"Cut my hair, Mike." Terry swept into the Ravenclaw seventh-year dormitory with a bold, determined stride that was so unlike him that Michael nearly dropped his book, exchanging a look of bafflement with Anthony as his friend dropped cross-legged to the floor at his feet.
"Cut my hair," Terry repeated firmly. "Short as you can. Shave it, if you want to. I'd do it myself, but I don't think I could get the Severing Spell even in the back." There was no hint of levity in his voice, and Michael frowned, picking up a lock of the dark blonde hair and twisting it between his fingers.
"But it looks good on you long, and…well, it's you. Suits you, the whole Byronic scholar look, you know? It's been weird enough getting used to you without your glasses." He stood up out of the chair, coming around to kneel beside Terry so that he could look the other young wizard directly in the eyes. "Sudden makeovers aren't your thing, mate. What's the actual impetus here?"
Terry's face twisted bitterly, and the tone of self-recrimination in his voice was almost physically uncomfortable to hear. "I'm a Lieutenant, Mike. I've got to start…I've got to start thinking about what that means."
"I don't see Ginny or Ernie demanding anyone shave their head," Stephen pointed out. "And I don't think the Commander's even gotten his trimmed all year."
"No. Something happened." Michael's voice was colder, harder than he had expected of himself, but his eyes never wavered from Terry's. He was being locked out of the Legilimency, something that was worrying itself, but he didn't need it to see the shaking hands, the traces of sweat still on his forehead, the too-pale tint of his lips. Reaching out, he took one of Terry's hands in his, squeezing gently. "You're always pushing…it got in the way, didn't it?"
"I missed." The confession was a guilt-ridden whisper, and Terry's eyes closed, his head falling so that the still-long hair dropped to curtain his face completely. "Vicky and Jimmy were marking the third-floor corridor outside the bathroom, and I saw Nott coming around the corner. I had a clear shot, I could have Stunned or Obliviated him and…."
He trailed off, unable to continue, but Michael nodded in aching comprehension. "When you turn quickly, it always winds up in your eyes, and you missed the spell, didn't you?"
"Hit the wall right beside him, and Amycus wasn't that far away. Obliviates make such an awful sound on inanimate material." Terry winced, and this time, it didn't take a best friend to put the pieces together.
"Aw, hell...did he get you, or just the other two?" Anthony asked sympathetically.
"Just me. I disillusioned them," came the hollow answer, and Michael's eyes narrowed, searching the disheveled robes anew for any sign of injury.
"Was it just the Crucio, or did he really hurt you? I'll find out, there's no point in hiding it." As if to illustrate his point, he took hold of Terry's robes, receiving no protest as he pulled them open to examine the sweat-dampened shirt beneath.
"No," Terry admitted quietly, "just Crucio. Not even a good one." His eyes lifted again, and the raw, flinty look that he had worn when he first entered the room had returned. "That's not the point. The point is that I haven't taken this seriously, and I don't think any of us really have."
"No." Michael's comforting hand was shoved aside, and Terry got to his feet, moving across the room to lean against the table between where Stephen and Anthony were working, hands braced flat against the polished and parchment-strewn wood as he looked sternly out over his three roommates. "I'm an officer, guys. Mike, you're my Second. Have any of you given any thought to what that honestly means?"
"You go to the senior staff meetings with Neville and the rest of them, you're responsible for organizing status reports from Ravenclaw house, delegating requests from the Commander and –" Stephen ticked off the duties and obligations on his fingers with a somewhat bemused air, but Terry shook his head harshly, cutting him off.
"You're thinking like this is still a homework society, or like when Mike was Quidditch Captain." He smiled humorlessly. "Not trying to jump on you there, Steve. I was still thinking like that until–"
"When your hair fell in your eyes for the three hundred thousandth time this week, but apparently this time interfered with some vital neural circuit," Michael offered thinly, too taken aback by this sudden change to even know if he should really take it as seriously as it seemed.
Terry shot him a look, and it was a relief to hear the words in the back of his mind. This is serious. If I weren't draughted up, I'd have messed my robes with this little epiphany, so could you please not make it any harder?
I'm sorry, I'm just worried about you.
You should be worried about all of us.
"Right here, in this tower, is where the very real battle we're all going to be facing is going to be won or lost." The statement was dropped in an unapologetic monotone into the silence, and Terry took a deep breath, licking his lips before he continued, his eyes moving over each of them in turn. "The Commander and Gryffindor will lead bravely, they'll fight bravely, Ernie and his will stay in it to the last, but if you look at history, battles aren't won on guts or glory. They're won – and lost – on the details."
"It doesn't matter," Stephen said quietly, "how brave you are if your hair getting in your eyes throws off your aim."
"Exactly. And that's where they need us, because that's where we're strong, that's what they're just not inclined to consider, and that's where Ravenclaw can't afford to fail them." He pointed at Anthony, and there was a flush high on his cheeks now that Michael couldn't quite determine was fear or a strange new kind of excitement. "Your glasses –"
"Sticking Charm and Impervio." Anthony agreed immediately, a wide, rather terrified grin lighting his face. "Sealing shoes instead of laces, transfiguring the soles for better traction –"
"—Shield gloves on our top-tier duelers to protect against backfire," Stephen cut in enthusiastically. "Padding in the knees of the uniform trousers…these stone floors are murder if you have to drop quickly."
"And no debate." Michael's announcement stopped the other two in their tracks, but it was Terry's eyes he held as he stood, joining his friend – his commanding officer – at the table. "That's the other thing, isn't it? That was the Bludger from behind the hoops."
Another long pause, then Terry nodded, hesitantly at first, then with a greater confidence that Michael knew only he could see was entirely assumed. "I'm your Lieutenant, guys. That means that when the excrement becomes airborne, the decisions for Ravenclaw are on my shoulders, and mine alone. We all like to discuss things, to compare viewpoints, argue variables, especially with our own. But if I give an order, it needs to be followed. No debate, no three-foot essay on your alternate opinion."
Anthony scowled deeply, putting his quill away in the inkwell to cross his arms over his chest. "But if you're –"
"Then it's on my head," Terry retorted. "That's what officer means. It's my authority and my responsibility. Not just to take a curse if I screw up, either, but maybe give my life…or yours."
The implication was like a hex, and Anthony swallowed hard, then unlaced his arms, pressing his palms flat against the tabletop as he looked up into Terry's eyes with a shaky new mixture of respect and horror. "Yes…sir…I guess."
Terry looked away quickly, shaking back his hair in the gesture that was so familiar, so unthinking that Michael couldn't even begin to imagine him without it. "I'm convening a meeting for Ravenclaw in half an hour. We all need to talk about this, make sure everyone's clear on internal chain of command and get people going from the point of view of initiative towards a legitimate battle, not just trying to one-up each other on who can find the most exotic offensive and defensive magic that frankly, half the time gets rejected by Ernie as completely impractical."
He seemed to expect objections, but there were none, whether the others were genuinely in agreement or simply too stunned to argue, and Terry rubbed his hands together, betraying the nerves his confident words belied. "Right now, though, Mike, if you'll come to the bathroom with me?"
Michael nodded numbly. "Of course."
They left the others in silence behind them, but the minute the heavy door closed behind them, the resolute veneer seemed to crack into a thousand pieces, and Terry reeled, grabbing the heavy porcelain sink in both hands as if it were the only solid thing left in the world. Michael was behind him in an instant, making soothing, meaningless hushing noises into his friend's ear as he smoothed his hands over the dark fabric of his robes across the shoulders. "Terry…that was…you were…" I don't know if it breaks my heart or makes me in awe of you to see you stand up under what you've realized you're carrying. I don't think I could.
Terry didn't look up, his eyes squeezed closed as his breaths hitched deeply on the jagged verge of sobs. You'll have to. You're my Second. If something happens to me….
I'd die. There was no hyperbole there, and they both knew it as Michael pried the white-knuckled hands away from the edge of the sink, taking the other wizard in his arms and brushing a gentle kiss along one pallid cheekbone. I'd --
You'd fight for both of us. Terry pushed him away to arm's length, but there was no rejection in his eyes, only a bittersweet smile on his mouth that was at once grateful and heavy with regret for things still in the unknown and awful future. This is bigger than you and I, Mike.
"But we aren't in battle now…." Michael pointed out, refusing to be dismissed so easily and taking his hands again. "What do you need from your Second now?" And from your friend.
"Cut my hair," Terry said simply, and the darkly wry smile deepened. "Hold me while I throw up everything I've eaten for the last six years. Then go to my trunk and get me a Calming Draught that could knock out a Welsh Green."
Michael nodded, making no effort to argue for reasons that they both knew had nothing to do with the chain of command that for all that had just been said, was meaningless between the two of them. "We don't have any lemon or shortbread up here, would you be okay with some chocolate cremes?"
Terry frowned, tilting his head curiously. "What?"
"You get groggy if you take that stuff on an empty stomach," Michael smiled, raising his hand to brush back the hair from Terry's face for what he knew would be the last time in a year that was filled with so many lasts of so many things once taken for granted. "Minima maxima sunt, frater…do ut facias."
Note: The Latin at the end translates "The littlest things matter the most, brother…I will give so that you may act."