A/N: Okay, guys; here's the deal. I've had this last chapter done for almost six days now, but I hadn't posted it due to some personal issues and the fact that I had been hoping to post it and the long-awaited smut scene in the same general time frame. Unfortunately, that isn't looking like it's going to happen. I WILL write that smut scene - even if I have to drag it through kicking and screaming the entire way, but I'm sorry I have to make you wait longer for it. There is simply no excuse for how late this update is either; please forgive me!
Chapter Twenty: What Magic is Made of
Arthur shifted drowsily, moving closer to the warm body beside him and snuggling into the strong chest. He made a small sound of contentment, barely registering the soft chuckle from above him in the sleepy haze. A warm shoulder moved beneath his cheek, and Francis's gentle hand came up to stroke his bedhead softly.
"You have the cutest noises," the Frenchman whispered fondly. And it was true—the sound of Arthur's soft, sweet little snores had lulled him to sleep last night as the two of them cuddled together in the afterglow. And now the quiet, half-conscious moans he was getting were even more perfect to wake up to than any other fantasy he could possibly imagine. He leaned down, pressing a kiss to the sleeping Brit's forehead and earning a snort of disapproval. He laughed as Arthur buried his face in his chest, protesting like a teenager unwilling to get up for school. Again, he kissed Arthur's forehead, and he grunted.
"'Lright, 'lright, 'm up," he mumbled, earning a laugh from Francis. Did Arthur have any clue how adorable he was when he was rumpled and drowsy like this? Probably not; but then again, he never seemed to have any clue. As soon as Arthur dragged his face out of Francis's chest, the Frenchman was on him, showering his face with light, tickly butterfly kisses. Arthur mumbled something else, but made no move to stop him—and also no move to untwine their bodies from the heap they'd fallen into amongst the tangle of sheets. It was warm and incredibly cozy. But finally Arthur shifted, moving uncomfortably.
"What is it, amour?" Francis asked, pulling away from his face. Arthur grimaced.
"You fucking murdered my ass last night," he muttered, voice still rough from sleep. Francis tried not to laugh. Instead, he nuzzled Arthur's neck playfully and flipped them so he was on top.
"And you enjoyed every second of it," he giggled, kissing over Arthur's regal cheekbones. The Brit laughed and batted him away, but then sighed and slid his arms around his neck to pull Francis's weight down on top of him and wrapped his legs around his waist. He kissed the Frenchman with a smile against his lips, looking truly happy for one of the first times this year when he pulled away and rested his head back on the pillow, Francis lying protectively next to him, half on top of him and cuddling Arthur close in his arms.
"That I did, damn you," Arthur muttered. Then he looked up, meeting Francis's eyes, and kissed him again, much more gently. "You're just too good for me."
The doors to the Great Hall swung open, and Francis and Arthur walked inside.
It was an explosion of color and noise and joy that seemed to echo off the walls and grow and mount with every step they took, finally reaching breaking point and exploding again as they continued walking forward. Everywhere they looked, students were laughing and yelling and celebrating, and in one corner there were even fireworks going off. The delicious scent of food wafted through the doors behind them, a sure sign the kitchens were busy, and Dumbledore and the teachers were sitting at the head table, laughing and smiling at the students' antics. For once, Filch wasn't even there to spoil the fun. Arthur could already feel himself being swept up in the wave of intense excitement.
Gil and Matthew were sitting together at the Gryffindor table amid a crowd of other students, including the silent, black-haired sixth year, who currently had a huge amount of blood dripping from his nose—but he was smiling widely, which was incredible for him. The blond fangirl had her camera out and was madly snapping pictures. Gil was grinning like a maniac, holding up his and Matthew's interlocked fingers for everyone else to see as the shy fourth year blushed and grinned sheepishly along with him, clearly happy beyond belief. Francis couldn't help himself; he let out a keening catcall, laughing when Gil's face lit up and he and Matthew quickly pushed through the group and came running at them.
"Arthur's okay! That's great!" Matthew called, barely audible above the noise although it was clear he was yelling as loud as he possibly could. Arthur laughed.
"And—holy shit. Just realized why Dumbledore advised me and Mattie not to go looking for you last night..." Gil added, sidling up behind him with a sly wink.
Two of the girls behind them squealed and collapsed flat on the floor, out cold with blood trickling from their noses. Francis and Arthur exchanged glances, and then Arthur laughed a little nervously.
"Yeah, it would've been pretty awkward if you'd found us," he admitted, face burning. Matthew blushed and laughed, and Gil just shrugged.
"It was bound to happen sometime," he said with a grin.
Arthur punched him.
"Quite a lot of faith you have in your best friend, I see," he muttered. Gilbert just laughed, but any reply he could've made was cut short by Patrick's dramatic entrance; the redheaded Ravenclaw crashed head-on into Arthur and tackled him clear to the ground in a huge hug.
"Holy shit, you're alive! Merlin, you're actually alive! You had me scared out of my mind yesterday, Artie! Fuck you!" Patrick yelled, hugging his friend like Arthur would dissipate into dust at any second. He sounded half-angry, half-relieved, and altogether joyful. Arthur sighed, meeting Francis's gaze and rolling his eyes pointedly, although he didn't truly seem annoyed as he awkwardly patted Patrick on the back. Francis smiled as Patrick finally let him go, and helped Arthur to his feet. But when Francis tried to pull his fingers away, Arthur kept a gentle grip and laced them together. The two of them exchanged little grins—We know something they don't know!
Everyone else grinned too and simply watched as Francis held Arthur's gaze, feeling like those beautiful green eyes were sucking him in, remembering last night, when they'd been clouded with lust like misty sea glass, and even before that, all the looks he'd seen in those eyes alone this year; annoyed, content, terrified, sad, laughing, stormy, let down and mischievous. All those looks were blown away by the one Francis saw now. It was a subtle glow, nothing like the dangerous flashing that always happened when Arthur was pushed too close to a touchy subject, but happy. Very, very happy. But it was quiet happiness. Francis gave his hand a squeeze, and the glow flared excitedly for a moment before sinking back down to a simple, quiet joy. Francis thought he had seen tiny, brief little glimpses of that look all year, but only now it was pure and clear for him to revel in and simply enjoy. But did he dare think of a name for it? If he labeled it, and was wrong, then...
The only thing Francis could think of to call it was love.
Arthur smiled, a light blush tinting his cheeks and his entire face lighting up as Patrick whistled. But before he got a chance to smack his friend, Dumbledore's voice rang through the Hall—and he was calling for silence.
The Headmaster's brilliant blue eyes shimmered like those of a young boy as he called Francis, Arthur, Patrick, Gil and Matthew up to stand beside him. Francis and Arthur exchanged glances, Arthur looking a bit nervous, but Francis gave his fingers a squeeze and it soon disappeared amid the fangirl squeals and wolf-whistles at their entwined fingers. They looked at each other, grinning, and didn't let go.
As the five of them stood there beside him at the front of the room, Dumbledore explained everything—the bloody writing on the walls, the deaths, the bizarre mass execution of the roosters—to the school. There were times when Arthur felt like sinking through the floor, knowing he had been the one doing all these things, tool or no, but Francis seemed to sense it and stepped a little closer, as if to remind Arthur whose fault it really was with his comforting warmth. He moved a little closer, too, and felt better again.
When the story was finished, there was a moment of stunned, reverent silence that seemed to hang over the Great Hall like a massive storm cloud. And then, when no one moved, or spoke, or did anything, Dumbledore broke it again.
He turned to Francis, Arthur, Patrick, Matthew and Gil, who were all standing in a line beside him, and the smile returned to his features.
"And now, I would like to add that without the bravery of these five young men, our school would have been closed long before now. Arthur put up a superhuman fight against his captor—" The Headmaster shot him a wink, sharing an inside joke over his angel wings— "without which Francis, Gilbert, and Matthew couldn't have been there to save him. Patrick came to get the teachers, and I must say, without his alert in advance, I do not think I would have been prepared enough to be able to save Arthur's life.
"Francis pieced together the clues, solving the riddle without which they would never have been able to find him. Gilbert had the nerve to fight no matter what the cost, and if he had not been there, they wouldn't ever have survived the basilisk—and Matthew had the tact, to stay in the shadows and wait for the opportune moment to strike, and the strength and courage to do what was necessary when that moment came. Without him, no one would be alive to stand before you today."
Dumbledore looked kindly down at the boy, who was now blushing profusely and looking extremely happy. Arthur watched as Gilbert turned to him, whispering in his ear.
"You did it, Birdie! You're a hero!"
Matthew batted him away gently, still grinning as Dumbledore went on with his speech, chuckling at the slightly stunned looks on all the boys' faces.
"So you see, these are the people that magic is made of. Everyone has a bit of it inside themselves; and when it shows itself in the darkest of times, it gives hope and light even when all seems lost. May I remind you that every great witch or wizard there ever was started out just as you are now; as a student. And the five young men standing before you today are proof that no matter who you are, or where you come from, everyone can still shine. It is not your origin or background that defines who you really are; it is your choices. And so, today, I give you the five brave young men who had the courage and devotion to rise to heroism when the times required a hero."
A moment of dead silence.
And then, a blond-haired fourth year boy leapt to his feet from the Gryffindor table, pointing reverently to Matthew.
"THAT'S MY BRO!"
Arthur couldn't help but laugh at the supremely joyful look that appeared on Matthew's face at finally having made his twin proud.
The applause spread like a wildfire of joy, and soon the entire school was on its feet, whooping and cheering and screaming just like Alfred had. Matthew was laughing, Gil and Patrick along with him, and he turned to Arthur, violet eyes alight with joy and admiration, and pointedly began to clap.
The crowd was flooding up to them now, surrounding the group, shaking their hands and congratulating and hugging and yelling and laughing all the while. Gil's grin was priceless, glowing with pride and complete joy as Matthew looked at him for a moment, then threw his arms around the albino's neck and hugged him within an inch of his life.
Patrick was clapping too, now, smiling and sinking into the crowd, though his gaze was fixed on Francis and Arthur the entire while.
"You'd better take good care of him," he yelled over the noise to Francis, who laughed and nodded as he watched the redhead disappear from sight.
And now he stepped up against Arthur's back, letting go of his hand to instead sneak his arms around the Brit's slim waist. A few squeals rang out over the crowd, and Arthur grinned, turning slowly to face him. His hands, warm and soft, slid over Francis's chest and up to the smooth, creamy skin of his face. Arthur leaned in closer, letting his eyes fall closed peacefully and his forehead come to rest against Francis's, feeling their lips brush and warm, fresh breath on his face when he spoke, rubbing small strokes up and down his back.
"You ready?" Francis breathed, and Arthur suddenly felt remarkably calm against all the noise—like a cloak had just wrapped around him, to block away the storm.
"Just kiss me already, frog," Arthur whispered back with mock impatience, smiling softly before he felt Francis move forward the tiniest bit, and he covered the Frenchman's lips with his own.
Screeches of pure and utter ecstasy rang out, the noise and chaos around them increasing tenfold, but neither of them heard anything more than a low, muffled rumble of a crowd. Nor did they notice the blond fangirl taking photos, or the fact that the fangirl was actually—a guy? Sure enough, the person with the straight blond hair and wearing a fitted pink sweater and glittery pony necklace around his neck was definitely, definitely a boy.
But Francis and Arthur didn't care. Neither did they care that their Headmaster was watching this entire scene play out from the background, and contemplating with a slight grin how to get Feliks to sell him one of those photos.
When they finally broke apart, all Arthur could do was grin and hug Francis around the neck, staring into those deep blue eyes that held exactly the same emotions he was feeling at the moment. He lay his head on Francis's chest to listen to the strong, steady heartbeat that seemed to be racing just a little bit faster than the norm and felt the frog reach up to stroke his hair, biting his lip to hold in a contented sigh as he hugged Francis tighter. Even the blond fanboy had collapsed into a squealing pile of mush now, and Arthur could honestly say that he really didn't give a shit. His and Francis's eyes met again, and he pulled the Frenchman down for another kiss.
It was good to be alive.
Wow. I guess... this is pretty much it, huh? Thank you, guys. SO. MUCH. I can't thank my lovely readers enough for sticking with me through this insane undertaking, which has turned out much, MUCH longer than anything else I've even begun to think of writing before. Your reviews have encouraged me and kept me going both in my writing and through everything else, so THANK YOU. DANKE! MERCI! GRAZIE!
And also, because discovering this has excited me to no end and I think you all have a right to know, when I added together all the separate chapters into a single document in my word processor (minus the smut scene, which I wouldn't want to print out anyway... *is guilty*), the full number of pages was 156, FRONT AND BACK printed. Heh, guess I'll have to get a bigger binder to put this manuscript in, eh?
Well, anyway. See you next time - working hard on le smut, so until then! I heart you!