Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
“Terror everywhere … panic … confusion … that’s how it used to be. Times like that bring out the best in some people and the worst in others." – Sirius Black, Goblet of Fire, Chapter 27
Eric grunted as he climbed the stairs to his attic. With his head down, he could see the dust coating the light wood. He didn’t think that it had been that long since he’d last visited his storage space.
The reluctance of the wooden door to separate from its metal frame, however, belied his thoughts.
His attic wasn’t large; or, at least, it didn’t appear so from the amount of paraphernalia packed in. There were no lights to brighten the dusty room save a small window situated across the room from the door. On its windowsill was the item he’d come in search of.
His passage wasn’t easy: boxes and discarded furniture cluttered the floor while old paintings, tapestries and tools hung precariously from the walls.
The item Eric sought glittered gold in the sunlight, vaguely reminiscent of the muggle’s kaleidoscope. Its presence in his life, however, hadn’t shown him any pretty pictures or beautiful colours.
He reached his hand out to grasp the sneakoscope—how had such a small thing caused such harm?—and paused. Had his hand really become so old? His eyes traced the blue and red veins that trailed up his fingers like a spider’s web, took in the slight crinkle of excess skin. He hadn’t been able to see the change in the shadows that cloaked his house.
His hand resumed its path and steady fingers clasped the pocket sneakoscope, placing it inside the pocket of his robes. His fingers traced its outline through the fabric; it was a reminder of a precious friendship now long gone.
Eric turned to make his descent back down the solitary staircase of his drafty house.
It was time to absolve the guilt.
They’d met, not on the Hogwarts Express first year as most would expect, but several years later. Led by the grumblings of his stomach and the promise of friendly service from the elves, Eric had worked his way down from the Gryffindor tower to the kitchens. But upon tickling the pear, instead of being greeted by eager elves laden with treats, he witnessed several elves fretting over a young, blond boy whom he realized was both a Hufflepuff and his year mate when the boy turned his way.
The boy dropped the cup of flour he’d been holding and white powder sprinkled across the wooden table.
An awkward silence had ensued as both boys stared expectantly at each other. The other boy (whom he now recognized as Adrian Lackwhit from his Herbology class) waved his wand and siphoned the flour away.
“What are you doing?” Eric had never seen another student in the kitchens before. The elves, noticing his presence, surrounded him and piped questions in their squeaky voices. Eric just waved them away, still looking at the boy –Adrian—who was measuring another cup of flour.
“I mean, I can see that you’re baking, but what? My mum’s a very good baker—when I was younger my cousins and I always used to jump around the house when she had something in the oven. It created space in our stomachs and it was very fun… Well, not for my uncle. He used to yell at us from the living room to stop bouncing around if we wanted to get any treats that day. He was never very much fun, always sitting around reading the economics section of the paper…”
Adrian’s eyes flickered once or twice to him while he was talking, and that was the only indication that he was listening at all. Eric trailed off as he watched the batter mix and pour into the pan, filling each corner and perfectly smooth, by itself. It was a deep, rich brown and Eric couldn’t stop himself from reaching across the large table that separated them to dip his finger into it. He licked his finger as Adrian watched unbelievably.
“It’s really good. Dark chocolate, right? I love chocolate. My mum used to say that I’d eat anyth-”
“That was incredibly rude.” Adrian moved the pan further down the table, out of the reach of Eric’s fingers and tapped his wand on its side.
“-ing. Oh- sorry. My mum always says I’m too impulsive, but she can’t seem to cure me of it. And she’s tried really hard too. Your baking was really good! Who taught you?”
Adrian seemed to sense that ignoring Eric wouldn’t work, so he simply sighed and said, “My mother.”
Eric nodded and came around to the other side of the table. When Adrian didn’t move away, he sidled next to him and asked, “So what type of brownie is it?”
And just like that he barged into Adrian’s life, not to leave for a long time.
Though the fact that they were in different Houses and classes limited their ability to meet, they made it work. Adrian had hardly been surprised when Eric had plopped himself down beside him on the Hufflepuff bench—hadn’t even questioned it though the others around them did. Eric had been startled (but uncomplaining) when Adrian had pulled him in the directions of the kitchens. It turned out that Eric had not inherited his mother’s baking ability—he mistook salt for sugar and always baked his pastries at too high a degree (700˚ for 15 minutes is not a faster way to bake things. It just burns them). Still, many free afternoons were spent in the warmth of the kitchens. Eric just had to settle for eating Adrian’s creations, which was hardly a problem.
As they approached seventh year (with Adrian pushing Eric to actually try doing his schoolwork—it was necessary), news arrived which provided Eric with even more reason not to concentrate on his schoolwork.
“A whole village, left in ruins! Hundreds killed and many more injured and homeless. And no news about what the Ministry is doing about this!”
“They are probably trying to figure it out.”
“Oh, sure!” The scorn was evident in his tone. “It’s not that hard to figure out! The article says that the Aurors sensed the use of Dark Magic and not to mention it was hardly a magical hub—no wizards or witches have lived there in ages!”
“They probably don’t want to jump to conclusions.”
“Well, in the Muggle world there would have been more action by now. No one here is worried about where those muggles will live now, but my dad mentioned in his letter that the muggle government has already sent construction crews to rebuild their town and found places for them to live in the mean time.”
“They are muggles, Eric.”
“But this was caused by magic! And my parents live near there! It could have been them. They could have been killed!” Eric’s voice was rising, panic evident in his voice.
“But they weren’t. And the Ministry is working on it. They will find whoever’s behind the attack.”
Eric deflated. Adrian probably was right… the Ministry would deal with it. It would be alright.
But it wasn’t. There were more attacks, on larger scales, and there were reported murders and disappearances of wizards and witches. The Daily Prophet had ceased printing the terrible news after the public had begun questioning the little progress made by the Aurors and the Ministry—there were no arrests and the bodies were piling up. The Ministry issued a public notice stating that they were working around the clock to insure their safety, but no one was convinced.
Eric heard mentions of the outlandish claims of the newest in self-protection devices being sold by vendors: necklaces that stopped death, spinning tops that detected people’s intentions towards the holder, glasses that allowed the wearer to read minds and special square hoops that broke wands (buy for only five knuts!), but he only shook his head. He had no wish to spend what little money he had on foolish trinkets. He would have to protect himself the old fashioned way.
It was to his surprise when he opened a gift box from Adrian the day before the train left for the holidays to find a small glass top nestled on top of red fabric.
“It’s a pocket sneakoscope,” Adrian answered his unspoken question, “It will help keep you safe from harm.”
“Unless I go deaf from the whistling,” Eric said.
“You won’t.” Adrian was fingering his own present from Eric, a muggle recipe book that his mum adored.
“Thanks. I’ll keep it always.”
And he would, no matter how tempted he was to throw it in the trash in later years.
“You can’t come because of the war.” My parents are pureblood. They don’t want you—that went unspoken.
They were midway through their seventh year and the consequences of the war (even though the Ministry wouldn’t outright declare it as such) were never far from their minds. It was forcing them to choose sides.
It was ruining their world.
“That’s alright. My parents will be glad to hear I’m coming home for Yule. Did I ever tell you how we always put up the tree together? The same time every year. My dad’s family used to do the same, before all their children grew up and had kids of their own…”
Eric’s smile felt forced and he felt as though he was reaching too hard for things to say, something to fill the heavy silence that hung over their heads, forcing a wall between them. From Adrian’s stare and tensed shoulders, Eric knew he was caught.
He could just hear the shrill whistle coming from his trunk, muffled by layers of books and clothes.
The distance between them was forgotten after the holidays, though Eric could occasionally feel Adrian’s heavy stare on him.
The war’s presence was more keenly felt, layering the castle in a depressed air that even the most ingenious of pranks couldn’t lift. It wasn’t an unusual sight during the morning meal to witness students leaving the hall in a rush, hands clenching sheets of paper and friends hurrying in their wake, anxious expressions on their faces. Eric had taken to meeting Adrian in the kitchens instead, to avoid any more reminders of the turbulence in their world; he would see it well enough during class time. They were only occasionally interrupted by like-minded individuals, but the house elves were always eager to serve more.
Adrian, though, didn’t talk about the war at all, instead pushing and prodding Eric to focus on his school work, dragging him to the library and placing quills in his hands. He would knock on the portrait of the Fat Lady until someone let him in or agreed to take a message to Eric.
Eric wasn’t able to ignore him.
So he exploded.
“What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you care?”
They were sitting in a small alcove midway between their common rooms and the sound of Eric’s voice resounded in the small space. Adrian merely looked up from his Charms textbook and raised an eyebrow. Eric swelled with rage, standing so that he would have the height advantage.
“You don’t care! You just don’t care! There’s a war going on and you’re focusing on school. I have a newsflash for you, Adrian, it isn’t going to help. Math equations won’t save lives! A kooky prediction isn’t going to stop the war. Why won’t you realize this?”
He was slightly out of breath from his rant and his cheeks were flushed. The ratty tennis shoes peeking out from under his robe only seemed to further condemn him as a muggleborn, a target in this war. It was something Adrian seemed to ignore and Eric wasn’t eager to bring it up.
An uncomfortable silence settled in the room as Adrian fingered the pages in his book, occasionally glancing at Eric’s face. Eric refused to back down and just stared, hands clenching and unclenching at his side. When Adrian finally spoke, his voice was firm and measured.
“School is my priority. In a few months I’ll have graduated and then I’ll be involved in the war. There’s no need to combine the two.”
Eric continued to stare at Adrian, only this time his eyes were wider and his mouth slightly open in shock. Then he turned suddenly and strode from the room, slamming the door behind him.
Eric was fiddling with the sneakoscope when he received the invitation.
Adrian had given him space during the past several weeks, avoiding the kitchens and only speaking to him minimally during class time. Eric hadn’t noticed before just how much time they spent together until it stopped, and he wanted it back, no matter the differences in their opinions. He only had to deal with school for a few more months anyway, and then the war would be on their doorstep and in their homes.
Perhaps it was best to forget the troubles of war for as long as possible before it took over their lives.
Eric had no doubt he would be involved in the war, one way or another.
Tyler Burnes, his year- and classmate interrupted his thoughts by brashly saying, “Your rude friend is hanging outside the portrait hole again. He wouldn’t let me past until I agreed to tell you he wants to speak to you. I don’t know why he’s so determined to see you.”
His dark brown eyes critically looked over the sneakoscope. “That’s a piece of junk. It doesn’t actually work, you know that right?”
Eric stiffened and slipped the glass top into the pocket of his robe, sweeping out of his quarters and down the stairs. Adrian was likely looking to visit Hogsmeade with him—it was a tradition with them and this was the last scheduled visit of the year.
Spring was definitely in the air as they walked the long road to the wizarding village. Eric had argued against taking the carriages (it was such a beautiful morning—perfect for a walk) and Adrian hadn’t wanted to start another argument.
The ground was slightly muddy from the melting snow, leaving brown stains on their shoes, and they could see green buds on the trees from the path. Occasionally they had to avoid a puddle or a passing carriage, but the sun was shining and the air was crisp and cool.
“Isn’t this just wonderful?” Eric had already said this several times, so Adrian just nodded his agreement. Eric didn’t need any encouragement to continue talking. “I used to hate this time of year because it meant the end of winter and I loved snowball fights—who doesn’t like snowball fights?” Adrian didn't, not after he had been hit with an icy snowball that had caused a black eye, but he didn’t comment as the village came into sight.
They wandered from store to store, stocking up on candy in Honeydukes and browsing the book section in Scrivenshaft’s. They were just about to head into the Three Broomsticks for lunch when they heard the screams coming from the centre of the village and high pitched whistling coming from Eric’s pocket.
It was chaos. Students were thundering past them, flooding out of the shops and bowling each other over in their rush to reach the safety of Hogwarts. Eric could see people in dark cloaks shooting spells into the crowd and actually cackling at the hysteria they were causing.
He squealed as a ball of fire started burning the roof of the Three Broomsticks and the patrons shoved him aside in their rush to leave the vicinity. Adrian was the only thing that stopped him from falling over when he grabbed his arm and started pulling him into the crowd.
“Let’s go,” he hissed, eyes scanning for spells.
“Why isn’t anyone fighting them? Why are they just letting them win?”
“I don’t know, but it’s too dangerous to stay here.”
“They’re hurting people! They’re wrecking shops!”
Eric was appalled by what he was seeing. Windows were shattered and broken glass littered the streets. Bodies were lying on the ground, trampled by the rush of feet or injured by curses.
No one was helping them.
No one was coming from the Ministry.
Eric turned as he heard a woman’s maniacal laughter.
Crowing with delight, a woman stood with her back to Eric as she watched a young girl writhe in pain on the large, hard cobblestones. He didn’t recognize her, but he did hear her pleading with the woman to stop.
He cast a spell before his mind caught up with his actions and paid no attention to Adrian twisting his wrist painfully and hissing, “What did you do?”
They watched almost in horror as the spell hit the woman and she turned her attention towards Eric. Her dark eyes widened in animalistic joy, catching sight of her new prey. The other girl lay sobbing, forgotten for a fresher victim.
“Come to play with the big boys, have we?” her rough voice taunted and Adrian’s grip on his arm tightened. “Let’s see what you can do.”
She struck, sending a jolt of blue light their way and both boys hit the ground. It struck the building behind them and the front wall exploded, bits of wood and metal raining down on the street.
His sneakoscope fell from his pocket and bounced on the stones. A large crack raced down its side and Eric prayed it wasn’t broken. He scooped it up, clutching it near to his heart and tugged at Adrian’s sleeve.
They started running blindly, hoping to escape the fight Eric had just created. He could hear her shouts and taunts following them and when he glanced back he saw her gliding gracefully after them, crushing glass beneath her boots.
As they ducked into the woods near the Shrieking Shack, a spell cut a tree in pieces.
One of them fell on Eric, who collapsed onto the soggy ground. His head was whirling and spots of light blinded him. Adrian started to pick him up, but Eric just threw up. On him.
Adrian grimaced but continued dragging him along until only trees surrounded them; it was dark and chillingly silent, the sneakoscope having finally fallen silent.
Eric collapsed again at the base of a tree, moaning and clutching his head. Adrian shushed him gently, straining to hear if the strange woman was still following them.
No sticks snapped, no branches stirred.
They stayed there, huddled together for warmth until Adrian remembered the warming charm, and waited. Adrian tried to relieve Eric’s pain, but he didn’t know any spells, much less what was wrong with Eric, so he settled for keeping him warm and keeping him awake.
It must have been the first time in living memory that Eric wasn’t interested in talking, but Adrian was persistent.
Finally, faintly, they could hear the cracks of Apparition. Adrian folded a sheet of parchment he had just bought that morning into a paper plane and blew it through the trees. It would, he hoped, alert Madame Pomfrey and the rest of the teachers to their whereabouts, as he didn’t want to move Eric.
Eric wasn’t the only one in the hospital wing that evening, nor did he have the most serious injuries. Madame Pomfrey was bustling busily up and down the rows, checking their symptoms and administering potions. Eric had been given a bed in the far corner of the wing, which gave them relative peace and quiet.
Eric, though, wasn’t alert enough for visitors—his treatment for his concussion had made him drowsy. He had just enough energy to make one last comment.
He wheezed, “They were combined.”
And then fell asleep.
The war had come to Hogwarts.
Hogwarts slowly recovered from the disastrous Hogsmeade trip. Eric, after he was released from the hospital wing, noticed the quieter corridors and the stricter enforcement of curfew.
The last few months before they graduated passed unremarkably, the days blurring into each other as both threats of war and NEWTS hovered over their heads. Adrian, though disturbed by the close call with the Dark Art users, refused to let up on their schoolwork, insisting that it was still very important.
“You can only do this once. The war will still be there in a few months.”
Eric went along peaceably enough and rarely mentioned the war again, though that didn’t stop him from avidly reading any hints in the paper.
After they graduated, they bought a small flat together just a few blocks away from the Ministry. It cut their bills in half, something Eric was very appreciative of, and was close enough to muggle London that he was able to visit his parents quite easily, a fact they were happy about.
Adrian’s parents, however, disapproved of the move and told their son this each time he visited them, which he did each week as was pureblood custom. He told Eric they were being silly and old-fashioned.
“It’s not you specifically.” It’s your blood status. “They will accept this eventually.”
But each week his face was grayer at the end of his talk with them. However, it wasn’t until the fight that caused Eric to temporarily live with his parents that Eric worried about their friendship.
Eric had been accepted by the Aurors and was spending much of his time in training. Most of his time outside of the crash courses was spent talking about “the war effort” and “what they could do to help”. Adrian, however, was not eager in the least to place himself and his friend back in danger. As an auror, he felt, Eric already drew enough attention from the other side.
They—Eric especially—didn’t need any more.
“Six months ago you said you were going to deal with the war once you were out of school. Newsflash—you haven’t been in school for four months now and you just keep coming up with more excuses—the start of your career, the danger, your hectic schedule. It’s a war, Adrian, and people are dying. People need to fight or the problem will only get worse!”
Adrian nodded. “But why should it be us? You’re already an auror, or an auror-in-training. You will fight.”
“But you have no plans to, is that what you’re saying? And why is that, exactly? Are you too scared? Or have you not yet chosen a side? You saw them, that day in Hogsmeade—they were awful! This isn’t just about politics anymore or muggles interfering with the wizarding world—they’re murdering innocent people. They’re out of control.”
“Who says I haven’t chosen a side?” Adrian’s face was laced with dark shadows. “I’m not scared for me—I’m scared for you. They’re targeting muggleborns and you’re just setting yourself up as a target. You’re going to get yourself killed.”
“They would kill me eventually. I remember something from one of my history lessons before Hogwarts: If you leave the helping for others, there will be no one left to help you when it’s your turn. I don’t intend to do that. I sure as hell hope you don’t.” Eric’s voice had darkened, growing impassioned.
Adrian was shaking his head. “Surely there’s a better way to do this without putting yourself in danger? No one else is this concerned. No one else is doing anything!”
“And that’s just the problem.”
Eric had left the room, and later the apartment, when it grew apparent that Adrian wasn’t going to back down.
Eric barely looked at Adrian for weeks, pretending he didn’t see him when they passed each other in the halls of the Ministry. He tried harder in his courses, knowing that he could—that he would—make a difference in this war. If others wouldn’t act, if they would just sit at home like lambs to the slaughter, then he would just have to work that much harder, doing their part.
But it tore at him inside. Adrian had been a constant by his side for years now. He’d helped him scrape by in Charms (charming pineapples to dance never had been his specialty) and had stayed with him throughout the consequences of his attack on the mad woman in Hogsmeade.
This war was wrecking his strongest friendship. He wanted to be able to trust Adrian with his life, and he did, but he wanted more. He wanted Adrian’s support, not his condemnation about his views. He wanted Adrian at his back, even if it wasn’t on the open battle field and just shown by silence when he was wounded or exhausted from duels. He just didn’t want Adrian to frown in disapproval at his Auror robes.
He didn’t want much, not really.
He carried his sneakoscope everywhere with him now, protected in his Auror trainee robes, and he didn’t care if anyone was annoyed by the whistling it produced near some of his co-workers or high-ranked members of the Ministry. He was at least going to have some semblance of protection, some reminder that things had been better and that they would get better once again.
His pocket was already vibrating when Adrian stopped him in the Ministry atrium on his way to work.
Adrian pulled him off to the side and began whispering feverishly to Eric. No one paid them any attention—no one paid any attention to anything suspicious these days, in fear of their lives.
“I’m sorry. I want you to survive this and I don’t think the path you’re heading along will help you. However I don’t think you’ll change your mind.”
The sneakoscope was more agitated now and flashes of light were pulsing from Eric’s pocket.
“So I want you to know that though I don’t want you to do this, I support you. You’re right—someone has to fight in this war. I just wish it didn’t have to be you.”
Adrian’s hand was gripping his wrist tightly. “Do you accept my apology?”
“Does this mean you won’t frown when you hear I’m in St. Mungo’s for injuries?”
“No, this means I won’t comment on how you got there.” Adrian’s dark eyes were searching his face. “I accept that this is a war and that some sacrifices have to be made, including your personal health.”
The sneakoscope was whistling and their eyes flicked quickly between the pocket and the atrium.
“Let’s move,” Eric said and he began heading for the lift. The atrium was almost empty, since most of the workers had already reached their offices on the other floors. “Keep your eyes open.”
But he was just a trainee, and Adrian had no talent or interest in fighting. They didn’t notice the intruders until it was too late.
The Aurors came, after Eric alerted them, but it was too late.
The deadliest of the Unforgivables had already been used and aimed at Eric, the perceived threat.
Adrian had taken it instead, shielding Eric.
The thud of his body hitting the floor had echoed in the Ministry atrium.
A woman’s cackle had as well.
He survived that war, and the one that followed, before retiring.
He had saved lives. He had helped others. And someone had been there in his time of need.
He just wished it hadn’t been Adrian.
The flickering warmth of the fire roaring in his hearth barely touched him as he placed the sneakoscope in the center of the mantle. The grey stones were devoid of photos or other mementos; a light coating of dust was the only thing competing with the golden colour of the sneakoscope.
He was always cold these days, no matter how he bundled and layered his robes. Winter was coming and he knew it would be brutal. Only in memories could he remember the true heat of the sun, the warmth of an oven and the tingly feeling an afternoon with Adrian would cause.
His fingers gently traced the spidery crack tracing the length of the coloured glass top. The charms powering it had long since faded away into nothing and now it was only a decoration, useless in the eyes of many.
He didn’t think so. It was a reminder, a tangible presence of his youth and friendship, to last when he forgot.
Adrian had made his choice and Eric respected that.
Even though Eric had never said he accepted his apology, he knew now that Adrian had known.
He didn’t feel so guilty anymore.