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"Just as courage imperils life, fear protects it."
~ Leonardo da Vinci ~






Chapter 23 ~ Ghosts of the Past


It was sickening... The way the dull warmth encompassed him, bewitching him, making him a slave to the cruel comfort it provided as it crept across his deadened skin like thousands of slithering serpents, their tongue like lashings reawakening his numbed cellular capacities with frightening vigor.

Until the nauseating warmth had found him, he had been nonfunctional, his systems systematically shutting down, one by one, heedless of his subconscious' frantic protestations.

Such was the effect of severe head injuries...

Now he was only dimly aware of the harsh sounds reverberating through the room, and the voice, inexplicable in dialect and tongue, it's only comprehensible feature a grating hiss, filling his senses.

The little man pounding upon the interior of his skull with his rather large sledgehammer banged with frenzied desperation, his mind crying out painfully for it to all end. Yet the pain had been his only constant, his only sanity to the madness that was now his existence.

Dean Thomas sought release, his eyes blearily opening to witness a hellish glory, one to which his private pain paled in comparison. No amount of dark splotches clouding his vision could obscure the sight before him, nor the serpent slithering across his numbed legs, pinning his body to the cold, uncomfortable tiled floor.

The vestiges of hind limbs protruding from the serpent's body, like small spurs, were dragging across his calves with suffocating force, it's sheer width freezing his blood that miraculously still ran, no longer pooling upon the floor around his bandaged skull.

The convulsing struck hard and suddenly, his body lurching beneath the serpent's weight unsuccessfully, the turn of his head his only salvation, saving him from drowning within the expelled contents of his own stomach.

The hissing again... The pressure was leaving, his body finally able to roll free upon the crimson slicked floor in his dizzying haze.

He fell right into the man, the dark length of cloak swaying against his face, Hermione's choked gargles registering within his mind.

With the trepidation of one who has never been through hell, his dark eyes rose, fixating upon Hermione's normally articulate lips, as the serpents large length exerted it's suffocating force around her small frame, coiling in tighter and tighter concentric circles around her gasping body...

The deep browned scales trailed away from her distressed body, covering everything in sight, the very floor appearing alive with the serpent's slightest movement, it's length impossible to discern due to the sheer vastness of it's intercoiling...

His eyes fell upon Amarante's unconscious body, upon the snake dragging over and across Neville's chest....

A powerful force clenched around his chin, and against his will the sorcery forced his neck to tilt back, his vertebras crunching together, dangerously close to snapping as he stared at the creature commanding his very will.

Deadened, slit like eyes met him.

* * * * *


The hunt was on.

The wolf's nails shredded the fallen leaves, it's claws digging into the mud soaked forest floor, wet clumps of grass scattering in it's wake. The only sound breaking the still death of the little traveled forest the harsh pounding of the small packs feet.

The others were spreading out, winding amidst the trees with the inborn agility known only to hunters.

The scent of live flesh had been detected upon the crisp breeze snaking through the village only moments before, and now the pack was on the hunt, searching for the escaped soul.

No humans were to leave the village.

None alive....

They were to be protected within it's walls, but once the borders had been breached, everything changed.

The wolf would not again stray from the growled orders of the elder. The searing warmth welling from it's wounds, issuing from where the elder had fought against him, depriving him of the tantalizing taste of the two fresh specimens was severe reminder of what happened to the disobedient.

Now it's taste had been thoroughly satiated upon the rich flesh of the fallen, leaving the wolf to revel in the stringy tissue caught between it's incisors, torn from the fresh corpses that had lain in pools of their own barely coagulated fluids.

The tormenting taste had been satisfying, yet it only served to renew it's thirsty desperation for live quarry.

The last pair had evaded it, leaving it to feast upon the newly deceased. It knew this, for blood coagulated firmly within mere minutes, and no clotting had passed along the wolf's tongue as it had feasted, it's tongue so deluded by the taste, deluded by the thirst it had so yearned for...

The wounds the wolf had sustained against the elder, fighting for it's quarry, were trivial in comparison to it's now satisfied hunger, for the blood of the dead stiffened the fur lining it's snout, it's tongue lapping at it, yearning for just one more taste...

It was then that the wolf spotted it's new quarry, a flash of red penetrating it's retinas from atop the human's head. The elder's guttural growls signified it too had spotted the prey, it's growls urging the wolf's mitts to pound in a faster rhythm, a deep snarl issuing from it's own throat, penetrating the late afternoon silence.

No humans were to escape the village... None alive...

For it they were not within the wards when the spell commenced.... Then they were as good as dead anyway.

The elder leapt, it's first thrust of fangs deftly dodged as the prey spun around the base of a trunk, it's evasive maneuver effective.

The elder was sent skidding across the slippery leaves, and the novice wolf's indignation resonated cruelly within the forest, it's growl heard by all near.

Stalking through the leaves the wolf hunted, rearing upon it's haunches as the human leapt in the air, clawing at a low hung bough.

It was a single flash of the human's hair that caused the wolf's hesitation.

Familiarity...

The human hung precariously, gangly feet swinging in a long arc, it's wand hand free and aiming as the elder sprung again, not dodging the bright light emitting from the human's wand in time.

As the elder fell to the forest floor, howling as if hell itself had clawed at it's very soul, all familiarity was forgotten. The wolf became entirely savage, giving into it's carnal desires once again as it leapt in defense, fangs bared...

The human's foot connected harshly with it's long skull, but not before it's teeth had sunk into the man's flesh, it's gene altering phages passing into the bloodstream of the now screaming human.

The man would not be human for long.

Together they crashed to the forest floor, the human's wand breaking from it's grasp, disappearing amongst the broken branches strewn across the earth.

It was then, as the wolf leapt upon the downed adversary, it's claws digging into it's quarry's chest, that the gnawing familiarity within it's mind clamped down hard.

He had bitten a human...

A sickening feeling rose up within the wolf.

The man's freckled face was screwed up in pain, yet the man's confusion regarding the wolf's hesitation to finish him off was clearly reflected within the blue depths of the human's eyes.

The wolf's stomach churned, the thoroughly quenched taste finally allowing it to reclaim it's mind, and the elder was limping towards them both, snarling menacingly.

The elder's savage intent was clear.

Sliding from the man's chest, the wolf turned on the elder, conveying the necessity to not kill this particular quarry.

Moments later the writhing body of the red headed man was being drug across the splintering ground of the Forbidden Forest, back into the ghost town of Hogsmeade.

The man that had fought against the carnal savagery of his darker side, had finally lost. The evidence of his failed battle lay in the unconscious form of the red headed student that he had dumped on the outskirts of town.

What the wolf did not know, was that the unnatural chill passing over him was the final incantation being cast upon the village, and all within it.

Phase one was nearing completion.

* * * * *


"Now that you have joined us..."

The creature spoke with derision, the sudden pressure upon his face releasing, sending his head snapping into the floor with catapulted force.

The crunching of his jarred nose, nor his pained groans, was paid no mind.

"The pain you are feeling shall recede in time Mr. Thomas." Voldemort hissed. "It is only natural after such injury. Your skull was in need of immediate attention."

Lifting his head, barely capable of eliciting a muscular response from his arms, his sleeve drew up, wiping the fresh blood from his face.

The movement was disagreeable, the furious retching of his torso indicative as further contents of his stomach expelled across the floor.

Voldemort merely raised the dark hem of his cloak, avoiding the putrid stench puddling dangerously close to his unsoiled robes.

"I am afraid..." It hissed, "That my methods have rather unpleasant side effects, which you are presently experiencing."

His skull pounded, the poisonous words filtering in, his heart pounding against his ribcage as the vilest of villains kneeled before where he lay sprawled like an infant, face down in his own mess.

Again his head fell under the control of sorcery, turning to stare the inhuman creature in the eye.

There he found no warmth, only lethal persuasion.

"I trust I have your understanding in that."

Dean did not nod, he could not, yet his head bobbed in response, his jawbone striking the floor with each successive drop.

"Ah... Good." Voldemort derided. "I do so value obedience Mr. Thomas, it was a trait your father lacked. How curious that it would pass to his precious son."

Dean's loathsome expression morphed into something far more bitter, his angry gaze glaring recklessly at the creature grinning rather amusedly.

"But of course... You wouldn't have known would you?"

The man with the sledgehammer pounded relentlessly, threatening to crack his barely healed skull, but the vein throbbing within his neck pulsated with furious intensity.

"What would you know about my father?" He spat, blood colored spittle running down his lip.

Voldemort's wand waved lazily, the pungent mess dissipating from the floor as the creature squatted down, eyeing him with an air of superiority. "Everything Mr. Thomas. Everything."

He swallowed hard, choking back another wave of sheer revulsion, Hermione's weak breathing ringing within his ears. How could this monster know anything of his father, when he, himself, did not?

"Oh yes..." Voldemort continued, eyes glinting. "Your father was powerful, but treacherous.... In the end, his refusal to obey orders was not something that could be tolerated."

Dean was shaken. His father... The one person he had so assiduously sought to find... Yet not one fact, not one whisper, had been imparted onto him from his otherwise loving mother.

There had been no contact since birth. It was the only knowledge he bore asides from the dark anger, the hollow feeling of abandonment that he harbored below his jovial exterior.

And now the vilest of creatures was telling him what his mother had been unable to.

His father had been a wizard. He was not Muggleborn after all, and yet, this new knowledge changed nothing, save to fuel his anger.

"What did you do to him?" He practically growled, raising as best he could from the floor, ignoring the snake's threatening hissing.

The creature's pale lips tightened in a cruel line. "What was necessary. Once he met that filthy Muggle mother of yours he could no longer be trusted."

Understanding crossed Dean's face, the knowledge of what had happened sinking in.

The red eyed beast merely nodded. "Oh yes... You know now. He tried to run, to spare you and your mother the fate he had in store, yet in the end we found him." The slit like eyes narrowed further, disappearing into his skull. "We always find them."

"You killed him..." He was shaking, fists curling into tight balls, Hermione's protestations ringing in his ears, yet miraculously unheard.

"He chose his own fate, foolishly leaving our cause in pursuit of family." Voldemort stood, pacing, the snake slithering to allow his master room to move. "If I had been wiser, I would have realized the importance of such things to fools, but now..."

The red eyed, bipedal snake turned on his heel, staring him down. "Now Mr. Thomas, I do. For fools shall risk their lives for such things, however irrational it is."

His eyes drifted past the snake of a man, fixating upon Hermione. Her dark, exhausted eyes held his, holding the look of defiance, even as a flick of the serpent's muscular tail sent her small form slumping against the wall, her features contorted in sheer agony.

"Nagini that is enough."

The reptile's head, perilously close to Hermione's, turned slowly to regard her master, her diamond plated tail flicking lazily near Neville's feet.

Such was the serpents length that even stretching the length of the restroom, coiling and winding through the stalls, that there was enough scaly surface left over to wind tightly around Hermione, binding the girl effectively.

A forked tongue slid out, Voldemort's grating, hissing words filling the air with the extension of it's dagger like teeth, a milky fluid exuding from them until a small drop fell to the floor.

Splat.

The reality of the toxins within that small drop struck him harder than the blow that had fractured his skull, for it would take only a single order from Voldemort, and the serpent would strike.

She could kill them all, and Voldemort would never have to lift a finger.

As if reading his thoughts, Voldemort flicked a long, pale finger towards Hermione, and he swore to God the serpent actually grinned.

* * * * *


Beneath the folds of her worn sweater, the subtle chill of the dew stained, muddied ground seeped in. The crinkling of half dried leaves beneath her, and the glittering light streaming through the forest canopy, it's dull warmth caressing her cheeks, all urged Kalliandra to stir upon the familiar forest floor.

Her hazy eyes flitted open, afternoon light spilling into them, revealing the moss covered ground that stretched endlessly outward, broken only by the countless trees rising up from it's surface. Drawing a deep, strained breath, she relaxed into the earth, her body conforming around the small rocks and twigs, and the shimmering, fallen leaves that lay in chaotic order around she and the messy haired man that had crashed to the earth with her.

The light breeze strewing golden strands haphazardly across her face, tickling her nose, was disregarded in light of the relief exploding through her. The numbness of before, the horrific, paralytic sensation of seeing the wolf's fangs poised and bared as Potter had thrown himself between she and the creature...

All her fear was forgotten, for the reassuring warmth of his arm, laying across her waist, was finally seeping in.

He was okay... That damnable, overbearing, poster boy of idiocy was with her.

She was beginning to lose count of the utterly brash things he had done in her presence, but the feel of him stirring sent her informal count right out the window.

His legs were moving, further entangling with her own, and for once she found she did not mind.

A breath of relief escaped her lips, a choked laugh falling from his own. His face turned in the dirt, falling inches from her own, his dazed eyes reflecting the surprise filtering through both their veins.

He had thrown himself in front of death's blade once again, to protect her...

The bastard was alright...

She flung her arms around him, ignoring the stiffening of his body, clinging to him as if doing so would vanquish the frightening reality of what his idiocy had nearly cost.

He was shaking... The realization that she cared was something for which she was ill prepared, but the feeling of his arms instinctually gathering around her, clinging back with equal desperation, drove the suddenly inconsequential fear from her mind.

They were no longer upon the ground, for his fists were tangling in her sweater, clutching her needingly. His arms were clumsily gathering her against his chest, pulling her closer, and she obliged, falling against him till her face was buried in the tangled folds of his cloak, the rhythmic rising of his chest reassuring her of his safety.

His safety... The brash fool... She would hex him if she only could...

She too was trembling, the unwelcome sensation enticing her arms to wind tighter around his neck. He responded with equal fever, pulling her onto his curled up legs as he leaned back, their awkward, backwards descent halting only as his back connected with the trunk of a tree, it's rough bark scraping beneath her hands which burrowed within his untamable hair, his own rising to intertwine in her own.

The relief flooding through her was unnerving, her silence bought only by the stunned astonishment coursing through her as his face tilted down, falling to burrow within the tousled tresses winding past her shoulders.

It was too much for her. After blocking so much out for so very long... One like her wasn't meant to feel, yet the relief flowing through her was undeniable. Everything was undeniable, yet she would deny it for as long as she could, and his calloused fingers running along her neck, trailing across her face as it fell, burying into his neck, were testing her reserves.

Damn him... Damn him and his recklessness. Damn him and his self righteous protectiveness. She wasn't supposed to be concerned about anyone, yet now she was.

His cloak was catching in the weathered bark of the tree, she could feel it as he shifted beneath her, the tightening of his arms silently conveying his desire for her to not move. She gratefully remained, breathing him in as he adjusted, the salty scent lingering upon his collar overwhelming her senses almost maddeningly in the meantime.

She could no longer see a thing asides from him, the king of idiocy, yet insanely it was all she needed.

"Damn you Potter..." She whispered falteringly. For once in her life her words were failing to speak her mind, the quality of her voice betraying it instead.

A solitary hand remained intertwined in her soft locks, brushing them away from her veiled face, one by one.

"That's the second time you've done that...." She breathed shakily, not content to let his brashness go so easily. "What the hell were you thinking..."

"Actually...." He whispered, the tip of his nose caressing her cheek, his head tilting against her own so his breath traced along her skin. "I wasn't."

Despite herself, her soft laughter was there, enticing his arms to wind even tighter around her slender form. "You're an idiot Potter..." She whispered, her light admonishment tracing across his neck, the shaking of his arms fiercely felt as a hand fell to her waist.

His hand found her chin, cupping it, forcing her face to turn to his own. "So..." He murmured, forest colored eyes conveying his conflictions. "A thank you wouldn't be coming anytime soon then?"

She shook her head, willing her eyes to shut, yet feeling their failure. "Not a chance."

A sad smile graced his face. "So nothing has changed."

Again her voice was catching. "Pr-precisely."

His entire expression faltered, his forest colored eyes betraying a sad hint of amusement. "Stuttering Kaylens..." He whispered, hand sliding from her chin, tracing her cheekbone. "First annoying, then clever, then stuttering... How much do you expect me to take?"

Her gaze held his, the severe weight of the sadness in his own seeping through to her. "How much can you?" She softly questioned.

His throat rose rhythmically, his swallow not fully masking the choked sound emitting from his throat. "Not a lot..." He whispered truthfully, pulling her towards him until they again clung to one another.

In the empty forest, far from where Seamus had fallen, far from the overwhelmed Hogsmeade, and far from Hogwarts, they clung to the only comfort they had.

Each other.

* * * * *


Hermione was gone.

Gone...

He had taken her, the snake smacking her beaten face into the wall, and there had been no amount of knowledge or bravery that could prevent it from happening.

There were times when sheer knowledge failed in the face of the upper hand, and Dean now knew this, for Hermione Granger, cleverest witch of their year, had fallen prey to the python that had clamped it's teeth through her clothing, dragging her from the room and into the village's streets.

The monster wasn't killing her, he was keeping her.

And there was nothing he could do about it.

Dean's dark eyes fixated upon the monster, hating him with renewed passion, for until this moment he had been miraculously sheltered from the villain's treachery.

Or at least he had thought so.

"My father was not a Death Eater." He spat dangerously, realizing the futileness of protestation, yet not caring.

Voldemort practically smiled, "The biggest mistake one can make is in failing to believe the truth, when it is dangled right in front of them."

Turning to him the creature continued, it's thick accentuation betraying the speech of one ill suited to the language of man.

His kind preferred their own speech, the speech of those that slithered upon their bellies.

"You my boy, are not Muggleborn." Voldemort hissed, fixing his glare upon him. "Your thoughts may be tainted, but your blood is pure."

He shook his head vigorously, "No, not according to you, because my mother's blood runs through my veins." Voldemort's face was narrowing in disgust, and Dean took his time annunciating his next words. "Her filthy, Muggle stained, blood."

The creature's tone was deathly quiet, "Your father was a pureblood, as are you. There is nothing left to consider on the matter."

Dean could only stare, hating the unquestioning look upon the creatures face.

"Your thoughts have been tainted Mr. Thomas. Indeed... they have. Yet once you know the truth, you'll come to realize exactly who has tainted them."

Paralyzing fear flowed through him, preventing him from saying a word of dissent as Voldemort's dictation continued.

"I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I desire your death for your filthy maternal parentage, yet you are wrong."

No he wasn't.... Dean knew enough to know that, yet the creature continued, heedless of the disbelieving look within his eyes.

"I ask you, would I have saved your life, healed your skull, if I were truly an enemy?" Voldemort's searching gaze roamed over him, penetrating far deeper than his outer layer of skin, for he could almost hear the villain's thoughts resonating within his mind.

"You feel it don't you Mr. Thomas." He leaned forward, eagerness written across his face. "You can feel your fear dissipating. You know I am not your enemy, you know how I crave you as an ally."

Dean Thomas stared into the face of evil, unwilling to believe the words pouring from the serpent's mouth, his own only able to form a single word through the penetrating persuasion ringing through his mind.

"Why?"

"Because you are powerful, as was your treacherous father." Voldemort replied, circling his kneeling form. "And because you're alone. Alone as we all are. I can feel how strongly you desire to see the truth, the truth as I once saw it."

The monster's words were no longer discernible from his own, at least not to him. He could no longer tear his eyes from Voldemort's, such was the power reverberating there.

"Make a choice my child. Make your choice and I shall free you from this prison."

"No prison...There's no..."

"Oh but there is. You like so many before you just fail to see it. Yet tell me, why do the powerful hide from the filthy Muggles when we should rule? The Muggles, weak as they are, have imprisoned us into our shrouds of secrecy."

Dean could not remove his eyes from the man, his jumbled words making little sense.

"For... For their safety..."

"NO!" The serpent's roar nearly destroyed him, sending him crumbling pathetically to the floor.

It was then that the eye contact was broken. It was then that the Legilimency, the persuasive power of suggestion that Voldemort had mastered, ended.

"We hide from them for our own safety! Muggles would kill our kind without a second glance if only presented with the opportunity!"

The entire room shook as a stall door slammed in the creature's anger.

"It is my job to see to it that that never happens. The preservation of our species is at stake, and it is us against them Mr. Thomas! The sooner you see it the safer you shall be!"

For reasons he could barely begin to comprehend, Dean eyes remained rigidly upon the floor. "W-why are you telling me this?"

"Because your mind has not been made up. Because you may not be stupid enough as is that vile Mudblood Nagini is taking care of. Because I need eyes and ears to aid in the preservation of our species, and I think you are intelligent enough to understand the impotency of those foolish enough to stand besides that old fool that calls himself your Headmaster!"

Voldemort again surprised him, dropping to the floor in front of him, the neat folds of the creature's robes lost upon the dirty tile.

"We are at war Mr. Thomas, and soon you will be forced to choose a side. Today I have sought to ensure that those strong enough to do so know the truth. Now look at me!"

Again the invisible force forced his head upwards, the red eyes boring into his soul.

"Make your choice."

* * * * *


She shuddered, for it could not be stopped. No matter how tightly Tonks shut her eyes, the image of his flying body plagued her.

Sirius.

If only he were here, truly sitting before her as another ghost of her past presently was.

Only the ghost she desired to again see was far beyond her reach, lying in wait, beyond a veil that mere mortals could not penetrate. The price of accessing the mysteries Sirius was now privy to was one she was not yet willing to pay.

Not when Emily and Kenneth were gone, taken, just as she had been.

She had again, failed.

"An Auror risks their life everyday Nymphadora, but the frequency and brashness with which you throw yours around is far too frightening! Now tell me, do you intentionally choose the hopeless assignments or do you just have a knack for finding them?"

Kingsley's admonishments rung within her skull, her eyes barely focusing upon her captor, who sat upon the rich upholstery, calmly twirling Chardonnay within his crystalline goblet, urging her to indulge in one of her own.

She was far too intelligent to accept the alluring temptation that still sat, untouched, upon the mahogany table. A small ring of perspiration was darkening the rich wood where the goblet rested.

Lowering the ornate crystal ware from his lips, the ghost of Regulus Black examined her, alive and well.

"It's a shame we never got to know each other as children Nymphadora." His cultured voice informed. "Had we, then you might just realize that I am indeed trying to be hospitable, not poison you."

She swallowed nervously, the beating her skull had taken in the car crash had been further amplified by Regulus' stunner.

Such had been the price of her hesitation, the mistake of her misidentification.

"Forgive me for not trusting someone who felt the need to disarm me." She replied tartly, the absence of her wand weighing heavily upon her psyche.

Regulus' thin lips upturned into a strained smile. "Surely you must understand that I cannot fully trust you Nymphadora. I remember how hell bent you had once been on becoming an Auror, and now..." His eyes fell to the Ministry of Magic crest gracing her lapel. "It appears you have succeeded. I could not very well have your self-righteous side stunning me before we had a chance to...catch up."

Her dark eyes narrowed, all characteristic warmth long since fled. "Old times it is then Regulus. So tell me, how was it, killing Muggles at your masters bidding? I bet it wa..."

"Correction," He interrupted, taking a long, calculating sip of the deep red fluid. "I have only killed one Muggle, be it indirectly."

"I'm sure." She spat. "I bet you were disappointed your homicidal career failed to last longer. After all, you spent your whole life idolizing those cloaked in black wonders, but barely lasted a week amongst your precious Death Eaters."

Regulus stood, her narrowed eyes following his path to the end of the study.

"So what happened Reggie? Couldn't play with the big boys and girls when it came down to it? Weren't strong enough?"

His pale countenance peered above the goblet's rim unflinchingly. "You should not speak of things you know naught about."

"Oh but I know plenty Reggie. I may have been just a child when you left to join them but I knew enough."

"Then you would know how ill advised it is to speak of this so openly. And it is Regulus, I believe I told you to drop the Reggie name when you were four."

"Drop my given name and I'll learn to annunciate your full one."

An inclined eyebrow was her response, yet she paid it no mind. The pounding of her head was fading, and her eyes were already roaming across the room, regaining her bearings.

"If you are searching for your friends," Regulus' voice broke in observantly, "You will be glad to know they are fine. Their injuries were a bit more severe than your own, but they are presently in the guest suite, receiving some well needed rest."

Her confused expression fell onto him. "Why did you bring us here Regulus?"

He shrugged impassively, placing his wine glass onto the small table. "Clearly help was needed, and you were in no condition to provide it."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know it. You're wondering why your prejudicial cousin has risen from the grave, and instead of leaving your tainted self and your Muggle friends to rot in that ditch you had wound up in, helped you."

She eyed him crudely. "Well I was wondering why your corpse looked so undesiccated ."

Regulus threw his head back, a dry laugh escaping his throat, echoing off the dark paneling. "Ah... I was wondering when we would get to that."

Long minutes passed, the only sign of it's passage being the telltale ringing of the grandfather clock in the corner, as it struck upon yet another indiscernible hour of the night.

She must have been unconscious for hours before awakening upon the couch.

"You willingly helped Muggles. Why?"

He eyed her disdainfully. "I will admit, I harbored them no love, at a time. But you'd be surprised what living with them for sixteen years does to curtail one's distaste."

"So that's what you've been doing? Living as a Muggle?"

"In a manner of speaking."

She groaned, never allowing her eyes to leave her miraculously risen cousin. "For once, a straight answer Regulus."

He laughed hollowly, drumming his fingers across the small table. "The Death Eaters attempted to kill me Nymphadora, and I was a marked Death Eater to the Ministry."

He stood abruptly, her untrusting gaze following his path to the end of the study. "The Muggle world, ironically enough, was my only option for safety." He continued, stopping in front of a large, decorative mirror, his hands tussling his slicked hair. "I started again there."

"Regulus, there was a body. Your body."

He calmly re-adjusted a particularly out of place strand. One would never know, just by looking at the two, that they were discussing what a world had widely regarded as a celebrated death.

The death of a Death Eater had once been a widely rejoiced event.

"I was tipped off that my defection had angered certain...members. I fled barely in time, and when they finally found me, the plan to ensure my survival had already been set into motion."

From her spot upon the settee, she watched as his eyes studied his reflection, as if trying to decide if he liked what he saw beneath the surface...

"I had proffered a vial of Polyjuice potion, just enough to ensure the transformation of a single person. A single unfortunate soul..."

Her blood ran cold at his equally frozen words, for the ghost of the past that stood, staring at his own reflection, appeared to be coming undone.

"They finally found me a few days later on a Muggle avenue... I knew I had no more time to run, but that so long as I was on a busy street, I would remain safe. They would not dare attack in front of so many witnesses..."

His gaze fell from the mirror, his fingers running blindly across the highly wrought iron of it's frame.

"The nearest person to convince had been a destitute in rags." He ground out. "Once they had drunk the potion, I disapparated."

A distinct tightening of her chest froze her. He had not... He could not...

"I can only assume what happened next, since my body was found."

Her arms were shaking. Another death... Another innocent that had been killed by one who had deserved a fate worse than death... Another innocent who's loss would forever go unnoticed..

"You sacrificed an innocent person to save your own skin..." She whispered haltingly.

His fists tightened around the edge of the mirror, his gaze avoiding his own reflection. "I know. But I did what was necessary. My life was of more value than the street urchins."

The horror within her chest was close to exploding. "A-a child? You k-killed a child..."

"Children are so oft gullible. You of all people, having been one yourself, should know this. They are so much more trusting..."

"Who are you to make that choice?" She cried chokingly.

"The urchin did not know the things about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named that I did."

"And I suppose you expect me to believe that you were going to come forward with that information?"

His deadened expression deepened. "If self preservation demanded it I would have."

She shook her head disbelievingly, her fingers wrapping around the cushions she sat upon. "You're a monster...."

He turned on her, "I was, but unlike you the things I grew to do were never my choice. Don't delude yourself into thinking otherwise."

"You always have a choice!"

"No Nymphadora. Purebloods do not always have a choice. My mother and father taught me that..."

"You can't blame them for your choices Regulus..."

"Then who should I blame? Unlike you I was taught to hate."

She shook, choking back a sob. "Sirius was able to make his own..."

He laughed bitterly. "Sirius was always the strong one, the rebellious one. But never for a second did he try to help me Nymphadora. Never delude yourself into thinking I could have chosen the path he did."

He spun away, facing the wall. "The second I donned the Slytherin crest he lumped me in with the rest of our cursed family. They were all I had." He finished hollowly.

"You should be in Azkaban."

"You're probably right, but that is not the reality."

"You're a self confessed murderer." She replied. "It should be."

"Still living in the sheltered world of your childhood are we? You never could accept the cold realities of the world, not with your mummy and daddy sheltering you as they were, encouraging your idealistic fantasies..."

"Better than Pureblooded homicidal mania."

His head fell. "Yes... It was homicidal wasn't it. As was I..."

"As a Muggle you'd be amazed at the high paying jobs that one can achieve if only they possess the proper persuasion." His long fingers caressed the worn wood of his wand, it's blunt end emerging from the pocket of his overcoat.

Her narrowed eyes followed his path to the end of the study. "You threatened them...."

"No, I confounded them." He responded irritably. "By the time I was done I had them believing I had the proper qualifications, the proper schooling, the best references..." He returned to the mirror, studying his reflection. "I was doing them a favor really. I am much better at my job than any of those Muggle nutters that profess to be my colleagues. Scalpels indeed..."

"Scalpels?" She repeated dully, the word's reference ringing true.

He nodded curtly. "Yes Nymphadora, I am a healer, or a doctor so to speak."

"Being a healer requires years of study Regulus!" She practically screamed. "You mean to tell me you confounded actual doctors into believing you were..."

"One of them, yes Nymphadora. That's exactly what I did."

"How can you just fall into that?" Her voice quivered with suppressed rage, her brain frantically turning over the new information, attempting to process it unsuccessfully.

"Sort of. Obviously memory charms were often used, particularly in my early years. But I practiced it until I got it right."

"You used human beings as guinea pigs..." The shrillness to her voice had reached a crescendo.

He shrugged. "It was no worse than the treatment they had been getting from my so-called colleagues."

"But guinea pigs!? You could have killed someone Regulus!"

"I never did Nymphadora. Instead I saved them, many of them..." He spoke with conviction, turning to her, his face as calm as ever despite the clear belief in his eyes.

Until then, his eyes had retained the look of the dead. Until right then, Tonks would have believed that his soul was as dead as his body had been rumored to be.

Until then she had not realized what his hasty risks had meant.

"Many of them would have died had it not been for my magic Nymphadora, the magic they lack, the magic the Ministry selfishly keeps to themselves..."

She swallowed hard, grasping for the words. "That's how you helped Emily and Kenneth..."

He nodded, his steely gaze boring into her own. "Yes. The girl was in bad shape, a collapsed lung. It had been punctured by a broken rip. I can only assume she sustained it from the impact of the crash."

The severity of the situation fell upon her just then.

Emily Bothan could have died, and it had taken a reformed Death Eater to save her.

And he had.

Suddenly Regulus Black's resemblance to Sirius ran more than skin deep, for suddenly she was able to see something good in his soul.

As if reading her thoughts he spoke. "Speaking of my estranged world, how is that dear brother of mine? Back in Azkaban I suppose?" He gestured to a copy of the paper that lay on the small stand beneath the mirror. "I saw his picture in the paper a few years back."

She tore her eyes from him for the first time since awakening. There was no longer a reason to eye him suspiciously.

"He's dead Regulus."

Unable to see him, the clearly strained voice told her enough. "How?" He whispered falteringly.

It was a single word.

Just one.

"Bellatrix."

She noticeably jerked as his fists pounded down, grinding into the wooden stand he had turned back to. "I believe it's time I returned." He whispered dangerously, ignorant or uncaring of how his bloodied knuckles stained the expensive wood. "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named may have been gone for years, but I doubt his true aims have changed."

Was he forgetting his own situation...

"Regulus, you're a known Death Eater. The second the Ministry finds out you're alive they'll imprison you without trial."

The silence was scarcely penetrable by his next words. "I'll be needing to speak to the Minister of Magic in a closed location then. I will not go to prison." His voice shook, "I cannot. Not until the truest monster is gone..."

"I'll do you one better. "Albus Dumbledore."

Regulus Black nodded resolutely. "Good. It's about time I saw how truly great that man supposedly is."




Just for the record, Hermione is not dead. That shall be explained later on. ^^

Thank you to Ichigo Pan for the wonderful drawing of Kalliandra.

Discussion Group Update: For those of you who have not found out about this yet, a reader, Arjun, was kind enough to set up a reader discussion group regarding the Eclipse of the Sky saga. It's basically an area where readers can get to know one another, discuss theories about various fanfictions, debate characterizations, create polls, discuss plot holes, view reader illustrations (there are 59 images currently posted at this time in the group), or discuss their own fanfictions, while helping each other in the writing process of stories.

I also will be posting deleted scenes for the discussion group to view. Right now there is a 1900 word humorous segment between Ron and Hermione posted, and coming soon there will be a meeting between Harry and Cho Chang. If you want to join this group the directions to do so are on my freewebs homepage. Just follow the link at the top of my HPFF homepage and it will take you to it. I also let people know how chapters are progressing and answer questions on there as well.

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