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A Fellowship to Call Your Own

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i.
They say that what happens to first-years on the train will usually define their friendships, successes, and failings for the next seven years (give or take unexpected developments, like the Crusades or Voldemort.)

If that's the case, then Mark Zuckerberg is going to spend the next seven years with one elbow awkwardly pressed against the windowpane, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe propped open on his knees, too absorbed to even notice the lady with the snack cart go by or when his legs go numb. The kids sharing his compartment let him be, like he's some strange flesh-colored extension of the drapery.

He tries to keep reading on the boat, but by that point, the sun's gone down (this is Scotland, it's incredibly unfair) and torchlight is inconsistent at best, and he's never done too well reading on a rocking boat. Besides, the first-year sharing his bench elbows him and hisses at him to put it away, because Hagrid's giving them the fish-eye, and what first-year isn't at least slightly intimidated by Hagrid?

 

ii.
He's pretty sure the Sorting Hat puts him in Slytherin out of pure contempt.

Can hats feel contempt?

If anyone could inspire contempt in a hat, it's probably you, dear, his mother writes him in a letter the first week of term, and insomuch as eleven-year-olds actually think about these kinds of things, Mark thinks this is a little hypocritical of her. Isn't it culturally programmed into all witches and wizards to be proud when their children get into the same Houses they were in?

Whatever. Hogwarts is shamefully kind of dynastic, if you think about it.

 

iii.
Transfiguration is the only class that the Slytherins share with the Hufflepuffs. Mark's not sure whose brilliant idea this was, or if it's just one of those slightly sadistic Hogwarts traditions, because by the end of the school year, at least one Slytherin has gotten detention for "accidentally" turning a Hufflepuff into something inanimate. It's a thing.

It only meets on Fridays, but they get Friday afternoons off because Transfiguration is apparently one of those classes you need all afternoon to recover from. By Friday, Mark's already on The Magician's Nephew, and at the breakfast table, he kind of leaves for Narnia for awhile, so he doesn't even notice when the rest of the Slytherin first-years file out on their way to class. In a stab at altruism, one of them hangs back (Christina, she introduces herself formally, but the letters from home are addressed to a Christy, so Mark gets the feeling she doesn't actually like this nickname and is trying to distance herself from it and, by extension, her family) and budges at his shoulder tentatively. "Aren't you coming?" she goes, and he waves his spoon at her vaguely -- there might be oatmeal attached to the end of it, for which he'd be embarrassed if he realized it was there.

So when he finally does make it to Transfiguration, the only seat left is the one right up front, nose-to-nose with the professor, a young Auror-looking type who makes a somewhat disapproving face as Mark does the walk of shame past all the other first-years, taking the open spot next to a Hufflepuff. He folds the dust jacket of The Magician's Nephew so that it marks his spot and tucks it into his bag, noticing as he does so that his neighbor is rather damp and smells vaguely of chlorine.

The professor retreats behind the desk to start roll, and the Hufflepuff shoots him a miserable look. "Why are you late, then?"

"I got distracted by my book," Mark goes absently. They're doing roll alphabetically, and Mark is always perpetually the last one to be called, so he blinks back. "What happened to you?"

The Hufflepuff drops his head onto his arms, kind of dramatically. "There was a trick staircase," comes, muffled. "And then there was a swimming pool. And randomly, a ghost? I don't even know." And then, "I don't suppose I could borrow a quill and some parchment, could I?"

Mark hauls his bag up onto the desk. He has extra parchment, still new and crisp since it is the very first day, but the quill's a different matter, as he only thought to bring one. He finds another one at the very bottom of the bag, from where he hadn't really cleaned it out before term started. It's woefully bedraggled, the feather bent and clumpy with the grit and dirt that always somehow accumulates at the bottom of book bags. "Um..." he offers, but when he looks, the Hufflepuff is just grinning at him, like he hadn't actually been expecting this.

"It's fine," he says quickly, reaching out for it.

"Saverin, Eduardo," comes from behind the professor's desk, and the Hufflepuff pushes his arm into the air and goes, "present!", cheerful and loud like he's completely forgotten that his robes are slopping wetly around his arm.

 

iv.
And somehow, despite the fact they only have one class together and, being first-years, are under the strict stigma against sitting at other Houses' tables at mealtimes, Mark finds that he's kind of maybe friends with a Hufflepuff.

Fortunately for him, it's around that time that some of the third-year Slytherins find out that Divya Narendra is Muggleborn.

 

v.
It's not something he really thinks on later, because Mark, it turns out, never develops a healthy sense of hindsight, but it might have been some kind of test that the third-years failed, when they immediately and single-handedly turned Divya into an overnight pariah. It's not like anyone is ignoring what's going on -- there's still whole sections of the fourth floor, fifth floor, and Astronomy Tower that have been cordoned off, because rebuilding an ancient magical structure that's been destroyed by a wizarding civil war takes more than just the right building materials and wandwork. Grief is crumbly and coarse like sand, and doesn't make for sound architecture. It will be some time yet before they'll get to repairing the damages done to the castle.

The point is, in the lull of early November (too far away from the start of term but not quite in time for first snowfall, which always distracts everybody) there is a large and very obvious space cleared around Divya at the Slytherin table.

At least, there is until Mark comes in and takes the seat across from him, because it's the closest chair to the bowl of brown sugar, and Mark likes brown sugar on his oatmeal. And if he wanted to ostracize Divya, that would involve actually acknowledging Divya's existence, which up until this point was simply too bothersome.

See, the other Slytherins are stupid. Mark figured out that Divya was Muggleborn the third week in September, when he got a letter from one of the Ministry's post owls, the ones that serve as a go-between for families that can't keep their own owls. Mark recognizes the owl because his father uses it in reverse: sends owls to the Post Office so they can attach postage to the letters and send them to his family in the Muggle world (which in winter is easier than trudging down to the post box.) He doesn't see how the third-years think they have a leg to stand on, if it's taken them this long to figure it out.

And then the fact that he's sitting at the breakfast table with a Muggleborn Slytherin catches up to him.

"I'm half-and-half," he blurts, seeing Divya almost jump at the suddenness of it, startled into looking up from his morose contemplation of his eggs. "My mom -- she's from a very, very old pureblood family, but she married my dad, who's a Muggle. She won't tell me her maiden name because she doesn't want other people to hold it against me, not after the fiasco with the Muggleborn registration committee and the war and all that. Stupid, isn't it, that I could be just as hated for her purebloodedness as you are for having no pure blood at all."

"Um," goes Divya, but he's smiling some, a twitch at the corner of his mouth, and that pretty much exhausts Mark's capacity for relating to real life people for the day, so he spoons out brown sugar over his oatmeal and cracks the spine of his book: his father recently sent him all four of Madeleine L'Engel's Time Quartet (which took one very large, very beleaguered barn owl to deliver, so that was cool,) and personally, Mark isn't all that impressed by A Wind in the Door thusfar, but A Wrinkle in Time is hard to beat no matter what and Mr. Zuckerberg keeps on telling him to give the rest of them a chance.

It just happens to be coincidence that they finish at the same time, so on their way to Transfiguration, they're more or less walking side-by-side. Eduardo joins them in the Great Hall: he hasn't yet figured out how to adjust the strap on his bookbag, or doesn't consider it important, so it's banging at the back of his knees as he trots. He comes up on the other side of Divya, recognition immediate on his face. Eduardo's kind of like that -- he's probably known the name of everyone in their year since the Sorting.

"Sean Parker and his cronies are stupid," he says decisively, and of course Eduardo knows the Slytherin third-years too. This isn't quite as shocking, since Sean Parker is kind of popular; charismatic in a way that's usually anathema to a thirteen-year-old but rests easily on Sean's shoulders. Filch has all but declared full-scale war on him, because Sean has a disrespect for authority that's almost Gryffindor in its proportions, but being hated by Filch just kind of makes him universally and irrefutably cool to the rest of the student body. Sean also has a marked disrespect for organized classwork, Muggleborns, and anyone he considers stupid, which is basically everyone in Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, and (weirdly) Ravenclaw, and Mark has yet to figure out how he manages to get away with this kind of attitude, post-Voldemort.

Maybe it's a shock value thing. Or, no, it's probably the hair. Whatever.

He leans around Divya as they head up the staircase. "Do you even know what we're doing today?"

Eduardo frowns. "Paperweights into rocks, I think. No, yeah, that's right, I remember Professor Albright telling us, because it seems a shame. Some paperweights are actually quite lovely-looking. Why would I want to turn them into rocks?"

 

vi.
"S'that from one of your friends, then?" goes one of the Zuckerbergs at Christmas dinner, finding Mark in the hallway crouched by the end table, since most of the flat surfaces in his grandmother's house have long been appropriated by books and the ones that aren't are currently seating as many family members as possible, leaving the floor in the hall for Mark to read Eduardo's letter.

"From that boarding school of yours?" continues the relative, slurring a little.

She's obviously married in, since most everybody actually related to Mark by blood has learned to ignore him as a matter of course, because he keeps on doing weird things like talking to the toaster or the bathroom mirror like he's expecting them to reply. He forgets that Muggle things sit static, and he's not as good at faking it as his mother is.

"Yes," he says, finally, when the relative doesn't take the hint and just keeps hovering over him.

"Good on ya!" she crows, lifting her arms like she's announcing a goal. "I didn't know you had it in you. Making friends, I mean," she adds, like Mark hadn't understood her perfectly fine.

"I do," he goes, still flat. Eduardo stayed at Hogwarts over Christmas, along with Christy and a bunch of the kids in the upper years, because that's what happens in war-torn wizarding Britain. Apparently one of the students had tried to hang tinsel around the neck of the statue of Barnabus the Barmy and Barnabus had tried to strangle one of the suits of armor with it. It was very festive! Eduardo writes. If violence could be considered festive. There was a lot of tinsel. The pine pixies kept on trying to eat it, except they forgot that plastic is poisonous to them. Dead pixies weren't quite as festive.

"Well," and the relative pats him on the head, which, seriously, what. "I'm glad they finally found you somewhere where the kids are as weird as you." And she trails off, giggling at herself and pulling her new micro-thin mobile out of her pocket to look at: probably changing the settings, because he's pretty sure everyone on the planet has better things to do on Christmas than text a Zuckerberg, even one that's married in.

Am considering selling my relatives, he writes Eduardo the next morning, while everybody else attempts to sleep off their food comas. He's even using one of his grandfather's fountain pens and paper from the printer, because it seems like serious letter-writing material. They're very stupid. And not stupid in the Muggle sense, but stupid in the general sense. Their own particular brand. Maybe I can rent them out. Do you think anyone would want to rent a family?

Eduardo's reply comes written on the back of this letter, and it simply says, Yes.

Mark doesn't know what that means, and he doesn't write back to ask. He's forgotten about it by the time term starts up again.

 

vii.
Final exams in June, and Mark scores the highest marks out of all the first years, which for some reason surprises everybody. With the exception of Hermione Granger's six-year streak in the 90s, it's always indisputably been a Ravenclaw getting top marks. Mark gets called into his Head of House's office and has to sit through five minutes of Professor Slughorn's awkwardly-worded questions before he finally realizes, "wait, are you accusing me of cheating?"

Slughorn harrumphs, caught out. "Well, well, Marcus, you have to admit it's a little ... unusual for a student to do as consistently well as you did."

Mark, who'd been digging bits out of dirt out of the grooves in his wand out of boredom, tightens his grip around it compulsively. He doesn't think he's been this incredulous in his entire life. "You gave me an exam, I answered the questions on the exam. You told me what spells to do for practical exams, and I did them. Why am I being punished for knowing what I'm supposed to know?"

Afterwards, he storms back to the Slytherin dungeons. Christy spots him going across the common room and unfolds from her armchair to catch up to him. "What happened?" she asks, her eyes widening at him, the way you do when something unexpectedly catches fire.

In the subterranean, lake-lit green glow of the common room, some of Mark's anger ebbs. "They think I cheated, and that's how I got Outstandings on all my finals."

Christy wrinkles her nose. "That's dumb! They can ask any of us, we were all there, and we know what cheating looks like. You did the work!"

Mark shrugs. He knows he did, she doesn't have to tell him.

She tilts her head. "Unless you're just that good that none of us noticed, and the quills didn't catch you. If you're smart enough to ace the exams, you're probably smart enough to cheat and not get caught. How did you know all the answers, by the way?"

"What?" he blinks at her.

"How did you remember all that?" This is said somewhat exasperatedly, which tends to be most girls' default reaction to him. "I crammed the week before exams and I didn't have a prayer of getting Outstandings."

He frowns. "Why not?" he asks, and heads towards the boys' dormitories before she can answer.

 

viii.
"What is this?"

At the blatant wonder in Eduardo's tone, Mark looks up from the desktop computer, where he may or may not be hacking into his parents' Amazon.co.uk account to see what they've ordered for his birthday (although it can't really be called hacking, since their password is their phone number, please, they haven't changed it in years.) Across the kitchen, Eduardo pulls the toaster across the counter, tipping it back and forth curiously. He prods at the heat settings.

"I wouldn't --" Mark starts, when Eduardo sticks his finger inside.

"Hey!" the toaster protests, shrilly indignant. "Didn't your parents teach you any manners!"

And then it spits a cloud of bread crumbs in Eduardo's face.

Spluttering, Eduardo puts the toaster back down on the counter, rapidly blinking crumbs from his eyes. Mark maneuvers around the cluttered kitchen to get a wet washcloth from the sink and hands it over.

"That's Hal," he says by way of explanation. "Our toaster. Hal, this is Eduardo, he goes to Hogwarts with me."

"Pleasure," says Hal, making it sound like it's anything but. Its heat setting knobs tilt towards each other in a way reminiscent of a very serious frown, and it mutters mutinously to itself. It sounds a lot like, and may your bread always burn.

"I've never seen anything like it," goes Eduardo, still a little surprised or awed. There are bits of whole wheat in his hair.

"Muggles use toasters to ... make toast," Mark offers, untangling Hal's power cord from the lazy susan in an attempt to pacify the thing. The grumbling subsides somewhat, but it hunches close to the power outlet like a disgruntled cat with all its hackles up.

Eduardo shoots him a look. "Yeah, I cottoned on to that, thanks. Why don't you use butter and a frying pan, like everyone else?"

"Because if you're friendly to the toaster, then you never have to worry about your toast coming out black because you get distracted by something and aren't watching," says Mark, like it should be obvious. "Or are half-asleep, like any normal person. Sometimes Dad forgets that our appliances can think for themselves. One time he tried to get toast out of Hal with a fork," he adds with relish, because that had been an incredibly interesting day. "Hal electrocuted him."

"Isn't that dangerous?" Eduardo asks, tentative, because he isn't quite comfortable with the idea of electricity yet and still gets a little wide-eyed when the garage door opens on its own power.

"I guess," Mark shrugs. "It was mostly hilarious, though. His hair stuck out everywhere for a couple days, and Hal would take to growling menacingly whenever he came into the kitchen."

Half-way into July, when his parents finally seemed to realize that Eduardo played a starring role in most of Mark's stories about school, they took him aside and they said, "you know, Marcus, maybe you should write the Saverins and ask them if Eduardo could come for a visit sometime," carefully, because it wasn't something they'd ever said before and Mark was just about as lost regarding the etiquette of inviting a friend over as they were, but Eduardo responded with an affirmative just a few days after Mark sent the invitation in the post. The return letter came bearing the kind of crest that Mark only sees on really old, prestigious boarding schools: it made his mother purse her mouth.

"I thought you said he was a Hufflepuff," she'd commented, quiet.

"There are purebloods in Hufflepuff too, Mum."

But Eduardo, when he did arrive via Portkey at the top of the hill behind the Zuckerberg cottage, won over Mark's parents the same easy, effortless way he won over everybody (except perhaps the bathroom mirror, which belligerently told him every time it saw him that England simply wasn't good for his complexion and has he ever thought of studying abroad somewhere south of the Equator?) He got along famously with Mark's father, who never grew tired of showing off their refrigerator and oscillating fan. Same as it is at Mark's grandmother's, there's a sore lack of flat surfaces in the Zuckerberg house, as everything has been domineered with stacks of books, and the first night, Mark and his parents talk over each other trying to explain the storyline of Lord of the Rings all at once. They wind up marathoning the trilogy on their second-hand DVD player, and Mark's mother and Eduardo both pretend they aren't crying at the end of Two Towers.

In turn, Eduardo tells them some of the stories he grew up with: Mouthharmpin the Questing Merman, Who's That Curse-Breaker, and 1000 Ways to Hex Your Friends (which for some unfathomable reason never caught on with English schoolchildren but was wildly popular in Kuala Lumpur.)

Mark and his family live in a no-man's-land on the outskirts of a Muggle village, far enough away from people that loud bangs and explosions would mostly go unnoticed, but close enough that they can go for cheeseburgers when they don't feel like cooking.

"I can't believe you've never had McDonalds before," Mark remarks, sitting on the hard plastic chairs by the Hamburglar and watching Eduardo demolish a Happy Meal. There's a Squib who runs an apothecary around the corner from the dry cleaner's, and she's notoriously paranoid and keeps her Muggle-repelling charms well-maintained, so Mark or his mother have to go when they run low on newt's eyes and shrivelfigs, since Mr. Zuckerberg will just wander in circles and then find himself in a field of cows three miles outside of town.

Eduardo sucks ketchup off his thumb. "I can feel you judging me," he says darkly, and twitches unconsciously when some machine back in the fast food production line starts beeping incessantly. "It's a heavy and oppressive weight, Mark, why would you do that to me? I thought we were friends."

 

ix.
A month into the start of term, there's a new notice up in the Great Hall that catches Eduardo's attention.

"Mark, look!" he grabs the back of Mark's robes and bodily hauls him backward, which Mark was not expecting. It almost sends the books in his arms tumbling to the floor. "Quidditch tryouts!"

"Ow," is Mark's input on that, feeling something like whiplash. This a complete reversal of priorities. "Do we care?"

"Of course we care!" Eduardo retorts. "We're second-years now, we're officially old enough to try out for spots on the team! Well, our separate teams, I guess."

"Okay," goes Mark, who doesn't really understand what this has to do with anything.

But Eduardo's enthusiasm cannot be dampened, so early Saturday morning finds Mark on the Quidditch pitch, pieces of toast smuggled out in his pockets and carrying oatmeal in a pint glass in his hands. The house elves consider it less of an affront to take the pints out on the grounds than the bowls, heaven knows why.

The captain of the Hufflepuff team is out on the field in full Quidditch attire, talking to a sizable crowd of team hopefuls. Eduardo is easily the smallest person there, the raptness on his face evident to Mark all the way across the pitch. He wonders at it, because while he had, on occasion, successfully dragged Mark to a couple matches last year, Eduardo hadn't expressed nearly as much passion then as he is now. In fact, Mark isn't sure he has ever seen Eduardo as passionate about anything as he's been since he saw the notice go up.

Turning to the stands, he's surprised to see he's not the only non-Hufflepuff who's showed up to watch the tryouts. Christy is up near the top, sitting with two Gryffindor girls Mark doesn't recognize. She spots him and waves, her long black hair and silver-green headband identifiable even from the ground.

"What are you doing here?" he demands, once he's climbed all the way up to her.

She rolls her eyes. "Hello to you too," she says, snagging one of his triangles of toast and biting into it before he can do more than mouth at her fishily in protest.

Up close, he can tell that the Gryffindors with her are in their year: the one on the right, with the honey-colored hair and big eyes, was the first one to get Sorted last year: everyone remembers who the first one to get Sorted is, because all first-years can't help but wonder if the Sorting Hat is going to bite their heads off.

"Hi," she says.

"Hi," Mark replies, a little baffled.

Catching this, Christy goes, "You know Erica and Alice."

"Hi," Mark repeats for lack of anything more substantial to say, looking from one Gryffindor to the other.

If Christy could roll her eyes any harder, they'd fall out of her head. "We only have Potions with them twice a week, Mark."

"It's fine," says the one on the right (Erica) quickly. "Look, they're mounting their brooms. Sit down," she grabs a fistful of Mark's robes and yanks, so he has no choice but to squeeze in between her and Christy or otherwise tip over. He stirs his spoon around in his cup-o-oatmeal. Down on the pitch, the Hufflepuff captain is shouting some kind of direction; a dozen or so kids on brooms soar into the air.

"You still haven't answered my question," Mark says. "What are you guys doing here? This is the Hufflepuff tryouts."

"Sabotage," says Erica immediately. "We're studying the way the enemy thinks, and what kind of line-up they might have this year, and then we'll report back to our own team."

"Who would suspect us?" Alice adds, pretending to flutter her eyelashes.

Mark stares.

He turns to Christy. "Are they kidding?" he wants to know. She just kind of shrugs, like, Gryffindors. Who knows what goes on in their heads.

"Why are you here?" she asks, equally curious. "I didn't think you were one for Quidditch."

"I don't -- I'm not," Mark says. "I've never cared. I don't see the point of it -- or sports in general, really. It's like, one person has the ball, and then, oh no, suddenly someone else has it and everybody gets really upset about it. And they spend ridiculous amounts of money on it every year and buy the paraphernalia to make them seem inclusive to one fan club, but really all they do is get together on weekends and cheer about a bunch of sweaty players throwing a ball in one direction or another. And don't get me started on Quidditch. I mean, broomsticks? Who ever thought that flying hundreds of feet in the air on broomsticks was a good idea. You sweep kitchens with brooms, not fly on them!"

He pauses for a breath. The girls are staring at him, the routines being performed down on the pitch completely forgotten.

"I'm here to watch Eduardo," he says finally, a mite more timidly. "He's been obsessed all week."

Christy's face splits into a smile. "Are you jealous?" she crows, sounding way too triumphant. She ducks her head to peer at his face, and he sticks his tongue out at her invasive proximity. "Awww, Mark, it's all right," she goes, all fake sympathy, patting his shoulder. "Just because he's found something else to take up all his attention doesn't mean he doesn't still care about you."

"There were two too many negatives in that statement," he informs her as cuttingly as possible. The Gryffindors are laughing at him.

Up in the air, Eduardo glances in their direction. Mark throws his arms into the air, hoping it looks like some kind of cheer.

Eduardo waves happily.

"I rest my case," says Christy, and Mark debates the merits of tipping oatmeal into her lap.

 

x.
He's in the library, sometime between November and March, class and dinner, when Eduardo finds his table and swings his bookbag around, thumping it solidly against the tabletop and saying without any preamble, "The Winklevoss twins called me your minion today."

The fingers that are twirling his quill stop of their own accord, and Mark looks up, his concentration broken. Eduardo has been growing exponentially fast in the last couple months, seemingly gaining an inch whenever Mark looks away from him. It makes him feel like if he grabs Eduardo around the shoulders and holds him still, he'd be able to see the growth happening, like photosynthesis on a time lapse film. His extremities all look like they're racing away from his body: his arms and legs and fingers and ears and nose are disproportionally large all of a sudden, so when Eduardo sits down in the chair next to him, it's less sitting and more a dramatic collapse.

"Minion," he echoes at the last moment, remembering that Eduardo had said something. "It's Slytherin for friend."

And, for a beat, Eduardo looks remarkably pleased.

"Besides," Mark adds, turning back to his History of Magic text. "The Winklevoss twins strongly dislike me. Last year, I successfully aided in our losing of the House Cup to the Gryffindors, perhaps moreso than the other Slytherins. They harbor a bit of a grudge."

"Everyone harbors a bit of a grudge against you, Mark," Eduardo remarks without any malice whatsoever, sounding more like Professor Binns when commenting on the contributing factors to a goblin rebellion.

"You don't," Mark points out.

"I'm funny in the head like that."

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss bring to mind what Christy calls, "the pureblood Slytherin stereotype," whatever that means. They're both well-groomed, well-bred, and come from money; they can trace their ancestry all the way back to when the Anglo-Saxons were a little miffed at the Celts. Mrs. Norris takes to following them when they're in the corridors, because Filch hates them, but that might just be the caretaker projecting his own deep-rooted anxieties about twins.

The Winklevosses aren't and are never going to be the Weasleys (neither are the Vanes, the seventh-year Gryffindor boy-and-girl pair, or the Baginas, who are the other set of twins in their year,) but the word "twins" is only ever going to bring to mind Fred and George for their generation: Mark knows, because there's a plaque on the fifth floor to go along with the general memorial that's in the Great Hall, and he reads it unconsciously whenever he goes by.

Cameron and Tyler are the Beaters on the Slytherin Quidditch team, and were the first boys in their year to develop the shoulders to prove it.

Objectively, Mark supposes he could see how they'd be intimidating, but he shares a dorm with them, and has seen them when they first roll out of bed with their hair going every which way and their shirts on backward, and isn't as daunted by their pedigree as others are. Neither is he the only one. Divya Narendra and Christy Lee can't take them seriously after that one time in Herbology with the snarfflepods, and Sean Parker calls them the Twinkle Twins.

"And anyway," Eduardo's now rummaging in his bag for his own homework. "You're leagues smarter than they are, and they'll come to terms with that eventually."

 

xi.
On September the 1st, at the beginning of his third year, Mark and his father get a trolley for his trunk and have just passed between platforms 9 and 10 when Mr. Zuckerberg's phone goes off, the insistent three-tone beeping that signals a text message. He'd really wanted a cool ringtone when he first got the phone, but could never quite figure out how exactly to get one, so he still just has the basics.

"I didn't think that would work once we passed the barrier," Mark comments, surprised, and still has to stand on tiptoe some in order to see the screen, but there's a glare even when he grabs his father's wrist to try and tug it down some.

"It's from your mum," Mr. Zuckerberg absently informs him, which answers that. "She says to wait up a minute, she's bringing us your permission slip for Hogsmeade and your --" he pauses here and glances down, his expression taking on an air of long-suffering. "And your shoes," he finishes. "Mark, did you not notice that you crossed King's Cross barefoot?"

"Does it matter, since nobody else did, either?" Mark answers, purposefully blithe.

"He does that at school, too," comes Eduardo's voice. He materializes at Mark's side, seemingly out of nowhere, dragging his trunk behind him. He's alone, which isn't surprising: Mark has yet to meet or even see the elder Saverins. It's like Eduardo gets momentarily smudged out of existence when the school year ends and then shows up again when it begins again or whenever Mark sees him, like a song on pause. Mark isn't even sure where exactly in London Eduardo lives, if he does. "Drives the professors absolutely nutty. Whatever points he earns for the Slytherin House by knowing what he's talking about, he then loses by never being in proper uniform."

"Oh, don't tell me things like that," groans Mr. Zuckerberg, frowning sidelong at his son. "I thought we raised you to be better than that."

"He's exaggerating," Mark protests. "I wear shoes to class." ("Yeah, slippers. Seriously," Eduardo brings up on the train later. "You shove your feet into the bath slippers and then forget you're wearing them until you're in class and some professor marks you for inappropriate attire." "How do you know what I wear to the bathrooms in my own dorm?" Mark retorts, narrowing his eyes, which only makes Eduardo tilt his head back and laugh, "It's not that hard to figure out, Mark. Also, when you try to Transfigure them under the desk, the spell wears off after awhile and then you're wearing shoes with bunny ears.")

Mark's mother shows up presently, carrying his sneakers in one hand and the Hogwarts letter in the other.

"Oh, hello, Eduardo!" she goes, enthused by the sight of him, as if taking reassurance that the presence of a friend in her son's life hadn't been a first-year aberration, as Mark sits down on the concrete and tugs his sneakers on over his heels. "How was your summer?"

Eduardo beams back at her. "All right, thank you!"

Mrs. Zuckerberg is a broad-shouldered woman with too much hair and not enough incentive to control it: Mark inherited that from her. "Good! Are you excited about Hogsmeade?" she waves the permission slip.

The smile on Eduardo's face falters some, a sort of flinch around the corners of his eyes, but Mark, who's paying attention, catches it.

"Your parents did sign, right?" he demands brusquely, getting back to his feet. It wouldn't be strange, if they hadn't -- if Britain had been paranoid during the war, it was nothing on how they were after it was over. He knew Cameron and Tyler's parents didn't want them setting foot outside the Hogwarts perimeter unless it was strictly necessary. He wasn't sure what the Winklevosses thought was going to happen: the worst thing that had happened to Hogsmeade since Voldemort invaded was, once, one of the hippogriffs had made off with a goat from the Hog's Head, and the proprietor was very upset about it. Mark could see why that would have the Winklevosses cowering in their dragonhide boots.

"Ah --" starts Eduardo, but now Mark's parents are looking at him curiously, so he huffs out a sigh. "No," he confesses. "No, they were -- they were abroad. Their anniversary falls in the summer, so they went -- and when they were home, it just wasn't ... I didn't want to bother them with it," he goes, voice getting smaller and quieter.

Further down the platform, someone's owl shrieks indignantly.

Mark's mother exchanges a look with his father, and swiftly comes to a decision. "Do you have the slip on you?" she asks, brisk. "We'll forge it!"

"What?" goes Eduardo, but Mark's already digging in his pockets for a pen, then remembers that Eduardo comes from a wizarding family and kicks open his trunk to hunt for a quill and ink bottle. Knowing what he's doing and acting without thinking, Eduardo produces a quill out of nowhere, and if Mark isn't mistaken, it's the same woeful, beat-up one he first lent him back in first year. Eduardo does things like that, and Mark still isn't quite sure why.

"Your parents are pureblood, right?" says Mrs. Zuckerberg, eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "All our signatures look the same after several generations: a great, fancy flourish should do it."

"But. You can't just -- you can't just forge my parents' signature. I think they have ways of checking that!"

"We're Slytherin, sweetheart," says Mrs. Zuckerberg dismissively, and she holds out her hand for the permission slip. "We don't get caught."

 

xii.
Professor Vector is intimidatingly tall (well, compared to everybody except Hagrid) and has a way of walking that reminds Mark of something out of a Tim Burton film; she looks like she's made of nothing but limbs that bend oddly like pipecleaners. She's a black woman who wears golden hoop earrings and high heels, the latter of which propel her to the kind of height that is simply ridiculous, but very effective at making everyone else feel inadequate.

And from the moment she opens her mouth, first day of classes, Mark knows she's going to be his favorite professor. He walks out of the lesson feeling like he learned something new and important, which is such a novelty that it floors him.

"Why don't they let first- and second-years take Arithmancy?" he wants to know, slamming down onto the bench at the Slytherin table at lunch.

Divya answers around a mouthful of biscuit. "Because us regular human beings can't wrap our heads around that kind of advanced trigonometry at that age."

Mark snorts, waving that away. "I can't believe I had to wait two years to start this class. Think how much I could have learned by now if they'd only offered it earlier."

"Are you seriously already planning to do a NEWT in Arthimancy, Zuckerberg?"

That comes from one of the Winklevosses, who are coming in from Care of Magical Creatures and therefore smell like pine wood and, oddly, bat guano. Christy Lee wrinkles her nose when they sit down and deliberately scoots further down the bench.

"Yes," Mark answers, completely serious.

The twins roll their eyes, and the one that hadn't spoken leans over, snagging one of the little grape tomatoes off of Mark's plate and popping into his mouth. "Yeah, no, we're not even surprised, of course you would be. Saverin's taking it with you, yeah?" he goes, showing off half-chewed pulp and tomato seeds. Mark thinks this one might be Tyler, but he's not sure.

"Yes," he says again. He and Eduardo had deliberately matched their courses up and offered to do the same for the other second-years who wanted to take classes with their friends in different Houses (the offering to do it for other people thing was Eduardo's idea. Mark had just liked doing the work involved in juggling the Hogwarts class scheduling system.)

"What about you, Narendra?" the other twin (he's more positive that this is Cameron; Cameron's the one who likes to style his hair in ridiculous ways to make him look minutely taller than his brother) slings an arm around Divya's shoulders. He likes doing that to everyone he's talking to; Mark's pretty sure it's just an excuse to show off the burgeoning muscles in his arms, which are kind of noticeable right now against Divya's skinny shoulders. "What incredible, super-exciting class did you just come from?"

"Muggle Studies," Divya answers, unperturbed by the arm and scraping more butter on his biscuit.

Mark, Tyler, and Cameron stare at him for a beat.

"You're Muggleborn," Mark feels the need to point out, since no one else is.

Divya gestures at him with his butter knife. "Exactly," he goes. "So at least I'll be guaranteed an easy Outstanding, right? Hey, can you pass one of the little things of jam, please, thanks."

Mark does wind up being right about one thing: Arithmancy immediately becomes his favorite subject.

"It's like finally having words for something that I've always known but didn't realize I could articulate," he tells Eduardo, shoving a chair out from their table in the library and standing on it. With a flick of his wand, he starts drawing up the grid for a chart. Technically, he doubts that's what the walls are supposed to be used for, but Madam Pince loves him and as long as he erases it before he leaves, he can probably get away with it. "Except when I say words, I really mean numbers."

Eduardo grabs another chair and joins him, their beginner's Arithmancy book propped open in the crook of his elbow. He lifts his wand and tentatively begins filling in the perimeters of their chart, spindly glowing characters coming from the tip of his wand. He got a new scarf in Diagon Alley before the start of term, and he's still wearing it, even though it's still September and the weather hasn't started to turn yet. It's in Hufflepuff colors, and personally, Mark thinks it makes him look like a lopsided bumblebee.

"Think about it, Wardo," he goes, checking his math in their Arithmancy book over Eduardo's shoulder. "Numbers are a universal constant, and yet, by themselves, they have no meaning until we give it to them. Their entire existence is dependent on what we use them for, how we string them together. No wonder particular numbers have evolved to be so important to the magical world: we've been pouring bits and pieces of ourselves into them since humankind first started learning how to count."

He leans back, and with a flick of his wand, adds a couple more glowing numbers to the chart.

Beside him, Eduardo is scrawling algorithms in the air, one ear tilted in Mark's direction to show he's listening.

"Do you think it might be possible that the whole world is made out of numbers?" Mark continues, almost speaking too quickly for his own tongue. "That there's -- that there's like a base code for everything, some intrinsic identification that can be expressed by numbers? But the numbers would have to change, of course, especially when you apply magic -- it'd be forever changing. That's the difference between the Muggle world and the magical, is that element of transfiguration. Do you think all things were once functioning, and magic just helps them remember that?"

He frowns, erases what he just put down and corrects it. "I wonder if there's some way to quantify magic."

Hopping off the chair, he steps back, putting his hands on his hips and surveying their handiwork. He turns to the side to toss a grin at Eduardo, who is looking at him with something akin to wonder, the spell light casting his face a pale blue and reflecting off of his eyes. Yeah, Mark thinks, his attention flickering from the numbers on the wall to Eduardo and back again, yeah, it's pretty much the best feeling in the world.

 

xiii.
"Oh, hell no," Divya says as forcefully as he can muster. He leans over the back of Mark's chair to get a better look at his ambitious outline for his Defense Against the Dark Arts essay. "This is too much. You don't just walk into Mordor, Mark."

Mark levels a flat look at him.

"Actually, yes you would," Divya corrects himself, nodding seriously. "You would probably just waltz right into Mordor because you got lost looking for the loo."

He flops down at the table they've appropriated, taking up two chairs so he can stretch out on his back. Like Mark, he hasn't hit his growth spurt yet, so this means the movement leaves his sneakers swinging a couple of inches off the ground. Across the table, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss exchange bemused looks, but Erica lifts a finger to forestall their next question, not looking up from scratching away at her own essay. "No," she says. "Before you ask, I don't understand the reference, either."

"I got it," Eduardo offers quietly, elbow-to-elbow with Mark. "But it's a Muggle thing."

"Thank you," Tyler goes, sarcastic but not mean. "That was enlightening."

"You know what I miss," comes from Divya's direction, his tone mostly rhetorical. "Music. Seriously, studying would be so much easier if I could put in my headphones and tune everything out. It's the first thing I do when I get home at Christmas break -- I go straight to my iPod and cue up some Thom Yorke and suddenly all is right in my world again. It's too quiet otherwise. Come on, some of the most brilliant witches and wizards graduate from Hogwarts -- is it too much to ask for someone to invent something that'll play music inside its walls? Even if it means we have to go back to the cassette player. I can handle that."

"Wizards have music, too," Cameron puts in, but tentatively, like he's not quite sure if music is really what they're talking about. "We have our own bands, even. I know you've heard of some of them, and they're always doing live concerts. Muggle music has to be substandard in comparison."

Divya's finger makes an appearance over the edge of the table, pointing at Cameron accusingly. "See, that? You just harshed my squee."

"I ... what?" Cameron blinks, utterly lost. He ducks his head to his brother, murmuring, "was that even English?"

Divya sighs. "That's another thing I miss. The Internet. Seriously, how do wizards function without the Internet? You have no idea what I would give for a Wizarding Wiki right now."

The Winklevosses look even more bewildered, and even Erica's concentration has been broken: she's looking at Divya like he's making as much sense as he would speaking Parseltongue. All three of them cut glances at Eduardo, who shrugs back at them helplessly, just as lost.

Mark, who comes from a blended family and knows perfectly well what the Internet is, smiles to himself and flips to the back of his textbook, scanning the index.

He supposes that, empirically, he can see why some people would be attracted to the Internet (it's certainly nice for ordering books that aren't stocked by his hometown's primary bookseller,) but he's never really seen the appeal of including it in every aspect of life. There's something about getting information, or a specific result, instantaneously, without doing the physical work of it (pulling musty-smelling books off of a shelf or performing a spell) that just feels like cheating. Seriously, all you have to do is put your fingers to a keyboard, without feeling any of it happen -- the weight of a book in the crook of his arm or the tug of magic in his body? No, thank you.

"I don't think the professors would let us use it even if we had one," says Sean Parker from the other end of the table. "It'd probably count as cheating since we didn't actually research the information for ourselves."

"Yes we would have!" Divya retorts, prompting into sitting up so he could level a glare at Sean. "We'd be looking things up -- that's the exact definition of doing the research. And also," he adds, his eyes narrowing. "What are you even doing here? Who invited you? You made my life miserable in the first year because I was Muggleborn!"

"Oh, that was you? My bad, man," Sean goes, and then gets up and disappears into the library stacks before Divya can find something to throw at him.

 

xiv.
One of the things Mark will always find so bloody frustrating about Hogwarts is the insistence that the Slytherins do everything important or potentially embarrassing with the Gryffindors, year after year. It's like putting cats with dogs and locking them in a room full of rocking chairs.

"Erica Albright is a bitch," he announces, plunking down at the Slytherin table with all the weight and force of someone very, very frustrated.

"Uh oh," says Divya, who has his Divination textbook propped up against the jug of pumpkin juice. "Those are fighting words, young padawan."

Mark grabs for the bowl of boiled potatoes, scowling at them with more venom than they've ever deserved in their garlic-basiled lives. He scoops a couple onto his plate and passes them to a sixth-year girl who warily eyeballs his thunderous expression.

"Her arrogance is infuriating," he manages, finally. It takes him two tries before he realizes he's trying to cut the potatoes with his wand. He puts it down and picks up a butter knife. "She's infuriating and annoying and she always has some kind of comment to make. It's like, nobody cares to hear your opinion on everything, so can't you keep your mouth shut unless you have something pertinent to add? And she has the audacity to call me exhaustingly thorough! Just because you've read some treaty on dragon behavior over summer break doesn't give you the right to start up a debate with the professor at every opportunity! It doesn't make you look smart, it makes you look like you're desperate for attention!"

"Oh, heavens no," says Divya, completely deadpan, when Mark pauses for breath. "Please, oh please, have mercy on us poor sinners. Someone actually standing up and letting Mark Zuckerberg know he isn't, in fact, the smartest machine in the fourth year? Ye gads, it's the end times."

"You," Mark points a fork at him. "Are miserable and nobody loves you."

"That cut to the quick. Gravy?" he offers Mark the gravy boat.

Objectively, Mark knows his annoyance with Erica is irrational at best, but since the Slytherins and Gryffindors have a class together every day except Friday by some cruel twist of class scheduling, there's no escaping her long enough for him to remember this. And since Christy tries her hardest to make friends with those outside of her House and spends as much time with Alice as Mark does with Eduardo, Erica's there at their study group too, sitting across from the Winklevoss twins with her knees tucked up against her chest, her Rocket Dogs discarded underneath the table and her scarlet socks peeking out from under the hems of her robes.

Regarding notes for History of Magic, they all have a bit of a barter system, taking turns staying awake long enough to write down the keynotes so that at the end of the week, they more or less have a cohesive flow of facts, which they check against Mark, who doesn't need to write anything down to remember Professor Binn's lectures.

"Wait, so let me see if the timeline's right," Tyler's reaching across the table, picking up one of the pieces of parchment from the table (it's probably Christy's, since she's got the neatest handwriting.) "There was a tariff imposed on all imported items coming from Scandinavia in 1630, but the coalition of hags -- or whatever the official name for it was -- got around that by disguising their mead as tea, right?"

"Right, with a Disillusioning Charm, until some of the strongest prohibition wizarding families of the day got their hands on it and got all the hags hung." Mark flips the page of his textbook, scanning the tiny, narrow columns of script. "Has anyone found out which ones?"

"You should ask your mother."

When Mark looks over, all he can see if the top of Erica's head and the sweep of her bangs and the bent spine of her book.

Things might have moved right on over it if only they'd kept talking, but instead Tyler puts down the notes and gives Mark a curious look, like the remark requires some kind of answer. Mark just levels a look back at him, but nobody else says anything either, so finally he has to turn his attention back to Erica.

Folding his arms on the tabletop, he asks, "I'm sorry, but what does that mean?"

Erica closes her book, the covers snapping together like a bear trap. "I'm just saying," she says. "And please believe me when I say that I have been trying to find a polite way of putting it, but I simply cannot understand how you can consider this --" she gestures at the History of Magic notes, "-- important enough to memorize, but you can't be bothered to learn where your own family is from."

"Leeds," Mark says, flat. "And I don't see how this relates to anything at all."

"Am I wrong?" This is directed at the rest of the table. Mark's somewhat relieved to see he's not the only one who doesn't know what's going on: Divya looks puzzled and Alice looks back and forth between them quizzically, but the twins look a little like they want to be somewhere else, Christy is oddly triumphant at the corners of her mouth, and Eduardo isn't meeting his eye.

And just like that, Mark's had enough.

He turns back to his textbook, rounding his shoulders and tossing off, rapid-fire, "Well, that's a little rich coming from you, isn't it, going around and casting aspersions on other people's shameful family connections."

"How so?" Erica's guard is up.

"For one, the Albrights aren't even real Albrights, you're just faking it. You're the Albrechts from the wilds of the North, and as a general rule, for generations you lot have gone to Durmstrang and liked to support Dark wizards from behind the curtain, so it's not all that surprising that you came crawling across the Channel after the fall of Grindelwald and changed your name to something roundly English. And everyone knows Ferdinand Albrecht was one of the founding members of the International Federation of Warlocks, which is an amusing attempt at gaining distinction because warlocks are just hack wizards who aren't fond of the idea of shaving or bathing more than once a week."

He takes a breath, and the fingertip that's about to turn his page is trembling. "For another, nobody wants to ask you directly, but your uncle teaches Transfiguration here and the fact that you never see him outside of class and he never shows you any particular warmth means he resents you for being a Gryffindor, as the Albrights in Hogwarts have always been Slytherins, himself included, so your only option is to act out in the most Gryffindor way possible, and somehow this translates to being insufferable and attempting to belittle others for things they can't help.

"Now, condescend all you like on my knowledge of seventeenth century tariffs, was I wrong about any of that?"

The silence that falls after all of this isn't so much a quiet as much as it is a heavy, oppressive silence that lands smack in the middle of their table and sort of quivers.

Finally registering it past the angry pounding of his heart, Mark looks up.

Erica's face is blank, like it hasn't quite occurred to her what she should feel yet, because nobody's ever said those things to her before (Mark knows no one has ever said those things to her before, but he also knows that he can't be the only one who's thought them, just the only one unrestricted by British convention enough to say them out loud.) Cameron and Tyler are staring at him, Eduardo's eyes are closed like he's gathering strength, and Christy's got her quill gripped like one would a knife handle right before they stab someone, stayed only by Alice's hand on her wrist. At the end of the table, Divya is playing with the end of his sweatshirt drawstrings, looking desperately like he wants his iPod there so he could tune everyone out.

"You," says Cameron, straightening his shoulders and speaking very slowly, very quietly, and with more force than Mark had ever heard from him. "Are going to walk away from this table, right now."

Such is his tone that Mark's on his feet, gathering up his books, without even realizing it. He kicks his chair back and slings his bag over his shoulder.

He's past Madam Pince and almost out of the library before he realizes that Eduardo is right next to him. Not close enough to bump shoulders like they usually do, and not looking at him, but walking with him nonetheless.

He lets out a breath.

 

xv.
(In Potions, Erica waits until Tyler leaves in the direction of the supply cupboards, and perches herself on the stool next to Cameron. He spares her a curious look, his paring knife poised over the lacewing flies that he needs to dice.

Deceased lacewing flies are inordinately sticky and their weird insect bits tend to get everywhere, so Erica surreptitiously wipes the pads of her fingers off on the bottom of the stool and regards Cameron calmly.

"You should have been in Gryffindor," she says, and what had sounded so grandly magnanimous in her head comes out a little on this side of awkward, out loud.

Cameron jerks his eyes away, knife skittering some on the cutting board. He picks it up and brushes the bits of fly into the potion, which burbles in disgust and turns a shade of green to match. Finally, he looks back at her. "Albright," he goes, as calm and serious as she's ever seen him. "Doing the right thing isn't solely a Gryffindor trait."

She grins at him. "No, it isn't," she goes, and scoots back to her work station when Tyler ducks back into the dungeon.)

 

xvi.
So after that Marks spends a little time being absolutely friendless again, which is just as well because Eduardo is there and Mark isn't that strongly affected anyway.

"Oh, come on," he goes the fourth or fifth time Eduardo tries to bring up the possibility of apologizing. "They're only punishing themselves by not talking to me. They've been copying my star charts for Astronomy since the second year, now they might actually have to do the work themselves. God knows their own advice stops applying once it means they're the ones who have to do the right thing."

"Mark," says Eduardo tiredly.

"Did I ever tell you," Mark says quickly, before Eduardo could continue. They're sitting on the steps that lead up to the entrance hall. It's a beautiful morning, the grass waving and the buds on the trees showing up in bright spots of color, sunlight sparkling off the surface of the lake. He doesn't want to fight. "That my parents thought I was all-Muggle for the longest time?"

Eduardo spares him a curious look. "No." People file around them, chattering and carrying bits of their breakfast: there's a Quidditch match on, Hufflepuff vs Ravenclaw, and Eduardo should probably be with his team, going over last-minute tactical plays or getting changed or whatever Quidditch teams do, but instead he's leaning his shoulder against Mark's, his Cleansweep on the step next to him. "No, I didn't know that."

"They did. I didn't show any sign of being magical whatsoever, not through most of my early school years. Aside for the fact I lived in a house where the toaster talks and the dishes do themselves, I was basically any other Muggle kid."

"What did you do?" Eduardo already sounds amused, and Mark hasn't even told the punchline yet.

He grins at him. "I made it snow inside Mum's wardrobe when I was nine. I thought if I couldn't find Narnia on my own, then I would make one."

 

xvii.
Right after Easter hols, Filch finally loses his temper.

"Right!" he goes, finding Mark in one of the second floor corridors, nestled with his books by a suit of armor and practicing his Color-Changing Charms on the small collection of Hogwarts mice he's lured to him with bits of squeaking mint from Honeydukes. "This is the last straw, you rotten lump! I've warned ye again and again about students doing magic in the corridors, but do you listen? No, yer kind never listens. I have had it. Get up, Zuckerberg, Imma taking you to the Headmistress, before I bring out the thumbscrews."

His jowls are practically quivering with rage, so Mark tucks his wand back into his robes and stands up. For a moment, he thinks Filch is going to drag him down the corridor by the ear, but Mark's taller than he is now and Filch notices, so he just grabs him by the elbow instead and marches him down the corridor, leaving Mrs. Norris behind to watch the multi-colored mice speculatively.

Except for seeing her at feasts, where she makes speeches and awards the House Cup and other various sundry, and except for every now and then when she's in the corridors or in the staff room, Mark has never actually been face-to-face with the Headmistress, and can't help but feel more curious than cowed. They stop outside the statue of the gargoyle, which is missing an arm and a wing and generally looks a little woebegone, like it's fought in a war (oh, wait, goes Mark's brain, catching up with him) and if he's not mistaken, it gives him a commiserating look when Filch bends forward to whisper the password into its ear.

Filch pushes Mark up the spiral staircase to the wooden door to the Headmistress's office, which swings open the second they step onto the landing.

Forgetting why he's here and not even thinking, Mark pushes past the caretaker into the office, his head craned back. Above him, rotating slowly and hypnotically, is the most perfect, miniaturized replica of the solar system he has ever seen. The kind of math and magic involved into going into something like that... he can't even wrap his head around that kind of complex spellwork, but the end result is breathtaking.

"Ah, Mr. Zuckerberg," comes a voice, spartan and dry, and Mark bumps right back down to earth.

Headmistress McGonagall had plainly been reading a letter when they'd interrupted her, which she now puts down on her desk and tilts her chin down to regard Mark over the rims of her glasses. It's probably mostly the positioning of the desk, he tells himself, but something about that gaze makes him feel very small indeed.

"Caught him doing spells in the corridor, ma'am," Filch offers. "Turning mice all kinds of unnatural colors. Repeated offense and all."

"Does he frequently turn mice into different colors?"

"Uh, no. I meant the spellwork."

"Oh? What's he done before?"

"Math, ma'am."

This earns a very sharply raised eyebrow. "Math?" McGonagall echoes.

"Yes, ma'am," says Filch, seemingly oblivious to the faint wryness that's entered the Headmistress's tone. "Spelled a whole bunch of equations and whosawhatsits on the wall outside the kitchens. Took forever to fade when I told him off, too."

"Arithmancy equations, professor," Mark butts in, even though nobody asked him. "It's easier to spell them into the air than it is to make number charts, because you can change spellwork if you spot a mistake, but it's harder to change ink."

McGonagall makes a noise in her throat and then dismisses Filch, who goes grumbling down the staircase, leaving Mark alone with the Headmistress for the first time.

"Have a seat, Zuckerberg," she says with a voice that brooks no argument, gesturing at the high-backed chair directly across from her. Putting his bag by the door, Mark sits down, bouncing his leg and automatically scanning the titles of the books on the bookshelves behind McGonagall's desk. Of all the portraits of previous Headmasters hanging on the walls, only a couple of them are awake, and they all seem rather disinterested in the proceedings anyway.

He stops bouncing his leg when McGonagall raises the other eyebrow, her gaze deliberately going to his footwear. He resists the urge to tuck his (inappropriately attired) feet out of sight.

"And why," she says mildly. "Couldn't you practice your Arithmancy in the Slytherin dungeons?"

Mark fidgets without meaning to. "They, ah," he says reluctantly, but a wave of the Headmistress's hand prompts him to continue. "They're not particularly fond of me at the moment, because I insulted Erica Albright's family and they all think it was unprovoked -- which I assure you it was most definitely not -- but they're all siding with her because she has big, pretty eyes and she's in Gryffindor, like they think being nice to a Gryffindor will earn them points with anybody." Belatedly, he realizes that saying this to the former Gryffindor Head of House might not be too bright, but he just sets his jaw.

"Hm," says McGonagall, without changing expression. "And you do realize that by insulting Miss Albright's family, by proxy you have insulted her uncle, who is a member of the Hogwarts faculty?"

Mark does flinch that time, but it's not like he can lie about it now. "Yes, Professor."

"And do you think that if there were any fault in Professor Albright worth insulting, either as a wizard or a professor or an Albright, that I would have hired him to fill the Transfiguration position?"

"... no, Professor," goes Mark, feeling smaller by the second.

McGongall makes another noise, but when she next speaks, her voice is a little kinder. "House politics are always more complicated than people give them credit for, Mr. Zuckerberg. Witches and wizards seem to be under the mistaken impression that just because the Sorting Hat reads one thing inside of you and puts you in a House, that means you must act a certain way for the rest of your student career. This is emphatically not true."

Mark thinks of the way the Winklevoss twins always try to be noble, even at their own expense, and the way the Ravenclaws wrinkle their noses when Mark gets top marks on his exams every year, like they can't believe he's earned it by his own merit. He thinks of how aggressively Christy tries to form bonds with other Houses, and how, when given a choice between sitting with Mark and sitting with the other Hufflepuffs in his year, Eduardo will choose him every single time. He lowers his gaze.

"Maybe we Sort too soon," McGonagall continues when he doesn't say anything. "But dividing Hogwarts students into Houses was never intended to be the deciding factor of their character. We Sort because we want students to grow into their magic with those who are most like them, to foster solidarity and to give them a fellowship to call their own."

"It's not like it matters at all, does it?" Mark blurts out, head jerking up.

She arches an eyebrow questioningly.

Mark takes a deep breath and soldiers on. "Houses, I mean. It's not like it really matters in the end. Isn't that what Voldemort taught us -- I mean, obviously he was wrong about very many things, " he adds hastily at the expression on her face. "But not that. We go into the workforce after we pass seventh year and then it doesn't matter at all, whether we were Slytherin or Hufflepuff or Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. A little competition is healthy, maybe, but we're all just witches and wizards in the end."

In the beat of silence that follows this, they both become aware of a very soft, tentative knocking coming on the office door.

It swings open, and Eduardo sticks his head in. Mark has never been more glad to see him and that ridiculous bumblebee-colored scarf in his life. "Excuse me, Professor," he goes. "But if you're done with him, can I have Mark back? We need him for study group."

Mark hasn't been invited to study group since the thing with Erica, and considering he just told the Headmistress about that, she probably knows it's a blatant lie, but when he looks up, McGonagall is smiling at him.

"Yes, I suppose you're right, Zuckerberg. Go on, then, and do try to remember your own advice, next time you get in trouble with your House."

 

xviii.
There's a rule somewhere that if a professor doesn't show up fifteen minutes after class is scheduled to start, then the students are allowed to leave, but since all the faculty live on Hogwarts grounds, same as the students, there's really no reason for them to ever be that tardy. Mark has always figured that the rule was in place simply to tease.

Seven minutes in, and Professor Albright hasn't come in yet. The class is restless. A couple of the kids in the back are folding origami creatures and trying to charm them into life; the most anyone's managed to do is set one of the frogs on fire. The Hufflepuffs waylaid Eduardo when he came in, and now they're kind of in the middle of this rousing story, judging by the way their arm gestures are getting increasingly erratic to go with the volume of their voices ("-- but I wasn't quite sure how to turn it back into a chicken," Eduardo is saying, and one of his dormmates is laughing so hard it looks like he's going to be sick. "So I really hope Professor Hagrid doesn't notice one of them is missing.") Most of the time, Mark forgets the other Hufflepuffs in their year even exist.

He starts to doodle in the margins of his parchment, when Christy grabs the chair at the vacant spot next to him, yanking it out and sitting down. She crosses her legs in his direction and leans forward, saying seriously, "So."

Having not done anything recently that would require such aggressive cheerfulness on her part, Mark just widens his eyes at her and blurts out in surprise, "You're wearing make-up."

"Well-spotted," she goes, and he can tell she's being sarcastic. There's a ghosting of color around her eyes, and he knows her lips can't naturally be that shade. "Mark, I've been wearing make-up since the start of third year."

"Ah," Mark says, for lack of anything better.

"Hey." Christy scoots her chair a bit closer, and Mark fights the urge to push his chair just as far away. "Do you happen to know if Eduardo is, like, seeing anyone?"

"Wardo?" Mark echoes, wondering if maybe they're talking about somebody else. She can't be talking about their Eduardo, right?

She tilts her head at that. "I love how that's your nickname for him," she goes, tone suggesting that she really doesn't. "Whenever you say it, all I hear is 'weirdo.'"

Mark gives her a flat look. "Uh, no, I don't think he's seeing anyone. Why?" He lifts his eyebrows. "You're not --"

She ducks her head at that, covering her mouth with her fingers when she smiles, and Mark realizes that she's actually shy. It's probably the most surprising thing that's happened to him all week. "Well," she goes, uncrossing her legs and crossing them the other way. "I thought maybe, if there wasn't anybody else, that I should give it a shot. In the name of interhouse cooperation and all that. I mean, that's what Slytherins are supposed to be doing these days, right?"

Mark thinks about this, and offers, "Well, if you're going to go marry him and have mongrel children that will look horrible in both green and yellow and possess conflicting ideas on human integrity, you should probably be talking to him right now, not me."

This earns him a kick to the shins, which is more Christy's speed. "I don't want to marry him, you moron, I want arm candy," she says pointedly, and lowers her voice. "Have you seen how's gorgeous he's gotten? I didn't even notice until his skin cleared up and he stopped being so spotty. But now it's like woah."

"Um," Mark says intelligently. "You should probably tell him that."

She bites her lip. "You think?"

"I don't know." Mark lifts his hands in a helpless gesture.

"Ugh!" Christy goes disgustedly, and flounces up out of the seat, returning to her own.

"What just happened?" Mark wonders of no one in particular.

"Class is starting, that's what's happening, Mr. Zuckerberg," says Professor Albright, sweeping past his desk, robes snapping around his legs and coursebook tucked under his arm. Mark quickly checks the clock; fourteen minutes past the hour, and Merlin's balls, isn't that how it always works.

Eduardo slips into the seat next to him, flashing him a grin and flipping open Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4. Mark studies the side of his face longer than is probably appropriate, wondering just how much, exactly, textbooks fail to teach you about real life.

 

xix.
The week Mark discovers what it's like to kiss Eduardo is the first and only time he does below average on his schoolwork, which he figures is significant enough to count as a life milestone.

It's not like he hasn't thought about it before, because Mark takes pride in the fact that everything has crossed a mind like his at least once (from the potentially meaningful to the sleep-deprived and ludicrous, like wondering what kind of knickers Madam Pince wears) but the difference between thinking about it and actually doing it is a far, far greater divide than he ever could have guessed. The reality of putting his hands on his best friend staggers him.

It doesn't occur to him to think it's an odd thing to want to do, because he figures everyone's thought about kissing their friends at least once: he knows, for one, that in odd moments in class or the lull in the common room after midnight, he'll find himself wondering if Erica's hair is soft as it looks, or if there'd be any noticeable difference between Cameron's biceps and Tyler's if he put his hands on them, or what Christy would do if he leaned over and pressed a kiss to the wing of her shoulder blade, for no other reason than it was there.

But the first time he ever wants to act on it is the Hogwarts Express, at the start of fifth year. The train passes through the outskirts of London and Eduardo still hasn't found him yet, leaving him alone in a compartment with two first-years, who seem to be as content to ignore him as he is them.

He's bent over The Picture of Dorian Grey, which he swiped from his father's study when Mr. Zuckerberg insisted he wasn't old enough to read it yet, when Eduardo finally does slide the compartment door open.

"There you are," he goes, as if Mark is a pair of shoes he's misplaced under the bed, and everything's clear to Mark in an instant: there's a new badge pinned to the front of Eduardo's robes, honey-gold and black, with a stylized P right in the middle.

"You're a prefect," he goes, flat.

Eduardo's mouth quirks dryly. "I did mention it in my letters, you know," he says. "Twice."

He drops down next to Mark in that way of his that's always a bit too dramatic to be called sitting, a smile on his face. "Headmistress McGonagall tapped both Cameron and Tyler to be prefects as well, which threw everyone off a little, because Illyria Bagina's one, too. Three Slytherin prefects is kinda scary, but I guess she figured that the Winklevosses work better as combined unit."

There's an easy kind of affection on Eduardo's face, some sort of inclusion that Mark's not a part of, and he feels a flush of something run bright-hot all the way up his spine, turning everything in his gut to liquid and whiting out his vision, and he wants to ... he wants to take his thumbs and dig them into Eduardo's eyes, and he wants to grab onto the collar of his robes and pull him in so that he can put his tongue to the hollow of Eduardo's throat, wants both so bad his hands shake.

Momentarily paralyzed with the force of it, Mark misses the opportunity to do either, because Eduardo turns away from him then, spotting the first-years and lighting up.

"Hello!" he goes, with that salesman grin, leaning forward. "You're new. Is it your first year going to Hogwarts?"

The kids both nod. Neither of them have any remarkable features, so for lack of anything better, Mark's been calling them Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumb in his head.

"Excellent!" Eduardo says. "Now, no matter what anybody tells you, don't be frightened of the Sorting Hat. Sure, it likes to bite, and it's a bit toothy, but we've never seen anyone get seriously mauled, isn't that right, Mark?"

"You can't tell them that!" Mark protests, but he's startled into laughing, unable to help it.

So no, he doesn't kiss Eduardo then, but he does eventually, which is the point.

It's overcast and windy on the grounds the day of the first Hufflepuff-Slytherin match, autumn starting to settle in with sharp-edged teeth. Hufflepuff wins by the narrowest of margins, the kind of tip-of-the-finger play that you can't even call no matter how well you bet, and Christy Lee completely breaks decorum and leaps to her feet, screaming and cheering when the Hufflepuff Seeker comes back up, Snitch held aloft between his fingers, and she doesn't even notice the sour looks that the rest of the Slytherins throw at her.

Mark doesn't usually wait for the team to change back into their Hogwarts robes after a game, preferring instead to return to the castle and let Eduardo catch up, but this seems kind of like the day for an exception. He lingers around the Hufflepuff locker rooms, ignoring the way the Chasers eyeball him strangely when they come out. Christy waits with him a little bit, but she didn't bring a jacket with her and the wind is cutting, so she pushes herself up onto tiptoes and kisses his cheek, saying, "that's for Eduardo!" before setting off across the grounds.

"Hey!" Eduardo goes when he comes out of the changing rooms, his face flushed with victory and his hair still in disarray. "Do you want to come up to the Owlery with me?"

"Are you going to send a letter to your father?" Mark finishes the thought, pushing himself off the wall.

"Sure, he likes a good success story as much as the next person," Eduardo says, offhand, but there's an edge to his eyes that betrays him.

There's no decision to be made, no moment when Mark's mind goes through suggestion into every tangent and variable: there's just this moment, and the next, and then his hands are the front of Eduardo's robes, fingers curling around the badger clasp that holds them closed, and he pulls himself into Eduardo, pulls Eduardo into him in the same movement.

Their feet scuffle, and Mark's got his mouth on Eduardo's temple, the damp and the soft hairs there. He breathes in.

And Eduardo catches at him, hands gripping fistfuls of his robes, and he sighs, "oh, Mark." It's the barest movement of his lips against the side of Mark's face, but it's not a sigh like you'd think it'd be a sigh: it's his put-upon sigh, the same sigh he uses when Mark accidentally implies Alice's dress robes make her look like a gourd or when he forgets somebody's birthday. It's the sigh he uses when Mark has missed something incredibly obvious.

"Wardo," Mark replies, his grip tightening at the sensation of Eduardo's skin under his lips when he speaks.

But even now, somebody could step back, and Mark could laugh and say, "that's from Christy" and then they'd go to the Owlery and, after that, maybe they could find Erica and Alice and the twins for a game of Exploding Snap -- it'd be that easy.

And then Eduardo's hand is on the back of his head, in his hair, grasping so tight Mark hisses at the pressure, and he catches just a gleam of light reflecting off of Eduardo's eyes before his nose drags against his cheek and they're kissing.

And kissing.

And kissing, like it'll take more effort to stop than it is to keep going.

There are two things that immediately floor him, all his senses clamoring to tell him things at once: first, he hadn't realized until this very second just how close two bodies can conceivably get, a mixture of pulling and pushing and fitting, of holding on and not being able to hold on enough. His grip on Eduardo is white-knuckled; he's known this body for years, and it's never been like this, wrapped up in him, never been this warm.

Second, the way Eduardo pushes, hands on either side of his head, the way he doesn't even really wait for Mark to kiss him back before he's kissing him again, open-mouthed, tongue pushing in.

"Have you --" Mark tries, an impossible idea dawning on him, but he can't get the words out, as it's hard to talk into somebody's mouth and kiss them at the same time. He unwraps his arms from around Eduardo's neck, using his forearms to lever them apart a little bit so he can try again. "Have you wanted to do this before?"

"What?" Eduardo goes, gaze fixed on his mouth.

"I said, have you -- Wardo," he protests, but lets Eduardo pull at his lips some before reclaiming them for his own. "To kiss me," he finishes, and wonders if everyone feels this weird saying the word kiss after they've been kissed. He thinks this is the most peculiar he's ever felt since that one time Tyler Winklevoss hexed him full of helium. "Did you want to? Before? Have you ever?"

For someone who prides themselves on being hyper-articulate, he doesn't think he's doing a really good job of it right now.

And then Eduardo levels a look at him.

"Shit," Mark whispers, soft. He thinks about this, and Eduardo's hand drops to his waist; he can feel the warmth of his fingers even though his robes, and he wants to close his eyes with dizziness when Eduardo rubs a circle in his skin with his thumb, absent, like it's no different from all the times he's fallen in right beside Mark in the hallways, like there's no other place for him to be.

He thinks about it, and then he tilts his mouth up in invitation.

The grin this earns him is all Eduardo, who leans forward to kiss him soundly. "Come on," he says, stepping back. "I have to go send that letter, and then there's probably going to be a celebration in the Hufflepuff common room in honor of our victory. As Keeper, I did pull off a miraculous save, in case you missed it," he strikes a profile, and Mark can't help but laugh.

"Skip it," he tells him. His palms are tingling with the phantom sensation of Eduardo's hair, neck, shoulders underneath them. His mouth feels over-large.

The wind chases them up the lawn to the castle, but he isn't really paying attention.

"Yeah, okay," Eduardo gives in, easy, smiling so wide it has to look like it hurts.

 

xx.
So, yeah. After that, Mark loses track of a couple assignments and forgets to do some readings, and on Thursday in Charms, Professor Flitwick asks him a question and he's forced to say, "I don't know." Flitwick looks visibly shocked by this and has to take a moment to recover. Divya leans backward in his seat to feel Mark's forehead for a fever, faux-concerned, and Mark jabs him with the butt of his wand in retaliation.

"I don't get it," he grumbles later, after the third failed attempt to cast a Locomotor charm on the contents of his bookbag. His Herbology textbook flops over on its side and doesn't appear to give any indication that it's going to get back up and move around anytime soon, and it's frustrating Mark: he's never had a spell just not work for him. "How come you still keep up with everything?"

Eduardo laughs at him, throwing his head back and exposing the slim line of his throat. Mark's wand movement stutters. "That's because I learned how to work around infatuation a long time ago," he says. People tend to underestimate just how smart and competent Eduardo really is -- McGonagall did make him prefect for a reason. However, he hangs around Mark all the time, and Mark has this bad tendency to outshine everyone without really trying. But Eduardo has the same perfect attendance score and never gets less than an Excellent on his exams, and a lot of people forget that. "You need to start from the shoulder when you say the incantation, by the way, not the elbow. It's like you're throwing a punch."

This time, the Herbology textbook leaps up onto its spine and trots across the table, its pages flopping like dog ears.

"Ha!" Mark says to nobody in particular, and Eduardo laughs again, reaching out to snag his wrist and tug him in. Mark casts a quick look around -- their corner of the library is usually deserted at this time in the afternoon, but members of the Magical Creatures Protection committee will start filtering in soon for their biweekly meeting, but they'll be gone by then, because the Hufflepuff Quidditch team has practice scheduled -- before straddling Eduardo's thighs and leaning in to get at his mouth.

This is probably what surprises him the most, every time; just how much magic and kissing feel the same. It's the same visceral swoops and dives, the pull inside his chest and the way it makes his head spin when it gets really good. Somewhere inside his mind, he starts to make the connection that maybe Eduardo is magic; it certainly feels like a spell, the way Eduardo slides a hand under his robes up to cradle the swell of his ribcage, so Mark had no choice but to breathe into him, and every part of him is Eduardo's for just that moment.

The preoccupation doesn't last for long, because if there's anything Mark has down to an art, it's time management. He can pull Eduardo into darkened classrooms for a kiss and still finish his homework. There's time enough for it all.

 

xxi.
Winter comes, and with it, the announcement that all fifth years are required to make appointments with their Heads of House to discuss career options.

The Winklevoss twins are ecstatic.

"You have no idea what this means for us," Cameron says, grabbing Mark by the shoulders and punctuating his words by shaking him back and forth. He looks a step away from waltzing around the common room.

"Professor Slughorn knows all the big names in the Quidditch World Cup," Tyler adds, his eyes shining. "Just think who he could introduce us to if we prove to him that we're worth it!"

"Your dad practically owns the Quidditch World Cup," Mark points out, unable to help being the voice of reason here, although he knows that the Winklevoss brothers are more than capable of becoming professional Quidditch players on their own merit and not their family money. "He could probably get you the jobs whenever he wanted."

"Don't harsh their squee, Mark," Divya says dryly, coming up behind them to study the notice, too.

Being (always) last in the alphabet means Mark is the last Slytherin to get to schedule, so he winds up with some weird hour on Tuesday, and has to skiv dinner early in order to meet his appointment time.

"Ah, Mr. Zuckerberg," Professor Slughorn chuckles, folding his newspaper and tucking it next to him into the cushions of his armchair. He goes through the motions of offering him tea ("I've a particularly unique Brazilian blend, almost as good as their coffee, but I'm afraid I can't offer you anything stronger, ahaha,") and making small talk before finally he stops wasting Mark's time. "Well, dear boy, I daresay that you can do near anything you put your mind to, and excel at it too. Have you thought about maybe applying for a Ministry position? They could use a man of your brains."

"No," says Mark instantly.

Slughorn doesn't seem surprised. "I didn't think so. You don't strike me as the kind of man who takes orders well from superiors."

"Yeah, corporate ladders aren't really my thing. I'm kind of ... incompatible with ... um, people. You don't want me in politics."

"Mmm," Slughorn makes a neutral noise. "Well, there are still plenty of independent career options, and all kinds of apprenticeship options, if you were looking to go into a specialty field."

"I'm a Slytherin, sir," Mark answers. "I'll find my way no matter what."

This earns him a smile. "Well said, young Marcus."

Eduardo's interview is the week after that, and he's going to meet up with Mark, Alice, and Erica afterwards to see if they can't finagle warm, pumpkin-spice hot chocolate out of the house elves in the kitchen. He shows up after only ten minutes, same old bookbag slung over his shoulder. He never did adjust the strap on it so that it fit him better; he grew into it instead.

"That didn't take long," notes Mark, who's leaning against the wall opposite of the giant, still-life portrait. He uses the flap of the dust jacket to mark his place in The Book Thief. "The girls aren't even here yet."

"Yeah, we didn't really have much to say," Eduardo says, and there's a wry sort of light in his eyes. "Professor Sprout kind of just took one look at me and said, 'let's not kid ourselves, Mr. Saverin, the only path you're ever going to follow is whichever way Mark Zuckerberg is going.'" He tilts his head thoughtfully. "To be fair, she is retiring at the end of this year, so I think that's loosened her tongue a little bit, but I didn't get the impression that she disapproved. She had me pretty spot on, and I told her as such. After all, looking after you is a full-time job already, and Hufflepuffs are good at hard work."

Mark thinks a number of things, from, you're being ridiculous, to, please don't tell me Professor Sprout actually accepted that as an answer, but before he can voice any of them, Eduardo's leaning in, already smiling even as he cants Mark's chin up so they can kiss. They bump backwards, and there's an edge of teeth to Eduardo's grin, so Mark licks at him, just to get him to be serious for a second.

It's one thing to kiss your best friend, and it's another thing entirely to be kissed by your best friend like he has every right in the world to your mouth whenever he feels like it.

For the record, let it be said that Mark Zuckerberg's biggest blind spot is himself, and this is the first moment it occurs to him, just how deep Eduardo's devotion to him really goes, that he can take this (the kissing, the way Mark likes to put a hand on his hip for no reason other than it's there, the way Eduardo's smile reaches every part of his face when it's for Mark) and fit it easily into the linchpin of their friendship, like it's just another tumbler in a lock. And he can say to his Head of House, sure, yeah, my loyalty to my best friend is a career in its own right, but thanks for the pamphlets!

What do I do with that? Mark wonders, a flush of panic turning his palms damp. It strikes him, all of a sudden, that he could screw this up. That somewhere in their future, there's an Albright-Albrecht argument that will split them apart. There's going to be something, and Mark'll be anal-retentive enough to find it, because that's what he does.

"Hey," Eduardo goes, pulling back and settling a hand on his neck. "You're shaking. Why are you shaking?" He looks exasperated. "Please don't tell me you crossed the courtyard barefoot again. Spiking your drinks with Pepper-Up Potion gets tiresome after the third or fourth time."

"Nothing, I'm fine," Mark says. And, "come here," he goes, tugging on his collar to get his mouth back. Eduardo doesn't taste like much besides his own breath, but Mark's thinking ahead, to when he can kiss him when he'll taste like pumpkin spice and chocolate.

Whatever it is, whatever Mark can do that will shake Eduardo's infallible faith in him, whatever will break their friendship -- this isn't it. This won't be it.

Oh, Mark thinks, and it's the most coherent thing that's ever crossed his mind.

 

xxii.
After the last OWLs are finally, finally over, the only conceivable thing to do is to go outside into the sunshine and lay down in the grass by the lake and do absolutely nothing for as long as you can get away with.

Christy joins him shortly, padding barefoot across the lawn with her sandals dangling from her fingers. He's got an arm over his eyes, blocking out the sun, but when she drops down next to him with a soft whumph, he recognizes her magic; clinging to her less like a smell or a taste than a feeling, more potent than usual because the exams were grueling on everybody.

He wonders if there's a way to turn Christy's magic into math -- a code of some kind, maybe.

"You know," she says conversationally. "It's kind of cute how subtle you two think you're being."

"That's a very broad category of discussion," Mark deadpans. "You're going to have to narrow it down some."

"Well, for one, Eduardo's never come up to me outside the common room and greeted me with tongue," she returns, equally dry.

He lifts his arm and cracks open an eye to scrutinize her. "Why not?" he asks, and this time, she just rolls her eyes and ignores the question.

After a long beat, she goes, even quieter, "I never thought you had it in you," and there's something in her tone that prompts him into sitting up. She tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear, half-smiling from the corner of her mouth. "I thought you were all-Slytherin for the longest time, you know, thinking you were above the rest." She tosses off a laugh, self-deprecating, but Mark thinks he understands what she's getting at: she's always been the most socially-conscious of them all, the one who always thought that Slytherins need to make up for the role they played in the war against Voldemort. There's nothing she's ever wanted more than to break the stigma against their House.

He remembers being in Professor McGonagall's office, and reaches out, thinking about putting a hand on Christy's shoulder but deciding against it last moment. Instead, he just kind of knocks his knuckles against her arm. "We're all just witches and wizards in the end."

"Yes, I suppose," she goes, looking out across the lake.

"Besides," Mark adds, offhand, flopping back onto the grass and closing his eyes. "It's not like the entire year doesn't know that you and Alice used to kiss in the girl's bathroom behind the Muggle Studies classroom last year."

"That was for practice!" Christy yelps, and she whaps him in the stomach with one of her sandals. "It doesn't count!"

 

xxiii.
On the sixth floor, off the same hallway that leads to the spiral staircase up to the Divination classroom, there's a room that everyone seems to have forgotten about. To be fair, this might be because it's only accessible on alternate Wednesdays, when a dusty, cobweb-covered staircase materializes behind a dot-art painting and leads to a plain, unassuming door. Mark discovered it on accident his first year, when he asked for directions from a painting of Franciscan monks and they decided it would be funny to lead him to a dead end.

It's small, windowless, with only a handful of desks and a blackboard at the front of the room that's cracked right down the middle. He and Eduardo go through all the desks, robes held up against their mouths as they disturb an inch-thick layer of dust; the chalk crumbles when they pick it up, and pasted to the bottom of one of the chairs is --

"It's an advert for the Twelfth Night!" Eduardo exclaims, gingerly holding it up. Mark lifts his wand, light pouring across the yellowed paper. "Original casting, even. I think. Admittedly, my ye olde English could use some work."

"It is," Mark says, because medieval writing isn't that hard to figure out. "No one has used this classroom in a really long time."

"Good to know there were students sneaking out on Hogsmeade weekends to see Shakespeare even then," Eduardo grins at him.

So they basically make it theirs. Their respective common rooms (and in front of their friends) is out of bounds; Madam Pince likes them and can speak volumes to their responsibility, but spare a quick kiss or two, there isn't much privacy in the library; and Eduardo refuses to abuse his privileges as prefect and get them locked in the prefect's bathroom (except for once or twice, because Eduardo has a habit of giving in to Mark an argument or two before he should.)

"You know," Mark had said, catching at Eduardo's wrist underneath the sleeve of his robe in the entrance hall after dinner one night. "I think I know somewhere we could use."

"Uh oh," had been Eduardo's resounding support. "Because your ideas usually turn out so great."

"Your faith astounds me," Mark replied absently, trying to remember where, exactly, the hidden classroom he'd found in his first year was.

"What are you talking about, I have the upmost faith in you," Eduardo answered, so calmly that it made Mark blink at him a little.

The little abandoned classroom above the staircase on the sixth floor that's only available only every other Wednesday swiftly becomes one of Mark's favorite places to be. It's secluded and it's so easy to lose track of time and place in there, until he's nothing but Mark Zuckerberg, who is here to make out with Eduardo Saverin until their mouths ache and they taste the same. He likes straddling Eduardo in the rickety chairs, likes it when Eduardo tilts his head back to nose at every inch of his neck, likes it when Eduardo goes easily, spread out on his back on the desk at the front of the room. Things get even more brilliant when they finally remember that taking their shirts off is a part of making out too.

There are a hundred and one new places for Mark to touch, that Mark is allowed to touch, that he had no idea where to start. Eduardo is all slim, smooth angles like a greyhound, and more muscular than Mark would have guessed.

"Where did these come from?" he demands, stroking his fingertips down Eduardo's stomach, liking the way it jumps under his touch.

Eduardo squirms, but answers on level, voice wry, "I do play Quidditch, you know. There are some benefits to being on a sports team that takes its practices very seriously." He 'hm's in the back of his throat. "It's also probably why we routinely have so many fourth and fifth year boys trying out every year."

"Sex is the primary motivating factor for human behavior," Mark agrees, and bends his head to tongue at the hollow underneath Eduardo's sternum.

The reply comes out on the tail end of a gasp, "And money."

Mark makes a dismissive noise. "Only for weak people. You never need more than it takes to feed you and your dependents, and to have enough left over for the next Markus Zusak book."

"Not everyone shares your view."

"So the only remaining variable in my behavior is ..." Mark grins up the line of Eduardo's body.

A groan, and Eduardo reaches down, fumbling a little before grabbing hold of Mark's Slytherin tie in order to tug him up, muttering, "Yeah, yeah, I get it. Come back up here and kiss me already."

The Wednesday after the OWLs is the last Wednesday before the end of term, which lends an urgency to the way Mark's pulling Eduardo along that he usually likes to pretend he doesn't possess. The Franciscan monks leer at them as they go by.

"You know, I don't understand why you're so adamant that nobody finds out about us," Eduardo points out, letting Mark pull him up the trick staircase by the wrist. They haven't discussed whether or not Eduardo will be coming to the Zuckerbergs' over summer hols (and Mark's aware there'd be no problem if he does; sometimes he gets the feeling his parents might actually like Eduardo better.) And he knows the invitation doesn't extend the other way, which is fine, because he has no respect for Eduardo's parents whatsoever and it would be bothersome to have to pretend.

"I mean," Eduardo continues patiently. "It's not like our friends are stupid, and I'm pretty sure that the practice of lynching boys who kiss other boys went out of fashion several years ago."

"We probably have Dumbledore to thank for that. He was something of a trendsetter," Mark nods, tugging Eduardo through the door. He tangles their legs together while Eduardo is still off-balance, midstep, using it to pin him up against the door as it shuts (ignoring it as the door wheezes in protest, "oof, boys, do you mind toning it down a little? Not all of us are as youthful and vigorous!")

"Dumbledore kissing boys is a mental image I have never needed and will never need in my entire life," Eduardo informs him gravely.

Mark puts his hands on either side of his neck, pushing himself up on tiptoes some to get eye-level with Eduardo. To anybody who might be listening, he's still waiting to grow those few extra inches, please and thank you. "This is none of their business," he drops his voice, enjoying the way Eduardo's gaze drops to his mouth and back, the pupils swelling in the half-light. "I don't want them knowing because it's not theirs, they have no right to it, this is ours."

"Proof, ladies and gentlemen, that Mark Zuckerberg is capable of human connection," Eduardo remarks dryly. "Who knew."

"Are we talking or are we kissing?"

"Work, work, work," Eduardo sighs, but his hands land on Mark's spine and he pulls him in, tilting his head to get at his mouth.

They migrate from the door to the desk when the door politely insists, Eduardo's hands on his hips guiding him up to sit on its surface, pushing in between his thighs immediately. Mark's hands are buried in Eduardo's hair and Eduardo's tongue is in the back of his mouth somewhere, and it's taking up all the available faculties of his brain.

Which is probably why he doesn't recognize the footsteps and voices in the stairwell outside for what they are until the door goes banging open.

"Woah!" goes somebody, and Eduardo rips away from him so quickly it leaves him spinning for a moment, all sense of gravity thrown off.

There are two Ravenclaws in the doorway. Heart pounding, Mark goes for his wand at the same time they do, so three voices all say "Lumos" at once, light flaring up in the dusty room and illuminating everyone's faces. He recognizes the Ravenclaws as boys from their year, but as usual, their names completely slip his mind.

"Eduardo?" goes one of them, sounding deeply amused.

"Hi, Dustin. Hi, Chris," Eduardo replies, a little miserably. He lifts his face from Mark's shoulder.

"Dude, sorry," says the Ravenclaw, without sounding particularly sorry at all. He's Dustin, Mark realizes, abruptly placing his face. He's been in their Arithmancy class since third year, and will probably go on to take NEWT-level with them as well. "I didn't realize this room was already taken. Usually our study group meets in the empty room down the hall from Ancient Runes, but there was a pixie infestation and it's closed until they can fumigate, so Professor Flitwick told us to go ahead and use this one. And we asked the Franciscan monks at the end of the hall, and they seemed pretty sure no one would know about this room."

"Of course they did," Mark deadpans.

"Guys --" Eduardo starts in a careful tone.

"Wardo, they aren't going to --" Mark mutters out of the side of his mouth, keeping his voice down, but Chris beats him to it.

"Hey, man," he goes, holding up his hands in the universal gesture of peace. For someone they've known since they were eleven, Chris has always been fairly obviously twee, even before they really knew what that meant. "We're Ravenclaws. We substitute your reality for one of our own all the time, it's practically habit. We're fantastic at ignoring things we don't want to see. Your secret is safe with us, right, Dustin?"

"Forgotten it already!" Dustin agrees cheerfully. "Now, really, not to be a killjoy, but can we borrow your classroom?"

Something occurs to Mark, and he narrows his eyes. "Hang on," he goes, scooting forward to sit on the edge of the desk and pointing a finger at them questioningly. "We just finished the OWLs. What kind of study group is still meeting after that?"

Next to him, Eduardo groans.

 

xxiv.
It's raining when he leaves Cervish and Banges; a bitter, cold drizzle that falls just on the liquid side of snow, slicking the cobble-inlaid streets and icing on corners. The confines of the shop had been warm and narrow, and coming outside is a slap in the face. He sets off down the street, and it's only a couple of steps before there's rain and mud on his toes, making him slip inside his sandals as much as his sandals are slipping on the stones.

Across the street, standing under the awning of Zonko's with a bunch of the Gryffindors, Eduardo and Erica spot him and peel off with quick good-byes to her friends.

"How'd it go?" asks Eduardo.

"What did he want?" asks Erica.

As the turn off the main street of Hogsmeade, Mark makes a dismissive noise in the back of his throat. "He wanted to offer me a job, of course."

"But you're only a sixth year," Eduardo points out, his voice muffled under the folds of his scarf. His hair is wet and sticking to his skull: Mark wants to snort at the sight, because it's like he'd never heard of an impervious charm. "What, was he expecting you to drop out of school?"

"I honestly don't think the rest of my schooling was important enough for him to take into consideration."

"What's he been doing since he passed his NEWTs?" Erica wonders.

"Traveling," says Mark, sounding like it's more of a guess than a statement of fact. "His accent's gotten a little muddled -- wherever he goes abroad, he's plainly been trying to blend in, I'm not even sure if he knows. He came back to offer me a business proposition, said he was thinking of starting up a company, independent of the Ministry, and wanted my unique vision and intelligence," he drops his voice and adopts an accent that's not much of anything in particular. He doesn't much sound like Sean, but that's not the point. "He wants me to come work with him. Together, like co-founders."

This earns a derisive snort from Eduardo. "Sean Parker isn't interested in you as his co-founder of anything," he says. "He just wants you for your brain. In fact, I'm pretty sure if he could find a way to separate your brain from the rest of you, he'd do it. And maybe hold it, and lick it."

"I don't want Sean Parker to lick my brain," Mark says blankly. And then, "Is that why he stopped coming to our study groups?"

For a moment, both Eduardo and Erica give him patented, Mark Zuckerberg, you are too dumb to live looks, and it's a little bizarre to see them both wearing an identical expression, familiar as it is.

"Mark," says Eduardo patiently. "He was three years above us and already knew all the material we were covering. There was no reason for him to be hanging around with our study group, other than for you."

Mark stares at him, silently digesting this. On his other side, Erica says approvingly under her breath, "I think that's the most unforgiving thing I've ever heard him say." Then, she nudges her elbow into Mark's side to get his attention. "So why did he insist on meeting you in Cervish and Banges, if all he was going to do was offer you a business proposition? They sell wizarding hardware there. It would have made more sense to meet up in the Three Broomsticks."

"There were too many eyes and ears in the Three Broomsticks," Mark explains -- he'd asked the same thing. "And not enough people who are capable of minding their own business. He didn't want anyone to take his business plan and claim it as their own. I think he's developed a rather acute sense of paranoia since he struck out on his own, personally."

"Can you blame him?" Erica goes, quiet, and that shuts them up.

Sean Parker had been eleven years old and just starting at Hogwarts the year that Severus Snape took over as Headmaster, the year that Death Eaters took teaching positions and tortured their students for the joy of it. It'd probably be enough to turn anyone a mite jumpy, and Mark supposes this is the consequence of dragging schoolchildren into an adult's war: they grow up always looking over their shoulders for shadows.

One of Hogwart's horseless carriages is waiting at the end of the lane when they reach it, because the rain has thickened enough that making students walk all the way back across Hogwarts grounds would be absolutely miserable. Mark's a little grateful, because he's fairly sure his toes are turning blue.

"So are you going to stay the rest of the year, then?" Eduardo wants to know, as they join the line of other students waiting for the next carriage to come around. He shakes the water out of his hair.

A bit put off by the non-sequitr, Mark blinks. "What?"

"Are you going to stay for the rest of the school year, or are you going to drop out and take off with Sean to wherever he wants you to go for this job?" There's a note of something unidentifiable in Eduardo's voice; it sounds a lot like challenge, but Mark dismisses that because it makes no sense.

"I'm not going anywhere with Sean Parker," he replies, like this should have been obvious. "He tried to use the Imperius Curse on me to get me to agree to his proposal."

The reaction is immediate.

"WHAT?" Erica and Eduardo cry, loud enough to attract stares. They crowd into Mark's space, their eyes wide and intent. "Wait, wait, wait," Eduardo lowers his voice, speaking urgently. "The Imperius? Are you sure?"

"A milder form of it, yes," says Mark, leaning away. "I think it's one of the more common spells they use in America, mostly by parents to get their children to obey minor household instructions the first time they're told. It's from the same family as the Imperius, but it doesn't take free will away, so it's not illegal, here or there."

"So he just pulled his wand on you in the middle of Cervish and Banges?"

"No!" Mark goes, insulted by the slight to Sean's intelligence. "He cast it when I first walked in. The spell had his taste all over it."

Their eyes, if possible, go wider.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" says Erica, after a beat. "Taste?"

"Yes." They continue to look completely lost by this, and something impossible occurs to Mark. "You do know what I'm talking about, right? Everyone casts magic a little differently, so all their spells will have a different kind of signature. The older a witch or a wizard get, the more distinct their magical signature is, like a fingerprint. Can't you feel it when someone you know really well has recently cast a spell?"

"No," goes Eduardo softly. They're both staring at Mark.

"Are you serious?" Mark goes, staring right back. "It's plain as day to me!" He huffs out a breath. "It's because your magic becomes part of you when you grow up, when you receive formal training and learn how to control it. The neuromagical centers of your brain are always the last to completely settle, but once they do, your magic is an irrefutable part of your biological code. So when you do wandwork, it's got your biological code all over it."

He's talking very fast by this point, frustrated by the lack of comprehension on their faces.

"Are you ..." Erica begins, hesitates, and starts over. "Are you saying you can tell who casts a spell from the ... biological signature?"

Mark throws his arms up. "It's just math!" he goes. "It's just code! I'm good at code, I know code. Everything is made of numbers, numbers are made of everything, and magic is just another form of numbers, and everyone's got a different set of numbers, and I've got a head for numbers and I remember what their spells look like and feel like." He gestures. "Sean's spell wasn't entire comfortable with him and a little off-tasting -- i.e., he hasn't used it very often, which means he just learned it, and if he thinks he can get away with a suggestive-implant, it wasn't one he learned in Britain: the Ministry has been a bit mental about those since the war. So what part of the world has recently made leaps and bounds in the field of mind control spells? America and China. Where is Sean more likely to go? America, therefore it's an American spell. Is this making any sense to you?"

"Hey," Eduardo says, grabbing him by the wrist and stilling it. Mark drags in a deep breath through his nose and meets his eyes. "We believe you. God knows if there's anyone who can figure out the code for magic, it's you."

"I thought it was obvious," he goes, unable to help feeling a bit mulish.

"We get it, you're a genius, no need to rub it in," goes Erica, but she's smiling as she says it.

"Come here," Eduardo adds, tugging a little on Mark's wrist, and Mark, thinking he's going to do something horrible like go in for a hug right in the middle of the street, immediately tilts in the opposite direction. But Eduardo just rolls his eyes and lets him go in order to unwind half of his scarf from around his own neck. They make Hogwarts scarves unnecessarily long -- the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors say it's so that you can share it with someone who's forgotten theirs, and the Ravenclaws and Slytherins say it's so you can have enough length to strangle someone without having to touch them.

He lets Eduardo wrap the extra fabric around his neck, connecting them with a pattern of yellow and black. "Your nose is running," he says, sounding weirdly happy about it, like Mark's running nose is a fabulous thing.

"Or you could just cast a Warming -- you know what, never mind," Erica lifts her palms. "Scarves work just fine."

When they get back to the castle, they mount the steps to the entrance hall, and Eduardo bumps their shoulders together to get his attention.

"So ..." he starts, questioningly.

"I am going nowhere with Sean Parker," Mark affirms, a little impatiently given he's already said this once. "Not until he can come to me with an idea he's confident enough about that he doesn't feel he needs to use an Imperius on me to get me to agree."

 

xxv.
There's no password required to get into the Hufflepuff common room.

"Why would we want one?" Eduardo had said to him, way back in first year, when Mark had first commented on it. What stopped anyone from walking right in? "Passwords imply exclusivity and secrecy, and Hufflepuffs have nothing to hide. Why would we want to turn away anyone who wanted to visit us? That's stupid. You should come hang out the next time you forget your own password, there's plenty of room for you!"

"I never forget a password," Mark'd replied, affronted, although Sean Parker used to like to tell him fake passwords just to get a laugh from his mates.

In the entrance hall, he runs into Erica, almost literally bumping into her as they turn the corner at the same time. She's wearing a headscarf the color of olives today and she laughingly grabs hold of his arm as he tries to duck around her. "Hey, no, wait, I was looking for you. Divya and the Winklevoss-squared are looking for you -- they said they wanted me to tell you when I saw you that they really want your help. They seemed pretty excited about something."

"Huh?" goes Mark, puzzled. Then -- "oh, right, yeah, I saw them already. And no, they never have anything interesting to tell me. I forget what it is already."

Erica rolls her eyes, letting him go. "You're an asshole, Mark."

"And you're a bitch, Erica," he returns. It's the closest to affectionate they come. She lifts an arm in good-bye, heading in the opposite direction. Mark salutes back at her, ducking through the small, nondescript door to the side of the main staircase, trotting down the steps that lead to the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room.

Though technically on the same subterranean level as the Slytherin dorms, Hufflepuff is about as different as you can get and still be part of the same castle. The walls are made of earth like a burrow, not stone like the Slytherin dungeons, and the deeper you go, the more you see naked, twisting roots breaking through the ceilings and snaking down the walls, which makes Mark think they must be under the forest. Everything is narrow and homey and warm like honey and chocolate, the armchairs plump and comfortable and low to the ground and large enough to sit two students, easily.

Every single time, it reminds Mark of Tolkien's universe, and over the years he developed a habit of referring to the Hufflepuff burrows as the Shire, and Eduardo's dorm specifically as his hobbiton.

He finds Eduardo in one of the armchairs by the fire, lanky legs thrown over the arm and dangling, his head crooked into the hollow of his elbow. He's not asleep, because Mark can see his foot tapping along to whatever song he has stuck in his head.

"Budge up," he says by way of announcing his presence, dropping his bookbag to the carpet and poking at Eduardo's shoulder.

Eduardo grunts something unintelligible, sitting up enough for Mark to sit down and then immediately claiming his lap again, settling in with far too many bony elbows and shoulders in soft places.

"Ow, Wardo, watch where you're putting your bones, they're sharp," Mark complains.

This earns him another grunt, irreverent, and Eduardo nudges his head up against his ribs. Mark's fingers go to his hair without any direction whatsoever from his brain. Eduardo makes another subvocal noise that could mean anything and opens his eyes, going, "oh, hey, that reminds me --" how, Mark wants to ask, confused, "-- Cameron and Tyler and Divya were looking for you. They wanted to ask you something."

"Does everyone know what's going on in my life before I do?" Mark wants to know, a little put-out. "And yes, I've talked to them. They were going on and on about something I didn't care about."

"Please don't tell me you told them that. They looked so excited."

"Um," says Mark.

Eduardo sighs. "I'm not apologizing for you again."

"I'm not asking you to," Mark fires back.

At this, Eduardo sits up with a frustrated noise, twisting around so that he's half-seated on the wide, cushioned arm of the armchair, one arm looped around the back. Up close, the firelight does soft things to his face and the way his hair is still feathered from where Mark was unintentionally petting him.

Next year, Mark thinks. Next year is the ten-year anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. They've asked Harry Potter to come and be the keynote speaker at the memorial service. Mark's thinking of attending: Harry Potter never got any NEWTs, but the general consensus is that defeating the darkest wizard in magical history is possibly more nastily exhausting than any classroom test. Mark remembers the war only fleetingly, and the kids in the years below him even less than that.

Next year, Professor McGonagall is probably going to ask Eduardo to be Head Boy. He might be Quidditch captain, too, as he is the senior member of the team and well-liked by everybody with a pulse (and the majority of those without one, sparing Peeves and the Bloody Baron, who don't like anybody.)

For the first time, the thought of it doesn't stab him with jealousy.

Eduardo stares off into space, sort of watching a couple of the second-years playing a game of Gobstones (which seems to involve more shrieking and giggling at one another than it does strategy) and sort of not looking at anything at all.

"Hey," Mark goes, quiet. He wants Eduardo to look at him -- Eduardo has always been so big on eye contact, on looking right at people like you know them, and Mark unconsciously picked it up from him. He wonders how many of Eduardo's mannerisms are now his own, and visa versa. If they line their wandarms up against each other, how similar would their spells be? Would their magic be the same? They've always learned together, practiced together, given together and taken together: how homogenous does their magic taste by this point? Mark doesn't know his own code, but he knows Eduardo's, and he thinks it wouldn't be such a bad thing, if they were indistinguishable from each other.

"Hey, listen," he says, and Eduardo lifts an eyebrow curiously, because he always listens to Mark, no matter if he's half-asleep, annoyed, or busy doing a hundred things. "I have this idea. It's big, Wardo, it's bigger than any project we've done for a class."

"So it's not for our NEWTs prep stuff?"

He shakes his head. "No, it's bigger. It's more. Dustin and Chris are already in on it, but to get it going, above all that, I'm going to need your help. Your magic, specifically. Wardo --" and he leans forward, touching Eduardo's hip to make sure he has his attention. It's a rush when it works, a shiver skittering up his spine as Eduardo focuses directly on him. It's the best kind of power trip, the idea that he could reach out and have Eduardo at the end of his fingertips, always. "Wardo, do you want to hear what my idea is?"

There's a beat, right after he finishes talking, where Mark swears all air leaves the room. It reminds him, inexplicably, of the time before Hogwarts, before he made it snow inside his mother's wardrobe looking for Narnia, when a boggart took up residence in the dark space under his bed and Mark didn't notice it. He went to bed every night for a week to the whispers of loneliness and nothingness and worthlessness, and thought it was just a particularly bad kind of nightmare, until his mother went looking in his room for The Phantom Tolbooth and found the boggart, and explained to Mark what it was. She let him watch her destroy it, laughing in the face of Death Eaters reaching for her.

He supposes he should be glad that his greatest fear isn't a Bludger. Seriously, have you seen one of those things coming at your face at a hundred miles an hour? Any reasonable person would be terrified of it.

It feels like being a child all over again, his fears murmured in his ear, but it's less than a heartbeat, and then Eduardo is speaking.

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, Mark, absolutely. Tell me."

 

 

 

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fin