Hollow Thunder, Vital Lightning -Aariya

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Harry Potter/Tom Riddle

Genre: Drama, Romance, Fantasy, Action/Adventure

Summary: Life after Voldemort is ideal and perfect for everyone except the one who made it possible. Unbelievably bored and unhappy, Harry performs a spell that will take him to an alternate universe where he can be happiest with Voldemort. Even he hadn't expected the outcomes or how the spell would misinterpret his desires.

Warnings: slash; AU; Slytherin!Harry; Dark!Harry (sorta)...and another one I took out that you will have to figure out for yourself; it's kind of crucial to the plot so I can't tell you!

Spoilers: Compliant with first five books and includes information from six and seven.

Disclaimer: Where in Harry Potter is it possible for Harry and Tom to get together and shag like bunnies? That's right; only in my imagination.

.-.

"HTVL" - English, or other human languages

HTVL - Thoughts, Spells, Special Text (titles and such)

"HTVL" - Parseltongue, Incanted Spells, or a language within a language

HTVL - Parselmagic (spells and the language in writing)

Chapter 9: Vital Lightning, Part I


"They're Grindelwald's! This is not our fight; we must leave!"

Tom realized Hadrian had no intention of doing so when he saved the Gryffindor girl. His eyes were blazing with determination and there was that glint of challenge he'd habitually reserved for Tom in them. He knew what that meant; there was no going back now.

"I'm not going to leave them like this," said Hadrian, his magic thrumming excitedly in anticipation of the first real fight for months and months.

Before Tom could convince him otherwise, Hadrian put himself in the middle of the ensuing melee. He evaded stray and deliberate curses with graceful ease, fired off his own with perfect precision and speed, and Tom took this all in with some appreciation of his superior skill, even if he disapproved of what he was doing.

He'd never seen Hadrian fight like that. When it was just the two of them, he was more formal and adhered to most of the dueling rules. He wasn't this…wild, passionate, exhilarated, as though he were exactly where he was meant to be—in his element. And Tom was beyond captivated.

Hadrian sidestepped a Cruciatus and spun out of the way of the Killing Curse when it came from the opposite direction at the same time. He fired off a Propulsion Charm and pulled the man he knew had tried to kill him in the direction of the man who'd thrown the Cruciatus. Unprepared, the two of them smacked together violently.

In their daze, Hadrian quietly cast the Parseltongue equivalent of Incarcerous on them. This insured that only a Parselmouth could break the spell, and he was sure Tom wouldn't be untying them anytime soon. He summoned their wands and promptly broke them.

His Supersensory Charm then let him know a spell was coming at him from behind and he quickly jumped out of the way. Expecting for it to zip past him, he was surprised to see that nothing came.

"What are you doing?" Tom hissed once Hadrian turned around to face him, his wand gripped tightly in his hand.

Hadrian had almost forgotten that Tom was with him, so lost had he been in the moment. He then realized that Tom had deflected the spell, and looked none too happy about it. He was glaring off to the right at a fallen man, who Hadrian assumed had been the one trying to curse him.

"Why are you wasting time doing that?" Tom gestured to the two bound wizards at their feet. "Just incapacitate them; you do not have the leisure to be doing all this."

Force of habit, Hadrian thought wryly. He'd been behaving like he had during the war after he'd felled a Death Eater for the Aurors to take away. Tom was right. Now was not the time to be doing this.

"Ah, you are right," Hadrian admitted. "I got a little carried away."

Tom raised a brow, wondering how that was possible. Unless Hadrian was in the business of frequently holding off raids, his actions were quite curious. The way he fought belied that he was well-acquainted with fighting in this kind of environment.

It was unlikely, however. His partner hadn't even known who these wizards were. Besides Grindelwald, there wasn't anyone else who would attack. There was no way he could have been in a situation like this before. Then again, it might just be the way the Black battled, as odd as that was.

"Then," Tom began dryly, "you would do well not to let that—"

But Hadrian never got to hear the end of that because he was off like a shot again. He zipped past Tom, down the street past the post office, and came to a stop in front of The Three Broomsticks. Tom had not even had a chance to catch his breath before he was there.

Blasted boy! Tom thought in frustration, thinking his partner was dead set on getting himself killed today. Tom maneuvered himself between villagers, students, and attackers alike to get to the inn. Wandering spells were watched out for and deflected with a simple swish and overenthusiastic duelists tossed aside in his haste.

The closer he got, the better Tom could see what had caught Hadrian's attention. It was a very strange situation to walk in on. Hadrian staunchly stood there with his wand pointed unwaveringly at one of Grindelwald's men, the fury of the gods in him. His eyes were frigid, his jaws set tightly, and a fearsome glower twisted his face. Tom could understand his anger, because a ferocious one to surpass it was currently building up in his chest.

The wizard in the purple robes had his own wand directed at Cassius Zabini, but his cloaked face was watching Hadrian. Zabini had a very glazed look in his eyes and was aiming his wand at a bleeding Noah, shielded behind Alphard, who himself had Zabini at chest point, an unusually contemptuous expression on his face.

Tom ignored the implication that Zabini might be under the Imperius Curse. To him, it was just another infraction on his long list. How dare he hurt Noah? He did not wait for Hadrian to do something in this standstill. He wouldn't do what was necessary and strike down Zabini. But Tom suffered from no such affliction.

A malicious smile marred his handsome face as he aimed his wand at Zabini. At last, he could dish out some of the punishment this little urchin deserved. Wickedly delighted, he sent a powerful Reductor Curse at Zabini's shoulder. Indeed, so powerful that the Ravenclaw was thrown bodily across the village and flopped before the railway station, where he lied like a rag doll.

While the unidentified man, Noah, and Alphard all turned to him in surprise, Hadrian used the moment of distraction to Stun the wizard. Alphard helped Noah stand up fully as he had begun to sag from the pain at his bloodied rib. He put the smaller boy's left arm around his shoulders and bent down a little to support his height.

Tom strolled over to inspect the damage but was suddenly faced with Hadrian's displeasure. "Was that necessary?" He pointed at Zabini's limp, unmoving body.

"He was a danger to others and himself," Tom sneered, though he cared not for whatever danger Zabini posed to himself. He gestured at Noah and bit out heatedly, "For that, he deserves much worse than what I've given him."

"I'm all right, Tom," Noah spoke up, his voice weak.

Tom turned to him. "No, you most certainly are not. Let me see that," he commanded.

Noah removed his hand from his left side to show where the blood had soaked through his robes. Tom directed his magic at the area, trying to feel out what kind of spell had been used. His anger rose when he found it to be a malevolent curse bordering on Dark magic that was supposed to have sliced straight through Noah's side and should have very well killed him. Some of it had evidently been blocked.

Tom could mend the broken bones for the time being and reduce the pain, but a trained mediwizard or healer would be needed for full recovery. He did what he could, then wrapped Noah in gauze so he wouldn't upset the injury too much before he had a chance to go to the infirmary.

Noah stood up straighter, a contemplative look on his face as he moved experimentally. Then he smiled at Tom and softly said, "Thank you, Tom. I no longer feel any pain."

Hadrian watched this with astonishment. Tom seemed to actually genuinely care about how Noah felt. He treated him like a younger brother—albeit one who didn't know better and had to be practically spoon-fed. Not for the first time, he wondered what the story was behind the Slytherin heir and the Hufflepuff.

"Are you all right, Alphard?" Hadrian asked his cousin, noticing a smear of thick blood blending in with his robes. It was probably Noah's but he had to be sure.

Alphard nodded. He looked at the spot and cast a spell on it. Though it disappeared, there was a small stain left behind. Silk robes such as those required special care. "I'm fine. It's Noah who jumped before the curse meant for me," he said, throwing the aforementioned boy an exasperated look. "Zabini came out of nowhere; I hardly had enough time to shield against the attack."

"It's not his fault," Hadrian felt the need to defend Cassius. And since when had Alphard referred to Cassius by his surname, anyway?

Tom shot him a dark look, annoyed that Zabini was getting such undeserved sympathy. "It is for being too weak."

"There are a limited amount of people capable of throwing off the Imperius," Hadrian retorted indignantly. "You cannot fault him for that."

Though he desperately would have liked to say what he thought of that, Tom did not wish to fight on account of Zabini, of all people. Instead, he made a slight noise of discontent and left it at that. Turning to the two other boys, one who was staring at them in concern—Noah, of course—and another with barely concealed wonder, Tom ordered, "Quit dallying and leave this place at once. Alphard, I expect him to reach the castle without further injury."

Alphard was in no position to contradict the look that promised immense pain should he fail to comply, so he nodded his head. Hadrian then, struck with an idea, pulled Alphard aside before the two could leave. Tom looked on with interest, wondering what they were being so secretive about.

"What's wrong?" Alphard questioned once Tom and Noah were out of earshot.

"You remember that passageway I showed you?" Hadrian asked urgently, aware they didn't have much time before they were noticed.

Alphard had an expression of dawning realization on his face. He confirmed excitedly, "The Honeydukes one?"

"Yes, that one. I want you to lead all the students you can through it," Hadrian said. "There's no way they have knowledge of it, much less have it sealed off."

"How will that be possible?" Alphard asked worriedly. "All of them are at that end."

This was true. Most of the attack was happening where he and Tom had just left. Grindelwald's men weren't giving the students any chance to reach here, where they had access to the trail leading back to the school.

Hadrian's face hardened with determination. He refused to let these students die if he could do something about it. "Leave it to me."

This in no way appeased Alphard, but sent him into the most passionate fury Hadrian could ever remember his cousin directing at him. "What!" he exclaimed, no doubt knowing exactly what he intended to do. "You're going to fight them? No, Hadrian! I refuse to leave you here!"

"It's not the time to argue about this, Alphard!" Hadrian reasoned, placing his hands on Alphard's shoulders and squeezing them. "Trust me, I know what I'm doing."

Alphard pulled away, shaking his head vehemently. "Yeah, attempting to get yourself killed! Don't try to be a hero, Hadrian; leave that to the fucking Gryffindors."

Hadrian almost mentioned he had a healthy amount of Gryffindor in him, just to stop him arguing back. "Please, try to understand. We're the only ones who can help them, or, at the end of the day, a lot less students will have gone back to Hogwarts than left."

Alphard scowled at him fiercely, presumably for guilting him into it. He scoffed and bit out, "You're a right Slytherin when you want to be, Hadrian, I'll give you that."

Hadrian grinned, relieved, and pulled his cousin into a hug. "Thanks, Alphard. I won't be long."

"I should hope not," sniffed Alphard, clearly still disgruntled about the plan, and, for once, letting some of that ingrained pureblooded disdain seep through. But he hugged him back tightly anyway, even as he continued sharply, "How you aspire to do this alone is beyond me, but should you come out of it anything but unscathed, I shall be very displeased."

"Alone for what?" interrupted Tom before Hadrian could reassure his cousin, strolling over with Noah and forcing them to break apart from their embrace.

"Hadrian wants me to lead the students out while he distracts Grindelwald's men," Alphard informed, a frown creasing his brows.

Tom noted the frown and his pinched eyes and quickly deduced how Hadrian proposed to serve as a distraction. He turned to Hadrian, but instantly knew from his resolute countenance that he wouldn't be dissuaded so Tom abandoned the endeavor before he could begin. Besides, he refused to get in another argument while Noah and Alphard watched on.

But he would be damned if he left Hadrian alone for this, even if he disagreed with his plan. The very thought of someone assailing him while Tom himself was in the safety of the castle sent a cold front running through his veins. It wouldn't be too hard to slice his way through the enemy's defenses to get himself back to Hogwarts, but he wouldn't be at ease knowing Hadrian was staying and actively participating in the attack.

Mind made up, Tom announced, "He shall not be alone."

The other three looked at him with surprise—and Hadrian not without a little pleasure, Tom noted. That certainly served as recompense for his very uncharacteristic gesture. He never helped people without receiving something in return, whether it be in a short time or in the long run.

Hadrian understood Tom didn't need any more thanks than that or he'd probably really start to regret offering his help. He wondered, however, why the Slytherin heir was willing to stay back with him. Unless he was going to get something out of it, Tom Riddle did not care for other people.

That both boys were thinking the exact same thing greatly amused the voice. It served as further proof of their compatibility. And it was about time they let the other know their inner thoughts.

"Don't move until it's safe," Hadrian warned Alphard, already beginning to make his way back to the Honeydukes section. He shouted back, "Wait for my signal!"

"What's the signal?" Alphard hollered.

Hadrian continued sprinting past the sweetshop as he called, "You'll know!"

Before joining him, Tom threw Alphard a threatening glare and moved forward to stand over him. "I do hope I don't have to tell you what will happen to you should Noah come to any more harm," he whispered, conveying everything in the sentence.

Surprisingly unflinching, Alphard's expression became tight in response. "Then you'd better make sure Hadrian comes out all right," he boldly retorted.

Tom's wand was abruptly under his chin, digging into him with a fatal curse waiting on its tip. He heard Noah's gasp as his eyes narrowed at Alphard's gall. "Watch your mouth, Black; you're on thin ice," he snarled, rather sure that his eyes were entirely red now. "You would do well to remember how utterly expendable you are."

Absolutely vibrating from the rage working its way through his body, Tom did not stick around for his doubtless foolhardy response. His cousin's presence seemed to be giving Alphard unwarranted nerve, and it would only be a matter of time before Tom was forced to correct his behavior. Oh, he was so looking forward to the day when Alphard stepped over the line.

Fueled by this unforeseen wrath, he walked with forbidding grace toward where Hadrian was enthusiastically setting himself to his task. He was currently engaged with two opponents, his steps unbelievably light as he flitted from one to the other.

The ease with which he handled the two wizards wasn't what caught Tom's eye. It was the expression of unadulterated exhilaration on his face, the intense blaze in his eyes. His long hair didn't appear to be a hindrance as it was whipped along in the harsh wind every time he made a swift or sudden motion. It only intensified his beauty, and others might underestimate him because of it, but it would be their downfall if they made that foolish mistake.

Hadrian was without doubt someone who was made for combat, who thrived on it. There was no place else he would shine more than on the battlefield. And Tom had to have him—needed to have him. He wouldn't be satisfied until he was among his ranks.

Maybe he could convince him if he were to replace Renatus with him. Granted, the Lestrange would throw a spectacular tantrum, but nothing that couldn't be handled. He certainly couldn't fight like this, certainly never tied with or bested Tom in a duel, much less had the guts to challenge him.

What, you believe he will settle for being one of your minions? The voice laughed. You don't know him as well as you seem to think you do, then.

Tom frowned sourly, wondering what he'd done to have this irksome entity still plaguing his mind. Though, he had to acknowledge, Tom knew what it said was true. Hadrian was much more than just a mere follower, and he was too proud to settle for being a subordinate.

This was not the best time to figure out what standing Hadrian would have, however. He expertly swished his wand as more wizards tried to join the fight Hadrian was in. They were starting to surround the Shadow Lord so Tom fought his way to the middle, all the while wondering why he was being so reckless as to put himself in such a position.

Before he could talk himself out of it, he was back-to-back with his partner. Except, this time, they weren't getting set for a duel. Tom could feel the magic blistering across Hadrian's skin where their backs met and, like always, his magic rose in response to its proximity.

Every spell he fired off felt ten times more effective with Tom behind him. Hadrian was even beginning to speculate—unlikely though it was with his Occlumency shields in place—that the other Slytherin was reading his mind with how well they were coordinating.

Hadrian turned around and aimed an Entrail-Expelling Curse at one of the violet-robed wizards and watched satisfactorily as the man's insides fell out for all to see. He masked his signature with the Shadows so the Dark spell wouldn't be traced back to him. Tom was forced to turn as well to cover their back and draw a shield when a bright orange spell came at them. He immediately retaliated with an Organ Removing Curse, enjoying the abrupt manner in which the wizard dropped, now lacking the vitals needed to keep him alive.

One of Grindelwald's men proved to be more of a challenge when he got close enough to knock his large elbow into Hadrian's nose, which quickly opened and poured out blood.

"Son of a bitch!" Pissed off, Hadrian didn't even bother with a spell. He punched his jaw, then grabbed him by his head and brought his knee up into his face with all the strength he could manage.

Once he fell to the ground, Hadrian took possession of his shadow and wrapped it around him. The shadows seeped into the wizard's mind, in search of his deepest fears. After he found them, Hadrian Constructed a situation in which the man was perpetually stuck reliving his worst nightmares. His wretched screams put a temporary stop to the chaos, filling every corner of the town.

The wizard's pleads went unheard as Hadrian stood watching him, his nose still busted and gushing blood. Tom healed him of the injury, not quite managing to feel sorry for the man who'd been stupid enough to dare to strike him. He was very curious as to how Hadrian was eliciting those screams, however. His Cruciatus couldn't draw forth screams that reached such intense decibels, and his Cruciatus was a wretchedly excruciating thing, indeed. It was admirable, really. As Hadrian hadn't used his wand, he'd guess he was employing his Shadows.

Hadrian's actions brought more of Grindelwald's forces to them. Clearly identifying the two of them as the real threat, they began to swarm them, leaving behind their earlier post, which had surely been Hadrian's primary goal. They blasted students and patrons aside on their way, and, though it pained him that this was happening, it was all Hadrian could do to keep up with the abrupt barrage of spells that were coming at he and Tom.

He deflected the strongest of the spells, but wrapped the Shadows around himself and Tom to keep away the weaker ones. While he handled the shielding, Tom displayed his truly formidable dueling skills by doing some of the fastest spell casting Hadrian had ever seen. A mere twitch of his wand was all it took to simultaneously bring down four wizards, a harsh slash caused a break in their ranks and gave Tom and he more room to work.

And, the thing was, the longer they kept up their synchronicity, the more adrenaline they felt rushing through them. It was as though their magic, together, was capable of anything. Trite, but very true.

Other students quickly joined when they saw they actually had a fighting chance. Prominent among them were the seventh-year Gryffindors, and Tom didn't want to dwell on what that said about him as he was taking the same rash path.

Surprisingly, though, they weren't the only Slytherins in the thick of it for long. Renatus wasn't far from him while he fought alongside Abraxas. Several feet away, he could see the impressive duo that was Antonin and Devan, causing almost as much damage as he and Hadrian were.

Tom knew they would not have fought had he not been doing so. These were pureblood wizards who supported Grindelwald's plight, and they did not want to be seen as actively defying the Dark Lord. Their loyalty to him, however, superseded their previous beliefs, and, though this was no time to admire his work, he proudly recognized this as the result of his meticulous conditioning.

It reminded him why Renatus was his right-hand, and how unrealistic his earlier thought of replacing him with Hadrian had been. That kind of loyalty was almost impossible to come by and he doubted—no, he knew Hadrian would never show him half as much. As much as he would have liked to have someone like Hadrian who could coordinate with him and had the power to back it up, it wasn't as though there was a line of them promising to be the equivalent of faithful waiting around for him.

"Expecto Patronum!"

Tom's attention was abruptly turned to what was happening behind him when he heard the shouted incantation. He hadn't felt a dementor's presence, so why was Hadrian currently blinding everyone in his immediate vicinity by casting the spell? He spun around to see a large, silvery apparition coming forth from Hadrian's wand.

As it formed into a semi-transparent black mamba Patronus, Tom noted the surprised look that crossed Hadrian's face, as though the result of the charm was a most unexpected one. The wizards around them stared perplexedly at the long snake, probably wondering, like him, why Hadrian had bothered to conjure it.

He found the answer to his unasked question when Hadrian snapped out of his shock and instructed the Patronus to find Alphard and let him know it was safe to move. Ah, so this was the signal.

The snake slithered past the feet of the purple-robed wizards, and some of them jumped comically out of its way, though they had to know it was only a Patronus. Tom scoffed at their stupidity and watched the snake's progress until he could no longer see it among the mass of people. He wouldn't have pegged Hadrian as the type to have a black mamba for a Patronus, and was a bit fascinated by the outcome.

Hadrian was thinking along the same lines. A small part of him was captivated by the sight of his Patronus, the part that hadn't ever known any differently. But the largest part of him was very upset at the prospect of an altered Patronus. He'd been expecting to see his customary stag and couldn't figure out why he didn't. Either way, he wasn't happy with the change, and was going to try his best to get it back.

A deep, heavily German-accented voice growled, "You cannot tistract us vid your fancy little tricks, boy!" He curved his wand and aimed a bright blue curse at Hadrian. "Eider fight properly, or get out of de vay and let de men hantle dis!"

Hadrian deftly dodged the spell, and smirked at the cloaked man. "Yeah?" he drawled. "How do you like this trick, then?" Casually flicking his wand, he hissed, "Sepultura."

For a moment, nothing happened, and the man chuckled cruelly at his seemingly failed curse. And then he burst into flames, as though he were made of something combustible and had been exposed to an element that set him off. The only thing that could be seen where he once stood was a blaze the size and width of his body, and all that could be heard was the crackling of the fire and his loud, pain-filled screams.

"Brought to you by yours truly. Beautiful, isn't it?" Hadrian sneered, watching with dispassionate eyes as the burning body fell to the ground. "One of my more inspired spells, if I do say so myself. Clearly, I don't have to tell you that."

Tom was more shocked than he cared to admit at this previously hidden sadistic side to the gentle-yet-occasionally-devious Hadrian he knew. Merlin, he'd never been so aroused in his life. He forcefully had to will away his growing erection because that wicked smirk on Hadrian's normally mild features was threatening his self-control.

Two of the men closest to their smoldering comrade angrily slashed their wands in Hadrian's direction, but Tom immediately deflected their spells and summarily disarmed them. Out of their stunned stupor, the rest around he and Hadrian began to fire at them, and the fight on their end was back in full swing.

Spells and curses of all colors were suddenly being thrown around with alarming speed. It begged the question of how Hadrian expected Alphard to get the students to safety when any stray spell could hit them. Tom laid the thought aside and gave his full focus to simultaneously shielding and firing when Hadrian seemed to be busy with an especially powerful spell, if the way his eyes were closed in concentration was any indication.

Anyone close enough to feel it shuddered when Hadrian released his Shadows in a large-scale Clouding and Deflecting maneuver that was usually meant for buildings. He expanded it and covered the entire trail on either side that led to Honeydukes.

It was a narrow path since the attack was widely spread out, but it was the best he could do without potentially putting some of Grindelwald's men in the bubble. His changed Patronus would make sure Alphard and the other people stayed within the Clouded area, so it should be okay.

Despite himself, Hadrian spun around with concern bordering on panic when he heard Tom groan. He need not have worried, he embarrassedly learned, because the Slytherin heir looked truly murderous as he observed the group of wide-eyed wizards before him. Apparently they'd launched a coordinated attack on Tom and struck his upper thigh, which was bleeding through the fabric of his robes.

The amount of magic flowing through Tom at that moment was orgasmic, and Hadrian's own magic felt as though it were drawing strength from it. Or that Tom's was drawing from his. He really couldn't tell where the channel connecting their magic started or ended, and it seemed as though they were sharing the same power.

If Tom had thought their earlier connection was strong, it was nothing like the strength this one was currently pouring into his magic. From thought alone, he healed the wound dealt him by these weak fools, and from only a small twitch of his wand, all five of them were flung fifty feet away from his person, hearts cursed to explode within their chests.

Empowered by that sight and by the feel of Hadrian once again at his back, Tom incapacitated the next two that ran at him with even more ease. Hadrian and he slipped back into their previous dance of synchronizing their movements so well that Grindelwald's men seemed pitiful by comparison.

Hadrian went one way and Tom went the other, dodging, shielding, deflecting, and then retaliating with their own curses to drop each wizard who stepped forward in the place of another. The circle was lessening slowly by the combined effort of the two powerful wizards in the middle and the other students and townspeople who'd joined in the battle.

Hadrian was so caught up in what he was doing that he didn't notice Alphard was moving until he heard a marked difference in the noise level. There was a lot less high-pitched shrieking. And he wasn't the only one to have noticed.

A clutter of cloaked men closest to the path he'd cleared watched as several of the younger students were simultaneously yanked into the shielded area. While Hadrian could see that Alphard, Noah, and a couple of other students behind the invisible barrier were pulling them in, he knew that no one else could. Nonetheless, the wizards were not stupid and could understand what was happening.

"Dey are trying to get avay!" one of them yelled, sounding outraged. He aimed a string of spells at a pair of disappearing legs. "Stop dem!"

Hadrian trusted Tom (And, damn, didn't that sound odd?) and the others with the fight before him and concentrated all his efforts on the Shadows he'd used to blanket Honeydukes. Deflecting wouldn't be strong enough to hold back every spell thrown, and there was only one ability that could sufficiently distribute the Shadows to take on all the wizards at the same time.

His own: Scattering.

He'd discovered his Shadow ability completely by accident, which wasn't all that unusual, actually. In fact, almost every Shadow Lord except Lord Zephyrus and Lord Telemachus Leofric had stumbled upon their ability (or abilities in Lord Zephyrus's case) during a time of great need. His time of need had been during the war in the old universe when several Death Eaters had cornered him in a scrimmage at Diagon Alley while he'd also been nursing a wounded abdomen and a boulder-sized migraine caused by the nearness of Voldemort.

His scar had bled profusely into his eyes and face because he'd been unable to maintain his Occlumency walls whilst trying to direct his magic to heal the gash across his middle and attempting to defend against curses at the same time. Desperate and almost about to fall over from exhaustion, he'd gathered all the shadows in sight in a last ditch effort to use his Shadows to do something.

The something turned out to be the Shadows practically acquiring a mind of their own and engulfing him, and then scattering to all corners of the alley. To the Death Eaters, it appeared as though he'd used some strange spell that transformed him into several dim, shadowy grayish-black versions of himself, and then propelled each one in different directions. They'd chased after every form and left him still standing there, befuddled and staring after his Scattered Shadows, though he could vaguely sense where each piece had gone.

Since then, he'd honed the ability to perfection, and had even discovered different sides to it. Not only could it dispel the Shadows and his own shadow in a way that made it impossible to find him, he could create as many as he wanted, like an army, and use them to attack numerous people at the same time by making them enter their body. Although the only abilities he could use while Scattering were Trailing, Constructing, Trapping, Switching, and Possessing, that was more than enough for him.

In fact, right now all he needed was Possessing, Lord Telemachus's painstakingly calculated discovery. Understandable, as possessing someone or something wasn't something one could do on accident. There was a lot of focus and hard-nosed drive involved in the process, and just wanting a result wasn't sufficient—it had to be worked at.

Scattering always filled him with a warmth of great pride, more than he'd ever felt for mastering a particularly difficult spell. He supposed it was because it was his contribution to the Shadows, and the thought that even Shadow Lords a million years after him would still be using it gave him an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

Now was no different, and the familiar warmth was rushing through him as he let the Shadows unravel and seep in through his targets' ears, nostrils, mouths, or eyes, using his wand to disguise the sudden way all seven wizards froze up to make it look like a spell. Concentrating his efforts, he altered the Shadows' intent to Possess them. He twisted the wizards' minds against one another, like he had with the Creatures of the Undead during his last duel against Tom.

The affect was immediate. All seven wizards turned on their own side, jumping into the foray with a single-minded determination and forgetting all about the students escaping into the sweetshop. But their possession also had the added benefit of distracting more of Grindelwald's men as they tried to defend themselves from cloaked wizards who were supposed to be on their side.

Hadrian knew he couldn't keep it up for long, but he didn't need to. It wouldn't take long for some of the students to get to Hogwarts and alert the professors, particularly Dumbledore. Frankly, he was surprised that the attack had been contained within Hogsmeade and that word hadn't reached Hogwarts or the Ministry already. He understood that the men sent today probably weren't the best Grindelwald had to offer. They were obviously only here for shock value, but Grindelwald had also clearly prepared for it because whatever he'd done to delay backup, it was working.

Tom was not oblivious to the drop in noise either. While there was still a cacophony of sounds—angry yells, pained screams, shouted spells, and the occasional "NO!" (or something equally as dramatic)—he could no longer hear pleas for help, which only meant that the younger students and the town's mothers and children weren't caught up in the attack any more.

He couldn't tell how Hadrian and Alphard were managing to get them out, but he knew that's what the Shadow Lord was currently occupied with. If the way some of Grindelwald's men were attacking their own forces was any indication, the Shadows were certainly busy at work under their Lord's guide.

Then it was up to Tom to make sure these wizards rued the day they attacked the town of Hogsmeade while he was still in it. If they thought this was the worst he could do, then they were sorely mistaken.

The speed with which curses were flying out of his wand increased to an astonishing rate. He was unparalleled when it came to this. He'd not met anyone who could hold a candle to his ability to juggle so many spells at once. Hadrian had come closest, but he knew even he was no match for him in his element. Tom did not need to see if his spell struck before he was moving onto the next one. He didn't need to; he hardly ever missed when against an opponent who was inferior to him. These wizards certainly qualified.

The sight of Owen Padrig writhing under what was obviously a prolonged Cruciatus, however, had him coming to a halt. The Gryffindor was at the mercy of two violet-robed men to Tom's left, obscured a little by Renatus and Abraxas in the middle of their own fight with three others.

Tom's admittedly large sadistic side relished the way Padrig twitched and screamed, and he was loath to do anything about it. But the even larger calculating, opportunistic part of him saw this for the wonderful chance it was. So, with that in mind, he cast the Double Transference Curse.

A long, thin gold strand left his wand and he directed it to trail unseen past all the feet in the way of his targets. Once it reached the two men, the gold thread looped around one of their ankles each, and then another strand separated from the other loops to wrap around Padrig's midsection. The purpose of the curse was to shift whatever spell the receiver was under to the caster, and then to change the degree of it to make it twofold.

It was a specialty of his, and the recipients were currently feeling his perfection of the curse as the pathetic Cruciatus Padrig had been experiencing was turned on them to the level it should have been—that he had also perfected—and then doubled. Padrig's body shuddered in the aftereffect and he was obviously out for the count, but the wizards standing over him were the ones who felt the full extent of it now.

He was an expert on the Cruciatus, and Tom could tell that if he'd intervened a little later, the damage done to Padrig's nerves would have been irreparable. He couldn't even enjoy the result of his spellwork, though, as he was already getting back to the fight. But, for a moment, he savored the feeling of having someone he couldn't stand owing him a life debt, especially when they didn't know it.

Just imagining how and when he could capitalize on this had Tom practically frothing at the mouth—except he would never do anything so undignified.

Behind him, he heard Hadrian's sigh of exhaustion. However many spells the pureblood was maintaining, it couldn't have been easy. Hadrian was putting his all into this, and though Tom certainly wasn't, he'd decided to stay back for his partner—even if his healthy Slytherin sense of self-preservation was repulsed by the idea—and he intended to have his back.

Tom's magic surged up of its own volition and sought out the other Slytherin's active one. He sensed its usual eagerness at the proximity of his compatible magic and it met him halfway.

Their magic twined together in a delicious way that was better than any sex he'd ever had, and it was only because they were in the middle of a battle that he was refraining from taking Hadrian right then and there. It was different from the way they'd connected earlier. Before, they'd drawn power from the bond and their harmony had been purely coincidental.

This time, however, he consciously felt every little thing that Hadrian was doing and his magic not only helped, but it worked to spread the effect—and Hadrian's was doing the same in return. He could feel where each possessed wizard was and what they were doing, and his magic stretched out to control them that much longer. He could see past the magic that had been making his eyes slide past Honeydukes, and he aided in keeping it there and increasing its reach over the concealed path.

Even though he'd never encountered the Shadows, it was like a familiar companion to him now. It didn't have the same impression as any magic he'd ever come upon, but he thought he could recognize it from across the continent, as though he'd known it his entire life and it was his instead of Hadrian's, or that the force was shared between them.

The voice in their head was crowing delightedly, Yes! Yes!

The sensation was so utterly invasive that had Tom been told about it before experiencing it, he'd have been adamant about never doing it. But now that it was happening, he felt as if he'd never be able to go back to a time when he and Hadrian's magic was separate and empty and weaker without the other. A world where he could never replicate this sense of substance and vitality. And it was the most overwhelming thing he'd ever felt.

Tom had a hard time telling their magic apart. Neither of their magical signature felt the same anymore, and it was quite on odd sensation knowing his magic was there for him to use but being unable to identify exactly where it was. But, at the same time, it was somehow a familiar sensation, though he couldn't quite place exactly why that was.

The battle went on and activity around them only seemed to intensify, but their connection held up, driving them to take more advantage of it and use it to the fullest. The joint force was much too powerful to contain between them and it sprawled out, phantom magical muscles stretching and spreading its influence.

One didn't have to be magic sensitive to be aware of the amount of power surrounding the pair. Even those who weren't in the circle where most of the attack was concentrated were aware of it. Hadrian himself, who was co-channeling it—though he was having a hard time recognizing the signature as one that had ever been a part of him—shuddered in the presence of all that bone-chilling magic.

Their enemies were noticeably intimidated, but they fought on anyway, no doubt keen on completing their mission; whatever that was, because it certainly wasn't to cause the most damage they could. The Death Eaters would have killed dozens of people by now had their only resistance in Hogsmeade been inexperienced students (with only a smattering of skilled ones) and residents defending their town.

If they'd been having problems with Tom and Hadrian before, however, they were now no match for the crushing force of their combined magic. Using this previously untapped power was akin to the most natural thing in the world, even more so than when he'd finally gotten the hang of the Shadows and something inside him just clicked and sighed with pleasure, like he'd finally come home after a long time.

Because it is more natural than anything else, the voice supplied, sounding very smug and pleased.

Hadrian might have paused to analyze what it meant by that if he hadn't been busy with creating an impenetrable shield around them so they could fire spells without wasting time defending against all the curses coming at them from several different directions. Keeping up his Shadows at the same time while Tom also used the magic to continue taking wizards down at a rapid speed was child's play. They seemed to have a limitless amount at their disposal from their combined power.

Because of his innate ability, Tom was the first to feel the fleeting squeezing sensation that suddenly replaced the previous weight of the Anti-Apparition Jinx, though that too had only been an awareness at the back of his mind after the initial casting. A split second after, Hadrian sensed it, and it wasn't until it happened again that others began to feel it as well.

Tom used the vast magic literally at his fingertips to extend his magical perception to the wards hanging heavily over the town and go beyond it to figure out what kind of interference was causing the tremors. It took him a lot less time than usual to pinpoint the kind of magic at hand. That they were counters for the Anti-Apparition Jinx was obvious, but Tom could even attribute the magic being used to Aurors.

So, word had finally reached the incompetent Ministry.

"Aurors?" Hadrian's whispered confirmation brought Tom out of the growing layer challenging the layer already enclosing Hogsmeade. Tom responded with a minuscule nod.

The two weren't the only ones to figure out that Aurors were the cause of the faltering ward. Some of the purple-cloaked wizards withdrew from the fight and joined in a separate, smaller circle to—most likely—reinforce the wards.

Tom exchanged glances with Hadrian, and they understood each other from that gaze alone. Hadrian released the Shadows' possession of the seven wizards and drew the now-free energy into their shared power. They both concentrated their magic on the wards and aided the Aurors' efforts to break through them.

Hadrian's first thought was that the Aurors should take a ward breaking course with his father, instead of whoever was teaching them this weak attempt at the delicate art. But he couldn't fix the approach now that the Aurors were already underway, so Tom and he had to advance with a lack of subtlety his father would have been appalled to learn his son had ever even considered using. (Have I taught you nothing?)

What they lacked in finesse, however, they more than made up for in the strength they provided to back up the ward breaking in progress. Actually, they more than just 'provided.' With the amount of resistance the Aurors were offering, the wizards challenging the collapse could soon after cover any crack they made in the ward. Counterproductive and time-consuming. They were lucky Tom and Hadrian were powerful enough to have the raw magic needed to be able to use brute force on something this delicate and tricky.

They directed their magic to wind around the wavering wards tightly, insinuating themselves in the space between the sheet of countercurses cautiously hovering over the ward and the original jinx. Figurative magical muscles flexed, grasped, and then yanked.

It wasn't easy pulling down wards set by several people, and it certainly wasn't supposed to be possible for two people only assisted by feeble countercurses to do it. But they managed it just fine. The wards came crashing down with such force that the wizards maintaining it staggered from the abrupt release.

The pleasure that came from using so much magic in tandem was almost too much for Tom and Hadrian. It was ten times stronger and more intoxicating than their charged duels. The stimulation received from it had them practically vibrating, and the already persistent arousal only seemed to peak when their eyes met. Breathing harshly, everything happening around them—the cracking sounds heralding the arrival of dozens of Aurors after the collapsing of the ward, the nearly instant stillness that took over the entire town, the added ecstatic cries of "Here comes Dumbledore!" and "Professor!", the collective sighs of relief—merely fell away, and only the two of them remained. Neither could bear it for much longer.

All the tension that had built up between them burst out in the most unexpected place and during a wholly inappropriate moment, though it was in the only way it could have.

Tom flowed like water, moving fluidly forward to meet Hadrian halfway, who was no less hasty in reaching for him. His arm wound around Hadrian's waist and hips as though the place was molded for him. His hand came up, fingers grasping Hadrian's neck to keep him steady. Hadrian's fingers tangled in his hair firmly enough to hurt if he had the capacity of mind to think beyond the cool skin beneath his hand and the bright eyes fixed on him—and then they were coming together perfectly, deliciously, magnificently.

Hadrian was moaning even before their lips touched, and he echoed him directly after. Then their lips did touch and it was much better than Tom had imagined. Not that he'd spent time thinking about it.

Yeah, right, the irksome voice contributed helpfully. (Okay, maybe he had; but only a couple of times.)

Niceties that usually accompanied sharing that first kiss with someone were dispensed with. Nothing about it was gentle or experimental or tentative; it was all teeth and tongue, and oh so gratifyingly sultry. The kiss felt as though they were exchanging electrical charges through their lips, and both were reminded of a time when they'd made first contact via that memorable handshake.

Hadrian's scar wouldn't stop tingling pleasurably, and he wondered if a word to describe something more than perfect existed; because even that seemed inadequate.

Tom's arm gripped him tighter and pulled him closer to deepen the kiss, the hand on his neck and cheek tilting Hadrian's head back more than he'd thought possible, tongue lashing out and exploring every crevice of his mouth. Hadrian disentangled his fingers from Tom's hair and draped his arms around his back, practically burying himself trying to get closer to the other boy, wondering why there seemed to be so much space.

Oh, yes, they were wearing these cumbersome, heavy cloaks that prevented them from feeling each other's flesh.

During the entire kiss, more than their groans, gasps, and other sounds of approval, his magic surpassed them, unfolding and splaying out across the town, purring agreeably all the while. Or was that Tom's? He couldn't quite tell any more, which made him realize their magic was still entwined, but the experience was only made better for it.

He briefly thought back to his dream, how a future-Tom and he had done the same thing and gotten such pleasure from it. The illusion from the dream was nothing compared to the real thing.

The voice spoke silkily, weaving together an attractive image for him, You have yet to master this. When you do, just imagine the amount of pleasure you could receive from only a small taste of each other's magic.

And imagine, he did.

Oh, my—"God," Hadrian groaned into the kiss before he could stop himself, mind hazy as the picture of what that might be like played over and over in his head.

"I'm flattered," Tom murmured against his lips, "but I'm more partial towards 'Lord.'"

Hadrian rolled his eyes. He said nothing, though, as he slowly retreated from his position so tightly ensconced in Tom's hold, the lingering taste of the Slytherin heir still on his tongue. It was sharp, acidic, intricate, like several different flavors of citrus fused together—and Tom's personality. There was a hint of something softer and sweeter that he couldn't quite put his finger on; a little like honey or cinnamon, except not. The most appealing of all the tastes, however, was that of Tom himself.

Their kiss seemed to have simultaneously lasted for the shortest and longest moment. But when they did part and tune into the world outside of them, the full weight of what they'd so impulsively done caught up to their magic-addled minds. It suddenly occurred to them that they were in the middle of Hogsmeade, in the immediate aftermath of an attack on the town, and that not only were most of their schoolmates and some of their professors there, but so were the inhabitants of said town, Aurors, and—good gracious, were those reporters?

Fucking perfect, Tom thought, more mortified than he could ever remember being and furiously trying not to let it show on his face. Bloody convenient for them to show up NOW.

Hadrian was faring no better. Though the idea of kissing Tom had crossed his mind—not to mention, doing other things with him—this was not the way he would have liked it to happen. All too familiar with having unwelcome people watching him and sticking their nose in his business, he did not want to ever repeat the experience.

It seemed, however, that there was no helping it. Even as he tried to distract himself from what had just happened by looking around the village, he was all too aware of the oblique glances thrown he and Tom's way. Outwardly taking it in stride, he continued to survey the damage done to Hogsmeade.

The post office was almost completely obliterated, though there hadn't been much there to begin with. Some shops around Honeydukes looked a bit more rundown than the others, but they were easily fixable. The body count, while unfortunate, he had to admit could have been a lot worse. There were about twenty dead people that he could see, and most of them were residents who'd fought in the attack.

Twenty people wasn't overly bad, he told himself; there had been more killed in the Paris attack, and that had been better contained. He tried not to dwell on the relatively small negatives and instead on the positives of the fight. Truth be told, Voldemort's followers could have done a lot worse. Could what they were saying about Grindelwald getting weaker be true, then?

Hadrian realized that had to be wrong when he finally made a circuit of the whole area. He couldn't spot a single wizard with the dark purple robes worn by Grindelwald's forces. Not the ones that he'd restrained or the ones that had been incapacitated or the ones whose wands he'd broken. Since the Aurors had no one to arrest, they went around questioning people and gathering up the dead and tending to the wounded.

Clearly, the lack of the maximum damage that could have been done wasn't an accident on Grindelwald's part. In fact, if he'd wanted that, Hadrian thought the Dark Lord would have shown up for the attack himself. This was, after all, the first time he'd brought the war to Britain, despite the fact that everyone believed he was too afraid of Dumbledore to do so. He didn't know much about the man, but Grindelwald probably would not have missed a chance to prove them wrong if a devastating battle had been his plan. So what exactly had been his goal in this seemingly useless assault?

"Hadrian!" Alphard's voice called to his right, and he turned to see his cousin dodging people to get to him. When the visibly elated boy reached him, Hadrian was engulfed in a bone-crushing hug. "Thank Merlin you're all right!"

Barely able to breathe from the almost painful squeeze, Hadrian patted his arm. "Of course I am," he rasped, "I told you I know what I'm doing, didn't I?"

Alphard released him abruptly, holding him at arm's length to scrutinize him. "Are you hurt anywhere?" he asked.

"No, I'm fine," Hadrian replied. Then he asked, "Alphard, where did the wizards go?"

"The Dark Lord's?" At his nod, Alphard said, "They all vanished as soon as the Aurors arrived." He frowned, adding angrily, "Bloody perfect timing they have, by the way. The Ministry proves to be as incompetent as ever."

Hadrian quirked a small smile, unable to disagree with that. "Never mind them, how are the other students? Did they get through safely?" he asked.

Alphard nodded, his frown transforming into a grin. "Yeah, they made it through. Some of them were a bit worse for wear, but most were fairly okay. Thanks to your brilliant idea, of course." He paused, then smirked and teased, "A black mamba, Hadrian? I would have never imagined such a Patronus for you."

Don't remind me, Hadrian thought sourly, now remembering that he had to deal with that regrettable turnout on top of everything else. He avoided Alphard's probe by saying, "The credit is not mine, Alphard. Without you, a lot more of them could have been hurt."

He was surprised to get a light blush out of his cousin for the praise. Alphard was not the type to be easily embarrassed or flattered. What he said was completely true, though. Had he not had the other to rely on, the plan would have fallen to pieces. What his instincts had been telling him before he'd decided to show Alphard the passageway turned out to be true, and he was now very glad he'd decided to follow them.

Speaking of instincts. Hadrian turned to glance at Tom now that he'd calmed down from his horrified state. Tom was no longer beside him, he found. Instead, he was currently engaged in a conversation with Abraxas, Lestrange, Rosier, and Dolohov a few feet away. Hadrian was glad to see his cousin was unharmed, though he'd expected no less. What was more surprising was that any of the four boys had joined in defending the town.

Oh, who am I kidding? It's obvious they only did that for their 'Lord.' Hadrian thought in disgust, unable to believe they were already so devoted to the Slytherin heir that they set aside their values and opposed a Dark Lord whose plight they approved of just for a scrap of praise from a boy their age. So pathetic.

And for whom do you think he joined the fight in the first place? The voice was softer than he was used to and he had a hard time distinguishing it from his own conscience.

Either way, he didn't care one whit. It was no secret that Tom Riddle had a calculated reason for every bit of assistance he gave. It could never simply be for a selfless purpose, and this time was no different—no matter what the voice was insinuating.

Looking away from the sickening sight of Lestrange practically draped over Tom, Hadrian asked Alphard, "Did you get Cassius out?"

Alphard appeared momentarily contrite. "I kind of forgot about him," he muttered, head bent down to avoid Hadrian's gaze. "Besides, he was on the other side of town so it wasn't exactly safe."

Worried, Hadrian thought about what could have happened to the Ravenclaw during this whole time. He almost panicked when he thought of the possibility of a stray spell hitting his defenseless, prone body. "That's okay; it's not your fault," he assured Alphard before turning in the other direction.

He was already running as he answered Alphard's question about where he was headed. "You go on ahead," he called, "I'm going to make sure he's all right. I'll meet you back at the school."

Tom was brought out of his desire to distance himself from Hadrian at the moment when he heard mention of Zabini's name. His attention had been half on the group before him and half on Hadrian and Alphard, who was proving it very difficult for Tom not to curse him.

Ah, careful, the voice chided amusedly, your jealousy is showing. Again.

Tom wondered what was going on with it. The bothersome thing was being rather active today. He didn't deign to respond to it, instead finally considering the thoughts that had crossed his mind during the fight and that he'd lain aside for later. Namely, why the Dark Lord's follower's had been easier to fend off than they should have been.

The best theory he could come up with was that Grindelwald had intended for it to be his announcement, a flashy display that alerted the people of Britain of his arrival to their country. It had been a carefully planned endeavor as evidenced by the fact that all the wizards had managed to get out as soon as the Aurors had broken through their efforts to keep them out.

And perhaps Grindelwald had done this to taunt the one wizard everyone thought could successfully oppose him by making it clear that an attack could happen right under Dumbledore's nose and the great wizard hadn't been able to do anything about it. It was what Tom would have done, and he could admire that method as an aspiring Dark Lord himself. Well, only if Grindelwald followed this up with a more serious and devastating attack.

The thought brought him up short, suddenly making him realize that while his decision to get involved in the fight had been less than altruistic, the same couldn't be said of Hadrian. The boy was certainly a Slytherin but his actions today had proven beyond a doubt that not all aspects of that were the same for him as they were for his other Housemates. The very basic sense of self-preservation that was ingrained in almost all Slytherins appeared to be absent on Hadrian's part, if Tom could take the way the pureblood had jumped into the attack without any regard for himself as a sign.

They'd shared an unbelievable kiss and, though they hadn't yet figured out where to go from there, Tom was sure he wanted to do that again and again and again. But he couldn't be sure how to handle their now evidently different views. He believed some violence was necessary and inevitable during a war such as this, and he couldn't deny that if he were in the Dark Lord's place, he would have done the same.

Had Hadrian not insinuated himself into it, Tom would have walked away from the attack without feeling an ounce of pity for or responsibility toward the denizens of Hogsmeade. This was not so for Hadrian, and he sensed that this difference in opinion would cause trouble for them in the future.

Perhaps his first order of business after discerning exactly what kind of relationship they were going to have wasn't to get Hadrian to join his circle, but to convince him of the grandness of his vision for the wizarding world.

Good luck with that, was the voice's dry, sarcastic input.

Tom was confident he could accomplish this, just as he had succeeded in persuading and enticing dozens of other people before Hadrian. And he'd not even had to lay a single finger on them. Judging from Hadrian's reaction to their kiss, he thought it was a tactic that would probably work on the Shadow Lord.

The voice made its persistent, unwelcome presence known again with a scoff. You cannot continue to attempt to disguise your real feelings with such a feeble agenda. You want him for reasons that are hard to comprehend and rationalize, so why don't you save yourself the trouble and admit it already?

He couldn't believe he was about to argue with an overly chatty voice in his head, but that didn't stop him from saying, I have never denied my desire for him.

Yes, but that isn't the same thing as denying exactly why you want him, the voice responded in a tone that would normally be used on children who had a hard time grasping something that had been explained to them countless times before. And we both know it's not only so you can utilize his power, or because there is no one else who has proven to be your equal in anything before.

Don't forget magically compatible, Tom added mockingly, not really understanding what point it was trying to get at. Naturally, he wanted Hadrian for those reasons. Without that, there wouldn't have been such an attraction between them in the first place.

Those are contributing factors, not the whole of it. They would not have held up in the long shot.

Regretting that he'd ever broken his rule of silence, Tom promptly went back to ignoring the damn thing. Figuring Hadrian had already returned to the school since he hadn't yet shown up, Tom trekked back up the debris-covered street towards Hogwarts with the four boys foremost in his inner circle.

000

Following a much-needed shower, a change of clothes, and getting food into his rather empty stomach, Hadrian visited the hospital wing to check on those injured in the attack. He hadn't had a chance to after dropping Cassius off, though he'd wanted to be there for the Ravenclaw's diagnosis.

The first thing he noticed when he entered the infirmary was utter chaos. There were too many patients and only one mediwitch for all of them. Hadrian figured that if so many of them didn't have such minor injuries, there would be more sent to St. Mungo's and less crowding up the hospital wing. The matron looked completely swamped, and she was handling it with a grace not many could pull off.

All the noise in the wing washed out the sound of the severe downpour that he could see going on outside through the windows. He was surprised she hadn't yet thrown out the visitors taking up needed space and facilitating in the overall disorder. Madam Pomfrey would have instantly turned them out and demanded they give the patients a chance to rest.

Hadrian walked down the aisle of full beds to the end one Cassius was resting in. The Zabini heir was currently sleeping, however, and the only way he could tell how he was doing was by examining the coil of thick bandages encasing his head. A cracked skull, then, he recognized with relief. Cassius would be back to normal soon enough with a little rest.

He turned to go with the decision to check back later, and might not have sighted Noah in a bed of his own if the Hufflepuff's quiet voice hadn't reached him.

He strolled down the short distance between the two beds and came to a stop at Noah's. "Noah, how are you doing?" he asked. "Has your wound been taken care of?"

Noah smiled and nodded, saying softly, "Yes. Madam Bloodgood had no trouble mending it, especially as Tom healed some of it to begin with."

Mention of what Tom had done brought the questions of what was between the two back. Then he had the ridiculous thought of something less than innocent going on, which he knew to be absurd but couldn't help wondering anyway.

Shit, the kiss was seriously complicating everything. He wouldn't have thought of such an irrational thing otherwise. Noah was obviously only interested in Alphard.

"That's good to hear. I'm glad you're all right," said Hadrian, forcefully driving those thoughts out. "When will you be discharged?"

"I've been told I will be good to leave by this evening," Noah replied, lightly treading fingers across his abdomen and adding, "though I feel fine now."

"You deserve to relax after what you did, Noah," Hadrian told him truthfully, smiling fondly at the blush that overtook the sixth year's lovely features. "You were very brave; and I am not just referring to taking that curse for Alphard."

Noah averted his gaze, still flushing as he played with his thin fingers and said in an oddly clogged voice, "Thank you."

Hadrian felt briefly sad for him, wondering if the boy hadn't ever received well-deserved praise for something he'd done or helped with. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like Mr. and Mrs. Vaisey when he met them.

"Athena, please!" A frustrated voice huffed from behind him, an unmistakably velvety one despite its current hoarseness that he recognized as belonging to Jezebel. And confirmed by turning around and spotting the girl in a bed by the doors. He'd not seen her when he'd passed her cot, so focused had he been on inspecting Cassius's condition. "Cease your atrocious fussing at once. It is neither wanted nor appreciated," she added.

'Athena' had to be the tall dusky girl standing at her bedside, wearing Hufflepuff robes, the yellow and black of it looking truly flattering against her dark skin. Hadrian hazily remembered the seventh year from some of his classes, though he'd never known her name. She had long dark black hair—possibly even darker than his—that reached the small of her back, and shown like a crow's feathers in the light. Her eyes were ocean blue one moment and seafoam green the next.

Right now, they were a dark teal, as she wrung her hands distressingly and fretfully under the firm, smoky violet of the Slytherin before her. "Oh, Jezebel, I feel just awful. Please, let me make it up to you."

Jezebel swept a clearly scornful look over the anxious girl. "Straighten up, you fool," she whispered fiercely. She made a disgusted noise in the back of her throat when the girl seemed to hunch in on herself even more. "You are truly a blight on the Elsegood name," she said exasperatingly. Then she gestured dismissively, tearing her disdainful gaze from the Hufflepuff to bite out, "Do not sully me with your continued presence; fetch me a change of clothes. Proper ones, mind."

The Hufflepuff nodded vigorously. "I'll get that right away," she said eagerly. Her long legs carried her swiftly out of the infirmary.

At the girl's departure, Hadrian couldn't help thinking Jezebel had terrible bedside manner. They spoke to one another as though they knew each other well, and there wasn't much Slytherin-Hufflepuff interaction that didn't stem from family relations. It didn't seem like Jezebel to treat the other students so horribly to their face; she was far too diplomatic for that. Which meant that the girl had to be family, and wow, did Jezebel really treat her family that way? Unless she was acting this way because she was sour about her injury.

Wanting to know what had led to Jezebel having her own bed in the first place, Hadrian told Noah he wished to check on his Housemate and sidled up to the now calm girl. That look made his sour theory a lot less plausible.

"Hadrian, love," she purred the moment her heavy eyes alighted on him, "I am ever so relieved to see you. This place is dreadfully dull."

Hadrian carefully hid his amusement at the abrupt shift from a snapping harpy to her usual deceptive, syrupy sweetness. "Hello, Jezebel," he greeted. "What happened to you? Are you all right?"

"Ah, yes; now I am," said Jezebel, her hand moving to lift the covers aside to show him her right leg, which had a long, faint scar from below her knee all the way to just above her ankle. "Severe compound fractured tibia," she explained at his questioning glance, sounding as though she were repeating something back. "The mediwitch has healed it, but she says I'm to suffer with this hideous blemish upon my skin for possibly the rest of my life."

Hadrian thought that a small price to pay for a healthy leg, especially when the mark itself was hardly visible, but he didn't dare say so to the stunning girl who no doubt resented having anything mar that beauty. "My condolences," he said instead.

Jezebel's lips curved into a chilling smile. "Rest assured, I shall not be taking her word for it. Until such time as I consult with an actual healer, I won't simply allow this to be in its present condition."

"How did it happen?" Hadrian asked, taking the seat indicated to him with a grateful nod. He hadn't had a chance to simply relax since the attack; even his shower and supper had been hurried.

Jezebel pulled the covers back up over herself and looked as though she were settling in for a long story. "I was perfectly comfortable just watching the fight from my place in Honeydukes," she began airily. Her thin brows furrowed in annoyance as she continued, "But, as always, my cousin traipsed all over that by trying to play a hero."

"Is that the Hufflepuff that was just here?" he clarified.

"To my eternal displeasure, yes," replied Jezebel, grimacing. Then, because her sense of etiquette probably demanded it, she filled in, "My mother's niece, Athena Elsegood."

"There's not much of a family resemblance," Hadrian observed, though the good looks seen in most of the people associated with the Greengrasses was certainly there.

Jezebel nodded in agreement. "She gets everything except her eyes from her mother. She is not, however, half the woman her mother is. I suppose Hufflepuff is just the place for her," she scoffed, letting Hadrian see her showing that very common Slytherin disdain for all things Hufflepuff for the first time. He could still remember eleven-year-old Draco Malfoy's vehement declaration that he would leave Hogwarts altogether if he were to be Sorted into Hufflepuff.

A prickle of familiarity tickled at the back of his mind, the kind he got when he was about to recall a memory that belonged to the old Hadrian and he'd not encountered or had been consciously thinking about it but was now making its presence known. He was asking the question before the thought had fully formed in his head, "Any relation to Lucine Moonbloom?"

"Yes," Jezebel said, glancing at him as though wondering why he'd asked such an irrelevant question. She wasn't the only one. "Lucine Moonbloom is the aunt of Athena's half-sister, though I believe she is a Ketteridge now. Why do you ask?"

Hadrian gave a fluid shrug, unsure himself. "No reason, really; just a thought that struck me," he said, and received an unconvinced stare in return. He diverted her by elaborating, "Lucine is a good friend of my mother's and also, as you've pointed out, the wife of mother's second cousin Soren Ketteridge. I don't believe she's taken his name, however, so I'm not quite used to addressing her any differently."

Jezebel appeared a bit scandalized. "You don't say? Why is that?" she asked.

Hadrian could just tell what was running through her mind. It wasn't extremely uncommon for witches—or certain wizards—to keep their family name after marriage. But it was very rare for pureblood witches who came from less renowned families to keep their name after marrying into an older family. In fact, it was rather frowned upon. The Moonblooms were a bit quaint next to the Ketteridges, and Jezebel was no doubt marveling that Lucine had opted for a name that gave her a relatively low standing among the pureblood circles.

He also knew that Lucine was a proud woman who would never stand for gaining prominence because of something that wasn't of her own doing. It was one of the reasons she was his mother's closest friend. The two had been friends since their Beauxbatons days, when they'd found that they were both going to the French school despite coming from British backgrounds because of a need to carve a path for themselves separate from their families—his mother's overshadowing her in its stature and Lucine's holding her back.

It wasn't public knowledge and he wasn't about to make it so. Mindful of Jezebel's curious eyes and query, Hadrian said, "We've gone off topic, it seems. I would like to hear the rest of your story, if you do not mind."

The violet gaze locked on him was shrewd, but Jezebel allowed him to change the subject and got back to recounting what had happened as if she hadn't strayed from it. "Athena is easily excitable so I considered it a good idea to keep an eye on her. After all, if anything should happen to her, my uncle would be quite devastated; despite her utter uselessness, she is still his only child." Jezebel rolled her eyes to show what she thought of that. "But, of course, she managed to upset even my good intentions."

She paused and looked at Hadrian expectantly, as though waiting for him to demonstrate proper interest in her storytelling. He played along, "How?"

Satisfied, she proceeded, "Some pesky Hufflepuff fourth-year crashed against the display window from the outside, and was subsequently treated to a rather painful-looking Boiling Curse. Oh, yes—he's over there." Jezebel waved over at something behind him, her nose wrinkling at the sight.

Hadrian twisted in his seat to look at a bed on the other side of the wing, in which slept one of the Hufflepuff Chasers, Colm Radford. His entire face was dotted with pustules, and, from the little he could see peeking out of his gown, so was his neck; maybe even below. The mediwitch probably hadn't gotten to him yet since, though gruesome, his was one of the milder injuries.

When he turned back, Jezebel's expression was still one of great distaste. "It was a lot worse, if you can believe it. Lucky for him, Athena has a bit of skill in healing," she said, looking bitter at the prospect of conceding her 'useless' cousin was good at anything. "She healed him after she foolishly ran out to come to his rescue. In the end, I had to go out and help, too, when a few more wizards joined the first. By then, she'd already brought attention to those of us in Honeydukes and they flushed us out."

Hadrian supposed that, in the long run, no matter how much Jezebel disparaged her cousin's rather brave actions, it had been a necessary step in giving Alphard and Noah a chance to spirit away the other students in the passageway. Once Grindelwald's men had emptied the sweetshop of all its occupants, they'd not given it any more attention, which meant that when Honeydukes seemed to disappear, they didn't notice.

"What happened next?" Hadrian picked up on her hesitation and guessed she was at the point where her leg had been split open.

"Then we fought and I tried to keep Athena alive long enough to deliver my well thought out invective. Alas, it came to be I was the one in danger of dying at that moment," she said in a tone that was probably meant to be more flippant than she actually felt. "I didn't quite hear the spell when it hit me, but now I'm of the belief that it was a combination of a Cutting and Reductor Curse, or something like it."

He would have doubted the look of distress on Jezebel's face had he not witnessed it. The expression was gone as quickly as it had come so it was a good thing he was sure of having seen it or he would have doubted even himself. This was a girl who'd possibly never had a wand raised at her in malice, and was obviously shaken by the experience of having her leg cut open.

Jezebel went on more soberly, though outwardly unbothered, "The pain was excruciating, and I was sure I was going to die then. I might have even blacked out for a second."

A soft smile crossed her already beautiful features, making it appear lovelier still. It wasn't one Hadrian had ever seen or would have associated with her, but it was good on her, nonetheless.

The cause of that smile was revealed when she continued, "But then I was saved." Jezebel must have realized how wistful she sounded for her features immediately rearranged to show her customarily haughty expression. "The wizard standing over me was blasted away by Anastius Zabini, of all people. I hadn't known he had it in him, but he fought fairly well. I cannot fathom why his family is so neutral, though I've no place to speak." Her eyes lit on something to Hadrian's left. "Ah! Speak of the devil."

Hadrian glanced to see Anastius coming through the infirmary's doors, carrying several thick books in his arms. The combined weight appeared heavy and Hadrian reckoned the only reason the sixth year hadn't levitated them was to impress Jezebel. She was dutifully impressed, though not because of his ability to lift heavy books.

"Oh, Anastius, you're a mind reader," the seventh-year girl crowed, "I had intended on sending someone to fetch me something to read, but you've saved me the trouble." She turned to Hadrian and cooed, "Isn't he the sweetest?"

Hadrian barely kept from laughing at the fierce blush coloring Anastius's pale face. "So sweet," he agreed in a taunting tone Anastius picked up on, and earned himself a quick glare as thanks.

Jezebel held out her hand for the younger boy as soon as he placed the books on the side table. "Come," she instructed. Once Anastius immediately grasped her smaller hand in his, she added, "You've been so helpful as of late, I do hope you will not object to seeing me to the privy."

If Anastius had been blushing before, it was nothing compared to the color of his face now. "O-of course."

Jezebel sensed his obvious discomfiture. Slipping out of the bed and standing on her feet, she assured, "Don't fret, you shall not be accompanying me inside."

Hadrian didn't know whether his captain was more relieved or disappointed about this. Personally, he thought Jezebel's tone was reminiscent of the patronizing, fond, patient one adults used on adorable children, and felt momentarily sorry for him. But any attention he got from her seemed to be good enough for Anastius. He had the soppiest grin on his face the entire time he led her over to the bathroom, no matter what the girl of his affections said.

Calling a parting to both Jezebel and Noah, Hadrian stood to finally escape the uncomfortable feeling hospitals always gave him. He was immensely glad that, for once, he wasn't among the ones occupying a cot. He bumped into Alphard at the doors, though, and was further delayed his exit.

"Hadrian!—Hi, I, uh, was looking for you," his cousin said, shifting guiltily and attempting to hide something behind his back.

Flowers, Hadrian learned when he darted forward to tug the hand holding the small bouquet into view. "This can't be for me," he observed, giving the flustered boy a sly smile. He laughed at his embarrassment at being caught out. "No need to be shy about it if you want to give these to Noah. It's very nice that you might be starting to like him, too."

Alphard shook his head vehemently. "I'm not—"

Hadrian disrupted what he might have said by pushing him further into the room. "Go on, don't be afraid. This is only a natural progression in the dating process."

"There's no such progression," Alphard spluttered insistently. "I just thought it would make him feel better."

"And that's very kind of you," Hadrian encouraged. "I'm sure he'll think so, too."

Yielding, Alphard stopped struggling and, following an accusatory glower sent Hadrian's way, proceeded forward. The recipient of the flowers visibly brightened when Alphard presented them to him, blushing all the while.

Hadrian smirked at the apparent way Alphard was striving to hide that he was reciprocating Noah's feelings. He was in denial, like Jezebel was over caring for her cousin despite her pretense of dislike, and like he'd initially been over his attraction for Tom. And, admittedly, like he was now over how much more the kiss had affected him than expected, and how that scared him just as much as it excited him.

Both Tom and he were inexperienced in matters such as these, and he knew they couldn't avoid one another for long before they had to clear the air and talk about what had happened. The prospect made him at once anxious and eager, and Hadrian left the infirmary with a grim expectation of their reunion, resigned to the fact that he actually liked Voldemort's counterpart for reasons beyond physical attraction.

Merlin help me, I'm absolutely fucked.

000

In an endeavor to settle his raging mind and let his thoughts organize in the back of his head for later analysis, Tom retreated to his room early that night, away from all the chatter and activity in the castle.

The school was still abuzz about the attack, as though it hadn't happened that afternoon, and there were still some Ministry officials hanging about, doing whatever it is they did after showing up as backup to a fight that was already over. Attempt to take credit, most likely, he thought derisively.

And just like that, his thoughts were firmly back on what he'd been trying to let collect subconsciously for viewing in a more orderly fashion later. Thinking about any part of that hotchpotch of a battle got him stuck on Hadrian's actions, no matter his current desire to put it off. He'd already established that he and his partner weren't in perfect accord in their views on the war, in spite of the opposite being true when it came to the battlefield.

Fleetingly distracted, the beginnings of arousal stirred in Tom at the memory of their adrenaline-driven harmony, but he beat it down before it could develop further than a warm spike and succeed in permanently sidetracking him. He'd had his brain's ability to function weakened because of Hadrian once today; if he allowed that to happen again, he'd never get anything done.

Steering his jumbled thoughts back on course, Tom reflected on the inconsistencies that had given him pause during the fight, especially some of the discrepancies with Hadrian's behavior. The puzzle currently leading in his mind was the pureblood's fighting style. If he hadn't known better, Tom would have suspected some type of Auror training at hand.

He leaned against his headboard and closed his eyes, stretching his memory back to the fight, reviewing everything he'd seen and done from a new, more objective perspective. Everything played out as if it were occurring right then, and he could distinctly recall all that Hadrian had done.

The way the Shadow Lord had dispatched the attackers and that which he'd written off as getting "carried away" made Tom particularly curious and suspicious. No one who got 'carried away' had the foresight to not only incapacitate the enemy but also tie them up and break their wand. Hadrian's response had seemed automatic, in fact, like he'd done this very thing several times before.

Which was exactly what stumped and mystified Tom the most. He simply couldn't work out how that would be possible in any kind of scenario that didn't involve the current war. Since Hadrian had made it rather evident he wasn't too involved in this war (and he sincerely doubted even a covert connection), it was pretty much a given that all those circumstances were nonexistent.

Then what was it?

Leaving that mystery to rest for now, Tom moved on to the next one: the Patronus. It wasn't so much that Hadrian could cast a Patronus—though indeed a rare skill—but more that he'd looked surprised about the outcome of his own charm. Had he not expected a black mamba? True, it didn't really fit Hadrian's personality, but he'd cast the spell with a confidence that belied he'd done it before, so, surely, he should have known what his Patronus would be and not be alarmed by it.

Unless Hadrian's Patronus had changed. While he'd never tried the charm himself, Tom had read much about it, and he'd heard of such a thing happening. A Patronus usually changed to reflect the caster's own change in mood or emotion. If this were true about Hadrian, then the boy himself wasn't aware of his emotional transformation—whatever it was. By now, however, he ought to know and was probably mulling this over even more than Tom was.

Never one for modesty, Tom was relatively convinced that it had to do with him. He recalled the little funk Hadrian had been in at the beginning of the month, and his own suspicion that the Slytherin had been confused about their apparent attraction for each other. Since they'd practically gone on what most would probably call a 'date' prior to Hadrian casting the Patronus, Tom could safely deduce that whatever issues had been plaguing the other boy had been resolved, and that he'd come to a decision about what was between them.

Yes, he could think of no other reason for Hadrian's changed Patronus, if that indeed was what had happened.

Tom sat up and crossed his legs on the bed, allowing himself a respite from conjecturing about the events of the attack. With a wave of his hand, he summoned the Scrying Compass from the open bag on the armchair by his bookshelf. The compass smacked into his outstretched hand and he turned it over in both hands, once again undertaking the challenge of making sense of what had caused the magic to shift during the last ritual.

Though the magic had felt foreign the first time he'd tried this, he now found that there was something familiar about it. He brushed his fingers over the gems, where he could sense the most magic coming from the compass. Concentrating, he permitted the particular feel of it to evoke the fleeting memory on its own.

Every time he was upon the answer, it escaped him, like the rare occasions where he couldn't say something that was on the tip of his tongue. No amount of widening his area of perception helped with deciphering the unusual magic that had developed from adding he and Hadrian's magic to the compass.

Suddenly, it hit him. That was it! They'd put their magic into the compass. Hadn't his dark red combined with Hadrian's emerald and the orange of the runes to turn amethyst during the ritual? He'd been able to recognize the magic of the runes from the final combination, but had gotten stumped beyond that.

Only a few hours ago, their magic had once again entwined and manifested into something much stronger and with an entirely different signature, which wasn't distinguishable as his or Hadrian's. Their Scrying Compass had carried the result of their magic meeting and coalescing to form a new whole, and they'd managed to do the same thing with some degree of awareness during the attack.

Fascinating, isn't it? The voice practically radiated smugness.

Tom couldn't disagree. This was indeed a fascinating turn of events. He'd never heard of such a thing happening. The few times in history where people with compatible magic actually connected in such an intimate manner, they were still able to separate their signature from the other. Something like this shouldn't have even been possible, especially in a way that allowed them to have their individual magic returned to them once they disconnected.

It's not as rare as you might think, said the voice cryptically.

Intrigued though he was about what it was alluding to, Tom knew it wouldn't elaborate even if he asked, so he saved himself the indignity. Besides, the challenge of unearthing this mystery for himself was a much more attractive prospect.

He pondered the merits of letting Hadrian in on his findings. Granted, this had as much to do with him as it did Tom, but he had yet to figure out all the clues to the puzzle. He wished to do so before revealing everything to Hadrian. Plus, it wouldn't hurt to know something the other didn't.

You may as well tell him now, or you shall be keeping him waiting for some time yet.

Tom narrowed his eyes at the unspoken challenge. The voice believed he couldn't work out the problem, did it? Well, he would prove it wrong. There was not a riddle in the world too hard for him to solve.

Something that could only be called a chortle clanged in his head. I was not intimating that you couldn't figure it out. The solution will just be a long time coming.

He thoroughly disagreed. You're very chatty today. Kindly shut up.

Another short laugh. And whose fault do you think that is?

Was that another clue? Tom smirked inwardly. At this rate, he was sure to work out why joining his magic with Hadrian's garnered such an unpredictable reaction. The voice was only making it easier for him if it continued to make allusions like that.

By the next morning, however, even after a night of contemplating it, Tom was no closer to the answer. The voice hadn't been forthcoming with any more clues. Any other time, Tom would have been glad for its absence, but this dampened his chances of receiving hints from its snarky remarks.

The halls of the castle were eerily quiet next to yesterday's commotion. Tom welcomed the silence of the mornings where he was almost always the first student to breakfast, and he felt it especially so this morning. The only thing that would have made it better was the latest addition to this ritual.

Except, Hadrian wasn't there when he got to the Entrance Hall. Slightly disconcerted by the possibility that Hadrian might be avoiding him again, Tom headed to the Great Hall without much hope for the boy already being there. Which, he found, turned out to be the case.

The only sight he was met with was the familiar line of professors already in their seats. Not so familiar, he amended, when he was unable to spot Dumbledore in his usual seat beside the headmaster.

"Good morning, Mr. Riddle!" Dippet's over-excited voice turned Tom's curious gaze away from Dumbledore's unoccupied chair.

"Good morning, headmaster," he greeted, nodding at the widely smiling older wizard as he walked to his seat at the Slytherin table. "Professors," he added.

"Mr. Riddle, I wonder if you cannot stay behind after you have finished with your meal," Dippet continued. "I wish to discuss something with you."

"Yes, of course, headmaster."

"Excellent!" Dippet beamed. "Also, please advise the two elder Mr. Blacks to join you once they have arrived."

"Yes, sir," Tom agreed, keeping his confusion hidden. What could the headmaster want with him that involved both Hadrian and Alphard?

Of course, he thought, the attack on Hogsmeade. All three of them had been very much in the thick of it. Hadrian and he had defended the students and Alphard had gotten them to safety. Dippet probably wanted to give them a long speech about bravery and honor and other such nonsense. Heck, he probably wanted to give them an award, too.

Hadrian and Alphard didn't show up for some time yet, however. Most of the other students arrived before either one did. It wasn't like Hadrian to be so late to breakfast, and Tom revised his earlier thought that the pureblood might deliberately be avoiding him because of their as yet unresolved situation.

Those thoughts were temporarily put aside when Alphard finally made his entrance with Noah at his side. The smaller boy looked happier than Tom could ever remember seeing him since his brother had left school. He couldn't stand the idea that Alphard, of all people, was the cause of any part of that happiness, especially when Noah looked as though he sincerely liked him and Tom knew Alphard in no way reciprocated his feelings.

He was aware of his narrowed eyes burning a hole in the back of Alphard's head as the boy escorted the sixth year to the Hufflepuff table. Alphard squirmed in an entirely satisfactory manner under the gaze, although he was making an almost admirable attempt at pretending he didn't notice.

Tom didn't bother threatening the Black, but let his gaze speak for him as Alphard slid into his usual seat, even more nervous now that he was closer to him. His stare was one of promise, a promise that he would cause unimaginable pain to the other Slytherin should he hurt Noah. And he was certain he would. Alphard was much too interested in his cousin to give anyone else consideration. It wasn't a matter of if but when this would happen.

Though he would have liked to stop it before Alphard succeeded in this, he knew it would be a fruitless endeavor. Noah had to get over Alphard of his own volition; and the best way for that to happen was for the older boy to permanently sully himself in Noah's eyes.

Tom glanced away when the flapping of hundreds of wings reached his ears. He looked up along with every other student at the owls bringing mail that morning. There were more than usual, and Tom suspected that news of the attack had gotten to every parent by now.

Abraxas's eagle owl smoothly landed before the blond boy and stuck out its leg, his subscription of the Daily Prophet grasped in its talons. Another letter with the Malfoy seal was tied to the other leg. Tom watched as Abraxas took the paper first, then untied the envelope. He stashed the letter in his robe, though, and splayed out the Prophet before him so Tom could look on.

If Tom had expected a typical report on the attack, he was sorely mistaken.

HEROES OF HOGSMEADE!

COURAGEOUS STUDENTS DEFEND AGAINST GRINDELWALD'S ATTACK

He almost reared back at the announcement, becoming increasingly appalled the longer he stared at the picture that accompanied the news. Right there on the cover was a large picture of Hadrian and he fighting back-to-back, firing spells at an astonishing rate. In the background, Alphard's distorted body could be seen as he stuck his head and arms out of an invisible barrier and yanked an unsuspecting Ravenclaw girl back into it.

The photograph played out the whole scene, and then repeated over and over again.

Tom could feel all the eyes on him even more than when the students had poured into the hall. Admiring gazes, he could tolerate, but a title like "hero" going along with it was not something he was comfortable with, or pleased about. He hadn't done it to be proclaimed as a hero!

Stupid sensationalist rag. And where the hell was Hadrian, anyway?

As if summoned, the doors to the Great Hall opened to admit Hadrian, who, Tom saw with even more displeasure overcoming him than before, was flanked by Cassius-bloody-Zabini. The chatter that had picked up at the arrival of the paper seemed to cease instantaneously at the sight of the other "hero of Hogsmeade."

Both boys froze at the stares directed their way. Zabini was obviously the more discomfited of the two, but Hadrian, too, appeared a little unnerved. They fell back on their pureblood mask soon after, however, and began to make their way to their respective tables, disregarding the gawking and whispering students with notable equanimity.

Hadrian bid Zabini farewell where their tables met, and Tom regretted not having hit the Ravenclaw with something worse to keep him in the infirmary longer. He knew Hadrian considered the boy a friend, but the sight of him with Zabini caused something that had nothing to do with jealousy to constrict in his chest.

Something along the lines of…betrayal? With a slight frown, Tom considered the peculiar feeling. What, just because Hadrian had kissed him, did he think the boy owed him anything? He certainly didn't believe he owed Hadrian anything from a kiss alone. Well, at least until they decided on that.

Then you're just going to let him slip through your fingers like that?

Tom scoffed inwardly at the ridiculous question the voice posed. Of course not. I'm going to make it very clear to him that he's mine, and mine alone. I do not share.

"Heroes of Hogsmeade?" Hadrian's soft snort brought Tom out of his musings to take notice of the green eyes full of amusement as they gazed at the Prophet.

Alphard grinned from beside him, pointing at the paper and smugly saying, "I'm sure they meant hero. I'm obviously the focus of this picture."

Tom rolled his eyes at the idiot. It came as no surprise to him that Alphard was enjoying the attention. He had always been slow to realize the consequences.

Hadrian lightly chuckled at the comment. "Yes, that is why you disappear from view every few seconds. The 'Elusive Hero,'" he taunted.

He pursed his lips in an entirely too-enticing manner while his gaze traveled the length of the paper. His eyes widened slightly at something, and he pulled the paper closer to read it with more interest.

"What is it?" Alphard noticed the sudden concentration.

Hadrian glanced briefly at him, then put a finger to a spot and read out loud, "'But nowhere to be found in this attack that left the townspeople and students at the mercy of what seems to be hundreds of the Reiniger is the only man many believe Grindelwald fears, the great Albus Dumbledore himself. This reporter has a hard time believing these claims, as it is doubtful one would fear a supposedly venerated wizard who allows students to fight for him while he twiddles his thumbs and sits behind the protection of his castle.'"

The words garnered almost raucous laughter from anyone who'd heard it at their table, and even Tom could feel his lips twitching in amusement. He'd not gotten that far, so he looked back at Abraxas's copy to relish any more of the Prophet's condemnation of Dumbledore.

If Dumbledore had already seen all the negative things the paper had to say on him, then it was no wonder he hadn't shown up for breakfast this morning. Tom hadn't ever known the old man to be a coward, but his political savvy could be counted on to get his public image back to what it was. He had to be doing major damage control in the wake of the attack.

Tom reflected that Grindelwald had probably counted on this as well, and he was now positive a much worse follow-up attack was sure to come, which would serve to further discredit Dumbledore.

The Daily Prophet, of course, didn't focus on the fact that this had been a relatively small strike. On the contrary, they were exaggerating the severity of it. 'Hundreds of the Reiniger?' There couldn't have been more than fifty-to-sixty of the Dark Lord's followers.

"What rubbish," Hadrian scoffed angrily, throwing the paper aside.

Tom watched the fury mirrored in his eyes and wondered if he was mad at the deputy headmaster getting slandered or at the way the entire incident had been so thoroughly sensationalized. On closer inspection, Tom admitted that it was probably because of Dumbledore. The man paid too much attention to Hadrian in Transfiguration, and the pureblood was possibly the only Slytherin who appeared to like him.

Hadrian pushed his plate away and made to stand. "Where are you going?" Alphard asked in alarm.

"The library," said Hadrian.

"You hardly ate anything," the nosey Black pointed out.

"I've lost my appetite," was the succinct response.

Before Alphard also stood and proposed to tag along—as he no doubt itched to do—Tom announced, "One moment, Hadrian; it is the headmaster's wish that you and I stay behind after breakfast. Alphard as well," he grudgingly added.

Now that he remembered the headmaster's request, it seemed more likely that Dippet would present them with some award, especially after the Prophet's rather unwelcome proclamation.

Appearing mildly bemused, Hadrian sat back down and asked, "Did he say for what?"

Tom shook his head, hyperaware of the eyes greedily taking in the first interaction of the day between the two of them. "He did not."

Hadrian became contemplative, most likely forming his own theories as to why the headmaster wanted to see them. He, too, paid no mind to the whispering and tittering going around them as the students watched the pair. Apparently, a very public kiss shared between the Head Boy and the transfer student was more fodder for gossip than a violent attack on the neighboring town.

Fickle simpletons, Tom scoffed. In reality, he was more disgusted at himself for not having enough control to avoid this whole situation than at the gossipmongers who wouldn't let him forget it.

After what seemed like an inordinately long amount of time in where Tom battled with himself over whether or not to make the students regret talking about him while in his presence—consequences and legalities be damned—the decision was taken out of his hands when breakfast finally came to an end. Some of the Slytherins lingered along with the three, but a single harsh glare from Tom had them back in line.

Dippet beckoned them to him before the hall emptied. "Thank you for joining me. I won't take up too much of your day off," he said once they went to his side. "If you would just follow me…"

He led them through the door behind the High Table. Behind the door was a three-way corridor with narrow paths. He took the middle one, and the three followed with varying degrees of understanding.

Tom had been invited before to step behind the door meant only for the teachers. From the looks on Hadrian and Alphard's faces they'd never seen this part of the school. He knew this particular corridor led to a passage just outside the headmaster's office that only the professors could access.

Though the award would be held in the Trophy Room like his previous one, he'd received it in Dippet's office first. If he hadn't been completely sure before, Tom was now positive that the headmaster was going to award them for service to the school.

He was proven right when the three of them were finally in the headmaster's office. Orange sunlight illuminated the entire room despite last night's heavy shower. The portraits of former headmasters watched on unabashedly as the current headmaster moved on to the adjoining room.

In fact, Phineas Nigellus Black was quick to comment in a rather proud voice, "Two Black recipients in one day?"

Alphard gave who Tom recalled to be his great-grandfather a confused look. "Recipients of what?"

The deceased Black appeared unimpressed at his question. "You are insultingly slow, boy. Surely, one of my blood cannot be so dense?"

Alphard seemed appropriately insulted, but didn't dare talk back to his great-grandfather, even if it was his portrait and not really the man himself. Hadrian was frowning indignantly at the portrait (in his cousin's behalf, no doubt), but the former headmaster didn't seem to be aware of it.

He was prattling on about other Blacks who'd received this award, which, funnily enough, turned out to be a short list. Dippet's return saved them all from having to hear further about Phineas Nigellus Black's illustrious formative years as one of the brightest students of his age. It was all quite droll in Tom's opinion.

Dippet gestured them forward to his large desk, and laid out three gold shields. The one with Tom's name on it was identical to his old one, except that the engraved year was 1944 this time.

"On behalf of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I proudly present these awards to you for special services to the school," Dippet announced, sounding almost completely formal but for the usual air of happiness bubbling in his voice. "For your actions yesterday in protecting not only the students of Hogwarts but the town of Hogsmeade, I feel no compensation can be worthy enough. But, alas, I'm afraid this will have to do as a token of gratitude."

Tom listened with half an ear to his grand speech full of sentimental drivel that was only partly true. He was more interested in the reactions of his co-recipients, who were being presented with this for the first time.

Alphard's he could have guessed without having to look at the boy. The gray-eyed Black's hand touched the gold shield with his name as though it were the most beautiful thing he'd ever laid eyes on. He hung on to the headmaster's words, and appeared to puff up with each passing one.

Hadrian's reaction—not that Tom was too shocked there—was much more perplexing. Either he was doing a fine job of hiding his emotions or he didn't care very much for Dippet's brand of honor. A polite look was fixed onto his face and he smiled at all the right places but, beyond that, it was obvious he didn't hold much stock in the headmaster's words.

It was as if he couldn't care less about having received an award that would hang in Hogwarts' Trophy Room for many years to come; like it was an everyday occurrence to have this kind of thing handed to him.

He gave up trying to decipher more of the puzzle that was Hadrian Black when Dippet stopped speaking to gaze expectantly at them. Taking the initiative, Tom picked up his shield and gave the older wizard his charming Head Boy smile. "Thank you, headmaster. I am honored to have received this."

Dippet beamed at him. "And your second one, no less!"

Hadrian nodded his head politely. "Thank you for the regard sir," he said.

Alphard expressed his appreciation as well. Dippet waved them off, and then instructed the two Blacks to pick up their shields as Tom had done. Once again, they were made to follow the headmaster. He didn't say where but Tom knew it was to the Trophy Room, where they would be asked to put up their awards themselves in some sort of inane display of tradition and symbolism.

He was already thinking ahead to the end of this nonsense. He didn't wish to continue to dwell on the Prophet announcing his blunder to the entire country. Grindelwald, if he was in Great Britain at the moment, must have already read it as well.

He must look like an enemy to the Dark Lord, and so did several children from Dark pureblood families (the Blacks, Malfoys, Lestranges, Rosiers, and Dolohovs to name a few of the prominent fighters). He'd wager that Abraxas's letter had been from his parents, and the others must have received the same thing.

Tom knew better than to put himself (and his followers) in this kind of mess. He didn't want it to seem as if he opposed Grindelwald, though that didn't necessarily mean he was for him either. The Dark Lord's views were ones he supported, but he wanted to take over, wanted to be the only Dark Lord.

He wasn't ready for that now. He was powerful and intelligent, but he wasn't yet ready to challenge Grindelwald for that mantle. It would be stupid to do so at this point. Truth be told, he'd rather have the Dark Lord already taken care of for him, and then begin his ascent to power from his failure and disappointment of hundreds of purebloods who'd supported him. It would be the ideal situation.

And to think he might have messed up all his plans because of his enchantment over a boy he had no claim over. Glancing at the aforementioned boy, Tom decided he'd had enough of this dancing and dodging between them. It was high time he did something about it.

He's either with me or… Well, he wasn't in the habit of being rejected, or accepting 'no.'

000

After the whole ordeal with the award, Hadrian was quick to leave. It was his second time getting it, but he'd not experienced quite the same thing. Dumbledore had spared Ron and he the ceremony, and he was now thankful for it. It was rather pointless, really, particularly when he wasn't in the mood.

He wasn't all that close to the Dumbledore of this world, but he'd been angry at the way the Prophet had maligned the deputy headmaster. He didn't have much hope for that paper getting the facts straight, but they'd been completely unfair in twisting everything to portray Dumbledore in a bad light.

He scoffed self-deprecatingly at the thought. Since when had he been naïve enough to expect fairness from anyone?

The students were reminders of that cynical truth at the moment. No matter where he went in the castle, Hadrian had whispers following him and heads turning when they spotted him. As a famous wizard, he'd gotten used to that, had even learned to anticipate it whenever anyone recognized him. Since the Daily Prophet's arrival, he wouldn't have been surprised if that happened to him today.

What he hadn't counted on, however, was for the students to become more fixated on the kiss he'd shared with the Head Boy than on the attack itself. One would think that more newsworthy, but he was being proven wrong each time someone giggled and furtively talked with their friends about the "relationship" between Tom and he. Not that there was any such thing.

Unfortunately, the voice commented dryly. That's what you were thinking, right?

Don't put words in my head.

I notice you don't deny it.

"Hadrian."

Recognizing the voice of the very person who was plaguing his thoughts, Hadrian turned to see that Tom had caught up to him. Mr. Perfect Student had stayed behind to spout forth his usual song of pretty words at the headmaster while Hadrian had quietly slipped out of the Trophy Room. He had no clue where Alphard had gone off to after that.

For the first time after their kiss, Hadrian felt his heart thudding in his chest at the sight of the other boy. Talk about a delayed reaction. "Yes?"

He kept his expressions under control as Tom came closer to him, aware not only of his keen observational skills, but also the other students in the corridor pretending not to be watching. Tom's face was as implacable as it always was in the presence of students he wasn't trying to charm.

"A word, if you please?" Tom tilted his head in the direction of the nearest staircase.

"Certainly."

He didn't know how this was going to play out but Hadrian realized he was looking forward to the conversation he was positive Tom was pulling him aside for—especially as it seemed he was being led to the privacy of the Room of Requirement.

They could no longer delay the inevitable, and he was beginning to get tired of it anyway.

000

Tom announced his intentions by doing what he'd been longing to since Thursday morning.

The second the door closed behind Hadrian, he pushed him up against the wall and took pliant lips between his. Pliant because Hadrian was alarmed at the sudden action for about a nanosecond before he began to respond. Their lips moved against each other the way they should have during their first kiss. Slow, explorative yet sensual, and as though they were memorizing the exact feel and taste of the other.

Some distant part of him was sure he'd wanted to ease into this, had originally planned on first talking to Hadrian and officially laying his claim before he let his libido take charge. His conscious mind currently couldn't be arsed to care about that plan.

While not as intense as the one they'd shared earlier (mostly because their magic wasn't so intimately connected this time), Tom could confidently say this was one of the best kisses he'd ever had—and tongues weren't even involved yet. He'd admit he wasn't a real big fan of kissing. His partners were usually eager to pleasure him, and he didn't feel the need to do something this insignificant—which wasn't even very stimulating—in return. A couple of kisses here and there during foreplay were usually enough to make others forget that he didn't wish to be distracted with kissing in the heat of the moment.

Kissing Hadrian, though, Tom could tell was something he would never get tired of doing. He felt as though something was clicking into place for him; something he hadn't even known he was missing. It was like an almost-finished puzzle with one last part left to be placed, like a minor piece of the sky in a landscape puzzle. One could see the picture well enough, but it wasn't quite the same and wouldn't feel complete until that last piece was put in position.

Hadrian took the initiative to introduce his tongue into the kiss, effectively erasing all nonsensical analogies from his mind. He ran the wet appendage along Tom's bottom lip before Tom opened his mouth and drew both tongues into his mouth. He twined his tongue around Hadrian's, rubbing against and sucking on it, swallowing Hadrian's moan and returning it with a groan of his own.

Arms came around his back to pull him closer; Tom moved his previously idle hands to hold that exquisite face in his hands, caressing his thumb in circles across one high cheekbone. Hadrian's tongue stroked the surface of his tongue, the back of his palate, and prodded against the bottom of his throat in a way no one had ever had the nerve to do, but which proved to garner responses kissing alone hadn't ever been able to.

Hips pushed into him, causing him to feel a hard bulge rivaling his own. Gasping, Hadrian broke the kiss with a shudder, and it was all Tom could do to stop from rubbing against the erection pressing into his at the sight of his red and swollen lips. He couldn't contain the urge to get a taste of the beautiful expanse of flesh offered to him when Hadrian tilted his head back to catch his breath.

Tom licked collarbone first, swiped up to the bobbing Adam's apple, then latched onto the jugular, feeling the vein jump under his tongue before he sucked it into his mouth and did his best to leave his mark. Hadrian's hands dug into his hair, burrowing him deeper into his neck, a soft half-groan reverberating in his throat that got Tom's blood rushing down south much more quickly than his actual moans had.

Tom's own hands acquired a mind of their own as they released the pureblood's face and traveled down to run the length of his spine to the small of his back then circled around to the jut of his hip. Hadrian's erection pressing into his hip, and his mouth suddenly nipping and sucking and panting into his ear threatened to disrupt his slow progress. He was just about to abandon that in-retrospect-unrealistic intent when Hadrian freed his ear and began to draw away.

"W-wait. Tom…stop." Contradicting his words, he arched into Tom's lips when he continued to lick and bite up and down his neck. Hadrian's next attempt was firmer as he pulled back, his arms coming in-between them to give them space. "We can't do this," he said quietly.

And why the hell not? Tom kept from voicing the indignant thought and waited for Hadrian to continue with an arched brow.

"As much as I'm enjoying it," the green-eyed boy added, drawing a smug smirk from his partner, "I believe we have some things to discuss first."

In a moment of lucidity, Tom remembered how he'd wanted all this to go, and abruptly stepped back from the tempting picture a disheveled Hadrian made. He couldn't believe he'd allowed himself to lose control like that. There was a reason plans were made: to be executed, not discarded.

Glancing around the room for distraction, he noted that their desires had been mirrored in the room by way of a large black silk-covered bed in the center surrounded by dark red velvet drapes. Hadrian apparently found this funny. His contagious amusement permitted Tom a second to relax and think about what to do next.

The other Slytherin gave him a shrewd look, as though he knew exactly what was going through his mind. He glided over to the bed and sat down, glancing at Tom with come-hither eyes, which seemed a lot like his glimmer of challenge. Tom accepted the invitation (or the challenge), and joined him on the bed, though he gave them a little distance so as not to be tempted to touch.

Hadrian smiled at him like he knew what he was doing, and appeared almost thankful for his prudence. He brushed his hair out of the way, briefly revealing the scar on his forehead, and folded his legs one over the other. Tom sensed his nervousness, even if he was trying to hide it by busying himself. He couldn't say he was sure on how to proceed, either. This wasn't something he'd ever done before.

Hadrian took the first step and asked, "What does this mean for us now?"

The question, curiously enough, made it easier for Tom to carry on. Why were they taking it so seriously? He wasn't expecting some kind of poetic confession, and he doubted Hadrian was. They weren't girls who needed words and assurances of how the other felt. They were men; and they shouldn't have been surprised that their primal instincts took over before they'd even figured out what was between them.

Tom drew closer to Hadrian, the boy's brilliant eyes piercing him as he watched every move he made—from the way he brought up his hand to bury it in his dark hair to how his other hand ran down the neck he'd lavished attention on only a moment ago. But he didn't pull away, just watched him.

Finally, Tom answered him, "Whatever we want it to mean." Hadrian raised a brow to convey his need for elaboration. "I want you; and you want me, correct?"

A short pause later, Hadrian replied, "Yes."

"I warn you, I do not share."

"Nor I."

Tom traced around the red mark he'd left. "This makes you mine."

"And you mine." The tone dared him to refute the fact. He didn't bother, nor want to.


TERMS:

Sepultura - a burial, interment; also the burning of a dead body


Edited: 7/1/13