As soon as he was out of Ty's line of sight, Ben sagged against the wall of a corridor and let himself freak out.
Thank you, Benvolio. And then Ty had smiled, a small, sweet little smile that had Ben's heart doing somersaults in his chest. How was it that they had known each other for their entire lives, yet he'd never seen that smile before?
Probably because you haven't had a conversation with him since you were five, his mind supplied. They had been friends, before the feud started. Ben had played with Ty and Mercutio in the courtyard between their houses, chasing bugs and showing off what little magic they knew. But one day, his uncle had told him he wasn't allowed to play with Ty anymore. Ty must have gotten the same talk, because from then on he'd kept his distance, casting sad, angry looks at Ben whenever they were near each other. For years, Ben ignored how that expression made his heart sink.
There was no way he could ignore this, though. Now that he had finally gotten Ty to smile at him (at him, not just past him or near him) twice, he found that he much preferred it to scowls or semi-polite grimaces. He just had to keep making Ty smile.
Ben leaned his head back against the wall and groaned. Sure, easier said than done. Ben knew he was more than a bit socially awkward. With Mercutio and Romeo, and more recently Jules and Rose, it was easy. They understood him, and he knew just what to say to make them laugh. But Ty was somewhat of a mystery. Ben had no idea how he would go about starting a casual conversation with the boy, much less have it go so well as to bring out that secret little smile again. Ben's face flushed just thinking about it.
And then there was what he said as he'd left, about his uncle. Ben honestly had no idea why he'd said such a thing, and he was unsure if it had been a good or bad idea. Ty's face had been a mask of surprise, and Ben hadn't stuck around long enough to see his reaction. Stupid, but he had wanted to get away as fast as possible after saying something so embarrassing, even if it was the truth.
Sighing, he straightened from his slump against the wall and began to make his way towards a secluded courtyard tucked behind the herbology building. Romeo and Mercutio were probably wondering where he was at this point. He wasn't often late, but he found himself hoping they didn't ask the reason for his delay. He wanted to keep his talk with Ty to himself, at least while he was still reeling. Trying not to think of the way his name sounded in Ty's warm baritone, he descended the stairs into the courtyard, finding Mercutio and Romeo waiting for him, as expected. Jules was there as well, hand clasped in Romeo's, laughing at some joke Mercutio was making. His heart warmed at the sight, and he realized that what he told Ty had been more than reassurance. If Romeo did anything to hurt this girl, Ben was going to jinx him for weeks.
Mercutio's face lit up when he noticed Ben coming towards them, and Ben couldn't help but return his friend's grin. The Slytherin's blond, mane-like curls bounced as he all but skipped over to Ben, linking their arms together and nuzzling into Ben's shoulder. Ben fake-grimaced and pretended to tolerate the affection, while inside his pulse spiked where Mercutio's breath fanned against his neck.
"Benny dearest, where were you? I almost thought I had the wrong courtyard, when you weren't here waiting. Did something happen?" Ben fought down the urge to bristle. The one question he was trying to avoid, and Mercutio asked him as soon as he arrived. He didn't know why he was surprised, the young Lord know exactly how to push his buttons without even realizing. He grumbled in what he hoped was a convincing manner.
"A staircase changed on me. I had to take a detour to Gryffindor tower," he said. Mercutio's eyes narrowed slightly, and Ben felt panic rise into his chest. Gryffindor tower was nowhere near the herbology building. But instead of calling him out on his lie, Mercutio simply smirked.
"Catch any sight of our favorite Capulet Gryffindor?" he asked casually, but the mention of Ty nearly had Ben jumping out of his skin. Damnit, how was Mercutio so good at reading him? Did the boy have a manual?
Ben considered lying for a moment, then realized if Ty mentioned seeing him to Mercutio at any point, he'd be caught in it. So he simply shrugged.
"For a second. He was coming back from dinner so we said hi, but I had some impatient friends to meet with, so I didn't stop to chat." He playfully bumped Mercutio's shoulder with his own. "So are we doing this?"
Mercutio grinned and nuzzled against Ben one more time before pulling away. "Of course darling."
Ben rolled his eyes even as he felt a blush spread across his cheeks. Jules piped up then, looking bashful.
"Um, what are we doing, exactly?"
Ben smiled warmly at the girl. "Studying."
Romeo leaned over to mock-whisper in her ear. "And by studying he means showing off."
"That's simply a fortunate side-effect, gentle Romeo." Mercutio said with a flourish, reaching up to tie his hair into a bun. Ben pulled his own hair back into a short ponytail and drew his wand out of his pocket. Mercutio did the same with all of his usual smirking joviality. They took up their positions on opposite sides of the courtyard.
"Try to go easy on me, Benny." It was a line said completely for Jules' benefit, and Ben shot the blond a skeptical look.
"If I go easy on you, you'll win," he said. The two of them were evenly matched when it came to pure talent, having been practicing together for nearly a decade. Whenever he and Mercutio had a match, the name of the game was cunning.
Across the courtyard, Mercutio grinned. Ben ignored the way his cheeks warmed and centered himself as best he could. In the center of the courtyard, two flames exploded into being, shadows throwing themselves wildly outwards as they flickered. Jules' cry of alarm was cut off.
"What are they doing?" She asked Romeo beside her. Ben couldn't look away from Mercutio, but he imagined his cousin grinning, green and blue flame reflecting off his eyes.
"Just watch," he whispered. Ben laughed inwardly. The only way they could get Romeo to shut up was by putting something flashy in front of his face.
Across the courtyard, Mercutio's grin had dropped to an impassive smirk. Ben couldn't make out his eyes over the fire. Any second now.
The first wave hit. There was pressure against his temple, and a fierce wind blew down into the courtyard, howling past Ben and blowing his hair away from his face. His blue flame continued to burn proudly, hardly wavering at all under the gale. It was his turn to smirk. Raising his wand, he gestured broadly to dispel the wind, and in the sudden stillness he heard Jules whisper to Romeo,
"They're casting spells without the incantations? I didn't think that was possible for people our age." Ben couldn't look away from the twin flames to see her expression, but he couldn't help but see this as a teachable moment.
"We are incanting Jules, but you don't have to incant out loud if you know the spell well enough. Simple ones are best to practice with at first, but after you get used to it you can do harder spells like 'incendio' or 'ventus' rather easily. I've seen skilled practitioners even cast a patronus nonverbally. The hard part," he was forced to pause as he felt a different sort of pressure, Mercutio's attempt at a counter-charm, directed at his blue flame. The flame which flickered slightly but did not cease burning. Ben grinned. "Is keeping your concentration, and sustaining more than one spell at a time."
He'd been defending since their match started. It was high time for some offense of his own. If he raised his wand then Mercutio would have time to prepare, to anticipate. But if he didn't, there was no surety that his aim would be correct, and wandless magic was a great deal harder than nonverbal incantation. He could only manage it a handful of times before his magic would be spent, and then he would lose, unable to keep his flame going. Oh, well. Worth a shot.
He focused his attention on the space behind and above Mercutio, picturing a cascade of water flowing down to envelop the Slytherin and his green fire. Aguamenti.
The wave struck Mercutio from behind, and the blond let out a yelp of surprise before being bowled over from the force of it. His line of sight broken, his flame flickered and went out. Ben cried out in victory, but his moment of pride was short-lived as the wave he'd conjured washed over his own flame and drenched his clothes, soaking him to the bone. He fought with his own concentration, and his flame remained lit for several moments before exhaustion set in and he let the spell dissipate. He sunk to his knees, catching his breath. Ben shook his head, trying to clear the foggy feeling there. The ground was too far away. Like his hands as he brought them up to press against his eyes. He thought that perhaps someone was talking to him, asking him a question, but it was drowned out by the ringing in his ears. His vision seemed to narrow, focusing on one point on the ground, darkening at the edges as the tone in his head grew louder. He tried to get up, but the world spun and closed in around him. Then nothing.
A rocking motion brought him back to his senses, and as he tried to get a grip on his surroundings he registered that he was being carried. His head snapped up and his eyes open to find himself tucked against Mercutio's chest, carried bridal-style. The blond looked down at him with a face tight with worry, and Ben hoped to Merlin that his blush wasn't as noticeable as it felt.
"Where are we going?" he asked, attempting to ignore how surely Mercutio's arms supported his weight. Mercutio himself looked down at him with something like relief and exasperation.
"The hospital wing, of course. You fainted."
Ben struggled weakly against his friend's grip. "No, no, no. We can't go there, Pomfrey will want to know why I fainted. Practical exercises outside of class count as duelling, and you're already in enough trouble for that as it is. Snape will kill you if you get caught for the second time this week!" Mercutio only tightened his grip and shrugged.
"Eh, that old Snake will look for any reason to hate me, and he'll make them up if he can't find any. Plus, you really should see Pomfrey, Ben. Poor Jules was in tears for worry over you." A stab of guilt and fondness for the girl went through him, but still Ben protested.
"It was overexertion, Mercutio, that's all. There isn't anything Pomfrey will be able to do for me other that gripe at me to take it easy and make me spend the night under observation. I'd much rather sleep in my own bed. Just take me to Ravenclaw Tower, please?" He punctuated the request with an imploring look up at Mercutio. He knew this wasn't entirely fair, having been told that his "puppy dog eyes" were a persuasive weapon on their own. Indeed, Mercutio met his eyes and the blond's steps slowed to a halt. He groaned.
"Oh, that is so unfair, you little-" Still, Mercutio turned around and began making his way towards Ravenclaw Tower. Ben tucked his head to hide his grin and, satisfied, leaned his head on Mercutio's chest.
When they entered the common room, Jules sprung up from her chair and ushered them across the room, to another chair positioned in front of the fire. Mercutio set Ben down gently, then stretched out on the rug by his feet, like a great blond cat.
"Romeo," Jules called, and the youngest Montague was at her side in moments, "can you please go to the kitchens and fetch some food and water for Benvolio? It'll help replenish his strength." With an eager nod and a peck to Jules' cheek, Romeo bounded off to attend to his task. Ben watched him go with no small amount of astonishment.
"He never listens to us that well. No complaining or arguing, nothing. You asked him to do it and he just...did. What's your secret?" Mercutio asked from his prone position. Jules giggled.
"Near-constant physical affection seems to do the trick, I've found. Which I am of course happy to oblige." Kneeling, she took one of Ben's hands in both of hers. "Are you okay, Ben? We were so worried when you fainted, but that match was incredible. I had no idea you could do wandless magic."
Ben ducked his head a bit, bashful.
"Thank you Jules, I'm fine." He shivered. "Well, a bit cold, actually." His wet clothes clung to him uncomfortably. Mercutio sat up from the rug and stood.
"I'll go upstairs and get us both some dry clothes. Can I borrow a set of pyjamas?" He was already in motion, so Ben figured the question was rhetorical at best.
"'May I.'" He mumbled after Mercutio's retreating back, and Jules laughed lightly. She settled into a cross-legged position in the spot Mercutio had just vacated.
"Have the two of you always been like that?" she asked. Ben nodded, watching the fire.
"Always. When we were very young, Tybalt would sometimes play with us as well, before the feud started. And then once Romeo was born, we were sort of forced to babysit all the time. But it's always been the two of us." Jules looked surprised.
"Ty never mentioned that the three of you used to play together."
"You're very close, aren't you?" She nodded.
"He's like the older brother I never had. I don't think he ever truly let himself get close to another person, other than me, before he came to Hogwarts. Even now I think he has a hard time speaking his mind, even with his friends. At home..." Juliet pressed her mouth into a line, her eyes alight with something like frustration, "My father is a good man. My mother, a good woman. But they're hard on Ty, because they want him to be a great man. They know he has that in him, but the way they go about it...well. I'll just say that Ty has developed a habit of keeping things bottled. The heir has to keep their composure, and Ty is more spirited than most. I worry about him." For a moment they stared into the fire together, thinking. Then, Jules turned to Ben with an expression that took him aback for a moment.
"Could I ask you a favor?"
"S-sure, Jules. If it's within my power I'll try my best."
"That's all I ask. Do you...do you think that you could try to be Ty's friend? I think that you and Mercutio could be really good for him, as it seems you were before." For a few heartbeats, all Ben could do was stare, Jules' words settling in his mind. He was confused, but if he was being honest with himself her request brought with it a small spike of excitement. He'd been looking for a reason to get to know Ty better, and here Jules was, offering it to him. He nodded.
"Okay. I'll try, but there's no guarantee that Ty'll want to be friends. I am willing to give it a shot, though." He thought for a second. "In return, do you think you could keep an eye on Romeo for me? If Mercutio and I are going to honor your request, that means we won't be able to spend as much time with Romeo, and I don't trust that boy to his own devices as far as I could throw him." Jules giggled at that.
"I'll look after him."
"Shake on it?" He offered his hand, which Jules took with a surprisingly firm grip. They shook.
"Hey, Ben, whatever happened to your Sesame Street pyjamas? Y'know the really soft ones?" Mercutio asked as he came around the corner wearing a pair of Ben's pyjama bottoms and a black t-shirt, eyes taking in Ben and Jules' hands as they let go of the handshake. He said nothing about it, but Ben met his eye with a look that promised to fill him in later.
"I left them at home. You think I have room in that tiny trunk for my entire wardrobe? Mercutio, you wound me."
"Not at all, Benny dearest, but I would think that such a marvelous pair of pyjamas would be a 'must-bring,' at least for someone with taste."
"You are so very lucky that I'm still too weak to stand. You'll pay for that comment later."
"Oh, of that I have no doubt, darling." Mercutio winked. Ben ignored the way his heart rate sped up at the familiar banter, the way his cheeks heated in exhilaration. His back-and-forth with Mercutio always had that effect on him, no matter how long they'd known each other. Not to mention the damned pet names. Merlin, Mercutio De Scalla would be the death of him, of that Ben was absolutely certain.
Not long after, Romeo returned from the kitchens with a cup full of juice that Ben was surprised he had not spilled or dropped on the way back up the tower, and a ham and cheese sandwich. Benvolio accepted both gratefully and tried not to scarf down the sandwich like a man half-starved, only failing a little. Jules bid the three boys goodnight, kissing Romeo sweetly before retiring to her own dorm, and Romeo left shortly after to reach Gryffindor Tower before curfew. After they'd gone, Ben changed into his warm, dry pyjamas, laying his wet clothes out in front of the fire to dry.
"What were you and Jules talking about, while I was upstairs?" Mercutio asked, helping Ben ease back into the armchair.
"She asked me to try and become friends with her cousin. Thanks for the help," he said.
"Her cousin. Ty?"
Ben nodded. "She seems to think that he's lonely, or something. Said that we'd be good for him." Mercutio hummed, settled back on the rug and stared into the fire.
"Do you want to be his friend?" he asked. Ben paused for a moment to make it seem as though the question required thought, before answering honestly.
"Me too." Mercutio didn't hesitate. They met each other's eyes, smiling softly. "He's gonna be suspicious at first, though. How should we go about this?"
"Well, here's what I was thinking…"
They stayed awake until the logs in the fire burned down to embers and Ben's clothes were mostly dry. By that time it was well past curfew and Mercutio couldn't make it to the dungeon without being seen, so Ben had the blond help him up the stairs and into bed, before pulling back the covers at his side. Mercutio didn't hesitate to crawl in beside him, and Ben fell asleep to the sensation of fingers carding through his hair.
When he awoke, Mercutio was gone. Ben tried not to feel the dull ache of something like loss, and only failed a little.