TRIGGER WARNING FOR TRANSPHOBIA, HOMOPHOBIA, MENTIONS OF SUICIDE AND VIOLENCE
"Remember," the boy's father said, giving him a stern look, "wizards can be horrible. They'll say all sorts of things to you, make all sorts of nasty comments. Just don't listen to them, alright Nick? Please don't listen to them."
Nick rolls his eyes, but smiles at his father none-the-less. "I'm sure I'll be fine," he says, always optimistic. "Things have changed since you were at school, father. The whole wizarding world is more open-minded."
His father shakes his head, clearly not agreeing with Nick. However, the train whistle sounds, and Nick attempts to dance out of the hug he is suddenly enveloped in. "See you at Christmas!" he tells his father before breaking free of the hug. "I love you!"
The eleven-year-old boy disappears into the train, leaving his father shaking his head on the platform. Although Nick is quite aware that he will miss his parent later, he is too excited to finally be attending Hogwarts to bother finding a window to wave through.
The train doors slam closed, and the train whistle sounds again. Nick grins widely as the Hogwarts Express begins to move, and shuts his eyes as if to savour the moment. He doesn't want to forget the feeling of elation that flows through him.
His dark brown eyes then flash open, and he begins to drag his trunk along the train, searching for a free compartment. He finds one almost at once - the only occupant is a short boy with painfully messy black hair.
Nick slides the compartment door open, smiling weakly at the occupant. "May I sit here?" he asks timidly, although there is a hopeful note to his voice.
The scruffy boy looks up, his dark brown eyes wide. "Of course!" he says quickly, seeming startled to find someone willing to share a compartment with him. He watches as Nick sits down, an aura of surprise still wrapped around him.
"I'm Shinji," he says, a rather awkward smile flashing across his face.
Nick returns the smile. "Nicholas - I mean, you know, I'm Nicholas. Or Nick. I'm not just saying 'Nicholas'. That'd be a weird thing to do. And I'm not weird at all... mostly."
Shinji grins, feeling far better about sitting with a stranger now. "Do you prefer Nicholas or Nick?" he asks.
Nick frowns slightly, thinking. "Nicholas," he says after a while, clearly uncertain. "It sounds less like... oh, never mind. I don't know what I'm saying."
His companion nods, face suddenly serious. "Nicholas it is," he says solemnly, before looking out of the window. Nick glances out of it as well, and is shocked to see they have already left London.
As the day wears on, Nick and Shinji slowly become more comfortable in each other's presence. Both awkward young boys eager to learn to control the wands they had purchased at Ollivanders, the conversation falls upon tricky subjects.
"You know," Nick says as he scans the sky for odd cloud formations, "my father actually debated not sending me to Hogwarts. He thought that he could just continue homeschooling me. But my papa refused. He said I had to get a proper education."
Shinji nods, gazing out of the window as well. "My parents aren't magic," he announces solemnly, "and were against my coming to Hogwarts. But - oh, look! That one looks like a dragon!" He points out the cloud in question.
"I quite like dragons," says Nick, smiling slightly. "They can be whatever they want."
* * *
Nick stares up at the old frayed hat, fidgeting with his hands. He is afraid, for despite what he said to his father, he is not ready to attend Hogwarts. No - Hogwarts isn't ready for him to attend. There is a difference.
The boy knows that he will be the last to be called - with the last name 'Zhang', how could he be anything else? He watches helplessly as the girl standing beside him is called towards the hat.
"HUFFLEPUFF!" the hat roars, and the girl skips off to join what Nick supposes is her twin brother - the two share similar features and a last name.
Nick bites his lip, waiting apprehensively for the professor to call his name. Or, as he fears, a name that he no longer can call his own.
"Zhang, Nicole!" the professor reads out, then glances down at Nick from the elevated section of the hall reserved for teachers.
Instead of running forwards, Nick doesn't move. He stands, staring the professor in the eye, but doesn't make a single move. He isn't going to listen to them. His name is not Nicole - if he was to be sorted, it would be under the name Nicholas.
The professor gives Nick a searching look, then repeats himself. "Zhang, Nicole!"
Nick turns to look behind him, pretending to check if the professor is talking to someone behind him. Instead, he glances at Shinji, who is giving him a thumbs-up from the Ravenclaw table. Nick smiles slightly: he has Shinji's approval. This means a lot to him.
The professor frowns slightly, running one hand through his auburn beard and staring at Nick with brilliantly blue eyes. "Zhang, Nicole," he repeats once more.
Nick straightens, looking the professor right in the eye as he answers, "That isn't my name, sir."
At these words, the auburn haired professor glances at the headmaster, a white-bearded man going bald. Nick rocks on the balls of his feet, biting his lip nervously and watching. To Nick, it seems like they are communicating telepathically, despite knowing that it is impossible.
"You are not Nicole Zhang?" the headmaster croaks from the teachers' table. When Nick nods, the headmaster lets out a squeak of surprise. "Who are you, then?" Without waiting for Nick to answer him, the headmaster continues. "Dumbledore, who is this?"
The professor, or Dumbledore as the headmaster called him, turns to survey Nick. The eleven-year-old boy gets the impression that Dumbledore can read his mind - although this is, of course, ridiculous. However, something about the piercing quality of the professor's eyes doesn't seem natural.
The frown that has been creasing Dumbledore's brow disappears, and the professor lets out a small laugh. "This is Zhang," he says, turning back to the headmaster. "Although not the Nicole we were expecting."
The headmaster frowns, then leans over the table towards Nick. "What is your name?" he asks, not unkindly.
Nick squares his shoulders before answering, "Nicholas Zhang, sir. My name is Nicholas."
The headmaster's frown deepens. "Then where is Nicole?" he mutters, more to himself then Nick or Dumbledore.
"I'm afraid Nicole is dead, sir," Nicholas says gravely, "in fact, some would say that she never existed at all. My name is Nicholas."
Comprehension dawns in the headmaster's eyes, and he lets out a sigh. "I'm afraid we do not refer to students by their nicknames, Nicole. Now, I believe our students have waited long enough to eat - please take a seat." He gestures to the stool where the Sorting Hat sits.
Dumbledore nods, confirming this, and Nick, trembling, makes his way towards the stool. He doesn't want to cry, but tears seem inevitable. Perhaps his father had been right. Hogwarts was still just as close-minded as it had been when his father had attended.
The auburn haired professor lifts the hat off the stool, allowing Nick to sit down, then places the hat on the boy's head, murmuring, "There you go, Nicholas," as he does so. Nick feels something leap inside him - Dumbledore seems to disagree with the headmaster.
"How interesting," something inside Nick's mind says. It is, Nick knows the hat. "Many think that Slytherin and Gryffindor are opposites, you know, but you are equally suited for both of them. You have the bravery to stand up for yourself, and the ambition to change the world. To open the wizard world's eyes."
Nick blinks, surprised. He is brave? And ambitious? The hat continues to speak. "No, this is not going to be an easy sorting... but it had better be GRYFFINDOR!" Nick can tell that the last word has been shouted, and a smattering of applause greets his ears.
Smiling weakly, the boy removes the hat from his head and heads towards the Gryffindor table. To his disappointment, he is not in the same house as Shinji, but he knows that his friendship with the boy will not be broken by their sorting results.
The headmaster gets up and says a few words, then sits back down. Food appears on the golden plates before Nick, and he heaps potatoes onto his plate, trying to forget the look in the headmaster's eyes as he had dismissed everything Nick said.
"And here's the portrait hole," the Prefect says with a flourish, gesturing to a painting of a large woman in a pink dress. "To get into the Gryffindor common room," she says, marching towards the large woman, "just tell the Fat Lady the password. Patentibus!"
The Fat Lady nods curtly before swinging open, revealing a wide passageway. Nick watches as his fellow Gryffindor first-years scramble into the portrait hole, then follows them, finding himself in a large yet comfortable room full of squashy armchairs.
The Prefect clambers in after Nick, and the portrait hole swings shut. She smiles at the first-years, then gestures to the two staircases in the corner of the room. "Girls on the right, boys on the left," she says, beaming around at them all. "You'll find all of your things in your room."
Nick yawns loudly, then heads towards the left staircase. However, a hand grips his shoulder before he can take more then a few paces. "Nicole? Why are you going that way?" It is the Prefect, her caramel features twisted in confusion.
"My name isn't Nicole," Nick hisses, but is ignored by the Prefect, who pushes him after the four first-year Gryffindor girls.
"Come on now, Nicole," she says, her falsely bright smile back on her face. "Go join the other girls."
Nick pulls free of her grip, giving her a fierce look. "I told you," he hisses angrily, "my name is not Nicole and I am not a girl." He can't believe that he has to explain this. He has been so clearly male since he could first speak; why does he have to fight to be called what he wants to be called, fight to be referred to as male?
The girl's eyes harden, and she grips Nick's shoulder once again, steering him towards the staircase on the right. "You don't belong in the boys' dormitory, Nicole, and there is not a bed waiting for you in there."
Nick feels a sinking sensation in his stomach. There is no bed waiting for him in the boys' dormitory? Why did he not expect this? Lowering his head, Nick stumbles towards the girls' staircase. There is no point fighting.
However, as he climbs up the stairs, something strange happens. The stairs meld together, forming a slide, and Nick whizzes back down. The Prefect stares at him in disbelief, seeming shocked. "What?" she mutters. "Why did that happen?"
As Nick watches, the stairs reform. He gets to his feet uncertainty, giving the staircase a wary look.
"What are you waiting for?" the prefect snaps. "Get up those stairs."
Nick places a foot on the first step, and once again, it becomes smooth. He looks up it, then smiles. "I can't get in. The castle won't let me."
The portrait hole opens once again, and Nick glances towards it, starting when he sees who is clambering into the room. It is Dumbledore, his piercing blue eyes twinkling kindly behind his spectacles.
"Ah, yes. Miss Ellis, Mr Zhang. I thought this might happen." The professor gazes curiously at the staircase, which is forming stairs once again. "Miss Ellis, I ask you that you please go to bed."
The Prefect nods, and marches up the girls' staircase at once, leaving Nick and Dumbledore alone. Dumbledore watches her leave, then turns to Nick. "I want to apologize to you to the behaviour of both Professor Dippet and Miss Ellis."
Nick stares into his eyes, and whispers, "Why does Hogwarts hate me?"
Something hard glints in Dumbledore's eyes as he answers, "It does not. As you can see, the castle itself knows the truth." He gestures to the staircase. "However, I cannot deny that the inhabitants of the castle can be quite close-minded. But do not worry - you will not have to sleep in the girls' dormitories."
The auburn haired professor waves his wand, and a bed zooms down the girls' staircase and up the boys' one. "Now, I believe it's time for bed. Up you go." He gestures for Nick to ascend the boys' staircase, and the eleven-year-old does so with a grin on his face.
Nick walks with his shoulders slumped, staring at the ground. The only lesson he enjoys whole-heartedly is Transfiguration - partly because Professor Dumbledore is the only person in the school, apart from Shinji and a few kind classmates, who refer to him as he likes, and partly because he likes the subject.
He opens the Defense Against the Dark Arts room, and, to his shock, Professor Dumbledore is sitting at the teacher's desk. He looks up when Nick enters, and a smile crosses his face. "Ah, Nicholas. I had thought you might not join us."
Nick smiles rather sheepishly. "I'm sorry sir - I lost track of time."
"No matter," Dumbledore says with a smile. "You're here now, which is all that matters. Please sit."
The thirteen-year-old nods, face rather red, and slinks towards the nearest free desk. Dumbledore smiles at him once more before continuing with what he had been saying.
"Now, as I was saying, I am taking the class today as Professor Tyrhitt has taken ill, and Professor Dippet has asked me to take the class today. I believe Charles - that is, to say, Professor Tyrhitt - has taught you a fair about curses and hexes. Well, today I thought we would try dealing with fear."
"Fear, sir?" a wix interrupts him, a quizzical expression on their face. "How can we deal with fear? Is there a curse that leaves you shaking in fear?"
Dumbledore smiles pleasantly, not seeming to mind being interrupted. "I'm sure there are many," he says mildly. "But, Mx Smith, we will not be dealing with any of those. Are you familiar with a Boggart?"
The wix who had spoken shakes their head, eyes wide. "No, sir."
"Then, I'm afraid, you will grow rather accustomed with them after today. A Boggart is a shape-shifting creature that will assume the form of whatever most frightens the person who encounters it. I believe that knowing what your worst fear is can help you fight the Dark Arts, and will therefore be showing you it in the form of a Boggart."
Dumbledore is looking rather grave - it is clear that he himself does not wish to approach it, which worries Nick. It is common knowledge that Dumbledore is the best wizard in the world - if he is afraid to face the Boggart... Nick didn't want to think about how horrible it must be.
"As your worst fear is quite personal," Dumbledore continues, "you will face the Boggart with only me for company. I assure you that I will not tell a single soul of the form your Boggart takes. We will do this in roll order."
Nick sighs, staring at his desk. He will be last. He doesn't want to wait this long. However, he is forced to. He watches as his fellow Gryffindors leave the classroom with Dumbledore and return white-faced. Finally, it is his turn.
"This way, Mr Zhang," Dumbledore finally announces, and Nick gets to his feet. He has waited for a long time, and his mind is racing with frightening ideas. He is ready to get it over and done with.
Dumbledore leads Nick to a small, underused classroom. The only piece of furniture within it is a quivering wardrobe. Nick can hear claws raking the sides of it, and he shudders. "Is... is the Boggart in there?" he asks Dumbledore. He receives a nod in return.
"Now," the auburn haired wizard instructs him, "wand out. On the count of three, I will open the door. The Boggart will assume the shape of whatever fears you most. I will deal with it once I have decided you understand yourself enough."
Nick nods, quivering. He does not feel like a Gryffindor student, not brave in the slightest. But he is still curious, despite his fear. What scares him most?
"One," Dumbledore begins, and Nick grips his wand tighter.
"Two," continues Dumbledore, and Nick closes his eyes, steeling himself.
"Three," finishes Dumbledore, and the door of the wardrobe springs open. Standing within it is Shinji, the short boy's face strangely blank.
Nick blinks - this is not what he was expecting. "Shinji?" he asks cautiously.
Shinji turns to face him, and something flickers in the boy's dark eyes. "You're a fool for believing you will ever be accepted," he hisses, stepping out of the wardrobe and beginning to circle Nick. His voice rings in Nick's ears.
"Do you really believe people will believe you? Will accept that you are not what you were born? You are wrong." Shinji's voice is low, something snake-like to it. Nick backs away, and a cruel smile flashes over Shinji's mouth.
"Do you really think I care about you, Nicole?" he purrs. "Well, you were wrong, weren't you? I despise you. We all despise you. You, Nicole, are a freak."
"Make it stop!" Nick yells, scrambling away from Boggart-Shinji. "Stop it, professor! I've had enough, please!"
Dumbledore steps in at once, and the Boggart shifts shape. Now a pretty young girl with golden-brown hair, the Boggart raises a finger to point at Dumbledore. "It's your fault," she whispers, but before she can continue, Dumbledore flicks his wand and the Boggart zooms back into the cupboard, the door closing behind it.
Nick continues to shiver, and Dumbledore approaches him, clearly concerned. "Nicholas? Are you quite alright?"
The thirteen-year-old boy bites his lip, then gets to his feet, trembling less now. "No, professor," he whispers, meeting Dumbledore's eye, "but that's nothing new."
"As you can see," the Care of Magical Creatures professor says proudly, gesturing to the pure white unicorn standing proudly in the paddock, "I have successfully captured a unicorn for today's lesson."
A chorus of 'ooooo's and 'ahhhhh's ring out. Nick rolls his eyes - he doesn't like unicorns very much. Dragons are still his favourite - he has struck up a friendship with the gamekeeper because of a mutual interest in them.
"They're not remotely interesting," Nick mutters to Shinji. Gryffindor shares Care of Magical Creatures with Ravenclaw fellow fourth-years, which is the main reason Nick chose the elective. He knew the creatures they would be studying would be like this: boring.
Shinji shakes his head, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth. "I disagree with you there, Nicholas. What's interesting about them is how interesting everyone else seems to find them."
Nick laughs, earning himself a sharp look from the professor taking the lesson. "Miss Zhang! Mr Liu! I am taking a lesson here, thank you very much!"
Instead of listening to him, Nick continues to laugh. He has long since stopped responding to 'Miss Zhang'.
Letting out a hrumph of disapproval, the Care of Magical Teachers professor begins addressing the class once again. "Unicorns are not fond of boys, so I think only the girls should have a closer look. Come on now!"
He gestures for the girls to climb over the fence and into the paddock, which all of them do. He nods, then his eyes fall upon Nick. "Miss Zhang! Please join the other girls in the paddock. Surely you've been flirting with Mr Liu long enough?"
Nick's face goes red - how dare the teacher mock him so? "I haven't been flirting with him," Nick mutters, but marches towards the fence despite his words. The professor wants him in the paddock? Fine. He'd go to the paddock.
He clambers over the fence and faces the unicorn. Approaching slowly, he extends a hand to lay a hand on it's pearly white muzzle. However, before he can get closer enough, the unicorn rears on it's hind legs, bucking repeatedly.
Nick stops moving, flashes a smug smile back at the professor, then climbs back over the fence. "Ever see a unicorn act like that around a girl?" he asks in a satisfied tone.
Nick leans against the sink, sighing. The clouds are particularly beautiful today - he can see a unicorn dancing among them. He smiles ever-so-slightly - he likes unicorns more now. They helped him prove a point, something he won't ever forget.
Shinji enters the kitchen, two letters in his hands. "Hogwarts letters came," he says with a smile. "Would you like yours?" he holds it out, and Nick takes it, returning the smile.
"Thanks Shinji," says Nick, opening the letter and peering inside.
His oldest friend's smile widens. "Don't thank me - I should be the one thanking you. The Quidditch World Cup was amazing - thank you for taking me, Nicholas."
Nick shrugs. "I thought you deserved a break. Oh, and, uh - you can call me Nick, if you like. It's what my family calls me. And you're like a brother to me." More then a brother, something in his brain adds unhelpfully, but Nick brushes it aside. Perhaps he wouldn't of done if he knew Shinji was thinking along the same lines.
"Thank you... Nick," says his friend, trying out the words and finding he likes them.
Nick, who isn't quite listening, lets out an exclamation. "Oh, look!" he shows Shinji the shiny Prefects badge that has come out of his envelope. "I'm a Prefect now? How did that happen?"
He glances at the short note attached to the badge, and a smile breaks over his face. "Listen here, Shinji!" he practically shouts, his excitement making him forget what an acceptable 'inside voice' was.
"Professor Dippet resigned his position of headmaster!" Nick continues excitedly. "Professor Dumbledore is the new headmaster - this really is wonderful!"
He glances at Shinji, who has been listening to him alertly. "Open your letter!" he says eagerly. "I hope you received Prefect as well!"
Shinji looks startled at the very idea of him receiving the tile of 'Prefect', and lets out a small squeak of surprise when a badge of his own falls into his lap. He picks it up, then glances at Nick, a wide smile breaking out across his face.
"Professor Dumbledore as headmaster... surely the school won't be so close-minded now. People will stop calling you 'Miss Zhang', won't they?" Shinji doesn't seem thrilled about his Prefect badge - Nick can tell that he is just happy that life will improve for him. For Nick.
And he hugs his best friend.
Nick cheers loudly as he watches Shinji block a fantastic shot from a Gryffindor chaser. The only Gryffindor laden with blue, Nick is painfully aware of how much he stands out, but he doesn't care. He isn't the biggest fan of Quidditch, and only attends the matches because they give him an excuse to either be with Shinji or cheer on him.
Shinji makes yet another amazing save, and Nick screams his approval once again. He hopes that Shinji might just become the captain of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team - he knows his friend has been working towards it since he got into the team, and hopes that he will see his dream accomplished.
Nick waved the flag he had made himself harder, hoping that Shinji could see the glistening words he had spent hours enchanting to glow different shades of blue and bronze. Shinji for Minister, the flag read, and Nick was quite proud of it.
From high up, Nick sees Shinji look towards him, sees him see the flag. Although he can't make out Shinji's face, he knows that the fifteen-year-old is smiling. And Nick cannot help but burst into a wide grin of his own.
"I'm never going to manage this," Nick groans, staring at his revision cards in dismay. "I'm going to fail my OWLs for sure! It's going to happen!"
Shinji snorts and playfully punches Nick. "Don't be stupid," he says, smirking. "You're pretty smart! That is, you know, for a Gryffindor." He smirks.
Nick rolls his eyes. "No need to flex being a Ravenclaw - don't worry, I know you're smarter then me. You don't need to say it."
This makes Shinji snort again. "You're making it sound like I'm only a little smarter then you," he tells Nick, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth again. "Come on, if you're going to complain about your mental capability, you might as well make it clear that I'm far more intelligent then you could ever dream of being."
"Yeah, right," Nick says, grinning. The grin fades when he glances down at his revision notes, and he puts his quill down, his fingers beginning to drum on the table. "But really, Shinji, I'm almost certain I'm going to fail. You know I don't have a great memory, and studying for hours has never been my style of learning."
Shinji frowns, and it is clear to Nick that his friend is concerned for him. "I just can't concentrate after reading, like, one paragraph," Nick sighs. "I wish I had your brains." There is a slightly bitter note to his voice.
"No," Shinji says, taking Nick's hands in his and staring into his eyes, "don't speak like that. Be proud of who you are, Nick. You're an amazing wizard. An amazing person. An amazing friend. Be proud of who you are."
Nick cannot break eye-contact with Shinji - it is like he has been petrified, just like the victims of the Basilisk the the older students speak of. Slowly, Nick begins to move. But not his hands, not his feet. He leans closer towards Shinji, and Shinji leans closer to him.
Something wakes in Nick, something stirs in hi s chest. Shinji is so close, and getting closer, slowly, slowly, slowly. But before anything more can happen between them, a shrill voice snaps, "Out! No kissing in the library, not on my watch!" It is Madam Pince, the librarian.
Nick draws away from Shinji, disappointed, face red with embarrassment. Shinji looks rather sheepish. The two quickly collect their bags and books and leave the library, Madam Pince's beady gaze following them.
But the moment they are out, the moment the library doors shut, Nick finds himself in Shinji's arms once more.
Nick rips open his OWL results with anticipation. As he passed? He somehow doubts it. To his surprise, however, he has only failed Astronomy, managing to scrape passes for everything else, even earning himself 'E's in Potions, Charms and History of Magic and, somehow, an 'O' in Transfiguration.
He glances over at Shinji, who is smiling weakly. "Well, I didn't do too bad. O's in Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Herbology and Charms. I got E's on the rest. What about you?"
Nick rolls his eyes. "That's amazing, Shinji. Don't undersell yourself."
"I could of done better," Shinji protests. Nick has known him for five long years, and knows fully well that his boyfriend tends to be rather hard on himself.
He hands Shinji his own results. "Read these if you'd like to feel a little better about your own results. Really, you did great."
Shinji sighs, scanning Nick's results, then hands them back. "I'm sorry if I'm being annoying," he says, "I don't mean to be."
"You can never annoy me," Nick whispers, laying a hand on one of Shinji's and smiling at him. "Believe me."
Nick stares in disbelief at the deceased spider, well and truly shocked. The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor had thought it a good time to show his sixth-year class what the Unforgivable Curses looked like. Nick had disagreed with her, and for good reason. He had not enjoyed watching a spider drown itself, another writhe in pain, and, finally, one collapse dead.
"Does anyone have any questions?" Professor Tyrhitt says, seeming satisfied with herself. Why is she so delighted? Does she only feel content at the end of the day if she has successfully startled a class of NEWT students?
Nick raises a hand, and the professor looks to him, still smiling in a self-satisfied manner. "Yes, Miss Zhang?" she says.
Nick frowns. "It's Mr Zhang, actually," he tells her, his annoyance plain. "Next time, please address me as such." What makes him speak to a teacher so sharply, Nick isn't quite sure, but he likes the startled expression that flits across the professor's face.
"Yes, of course," she says after a moment's hesitation. "I'm sorry, Mr Zhang. My tongue slipped. Now, please. What was your question?"
Nick gives her a look that fully conveys his anger, then speaks. "I was just wondering something, professor. Why is it illegal to preform those curses on human beings?"
Tyrhitt gives a start, clearly appalled by Nick's words. "Am I hearing you correctly?" she says rather shrilly. "After witnessing my demonstration, you ask why it is illegal to perform these?"
"Yes," Nick answers her simply. "I do. Surely the Imperius Curse would be immensely useful if you were to attempt to take in a Dark Wizard? And the Cruciatus Curse a good punishment if someone committed a dreadful crime? And if dueling, wouldn't the fastest way to get rid of a Dark Wizard in a quick, clean way be to use to the Killing Curse?"
Professor Tyrhitt relaxes slightly. "I understand what you are saying, Zhang, but I disagree. To use them would be to stoop to the same level as those we persecute."
Nick frowns, but nods. "Yes ma'am."
"I'm so sick of it," Nick tells Shinji, leaning against him. They are sitting outside, sheltered from the sun by a tall tree. "I'm so sick of all the looks we get whenever we go anywhere together. The looks I get when I go up to Madam Pomfrey for more testosterone. The looks everyone like you and me get."
Shinji sighs, putting his DAtDA homework down. "I know," he agrees, "people are stupid. But we have to ignore them. Just be proud of who we are. In fact... I pity them."
Nick shifts around to give his boyfriend a strange look. "Really? Why would you pity them? They control every aspect of our lives. People like us can't get married, for goodness sake. I expect I'll spend my entire life correcting people when they refer to me as 'miss' or 'Nicole'."
Shinji nods. "I know. Believe me Nick, I know. I pity them because they're close-minded. Because they can't tell what love truly is. Because they think so poorly about themselves that they have to try to make our lives miserable, just so that they can boost their self-esteem."
"And we need to pity them for that?" Nick asks, his disbelief clear. "Shinji, you know what happened to Jay Smith. They didn't go by the typical pronouns, slept in the common room instead of going up to a gender-assigned dormitory. You know what they endured every single day, all the bullying and hate they received."
He turns away, furious at Shinji. Why can't his boyfriend see that the bigoted people of the world were to be despised, not pitied? "I was one of Jay's only friends, Shinji," he mutters, staring at the ground. "And I know how much all of it affected them. Those bigoted people made them throw themself nto the lake."
Shinji shudders, then lies a reassuring hand on Nick's shoulder. "It's horrible," he agrees, "and we're going to fight for our rights when we leave. We're out of school in less then a year, Nick, and we can show the entire wizarding world how stupid they are. We're going to change things."
Nick sighs, then smiles weakly at his boyfriend. "I'm just so sick of it," he whispers, blinking hard to stop himself from crying. He is sitting in the sunlight with a boyfriend who loves him - he doesn't wan to cry. But he can't stop himself, and soon large tears are rolling down his face. "I don't want anyone else to die. I don't want anyone else to endure what my parents did, what I've endured, what you've endured."
"Don't worry," Shinji says, pulling Nick closer, "we're going to change it. We are going to change things, Nick, and everyone will see how strong we are. You and I - we will rewrite the world."
Nick reads the newspaper, a slight frown creasing his forehead. Finishing the article, he curses loudly. Then again. Before long, he is screaming his anger. And then his brief fit of rage is over, and Nick is panting, leaning against the kitchen bench.
Shinji enters the room, concern written all over his face. "Nick? What's wrong?" He is holding the black cat the two adopted together in both arms, stroking it, but he puts it down when he sees the look on his partner's face. "Nick?"
Nick licks his lips, then hands the newspaper article to Shinji. "Read that and tell me what's wrong," he says, teeth gritted. "You told me we'd change thing, Shinji, now that we're out of Hogwarts. But look at that. Things are only getting worse."
Shinji reads the article, his eyes widening as he does so. When he looks up at Nick, it is clear he is shocked. "They can't possibly do this," he says, horrified. "I thought it was bad enough, with us being forbidden to marry and all. But... this is something else. If this passes, it'll be hard to find a job."
The eighteen-year-old nods. "Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know." He runs his hands through his scruffy hair, chewing his lip. "We need to stop it from being passed. Otherwise, trans people, gay people - we be treated like we're Voldemort's supports. That's what the author wrote, that many of the Death Eaters are suspected to be gay, and that it seems many of the trans, gay, ace, aro community end up Dark Wizards. It's rubbish! Complete and utter rubbish. Being gay, being ace - it doesn't make you evil. What kind of stupid theory is that?"
"Who wrote the thing?" Shinji asks, scanning the article again and answering himself. "Ah, Bartemius Crouch. I should of known."
Nick raises an eyebrow, glancing at his partner. "Oh? Who is this 'Bartemius Crouch' person? I've never heard of him before."
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Shinji can not help but smile. "Ah, but you wouldn't. You generally don't read the Prophet, do you?" He frowns. "Why did you do so today?"
Nick shrugs. "This is yesterday's," he murmurs, "my Dads sent it. You know my father is in the Ministry - he's afraid he'll lose his job, and I can't blame him. Him and papa aren't wealthy, and with father being the only one of them working... I can't believe how messed up our world is."
The cat begins to wrap itself around Shinji's legs, and he picks it up, sighing. "It's ridiculous," he agrees. "But we'll change it."
"You keep on saying that!" Nick yells, whipping around to glare at him. "But we never do a single thing! Never!"
Shinji meets Nick's eye, nodding. "I know," he murmurs, "and I'm sorry. You're right. Let's get an audience with the Ministry, let's persuade them they're wrong. Let's do this, Nick. Let's do something."
Nick seems to deflate, staring at the ground. Eventually, he nods. "It's time to stand up for ourselves."
Nick reads through the letter, smiling to himself. He is proud of his work - he has been working on this letter for the better part of the day, and now it is complete. He has phrased it correctly. Although he knows his partner, Shinji, is attempting to get them an audience with Bartemius Crouch or one of his associates, Nick doubts he will manage it, and has written a letter addressed to the man who was proposing a law that would make his life hell.
Mister Bartemius Crouch, Nick reads. My name is Nicholas Zhang, and I am writing to you about your new law proposal. You claim that all transgender and homosexual wizards, witches and wixen should be registered, and that background checks should be run on any of them attempting to apply for a job. Mister Crouch, I implore you to drop this nonsense idea. Being transgender, being homosexual - they don't make you a Dark Wizard. Yes, I know Grindlewald was gay, but so is Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of all time. Creating this law will only create more anger in the gay and trans community, which might lead to the creation of more Dark Users. Open your eyes. We are not the threat here.
He nods to himself, then glances up at the horned owl that is waiting for him to finish the letter. "There you go," Nick says, tying the letter to the owl's legs and stroking it's feathers. "I've heard Crouch has a young son - this is to go to Bartemius Crouch Senior, alright Aldore?"
The owl, Aldore, hoots in response and spreads it's wings, taking off and knocking Nick's bottle of ink over in the process. Instead of getting angry, he laughs, and watches as Aldore flies away, a light sensation in his stomach. He's changing things, just one letter at a time, and it excites him.
"What does he mean no?!" Nick hisses, staring at the letter Aldore has brought him in disbelief. "He can't do this, he just can't!"
Shinji looks up from the Daily Prophet, a curious expression on his face. "What are you talking about, Nick? Who said no?" He then frowns. "Don't tell me you wrote to Crouch about the possibility of that law being passed?"
Nick frowns as well. "I had to," he mumbles, staring at the letter. "There's no way we're going to get an interview with him - this was the only way to ensure he at least sees what we've got to say. But his letter is practically laughing in my face."
Shinji gets up from the armchair he has been sitting in and lies a reassuring hand on Nick's shoulder. "Why didn't you tell me you were writing to Crouch?" he asks softly, then shakes his head. "No, that doesn't matter. Just... don't stress about this. I've got an appointment with Dumbledore - he can reach out to the Ministry for us."
"It's good to see you again, Shinji, Nicholas," the headmaster says, his eyes twinkling behind his spectacles. "I assume this isn't a visit without purpose? What do you wish to see me about?"
Nick smiles rather awkwardly; despite Dumbledore's kindly nature, the now silver-bearded wizard has always unnerved him. He has always nursed the ridiculous idea that the wizard's piercing gaze can actually pierce his mind.
Shinji nods. "Yes, professor," he says. "I'm afraid we aren't here to pay you a causal visit." He falls silent after that, glancing at Nick.
Dumbledore smiles pleasantly nodding. "I thought as much. Mint humbug, either of you?" he offers them a striped sweet. Shinji takes one, popping it in his mouth then glancing at Nick. It occurs to Nick that his partner might of taken a humbug for the sole purpose of having an excuse not to talk.
Clearly sensing the awkwardness in the air, Dumbledore speaks once again. "Are you here to discuss Crouch's proposal?" There is something in his eyes that suggests great distaste for the proposal - this loosens Nick's tongue.
"Yes," he answers his old teacher, "it can't be passed, it just can't. Surely you agree with me, Dumbledore?" There is desperation in Nick's voice.
Dumbledore sighs, turning to stroke the red-and-gold bird that sat on the perch beside his desk. "I was afraid you might want to talk about it." He looks up at Nick and Shinji, something self-hating in his eyes. "Sadly, I cannot help you. I've already talked to the Ministry about it. I can be quite persuasive at times, but I was ignored. I have disliked the Ministry for reasons like this."
Nick stares blankly at Dumbledore, then gets to his feet abruptly, leaving the room. If Dumbledore cannot help him, no-one can. It is time to take matters into his own hands.
Nick turns his wand over and over in his hands. It is ash, eleven inches long, dragon heartstring. He has been its master for eight years, and knows it as well as the back of his hand. Every bump in it, the patches of rather grainy wood, the length - he knows everything about it.
He has been mulling over his conversation with Dumbledore for a week, and a plan is forming in hi head. His thoughts keep on returning to the Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson he took place in during his sixth year. The reaction of each of the spiders to the Unforgiveable Curses... is it really so wrong to use one on another human being?
Nick isn't fond of the idea of using the Killing Curse - although he is desperate, he can hardly see what the purpose of killing Crouch would be. If he was caught in the scene of the crime, it would only make the wizarding world believe the law is necessary, which Nick knows must not happen.
The Cruciatus Curse, on the other hand, seems like a viable option. If he can torture Crouch, perhaps the Ministry man will drop the idea of rounding up all transgender and homosexual people, perhaps he will not pass the law. But still, something tells Nick that the man will not respond well to threats.
That left the Imperious Curse. Nick is almost certain that this is the best way to about things. Surely it cannot be too difficult to do perform the curse - Nick remembers the words and wand movements Professor Tyrhitt used when she performed the curse on the spider two years ago.
He gets to his feet, his mind made up, wand clutched tight in one hand. Nick is going to do it. He has to do it. Walking out of the house, Nick turns before closing the door. "Just going to go get some milk!" he calls through the house, trusting that Shinji will hear him. Smiling to himself, he closes the door and disapparates.
Nick stares at the wizard, breathing hard. Infiltrating the Ministry was surprisingly easy, and his target is in sight. Bartemius Crouch. The wizard is surprisingly young - Nick thinks he must only be thirty or so.
The wizards turns to look at him, frowning. "What is it?" he snaps. "Has He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named killed another prominent wizard?"
Nick lips his lips, then nods. "No," he says, then curses himself mentally. Why had he nodded and answered 'no' at the same time? It was idiotic.
"What do you mean?" Crouch asks, using much the same tone.
Nick struggles to find an answer, and is saved by the arrival of Dumbledore. He stares at the silver-bearded figure, wondering what his old headmaster is doing there. Has he come to persuade Crouch, just like he has?
Nick remembers that Dumbledore was just as anti Crouch's new law as he is, and grips his wand. The room he stands in is deserted - save, of course, him, Crouch and Dumbledore. Surely Dumbledore will not interfere if he stops Crouch?
"Imper-" Nick begins, raising his wand, but his voice falters almost at once, his arms snapping to his sides. Before he understands what has happened to him, he has hit the floor. Pain runs through him at once, but he can not wince. In fact, Nick cannot even blink, despite needing to greatly.
Dumbledore's face enters his line of vision. There is disappointment etched in every feature, and Nick realizes that his headmaster must of preformed the Body-Binding curse he knows he has been put under. "You fool," his headmaster mutters, shaking his head.
"What was that?" Crouch asks. Nick imagines the Ministry official is glancing between him and Dumbledore, attempting to figure out what has happened.
Dumbledore's head disappears, and Nick is treated to a first-class view of the roof. "I'm afraid Mr Zhang decided it would be wise to attempt to cast an Unforgivable Curse upon you, Barty."
"An Unforgivable Curse?" Crouch asks, his voice sharp. "Are you telling me this boy is a Death Eater? I didn't know He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was recruiting them so young."
Nick feels anger flare within him. Him, a Death Eater? He begins to strain against the Body Binding curse, despite knowing that it's unlikely he will be able to break free. The caster was, after all, the greatest wizard of all time.
"No, Barty," Dumbledore says firmly. "Mr Zhang is not a Death Eater, nor a Dark Wizard. Only desperate. And desperate wizards feel forced to do desperate things. Such as attempting to take control of you."
"I'm going to stun him," Crouch says, and Nick hears the swish of robes. He assumes the wizard is drawing his wand. "I'm sure the Minister will be glad to hear we've caught a Dark Wizard."
The last thing Nick sees is a flash of red light. Although he knows he has been caught, although he suspects he will be shipped off to Azkaban, Nick feels proud of himself, for one of the first times he has for a long time. Azkaban will not change who he is, and it's about time he feels proud of himself. It's just a matter of pride.
[Mod edit: Removing profanity]