Matthew scrambled over the shoreline, sliding on the rocks and tripping over the hem of his robes as the rest of the students hurried past him.
“Watch it,” the gamekeeper growled, clutching his elbow and setting him back on his feet. He glared down at him. Matthew flushed.
“ ‘orry,” he muttered.
He kept his eyes lowered until the man grunted and stomped off. Matthew swallowed the lump in his throat. Gosh. He had never felt so alone or scared. He missed his brother. He wanted to go home.
He did not even notice that most of the boats had pushed off until another student tugged gently on the sleeves of his robe.
“We’re going to be late, y’know.”
He was pale in the moonlight, with a halo of white hair and a mischievous, crooked smile. He jammed his thumb towards the last boat and the scowling brunette waiting beside it.
The lantern on the bow of the boat glowed dimly.
“I don’t want to go,” Matthew mumbled, scuffing his second hand shoes, and he wanted to cry. “I don’t belong here.”
“Of course you belong here,” he said plainly. “Where else would you belong?”
And he said it with such conviction that Matthew paused.
"… You really think so?”
“Well, you’re here, aren’t you?” The student rolled his shoulders and shrugged. He rocked back on his heels. “So I can only imagine that this is exactly where you’re meant to be.”
It sounded like something his brother might have said.
"… My name is Matthew,” he allowed quietly, finally. He sucked in a breath and stood a little straighter. Taller. “Matthew Williams.”
The other student grinned and punched his arm. It hurt. Matthew barely noticed.
“Gilbert,” he supplied cheerfully. He grabbed at his sleeves again and pulled him toward the lake. “And that’s Tom, we were in the same compartment. He’s a first year too.”
The brunette tapped his foot impatiently but Gilbert waved him off and helped Matthew into the boat instead. His hands were gentle whereas the gamekeeper had been rough. Matthew smiled softly.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
The boat pushed off shore and glided towards Hogwarts.
The truth was that Matthew had no idea which house Gilbert had been sorted into and, when he asked, no one else seemed to know either.
He had been rather distracted when the three of them were escorted into the castle, rushed through the crowds and scolded for being late, and everyone had been looking at them. At him. He had felt so small.
By the time Matthew had even realised what was happening, Gilbert had already been sorted and he had vanished into a sea of black robes.
Matthew had been sorted into Hufflepuff half an hour later.
He buttered a piece of toast and watched as Gilbert fluttered from Ravenclaw to Gryffindor to the Slytherin table and no one even raised an eyebrow. The professors had stopped asking him to sit down at his own table in their first year. He doubted they even knew where he belonged anymore.
Gilbert nudged Tom and stole a sip from his goblet. Tom frowned at him.
“… Who are you looking at?”
Matthew blushed and glanced up at the Fat Friar through the fringe of his curls.
"I’m not looking a-at anyone,” he lied quickly. His voice cracked and he winced. The ghost just chuckled and nodded towards the Slytherin table with a warm smile.
“Mr. Beilschmidt, then? Again?”
“What about me?” Gilbert asked, sliding into the seat beside him and nicking the piece of toast right out of his hand. He saluted the ghost. Matthew started.
“I, erhm, uhm…” Gilbert chewed on a bit of toast and waited patiently as Matthew stammered. He stared up at the bewitched lanterns floating around the Great Hall and tried to find the words. He had none. “… Good morning…”
Gilbert propped his chin in his palm and grinned.
“Good morning, Matthew.”
“This is your fault,” Matthew hissed and huddled further into his looped scarf. It was freezing.
“I can’t see how this could possibly be my fault,” Gilbert shrugged. He was wrapped in four different scarves, one from each house, and Matthew was a little jealous. “You were stirring counter clockwise.”
“And exactly how much palerot did you dump into the cauldron?”
Gilbert lifted the brass lantern he was holding a little higher and chuckled.
“Not that much…”
"It exploded, Gilbert!” Matthew waved his hands in the air. “I thought Professor Slughorn was going to kill us.”
“Nah, he actually likes me.”
“He’s still making us pick ingredients in the Forbidden Forest…”
“You have to harvest palerot on the new moon. Everyone knows that.”
“Forbidden,” Matthew said deliberately, “Forest.”
And the lantern swung as Gilbert laughed even harder. It cast twisted, trembling shadows on the grasping trees and Matthew stepped in closer. He squinted distrustfully into the darkness.
He was not scared, precisely, but he had to wonder why it was forbidden. There had to be a reason. He did not want to find out.
Gilbert snorted a few more times before settling beside him. The lantern stopped swaying.
“It could be worse.”
His eyes softened even as his smile widened. Matthew blinked.
“I could have been picking it on my own,” Gilbert pulled absentmindedly on the hem of his yellow scarf. “I don’t know about you but this is the best detention I could’ve imagined. I’m glad you’re here.”
Matthew opened his mouth and closed it again.
“… Me too…” He admitted quietly before jostling Gilbert and smiling. “But this is still your fault.”
Gilbert grinned back at him.
“It is not.”
Matthew and Gilbert sat on a low stone wall in Hogsmeade and passed wrapped sweets back and forth. They watched students rush towards the last carriages with their heads bowed.
“It’s getting worse,” Matthew observed. The students looked worn and harried and a lot of the shops in the village were shuttered. The houses were dim.
“It’s a ‘revolution’,” Gilbert rolled his eyes and popped another chocolate frog into his mouth. It croaked. “Of course it’s getting worse.”
Matthew chewed on his lip.
His brother wrote to him at least twice a week and he said that the situation in the muggle world was getting worse too. Matthew traded stories about Gellert Grindelwald for Adolf Hitler and wondered when the edges had blurred.
Gilbert handed him a sugared butterfly wing and his fingers lingered on his palm.
They watched the sun sink behind the thatched roofs of the village and paint it in shades of pink and twilight. Tom raised an eyebrow as he wandered past with a gaggle of students tripping in his wake. Gilbert waved but his frown deepened.
“We’re going to be late,” Matthew whispered after the students were gone and the words echoed in the silence. They were always late.
Gilbert scooped up a handful of snow and formed it into a perfect snowball.
And then he pushed Matthew backwards into the snow.
Gilbert toppled off the wall and straddled Matthew, washing his face with the snowball in his hands and shovelling more snow down the back of his robes. Matthew spluttered and pulled out his wand. He charmed a dozen snowballs and ducked when they smacked into Gilbert.
They rolled around and around in the snow until Matthew was laughing and Gilbert was breathless and he thought that, maybe, just maybe, everything would be alright. Maybe.
The sun had set completely by the time they finally called a tie.
“Oh no,” Matthew lurched up suddenly and punched Gilbert when he realised how much time had passed. Gilbert sniffed and defensively wrapped another scarf around his shoulders. Gryffindor colours. “Oh shit. We missed the carriages.”
“It’s okay. Honeydukes is still open.”
Matthew punched him again.
“That’s what got us into this mess!”
“I think it was the snowball fight, actually…”
They argued as they hurried through the cobblestone streets but Gilbert slapped a hand over his mouth and shushed him outside the shops. He waved his wand when he opened the door to Honeydukes and the bell above the door conveniently ‘forgot’ to chime. He ushered him down into the cellar.
“What are you doing?!” Matthew hissed under his breath.
Gilbert flicked open a hidden trapdoor with a flourish and grabbed one of the lit lanterns from the hooks on the wall. He grinned.
They stepped down a staircase that seemed to go on forever before alighting in a crude tunnel. Gilbert gestured with the lantern and casually rested his other hand on the dip of his lower back. Matthew unconsciously leaned into him.
“Where does it go…?”
“Third floor corridor, more or less. At the statue,” Gilbert murmured against his ear. “I’ve done this before. Trust me.”
And he did.
“We shouldn’t be out here,” Matthew muttered, fumbling with the silver pin on his robes. “It’s not safe…”
Gilbert chuckled darkly and skipped a flattened stone across the lake.
“It’s safer here than it is up there,” he cocked his head towards the castle and the dimmed windows. A single, gleaming lantern hung at the entrance but the rest of the candles had been snuffed out of respect for the deceased.
“You don’t think it’s over, then?”
He threw the next stone harder than strictly necessary.
“No, I don’t.”
“Tom said that Rubeus…”
“Tom is full of shit!” Gilbert snarled, whirling angrily on Matthew. “I ate breakfast with Rubeus all the fucking time. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s just big, that’s all!”
Matthew stopped fiddling with his prefect badge and sighed.
“… I thought so too. I mean, he’s only a third year. And he would always hold the door open for me…”
Gilbert seemed to deflate all at once.
“It could have been you,” he said quietly, wretchedly. “It was petrifying muggleborns. It could have been you, Matthew.”
He rushed forward and wrapped his arms around Gilbert, tucking him gently, tenderly against his chest. He clutched at his robes. He was shaking.
The entire castle had been on edge for weeks, unsure and terrified as muggleborn students were petrified one after another, and then a student had actually died in the first floor lavatory. Died. There were rumours that the Ministry of Magic wanted to close the gates but where would they even go? Home? Europe was being torn apart in both worlds and remade over and over again.
It felt like everything was falling apart around them and there was nothing they could do about it.
"It’s okay,” Matthew soothed, carding his fingers through his hair. “It’s okay and I’m okay and Professor Dumbledore will talk some sense into the Headmaster.”
"It’s not okay,” Gilbert mumbled petulantly into his chest. “I’m not sure it will ever be ‘okay’ again. Two wars, Matthew. Two fronts. We’ve all lost someone. I don’t think I could stand to lose you too.”
“You won’t,” he promised. “I’m not going anywhere. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be, remember?”
Gilbert snorted and glanced across the lake where they had first met.
“… I remember.”
Matthew held him even tighter.
“You’re going to get in trouble,” Matthew groaned without turning around.
Gilbert fell into step beside him and grinned impishly. His hands were clasped nonchalantly behind his back as if he were not wandering the corridors past curfew. He looked rather pleased with himself.
He had been following Matthew since the Library.
“Probably,” he agreed.
“What are you even doing up?”
The prefects had increased their patrols in accordance with the rise of dark magic outside the castle. Matthew was a prefect. Gilbert was not.
“I wanted to keep you company.”
Matthew swung the lantern towards Gilbert and raised an eyebrow.
“You can’t. That’s not how this works.”
"It should be.”
Gilbert shrugged and Matthew might have deducted house points if he were less touched by the sentiment. Or if he actually knew which house Gilbert was in.
He was wearing Ravenclaw colours tonight.
“I don’t like it when you’re alone. It’s dangerous. I thought Tom was supposed to be your partner this week.”
“He was, ah, busy,” Matthew frowned pensively and rolled the words around in his mouth. They tasted bitter. “He said he had something important to do.”
“He’s always busy.”
“I try not to pry. And he asked nicely enough, in his own way…”
“So he demanded or coerced you?”
“More or less.”
“Do you ever wonder…?”
“I try not to,” Matthew repeated, “but sometimes…”
“He does spend an awful lot of time in the Restricted Section…”
It was an uncomfortable topic between the two of them because they had always known that something was off about Tom Riddle. He was brilliant and charming, yes, but he had a temper. He said things that no one else would say. He did things.
They had known him since they were eleven years old and they had grown up with him.
But, sometimes, they wondered…
“You still can’t be here,” Matthew reminded him and glanced nervously behind them. “Professor Dippet will have my badge if he catches us together.”
“You make it sound so scandalous,” Gilbert chuckled delightedly.
Matthew flushed and focused on the lantern.
“It’s not like that!”
Gilbert reached for his hand and Matthew let him. He liked how their fingers tangled together. He liked the contrast.
“You’re always getting us into trouble,” he muttered half heartedly. “Always.”
“And out of it again!” Gilbert defended.
Matthew smiled at that.
Gilbert crept up the staircase and peeked over his shoulder and Matthew did not even bother to admonish him. He casually settled his hands on his hips and scanned the darkened, bloated thunderstorm in the distance.
“Nothing yet, then?”
Matthew hummed and leaned backwards.
“Mm. I’m starting to worry. More than usual, I mean.”
The prefects had gathered all of the students in the Great Hall when Professor Dumbledore stalked off to challenge Grindelwald to a duel. He was their last hope. The poisonous influence of dark magic had spread too far, too quickly, and Europe was rotting from the inside out. Professor Dippet had demanded that the prefects cloister the rest of the students and Tom, as the Head Boy, had begrudgingly left Matthew in the astronomy tower to wait for the signal.
He was a Hufflepuff, loyal and steady and true, and he would be the first to know the outcome of the duel. He would light the beacon when they won.
If they won.
Gilbert wrapped his arms around his waist and pulled Matthew closer but neither of them looked away from the horizon. Green sparks meant that they had won the war. Red sparks meant they had lost everything.
“I snuck out,” Gilbert informed him conversationally.
“I suspected as much,” he sighed.
“Do you think they’ll notice?”
“Tom might. I think everyone else is too scared.”
Gilbert tapped a nervous rhythm against his stomach and fiddled with the clasps on his robes.
“If anyone can beat him, it’s Dumbledore,” he said decidedly.
“They used to be best friends, you know.”
“That’s what I overheard. His brother sent him a howler a couple of days ago.” Matthew shifted in his arms. “That’ll never happen to us, right?”
“I’m not planning on starting a war. Are you?”
“I don’t think so…”
It had been hours since Professor Dumbledore had muttered ‘for the greater good’ and left his office with a small contingency of witches and wizards. Matthew was really starting to worry. Really, really worry.
And then green sparks splashed across the sky.
Matthew gasped and turned to Gilbert but he saw it too. He saw it too! He whooped and swung him around in circles. Matthew flicked his wand and smashed the lantern hanging in the centre of the tower and it released the spell that the prefects had prepared earlier. The entire astronomy tower exploded in a brilliant wash of radiance.
The beacon was lit.
He could hear the students cheering, the castle echoed with it, but Gilbert kissed him and it all melted into white noise. He kissed him back, messily. Greedily.
It felt like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders. One war down and one to go. It was almost over.
Gilbert slipped his hands underneath his robes and Matthew ran his fingers through his hair. His breath hitched when he fumbled with his trousers. He pulled back to look at him.
“Are you sure you want to…?”
“Yes,” Gilbert growled, rolling his eyes.
“I mean, they’ll be expecting me in the Great Hall…”
“Matthew, believe me,” he tugged on his belt buckle and nipped at his lips. “This is exactly where you’re supposed to be.”
And he said it with such conviction that Matthew kissed him again.
"We’re going to be sooo late.”