the beams of the dock rocked. “Ah, shit!” They coughed as a salty spray splashed them in the face.

            Erwin fished around in his robes and pulled out his wand. “Bubble-Head Charm,” he gasped around a salty wave splashing him in the face. He didn’t wait for Mike or Hange to reply, just tapped himself on the top of the head and let go.

            The water was cold—shockingly cold. He gasped as the icy chill washed over him, kicking his legs as he bobbed with the waves. Two more splashes rippled the water as Mike and Hange dropped into the sea next to him. Erwin stuck his wand into the waistband of his pants as he shed his robes and Mike fumbled out of his robes.

            Hange waved to get his attention and held up their staff, tied to their belt with a short length of leather cord. The crystal bobbed frantically as the waves washed back and forth, sharp end pointed ahead. North, they mouthed.

            Mike and Erwin nodded and kicked after them, swimming into the inky darkness.

 

The door slammed shut with a bang, and Levi sat down slowly on the ground, crossing his legs. The blinding white of the walls and floor vanished to the darkness behind his eyelids and he twitched his fingers.

            The magic-cancelling bracelets locked onto his wrists burnt white-hot and he winced, hands falling limp.

            Powerless.

            He opened his eyes again, looking at the door. He ran a hand through his hair, teasing the shoulder-length locks from his ponytail and titled his head with a sigh, leaning back, arms flopping to his sides as he lay down.

            Pathetic.

            “Idiots,” he muttered, staring up at the ceiling. “Idiots, idiots, idiots.”

            Doomed.

 

Erwin surfaced with a gasp, grabbing onto the slick, algae-covered boulder in front of him as the bubble over his head popped. Mike scrambled onto the rocky shore, a bedraggled Hange slung over one shoulder, and grabbed his arm, tugging him onto solid ground. He deposited Hange next to him and sat down, panting.

            “Son of a bitch,” he gasped, shaking his head like a dog. Droplets of water flew everywhere, and Hange raised their staff shakily. The water began siphoning off of them, and, within seconds, they were dry.

            Erwin straightened his wig and tightened the drawstrings of his pants. “Shit,” he muttered, glancing up at the fortress towering over them.

            “Levi’s high-profile,” Mike said, sticking his wand in a pocket. “He’ll be in the heart of the thing, I reckon.”

            “Well, that’s not good for us, now, is it?” Hange put their hands on their hips. “How are we getting in?”

            “I have an idea,” Erwin said. “Come on.”

 

The door creaked open and Levi opened his eyes. He didn’t know how much time had passed—maybe hours, days, or mere minutes. It should have unsettled him, how easily he slipped back into life—existence—in the fortress; closing his eyes, slipping into an almost meditative state, somewhere between awake and asleep, life and death, the mundane spinning of the world bypassing him completely. He could have spent years just lying on the floor, and he wouldn’t have noticed—or cared.

            “You’ve got a visitor,” the Auror snapped, and Levi sighed, sitting up slowly.

            The door slammed shut as the man stepped in, cloak dragging along the ground, hood covering his face. “It’s fine,” he said, rich voice low and smooth. “We can speak freely. They only hear what I want them to hear.”

            Levi sighed, looking up as the man lowered his hood, unruly strands of blond hair falling by his face. “Well, you haven’t changed a bit, beard-face,” he said coolly. “The hell are you doing here?”

            “You ought to be on your knees thanking me,” the man replied. “Be glad I came back for you at all.”

            Levi waved his hand dismissively. “Sure, whatever.” He sighed, getting to his feet, crossing his arms and looking up—even standing, he barely reached the man’s shoulders. “I’m assuming you got what you were looking for?”

            He didn’t smile—no, he never did—but the corners of his lips curled. He reached a bony hand into the folds of his cloak and pulled out the wand. The bracelets on Levi’s wrists fell away with a flick of his wrist and the boy groaned, stretching out his arms.

            “Finally,” he sighed, rolling his neck.

            “Come on,” Zeke said. “We’ve got work to do.”

 

Erwin hadn’t even gotten halfway through explaining the plan when an explosion rocked the island. Hange shouted as they were thrown into Erwin, and Mike grabbed both of them, holding onto a rock to keep them from getting hurled back into ocean.

            “Protego!” Erwin cast the spell just in time as a shower of rubble crashed down, bouncing off the protective shield. “What in the world?”

            “Look,” Mike said. Half of the fortress had been blasted away by some massive force, and, as they watched, a tower collapsed, the stones barely holding it to the rest of the building cracking and giving away, tumbling into the ocean with a resounding crash.

            Hange spluttered as waves reared up, drenching them again. “What the fuck?

            “Levi,” Erwin whispered.

 

Azkaban had been renovated after the second War—the presence of Aurors guarding the inmates instead of dementors had forced the Ministry to redecorate the castle for human inhabitation. A few Confounded Muggle construction workers and Speed Charms later, the damp, gloomy stone halls had been transformed into pristine white tile and heavy steel doors, the poster image of a Muggle mental facility.

            The spotless white was now charred and bloodstained, something Levi noted with great distaste as the pair swept down the halls. “Rather unfortunate,” Zeke commented as they passed by an Auror slumped against the wall, half his face scorched, the other half caved in by a stone.

            Levi shrugged. “Sure.”

            Zeke glanced at him. “You don’t look too pleased,” he said. “Back in the day, you’d be kicking all the corpses, just to make sure they were really dead.”

            “Yeah, well, back in the day, I was a dumb brat,” Levi said. “And it was all necessary back then. This is just—”

            “Just what?” Zeke broke in. “Don’t tell me a few years away from us has turned you soft, now.”

            “Don’t be ridiculous,” Levi hissed. “I’m just telling the truth. This is a fucking waste. Waste of lives and magic.”

            “I never thought you’d be the kind to be frugal with life,” Zeke said, almost scornfully.

            “Not with life,” Levi shot back. “With—”

            “Levi!”

 

Erwin stumbled to a halt, eyes widening as both Levi and his companions turned around to stare at them. His eyes widened.

            Well, we hardly have time to search the whole house.

            “It’s him,” he whispered.

            The blond-haired man’s eyes widened and he turned to glare at Levi, teeth bared. “What is the meaning of this—” He cut off, interrupted by a foot in the face.

            “Get his wand!” Levi shouted at Mike as he tackled Zeke to the ground, the wooden rod flying through the air. Hange jumped for it, but missed. Zeke snarled, flipping over and sending Levi flying into a wall.

            “Shit!” Mike darted in front of Zeke and the man stumbled. Levi leapt at him, grabbing him around the legs, sending all three males to the ground in a heap of limbs.

            “Accio!” Zeke roared, and the wooden rod shot into his hands. He slashed it through the air, sending Mike and Levi flying, crashing into the walls with shouts of pain.

            Erwin dropped to the ground, rolling out of the way as a blast detonated the ground where he’d been standing. “Protego!

            He shouted as the curse tore straight through his shield and barely dodged in time. Still, the jet of light tore through his shirt and pain burst from his grazed shoulder.

            “Smith!” Levi forced himself to his knees. “Use your words!

            Language is important—

            It’s just words—

            Words matter—

            Don’t overthink it—

            You need to understand it—

            Almost in a daze, Erwin raised his wand. “S.O.S!

Chapter Text

Frieda’s funeral was a somber affair—nothing like the normally lively, energetic festivals of life normally celebrated after the passing of a loved one in the Wizarding World.

            Though Erwin could see why this one would be different.

            Tiny fairies sat in the nearby trees, clinging onto the branches with miniscule hands and fluttering around the thick trunks, shimmering wings flashing in the midday sun, shining bright between the criss-crossing branches and leaves above, as the casket (a beautiful thing, really, all gleaming white wood and silver clasps shining in the dappled sunlight, silk the colour of a baby lamb piled inside, pooling over the sides) was lowered into the grave—a perfectly cut square in the forest floor.

            Frieda herself was just as beautiful in death as in life. Her silky black her was spread about her on the satin pillow, the sheer, billowing cape and train of her dress pooled around her like an ocean of purple-grey silk. A silk eye mask of the same colour, a pattern of gold matching the one on her chest upon it, covered her eyes, open beneath them, ready to behold whatever world followed after this one.

            Erwin glanced at the Reiss family, standing in a row behind the grave. Tears were streaming slowly, steadily down Lady Reiss’s cheeks as she clung onto Lord Reiss’s arm, bronze silk of her dress shivering as her shoulders shook from silent sobs. The Lord stared down into the grave, eyes wide and dull as Frieda’s many siblings stood silent, watching as the lid of the casket swung silently shut with a mixture of horror, grief, and awe on their faces.

            “Mama,” the youngest girl, dark-haired and blue-eyed, a tiny, spitting image of Frieda, moved to tugged on the woman’s sleeve. “Mama, why’re they putting Frieda in the box?”

            That was the final straw for the near-elderly woman. She let out a wail, collapsing to her knees, burying her face in her hands, shoulders shaking, while her husband remained standing, staring down into the grave, at the closed, locked box, as if he could still see his daughter’s face—peaceful, as if she were asleep—below.

            The officiant—a tiny, wrinkly old wizard, one eye milky white and blind, stood slowly, limbs practically creaking with the motion. “Dearly beloved,” he wheezed, voice barely audible. “We are gathered here today. . .”

            Erwin let his attention wander as the man continued blabbering, words indistinguishable over the sobs of Lady Reiss, and glanced over the other revelers. Nanaba’s eyes were bright with unshed tears as she clung onto Mike’s arm, fingers twisted tightly in the midnight blue of his jacket, side of her cheek pressed into his silky white tie, enchanted butterflies perched on her baby-blue dress fluttering weakly. Mike clenched her hand below the pale blue mesh of her cape, staring ahead impassively, jaw clenched. Hange stood next to Erwin, hair magicked into neatness, pinned back with blue flowers, their blue satin dress looking both out of place and perfect on them, lace sleeves straining against their broad shoulders, the twitching tail of a dozing dragon tattooed on their chest just visible over the neckline.

            They elbowed him lightly. “Look at them,” they whispered, nodding at Urklyn and Dirk, who kept glancing over their shoulders, sunlight flashing off their silky white robes every time they moved. “What d’you reckon they’re looking for?”

            “What else?” Erwin responded, just as quietly. They weren’t the only ones. Every few seconds, someone would glance up, craning their neck to peer into the groves of trees beyond, as if, any second now, Frieda would walk out from between the trunks—pearly white, transparent, but still there—smiling, arms out.

            Hange sighed, shifting slightly, knuckles turning white on their staff, black light pouring off the crystal. “You don’t think she’s coming back, is she?”

            “I don’t know,” he answered honestly, glancing to the side. There stood Nifa, the gown of her yellow dress billowing around her, black patterns racing up her torso, shoulders shaking, an arm wrapped around Petra, clad in a beautiful pink gown, silky mesh layers decorated with delicately embroidered flowers, hair pulled back, tears flowing in a steady river down her face, dripping from her chin and landing on the grassy forest floor beneath her. Levi stood next to her, Gunther and Eld, their shoulders brushing, next to him, leather-gloved hand clenching hers, their fingers entwined.

            Erwin looked away, and his eyes fell on the empty space between Florian and Lady Reiss: just enough space for another person to stand. A place, by tradition, designated to the partner of the deceased.

            Traute.

            The girl hadn’t been seen since her argument with Frieda right before Levi’s arrest. Erwin looked down at the ground as a wind blew through the forest, the tail of his coat fluttering as he stared at the toes of his boots.

            I wonder. . . if you were here, what kind of face you would make?

 

Levi winced as a Healer dragged her wand down his back, the jagged cut next to his spine knitting together as they muttered under their breath. “Piss off,” he scowled, batting them away. “I can fucking do it myself.”

            The Healer rolled her eyes and raised her wand, walking off to tend to Mike, his shoulder held at an odd angle. Levi glanced up as he reached behind him, twisting his arm awkwardly to reach the wound, and, for a second, his eyes met Erwin. He looked away the moment Erwin noticed him, pressing the tip of his finger to the cut.

            “Here,” Hange said, batting his hand away. “Lemme.” They pointed the head of their staff at the wound, and the crystal began glowing as they began chanting under their breath.

            “Smith.” Erwin looked up to see Alan approaching him. The massive man looked uncharacteristically meek as he held out a hand. “I s’pose I owe you an apology.”

            “S’pose so,” he muttered, reaching forwards to clasp the outstretched hand. Alan shook it firmly before dropping it and crossing his arms, hiding his hands in the massive sleeves of his robes.

            “We checked his arm,” he said, nodding over his shoulder to where three Aurors stood, tense and on guard, in front of a heavy steel door—the same one Erwin himself had been trapped behind mere hours before (Was it really just hours? It had felt like eternities). “He’s got the Mark all right. Reckon he’s the one who put your friend up to it?”

            Erwin glanced at Levi, who was rolling his eyes, grunting one-word answers to an annoyed-looking Auror as he tried interrogating him. “Probably,” he said. “But, like we said, Levi didn’t kill Frieda.” Though he has done other things.

            “Yeah, yeah, I know,” Alan said dismissively. “Still, he seemed to be pretty familiar with Ack—Levi.”

            Erwin shrugged. “I wouldn’t know,” he said. “Have you checked his wand?”

            “What, that guy’s?” Alan asked. “Yeah. He did the killing curse, all right. And some other ones. No clue what it was, but it turned our desk into a pile of dust, so I’d assume it’s another one of those. . . weird spells that he and the kid use, right?”

            “Probably,” Erwin muttered. “Haven’t you gotten anything out of him?”

            Alan sighed, scratching the back of his head. “Freak’s impossible. We’ve even given him all the Veritaserum we’ve got, but he still isn’t talking. All we’ve gotten out of him is his name and accomplice.”

            “Accomplice?” Erwin asked, looking at him.

            “Yeah—you didn’t think he could’ve done this alone, did you?” Alan asked. “His name’s Zeke Xaver, and his partner—well, good news, is that it isn’t Ackerman.”

            “Okay,” Erwin said, ignoring the twisting feeling in his stomach. “Who is it, then?”

            Alan picked at his plait. “You know someone named Traute Caven?”

            “Traute?” Erwin frowned. “Yeah, she’s one of our Beaters, and she is—was—Frieda’s girlf—” He froze at the look on Alan’s face. “Wait. No. She wasn’t—”

            Alan sighed. “Veritaserum doesn’t fail, Erwin. We’ve got evidence, too. He had a letter on him, and the handwriting matches Caven’s.”

            “Well, then—where is she?” Erwin asked.

            Alan shot him a pitying glance. “Smith—” he sighed, rubbing his nose. “You’re not dense, Smith. You know what I’m gonna say.”

            He nodded. “She’s dead, isn’t she.” A statement, not a question. Things were rarely simple when dealing with Death Eaters, but when they were, a funeral normally followed shortly after.

            “I mean—” he shrugged. “He hasn’t performed the Killing Curse, from what we can tell, but she isn’t showing up on our Searches. It’s weird,” he added. “The way things normally work, we’d at least turn up with a corpse. But, this. . . it’s like she doesn’t even exist anymore.”

            Erwin closed his eyes. “That spell. The table, reduced to dust—”

            Alan inhaled between his teeth. “Shit.” He sighed. “Sorry, Smith.” He reached up, as if to clap him on the shoulder, but seemed to reconsider it at the last second, and instead groped the air awkwardly for a second before letting his arm swing back down beside him. “Well,” he tucked his braid into his belt. “I’m goin’. You lot are all cleared, so you’re free to go back to school, now.”

            Erwin glanced over his shoulder to where Mike had sat down next to Hange, watching Levi as he took his wand back from an Auror (He snarled at her as she made a small, disapproving noise, and she jumped, scuttling away).

            “Fine.”

 

Erwin was shook out of his reverie as a flower stem was pressed into his hand by a small, blonde-haired girl. “Oh,” he took it, fingers closing around the delicate, shrivelled plant—blackened and dry to the point of being unrecognizable. The girl nodded, blue eyes dull, before handing a flower to Hange and continuing down the line, a dark-haired witch clad in a black matron’s dress following after her.

            There was a shuffling noise as a line formed in front of the grave. As each flower was dropped into the hole, it twisted in the air, stem straightening, curled petals unfurling, colour flooding the velvety leaves as they settled gently on top of the coffin.

            Levi paused at the side of the grave after Petra’s lily landed on top of the bed of flowers and stared into it, eyes hidden by his hair. What are you thinking, I wonder?

            He didn’t linger, letting the dried bud fall from his fingertips. It jerked as it fell, straightening with an almost audible snap, and landed on an uncovered part of the coffin with a gentle thump, petals of the black rose a stark contrast against the other colourful petals and gleaming white coffin.

            And, in what felt like no time at all, it was Erwin’s turn.

            He looked down into the pit as he paused by the edge, the shrivelled blossom crinkling in his hand. He was near the end of the line, and the coffin was almost entirely hidden. Levi’s rose was almost completely covered by other flowers—Hange’s purple tulip, half-crushed by a blue hydrangea that had burst into bloom after tumbling from the little girl’s basket. Nanaba’s red rose lay next to Mike’s chrysanthemum.

            Erwin dropped the flower. Tiny blooms sprung up along the stem as it fell, and the purple hyacinth landed on the very top of the pile, staring up at him from the bottom of the grave.

            Erwin stepped out of the way,  letting the officiant stand beside the grave. He cleared his throat slightly and raised his wand. Shimmering golden light poured from the tip of his wand as he moved it, hovering in the air, and, for a moment, Erwin was reminded of the visions Levi had conjured when he’d first received his wand—how long ago that seemed. Dirt began caving in from the sides of the grave, piling on top of the countless blooms, until the hole was filled.

            A small green bud pushed through the earth, wriggling in the air, and began growing, twisting as it widened, more branches and leaves sprouting as the green of the shoot darkened to brown bark. Within minutes, a fully grown redwood stood, branches tangling with other above, as if it had stood there for centuries, patches of flowers blooming around its roots.

            As Erwin watched, a breeze blew by, plucking a single, black petal from the stem, dragging it away and vanishing into the forest.

Chapter Text

Erwin wrinkled his nose against the burn of the drink as he tipped his head back, forcing it down his throat.

            ‘It’s not like you to be all mopey,” Rico had told him as she’d forced the glass into his hands. “Come on, you actually think everyone here’s gonna be following the rules tonight?”

            “They should be,Erwin had countered. “Just because we’re all graduated, doesn’t mean—”

            She’d rolled her eyes. “Whatever,” she’d grumbled. “I just want to help. Sue me.” She patted his hand as she bustled off, layers of pink silk and blue tulle shifting in the enchanted candlelight. “Just try it, will ya? It’s your last night as Head Boy—you deserve to loosen up at least once.”

            Erwin swirled the drink around in the cocktail glass, watching as it turned from a deep red to a pale purple. He wasn’t entirely sure what was in it—he was pretty sure it had (originally, at least), been the sweet punch flowing from the crystal fountain in the centre of the courtyard, but the scorching pain in his nose begged to differ, suggesting alcohol. He wasn’t about to put the possibilities of it having been turned into some sort of potion aside, either—he’d seen Hannes and Gelgar squeezed into the corner of the courtyard in between traded dances with Nifa and Hange (Keiji stood to the side, locked in a fierce debate with Professor Flitwick), hands tucked deep into the bulging pockets of their suits, beckoning other students closer with discreet gestures.

            Erwin bent over, putting the glass on the ground, and slid it discreetly across the stone floor, tucking it under a nearby table with his foot as Professors Longbottom and Lovegood drifted by, the latter all but floating as she danced gracefully (though it was no sort of dance that anybody in the courtyard had ever seen), silken, baby-blue Grecian robes fluttering as she swung her arms, while her partner stumbled after her, trying desperately to keep up with her as she twisted in the air.

            Erwin moved to the opposite corner of the courtyard and sat down on a carved marble bench in the shade of a low-hanging tree, dappled with the flickering light of the floating candles hovering in the air, moved out of the Great Hall specifically for the Leavers’ Ball. He ran a hand through his hair as he watched the couples part across the dancefloor, moving towards the various round tables set around the yard or the food tables, talking happily with friends and teachers.

            A cat slunk around the bench—one of Professor Lovegood’s many animals, no doubt—as the band readied their instruments, and a new, slow, melody drifted through the air. The animal shot Erwin a baleful look, as if, by sitting on the bench, he had personally insulted the cat, its purpose in life, and its entire bloodline. Erwin shrugged helplessly as grumpy amber eyes locked on his own, and it vanished, winding between his legs and ducking into the shadows, fur brushing against the stone wall.

            Erwin reached down, brushing clinging strands of dark fur away from the silky material of his coat. He glanced around the courtyard as he sat back up, looking over the couples twirling through the night. Mike’s dark navy coat clashed horribly with Nanaba’s silvery-green gown, but neither of them seemed to notice as he held hand and she twirled, the long, trailing sleeves of her gauzy dress spun around them. He ran a hand down one of her arms as they drifted off to the other side of the courtyard, hands lingering over the real, live roses magicked onto her shoulders. Hange was currently dancing a furious jig with Nifa, layers of tulle on their dresses flying up and down as they stomped around each other in a rhythm that even tone-deaf Erwin could attest did not match the music (Keiji and Flitwick’s argument had migrated to the other side of the courtyard, and surrounding wizards, both student and teacher, were watching cautiously, hands on the hilts of their wands as furious hand gestures were exchanged; meanwhile, Professor McGonagall stood before a cowering Hannes and Gelgar, voice raising steadily as the duo shrank before her wrath and she waved a handful of empty potion bottles). Rico and Ivan had long since vanished, though the giggling gaggle of Rico’s girlfriends were enough to confirm Erwin’s suspicions of where they had disappeared to.

            His eyes were drawn to a specific couple as they swayed on the corner of the dancefloor. Petra’s forehead was resting gently on Levi’s shoulder, and his chin was propped on her shoulder, a hand resting lightly on her waist, the other hanging limply by his side, hidden in the folds of the lilac train hanging from her gown. There was an empty circle of space around them, the other dancers shooting them furtive glances of caution and brimming hostility.

            Erwin looked away, turning his gaze to follow Mike and Nanaba as they slipped out of the courtyard through a carved archway, ducking hand-in-hand into the shadows of the path to the Quidditch pitch. He’d been on the receiving end of more than a few of those types of looks for the past week or so.

 

You didn’t really think things would just go back to the way they were, did you?Hange asked, wrinkling their nose as they picked a dead slug from their hair (thrown their way from a second floor balcony, along with a shout of ‘fuckin’ murderers!’). “Don’t bother,” they added as Erwin pursed his lips, looking up at a pattering of running feet. “The shithead’s probably long gone.”

            “I know,” Erwin replied, waving his wand over his shoulder. The slimy trail the slug flopped on the floor had left vanished with a small poof. “Rumours only grow, I guess.”

            Hange hummed in agreement, dragging their staff over their head in circles. “True, true.” They sighed, kneeling to pick up their fallen books (dropped when they’d thrown their hands over their head. “Shit, must be ten times worse for Levi,” they muttered, brushing dust from their robes.

            Erwin frowned. “I suppose.” He glanced out the window. A group of first-years, fresh from their last exam, were lounging on the grass, chatting and relaxing. One glanced up and noticed Erwin watching them. He paled, nudging his friends and muttering. Another girl looked up, and, within seconds, they’d all scattered. He sighed, running a hand through his hair.

            “Where is Levi?” Erwin turned around to look at Hange as they spoke.

            “Why would I know?”

            “Aren’t you supposed to be with him at all times?”

            Erwin shrugged, adjusting the strap of his bag on his shoulder. “I don’t think anybody really cares about that anymore, in light of—well, recent events.”

            Hange bit his lip, fiddling about with what Erwin knew to be the gold leaf-embossed invitation to the funeral in their pocket. “Aren’t you going to talk to him?”

            “Why would I?”

            “I just think it would be good for both of you—”

            “There’s nothing to talk about,” Erwin cut them off. “We’re graduating in a week, anyways.”

            “Erwin,” Hange said. “Can’t you just think about it? We were in the first year, right? So he was—”

            “It doesn’t matter,” Erwin said. “He did it—”

            “How do you know—”

            “I was there,” Erwin said.

            “Erwin—!”

            “That’s enough!” Hange bit their lip, dropping their hand. Erwin took a deep breath, rubbing his forehead. “Forget it,” he muttered. “Let’s just—let’s just go to class.

 

Erwin was shaken out of his thoughts as Mike plopped down on the bench next to Erwin. “Hey.”

            Erwin glanced at him. “Hey.”

            Mike hummed, holding out a small plate. “Cream puff?”

            Erwin chuckled, taking one and popping it into his mouth. “Raspberry?” he asked, feeling the sour tang mix with the sweetness of the cream wash over his mouth.

            “Mhm.” Mike plucked another one from the plate and tossed it into his own mouth. “What’re you doing over here?”

            Erwin shrugged. “Don’t really feel like dancing. Or doing anything, much, really.”

            Mike huffed, breath ruffling his mustache. “Heading out, then?”

            “Nah.” Erwin chuckled. “Don’t really feel like doing that, either.” He glanced at the taller male. “You?”

            Mike glanced across the courtyard, where Nanaba was laughing at an extremely dejected-looking Gelgar. “Soon as Nana’s gotten her fill of shits and giggles,” he said.

            Erwin snorted. “Well, you two have fun with that.” Mike grinned, raising another cream puff in lieu of a toast.

            “And you?” Mike asked. “Just gonna sit here and brood all night?”

            “No, I—” Erwin paused, staring ahead at the dance floor.

            “Erwin?” Mike glanced at him.

            “Oh. . .” Erwin shook his head. “Sorry. Sorry, yeah.” He stood up. “It is getting pretty late, isn’t it?” He popped the top button of his coat and shook his sleeves out. “I think I’m gonna go, now.”

            Mike raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “Fine by me. You gonna see Hange before you go?”

            Erwin glanced at the dancefloor again; Hange was in the corner, spinning a Gryffindor boy that Erwin was pretty sure none of them had spoken to around in circles while a girl whom Erwin presumed was his partner stood to the side, fuming, but evidently not brave enough to confront Hange. “Nah,” he said. “Looks like they’re having fun.”

            Mike snorted. “Well, that makes one of you, doesn’t it?”

            “See you, Mike.”

 

Petra glanced up at Levi as they danced (a better term would’ve been rocking awkwardly from side to side) in the corner. “You okay?” she asked.

            He stared down at her dryly. “Are you?” She raised an eyebrow. “You’re a pretty girl dancing in the corner of a fancy courtyard with a grumpy, convicted criminal on a shitty parole.”

            She rolled her eyes and smacked his chest. “Are you questioning my taste in men?”

            “No. I’m questioning your life choices.”

            She scoffed, smiling as she put her forehead on his shoulder. “Whatever.” Silence descended again as they swayed, feet barely moving as they shifted their weight from one foot to the other. “Seriously, though,” she finally said. “Are you okay?”

            His shoulder jerked, and she raised her head, frowning. “Fine,” he muttered. “Sorry.”

            “Levi—”

            “I’m fine.”

            Petra sighed, raising her head to look him in the eyes. Even though they were practically the same height, the way they stood so close together made it impossible to see his face without craning her neck. “Levi.”

            He huffed, looking down at her. “Don’t you have any other words in your vocabulary?”

            “Look, I’m just worried, okay?” she said. “First, I find out you were arrested and carted off to Azkban. And then everyone’s talking about Frieda—” She clamped her mouth shut as Levi pursed his lips. “Sorry,” she said, gentler. “But, please. You haven’t said a word about anything, and whatever Hange patched up for you was definitely not a papercut.”

            Levi rolled his eyes. “So four-eyes blabbed. Great.”

            “Not everything,” Petra replied. “Barely anything, really.”

            “Yeah?” He dropped his hands from her waist as the song ended. “Well, you’re not getting anything out of me, either.”

            Petra sighed, letting her own hands fall to her sides. “Fine.” She nodded, looking down at her hands, clasped in front of her. She sighed. “I think I’m going to go back to my common room.”

            Levi frowned. “Wait, Pet—”

            “It wasn’t anything you said,” she assured him. “I’m just sleepy.” She smiled. “I’ve still got one more exam tomorrow, too.”

            Levi groaned, dragging his hand down his face. “Shit, I forgot about that—” He dropped his hand. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you to—”

            “It’s fine,” she smiled, taking his hand and patting his knuckles reassuringly. “It was more fun than staying in my room and memorizing the migration patterns of the Mackled Malaclaw, or something like that. Besides,” she added, tugging his left sleeve a bit higher up his wrist and dropping his hand. “If I didn’t come, I doubt you would’ve, either.”

            He rolled his eyes. “It’s just a boring shitfest of dumbasses pretending that they’re happy.” A few nearby students shot Levi nasty glares, but Petra just laughed.

            “Very funny.” She turned, walking through the decorated archway and down the path back to the castle.

            “Do you want me to walk you?” he asked as he followed her through the main door.

            “No,” she said as Levi sidestepped her trailing train. “Are you leaving, too?”

            “Mhm.” Levi nodded as they walked through the empty front hall. “If I had to hear one more giggly teenage girl say ‘oh, my god’, I was going to actually commit murder.”

            Petra frowned. “That’s not funny, Levi.”

            “Only ‘cause you’ve got no sense of humour.” She frowned at him, and he rolled his eyes. “I was kidding. Both times.”

            She sighed, craning her neck up and pecking him on the cheek. “Goodnight, Levi.”

            “Mhm.” He watched as she turned and walked down the steps leading to the kitchen. Instead of walking down the stairs on the other side of the hall to the dungeons, he turned, ducking through an archway that had been pretending to be a wall. His footsteps echoed off the stone steps as he trotted through the steps, ramming his shoulder into what, to anybody else, would look like another wall. Not even a secret passage—just a wall. The heavy, drawbridge-style door landed on the ground with a thump, and Levi walked over it just before it sprang back up, landing back in the doorway with a crash.

            The trophy room door was locked, but that was quickly attended by the tap of a wand and a quiet, “open sesame!’. The door swung open soundlessly, and Levi walked through. The torches near the ceiling flickered to life as his feet crossed the threshold, the golden light reflecting off the countless cups, plaques, and medals lining the walls and shelves of the cramped, broom cupboard-like room.

            A loud crash echoed through the hallway behind him as Levi knelt next to a shelf to get a closer look at a tarnished silver badge. He sighed, rolling his eyes as another crash sounded through the castle and a shadow fell over him. “Following me again, Smith?”

            “You weren’t exactly discreet about leaving.”
            “Yeah.” Levi stood up, brushing the dust off his pants. “‘Cause I’m not doing anything illegal.”

            “Wandering the halls after lights-out is against the rules.” Levi frowned at Erwin’s voice—blank and cold.

            “What’s with that tone?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder. Erwin frowned.

            “You know what.”

            Levi sighed, standing up. “Listen, I’m not just gonna spill some crazy secrets right now—”

            “I know you’re not.” Erwin watched as Levi scanned the walls. “Can’t blame me for being curious, though.”

            “Yeah, sure,” Levi muttered, standing on his toes to read the engraving on a top-shelf trophy. “So why are you here?”

            Erwin shrugged. “Call it curiousity, call it nostalgia. . . maybe I just want to take a final walk around the school before we leave.”

            “Well, that’s dumb as fuck,” Levi declared, walking across the room to scan the names on the other shelf. “Why would you do that?”

            “You mean you don’t feel anything at all about leaving?” Erwin asked. “In a few days, we’re going to be walking out those doors, probably for the last time. You’re not. . . I dunno, melancholic, or something, at all?”

            “No,” Levi said shortly, flipping open the lid of a chest in the corner, cursing under his breath as an engraved shield tumbled from the top of the pile shoved inside. “Hogwarts means differently to you than to me,” he said, lifting a polished plate and wrinkling his nose at the list of names carved into the ceramic. “Pottery club,” he muttered, tossing it aside. It skittered across the floor, china screeching against the stone floor.

            “What do you mean?” Erwin asked.

            Levi glanced over his shoulder, looking around at him. “To you, it’s home,” he said. “To me, it’s just another prison.” He looked back at the chest, tossing a golden pin over his shoulder. “Only difference between here and Azkaban is that there’s more places for me to walk around.”

            Erwin watched his back as he continued digging through the chest. “If you say so,” he said. Levi scowled, standing up and slamming the lid shut. “What are you even doing here, anyways?” Erwin asked.

            Levi scoffed. “That’s your question?” He shook his head. “I’m looking for shit, that’s what.” He turned back to the trophy cases. “I’ll never understand you,” he said suddenly, breaking the silence.

            “Pardon?”

            “This is what I mean,” Levi said. “One minute, you’re accusing me of murder, and the next, you’re talking to me like we’re. . . I dunno. Friends, or something.”

            “Levi—” Erwin sighed. “I don’t know, okay? You say that you don’t get me, but I don’t get you. Most of the time, you’re all closed-up and secretive—won’t speak unless spoken to. And then, suddenly, you’ll say something completely random, with so many implications, and what seems like a huge story behind it, and then never address it again.”

            Levi grunted as he stood up straight. “Really, Smith?” He turned around to face him, crossing his arms. “I thought you weren’t going to try and get anything out of me.”

            “I never said that,” Erwin said. Levi scowled.

            “Shit, right,” he muttered, then sighed. “Fine. You want answers?” He spread his hands. “I’m not.”

            “What?”

            “Pureblood.” Levi’s face twisted in distaste at the word. “I’m not a pureblood.”

            “But the Ackerman family—”

            “The family.” Levi sneered. “What a load of bull. So I’ve got some stinky serpent blood. Doesn’t mean I need to be all fancy, formal-like.” Erwin continued staring at him and Levi huffed, pulling out his wand. “Fine-tooth comb,” he called. “Kuchel!

            On the other side of the room, a plaque attached to the wall began shaking, wood banging against the stone wall. Levi lowered his wand and walked over, lifting it off the wall. “This—” he grunted, yanking harder as one corner got stuck on a nail. “This.” He turned around and deposited it in Erwin’s arms. “This.”

            “What am I looking at?” Erwin stared down at the plaque.

            Levi jabbed his finger at a name. Erwin squinted his eyes, peering at it.

            Kuchel Ackerman, Charms Club. 1980.

            “Kuchel,” Erwin said. “Your. . ?”

            “Mother,” Levi stated. “She got away. Ran away in her second year. Away from Hogwarts, the family. . . everything.” He shrugged. “Got by living with Muggle gangs on the streets and staying with churches.” He chuckled ruefully. “Far as I know, the last bit of magic she ever did was strike herself from the Genealogy. Then she broke her wand and incinerated it in a dumpster fire.”

            Erwin watched Levi’s expression. “And. . ?”

            He shrugged. “Eventually got knocked up by some Muggle in their street group. Few months later. . .” He waved a hand dramatically up and down his torso.

            “So that’s why you’re not in the Genealogy,” Erwin said. “Your mother renounced herself from the wizarding world.”

            “And, that, therefore, extended to me,” Levi finished. “Satisfied, Smith?”

            Not even remotely. “Yes.”

            “You’re lying.” Levi didn’t look at him as he took the plaque back and tossed it at the wall. It landed hard against the stone before bouncing off and hanging itself back up, one corner crushed and splintered. “Oh, right. . .” Levi turned and knelt down again, tapping the display case with his wand. The glass swung open and Levi reached in, picking up the tarnished silver pin.

            “Here.” He placed it in Erwin’s hand, and the older boy looked down, surprised.

            Aldo Smith, Head Boy. 1974.

            “Levi—”

            “See you, Smith.” Levi tucked the wand into his pocket as he left the room, vanishing into the shadows of the hall.