Author Notes: Hello, everyone! Thank you once again for your wonderful reviews! It's been three months since my last update, but I promise to do better next round.

Appreciation: My heartfelt thanks to Vine Verrine, my wonderful beta and co-writer who would do a much better job of TMS if she wanted to instead of bearing the thankless task of pulling me from the front and pushing me from the back. Thank you, girl!

- Chapter Start -

The loud chatter and exuberant music had given way to softer conversations and slower songs.

With his eyes closed and his arms around Remus, Sirius reveled in his bond mate's warmth and the rich contentment enveloping them like a velvet cloak. After their passionate kiss, congratulations had followed and then a space was cleared on the carpeted floor for them to dance. They were soon followed by Albus and Minerva, Charlie and Draco, and then a rather bashful Ron and Hermione.

It wasn't long before Remus pulled Sirius to a more private corner of the room, half hidden by the round table laden with their gifts and a long red drape hanging from the ceiling. They could still be seen, but people milled around and danced, paying no mind to the kisses they shared there.

A look soon passed between them, filled with promises of a more private celebration, but Remus, mindful that Sirius needed little persuasion to retreat, reminded him that they couldn't leave the party for a good while more. He kissed away Sirius' mock pout and pulled him into another dance. They moved much slower this time, just the faintest sway of their hips to show anyone who cared to look that they weren't standing still.

Sirius opened his eyes now, their corners crinkling at the sight of the familiar red and gold hues around them. His gaze flicked past the other couples on the floor until he spotted the one he was looking for. He couldn't help himself; it was a soft but persistent pull borne of both caution and jealousy, even if he didn't want to admit it. Harry was dancing with Severus, his unsure steps matching the sheepish smile on his face. Severus was smiling and nodding encouragingly at him. He looked up as if sensing Sirius' eyes on him and one black eyebrow went up in silent enquiry.

With that arrogant eyebrow dredging up old memories, Sirius immediately felt the urge to object about something - perhaps how closely Severus was holding Harry - but the happy smile on his godson's face stopped him. Pursing his lips, he glanced around the room instead, seeing the animated faces of his guests as they danced or chatted to each other in small groups.

Sirius felt his annoyance melt away. He was glad that his and Remus' wedding ceremony had allowed a brief respite from the fear and uncertainty of what lay ahead, it being an event that had no ties to Voldemort. Then he frowned. No, that wasn't quite true; Remus may have proposed to him spontaneously at Volpine Manor two nights ago, but Voldemort was one of the reasons why Sirius had wanted to marry Remus. He was sure his bond mate's proposal was in some way linked to their current situation as well.

For the past few hours, Sirius had felt as if he were floating on air, but the thought of Voldemort brought him back to earth with a figurative thump. He shuffled his feet, making their robes rustle together. When Remus pulled back a little to look at him with a knowing gleam in his eyes, Sirius knew he had probably heard his heart skip a beat. He just smiled at him and pulled them closer together again, glad when Remus didn't say anything. There was no need to right now.

Sirius found himself looking at Harry once more, recalling how the boy had looked yesterday when he realised his two godfathers would leave Hogwarts to carry on Volpine's work. This afternoon was the last time they could all spend together and Sirius found he didn't mind backing down from Severus for the sake of maintaining peace.

Lifting his gaze to the wary black eyes still on him, he just gave a tiny shake of his head. He didn't say anything, not even when Severus bent his head and pressed his lips to Harry's forehead.

- o -

Draco looked around him, lips pressed thin in annoyance. He had enjoyed a couple of dances with Charlie earlier, but the dragon tamer was now chatting with McGonagall, the Weasel was dancing with Granger, and Potter was dancing with Severus. The other people in the room were talking in groups, and since Draco wasn't inclined to talk to any of them, he stuck out like a sore thumb.

"Draco, over here!"

Turning his head, Draco saw Molly Weasley beaming at him from one of the small tables over in the corner. He went over to the heavily pregnant redhead, not showing the relief he felt inside.

"Mrs. Weasley," he greeted with a polite nod of his head.

"Oh, none of that, please," she laughed. "Just 'mum' or 'Molly', whichever you find easier. And sit down, do, you're giving me a crick in the neck!"

Draco nodded and sat down opposite her, his mind busy trying to think of neutral subjects one could converse with someone he didn't have a stellar relationship with, to put it lightly. He came up with nothing, but his expression didn't show that. A familiar laugh had him turning his head to gaze at his bond mate.

Charlie hadn't suffered any qualms in addressing his in-laws by their given names even on his wedding day; 'Lucius' and 'Narcissa' rolling off his tongue as if he had known them for years. But Draco knew that Charlie Weasley was twenty three and a confident young man who took things in his stride whether it was a fire breathing dragon, a temperamental Slytherin – Draco bit his lip – or his very wealthy and condescending parents.

In contrast, Draco was sixteen. Seventeen in a bit more than a month's time. His father would have his head if he dared voice that out, come to think of it. Any Malfoy worth his salt wouldn't hesitate in situations like this, no matter what their age.

"Anything the matter, love?"

Drawn from his thoughts, Draco turned back and saw Molly looking at him in concern. He quickly shook his head.

"I was just wondering how best to address you."

To his horror, he had blurted out the first thing that popped into his head. It was certain now. Death by decapitation was an imminent ending to his young life.

Molly's surprised laugh had him hunching his shoulders and trying not to scowl, derailed from the gory mental image of his death and hoping at the same time that no one would come over to enquire about what was so funny.

"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to laugh like that." Molly patted his arm, eyes still twinkling before she sobered up and tilted her head to one side.

"Well then, if both 'Molly' and 'mum' are too informal, what about 'Mother'? I'll try to live with that," she suggested with a smile.

Draco shook his head at once, that last title bringing a sour taste to his mouth. The memory of the dinner at Malfoy Manor two nights ago and his subsequent breakdown in Charlie's arms was still sharp in his mind.

"That title is taken," he said tightly.

"Oh, sorry!" Molly apologised again. "I didn't mean to overstep-"

Draco just shook his head, knowing she had misread his words. Pressing his lips together, he looked down. For all his training in good manners and etiquette, he was never more at a complete loss of what to say or do than now.

He looked up when Molly gasped and saw a spasm of pain cross her face. When she winced and placed a hand over her stomach, he felt his heart skip a beat.

"Are you all right?" he asked, half getting up. He was just showing justified concern, that was all.

She quickly gestured him to sit down.

"I'm fine. Sit down, do, or Arthur will be here in a flash!"

Draco complied and looked over his shoulder again. Arthur Weasley was conversing with McGonagall now and didn't seem to have noticed. Charlie was nowhere to be seen.

"A cup of tea would be good," Molly prompted.

Draco quickly turned back. "Of course."

Grabbing the teapot, he poured, cursing when a bit of tea sloshed onto the saucer. He debated pouring himself some and decided against it.

Molly accepted the cup he proffered with a warm smile, so different from Narcissa's cold, superficial one.

"Feeling better?" Draco asked, almost before she could swallow the sip she had taken. She gave a quick nod.

"I'm fine, dear, just can't wait for this one to come out!" She patted her big stomach with a sigh.

Draco changed his mind and poured himself a cup after all.

"Is it a boy or a girl?" he asked. He wasn't curious, he told himself, just making conversation. To his surprise, Molly grinned and shrugged.

"No idea," she said promptly. "There are spells to find out, of course. Arthur says even Muggles have their ways to find out the baby's gender, but we're keeping it a surprise, like we have for the others."

She looked around with a fond smile and Draco followed, seeing the sprinkling of redheads here and there. He frowned a little when he still couldn't spot Charlie anywhere.

"Oh," he replied. He wondered if his father had cast such a spell when Narcissa was pregnant. "Well, you must have been overjoyed when you finally had a daughter...?"

Molly beamed at him as if he had paid her a huge compliment. He hadn't, it was more a case of stating the obvious.

"We all were," she replied. "Even Ronald, although he tried to pull Ginny's hair the day we came home from St. Mungo's. He was only a year old then."

Draco smirked at that, an image of a small, but pugnacious and scowling Weasel coming to mind.

"I assume you're hoping for another girl then?" he asked, but to his surprise, Molly laughed again.

"Oh no, love! A daughter would be welcome of course; it'd keep the pressure off Ginny for one thing, but we'd love another boy just as much."

Draco's eyebrows shot up.

"Even though you already have so many sons?"

Molly nodded emphatically, not seeming to take offense at his less than tactful words.

"Of course!" she said. "Each and every child is an individual, you know. Even Fred and George, whom I can't tell apart sometimes. I know they charm themselves to confuse me, those boys. But every child is special. And loved."

She patted her swollen stomach and the unspoken words were clear - this one would be special too.

Draco frowned, looking down at his untouched tea. How... strange. He was self-aware enough, he knew, to understand what she meant by that, and to also know there was a time when he didn't, not for the life of him. The old him would have snorted at the very idea. Respect was earned; affection, consideration and love, even more so. They were not meant to be given freely... so unconditionally.

He understood now, with a perspective he didn't have before. It went beyond his usual logic, but he understood. What he couldn't grasp was why this new knowledge of unconditional love didn't feel much like self-improvement, but rather like a rusty knife puncturing his heart.

"But... you don't know what he or she will look like... what skills they will have... and what they will grow up to be," he said. "You don't know if they will live up to your expectations."

He didn't know why he had said that. That was something the old Draco would have said, complete with condescending derision and a sneer. Not the new Draco, sitting with his knees pressed together under the table, nursing the heartache of knowing that something inside him had changed.

His head snapped up when a warm soft hand closed over his, squeezing firmly. It was torture, he realised. Absolute torture.

"That's the beauty and the miracle of a baby, Draco. Each one is special right from the moment they are born. Even before that. They don't have to be clever or handsome or beautiful or talented, they'll be loved and cherished by their parents, the way they should be. Every child is special."

Those words, delivered in Molly's soft but sure voice, squeezed Draco's heart even more, which was already sore and aching from the reminder of his own mother and her actions on Friday night. This conversation wasn't making it any better. He dipped his head, feeling like he was being pulled apart, wavering between blind loyalty to his mother and the guilty, almost forbidden thought of giving it all up – the Malfoy name, the gold, the social standing – every damned thing, just to be able to call this redheaded witch 'mother'.

"Not all. Not all are so... lucky," he whispered, not trusting his voice for anything more than that, fists in his lap and head bowed. There was a time when he didn't know how to yearn for those things simply because they were things he knew nothing of. How could one wish for something they didn't even know existed?

He recalled the excitement, dread and incredulity that had filled him upon entering Hogwarts, getting a taste of 'what could have been' with the other students and their parents. He took comfort in the fact that his case was not rare within the Slytherin house, even if the raw burn of his situation was not alleviated, but emphasised.

"Things are different now," Molly said softly. "Look at me, love."

Too late, Draco realised his vision had blurred and what it meant. Oh Merlin, he didn't want to look up at this woman - calling him 'love' of all things - with tears in his eyes. He had to blink hard a few times before he dared to do so.

"You have Charlie and you have us, all of us. And as long as you have us, you will never lack for love," she assured him, smiling into his eyes.

Draco wanted to shake his head at that. What she was offering him; it was too much and he was too undeserving. And yet, even if he shook his head, he knew she would not give up on him. He realised he wanted that, to not be given up on. He just nodded then, his throat now too tight to utter a single word.

Molly leaned forward as if wanting to say something else. Then she looked over his shoulder and sighed, giving a tiny shake of her head.

"I think the party is winding down now," she said.

All at once, Draco's features smoothed out into his usual mask, except for the brightness of his eyes. He sat up straighter, looking at a corner and blinking again, but as Molly started to heave herself up, he jumped up and went over to help.

"Come here."

Those whispered words were the only warning Draco got before he was enfolded in warm, maternal arms. Molly had already hugged him earlier when she arrived at Hogwarts, but this time, despite the awkwardness of being squashed against her big, hard stomach, Draco relished the warmth of the embrace. He felt guilty, knowing exactly why, but he tried not to dwell on it. An image of Narcissa arose in his mind, with her striking beauty and her regal air. His guilt grew tenfold, as if she was present, watching him hug Molly Weasley, her face shadowed with a betrayal Draco knew she wouldn't feel inside.

A soft kiss pressed to his forehead dispelled that image and then he was released. Molly squeezed his hands and smiled at him, her brown eyes now as bright as his.

"All right, love?" she asked.

Draco swallowed, too uncertain to say anything but a – much to his dismay - broken "Thank you".

Not three feet away and hidden from view by a tall cabinet, Charlie sighed. He longed to go to Draco and sweep him into his arms, hold him tight like how he had on Friday night. He had deliberately not shown himself when he came back from the brief detour he had made outside the room and saw his young bond mate sitting with Molly. He wanted Draco to get to know his mother and he knew she had also been wanting some time alone with the latest addition to her family.

Charlie knew her heart quite well. She was as fierce as a Hungarian Horntail to her children, but she was just as fierce when it came to loving and protecting them. Charlie had known he had his family's wholehearted acceptance of Draco, but Molly's words now were especially poignant. It was a relief to know that should something happen to him, his family would be there to ensure Draco stayed well within the Light.

Leaning against the cabinet, he smiled when Draco hurried to help Molly up, a solicitous look the blond wasn't aware of showing on his face. His smile widened when Molly drew Draco into a tight hug, especially when he saw the emotions playing across Draco's face and heard his soft reply.

- o -

Charlie saw his mother and younger brothers off at the main entrance of Hogwarts before making his way to the Headmaster's office. His mind was focused on three things at the same time; Draco's wary, pensive expression at suspiciously encountering him after his talk with Molly; the cryptic missive delivered by Dumbledore about a very important meeting that Charlie was headed to right now; and the sound of his footsteps against the stone floor. It was the last one that grounded him to the task at hand, diminishing the acute desire he had of going to look for Draco and hugging him. This was despite the blond making it clear he could do with the time alone, ill-concealed affection echoing in the brush of his pale fingers against Charlie's.

With all those things in mind, Charlie didn't take any notice of the mumbles and whispers of students nearby. Whether they recognised his signature Weasley hair or his status as Draco's bond mate, he wouldn't know.

Making a note to go look for Draco later, Charlie stopped in front of the impassive stone gargoyle guarding the Headmaster's office, the small smile on his lips turning nostalgic as he recalled past incidents of being summoned here for some misdeed or other. This time though, he was sure he wasn't the only one Dumbledore had invited. He had seen the Headmaster swiftly making his way between the guests at the wedding earlier. The brief exchange of words and nods that followed didn't look like mere exchanges of pleasantries.

Stating the password Dumbledore had given him, Charlie stepped onto the circular staircase, its spiral ascending motion increasing his curiosity and superseding all thoughts of Draco. As he neared the top, he heard the muted voices from behind the large door that was left ajar, hinting at a large group of people inside. He spared a moment to wonder why a private meeting like this wasn't warded up to the hilt, but perhaps Dumbledore was waiting for everyone to arrive first just so they could witness some fancy spellwork from him. The belated realisation that he might be the last one here prompted Charlie to step off the stairs and push the door open.

The rumble of deep voices washing over him was a prelude to the interesting tableau that met his eyes. A dozen or so tall and smartly dressed wizards were arranged in different positions around the large circular room, some sitting in front of Dumbledore's imposing claw-footed desk, others in various chairs and a few more milling about. Being a man of simple needs and simple pleasures, with a keen eye for the aesthetics of the human body, Charlie took in the gathered assortment of men with moderate appreciation until the familiar tufts of ginger hair belonging to his father and Bill interrupted his quiet perusal. He didn't know they were going to be there.

A couple of people stood out from all those tall bodies, long hair and longer robes - Mad Eye Moody whose unsymmetrical appearance could not remotely be considered attractive, and Harry, sitting in a loveseat beside Severus, with Sirius Black in a chair on his other side. Harry was leaning back, legs spread in an attempt to look casual, but his twiddling thumbs gave him away. He looked small and almost delicate, sitting between two tall and broad shouldered men, except that he was moving a hand to let his fingers graze the back of Severus' hand, offering a tiny reassurance that would have gone unnoticed if Charlie weren't looking for it in the first place.

To think that despite his size, Harry was the strongest of all these wizards put together. Quite ironic, really.

"Here we are. Ah, do step aside, Charlie."

Minerva's brisk voice behind him and the feel of something hard poking his ribs prompted Charlie to step inside the room as everyone's faces turned towards him.

The tall shadow behind the Deputy Headmistress stepped forward, materialising into the platinum blond hair and forest green robes of Lucius Malfoy, who was sporting a serious but slightly displeased sneer. He inclined his head to Harry with a gracious smile, nodded at Severus, sneered at Sirius Black and ignored the rest, save for a distant nod at Albus.

"Malfoy! What is he doing here?" Sirius burst out, glaring at Lucius.

"Good evening, Lord Malfoy. What a pleasant surprise."

Severus saw Lucius' nostrils flare, a strange look entering the pale eyes at the sound of that deep voice before Lucius turned to greet Aventine.

"Good evening to everyone. Thank you for coming at such short notice." Albus stood up behind his desk and beamed around, motioning for Minerva to close the door. Then he looked up at the dozing portraits adorning the walls and his smile faded to a serious expression.

"As much as it pains me to exclude my learned predecessors, I have no choice but to put up a privacy ward to limit this meeting to just the few of us. Now, who would like to do the honours?"

Everyone's gazes immediately went to the portraits who were still feigning sleep, but with somewhat disgruntled expressions on their faces. Severus glared at Albus. Despite that somber mien, the meddlesome old coot wasn't averse to seeing sparks fly from the impromptu challenge he had just issued. The reason behind it was justified though, as those portrait frames could receive visitors from elsewhere in the castle.

"I will," Lucius announced. The arrogant Malfoy mask was well in place, one pale eyebrow raised as if in challenge as he glanced around at everyone.

No one said anything, but Mad Eye gave a grunt, magical eye zooming towards Albus and scarred face twisting in dissatisfaction.

The older wizard just shook his head at him before turning to Lucius.

"Thank you, Lucius."

With a smirk, the pureblood moved to the middle of the room and turned on his heel to face the door, the hem of his robes flaring about him. He unsheathed his wand and raised it.

"Lord Malfoy, allow me to assist you in securing this room."

Startled by that deep voice, Lucius jerked his head to the side and found himself staring into hypnotic red eyes. His mouth tightened a bit before it relaxed.

"I appreciate your offer, Lord Aventine," he said with a polite nod, "but I am perfectly capable of setting a few simple wards."

Red lips parted in a slow smile that was almost friendly despite the gleaming fangs.

"I am not doubting your abilities, merely offering a spell to complement yours."

Lucius stiffened, eyes narrowing in suspicion despite the placating words. He opened his mouth, but Aventine was quicker, speaking in a lower voice.

"You are my champion, Lord Malfoy. I do not make this offer lightly."

At those words, Lucius' expression smoothed into one of strange blankness. He gave a brief nod which Aventine returned, looking pleased.

They turned to face the door in unison, wands out and steady. As they started murmuring spells in different languages, different coloured sigils lit up on the wooden surface. Slowly, they pivoted away from each other, extending the wards high up along the walls, between the now wide awake and annoyed looking portraits and the heads of those watching them.

Lucius' chin was high and his face impassive, but Severus knew by that tightly clenched jaw that he had noticed the changes in expression around them. Moody's disapproving scowl had lightened a bit while Kingsley and Arthur looked impressed. Albus' eyes seemed to be twinkling even more.

Once the wards were up, Lucius and Aventine lowered their wands and exchanged brief but polite nods. They sat down, Aventine beside Volpine on one side of the Headmaster's desk and Lucius on the other. Albus then cleared his throat, garnering everyone's attention.

"Thank you, Lucius and Aventine," he said. "I can now speak freely and must apologise to some of you for repeating my words for the benefit of others."

He smiled around at everyone, but Severus knew he meant those who weren't at the meeting at the Three Broomsticks yesterday afternoon.

"Ever since Voldemort cast his worldwide spell and put everyone to sleep two weeks ago, I have had my sources searching all over the world for him. He is nowhere to be found."

Severus couldn't tell whether Aventine and Volpine's twin looks of surprise were due to Albus' revelation or the fact that they were privy to such news. He smirked when he saw the faint lift of Lucius' eyebrows, denoting equal surprise.

After a moment of silence, Lucius gave a light cough.

"I understand," he said delicately, "that Harry Potter is sometimes aware of the Dark Lord's whereabouts." He didn't once glance in Harry's direction.

"No. Harry has not had any visions of the Dark Lord since that night in Stonehenge," Severus answered at once. Trust Lucius to be the first to bring up Harry's abilities; Severus was only aware he had leaned forward when Harry laid a hand on his arm.

"We have been informed of a way where Harry may be able to locate Voldemort's whereabouts," Albus continued smoothly. He held up a wrinkled hand at the building murmur of voices. "But it is not something he can do right now, and it is not without risks."

"What is it, Albus?" Minerva asked.

"Harry can use his magic to reach out to Voldemort's mind, but it is imperative he learns to shield his own mind first," Albus answered and briefly outlined yesterday's incident with the portrait of Salazar Slytherin.

Severus noted Lucius sitting up straighter, surprise and envy flitting across his features. He wouldn't be surprised if the blond Slytherin approached him later with the intention of speaking with the portrait himself.

"What spell is this?" Lucius leaned forward, his intent gaze on Harry.

"Being a portrait, Salazar doesn't know its name," Harry replied. "He only said it can be found at a library in Athens."

"Did Salazar say how long it would take you to master the spell?" Remus asked, looking worried.

"No, but he insisted I have to learn to control my magic first," Harry admitted.

"And did he tell you how to do that?" Sirius asked.

It was something every wizard and witch learned instinctively as they grew up, but Harry's level of power set him apart from everyone else, even the elite of the world. He frowned when Harry bit his lip instead of answering, turning to look at the stoic man on his other side.

"No, the ravens did," Albus answered for him.

A moment of shocked silence followed, before the babble of voices broke out again.

"I thought they disappeared without saying anything yesterday, at the Three Broomsticks." Kingsley's deep voice was heard above the rest. He looked as confused as the others.

"They appeared again right after I talked to Salazar," Harry said. "After I called them."

Albus had to raise a hand once more when the voices grew louder, faces registering different levels of disbelief and dismay.

"So you can call them whenever you want?" Remus asked, his alarmed gaze going to Severus who nodded.

"Like now?" Charlie prompted, his eyes gleaming with interest.

"Why didn't you do it before?" Mad Eye demanded.

Harry stood up, looking at him straight in the eye.

"I didn't know I could command Odin's familiars before," he said, "but I do now. And I'm planning to make up for lost time."

He sat down again, partly glad that neither Dumbledore nor Severus had stood up to intervene. This was one of the most meaningful shows of trust from them, trusting him to be able to defend himself.

"Well, what was their advice on controlling your magic, Mr. Potter?" Minerva wanted to know.

Harry turned to her after a brief glance at Severus, cheeks going the slightest bit pink.

"I believe that should remain between Harry, Severus and the ravens, Minerva," Albus answered. "Suffice to say that Harry needs to have full control of his magic before using it to locate Voldemort."

The next moment was one in which the drop of a pin could be heard, an instant when understanding glinted in everyone's eyes. Harry kept looking straight ahead, his thoughts betrayed only by the faint colour in his cheeks.

Severus was relieved when the others just nodded in agreement, Lucius with a knowing smirk and Charlie with a cheeky wink. Sirius, the only one frowning there, reached out and grabbed Harry's arm, pulling his godson closer to him.

"If you have any questions, kiddo," he said quietly with a slight tilt of his head towards Severus, but to his surprise, Harry just shook his head and smiled.

"Thanks, Sirius, but Severus' assistance in this matter is... quite sufficient."

Severus had to hold back a smirk at the disconcerted look on Sirius' face, although he wasn't sure if it was because Harry had brushed off his godfather's concern or because his words were deliberately vague.

- o -

Everything was a sea of pain and darkness.

But mostly pain, endless and everywhere, coming from inside him in great waves crashing over his body and surging back up in a now cold, dried splatter of dark blood at the centre of his chest. The universe was imploding, and he was right in the middle. He felt like drowning, spiraling down to an abyss of suffering so acute, so sharp it was impossible to describe with mere human words.

A lipless mouth curved in an ironic smile, a smile so imperceptible it was not known but inside his own head. Still human. He was still human.

With that thought, he opened his eyes. Two ruby red orbs amidst brown blood, black robes and the grey coated colourful art of destruction. He turned his head with difficulty, surveying the scenery as if he were just lying there and resting, taking in the damaged room. It was nothing more than plaster, wood and soft pastels buried under the collapsed walls. When he looked up, his irises contracted as they encountered a ray of the setting sun and he turned away.

There was no weak fluttering, no shivering, no trembles, not a single sign of the last vestiges of his humanity. He had the impulse, of course, but he wouldn't let such a shameful bout of weakness show even in his current solitude.

His latest attempt was proven fruitless as he still lay there, ten days after his deviant, supernatural guest went berserk. He was still unable to do more than lift a hand, using his diminished powers on a show of pride, refusing to do much more unless he was sure he would not tremble for the effort. The one impediment to his powerful magic and fast healing was an effective one, the horn of the creature he had drained still embedded in his ribs.

Irony.

Everything was ironic to him now, from his lingering humanity to the danger of a unicorn's horn, whose blood was actually an elixir of life. As long as the horn touched his flesh, he would not heal; the tiny spark of magic in his core kept at bay and unable to repair his injuries.

The Shadows had left him after banishing the Demon, emitting screeching sounds that were unintelligible but for their intention. They were laughing at him; a mortal, humanlike show of mockery. It was mutely distressing to know that since they were also supernatural beings that, when physically manifested, adapted themselves as a reflection of the caster's subconscious, their laughter was most likely what he himself thought of his situation.

- Chapter End -

A/N: Thank you for reading! Please review!