Me, watching the absolute chaos the last chapter generated: ah yes, good, validation.

But in all seriousness, I was blown away by the response to the last chapter. You guys stunned me, completely. I'm so, so glad that the reveal went over well. I was so nervous about it, since it was something I hadn't seen done before (or very much) in media before - both the time travel and the personification of Death.

So, thank you all so much for turning me into a puddle of goo and making me feel like a good writer lmao.

Enjoy the new chapter!


Orion knew death.

The first time he had seen a dead body he had been six years old.

His great uncle's funeral had been a sombre affair; torturously long and yet entirely too fast at the same time. The bottom floor of his family's house had been filled with people he did not know – allied families, business associates, politicians and dignitaries forming a sea of bodies crammed into every corner.

Even to his younger self the condolences that had dripped from their honeyed lips had rung false. Pity had carefully concealed the voracious desires beneath their sad smiles, and softly crooned words hid their greed and glee and their desperate attempts to curry favour with any member of House Black.

Most of that dreary day was lost to the haze of his memories, but the one thing Orion could recall with stark clarity was the sight of Corvus Black's pallid corpse on display.

He could still see the ashy flesh that contrasted sharply with the dark fabrics of his suit, and how the firelight had glinted against his rings. Could see wrinkled hands – hands that Orion had watched skin rabbits and break chicken bones for rituals – folded atop his chest.

He even remembered how cold Corvus had been to touch, how strange the lack of warmth had been, before his mother had yanked him away with a hissed warning about respect and a firm slap to drive the point home. The scar from her ring still marred his cheek, a slim and short line, invisible unless one knew where to look.

The intricacies of death had eluded him back then, despite his father's attempts to explain; but as the years took more family from him and the bodies of House Black began to pile up, Orion learned.

By the time he had lost all but one of his cousins Orion had grown familiar with the idea of his own mortality. Unshackled by the burden so many others seemed to carry.

So yes, Orion knew death well by this point, but it was still a shock to witness it.

Ciro had been vicious in his assault. His magic had sung in the air around him as he had beaten his opponent back, relentless and ferocious – and Orion had been breathless. The sheer power Ciro exhibited had enraptured him.

He had felt safe with Ciro standing so fearlessly in front of him, cocooned beneath that ocean of strength. But that warmth, that sense of security he had never quite felt before had been ripped away when the curse had knocked them back.

The pain that radiated from his shoulder had been blinding and the rush of blood through his ears deafened him for a moment. When Orion had finally managed to sit up it was in time to watch Ciro collapse in the snow, his neck torn and drenched in his own blood.

The world whitened out, static humming in his mind as he stared, uncomprehending, at the scene before him.

"Shit," he heard Augustus whisper, shock making his voice low and rough, though in the abrupt silence it was painfully loud. Without the sounds of spells shooting through the air there was nothing to distract from how secluded this part of the village was.

Without the domineering presence of Ciro filling the area the sudden void was crushing.

Orion reached up to grasp his stinging shoulder, distantly acknowledging the sticky warmth of blood soaking through his jacket. His vision blurred, smearing like an oil painting.

Ciro was not moving.

Face down on the ground, red snow surrounding him, unnatural stillness encroaching on that thin frame.

Ciro was not moving.

Orion knew death, recognised it as the only constant in his life, and his chest hollowed out with the realisation that the other boy was gone.

He blinked, but the image did not fade. If anything, it became sharper, clearer, burning into his retinas with vengeance. The scent of blood mingled with the crispness of the snow and the heavy, tainted traces of smoke, condensing in the back of his throat.

He should have – he should have fought. He should have helped rather than cowered like a small child, relying on another to shield him.

Look, a voice too close to his mother's hissed in his mind, look at what your own weakness caused. Pathetic, useless boy.

Orion shifted, slowly drawing his legs in as he clambered upright, and the strangest sensation began to seep into his gut. He got one foot under himself and leaned his elbow on his knee, listing to the side as pain flared and dark spots invaded his vision.

He felt dazed, his thoughts set adrift in a tempest of emotions he could not name.

Across the street their attacker was nothing more than a hazy shape to Orion's senses. A vague impression of a person that was slowly inching closer.

Orion could not take his eyes off Ciro's body.

It was wrong. An antithesis to everything Orion had begun to understand about the other boy.

Ciro could not be dead, not when he had just started to be interesting. It was not fair to lose when he had only just begun to scratch at the mystery, to appreciate the sullen and gruff new personality Ciro had.

To have that potential snatched away by a stranger –

There was a new, foreign emotion clawing at his heart now, howling with the force of a hurricane. Something feral and angry. Something he had not felt in years.

Grief.

Orion's hand slipped away from his wound, reaching out despite the distance still between them. He had…he had to touch. To feel and know.

Augustus seized him by the collar of his jacket, bunching the thick fabric and pulling him back, instinctively protective. "Orion –" he said, quiet and strained, but choked off when a horrible weight descended on them, stealing the air from their lungs, and almost driving them to the ground.

Orion barely kept himself upright under the overwhelming pressure, his arms shaking from the effort. The fine hair along his body rose as icy, primal fear gripped him.

Get away get away getaway.

He craned his neck, gasping and heaving for air, his attention fixated on Ciro. His eyes itched, feeling enflamed, but the pain was secondary to the dread.

Black mist began to form around Ciro, curling like living shadows around his slack figure. It slid sinuously over him, snaking through his hair and over his clothing – and Ciro jolted like he had been electrocuted.

The black wisps froze, quivered, then sunk into the boy. They pierced through his clothes and burrowed under his skin.

Ciro began to writhe.

His legs twitched erratically, kicking out without control or grace. Magic, thick and aggressive and indignant, swelled around them. It ballooned out of Ciro, crashing over the street like a tidal wave. The taste of it was sickly sweet on Orion's tongue and the overpowering scent had him gagging.

It was pungent. Like rotting fruit.

The magic compressed in the next second, warping into something else entirely, and through his tears Orion watched a blue light erupt close to Ciro's head.

Ciro shuddered violently, the light vanishing as the magic and the weight strangling them finally began to ebb. Orion sucked in harshly, the fresh air excruciating after that experience.

He forced himself up, his joints aching, and watched as Ciro curled his legs up under his chest until he was hunched in a small ball. Tremors raked through the other's body, obvious even from where they sat.

One minute stretched into two, and none of them moved. It felt as if the world was suspended, trapped at the apex of a jump and just waiting for gravity to reclaim them.

Then, Ciro sat up.

He unfurled like a bloodied flower, his entire front splattered, staining through his shirt. The side of his face that had been pressed into the ground was coated with blood and his hair was matted; the normal brown of it tinged red and sticking to his chalk-white skin.

With his head tilted down, Orion could not make out the damage to Ciro's neck, but the angle was enough that he could read the expression on the other's face.

Confusion. Incredulity. Terror.

The moment that final emotion congealed on his face, smothering everything else under its hold, Orion stiffened.

Ciro's hands dug into his hair as the panic took him. His magic reared up once more, throbbing from the stress, frantic in the way an animal on its last legs snapped and snarled at a threat.

Steam rose from the snow around Ciro as the air began to heat. It melted, a swiftly growing circle forming around him to reveal the cobblestone path beneath. The first wave of heat rolled over them, sweltering, until it felt like they were stuck in a furnace.

Ciro's head rose and there was something unhinged in those grey eyes. A glow of madness and anguish that shone fever bright.

Orion knew insanity even better than death, and his breath caught at the sight of it painted plainly on that blood-covered face. They were losing him, and with the amount of magic Ciro was pumping into the air, like a bloody powder keg, all it would take was one spark to unleash devastation.

He unstuck his tongue from where the fear had fused it to the roof of his mouth.

"C–ciro?"

Everything stopped for a second time at his stuttered call. Even the magic stilled, waiting with insidious patience.

Orion swallowed the stone in his throat and tried again, "Ciro?"

Sluggishly, those grey eyes moved up from the ground, finding Orion with difficulty. They were unfocussed, devoid of anything as they peered right through Orion like he was not there. The lack of fire, of familiar belligerence or repressed amusement, was disturbing.

Ciro blinked, lashes fluttering weakly. Recognition finally flared in his eyes, enough to pierce the impenetrable wall inside him, though what confused Orion was the painful glimmer of longing that cracked over Ciro's face.

The other boy's mouth parted, his lips forming a name not Orion's, but no sound escaped him.

Tears flooded his eyes and a pale hand gripped weakly at his throat.

Ciro looked at Orion in despair.

"It's okay," Orion rushed to say, the words catching awkwardly on his teeth. He raised his hands placatingly, trying to keep that paper-thin control in place. If Ciro lost it right now there was no guarantee they would survive the outburst.

"Ciro?"

It was Riddle that spoke, his voice steadier than Orion's had been. "Ciro, are you alright?"

Grey eyes unhooked their tethers from Orion and slid to Riddle. The recognition was faster this time but there was no softness to accompany it. Hatred poisoned Ciro's expression, so sudden it was hard to believe, and his magic twisted in preparation.

Shit, Orion thought, tensing. He reached out for Riddle, latching onto the older boy's arm – but whatever he intended to do was interrupted by a harsh, hoarse voice.

"What are you?"

The question cut through the building tension, carrying through the quiet and brimming with horror and sick fascination.

Ciro twitched, his chest freezing its rapid movements as his head cocked to the side.

Orion dared to look over at the only other person on the street with them.

Their masked attacker knelt across from them, his arms limp at his sides and his wand held loosely in his fingers. Even with his features hidden, Orion could feel the intensity of the man's attention on Ciro.

"I killed you," the man insisted, louder but with a telling tremble in his voice. "I know I did. How –" he could not finish his question, stunned.

Next to him, Orion heard a hair-rising hiss spill from Riddle's mouth. He barely had a chance to glance at his Housemate – saw the scalding look on his face, eyes dark and unending and awed– when his focus snapped back to the front.

Ciro's arms dropped, and he turned as if in a trance. His eyes found his would-be murderer with unerring accuracy and whatever fog had been plaguing him was gone, replaced with something all too aware. There was a single breath of anticipation, and then Ciro's eyes narrowed. His upper lip peeled back, and he raised one hand out towards his target.

The swarm of power hanging around him spiked. A curse shot from Ciro's palm, vivid green in colour and Dark enough that it made Orion's stomach clench with need.

It erupted into a wide wave, exploding the ground and stones as it hurtled towards the man.

He let out an aborted yelp, leaping up and twisting on his heel. The crack of his apparition sounded just before the curse slammed into where he had been. The wall of the shop it collided with blasted apart, splintering the ceiling, and collapsing the rest of the structure.

Orion stared. He had never heard of that curse before.

His next breath was uneven, hitching with terrible curiosity, and his grip on Riddle's arm tightened.

Ciro stayed upright, body pulled taut as his gaze flickered around the street. He scanned the area critically, hunting with a single-minded intent, but when it became apparent that the attacker had truly fled all the fight drained from him.

Ciro drooped, swaying forward. He caught himself with one hand, the other flying back to cradle his throat.

"He's going to –" Augustus began, but Orion was already moving. He sprinted over and slid to a stop beside Ciro, dropping down and wrapping an arm around his chest. The embers of the other's magic vanished completely, and with it went all Ciro's strength.

Ciro sagged against Orion with a wheeze, shuddering hard. His hair was wet with sweat and blood, but his skin was frigid when he pressed his face into Orion's uninjured shoulder. With one last grunt, Ciro crumpled fully into Orion's hold.

He grimaced at the sudden weight and awkwardly shuffled so that he was sitting on the ground with the other slumped across his lap.

"Ciro?" Orion called, rolling the other boy so that he could see his face.

Ciro's eyes were slitted, his cheeks grey beneath the layers of blood, and his pupils were rolling madly under his lids.

He did not react to his name.

Footsteps crunched close beside him. Orion glanced up to see Riddle and Augustus approaching them cautiously.

"Is…he alright?" Augustus asked with great reluctance. He clearly did not know which answer he wanted, and his mouth twisted regretfully at Orion's sharp look, silently acknowledging how foolish the question had been.

"He looks awake, but he's not responding," Orion told them, studying the boy leaning against him. He brushed Ciro's hair back from his face to see better, his fingertips dragging through the blood-soaked strands.

Riddle knelt next to him; gaze fixed on Ciro but empty of anything that might hint at his true thoughts. Chips of wood clung to his hair and soot marked his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. Orion watched him suspiciously, his arms curling firmer around Ciro.

"What just happened?" Augustus murmured, standing to their left. He surveyed the street with wide eyes, his hands flexing at his sides as he continued, "That was insane. I've never seen anyone…and his neck…"

Orion listened to the stupefied muttering and watched Riddle as the other reached for Ciro.

With great care, Riddle tilted the other's head back, his hands barely touching Ciro's jaw to prompt the movement.

All three of them stared at the jagged scar stretching across his neck. It was thick and puckered, the skin stitched together haphazardly and shining a glossy red. Under the mess, Orion could see the bruises forming in the soft flesh.

He swallowed, his own neck aching in phantom pain, and tucked his chin down.

"What do we do now?" Augustus asked, squatting down, using one hand to balance himself.

Orion felt the urge to cover Ciro up when his old friend's gaze skimmed over the other's neck.

"The aurors will be here soon," Riddle commented, quiet and mild. "The fighting likely spread up towards the castle, following the crowd, but I doubt any of these attackers had the means to break through Hogwarts' protections. They must have set up a perimeter ward around Hogsmeade that stopped people from apparating directly in, which means any aid would have to go through the castle and then make their way down here."

His eyes found Orion's, "Given how long it would have taken word to get out, and then to muster a force, we likely have a few minutes before they get to us."

Orion grimaced, already knowing what would happen after the aurors arrived. He took a breath and nodded.

"Our story?" he prompted, trusting the other in this at least.

Riddle sat back on his heels, hands dropping away from Ciro. "Give me your wands," he ordered.

Augustus bristled, a reflexive reaction he normally never would have allowed, but he was obviously rattled. Orion could hardly blame him, though. What they had seen…it was beyond words.

Still, he obediently handed his wand over, and Augustus had no choice but to follow his lead.

Riddle wasted no time in casting a rapid set of spells with each wand. Most were defensive in nature, and at any other time Orion might have been impressed at how easily Riddle could bend their wands to his whim, but all he could currently feel was a steadily rising wave of impatience.

Tossing their wands back to them, Riddle then plucked Ciro's up from where it had fallen. He held it for a moment, running his fingers along it curiously, before doing the same and erasing the last several spells Ciro had used.

Once done, he tucked it into his robes.

"We were out shopping," Riddle began, his voice soft and calm. "The attack happened, and we were pinned while the rest evacuated. Two masked assailants confronted us, and for the most part we managed to hold them off."

He gestured to the ruined street, "All of this was caused by the curses they used against us – and unfortunately, Ciro's shield shattered under the assault. He was hit in the throat."

Riddle paused then, his eyes darkening as he stared at Ciro thoughtfully. He held up his own wand as the tip began to glow a gentle blue. "In a fit of accidental magic Ciro managed to heal most of his injury. I stepped in to finish the job, resulting in the scar."

He cancelled the healing spell. "The attackers then fled while we were distracted, and we waited here for the aurors."

Orion frowned, mind swiftly picking at the pieces. It was crude, and simple, but it would suit their needs for now. They did not have enough time for anything more sophisticated than that.

"Fine," Orion agreed, slipping his arm behind Ciro's shoulders to heave him up into a sitting position. The other boy was still out of it.

Augustus scoffed, running a hand through his hair. His eyes were wild as he said, "Are you kidding me? The aurors aren't going to believe it! Shouldn't we tell them about that?"

He pointed angrily at Ciro, looking between Riddle and Orion. "He was dead and then he just stood back up! You both saw those black tendrils, same as I did. We need to tell the fucking Unspeakables!"

Riddle's eyes narrowed, everything about him seeming to sharpen.

"No," Orion said, cutting in before an argument could start, "we keep quiet until we know exactly what we're dealing with here." He stared down his oldest friend and saw how Augustus' eyes widened.

"If we tell them the truth, if we say what Ciro did, what do you think will happen?" he asked, words clipped. "They'll take him. They'll put him in the deepest hole they can find and poke and prod at him until they figure out whatever that was – and I won't let that happen."

Orion turned to Riddle, seeing his own determination shining back at him.

"Besides," Riddle said, his lips curling in a disparaging way, "what is more believable? That a student widely considered quite average killed one grown wizard and fought another, and came back to life from a mortal wound? Or that four students, three of whom are topping their classes, were able to hold off two attackers? They will believe what we tell them because it makes sense and it's easy to write off as luck."

Riddle smiled then, a tight and dangerous expression, and met Augustus' eyes with a dare.

"Ciro's injury actually works in our favour. If we had all come out unscathed it would have raised eyebrows."

Augustus stared at them, searching for any sign that they were willing to change their minds, and found nothing.

After a long minute, he looked down.

"Good," Riddle praised.

OoO

There was so much noise.

Hands gripped him, pushing and pulling him in a thousand different directions.

The world around him was shifting, the ground underneath him bleeding from white to tan stone, his surroundings melting into blues and greens.

Everything tilted, something soft appearing beneath him as a gentle weight found itself draped over his shoulders.

Harry had never felt so cold.

Voices bounced around him, tinny and high-pitched and impossible for him to decipher, rolling into an all-encompassing hum. The sound pressed in like collapsing walls, but it was not enough to drown out the echoing taunts.

You can't go home.

He shivered, hands curling into the coarse blanket.

Time can only go forward.

This time the swell of sorrow burned in his breast. Pressure built up near his eyes, and the familiar sting of tears rushed over him.

Your soul is…unclaimable.

Fingers brushed against him, scorching palms resting on his frozen cheeks. Harry could barely feel the touch.

You ruined me.

Shapes moved in front of him, their edges smudged into a mess of colours and brightness. Another voice spoke to him, closer than before, but he could make no sense of what they were saying.

Within the chaos a single face stood out, features like polished glass.

It was grinning at him, delight and hate twisting together in Its eyes. Thin lips parted, words spilling out, clear as bells –

"I'm as human as you are."

Harry opened his mouth to scream.

OoO

It was so much worse than he had anticipated.

Aaron tried to listen to the statement Rogers was taking from their three witnesses – just boys, Merlin he hated his job sometimes – but he was too preoccupied watching Nathan to hear much of what was said.

The kid looked like a nightmare, patches of red mapping out a horror story on his body.

He was seated on one of the few available hospital beds, surrounded by the other wounded, but it was the stillness that set him apart. Nathan was not crying out in pain like so many others were. He barely looked to be breathing, and his gaze was pinned unseeingly on the opposite wall, detached and unmoved as the chaos spun around him.

He looked incredibly small.

Mediwitches and healers were running back and forth tending to their patients, the number dwindling now that they had started the transfers to St Mungo's, but everywhere Aaron looked he saw someone new in need of help.

Two healers hovered beside Nathan, trying to assess his condition, but the kid had not spoken since they found him huddled with his friends in the middle of a decimated street.

This entire thing was a mess.

Aaron closed his eyes, crushing down his rage and sadness.

Hogsmeade was a disaster zone, and the trail leading up to Hogwarts was filled with carnage. The attackers had already vanished by the time they had arrived, but the length of the assault meant little right now. Not when the number of dead would only rise in the coming days.

And Aaron felt like a wretched man, because even with all the death and pain of those around him, a part of him was just overwhelmingly glad that Nathan was still alive.

Stumbling across the boys down in Hogsmeade had been brutal, but seeing Nathan bloodied and limp had nearly driven him to his knees. Aaron could admit that he had almost cried hearing that the kid was still with them.

Nathan was alive. He was alive, but gods, he was not okay. Aaron had only caught a glimpse of the wound on his neck when they had rushed them here, but what he had seen was ugly. Worry gnawed at his gut as he took in the bandages wrapped carefully around Nathan's neck.

He honestly had no idea how the kid had survived, and that frightened him.

It was hard to look at Nathan, and yet Aaron somehow could not bring himself to turn away. But his scrutiny meant he noticed immediately when something finally splintered through the blank mask the kid had been wearing since they found him.

Nathan's chest hitched, his grey eyes turning big and wet, and Aaron's heart broke.

He started forward before he even registered moving, pushing through the stream of people, and knelt in front of the boy. "Hey, hey," he said kindly, hands hanging uselessly in the air. "It's okay, you're okay. Nathan, kid, can you hear me?"

Nathan stared right through him, trapped in memories that Aaron could not shield him from.

"Bloody hell," one of the healers muttered, dropping down next to Aaron and firmly nudging him out of the way. The man's hands came up to frame Nathan's face, moving his head slightly in search of something.

Aaron hurriedly stepped back though not fast enough to miss the rasping whine Nathan released, a high and weak keen that was filled with animal panic.

"He's coming around," the healer announced grimly. "Melinda, get a level three calming draught."

The mediwitch rushed off.

The jars on the table beside them began to rattle ominously and Aaron watched them in shock. A crack appeared in one of the windowpanes and then the metal bars on the bedframe started to shake.

A faint odour, sickly sweet, spread through the air.

"Damn," the healer hissed, pulling his wand free while keeping one hand cradling Nathan's face. "How strong is this kid? Melinda!"

"Here!" the woman called, ducking around Aaron to reach her colleague. She uncorked the bottle and tipped Nathan's head back. He struggled feebly, moaning low in his throat in protest, but he could not stop her as she upended the liquid into his slack mouth and gently held his jaw closed.

The shaking in their little corner of the hospital slowly died off. Nathan sagged into the healer's waiting arms as the draught worked through him.

The mediwitch, Melinda, and the healer both breathed out in relief. Together they moved Nathan down to lay on his side, tucking his arms and legs in neatly.

"What the hell was that?" Aaron dared to ask, his gaze jumping from them to Nathan and back again. The boy was still awake, broken out of his strange trance, but his eyes were bleary and unfocussed.

The healer shot him a tired, if irritated, glance as he pushed his hair back from his face and sighed. "When someone experiences a lot of emotional stress, they can go catatonic. They stop reacting to stimuli, and just…close off. Think of it like a defence mechanism," the man explained swiftly. "Coming out of it can be hard, and sometimes our magic lashes out when we do because it takes time to accurately categorise threats again."

His hands came to rest on his hips as he turned to Nathan. "Given the nature of his injury, his last clear memories would have been in the midst of a battle and severely injured. The calming draught will help ease him out of it gradually and let him process things without panicking. It'll give us time to get him to St Mungo's."

"You're transferring him?" a young voice interrupted, startling them both.

Aaron half-turned to see the Black heir standing to his right. The boy's shirt was missing, his bandaged shoulder on display, but he was not looking at either of them. His unnerving eyes were on his Housemate.

"Wasn't Rogers getting your statement?" Aaron asked, searching for his partner with a pointed glare. Rogers, still speaking with the other two students, completely missed it.

"We're transferring all the wounded, including you, Mr. Black," the healer informed them stiffly. "His wound is in such a delicate area and he will need proper monitoring and care to make sure there is no lasting damage."

"When?" Black asked, sounding every inch the heir of an ancient family.

"As soon as possible," the healer replied curtly, peering down at the kid quizzically. "Melinda – make sure everything is ready to get him out of here. Mr. Black, you should be resting. You'll be brought over later on."

"Wait," Aaron said, reaching out to grip the healer's forearm before the man could walk off. "I want to go with Nathan."

The other frowned, annoyance cleanly visible on his face before he smothered it. "Fine, I don't particularly care what you do. Go with Melinda but stay out of the way. Come along, Mr. Black," he ordered, ushering the boy away.

Sufficiently cowed, Aaron let them go and retreated to where the mediwitch was finishing settling Nathan onto a hovering stretcher. She gave him a tight, distracted smile as she straightened, one hand guiding the stretcher towards the doors. "Come along, auror," she said.

Aaron caught Rogers' eye as he was leaving and pointed at Nathan. His partner nodded, lifting his notepad in response. The two boys still with him watched their little group slip out of the bustling hospital wing, their expressions twisting oddly.

Melinda led them to an open door a little further down from the wing where a large fireplace dominated the back wall. It was the only feature in the room.

"It links up directly with St Mungo's," she explained, taking a handful of floo powder from the container. "We rarely have it open, but when the full scope of the situation became known we had the Department of Magical Transportation reconnect it with the network."

She stepped into the large hearth, navigating Nathan's stretcher inside with her, and tossed her handful of powder down. "St Mungo's," she said loudly, and they disappeared in a swirl of green flames.

Aaron quickly followed.

OoO

Nathan's hand was cold and limp in hers.

Cynthia traced her thumb over his knuckles, trying futilely to rub some warmth back into his skin.

His eyes were closed, his breathing level as he slept on the hospital bed. A reprieve, the mediwitch had told her solemnly when they had arrived, something to keep him calm.

Cynthia wished someone would give her a potion to quell the mix of rage and heartache battling out in her chest.

Benedict's calloused hands settled on her shoulders, squeezing once in support, and Cynthia's eyes fluttered closed. She raised Nathan's hand to her lips and pressed a kiss to his fingers.

She heard the door open, and only once the healer entered the edge of her vision did she turn to look at the man.

"Lord Ciro, Lady Ciro," he greeted, his voice the perfect blend of professionalism and sympathy. "My name is Martin Turner. I'll be Nathan's primary healer and will be overseeing his recovery."

"What can you tell us?" Benedict asked before Cynthia could snap the question out herself. It had been almost an hour since they had rushed to St Mungo's, clutching the summons in one hand and half-mad with fear; and yet no one had had the time to explain the extent of their son's injuries to them.

Not even Aaron Deaken had given them much to go on before he had slipped out to give them some privacy.

All they knew was that someone had attacked Hogwarts.

Turner held what could only be Nathan's chart in his hands. His lips pursed briefly, blue eyes flicking to Nathan before meeting theirs again.

"Your son suffered a laceration to his throat, and he lost a substantial amount of blood. Judging by the reports, it was a cutting curse that struck him."

Cynthia looked up to the ceiling, then down at her son in despair, stifling a horrified gasp. She felt unsteady.

Turner cleared his throat, continuing after giving them a moment to process. "From our tests it appears that the injury has, for the most part, been healed."

"How is that possible?" Benedict asked, sounding shattered. "Nathan doesn't know any healing charms – or at least nothing that could…" he glanced at their son, unable to finish.

Turner shifted, fingers fluttering nervously around the chart he held. "Your son didn't use any charms. It looks like he used flash healing instead, which makes sense, all things considered."

"Flash healing?" Cynthia echoed, shaking her head lightly.

Turner nodded. "It's not an official technique and falls more under accidental magic than anything. This type of healing isn't advised. It saved his life, certainly, but I have only seen it used by soldiers on the battlefields. It prioritises the end goal over the minutiae, and that leaves plenty of room for error."

Benedict and her shared a stricken look. "Does that mean…his neck isn't…"

Turner raised a hand, and she fell silent. "From what we can tell, your son's throat has been healed completely. Internally, everything seems to be where it should be, and doing what it needs to. Externally…" Turner grimaced, "I'm afraid the scar will likely never fade."

Cynthia immediately looked to Nathan, to the perfect ring of thick bandages around his neck. She had yet to see the damage herself, but the idea that her son would forever carry such a mark pained her greatly.

She pressed her palm to her stomach, leaning back in her chair while still keeping her grip on Nathan's hand.

"Is there anything else that might be wrong?" Benedict asked, his head bowed.

Turner looked at them with concealed pity in his eyes. "There may be some lingering consequences beyond the scar," he admitted. "While the wound has healed physically, it might take time for Nathan to regain his ability to speak."

Cynthia's hand rose to cover her eyes, her breath stuttering.

Turner continued grimly, "The level of trauma he suffered was significant, and his body will take time to catch up with what happened. Right now, I would advise against him doing anything strenuous that might aggravate the muscles in his throat. They're strained right now from the excessive amount of magic they've absorbed, and we don't want to risk anything."

"He's lost his voice?" Cynthia asked, a whine lurking behind the words.

"Temporarily," he reassured. "You need to understand that this is not something we can rush. Nathan will need to take his recovery slowly. It will be a very trying time for him. For now, there is nothing to do until the calming draughts wear off. After that we will need to explain this all to Nathan and make sure he understands. Beyond that…we might just need to see what happens."

It was not enough. It was not nearly enough, but Cynthia bit back the toxic words she wanted to spill. She had to think about Nathan. They had to do what was best for him – and yelling at his healer would help no one.

"Thank you," she said instead, giving the man a grateful nod. She wanted to scream, to curse and claw at the world.

"May we be alone now?"

Turner hesitated, though with a pointed look from her husband, the man nodded and left the room.

Cynthia waited until she heard the door close before she finally let her tears fall.

"Oh, my darling," Benedict murmured, moving to kneel beside her.

"Why is it always him?" Cynthia cried, trying uselessly to wipe her tears away. "Why is it always Nathan that gets hurt? Ben, why?"

Benedict gathered her in his arms, and Cynthia sunk into his embrace desperately.

"I don't know," he whispered brokenly. "But we'll help him, love. We'll protect him this time. Him and Simon will be safe."

They had never protected him, Cynthia thought in dismay. They had been failing Nathan since the day they had decided to raise him.

She had been failing him.

OoO

Benat limped after Klaus, cradling his arm against his stomach. The muscles in his thigh burned, the skin tearing more with every step, and beneath his mask his face was twisted in pain.

He had splinched himself with his hasty apparition, cutting a gash from his hip down around to the back of his knee. Blood soaked through the bandages he had hastily applied to the wound, but Benat knew he was lucky to get away with just that.

He had no idea what curse Nathan Ciro had flung at him in those last few seconds but given the black hate that had been in the boy's eyes, he was glad he had not found out.

Klaus led him through the labyrinthine halls until they came to a set of large doors Benat had never seen before. He had only been in this complex once before, and certainly never this close to his Lord's quarters. He had never been important enough to require an audience with the man, but Klaus had been waiting for him when he had arrived, not even giving him a minute to clean himself up before guiding him inside.

Benat stood back as Klaus knocked politely on the door, struggling to keep his breathing steady as he waited for entry to be granted.

After a long minute, the doors swung open to reveal an expansive stone room. Klaus stepped aside, waving in invitation, and Benat inched forward cautiously. He had expected an office or a sitting room – but it was more akin to a chamber and was almost completely empty save for a marble podium and the torches evenly spaced along the walls.

He dragged himself past Klaus, avoiding those cold green eyes, and into the dimly lit room. Klaus followed on his heels, closing the doors, and waiting unobtrusively before them.

But Benat barely noticed. His attention was wholly ensnared by the man standing in the centre of the room.

Grindelwald was leaning over the podium, gazing intently down at the bowl that sat atop it. His hands were braced against it, long fingers curled loosely into fists. His profile was half-hidden behind the fall of his blond hair, though Benat could still make out the elegant slope of his nose and the arch of his cheekbone.

The blue flames that lit the room washed over the man, giving him an ethereal glow.

Benat swallowed, momentarily stunned at being in his Lord's presence, then hastily removed his mask and hooked it onto his belt.

"Benat, as requested, my Lord," Klaus announced from his post.

Grindelwald looked up briefly, turning his head enough to allow his mis-matched eyes to scan Benat before his focus shifted to the wall opposite him. His voice, when he spoke, was low and echoed eerily.

"Well. You have certainly had an eventful day, haven't you?"

There was a bite of disapproval lurking under the amicable tone, and Benat winced. His shoulders hunched and he nervously licked his lips, "My Lord. I bring information…important information –"

"Yes," Grindelwald interjected mildly, and completely derailed Benat. "I'm sure you do, and I hope that somewhere in that information you explain why you felt the need to launch an attack on a school. I gave you permission to lead an assault. I did not give you permission to target Hogwarts."

The blue flames swelled, showing his Lord's ire even if it had yet to grace his expression or voice.

"I-it was technically Hogsmeade that we attacked," he stuttered out, all the moisture in his mouth drying up.

"On a weekend. When students are known to visit." Grindelwald's gaze slid back to him, pinning him in place. They were still so calm, and yet every instinct in Benat shuddered with fear. "You are treading a very thin line between wilful ignorance and stupidity, Benat. And I have no need for either of those traits in my followers."

"I…I admit that the attack was a hasty decision –"

"Six," his Lord interrupted again. He pushed away from the podium, facing Benat fully and folding his arms behind his back. Being the sole focus of this man was electrifying in the worst ways.

"P-pardon, my Lord?"

"Six. The number of students that were killed because of your hasty decision. Six magical children – and that's just the initial reports I have received. It could very well rise in the coming days."

Benat opened his mouth uselessly, his voice failing him.

Grindelwald watched him, a dragon observing a mouse, and waited.

Sweat beaded his forehead as the silence stretched, and Benat's hands began to shake when he remembered that Klaus was blocking the only exit. He was unsure if it was even safe to speak, but the other man made no effort to break the tense lull. He unstuck his tongue.

"I discovered something during the attack. Something I knew you would want to hear immediately."

"I'm breathless with anticipation," Grindelwald said, raising a hand. Benat flinched, but all the Dark Lord did was gesture impatiently. "Speak, then, and know that if I find your information in any way dissatisfying, I will skin you alive and leave you for the crows."

Benat nodded shallowly, knowing there was precedent behind the threat. He rushed to explain, to prove that while he and the others had acted rashly, they had found something of worth.

"During the attack I came across a boy –"

"Shocking," Grindelwald muttered, once again cutting through the meagre amount of courage Benat had gathered. He stumbled, halting to see if his Lord would continue but the man merely stared at him blankly, so much so that Benat wondered if he had misheard.

"It was Benedict Ciro's bastard, Nathan." Benat said, meeker this time, feeling like a child. "He seems to have recovered from…what happened to him."

"What you did to him," Klaus corrected evenly.

Benat's shoulders tightened.

He knew that their decision to target Nathan Ciro was a contentious one amongst group. He knew that the only reason he and the others had not lost their head was because they had actually made progress with their mission to push Lord Ciro.

He knew that Klaus, in particular, had made his opinion on their actions clear enough.

"Continue," Grindelwald ordered.

Benat's hand briefly gripped his shirt, sighing through the spike of pain from his injury. "The boy was different. He was stronger, more vicious. He killed Jonas with a single curse – disintegrated him in seconds."

Finally, a glimmer of interest appeared in his Lord's eyes. Benat seized it like a lifeline.

"We duelled and, my Lord," he shook his head, "I have never seen someone his age that skilled before. The spells he used were some I had never even heard of. And he cast them nonverbally."

He stopped then to cough into his elbow, something wet and metallic rising up in his throat. "He was trained," Benat rasped. "His reflexes were auror-level, and a high-ranking one at that. I only managed to hit him by luck."

It grated to admit being so outclassed by a child, but any indignation he had felt had died off long ago.

"I cut his neck," Benat admitted.

"Committing the crimes yourself now?" Klaus commented airily. "Such growth."

Glowering at the condescending words, Benat forced himself to meet Grindelwald's eyes. "I killed him, I know I did but, my Lord, he didn't stay dead."

A heavy silence settled over the room. In it, he could clearly hear the deep breath Grindelwald released.

He licked his lips, preparing to continue, but the other man waved him off. Benat's teeth clinked from how quickly he shut his mouth.

Terror strangled him when Grindelwald began to approach, wand slipping into his hand with a flick of his wrist. Slowly, the tip of it raised to press against Benat's temple, lightly digging into the skin.

"Your memory," Grindelwald demanded softly. "I trust it more than your verbal recount."

Benat instantly closed his eyes, pulling the memory of the attack up and allowing his Lord's magic to slip into his mind and pluck it free. He shuddered, blinking rapidly, and watched as Grindelwald gently dropped the white, misty strand down into the bowl on the podium.

A pensieve, he realised belatedly.

Without even a pause, Grindelwald plunged his face into the water.

There was no telling how long it would take. His perception of time had felt distorted that entire fight – everything moving too fast and too slow – and the wait to see his Lord's reaction was excruciating.

Unable to help it, Benat glanced over his shoulder to the only other person in the room.

Klaus was staring at Grindelwald's back, attentive and placid, but his eyes flicked to catch Benat's. The utter lack of anything – scorn, distaste, even annoyance – in the man's gaze was disturbing, especially because Benat knew that Klaus disliked him.

Itching at the attention, he turned back to face Grindelwald, wondering what part of the memory the man was viewing currently.

Had he seen Jonas' death? Or the cold, frightening expression on Nathan Ciro's face when he cast the curse? Was he watching the unnatural skill the boy displayed in their short duel? Or was it when Benat's curse had slipped through his guard and sliced open his neck?

Was he watching the boy come back to life?

Benat bit his lip, studying his feet and the small patch of his blood that was pooling beneath his left foot.

He recalled the sinister black wisps that had appeared around the boy, and the chilling presence that had spread through the street. He could still see the way Nathan had, impossibly, twitched and surged back to life.

It had been too much to process. It was beyond comprehension –

At that moment, Grindelwald straightened, pulling free from the pensieve.

Turned away from them as he was, Benat could not see his Lord's reaction to the memory. Even his magic, normally a vibrant force, was oddly stilted and subdued.

Over a minute passed before Grindelwald released a long breath.

"Fascinating," he whispered, wonder and a dark kind of interest creeping into his tone.

Benat straightened as much as he could, relief bursting in his chest.

"My Lord?" Klaus asked softly, quietly drawing the man's attention.

Grindelwald blinked, visibly collecting himself. "Of course," he murmured, rolling his shoulders back. "Where are my manners?"

He pivoted, eyes dancing between them before landing on Benat. He smiled, stepping forward to clap his hands on Benat's upper arms. The force behind the friendly hit made Benat wheeze.

"Thank you," Grindelwald said sincerely. "This information is certainly worth a life. You have done me a great service by showing me your memory."

"Of course, my Lord," Benat mumbled, wincing as the grip on his arms began to tighten.

"It's a pity you still need to make up for the other five," the man continued, smile sharpening suddenly. "I'm sure we can think of a suitable punishment for you though," his Lord said, blithely ignoring Benat's dawning horror.

"No –" Benat tried to twist, but his legs seized, and he dropped. Grindelwald let him fall, gaze already drifting to the side, bright with excitement.

"I think I would very much like to meet Mr. Ciro," the Dark Lord said. "Klaus, I will leave this in your capable hands. I have plans to make."

"Of course, my Lord."

"At least something useful came out of this fucking mess."


So, more things are moving forward. Harry has to deal with more trauma because I said so, and we're hitting the next major piece of plot.

Would love to hear your thoughts!

For anyone interested, my tumblr is 'Child_OTKW'.