"Well, aren't you the ray of sunshine this early morning."

"How the hell did you get here?" Derek was still rubbing sleep from his eyes, his dressing gown hanging oddly off one shoulder where he had been unable to persuade his exhausted brain to navigate the inside-out sleeve. He frowned irritably, swatting towards the clock in the corner of the common room, and that this gesture was enough to drop the dressing gown the rest of the way onto the floor did not improve his mood. "Three in the effing morning."

Impossibly, Stephen did not seem to have slept at all, his sapphire blue pajamas still unwrinkled, but he looked entirely too clear-eyed and cheerful for insomnia. No. Scratch that. He looked entirely too cheerful to exist at such an hour. "Peeled the banana," he offered simply. "You did show me that one a while ago, and it's a lot easier than answering some medieval koan."

"Curfew," Derek grunted. "Seven floors and Snape on patrol. Better be good." Slowly, as each individual brain cell reluctantly pulled itself away from the very warm, very cozy bed he had left behind, it began to dawn on him that Steve did not have a long history of doing things that were either reckless or impulsive, and this seemed to be both. Indignance started to give way to rapidly growing concern, and he crossed his arms, squinting at the other youth in the dim light of the fireplace embers. "Are you okay?"

"Oh, I'm fine. Just missed you, and with House segregation, I –" He was smiling, his tone breezy as a Featherlight Charm, but there was something else in his eyes, and Derek shook his head, cutting off the excuse.

"Steve." The something else turned to outright guilt now, but he could see it only a moment before Stephen looked down at his bare feet, his black fringe falling to hide his eyes. Derek sighed, reaching out to take his boyfriend's hand gently. "I'm sorry. You know I'm not the greatest when I first wake up, but coming down here was stupid, and that's not like you. What's going on?"

"Tea." He blinked, baffled at first, but then Stephen pulled away, gesturing with the wand in his other hand to conjure two cups of steaming liquid effortlessly from midair. Taking one and leaving the other hovering for Derek, he crossed to the couch, flopping down so heavily that it seemed magic in itself that the tea didn't spill. It was an impressive piece of spellwork; the cups flawless replicas of the school's own pattern, the drink itself delicious and just the right temperature, and he marveled anew at how easily it all came to Stephen. Such a genuine talent, but one that he never seemed to appreciate among roommates who surpassed him in the facts and figures that Derek had never believed mattered anyway.

He could hear the faint clatter of china as he joined Stephen on the couch, and he saw that the dusky hands were shaking, his shoulders set so high and tight that his neck had all but disappeared. The reason could wait. Setting down his own cup on the low table, he carefully took Stephen's from his trembling hands, putting it aside as well so that he could wrap him in his arms. "It's okay."

Stephen didn't answer, just shook his head, tried to pull away again, but Derek didn't let him go so easily. "I mean it," he insisted quietly. "Whatever it is, it's going to be okay." A thought came to him, and he let his hands move down the lines of the blue cotton shirt, feeling for any sign of injury beneath. "Did Snape get you? Or Carrow? Are –"

"I'm not hurt." That much was the truth, it was clear in his voice, but the black eyes were open wounds themselves when they turned up to his. "How do you know when it's worth it?"

Derek hesitated a long moment, then shrugged. "It's all about the alternatives, I suppose. Every day sees You-Know-Who dug in deeper, and if we miss this chance, there's very little else that I think could slap people out of the apathy hard enough to –"

"Not the DA." Stephen let out a little snort of frustration, but Derek could tell that it was self-directed. "On a larger, philosophical scale." There was a pleasureless smile undercut by what looked like pride, and he twisted in Derek's arms to brush a kiss over his cheek. "It's why I had to ask you. It's not just that I love you, you're the only person I know who was planning to sacrifice themselves before the Gryffindors got any mad ideas about sending the school up in a blaze of glory."

"Being an Auror's not the same as a suicide stand!" he protested, startled that he would even need to say so. "I want to protect people, I…" Derek closed his hand over Stephen's, deliberately enveloping it even as he kept the grip so gentle that an eggshell could have been safe between them. "It's not just Those Two downstairs…there's too many people like me on the other side. Someone has to stand up to them on their own terms; inch for inch, pound for pound."

"It's not a suicide stand – not that, at least," Stephen conceded, but the dark smile never left his mouth. "But you've acknowledged before that you know how dangerous that job is, and it's never bothered you. That's what I want to know." He turned his hand within Derek's, sliding his fingers out and lacing them between. "How do you know if something is worth dying for or not?"

"Because…well…if it's bigger than just you are, I guess." He chuckled wryly. "So I've got to go for something pretty huge, like a whole society."

"And what if it's something that's already gone?" There was an odd, distant tone to Stephen's voice, and he seemed to be looking at something much farther away than the face mere inches from his. "But still precious?"

Derek didn't want to pry, but this was too unsettling, and in a way, he supposed Stephen had invited it by coming down. "You're not making a lot of sense," he said slowly, "but if you want to tell me, I promise I won't laugh. You never laughed at me, and if it's something you're thinking means that much to you…."

"It does, but it doesn't, and it might be stupid…or not. I don't know. I just don't know." Stephen let out a long, deep sigh, letting his head slump forward to rest against Derek's chest. "I wish I could talk to you about it, but it's…it's a mission, and it's secret."

Derek nodded in quiet understanding. "DA?"

"With DA, yes." There was a long silence, and Derek felt a shiver run through the figure in his arms. He usually found Stephen's accent charming, but now the clipped, hard consonants stood out in staccato spikes against the struggle for words. "I don't have the right to risk…to take…but I can't just let…history wouldn't forgive…but it's not my history…but it's every wizard's –"

"Don't worry about history." Derek bent his head to kiss the shining black hair. "History does it's own business, and it's all about who wins anyway. We might be heroes, we might just be the worst group of Blood-Traitors ever. It doesn't matter, Steve. Is it right?"

The answer was almost too soft to hear. "Yes."

"Then you already knew before you came down, didn't you?"


Another long, long silence. "I'm a coward."

"No." This time, Derek was absolutely sure of what to say. "A coward wouldn't have taken the Cruciatus with me last week when he could have gotten away."

"That's different." Stephen made a small, dismissive snort. "I love you."

"Even though it's," he made a face, "what did Carrow call it again?"

He could feel the laugh warm against his shoulder. "Disgusting, unnatural perversion, I believe was the exact term."

"Yeah, that. A coward would have called it off as soon as he knew it made us targets like that."

"Personally, I think he's projecting his own insecurities over his own 'unnatural' desires." There was a shift, and for a moment he thought Stephen was going to sit up, but then he felt the hands slip beneath his pajama shirt to slide up his back, and the touch of breath against his shoulder became the touch of lips. "Though I haven't decided if he's on for his sister, Snape, or possibly the most horrific threesome this school has ever imagined."

"Snape," Derek grinned. "Gives it that extra touch of hypocrisy, you know…and speaking of Snape, there's the way he goes after the Commander and used to treat Potter – passion, I tell you!"

"Stop!" The laugh was wonderfully real this time, and Stephen shoved playfully at him. It wasn't at all hard, but Derek took the excuse to topple over on the couch, pulling the other youth down on top of him. Somehow, the buttons of his shirt had been undone, and he could see the hunger mixed with the mirth in the black eyes as Stephen straddled him, leaning so low that it was almost near enough for a kiss. "Bet he is, though. Easy to see something'seating the bitter old cuss alive, and if he's hot for boys and teaching at a boarding school?"

"We ought to give him an eyeful sometime," Derek reached up, not bothering with the buttons, because Stephen never did up the top one, and it was so much easier to just reach up and under and pull the shirt off in a single go to expose all that gorgeous caramel skin. He arched back with the motion, and the muscles of his torso that Derek still wasn't quite accustomed to seeing so clearly rippled across his chest and abdomen like a shiver that made him forget entirely what they had been talking about. What he had meant to say was something like 'you're beautiful,' but all that came out was a low, guttural moan.

"He likes pale brunettes; we're not his type." Stephen tossed the shirt aside, and the embers reflected cat-gold in his eyes as he lowered himself with an almost cruelly knowing smile. "But I happen to prefer mine tall and blonde with baby blues and crazily talented mouths."

The dip of Stephen's collarbones was salty-sweet, the tiny quill-calluses rough in just the right ways against his chest, the weight of him, the feel of his already-racing pulse and the press of their bodies already enough that Derek's own breath was coming harder now, and his hands cupped the dark head, running silk-cool strands thick and straight between his fingers. "Ravenclaw…bronze…for me."

The kiss was hungrier, deeper than Derek ever remembered, grasping and struggling for something that was needed beyond words. It bordered on painful, almost, this desperate crush of mouths and thrusting tongues and teeth that nipped against his lower lip, of seeking hands and the sound of seams that gave before they could be pushed aside. There was only a moment when it broke, barely long enough for positions to be shifted, and he knew already that they were going to go farther tonight than they ever had before, but the reasons that had seemed so sensible before were ridiculous now when he would be seventeen in less than a week, when they had who knew how little time, and when Stephen was there now and beautiful now and braver and more gifted than he ever knew or deserved now and here and the words were too right to be wrong in this strange dark heavenhell that had become their world.

"You, Derek. Whatever else…I'd die for you."