Work Header

Hold my hand (we'll turn on the light)

Chapter Text

Alec's clammy fingers tightened around his wand when he heard the footsteps of his students in the hallway beyond the closed door of his classroom. He gulped, swallowing the dry knot of nerves trying to crawl its way out of his throat while his heart beat fast, its thump-thump echoing in his head, behind his eyelids, making him feel like he was going to pass out.

Right now, coming back to Hogwarts to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts seemed like the worst idea he'd ever had - and he'd had a lot, these past few years. Coming out during the family Christmas dinner five years ago, for example, or flying through the castle until he'd accidentally knocked over one of the armours on the sixth floor. Getting detention with creepy old Filch almost sounded alluring in comparison to facing the bunch of demons about to enter his classroom. Almost being a nuance of importance, of course.

He'd dreamed of this position since forever, he reminded himself. He was living the dream, especially given the circumstances in which he'd quit his previous job, and he knew more than his fair share of people (his siblings, amongst others) who would have loved to walk in his shoes in this exact instant, back at Hogwarts and about to welcome his first students of the year. His first students, period.

Alec took a deep breath and flicked his wrist toward the door, that opened soundlessly. The chatter outside immediately stopped, as if the first-year students were holding their breath while they waited anxiously to see who Professor Lightwood was, exactly. Alright. They were just as new as him, Alec reasoned with himself. Eleven years old, fresh from their parents' homes and probably as excited although more scared than he was... He could do this. He'd literally survived worse.

"Good morning everyone," he called when he walked out of his classroom to meet his students - and he had to look down.

The straining-his-neck kind of looking down, because Merlin's beard, those were tiny kids. Did he look so much like a miniature human being when he was their age? Surely not! Fighting a grin, Alec motioned them inside the classroom and closed the door behind the last one to enter, watching them as they gaped at the back wall that he'd enchanted much like the ceiling of the Great Hall was.

In this instance however, the wall didn't reflect the sky and its torments but the depths of a dark forest where bushes quivered from time to time, branches cracked and shadows passed, too fast for the untrained eye to identify them. Alec fully intended on training his students to recognise the trail and attitude in movement of the most dangerous creatures, some of which could be found even at Hogwarts. Detentions in the Forbidden Forest were no fun when you didn't know what to expect - or how to fend off the creature jumping you.

"Sit down, sit down," Alec urged the last few students looking at the wall, who promptly obeyed when they met his gaze, seemingly terrified.

He didn't wonder for long whether it was the tattoos, his eyebrows or his reputation as a ruthless Auror, although he doubted first-years had already heard about that or... the other thing. Unless they came from a wizard family and had regularly checked the Daily Prophet over the past six months...

Whether they had or not, Alec knew that the rumour mill would slowly get going: his colleagues would certainly discuss it, if they hadn't already, ghosts or paintings would hear, repeat and transform the reality, and soon he would turn into a werewolf knitting trousers for Death Eaters. At least that one was funny, much more than his actual back-story.

"Hello everyone," he greeted his class again, keeping his voice as firm but also as unthreatening as possible, which proved to be a hard combination to achieve, "I am professor Lightwood, your Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. As the name says, I will mostly teach you to defend and protect yourself as well as others, so attacks won't be our main focus - that doesn't mean we won't discuss or even practice them, though. For now, you can put your wands away: we'll start with basic safety measures that do not require any spell but mere observation skills. Remember that when technique and instinct fail, observation and reflection might just save your life."

That last sentence apparently sounded a bit too dramatic for some, who glanced with wide eyes at each other and clearly looked worried. Alec wouldn't be surprised if he started receiving Howlers from angry parents in a few days for traumatising their children...

To his relief though, they latched onto what he was saying quite quickly and with a lot of interest that he tried to feed and keep alight as much as he could: he answered some unrelated questions that popped in his students' minds while attempting to keep his lesson on track and not stray too far from his initial topic. He thought it was going quite well as he explained the importance of instinct as well as thoughtful but fast reflection, until the door of the classroom opened on its own.

Alec whirled around, his wand in position before he could even finish to put himself between the kids and the door, a spell on the tip of his tongue. He held it back just in time though, as there was no one stepping through the open door. No one visible, at least. Alec would not make the mistake to assume that just because he didn't see anyone, it meant there was no one.

He was only partly right, as it turned out, and he was glad that he had enough control over himself not to spew spells and curses when a cat lazily rounded the door and entered the classroom.

A cat.

Such a mundane animal had just created a bigger surprise than all he could have expected to see at Hogwarts. Cats weren't uncommon pets amongst the pupils though, perhaps Alec shouldn't feel so thrown at the sudden sight of one. Wondering which one of his students had brought a cat so loyal the animal couldn't bear to leave his master alone for a day of classes, he relaxed while his students laughed, their relief obvious. Alec felt a bit guilty when he realised that he'd alarmed them with his brusque, instinctive reaction - never mind this kind of reaction had saved his life more than once in the past.

"Alright," he said lightly as he gestured at the animal, trying to get the class to refocus on him and his subject. "What does the sudden arrival of this cat teach us?"

"That cats are big monsters who should be feared," a kid snickered at the back, apparently delighted by his teacher's jumpy reaction.

"No, Mr... Aldertree, is it?" Alec answered with an indulgent smile. "However, this event teaches us that sometimes, threats are nothing but a figment of our imagination. Shadows may be shadows only. While you should be prepared at all times, yelling a spell as soon as you think you might have heard or seen something strange is more often than not counterproductive. I could have blown that door to make sure nothing was going to happen to you or me - but I would also have hurt that cat. So what did I do, exactly?"

He trailed off, eyes searching around the class until they found a shy hand up.

"Yes, Miss Wilson?"

"You decided observation and reflection were the better options here," the girl answered, "but you were also ready to cast a spell if needed."

"Yes. What stopped me?"

"Your self-control?" she tried, the words questioning and unsure.

"Exactly," Alec confirmed with a nod and a proud smile. "Never let surprise or fear control you, even when your reaction is more on the instinctive side. Brain and guts have to work together. Also, five points to Ravenclaw!"

A murmur of appreciation ran through the rows of students, who'd probably earned their first points of the year. Alec remembered the elation and pride at being the one to make his house go up in the tight race for the House Cup but also the shame when he lost any, more often than not because he'd hexed a fellow student for being a prejudiced git. In those occasions, he'd found his only solace in the fact that he was not alone to have lost points.

Sometimes, when he was especially lucky, he also got the best kind of detention: spend part of the night working in the Forbidden Forest - under the close and careful watch of a teacher, which kept him from exploring the forest as much as he wanted. However, his teachers had quickly figured out that he loved this sort of detention a bit too much to be perfectly safe... Or an efficient punishment, for that matter.

The Forest had something intriguing in her woods though, something dangerous that drew him in and made him want to learn, more and more, until her secrets were his. He'd had some scary encounters there, yes, but they had never pushed him away completely. The Forest had tried her best, though...

Alec shook his head with a smile and called for the class' attention again when the cat suddenly jumped on his desk and sat there, watching the students with his yellow eyes that looked almost human in their concentration. A few chuckles and coos were heard when the ball of black fur stretched, extending its tiny head toward Alec, who couldn't do much besides scratching the cat's ears with some hesitation. A powerful purr started as soon as he stroked the delicate head, the large eyes closing in an expression of delight, and Alec himself let out a low chuckle.

"Alright, open your textbook page nine," he said to his students, petting the cat one last time. "Start reading through the different situations that are written down; each one depicts experiences of magical attacks and the answering defences. For next week, I want a ten-inch parchment about the tactics that were used and mistakes that were made. Questions?"

A chorus of no's answered him, to his relief: Alec had no idea what parchment-length was considered adequate for first-years' homework, especially at the beginning of the school year since they had to get used to their different classes and teachers - not to mention their sometimes odd requirements. Perhaps he was a bit too thoughtful? He was certain that some of his colleagues didn't even wonder about that. He didn't want his students to whine about him in their respective common rooms though, so he hoped he'd aimed right for his first given assignment.

At the end of the class, he was glad to see that a few kids were already discussing their homework, apparently deeply engrossed in their theories, and he smiled when several students waved him goodbye and shouted See you next week Mister Lightwood! excitedly. He eyed them as they left, curious to see which one of his students the cat would follow... As if to frustrate him though, the cat stayed right where he was, sitting on the desk, while watching Alec with what he could swear was an air of amusement.

"Who do you belong to, uh?" he wondered aloud, coming back toward the feline to boop the top of his nose gently, his fingertips sliding backwards, over to the space between his ears.

The cat leaned into the touch, closing his eyes again as the eager purring resumed, and Alec grinned. He'd never had a cat before, because Jace, Izzy and Max had sided together to get a dog when they were kids, and Alec had been stuck with a well-meaning but slightly idiotic Labrador who'd eaten his parchments and quills whenever he was not looking. His mom used to shrug whenever he complained to her, blaming him for not taking care of his belongings more properly.

Thus, in this instant, stroking the silky hair of the cat and feeling the vibrations of his throat underneath his fingers seemed like a childhood dream come true. When he searched for one, he didn't find any collar - not that it was surprising, as cats that came from wizard families seldom lost their way home, but he wasn't pleased that he could not get any hint regarding this cat's owner.

"Not that I don't appreciate this," he whispered after a little while spent in more petting, "but I should get going. I still have a few things to prepare for my afternoon classes."

Alec didn't know why he was explaining his schedule to the cat who, obviously, would not understand one word anyway, but the thought of just abandoning him in a classroom didn't sit well with him. With one last apologetic caress, Alec picked him up and took him outside, before he knelt on the cold ground of the hallway to let the cat go.

"See you around, maybe!" he told the cat with another smile, that suddenly vanished.

He was talking to an animal, as if he expected an answer. Maybe he was going crazy, like he'd so often refused to believe for the past six months... No, he forced himself to accept as he closed the door of his classroom with a lazy gesture of his wand, while Izzy's words worked their way to his mind. He'd been through a traumatic experience and he was coping as much as he could, but he certainly was not mad. There was nothing wrong in seeking comfort in a way that was effective for him and if it meant whispering to a cat, he would take it over nightmares any day.

Two days later, Alec entered the staffroom with no small amount of apprehension. The gargoyles at the door seemed to sneer at him when he went through but they didn't make any comment, for which he was thankful, although these stone figures were not the main reason for the tiny flicker of fear in his stomach. Not that he was scared, per se. His young and shy self had never liked going to that room and even though he'd grown more confident over the years, he still wasn't skilled when it came to socialising.

The fact that his colleagues would probably probe - gently but curiously, which was fair, he guessed - at what had happened to him didn't help.

He supposed he had to get it over with sooner or later, though... So there he was, inside the staff room, glancing left and right, uneasy as he shuffled his feet and decided to make his way to the comfortable-looking chairs in the middle of the room. One of those was already taken by the man with two horns sprouting from his head who had taught Alec everything he knew about herbology.

Professor Ragnor Fell had often insisted that Aurors should know their plants and Alec would have been glad to tell him that his lessons had paid off, for it had indeed proven useful in his line of work, had he not been distracted by the other man in the staffroom.

Alec couldn't say that he knew Magnus Bane personally. If he remembered well, the wizard had been in his last year at Hogwarts back when eleven-year-old Alec was trying to memorise the path from one classroom to the other... Since his return to Hogwarts, he had not yet had the occasion to talk to him, although they'd been sitting close to each other in the Great Hall, during the last two days' dinners. Of course, Alec had heard of his reputation as well, first thanks to Max, his little brother currently in his fourth year at Hogwarts, who swore the man was the best teacher he'd ever had.

Magnus Bane was also said to be a great wizard, admired among his peers for his powers and inventiveness regarding Transfiguration... A reputation that Alec was having quite a hard time to understand, as The Great Bane was currently wrestling with an enchanted cloak that refused to stay on the back of his seat and preferred to hug him - as in, squeeze the breath out of him. Not that it was relevant but Alec found himself sympathising with the cloak: these broad shoulders really were to die for.

"I'm going to shred you to pieces!" Magnus was whispering furiously, "Then I'll sew you back together and do it all over again!"

Ragnor laughed, mirth and mischief shining in his eyes, and Alec got the solid suspicion that he wasn't innocent in the sudden enchantment of Bane's cloak. Not knowing whether he should help the younger teacher of the two or just watch him fight off the cloak's affections, Alec quietly took a seat. He didn't feel awkward at all.

"Welcome, Alexander!" Ragnor Fell immediately said, smiling at him, "I was wondering why we hadn't seen you here yet..."

"Sorry, Professor," Alec apologised, the old habit of feeling chastised by his teachers' comments coming back at full force, "It's been a few busy days."

"Don't Professor me!" his former teacher told him with a grin, "You're one of us, now! Ragnor will do just fine."

"Bloody cloak!" Magnus' voice bellowed behind them.

"Will he be alright?" Alec worried, glancing between the two men with raised brows.

"Oh, yes," Ragnor assured him with a smirk, "He'll soon figure out the counter spe..."

The older man was interrupted when the cloak flew across the room and smacked him in the face, sending his chair toppling backward at the same time, and then the cloak proceeded to make kissy sounds and attack his mouth.

"See?" the herbology teacher squeaked beneath the affectionate fabric, "Told you!"

Two seconds later, the cloak vanished, a dishevelled Ragnor surfaced back and Magnus laughed as he collapsed onto the nearest seat.

"I beat you once again, old friend," Bane said, "but I feel you win this one. This wasn't what I had in mind when I said I wanted to meet the famous Alexander Lightwood. You could have chosen another time to enchant my cloak."

"F... Famous?" Alec repeated in disbelief. "I'm not..."

"Please!" Ragnor scoffed. "Don't pretend you shouldn't be at least a little popular. And for your information, Magnus, I had no idea Alec would enter this room right in time to see how cosy you were getting with your own cloak."

Magnus groaned, clearly discomfited, but he was smiling when he reached out to shake Alec's hand. Alec noticed three things then: first, Magnus' hand was warm and soft, although his rings turned his grip cool in places; second, his eyes seemed familiar and third, his smile was intoxicating.

"Magnus Bane," the man introduced himself, prompting Alec to mumble something that sounded like I know before he flushed.

Really, how embarrassing was that? He didn't want to come across as the creepy Auror who'd run a background check on every single one of his colleagues... Well, too late for that. He only felt a bit better when Magnus chuckled, not at all disturbed, and said:

"And of course you're Alexander Lightwood! It's an honour to have you here."

"Thanks," Alec muttered, a bit overwhelmed by his apparent fame and feeling like it would only be a matter of time before either Magnus or Ragnor asked about his previous job and the accident, from which stemmed his current position as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.

"So, how are you adjusting?" Ragnor enquired with that appeasing smile that should have made just about anyone feel comfortable and warm - anyone but Alec, because that was precisely the kind of question he'd hoped not to be asked.

Still, he forced a smile. He knew, deep down, that Ragnor was asking out of concern for his well-being and his health, not out of misplaced curiosity. Izzy would be proud of him for remembering that, at least, from their sessions that Alec categorically refused to call therapy. Just because Isabelle worked at St Mungo's in the department of magical wounds inflicted on minds, didn't mean that she had become his therapist... Especially since she was his sister. There were things he didn't want to tell his family, Healer or not, and he wouldn't count the few hours he'd spent in Izzy's office listening to her advice regarding his life after as professional help. He'd not told her enough for that.

"I'm getting there," he answered to Ragnor, his fake smile not yet faltering. "I'm still having nightmares but I manage, don't worry, that won't impact on my work or..."

At the sight of Magnus' and Ragnor's twin worried gazes, he shut up. When they glanced at each other, clearly uncomfortable, Alec took an involuntary step back. Were they scared of him, now? Did they feel like he was a danger, to them, the students and himself? Yes, he'd been through a lot and his magic had gone hypersensitive and haywire for a while but he was fine now, he could control his powers and himself, couldn't he? They didn't have to fear him, he wouldn't hurt anyone!

"I was talking about you working here, actually," Ragnor eventually said, very softly. "How you were settling down at Hogwarts. As I said, you are one of us, now, and you'll find that the staff here is much like your House was to you as a teenager: a family."

Oh. So he hadn't meant... Of course not. Just because Alec thought about it a lot - no, it wasn't true. He didn't choose to think about it. He would be happier if he didn't have to think about it at all, actually. He should have known that even if the slightest detail of his everyday life could bring him back, for one second or two at most, six months ago, not everyone would want him to discuss his experience. No one in their right mind would ask him questions. Of course Ragnor had merely been curious about how he felt at Hogwarts - and not in anything else.

Alec cleared his throat.

"Right," he mumbled, "School. Not... that other thing."

"If you want to talk about it though," Magnus offered with a kind smile, "we would listen."

"No," Alec said, on a tone that meant he wouldn't welcome any other offer, "As I said, I manage."

"Of course," Magnus wisely agreed, nodding along his words, "but I mean it, Alexander. Whenever you need to talk, about anything, really, there will always be someone to listen to you."

"Thank you," Alec answered curtly.

He attempted an awkward smile to balance the harshness of his tone, for which he had not intended. He tried to sculpt his lips into a smile similar to the calm one Magnus and Ragnor were both sporting, but he didn't think he got the same result as them. His own lips felt too dry to spread on a smile, his jaw too tense, his shoulders hunched and far from the open attitude of the two other men. He still tried to reassure them though, because he didn't want them to think that their concern and offered friendship were unwelcome - they weren't, not fully. He just needed time to open up.

"So, uh... The first-years like me, apparently?" he said, a questioning edge to his words since he was unsure of his teaching skills and the way his lessons were actually received. "Third-years looked scared when I mentioned hands-on training, though... I think they imagined I'd lock them in a room with a Hinkypunk. Not that I would, of course! Also, I sort of became friends with a cat that isn't mine."

"A cat?" Ragnor repeated, sparing Magnus one suspicious glance.

"Yes," Alec confirmed, somewhat confused. "Black cat, gorgeous eyes. A bit attention-demanding but cute."

"Yeah, sounds like a certain cat I know," the herbology teacher snickered. "He's a special one."

"So you know him?"

"You could say that," Ragnor answered mysteriously, with an amused glint in his eyes that Alec didn't miss. "If you'll excuse me, I have a class with seven-years in a few minutes. See you later, boys!"

Alec watched him leave the room in disbelief, aware that his former teacher had just evaded his question. He wasn't sure to understand why: what was so secret or important about that cat that Ragnor preferred to pretend he had students to meet? When he asked Magnus exactly that, the man shrugged.

"Couldn't say," he told him in very few words, which Alec felt wasn't very in character.

Fine, they could keep their secrets. He would find out by himself... Eventually. Maybe.

While Alec had planned on it and was dead set on succeeding, he didn't actually manage to unveil the cat's secrets during his first week back at Hogwarts. Not even on his second or his third. Mister Stache, as he'd lamely named the feline, liked to pop into his classroom from time to time, never on a regular schedule and never for the same amount of time, made his student smile at the obvious affection he had for Alec - rubbing his head all over his hands - and then, without warning at all, jumped down the desk and left the room, his tail held high.

Alec had asked his students about the cat. The first-years didn't have a clue about him apparently, while the others blinked at him with candour and pretended not to know either. Alec didn't believe them. He was led to think that there was some kind of ritualistic initiation to go through in order to be worthy of the cat's secrets, and a fifth-year girl told him that he would certainly find out soon enough. He didn't know what she meant with that.

To be honest, the secrecy didn't really bother him. He would be more upset if the cat stopped coming however, for he'd realised that the gentle licks of the cat across his fingertips or the purring against his palm helped him feel calmer. He was never conscious of the tension in the line of his shoulders until Mister Stache came up to him and pawed at his elbow.

One night, Alec even found the cat in his private chambers, sitting on top of the small table where he took his meals whenever he didn't feel like going all the way to the Great Hall to dine with hundreds of loud students and just as boisterous colleagues.

"This is not very hygienic, Mister Stache," Alec mumbled, making a shooing gesture so the cat would jump down, "I eat on that table."

Mister Stache did get down but not before doing something with his eyes that looked like he was rolling them far, far behind his head. It wasn't the first time that Alec noticed his humanlike behaviour and he wondered, again, who the cat belonged to. Whoever they were, their cat probably loved them very much if he even copied their facial expressions and quirks - which led to another question: what was he doing by Alec's side, then? Not that he was complaining, for he'd almost forgotten what if felt like not to be alone come evening, but he was curious.

Evenings had become dreadful to Alec, these past few months. While he got ready for bed, his mind stopped running with his daily occupations and finally took the time to think about all the things Alec was trying so hard to push in a dark, forgotten corner of his brain. He tended to anticipate the nightmares that almost always haunted him and forced him to lie awake more often than not, fearing sleep, until his burning eyelids gave in and closed, opening the doors to the realm of his dreams.

He'd made his own phials of dreamless potion a few months prior but he didn't want to take it every night: call it misplaced pride but he refused to feel like he needed help every freaking time. As he'd told Ragnor and Magnus, he was adjusting. Managing.

Neither of the two teachers had tried to broach the topic of his past experience again, which was very respectful of them, but he still caught the occasional worried glance aimed his way. Alec didn't feel like their concern was needed - he was fine - but at the same time, he was thankful that they cared, enough not to call them on it.

Feeling tired already despite the not-so late hour, Alec quickly switched his robes for comfortable sweatpants and a Muggle band t-shirt. He enjoyed Pink Floyd, he'd found out on that one day he'd spent wandering through the non-magical neighbourhoods of London, walking into shops that sold Merlin knew what, just for the fun of it, although his clueless face had brought him into close contact with helpful albeit overeager clerks.

To be honest, he'd thought that the rainbow coming out from the triangle displayed on the t-shirt was somehow related to the pride flag, a concept he'd discovered during a case involving both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds, where he'd worked with a guy from the Muggle police. Underhill was proudly wearing a rainbow bracelet around his wrist, underneath his uniform, and he'd been happy to educate Alec on its meaning. He'd even taken Alec to a gay bar, where the Auror had inadvertently seduced half of the population with the combination of his dark looks and his confused face.

That was probably the only time he'd seduced anyone, to be fair, and he hadn't even been trying. It wouldn't happen again so soon, or at all - he wasn't sure that anyone would be foolish enough to fall for a guy who couldn't sleep for fear or waking up his demons and who screamed himself awake once he had. Oh, he knew what his sister would say about that unhealthy dose of self-depreciation but that phrasing only served to spare him, somewhat. She should know better than to promise him a normal life again.

With a deep sigh, Alec gestured wordlessly at two eggs and a pan that he enchanted so they would handle themselves and make him a light omelette, that he ate with Mister Stache resting at his feet. In spite of his silence, his companion made the evening better, his warmth a comforting sensation for Alec who had grown quite used to feeling lonely. After the accident, some of his friends or colleagues (or both) had given up on him once they'd realised that he'd changed. Some hadn't known how to act in his presence. Some had been downright scared, while others had tried to do as if nothing bad had happened. They'd only made it worse. In the end, Alec had been the one to leave so that they wouldn't have to. He didn't regret it: Hogwarts had welcomed him far better than he'd hoped and he liked it there, he liked the kids and the teaching and... He was content with that job and he would enjoy it for however long he would keep it.

Mister Stache was still hanging about when Alec went to bed, exploring the limited quarters the teacher had been given which he planned on magically expanding one of these days. He didn't need that much more room but he wanted to turn part of his chambers into a proper office and for that, a few spells were needed. Maybe on another sleepless night... Although he would probably have enlarged the whole castle by the time he had regular sleep patterns again. Chuckling, Alec slipped under the blankets and curled on himself.

"Night, Mister Stache," he mumbled, closing his eyes.

He waited for sleep to come and take him... and waited. And waited. He'd long since understood that it was useless to toss and turn to find another, comfortable position: it would only get on his nerves more. Thus he didn't move, no matter how tiresome it was to lie there and do nothing - some nights, finally fed up, he got up and went over the materials for his next class or did a few dozens of push-ups, for he had to keep in shape someway.

Sleep assaulted him without warning. One second his mind was running wild, wondering if perhaps he could find some time in the upcoming days or weeks to pay a visit to the Forbidden Forest and her Centaurs, far from friendly creatures but with unequalled wisdom, and the next second he was snoring with his mouth open.

Nightmares were like a sly enemy, coming under the cover of the night, when their prey was most vulnerable and defenceless, to trap them in a net of scary memories and anxiety, to laugh at their anguish and make it last.

Alec saw her first. Laughing, her long dark hair flowing behind her as she skipped across the room, casting spell after hex after curse, snuffing the life out of his partners with a few unforgivable words she wasn't afraid to speak. Lilith had seemed invincible, until Raj and he had attacked her at the same time, countering the witch's spells with their own. For that victory, the Daily Prophet had been all over the Ministry of Magic, trying to get interviews with the Aurors who'd caught the woman known as the Mother of Demons - Imogen Herondale had refused all requests for the security of her Aurors but in the end, it had been far from enough.

In his nightmares, Lilith looked even more beautiful than she had in reality. Far crueller too, her challenging smirk turning into a grin of delight as she dug her nails in his flesh. Then her face twitched and slipped into the face of another, with more masculine features, her cascading hair turning into fair and short locks, the eyes wide and dark as if possessed...

Alec screamed when Jonathan used the Cruciatus curse on him - but it was a dream, a nightmare, he knew that and he wasn't afraid of that version of the man. Still he screamed as the memories flooded him. Alec could still remember the searing pain that he'd felt, as if his bones were on fire, and he cowered in terror. He hadn't given Jonathan what he wanted. He'd yelled for the torture to stop, begged Jonathan to kill him, cried as he wished for the deliverance... but he hadn't given anything away. Jonathan had laughed at his resistance, watching the Auror squirm in agony at his feet.

Alec woke up with a gasp, bile rising in his throat, and he turned to lean over the side of his mattress and retch, heaving and crying, phantoms of hot pain white behind his eyelids. He could still hear Jonathan laugh and mimic his cries, see the mad glimmer in his eyes...

"Stop," he whimpered against his own will, shivering while he curled up on himself again, drenched in cold sweat, "I can't do this anymore... I can't..."

A warm but wet touch on the back of his hand startled him and forced him out of his stupor, somewhat pushing away the fear that still remained, however, lurking on the edges of his mind. When Alec looked up, he nearly fell off the bed in recoil at the sight of two gleaming eyes, until he realised that those did not belong to a demon but to a furry creature that seemed rather concerned about him.

"Stache..." he managed to utter, reaching with a trembling hand to the feline's head.

The cat flicked his tail and meowed, apparently glad that the human in bed had recognised him. He bumped his head against Alec's hand, requesting heavier petting, and the wizard laid back on the pillow, suddenly damn relieved that Mister Stache had not left him alone that night: he was distracting him and in this instant, that was what he needed most.

"Did I frighten you?" Alec whispered while the cat climbed on his chest and settled over his heart. "Sorry... Didn't mean to."

Mister Stache didn't seem to pay much attention to his apology: instead, he put his head on his paws and started purring, closing his eyes in deep contentment. Alec managed to crack a smile at his carefree behaviour. If only he could be a cat! What did a cat do anyway? Sleep, get comfy, eat, sleep some more, get petted, eat a bit, chase a mouse or a bird and then, sleep again. Oh, and comforting scared humans too, apparently. Alec couldn't complain about that: Mister Stache's regular purring calmed the erratic heart caged in his own chest and soon, he found himself relaxing and breathing in synch with the cat's slower heartbeat.

Alec wasn't sure he would manage to go back to sleep that night but at least, he wasn't alone. Right now, it meant everything to him.

Chapter Text

"You look like shit," Magnus commented as soon as Alec entered the staffroom the next morning, having still forty minutes left before his first class of the day.

"Thank you," the Auror answered with a tired roll of his eyes, "You certainly know how to make a man feel special, don't you?"

Magnus' apologetic chuckles made him smile but the underlying and sincere concern in his eyes urged him to reveal at least a tiny part of what had bothered him all night long - or almost. Mister Stache had managed to keep Alec mostly calm for the rest of the night, relaxed but not asleep, sadly, although the Auror was glad for the cat's help.

"Nightmares," Alec told him, assuming one word would be enough for Magnus to understand the implications of it, including his consequent fatigue and grumpiness... Not that he usually was a chirpy guy, he had to confess. He was more the brooding type.

"Do you want to talk about them?" Magnus asked.

Alec wondered for a second whether his fellow teacher was only being polite or was genuinely interested in helping him. If he thought about it, it was probably the latter... And he immediately felt guilty for imagining otherwise. Magnus didn't strike him as someone who would endure other people's sob stories if he didn't intend to focus on those properly and take his own share of the burden.

The Transfiguration teacher seemed like a man who cared about others, to the point where he was perhaps too generous for his own sake, and Alec wouldn't allow Magnus' shoulders to slump under the weight of his troubles. Not to mention that he didn't find his nightmares particularly pleasant to relive, even in daylight.

"No," he answered at last, hoping that the other man would understand that it was nothing personal. "The kitty already helped, anyway..."

Magnus gave a strange smile, between relief at knowing that Alec had found another companion to confide into and frustration at not being able to do more than Mister Stache was already doing. He didn't ask for more details, didn't insist on knowing everything that was going on inside Alec's mind and nightmares, but the Auror guessed that wasn't for lack of care - far from it. It was obvious that Magnus was worried about him, although he was trying not to show it by adverting his eyes and minding his own business.

Like the wings of a butterfly, Alec's eyelids fluttered. He wished he could skip his own classes and go back to bed, even for one hour tops, just to rest. He wondered, sometimes, how long his body - and mind - could carry on without proper sleep. Would he suddenly collapse in the middle of his lesson, scare his students and gain a one-way ticket to St Mungo's where Izzy would blame him for not taking proper care of himself?

With a sigh, Alec rubbed at his eyes and tried to keep them open. It turned out to be easier than he'd thought when he caught sight of tealeaves dancing before his eyes, that widened in shock. For a short-lived instant, he feared he'd finally snapped and gone crazy, but then the leaves became dragonflies in an explosion of colours and he met Magnus' gaze, sparkling with amusement as well as the reflection of the tiny fireworks he suddenly enchanted the dragonflies to turn into. Mesmerised, Alec watched his colleague display his talents, his wand moving with grace as he wordlessly changed fireworks into galloping horses of silver smoke, then into iridescent feathers, and all of that for one purpose: cheering him up.

"Do you know why I'm here?" Alec eventually asked, moved by Magnus' efforts to make him smile.

"On a philosophical, spiritual or practical level?" the teacher shot back with a grin, giving one last spiralling impulse of his wand to the feathers.

They turned into a rainfall of sparks that crowned Alec's head, although they dimmed and vanished before they could softly land in his tousled hair. He was nearly rendered speechless at the display: Magnus' magic was beautiful. It belonged to the sort he had not seen in a long time, used as he was to dark magic and its nefarious effects on people. If he reached within himself - something Alec had dared to do only a few times in the past months, for fear of the consequences - he knew he would find the vibrations of Magnus' power, hear it resonate through his bones, and he would feel its soothing echo against his own scarred magic.

Alec looked down and rubbed his eyes, pretending to wipe out all traces of exhaustion. His fingers came away a bit wet.

"Here at Hogwarts," the Auror eventually answered, his voice sounding strange to his own ears.

"You are here to teach a new generation of witches and wizards," the other suggested with an elegant gesture of his hand while he sat in front of Alec, a proud smile on his lips as he crossed his legs and slowly palmed the arms of his chair.

That statement was true, of course - but also incomplete and Magnus knew as much. Still, he seemed satisfied with his own answer, happy to leave it at that if Alec so wished. However, the Auror found himself considering that perhaps... He didn't have to keep all of his secrets to himself. What if he opened up to someone who was neither his boss nor his sister-slash-therapist? To an almost stranger, a concerned one at that, who wasn't supposed to care about him so much in the first place? Wasn't Alec misleading him by remaining quiet on his troubles? Perhaps Magnus deserved to learn more about him, to decide for himself whether Alec was worth so much worry or not.

"Yes," Alec admitted, "but I imagine that you also know what prompted my sudden career change..."

"Only what the papers said," Magnus confessed with obvious reluctance. "Alec, you should know that... I don't mean to pry. My enchantments were not a scheme to push you into talking to me, not if you don't want to. I only... really wanted to see you smile."

Alec didn't think he imagined the subtle message in that last sentence. A dangerous path to tread.

"That's exactly why I'm telling you," he answered, remaining vague on whether he was talking because Magnus wasn't forcing him to do so or because he wanted to see him smile - and Alec hoped to discourage him before he could burn himself at the flames of his emotional baggage. "Not the details though, but... Just so you know... some of it."

Magnus nodded, his face grave, and the Auror only had a second to wonder if he should really do this, ignore his own earlier decision of not bothering the teacher with all that, before he was blurting it out regardless. Perhaps he'd underestimated his need to talk to someone, after all.

"I arrested Lilith with my team something like a year ago," he explained, starting with the lesser evil. "Mother of Demons, they called her. She used dark magic to bring back the dead, but they weren't... They weren't themselves anymore."

Magnus nodded again, apparently understanding the dangers of necromancy. Alec sometimes wondered why the Hogwarts teaching program didn't include warnings against several sorts of magic: with their abilities and the thinness of the veil between the living and the dead that ghosts seemed to disrespect, which witch or wizard could say they'd never thought about bringing back one of their own? A father, a sister, a best friend... While Hogwarts didn't promote this kind of magic, the school didn't openly say anything against it either, not even those worse than necromancy and this silence led to curiosity and experimentation, until it was too late.

"The papers were all over us," Alec continued, thinking of the thousands of owls Imogen had gotten requesting interviews, "but we never made any statement ourselves: the Minister wanted us to keep our anonymity as much as possible. It's hard to go undercover once your face has been plastered all over the first pages of every existing newspaper."

"I can imagine," Magnus said softly.

Alec allowed a few seconds of silence to pass, hesitating still, but he eventually gave in. Izzy would be glad and proud if she knew that he was opening up to someone else... even if he didn't give Magnus the full, extended version of the events.

"The newspapers were denied meeting us but it didn't do enough to keep us safe," he revealed, staring at the carpet at his feet, "Not all of us. Jonathan Morgenstern found me."

Magnus nodded with sadness, although without surprise. He already knew that Alec had been captured: as he'd said, the papers had covered the mysterious disappearance of one of Britain's finest Aurors - as well as his rescue, four months later. The newspapers had been all about the sensationalism and pathos of the reunion - Auror presumed dead resurfaces after four months, overjoyed mother bursts into tears - Famous Quidditch player Jace returns to Great Britain in a hurry to support his brother - but less about the trauma Alec had gone through. This time, Imogen had made sure to keep the details under wraps.

"He wanted revenge for his mother's arrest," Alec whispered, "My time with him was... unpleasant."

He didn't mention the torture, didn't tell him that Jonathan had tried to make him talk and give the names of the other Aurors who'd worked with him to arrest Lilith, but Magnus' observant eyes certainly caught the involuntary clenching and unclenching of Alec's hands on his chair. Jonathan's cruel laughter kept echoing in his ears.

"You dream about him," Magnus concluded, his voice soft against the loud sound of Jonathan's imaginary laugh in his mind.

"Yes," Alec nodded, "most nights I do."

He dreamed of his mad eyes, his febrile gestures whenever he thought Alec would finally speak, the light of his wand, the pain in his spells. However, the worst nightmares were those reflecting the fear he'd felt deep in his bones for the whole duration of his captivity, the fear that he would not be strong enough to resist Jonathan. These were the dreams in which Alec failed and gave away the identities of the other Aurors, his friends, who had played a part in Lilith's arrest, turning into he greatest danger to them all.

In reality, Jonathan hadn't succeeded in breaking him, Alec hadn't even uttered one name to serve his revenge... He would have guarded that secret with his life, and for weeks - months - he'd believed he would die there. He hadn't told Izzy that he'd even wished for death at some point, when he'd reached his lowest, nearly certain that he couldn't hide his and the Ministry's secrets any longer: refusing to swallow Veritaserum and resisting painful intrusions in his mind could only last so long.

"Have you tried a Pensieve?" Magnus asked, shaking Alec out of his morose thoughts. "To set aside the bad memories..."

"I have," Alec answered, "but... I can't afford to separate myself from these memories, they are too important. For my job, for starters, but also because... they're part of me. How can I be sure that I beat Jonathan, that I'm stronger than him, if I don't remember that I got out?"

Magnus blinked and let out a quiet oh. He hadn't considered the situation from that angle, had he? Izzy hadn't either before they'd discussed it together, however briefly. She still didn't think that her brother had to prove anything, not even to himself, but... She was wrong. She didn't understand.

He had to fight the memories, until they didn't affect him anymore. How else could he believe and make others see that he was still him, a skilled and capable Auror whose night terrors didn't keep from doing his job? Jonathan hadn't broken his spirit, not completely at least, and Alec wanted everyone to know that he was still strong. Starting with himself.

In front of him, Magnus looked absolutely crestfallen and at a loss for words, unable to find something to say that would be appropriate in regards to Alec's troubles. Had he said too much, gone too far, made Magnus think that he was a lost case?

"The nightmares will go away, eventually," he told the Transfiguration teacher with a forced smile that he hoped would reassure him. "Just like when you're a kid and you're afraid of the dark. It always passes. I just need some distractions. Go out more, maybe, breathe some fresh air..."

"If you need some good distraction, I have just the thing for you," Magnus said, sounding glad to have something to propose in order to help and do more than merely listening. "It's Ragnor's birthday tomorrow and he's throwing a party in the evening. Something simple, really. I was promised cake and I intend on making him stay true to his word. You should come."

Alec bit his lip. He'd gotten the invitation as well but hadn't given his answer yet, although he'd received the letter more than one week ago. He'd never been a social butterfly. Now less than ever.

"I don't do well with people," he admitted.

"Come for the cake then," Magnus suggested with a grin. "You don't have to stay for long nor talk to people if you don't want to. And if said people come your way... I'll protect you."

Alec let out a strangled, nervous laugh when Magnus ended his sentence with a wink but thankfully, the teacher didn't comment on the small coughs that rattled his chest. Physically unable to reply, Alec vaguely nodded, mumbled something about the class he had to teach and hurried out of the staffroom, feeling his cheeks burn. He wasn't hallucinating, was he? Would it be conceited of him to say that Magnus was flirting with him, however lightly? How was he supposed to react to that?

He couldn't flirt back, he decided as he headed for his classroom, his hands shaking a little. That could only end badly for the both of them if he did: it was inevitable that Alec eventually shied away from Magnus for fear of involving him too deeply in his problems and then, what would flirting do save for giving him false and useless hopes?

If his students noticed that he was even more brooding than usual, they didn't let it show and all Alec could read on their faces was their eagerness to learn something new from him. Good. At least he was still doing something right in his life.

The next evening, Alec was still debating whether or not he should attend Ragnor's birthday party while contemplating his wardrobe and wondering, if he went, what he should be wearing. A secret part of him wanted to look a tiny bit good in case Magnus was truly interested in him - which would be a disaster, he was aware. The other and bigger part of his mind was just worried about... details, really.

A few months prior to this day, he wouldn't have thought about it twice: all work-related parties required the sober, formal black robes or a tuxedo, depending on the crowd they would mingle with that night - Muggles were sometimes involved - but this was Hogwarts and a birthday party. Alec doubted that Magnus would wear something boring. He was also one hundred percent certain that Magnus would never wear the formal attire to a party even if the invite made it mandatory.

Alec barely blinked when Mister Stache suddenly appeared in his bedroom and lazily made his way towards his legs, turning around his calves for a few moments.

"What do you think, little love?" he asked the cat with a soft smile, bending down to give him a gentle caress. "Should I go to that party?"

Mister Stache looked at him with that sort of judgemental stare which cats only knew the secret of and then he jumped on the mattress to lie across the bed, stretching his whole body from tail to forepaws to cover as much space as he could.

"Alright," Alec chuckled, "I'll take it as a sign that you want the bed all to yourself tonight... So, what should I wear?"

Mister Stache didn't deign answer him and licked his paw instead. Eventually though, Alec selected an outfit that he hoped would be adequate enough for the birthday party of his former teacher and one hour later, the redoubtable Auror was awkwardly shuffling his feet toward Ragnor's quarters, clad in black trousers and a shirt just as dark as them. However, he liked to point out to anyone who would complain about his colour tastes - his siblings, mainly - that the silver thread woven into the fabric did bring some classiness to the shirt and that only black pants could possibly match its level of elegance and refinement.

"Alec, you made it!" Ragnor welcomed him with open arms when he entered the room, still feeling nervous as hell.

His eyes swept over the room and its fireplace with the joyous, warm flames mostly out of habit but he did notice and take note of a second door - survival instinct, he could almost hear Hodge tell him, back when he'd only been an Auror trainee, you never know when you might be unable to Apparate and need the regular exit. He wasn't crazy, he reminded himself, just adjusting. Still, how bad was he still to pay attention to this kind of detail when he was in a room full of people who meant no harm to him?

He knew that his urge to check that he would be safe there was only strengthened by his discomfort at being around other people, most of which he did not know well enough, even though they saw each other nearly every day at the same table for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It had been a bad idea to come. He couldn't offend Ragnor by leaving as soon as he'd arrived though, what would he think of him? Perhaps he could stay for a little while, half an hour tops, then run away under this or that pretext... He could also play the honesty card, of course, and he knew that Ragnor would understand - but Alec could already picture the commiserating eyes that would follow him as he left the party. Ragnor would pity him, the stressed Auror who couldn't function in public and... No.

"Let's get you something to drink!" his former teacher suggested, "What would you like? Butterbeer, Firewhiskey, mulled mead? Muggle drinks?"

"Butterbeer is fine, thank you," the Auror answered, not sure he should go for anything stronger when he already felt so queasy.

"Coming right up!" Ragnor said, raising his wand with a nonverbal spell that made a glass fly at worrying speed from somewhere deeper inside the room and straight into Alec's clumsy hands.

Scrambling not to spill his drink, he thanked his teacher with a distant smile that Ragnor didn't see, for another guest called him and required his attention. Now alone and convinced that he was sticking out like a sore thumb, Alec cast his eyes down and observed his drink with intent, raising his head from time to time to watch the room fill more and more. He was feeling increasingly awkward when suddenly, his eyes settled onto Magnus.

The teacher's half-empty glass of Firewhisky that moved while he gestured between himself and his interlocutor showed that he must have been there for a while already and Alec wished he could feel as comfortable in his own two shoes as Magnus seemed to be, looking gorgeous and relaxed while he laughed. Taking advantage of his colleague's focus that was set on the witch in front of him, Alec observed him in mesmerised silence. From his fingers wrapped around his glass to the swaying of his hips as he shifted his weight from one leg to the other, Magnus' everything exuded grace and sensuality.

Alec glanced at his Butterbeer in worry. He had not taken a single sip yet and he was already staring at Magnus like this? Having an evening outside of his bedroom was decidedly a bad, bad idea. He found it hard to resist looking, though. He had noticed the Transfiguration teacher's lovely smile and attractiveness before but he hadn't paid much attention: he'd always been sort of busy keeping his emotional reactions to their conversations in check.

Now that he was standing there, aimless but with his eyes wide open? He had all the time in the world to admire Magnus' upper body underlined by a vibrant blue waistcoat - a trap, made to catch the attention of innocent souls. Alec might not be so innocent after everything he'd experienced with his job but he fell for it all the same, following the seams of the waistcoat up and up, where the garment gave way to a shirt, its collar open like a highway to Magnus' Adam's apple.

Alec's earlier, passing thought about his gorgeousness was now reinforced. Magnus Bane, Transfiguration genius and amazing teacher, according to the students, might simply be good-looking whenever Alec saw him in the hallways or the staffroom but right there and then, as the flames from the hearth bounced and cast golden reflections of light over his face, he was bewitching.

So much that Alec needed a few seconds to realise that Magnus' eyes had found his own. He hurried to swallow a few sips of Butterbeer, pretending that he had not been blatantly ogling his colleague, only to blink in surprise when Magnus grinned and strode toward him.

"Alexander!" he exclaimed, his voice carrying his genuine happiness, "I'm so glad you came! Couldn't resist the cake, could you?"

"No," Alec croaked out, appalled at the shyness in his own voice but also glad that he'd managed to speak at all.

He didn't add that the cake, albeit a sold incentive, wasn't the only reason to his presence tonight.

"You look like you'd prefer to be miles away," Magnus commented, not unkindly. "You weren't joking about not doing well with people, were you?"

"I really wasn't," he huffed, "Too many people... It's hard for me to enjoy myself."

Especially when he was worried that one of their fellow teachers was going to jump or hex him, although he didn't dare share that ridiculous fear with Magnus: he didn't want the small smile he was sporting to turn into a deep frown once he realised how paranoid Alec could become.

"Would it be better if it were only the two of us?" Magnus asked, his smile widening when Alec spluttered in surprise.

"I... Uh... Probably not," he stammered, his coherence melting like ice in the sun, as well as his brain-to-mouth filter, "I'd be too intimidated."


"By you," Alec confessed with an apologetic smile. "You are quite... magical. I mean... You know what I mean. So yeah, I'd make a fool of myself, possibly. Certainly. Even more than I am right now."

Magnus laughed but far from mocking, his laughter turned Alec's cheeks pink with shy satisfaction. If his natural awkwardness enabled him to amuse Magnus, then the Auror would take his utter lack of flirting skills as a good thing.

"I think we should check how much of a fool you could actually be," Magnus said then, "just for the record."

Alec gave an owlish blink, not sure to understand Magnus' meaning. What did he have in mind, exactly? The two of them together, yes, he'd gathered as much, but... Would it be wishful thinking on Alec's part to imagine that Magnus was talking about a date? Merlin's beard, why would the other man even want to subject himself to such pain? Alec would most likely gawk the whole time instead of engaging him in lively conversation... Wait, wait, wait. Magnus hadn't even mentioned a date, it was useless to freak out about it when nothing had even been said, right?

"Hogsmeade, Saturday in two weeks?" Magnus suggested in an echo that felt very apropos to his own thoughts, "We could make it a date if you want."

Alec blinked again, his grip tightening around his Butterbeer. So Magnus did want the exact thing Alec had been persuaded no one would ever want from him again? Yes but only because he had no idea how bad it could get. Magnus already knew about the nightmares but that was about it, he had not seen the wildness in Alec's eyes when a dream haunted him into his reality... Nor had he witnessed the fear rippling through him when his erratic magic pulsed out of him, like that of a child who had not yet learned to control his powers and give them intent. He had probably not noticed the tension in his shoulders either, nor the shifting of his eyes as he remained watchful under all circumstances, or even the wariness in the line of his mouth when he interacted with someone he barely knew and wasn't sure he could trust.

In the middle of that mess, what was there left to like enough, to the point of asking him out? Magnus was setting himself up for disappointment... Or maybe not. He was a grown man. Perhaps the teacher actually liked him, even if he knew that the Auror wasn't... in complete working order. Alec wouldn't lie and pretend that the interest wasn't mutual. Magnus' kindness shone in his eyes and Alec already felt around him that odd I-would-trust-him-with-my-life conviction that he'd only experienced with his siblings and some of his fellow Aurors before. If it turned out that their date had been a terrible idea, Alec was certain that Magnus would never blame him nor try to erase him from his life, which meant a lot to his lonely heart.

"Okay," he eventually whispered, feeling guilty for taking so long to answer when he caught Magnus' grin and the immense relief in his eyes. "Just... It's been a while since I've been on a date so if I end up staring at you in silence or... if it is a disaster... Please, don't be mad at me. I'm trying."

"That's all I ask," Magnus assured him. "I like you, Alexander. I doubt spending some time with you could be an utter catastrophe."

Alec chuckled nervously, praying that Magnus was right and that everything would go well. Warmth had already invaded his chest at this vote of confidence and he wished it would stay there, comforting and uplifting, even after their date. He would hate to disappoint Magnus - even though the other man would never say in such words if, indeed, it turned out to be a dreadful experience - and he was already aware that if he did let him down, he would never forgive himself.

Magnus seemed to believe that they were going to have an amazing time together, though... Alec should probably try to share his optimism instead of freaking out about their date to come.

The Auror came back to his chambers after Ragnor's party later than he'd originally planned, thanks to Magnus who'd insisted on his need to taste all three cakes and have a partner in crime to do so. He didn't regret it, as the cakes were delicious and Magnus' happy face made him feel warm and fuzzy inside, but now that he was alone with his thoughts, he suddenly realised what he'd agreed to.

A date with Magnus. Terrible, terrible idea, according to the nervousness already building up in his stomach. Alec had no doubt that he would spend the next two weeks imagining thousands of scenarios for everything that could go wrong during their date, in great detail no less. He could have done with a hairy hug from Mister Stache in such a moment...

Except that the cat was nowhere in sight, not even underneath the sheets of Alec's bed. He tried not to feel disappointed: this was a cat and not even his own, so he had the right to go vagabonding around the Castle to catch a mouse or two. It wasn't like the cat's absence saddened Alec, now did it?

Still, when he woke up screaming from yet another nightmare, Alec regretted that Mister Stache wasn't there to bring him warmth and comfort.

Dear Izzy,

I've been asked on a date by the most gorgeous and kind man I've ever met. Needless to say, I'm freaking out. I'm trying to see it as a good thing, and I guess it is, but I'm already thinking about cancelling. I don't actually want to but... You know how I get about these matters. I don't really know what to do so... Help?

With all my love,


The next morning saw a shy and pale sun rise above the Forbidden Forest, too timid to bring Alec enough light as he wrote two letters at the light of a candle. One was for Izzy and the other, quite similar save for the fact that he wasn't asking for sentimental advice, was meant for Jace. His star-Quidditch-player brother was rather clueless when it came to self-doubt around potential date interests, as he'd always been extremely confident in his ability to woo every girl he met. His Quidditch prowess helped him on that regard, something Alec had never understood since he had never been that much into players himself. Most of them were show-off, not a quality he wanted to find in a partner.

Instead of telling Jace about his hesitation, he merely explained in his letter that he had met someone, although he didn't try to hide his nervousness at the prospect of going on that date. He sent an owl from Hogwarts to his sister, as London was closer and the journey would not tire the bird too much, but he charged his own eagle-owl to bring the letter to Jace. He didn't know where his brother was exactly, what with the constant moving of his team to attend matches here and there, and he was certain that Archer would appreciate to stretch his wings a little.

Jace, despite his time-consuming career spent in matches and training sessions, soon found the time to answer him, using the Floo Network. Alec nearly hexed the fire when his brother's head appeared in the hearth of the staffroom, a few days later.

"You should have seen your face!" Jace giggled, sending embers onto the carpet in front of the fireplace, that Alec promptly extinguished with a sharp snap of his fingers.

"Not funny," the Auror growled, although based on the muffled laughter he could hear behind his back, several colleagues of his seemed to share Jace's opinion. "Didn't you have something to tell me, instead of scaring me like that?"

"Yes, yes, alright," Jace muttered, "You're no fun, Alec. Well, I don't have much time anyway, we're playing against Mexico in three hours and I still have to use some of that High-Finish Handle Polish Izzy got me for my birthday and..."

"The point, Jace," Alec reminded him in a huff.

He loved his brother to no end but he knew it was best to stop his rambling about Quidditch and care of broomsticks lest Alec fall asleep in front of the fireplace.

"Alright, alright!" Jace cried, rolling his eyes, "I just wanted to say that I'm happy for you. Try not to think too hard about what you're doing, let yourself live a little... and get that D! Oh, and don't forget: I want to be best man when you tie the knot!"

At Jace's words, a concert of guffawing, choking and chortling erupted behind his back as the other teachers stopped pretending they weren't eavesdropping. So much for discretion... Alec really would have hexed that fire then, if his brother hadn't slipped away, probably to go back to his only everlasting love: his broomstick. Grunting about his stupid brother and his tendency to make the world revolve around sex, Alec turned around, feigning disinterest as his colleagues laughed some more at his doubtlessly red face.

He was watching them from the corner of his eye though and a glance around the room helped him relax a little: thankfully, Magnus wasn't there and thus hadn't heard a word of that conversation. Alec could survive embarrassment but even he had his limits.

"Got your eye on someone, Alec?" Ragnor asked, his eyes sparkling.

The glare he received in return only made him snort but really, Alec wasn't about to dignify that question with an answer. He and Magnus were so close that Ragnor had probably known about their upcoming date as soon as Alec had stepped out of his quarters after the party.

"Leave the poor lad alone," Catarina jumped to his defence, much to his surprise since they had never talked much before: most of the time, she stayed in the hospital wing to heal and treat the students so Alec and she had never been properly introduced to each other.

It didn't matter as it seemed, for she winked when she met his grateful eyes, although the respite was short-lived as Lorenzo, Charms teacher and pain in the ass extraordinaire, opened his mouth.

"You've been with us long enough to get your own share of rumours spread by the students," he pointed out, "It's tradition for the teachers to try and distinguish truth from lie so don't blame us for being curious."

"What rumours?" Alec asked, suddenly anxious.

"Nothing bad," Ragnor answered at once, with a sharp look meant for Lorenzo. "Don't worry. The older students know that you used to work for the Ministry of Magic and most of them knew that before you even arrived at Hogwarts, so I guess nearly the whole school is aware of it by now..."

"And..." Alec prompted the older teacher, biting his lip as he waited for the inevitable revelation that all the kids he taught knew what had happened to him, what he'd done and how affected he still was or...

"And nothing," Ragnor said firmly, as if he'd guessed the Auror's next thought and his fear that the kids would not deem him fit to teach them anymore. "Alec, I promise, it's okay. We don't go around classes talking about our personal lives nor those of our colleagues. Whatever the students may have heard in their families, they don't know the details and we won't provide those either simply because we do not know them."

Alec nodded. Of course. Save for himself, Imogen, a few selected work partners who'd seen him right after he was rescued and of course, Headmaster Garroway, nobody knew the full length of what he'd faced during his time in Jonathan's hands. Not even Izzy could say she had heard the complete story, for even though she'd tried to bring Alec as much professional help as she could, she was still his sister and he had refused to put her through the horrors he'd experienced.

"Good," Lorenzo concluded, clapping his hands and smiling in a way that the Auror didn't like much, "Can we go back to merrier topics now that our youngster feels better? So, Alec, about that man you want to bone..."

So Lorenzo really was that annoying, uh? If he hoped that Alec would play his game and give him what he was fishing for... He was sorely mistaken.

"Sorry," he quickly said, heading for the door already as he fumbled for an excuse, "I just... remembered I need to feed my cat."

"Your cat?" Ragnor repeated, looking incredulous. "I thought you didn't have a cat..."

"I don't," Alec confirmed, "but since he kind of adopted me and spends a lot of time in my room, I think I can call him mine for as long as he stays."

Taking advantage of the surprise that had momentarily stunned his colleagues, the Auror skipped toward the door and wrenched it open, escaping the staffroom while he still could and before the topic drifted back to his love life or whatever seemed closest to that.

"A cat?" Lorenzo squeaked behind him, "Surely it's not..."

The door slammed shut, cutting the Charms teacher mid-sentence, and Alec was weirdly disappointed that he hadn't managed to hear what he had to say about Mister Stache - if he was indeed talking about him. He didn't turn around to ask for a repeat though, given that Lorenzo irked him a little (only slightly, really!) and he didn't quite feel like going back inside and face endless, merciless teasing again. Or perhaps he simply didn't want to see Lorenzo again on this day, but who would be able to tell?

If possible, Izzy's answer to Alec's slightly desperate letter was even less subtle than Jace's and after that, the Auror vowed to never tell them anything ever again. The Hogwarts owl he'd sent to his sister came back at the end of the week during breakfast, along with all the other birds bringing news from the outside world as was usual, and it dropped an envelop in the middle of his plate filled with scrambled eggs.

Busy swearing between his teeth about impolite birds' lack of manners, Alec didn't immediately notice the colour of the paper, now soggy with egg bits, until someone whispered his name in horror and clasped his wrist. Maia's soft cry caught his attention and when he looked at her, Alec realised that her gaze was focused on his plate and the letter that was... fuming. And very much red. Oh no.

"A Howler," he stated unhurriedly, almost sounding disinterested as he kept a facade of calmness that he was far from feeling inside.

Izzy had sent him a Howler. What had he ever done to deserve that? He had only asked for help, not for some yelling in the Great Hall while all the students and teachers were gathered and more than ready to catch the newest rumours and latest gossips! He guessed all he had left to do was hope that her long-distance shouting didn't include too many personal elements - or embarrassing ones, for that matter. He trusted his sister not to spill the beans about his secrets, old and new alike but... she'd sent him a Howler. What was she aiming to accomplish with this? Ridiculing Alec in front of the whole school?

"Alexander Gideon Lightwood!" the letter finally screamed, making everyone wince before the Great Hall fell oddly silent. "You deserve every good thing the world has to offer so quit fretting and overthinking, have fun on your date and get your man, for fuck's sake!"

A chance Alec had never intended to say in the closet at Hogwarts, he thought while Izzy's voice echoed in the stunned hall, silent as if someone had just died - Alec's dignity, perhaps. Unimpressed though, he watched the Howler shred itself into pieces with one last hiss and spirals of smoke. When he looked up, his impassible Auror's face on, he saw several students giggling behind their hand and trying hard not to openly laugh at their teacher, while others seemed mortified with second-hand embarrassment. Ouch. Those would never dare ask him a question in class again or meet his eyes, for that matter.

Next to him, his colleagues were making a visible effort not to laugh or tease him, out of sympathy and solidarity in front of the students, but Alec already knew he wouldn't hear the end of it anytime soon. An odd, tiny smile curled his lips and made Maia's brows quirk as he let out a pleased chuckle. Yeah, they would tease him for the whole semester to come but that meant he was one of them, sharing and partaking in the fun instead of suffering from it. Alec suddenly felt like he belonged to the team, a sensation he had not experienced since he'd been taken by Jonathan and ripped from Raj's grip as he tried to hold on and protect him and...

No. Alec was having a good day in spite of the Howler and he would not ruin it with memories of the attack and his captivity. Satisfied at his own power of persuasion that had often deserted him lately, the Auror resumed his breakfast as if nothing disturbing had happened, until he realised that he'd forgotten a small detail: Magnus was sitting at the same table as him and had, therefore, heard everything Isabelle had so helpfully yelled at him through ink and paper. Crap.

Alec raised two slightly terrified eyes and searched for Magnus, whom he found a few seats to the right, sandwiched between Ragnor and Lorenzo. The man was... well, handsome as usual, for starters, and Alec was unable to not pay attention to that, but he also looked unnerved, as if he'd understood something a bit horrific. What though, beside the fact that Alec's clumsiness when it came to matters of the heart was unequalled?

Magnus met his eyes in a heartbeat, as if he'd felt Alec's own gaze weighing on him, and the Auror sucked in a breath at the sight of his troubled look. Not because of the beauty of his eyes that flickered with gold, akin to those of a cat, but because he was responsible for the dimness of the light there, for whatever reason, and he panicked a little when Magnus opened his mouth. Suddenly afraid of the teacher's reaction to the Howler and the fact that Isabelle had sort of exposed them - even though she hadn't dropped any name - Alec looked down and said the first thing that came to mind. He couldn't bear to hear that Magnus didn't want to go on that date with him anymore.

"Could you pass the salt?" he asked, his voice too high, his eyes too shy.

"Alexander..." Magnus called softly, a trace of concern in the way he said Alec's full name. "It's right in front of you."

Oh, for Merlin's sake. He was a disaster.

Chapter Text

It turned out that Hogwarts' students had seen weirder things in their life than one of their teachers being yelled at by a letter, as loudly as it may have screamed. It took time but Alec eventually relaxed when he realised that no one intended on openly teasing him with what had happened during that fateful morning - only Max confronted him about it but since he was his little brother, Alec didn't think it counted: he was bound to address the matter at some point.

"Why do you tell this kind of stuff to Izzy and Jace but not to me?" he'd complained with pouty lips, a trick he'd picked up from their brother, at the end of his Defence Against the Dark Arts class. "I can keep secrets better than the two of them together!"

"Oh, I have no doubt," Alec had assured him - but he hadn't given the name of his date to Max, doing his best to resist his little brother's puppy eyes.

Except for Max, no one dared to ask for details in the first few days and nothing really changed in his routine with his different classes, although in the light of the recent events, a seventh-year boy decided that it would be a good idea to sit at the front row and bat his eyelashes at him.

Feeling uncomfortable as hell, Alec took it upon himself to hold the student back at the end of their class in order to explain to an overeager Milo that no, seducing his teacher was not a good idea... Only to find himself awkwardly patting the young man's back as he cried and denied doing this for extra points. Apparently, he had a real, honest crush on Alec, who couldn't do much more than assuring him that one day, he would find a man who would return his feelings and love him wholeheartedly.

Milo sobbed louder. Alec really was crap at that.

The Auror was summoning a box of tissues for the heartbroken boy when meowing caught his attention. A smile plastered itself over his face at the sound and when he span around, he saw Mister Stache lazily make his way inside the classroom, heading for his calves as usual, turning around him several times while purring like a Muggle engine. Alec let out a chuckle at the sight of the cat, who really had perfect timing - it had been a few days since he'd last visited his classroom but today was a good choice: if Mister Stache could help him relax and feel better at night, perhaps he could help Milo too?

"Hello there," he cooed as he picked up the cat, holding him close to his chest to drop a kiss atop his little head and pet him, "I have a special mission for y..."

Alec shut up when he realised that Milo was staring at him and Mister Stache with wide eyes, looking incredibly awkward. He wasn't crying anymore. He rather seemed resigned, as if he'd suddenly wrapped his mind around the fact that Alec and he were not meant to be.

"Are you alright?" Alec asked, wondering what was the reason behind that sudden change.

"Yes," Milo answered with one last sniffle. "I'm really sorry, Mister Lightwood. I apologise for my behaviour. I didn't know... I had no idea, I'm sorry."

"What are you talking about?" the older man enquired, feeling his eyebrows arch up against his will, a crease deepening between them.

"Oh, don't worry, I won't tell," Milo said, raising his hands in front of him as if to strengthen his statement. "Your secret is safe with me, I promise. Again, I'm really sorry, and thank you for being so patient with me. Goodbye Mister Lightwood!"

Gobsmacked, Alec watched his student leave in a hurry. What... was that? He didn't understand. Sure, he'd never been skilled in grasping the subtleties of a teenager's mind, his own included, but he really couldn't begin to fathom what had made Milo backtrack so quickly.

Mister Stache suddenly bumped into his hand, requesting that the petting resumed, for Alec had stopped his gentle scratches between his ears in his distraction. With a chuckle, he started over, sitting on his desk to cradle the cat more comfortably in his arms.

"You're a tiny, demanding one, aren't you?" he said, laughing when Mister Stache's eyes narrowed, as if he understood him. "Don't pretend otherwise."

Alec couldn't help a glance toward the open door. His next class was scheduled in a half hour so he guessed he had time to indulge himself. It made him feel better to be around Mister Stache. He knew Muggles used animals in therapies, like horses, but he wasn't sure the wizarding world would be so accepting of these unusual methods, at least for them. Mental health wasn't often discussed among them and on that regard, as much as Muggles could seem dense sometimes, they were more progressive than their magical counterparts.

At the Ministry of Magic, he'd been told by some to suck it up and get back to work. Others had looked like they pitied him or worse, like they were scared. Izzy had tried to get him to talk, at least... but she'd also recommended potions to help his scarred mind. It was her job, he wouldn't blame her, but she didn't realise that these mixtures didn't fix his problems: the potions hid them. Made them bearable.

Alec didn't want them bearable, he wanted them gone. He wasn't sure it would ever be possible, Jonathan's vestiges ran too deep underneath his skin for that, but at least Mister Stache was really helpful in the appeasement he provided to Alec. He didn't spend every second looking over his shoulder for the next threat. He didn't feel as cold as he sometimes did, even when he sat in front of the burning fire in the staffroom.

So he kept welcoming Mister Stache in his chambers and his class, although the latter occurred less often than the former. When it happened though, Alec had to tut at his younger students so they remained focused on the task at hand. The older ones didn't seem to care that much about the cat's presence, just like they didn't care about Alec's private life... while the first- and second-years did, quite a little.

It seemed that keeping quiet about the Howler had fed the imagination more than discussing it would have and soon, Alec overheard two girls saying he was having a passionate affair with a vampire and thus feared the reaction of his family. Eventually, one or two among the boldest kids asked on a tone of conspiracy to know the name of the person he was dating, their eyes wide with curiosity as well as delight at the prospect of finding out something no one else knew about their teacher.

Alec only smiled, a sweet, sugary smile that looked rather scary, and then he threatened to hex them if they bothered him again. The kids wisely decided they'd better run away from the classroom, the sound of giggles following their departure - although Alec could make out some nervous laughter as well. Good. He had a reputation to uphold.

The opening Quidditch match of the season took place on the first weekend of October, on a windy and grey Saturday. Exactly one week before his date with Magnus. Honestly, Alec wasn't feeling that nervous anymore, even as the day came closer and closer... Or so he liked to tell himself. He didn't doubt that he wouldn't sleep the night before their trip to Hogsmeade, although he would deny it if any of his siblings asked - not that Jace would have the time nor that Izzy would dare, because Alec was a bit mad at her since the Howler.

While there had been no dramatic consequences, he'd still made a fool out of himself in front of Magnus and really, he wished he could have avoided all that embarrassment, especially before their date.

Aside from these totally-nonexistent-and-not-underlying doubts, Alec was of the opinion that life was actually quite good for him at the moment, minus a few details. He'd survived his first month of teaching, felt more and more welcome in everyday conversations amongst the older or more experienced teachers, even laughed with them, and Hogwarts had started to feel like home again, just like it used to be when he was a teenager.

He had been a proud Hufflepuff back then, just like he was today, wearing the yellow and black scarf around his neck and holding it protectively against his throat as he narrowed his eyes against the attacks of the wind. Alec smiled in remembrance of Jace who had always complained about this sort of weather that slowed down the players or threw them off direction and he eyed the team coming out onto the pitch, brooms in hand, ready to defend their House.

Alec glanced around, internally laughing at some of his colleagues who looked tense but tried to plaster pleasant smiles across their faces: teachers were supposed to be quite neutral, although that was made difficult by the ties binding some of them to one of the four Houses. Ragnor, for example, was Head of Ravenclaw and as the players of his House and those of Hufflepuff rose in the air, Alec could see his knuckles turn white as he clenched his fingers on his knees with anticipation.

As far as Alec was concerned, either team could win and it wouldn't ruin his day. Maybe a small part of him was rooting for Hufflepuff but then, it was only because of nostalgia and persistent pride. He was mostly curious about the players: back in his days, Hufflepuff had a few talented players but not as good a team and he hoped for their sake that they'd made progress over the years.

"Can I sit with you?" someone asked, interrupting his trail of thought.

Alec identified the voice before he actually saw the man behind it and his head whipped towards Magnus at worrying speed, his neck cracking with the swift move. He needed a second to answer, distracted by the teacher's hair that the winds had mussed up as well as his light panting, as if he had run from the castle to the pitch to be on time.

"Yes, of course," Alec said, scooting over to make room on the bench for Magnus, "The match just started, you haven't missed much."

"Thank you," Magnus told him with a grin while he sat down next to him, "I was actually excited about this match but I got held up correcting an article for Transfiguration Today. I'm glad I could make it in time, though."

"Huge Quidditch fan?" Alec guessed, smiling at the other man's enthusiasm when he nodded feverishly.

"Quite, yes," he admitted easily.

When Alec confessed that he hadn't attended a single Quidditch match in the past few years due to his work at the Ministry, Magnus looked horrified. He then proceeded on telling Alec all about the past Quidditch Cup results, informing the Auror that yes, Hufflepuff had vastly improved over the last ten years, and Alec felt warm inside as he listened. Magnus was sitting beside him, closer than he'd expected when he'd slid along the bench, and he was talking to him with ease, as if they'd always done so. He'd been a bit worried when he'd seen the trouble in Magnus' eyes a few days ago, during breakfast... Izzy's Howler clearly hadn't put him off though and the immense relief Alec felt was unexpected but much appreciated, a good sign for their date to come.

"So, Hufflepuff?" Magnus asked, his eyes falling down to Alec's throat and the scarf wrapped around it.

"Yes," the Auror confirmed with a nod, flicking his eyes from Magnus' gloves to his cloak to look for colours, that he didn't find. "What about you?"

"Guess," the teacher challenged him, waggling his eyebrows, to which Alec laughed to hide his sudden apprehension.

"I don't think I know you well enough to say..." he apologised, when he was mostly afraid to offend Magnus by associating the wrong House with him. "Not yet."

He was glad for that last-second addition and the joyful smile it gave birth to, blooming on Magnus' lips like a flower under the warmth of the first Spring sunbeams.

"I'm a Slytherin, actually," he revealed with a proud smile, that reminded Alec of someone dear to him - at least when she wasn't busy sending out Howlers.

"My sister's a Slytherin too," he said with a chuckle, "The Sorting Hat thought she was too ambitious to base his choice on her thirst for knowledge only - or her bravery. Now she's one of the beast healers there are at St Mungo's, like she's always wanted to be."

"So you are the patient, hardworking and loyal sibling?"

"I guess, yeah," Alec answered, suddenly bitter at the thought of what his loyalty had cost him, before he directed the conversation back to Magnus. "You know, I was thinking you might be a Ravenclaw... Smart as you are and all."

"Smart?" Magnus repeated, his left eyebrow quirked. "Ragnor keeps on telling me that I'm an idiot."

"Don't listen to him, then," Alec said with an eye roll. "You are Magnus Bane, Transfiguration prodigy, the best wizard Hogwarts has had in the last... What, thirty years? Fifty?"

"You flatter me, Alexander," Magnus shot back with a merry laugh, "although there might be some truth to that. Still, Slytherin all the way! I guess my own ambitions helped the Sorting Hat to make a choice, like your sister. From the day I stepped into Hogwarts, I knew I wanted to stay and teach... I guess the Hat saw that."

So Magnus' current position was the result of a vocation and no doubt, hard and dedicated work aiming to realise his dream... Which he had. Yes, he was a Slytherin alright and Alec admired him for having the necessary determination to reach his goal. He remembered the first time he'd stepped inside the castle, the way he'd gaped and gasped at everything and everyone he saw, and he still recalled thinking that he would be the happiest man alive if he could spend his whole life at Hogwarts. It had occurred to him that he could teach later on, although back in the days, he had not known which subject he would go for...

However, he had never quite made up his mind about teaching and by the time he had to think about his future, he hadn't been self-confident enough to picture himself in front of a class. He was excellent in Defence Against the Dark Arts though, his logic was irreproachable and his curiosity, sometimes too much for his own good. Auror had been the perfect choice, the only one he could see that would fit him. It wouldn't matter that he was shy, since the job wouldn't rely on his social skills but on his magic and his reflexes, which were on point.

He owed a lot to that job, no matter how badly it had ended for him, because it had shaped him into the man he was now, even though all that hard work had been somewhat undermined by his recent experience.

"The Sorting Hat sees everything," Alec summed up with a smile, "Sometimes even the things you don't know you have inside you."

"I'm sure the Sorting Hat saw plenty of good things in you," the other teacher said, "I'm looking forward to find out about them as well."

Alec slapped his hand over his mouth to hold back the snort he almost let out, surprised and amused by the smoothness of Magnus' flirting that he already knew he would never be able to return with the same aplomb. He would trip all over himself in his attempt to deliver a line like this without stuttering! He caught Magnus' eyes sparkling at his reaction and Alec thought that they looked like tiny fragments of stars, twinkling in the night sky of his irises. For the first time since meeting him, he truly measured Magnus' beauty and what he saw left him speechless.

Oh, he had been aware from the start that Magnus was a handsome man, he'd even told Isabelle as much in his letter, but he had never realised the spectacle his every feature delivered to the watchful eye. Granted, they had never been as close to each other as they were now, the wind forcing them to lean toward each other to speak and be heard, but he'd spent some time observing Magnus and still... Still, at this exact second, Alec was awestruck by him.

Magnus was a man of paradox, as it seemed, for he looked self-confident without any vainglorious pride, graceful albeit not delicate, full of strength but void of brutality. Paradox and simplicity, too: it was clear that he was a genuinely kind man and Alec loved the smile that brightened his whole face and enhanced the gorgeous lines of his cheeks, the contours of his eyes, the light inside him. Alec's brain chose that moment to whisper into his mind that the beauty in front of him would be the exact sight anyone about to kiss Magnus would be graced with, right before they closed their eyes and gave into the sweet temptation.

If Magnus noticed him staring and blushing, he didn't point it out, didn't look like Alec was making him feel uncomfortable either, but the Auror still tried to control himself and to focus back on the discussion at hand. He found out that while it could be hard for him to engage people in conversation, he really enjoyed talking to Magnus: the words between them didn't feel stilled nor hard to come to mind but they flew effortlessly, like bubbly waters easily following their riverbed.

In the end, neither of them saw much (not to say nothing) of the Quidditch match and Alec would have felt guilty for depriving Magnus of his passion, had he not noticed the obvious pleasure the teacher experienced while talking to him. They were so engrossed in their discussion though, that they jumped when the whole pitch erupted into shouts of joy, and Alec looked around with wide eyes.

"The match's over?" Magnus asked around, confused. "Who won?"

"Hufflepuff," someone was kind enough to answer him.

Someone who was behind them, whom they'd probably annoyed with their continued banter during the game, and in their match-induced excitement, that someone clasped Alec's shoulder in a firm grip. He didn't even see whom. All he distinguished in his sudden fright was a pale hand closing around his throat with a smirk and Alec was on his feet in a second, unexpected fury overcoming the fear, burning and blurring his sight as he turned around, ready to face Jonathan. He wouldn't be weak this time, Jonathan wouldn't hurt him again, he wouldn't let him, and he...

"Alexander! Stop!"

Somewhere in the middle of his sudden madness, Alec heard Magnus' voice and blinked, his sight returning to its usual acuity, the world taking its normal colours back. Then, he blanched when his brain caught up with his instinctive reaction and understood what he was doing. Lorenzo was trapped between Alec's body and a bench, the tip of a wand digging at the juncture between neck and jaw, and the Auror was horrified to realise that it was his own wand, his own hand keeping it dreadfully steady as it pointed at the teacher's throat. Alec dropped it and staggered backwards.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, breaking in a cold sweat, "I'm so sorry, I didn't... I didn't mean..."

"N... No harm done," Lorenzo stuttered shakily, not quite able to put his affable smile on his lips. "The match... It was a tight match. Can't blame you for being a bit tense, right?"

He let out a bark of laughter then, but it sounded so forced and nervous that Alec winced.

"I'm so sorry," he repeated in a breath.

"It's fine," Lorenzo answered, although his eyes didn't seem to share that opinion. "I, uh... should go. Congratulate the team, you know, do, uh, stuff."

Alec knew a man running away when he saw one, never mind the fact that Lorenzo was absolutely not involved with the Hufflepuff Quidditch team in any way. Glancing around, Alec was both relieved to see that none of the students closest to the teachers' stands seemed to have witnessed the incident and terrified when he saw the worried, even scared, looks the other teachers were casting his way. Merlin, no. Not again, not like his friends at the Ministry... He wouldn't bear to see other friends turn their back on him.

He had slipped though, badly, and Lorenzo's hand on his shoulder had brought him back months ago, when he was a prisoner with little to no hope to find an escape. He wouldn't be able to hide how bad it could get anymore. It didn't happen that often but... Now it had and he already knew that the staff would never see him in the same light again.

It could have been worse, though: Lorenzo probably didn't know just how dangerous the situation had been for him, how lucky he was that in his panic, Alec had reached for his wand instead of losing control of the dam he kept secure over his sensitive magic. He could have killed him, right then and there, and not utter a single spell to do so.

He was shaking, he realised, and he quickly hid his hands in the folds of his cloak. He couldn't let anyone see, not even guess, that he was shivering. He had to be strong. Pretend nothing had happened.


Magnus' voice, again, but full of concern this time. He was standing next to him, close enough to be helpful if needed but also far enough not to be hurt if Alec decided to lash out. No, no. That wasn't the reason. Magnus just didn't want to crowd him. Yet Alec couldn't help but think that... Maybe Magnus was scared of him too.

"Do you need anything?" the teacher asked, "Anything to help you calm down? To comfort you?"

"No," Alec whispered, closing his eyes. "I'll just... go back to the castle."

"Alright," Magnus said, still sounding worried, as well as incredibly patient and kind. "I'm here for you if you need anything."

He smiled then, supportive and non-judgemental, only eager to make him feel better. There it was, the light to his inner darkness, and suddenly Alec was scared that the void inside him would snuff out the flame burning inside Magnus.

"I can't do this," Alec told Mister Stache that night after the Quidditch match. "I can't go on that date and risk a repeat of today's fiasco when I'm with Magnus. I don't want to hurt him."

Mister Stache, who'd made his way inside Alec's chambers only a few minutes after the Auror had returned from the pitch, gave a pitiful meow.

"I know," Alec said, although he had no idea what the cat actually meant, "But what else can I do? Lorenzo grabbed my shoulder and I snapped! I can't... I can't imagine I would ever hurt Magnus but if he tries to hold my hand without warning and I can't control my reaction... I really like him, Stache, so I... I won't take that chance."

Mister Stache huffed and Alec wasn't sure how to interpret that sound. Did the cat think that he was being conceited, imagining that Magnus might even want to take his hand in his own? Did he think that Alec was an idiot for panicking before it was time to? After all, Magnus had seen him flip out and he would probably not try anything out of the blue now that he knew how badly Alec could react... how dangerous he could be.

"I'm an idiot," the Auror summed up, plopping onto his bed with a deep sigh and burying his head into his pillow.

He was slightly offended when Mister Stache let out an excited meow, as if glad that Alec had finally understood what he'd been trying to tell him from the start. The audacity! The disrespect!

"Remind me why I listen to you again?" he asked the cat with brows raised in disapproval.

Mister Stache proceeded to ignore him and he jumped on the bed, testing the blankets with his paws until he found a good spot to curl in a ball and close his eyes, right next to Alec's thigh. Well. At least there was still someone who wasn't afraid of him.


At the call of his name, Alec nearly loosened his magical hold over the levitating pumpkins Ragnor had charged him to move to the staffroom to keep them warm and cosy before Halloween. Enormous pumpkins. He strengthened his grip on his wand just in time and let out a breath of relief: Ragnor would have killed him without hesitation if he'd allowed one of his precious pumpkins to explode on the ground, no doubt. Alec was also positive that these pumpkins could have stayed inside the greenhouses a few weeks longer, perhaps with a warming spell as well to make sure they were comfy, but it was probably Ragnor's subtle way to tell him that the incident at the Quidditch pitch didn't matter to him. Neither to Magnus, as it seemed...

Alec slowly turned around, trying to keep a friendly smile on his face as he pretended that he had not been actively avoiding Magnus for the past three days. Stupid decision, really: he should have known it would only be a matter of time before the Transfiguration teacher ambushed him. He'd already attempted to talk to him the previous day but a herd of runaway nifflers that had escaped from their nest in the Room of Requirement - whose existence Alec prided himself to be aware of - had shaken up his plans a little. A little too much, perhaps: the teachers had found themselves running all over the castle to catch the animals before they could damage precious artefacts.

Almost against his will, Alec's smile turned into a genuine one at the sight of Magnus and his own sheepish expression. Alec wouldn't be surprised to know that Ragnor had told the teacher to follow the pumpkins in order to find him as well.

"Magnus," Alec greeted him with hardly-concealed delight, as well as a not-so small amount of dread.

He had to remind himself that the man's reaction to the incident last Saturday had been nothing but supportive. Magnus wasn't there to make him feel bad but more likely to check on him - a thoughtfulness that tugged at his heart painfully, for he wasn't sure to deserve so much concern.

"Hey," Magnus said with a smile, "How have you been?"

"Peachy," Alec lied.

Badly so, as it appeared, since Magnus narrowed his eyes at him. He clearly didn't believe Alec, not that Alec believed himself either: he'd spent a lot of time blaming his poor control over his reactions and he couldn't say that this repetitive trail of thoughts had done much good to his spirits. Quite the contrary, actually.

Truth to be told, he was exhausted. He hadn't slept well the past few nights, torturing himself as he replayed the events of Saturday morning in his head, and to top it all, Mister Stache hadn't come to him since that same evening. Was he finally fed up with Alec and his brooding? Had he realised that the Auror was too much to handle and the petting just wasn't worth the trouble?

"I'm alright," he corrected himself, "considering. Sorry about what happened last time."

"You don't have to apologise for that," Magnus told him, his hand coming up slowly, like a warning, to rest on Alec's shoulder and squeeze, comforting and supportive.

"Maybe not to you," Alec admitted bitterly, "but I'm pretty sure Lorenzo would like a proper apology. If he even allows me close enough."

"Don't be so hard on yourself," Magnus said, raising his brows at Alec.

He looked like he couldn't fathom a reason that would justify Lorenzo keeping his distances with the former Auror... It was nice, Alec thought, albeit foolish, that the Transfiguration teacher didn't seem that frightened by his colleague's behaviour.

"I could have hurt him, badly," Alec argued anyway, "I could have k..."

He shut up before he could say too much. Maybe Magnus didn't need to know how far Alec would have gone, though not consciously. The man wasn't scared but the Auror still wouldn't give him the details of what a true loss of control entailed nor challenge his resistance to fear with that. If Magnus had guessed already - and he might as well have, he wasn't an idiot and he'd been right next to him - then perhaps he had no self-preservation skill: he was still standing in front of Alec.

"I would have stopped you," Magnus spoke softly. "Kept you from hurting him... or yourself."

"I don't need protection," Alec protested, "the others do. I don't hurt myself."

It wasn't exactly true but did Magnus really need to know that? No. He wouldn't share the horrors of feeling his magic flowing inside his chest, unstable and raw, prickling under his skin like thousands of wooden spines underneath the soles of his feet.

"All the same, you don't have to face this alone," Magnus said. "I'm not asking you to tell me or the others your full story, only to rely on us to help you when... when it gets too much. We can do that for you but only if you let us."

Alec nodded, although his heart wasn't in it. He'd heard the same from Izzy, from Jace too, when he'd come home after the owl announcing Alec's rescue had found him, and he appreciated the support, he did, but... How was he supposed to allow them to be close to him, knowing how terrible the consequences could be if, when, he snapped? In their desire to help him, they didn't realise that they were putting their own lives on the line.

"Look, Alexander," Magnus suddenly said, "I mean what I said. I beg you, don't push me away when things get tough, I really want... to help you, if I can, so you feel comfortable around the others and me. I don't want to have you worry about your every reaction to anything happening at Hogwarts. Lots of things usually happen."

Alec chuckled at that, both amused and bitter.

"I know. Worse things than someone giving a friendly pat on one's shoulder."

"True," Magnus agreed with a subtle wince, so discreet that Alec nearly missed it.

They remained silent for a short while, their eyes unfocused as they reminisced over their younger years, back when they were students at Hogwarts and all they had to worry about was how they would possibly finish writing the long scroll of parchment that was due the next day, which they had not even gotten started on. That, and a troll or two, a spell gone (horribly) wrong, an explosive cauldron, the vanishing step in the staircase or a mischievous leprechaun. Good times. Easier times.

"Speaking of ensuring you are comfortable," Magnus soon said again, looking unsure of how Alec would welcome the next words to fall out of his mouth, "I'd understand that you might not want to go out with me next Saturday. If you think it is best for you to pass... I can accept that."

One pumpkin dangerously dropped several feet in the air at that, as Alec's heart thumped painfully. So Magnus was afraid of him, after all. He should have known.

"If you don't want to go on that date anymore, it's fine," Alec said, even though it wasn't, not when his chest felt tight with agony. "You can say it. There's no need to put it on me and my wellbeing."

"What? No!" Magnus exclaimed, his eyes widening.

"You're trying to let me down gently," Alec accused him without much heat, because damn it, he understood the man's feelings, "by saying it would be best for me that we don't see each other on Saturday. I can take rejection, Magnus. It's no fun, it's heartbreaking, but still, I can take it. You don't have to make it about me."


Magnus looked horrified, his gorgeous eyes tortured, and Alec paused at the sight. The teacher didn't look like a man whose true intentions had been found out; instead, he seemed just as sad as Alec felt inside. Was he mistaken?

"If I need to spell it out for you, I will," Magnus said, "I like you, Alexander, and I've been looking forward to our date ever since we agreed on going out together but I know... I mean, I imagine you might not feel comfortable about it anymore."

"How could you possibly tell?" Alec wondered with curiosity.

He used to be an Auror, one of the best, damn it! He wasn't supposed to be an open book, to be read so easily by a man he had known for one month and a half, barely.

"You were avoiding me," Magnus answered, reassuring Alec about his ability to keep a neutral face in the process.

"I... I guess I was," the Auror confessed, looking away for a second, glancing at the pumpkins.

He realised that he didn't have to strain to keep his focus on Ragnor's rather large babies anymore, that his magic had taken it upon itself to support the pumpkins without his conscious intervention. He hadn't noticed. Perhaps he should have worried about it but at the same time, he was glad that for once, his unchained magic wasn't about to cause a catastrophe. Was it?

"Besides," Magnus added, "the Howler you received the other day seemed to imply that... you were nervous about this date. I thought maybe you said yes just to be nice, that you didn't actually want to go out with me... because you wouldn't feel comfortable. But then we spoke during the match and we were fine, so..."

"No," Alec said, cracking a contrite smile, "I was worried I would screw up on our date - and I just might, Magnus. To be honest, I thought that you would do anything not to spend time with me now that you've seen... Well, you know. So... I was avoiding you, because I kind of didn't want to hear it directly from you."

Magnus inhaled sharply, a sound of pain on Alec's behalf. The Auror glanced away again. What could he say? He might have told Magnus the truth, that he could take rejection... Actually, he'd been terrified of hearing the Transfiguration teacher say him to his face that he couldn't do this. Avoiding him, while painful, had also helped Alec to believe that he wouldn't need to experience the disappointment at their cancelled date nor the guilt of being responsible for that change of plans.

Alec looked at Magnus again, realising that he was staring right back, his face softening more and more with each passing second that he spent committing the Auror's face to memory. At least, that was what Alec thought he was doing: he couldn't find any other explanation to the focused intensity in the depths of Magnus' eyes, dark and full of promises.

Slowly, unwilling to scare Alec or do any action he might not welcome, the teacher reached out for his hand. Surprised but warned, the Auror let him take it, revelling into the warmth of Magnus' fingers around his, tangible and comforting, and he suddenly remembered that a touch didn't have to hurt.

"I haven't changed my mind," Magnus declared, holding onto his hand. "I'll go out with you on Saturday and enjoy every moment I get to spend with you... but only if you are still okay with that."

"I am," Alec assured him. "I want the same as you do."

In spite of his insecurities, it was the truth, and he was comforted in his decision when Magnus beamed at him. The date might put him out of his comfort zone, yes, but the fact that he would be with Magnus already soothed his nervousness. Alec was positive that he was overthinking, as usual: the anticipation was killing him with anxiety but he knew - well, hoped, mostly - that he would relax once they'd be a few minutes into that date.

"I do have one condition though," Magnus said, "I want you to promise me something."

"What?" Alec asked, curious.

With anyone else, he would have grown worried at the thought that they might want to manipulate him, asking him to agree to something he would not want to do, in the end. He could trust Magnus, though. He knew it, deep in his heart, in his mind, in his burning fingertips still touching Magnus' skin.

"I want you to tell me if I do anything you're not comfortable with or... if anything gets too much. No matter what it is, alright?"

Alec nodded, flashed him a soft smile, and he marvelled at the other man. He could tell that Magnus didn't fully understand what was going on with him and how could he, when Alec jealously kept the details to himself? Still, he was trying to accommodate him and he was doing so without pressuring him to share any more information, accepting that he would not know more at the moment, if ever. Magnus was kind and respectful, he liked him, and Alec could merely pray, with all his heart, that the teacher wouldn't come to regret it.

Chapter Text

Alec barely panicked until Friday night, something like fourteen hours before his Date, with a capital D because he couldn't remember the last time he'd a) actually gone on one and b) felt so giddy at the prospect of going out with someone. That was, until he opened his closet and promptly freaked out with a sense of déjà-vu: what should one wear while on a date with Magnus Bane?

He ruled out the Auror robes immediately, of course. He couldn't even say why he'd taken them at Hogwarts instead of locking his uniforms in a chest and leave it inside the closet of his small apartment... Nostalgia perhaps, although he also considered masochism a possibility. Next to his former work attire hung the black robes he wore to class, dark but enhanced with Hogwarts coat of arms, and Alec would be lying if he said that he didn't feel a bit proud whenever he sported the escutcheon.

Proud or not, however, he couldn't very well meet Magnus dressed in such manner - nor like an Auror, obviously. His eyes swept over the large woollen jumpers he sometimes wrapped himself into so he felt comfortable during the evenings, when he settled down by the fire with a book and a cup of tea, far from the chaos of his work. According to Isabelle and Jace whose existences were so exciting, he lived like an old man. Alec preferred saying that he enjoyed quiet evenings in and often argued that books were far better company than some people anyway.

This time though, he wouldn't have traded his date with Magnus for the best book in the world. Forgoing all reserve and prudence, Alec was terribly excited and impatient to leave Hogwarts to spend a few hours with this magical man, which was the reason why he was picking his outfit before the actual day. He wanted to wear something a little out of the ordinary, at least for him, without going overboard either nor wearing something that wouldn't fit his character. He would walk up to Magnus as himself and no one else.

He knew his nicest shirts were somewhere in that closet, or perhaps still in his bags, that he hadn't fully unpacked upon his arrival. He had never imagined that working at Hogwarts would put him in a situation where he needed an outfit to wear on a date, after all, so he'd given priority to setting up his desk, hanging the robes he would don most often and making his chambers feel a tiny bit homey.

As Alec kneeled to examine the bottom of the closet, in search for the dark green and the navy shirts he was positive he actually owned, he smiled as he pictured himself with Magnus on the next day, heading for Hogsmeade... hoping that nothing would trouble their time together. Alec was under no illusion: while Magnus expected to spend a nice moment with him and couldn't possibly imagine all the ways it could go south in a heartbeat, Alec was aware of being a loose cannon that the slightest spark would set off.

He knew he should be reasonable though: since the beginning of the school year, nothing had happened except for that unfortunate incident with Lorenzo. He was fine... most of the time. It would be a bad coincidence if anything happened during his date with Magnus. Besides, Alec had promised to tell him as soon as something unsettled him - and he would probably blame himself later, if their date was cut short because of him, but there was no way he would ever put Magnus in danger.

Alec's fingers suddenly brushed against soft, silky fabric and he pulled his shirts out of the closet with a triumphant exclamation. There they were, slightly crinkled, although a quick spell would suffice to make them look as good as if they'd been properly hung instead of folded and almost forgotten.

"What do you think?" he asked, turning around and holding out the two shirts for Mister Stache, who'd become his personal stylist after that first time for Ragnor's party - not that the feline was aware of it.

Lazing on the Auror's bed, the cat lifted his head at the sound of Alec's voice and stared at him with unblinking eyes, probably wondering what the hell this strange human wanted from him. While Alec had not expected any answer, he could have sworn that Mister Stache's ears flickered when he glanced at the shirt in his right hand. Alright. Green it was.

"This shirt really brings out your eyes," was the first thing Magnus said when Alec joined him the next morning, at the Entrance Gates down the grounds.

Alec didn't blush but he did preen a little at the comment, glancing down at himself and the shirt he'd tucked inside his black pants. He'd looked for his jeans but he suspected they'd vanished somewhere between London and Hogwarts, since a quick Accio hadn't brought anything from the depths of his closet.

"You like it, then?" he asked with a smile.

He bit his lip as soon as he let the words out, wondering if Magnus' nose would scrunch up in distaste at the way he seemed to be fishing for compliments... Except that Alec really wasn't. Sincere curiosity had motivated his question, not vainness: he was merely wondering, as well as a bit disbelieving too, and it had been a long time since someone other than his sister had said something nice about his looks. In the past few years, he'd mostly made people too nervous to utter a single compliment, because of his stern Auror face that was apparently terrifying.

In fact, the last person who'd told him, although not in these terms, that he looked handsome had been Underhill, who hadn't really paid any mind to Alec's arched brows and scowl: he'd been blissfully unaware of the reputation Aurors had. They'd gone for that drink after closing the case, Alec had allowed himself to unwind a little, and his Muggle counterpart had clapped his shoulder with a grin.

"There it is, a big, happy smile for our pretty boy!" he'd shouted above the music, laughing when Alec had frowned, thinking he was mocking him, "No, no, keep smiling, it suits you!"

This shirt did too, apparently, for Magnus' eyes crinkled at the corners, his lips curled, and Alec suddenly felt like smoothing the lines with his own mouth.

"I love how this shirt looks on you," Magnus answered him, although his gaze didn't stop on the green fabric under his open jacket but rather on the undone button at the base of Alec's throat. "You look really good, Alexander."

"T...thank you," he stammered, certain now that his cheeks were betraying his inner trouble, and he added lamely but truthfully, "You... too."

"Thank you," Magnus laughed, "Shall we?"

Alec nodded, not trusting himself to keep his mouth in check and refrain from waxing poetics about how Magnus' whole being called to his mind the comforting image of ending summers, warm winds in wheat fields spreading underneath blue skies, making him wish for the world to stop turning just so he could enjoy these moments, commit them to memory and go back to them whenever time would go too fast for him.

He eagerly followed when Magnus led the way to Hogsmeade, feeling giddy as he was reminded of the trips he took with his friends whenever the students were allowed to. As if he'd read his mind, the other man smiled at him and said:

"What were your favourite shops to visit back in the days?"

"Honeydukes," Alec answered without hesitation. "The queue was awful but always worth it."

"True," Magnus chuckled, as if remembering his own past experience. "This shop nearly ruined me several times... I used to collect Chocolate Frogs cards."

"My little brother still does. I should probably buy him a box when we're there."

If he didn't and Max heard that he'd been down at Hogsmeade, his brother would probably kill him or, at the very least, sulk for weeks on end.

"I could try to find the cards I still have," Magnus suggested, "in case he's interested in any of them."

"You're already his favourite teacher," Alec protested, "That would be unfair."

Magnus laughed again and Alec finally relaxed all the way. How silly of him to have worried! He should have known that he wouldn't feel awkward, alone with Magnus, who was so easy to talk to. It only felt natural to walk by his side, as if he was an old friend he'd reunited with after long, sorrowful years of being apart. It was frightening, in a way, to realise how quickly they'd clicked, when they had been strangers one month and a half prior to this moment.

Alec could live with that kind of fright though, the one that made him so weirdly happy to walk under the pale sun barely peeking through the clouds of October, side by side with this man whose every look cast his own way made him feel important and vulnerable all at once... Much like the sensations that had overwhelmed him when Magnus had taken his hand, only a few days ago.

If he focused hard enough, he was still able to feel the soothing warmth that had brushed his fingers, ghosting over his palm and inside his heart. These hands were unreachable now, so close and yet so far as Magnus walked, chirpy and talkative as they reminisced about their teenage years shenanigans with their respective friends, visits to the Shrieking Shack and battles of dungbombs in the hallways - and getting detention for that.

Hogsmeade was quiet on this Saturday morning, the shops open but not crowded like Alec remembered them, and Magnus was quick to explain when he pointed it out.

"The students' first allowed trip is next week," he said as they approached Zonko's Joke Shop, from which they heard a mini-explosion followed by laughter, "which is why I thought today would be best for us. I figured you might want a bit of privacy for our first date."

Alec's chest swelled with unexpected gratitude at Magnus' words and he could only answer with an eager and pleased nod, not knowing where to begin to express the feelings blooming inside him. Could Magnus be any sweeter, any more thoughtful? Alec hadn't told him anything about that and still, he'd guessed that he would feel more comfortable if they were only the two of them, without students to come across and have to greet.

Alec didn't care about the gossips and the rumours their students would most likely start if they saw them together, especially after the Howler he'd received from his sister, but he couldn't deny that knowing they wouldn't be interrupted nor watched only strengthened his sensation of tranquillity and his resolution to enjoy the moment. Also... First date. If Magnus had his way, it meant there would be others, right? He was already looking forward to it, even though this one date was only beginning, and he had to remind himself to slow down and live the moment, in the here and now, not in a potential future.

They entered Honeydukes first of course, where shelves upon shelves of sweets attacked their five senses in an explosion of colours: shimmering candy wrappings, squeaks as a little boy shopping with his mom tried the Ice Mice, sweet-smelling toffees, delicious Peppermint Toads and bubbles the shade of bluebells in the woods, that Alec and Magnus tried and failed to burst as they floated around the shop. The two men took their time navigating the rows of chocolates and sweets, childlike excitement making them pause and wonder as they grabbed different boxes each, piling them high in their arms - the advantage of working and earning money, Alec guessed, remembering all too well how he'd often put back the too-expensive candy he couldn't afford when he was a student.

"This will be hilarious," Magnus cackled as he bought a box of Pepper Imps for Ragnor, and Alec soon joined his chuckles to the other's laughter: his former teacher smoking at the mouth was fantastic to imagine.

Magnus' laugh soon died and turned in stunned wonder however, once they walked out of the shop and Alec presented him with a box of Sugar Quills that he'd purchased, along with the Chocolate Frogs for Max.

"For me?" Magnus asked, his wide eyes searching for an answer in Alec's shy but content gaze.

"Yes, for you," he replied with a smile, "To thank you for taking me out."

"It's a pleasure, really, you... you didn't have to," Magnus whispered, genuinely moved by Alec's unexpected but not unwelcome gift.

"I wanted to," the Auror answered, watching Magnus' face turn soft with quiet happiness.

"Thank you, Alexander," the other man said, his tone still low, muffled with surprise, and was it really too much to ask to stop time in this very instant, while Magnus' expression was alight with joy, while his own heart was soaring, roaring in delight at the result of his small gesture, while he wasn't risking to disappoint Magnus yet?

Alec wasn't a wizard powerful enough to actually stop time but it did seem to suspend its flight as the day went on, wrapping Magnus and him in a snug cocoon while they visited Zonko's and laughed as they passed Madam Puddifoot's, prompting Magnus to share memories from his first date ever.

"It was awkward," he explained, his smile contagious, "She kept trying to kiss me when really, I only wanted to know her better before... anything else."

Alec snorted, imagining with stark realism a younger Magnus desperately fending off the advances of a girl with a blurred face and puckered lips.

"How old were you?" he enquired.

"Fourteen," Magnus grumbled, "and still slightly grossed out at the thought of two mouths meeting."

"What happened?" Alec asked, grinning from ear to ear, enjoying the retelling of that first disastrous date far too much - it wasn't jealousy that made him petty, not over a girl Magnus had gone on a date with nearly twenty years ago, although he certainly was glad that it had not lasted, given his presence next to Magnus on this day.

"I hexed myself."

"You did what?!" Alec exclaimed, before he burst out laughing as Magnus' shoulders shook with mirth.

"I didn't know what else to do!" he said between two giggles, "So I started vomiting and oddly enough, she never asked for another date with me."

No wonder why... As far as first, awkward dates went, this one wasn't over the top but it still was a unpleasant experience... on both sides, most likely.

"So, what's your own gold-winning weird date?" Magnus asked, rolling his eyes when Alec made a show of furrowing his brows, seemingly deep in his thoughts. "Oh, come on! Don't tell me you've never had a disastrous date when you were a teenager!"

"Well," Alec said slowly, "I actually haven't had any really bad experience."


"Seriously," Alec confirmed, laughing at Magnus' disbelieving expression. "Simply because I didn't go on dates back then."

"No one ever asked you out?" Magnus asked, bewildered, which was flattering.

"A few times," Alec admitted, "but I said no every time."

"You had your eye on someone else?" the other guessed, his gaze sparkling, as if he sensed a tear-inducing teenage love story.

Ah! Magnus would be severely disappointed.

"Not even close... The girls kept asking me but it never felt right to say yes. I didn't know why, until I realised that I wished they were boys. It took me a while to understand that but when I did, I finally felt whole."

Magnus smiled then, as if he understood - and he probably did. While everyone was different, each with their story, hardships and successes, Alec was certain that the eventual self acceptance felt the same to all of them, tasting of freedom and completion. Alec had first come out to his siblings, during his last year at Hogwarts, but he'd only dared telling his parents in his early twenties, once they'd made it clear that they were looking for an alliance between the Lightwoods and the Branwell's.

Lydia, Department-of-Magical-Law-Enforcement-Director's daughter Lydia, had been nothing but supportive when he'd told her just how impossible a happy marriage was between them - their parents, a bit less.

Alec didn't ask, because it was too serious a topic for a first date, but he sincerely hoped that Magnus had not gone through his own process alone. Everyone deserved to feel loved and cared for, especially at that time: for a while, Alec had been convinced that his family would stop loving him if he ever told them the truth.

"So," Magnus said, "I'm guessing we're not stopping at Madam Puddifoot's for a tea. Care for a Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks?"

Alec gave an eager nod. He wasn't that thirsty but he was positively starving, and he was the one to lead the way toward the inn while Magnus made fun of his grumbling stomach. The sky was turning grey by the time they entered the pub, which Alec had not stepped into for ten long years... It hadn't changed, though. Still the same smoky atmosphere, the humming of conversations in the background, with the occasional fit of thundering laughter that made the inn feel warm and welcoming. This day felt like time travelling to Alec, who was looking back on life and reliving the happiest of past times... Only these were even better now, with Magnus by his side.

The Three Broomsticks Inn was nowhere close to the pink and frilly tearoom of Madam Puddifoot, Alec thought with amusement as they ordered two Butterbeers and two plates of a hearty meal, the day's special. This was not romantic in the least but he couldn't even pretend to mind... First, he wasn't sure this date was supposed to feel romantic at all and second, they hadn't even tried to make it so: Merlin's beard, they'd even discussed their dates with other people, something Isabelle would have warned him against if she could have!

In spite of this lack of heart-warming romanticism, their time together felt right, like perfection made attainable. Perhaps it was because Alec had left the castle with little to no expectations, too unsure of himself to try and bet how the date would go, hence why he was only surprised in good ways so far. Nothing was a let down. It was easy. Easy to test the waters and their dynamics when they were alone, easy to imagine they would soon go on another date, easy to picture himself walking down Hogsmeade High Street while his fingers were deliberately entwined with Magnus'.

It felt easy, too easy, and a low, insidious voice was whispering filth in Alec's ear, that maybe this was but an illusion, the calm before the storm, and while he did his best to ignore it, the pernicious murmur never really quietened.

It was raining when they left the Three Broomsticks with the intent of going back to the castle. Alec got the fleeting thought that the weather was drawing inspiration from his dropping mood, and perhaps it said a lot about Magnus and his standing by Alec's side that, when he walked under the pouring rain, he started to laugh. A bright, excited laugh that reverberated through the Auror's body to fill his heart, like an arrowhead piercing the bullseye, and he barely noticed when Magnus grabbed his hand.

Their hands fit one another, was the first ridiculously cheesy thought that crossed Alec's mind - as well as the last, because then Magnus was tugging, asking, urging him to follow as he started speeding up the street in peels of laughter, turning his head to encourage him, his suddenly wet hair falling into his eyes.

The sky was grey and sad and still Magnus was like a spark in the morose scenery, sunset suspended in time, and Alec lost a fight he had not been aware of fighting. They ran to the Gates, up the doors of the castle, stumbling on the slippery path, and they stopped right before they could go inside, suddenly mindful of the students they would inevitably come across once they stepped into the hall.

They stopped, their hearts beating wildly and their breaths coming out in short pants, and Magnus looked up with a wide smile still adorning his lips. At that exact second, Alec found that he couldn't catch his breath at all, not when he was staring at Magnus' mouth with only one idea obscuring all the others. He wanted to kiss these lips, wrap the teacher in his arms, let his instincts take over and he knew... He knew Magnus would meet him kiss for kiss, his blown eyes focused on the Auror's lips doing the talking that his mouth wouldn't do, still split on a happy smile that slowly turned less innocent and more tantalising, teeth catching on his bottom lip in an unconscious but tempting gesture.

Alec almost laughed as he remembered their earlier conversation about Magnus' first date, how he had only wanted to know that girl better - and now he was standing there, amazing in the amount of trust he put into the Auror as he slightly leaned forward, his eyes flickering to Alec's lips...

And Alec froze.

He wanted nothing more but to grant his wish, please him, make him gasp against his lips... Alec wanted, too much and too fast - and he couldn't. He wouldn't do this, not to Magnus, no matter how much they both longed for this. If he allowed himself this madness, there would be no turning back. A kiss and the emotions that would go with it would bind Magnus to him as well as his troubles and... Forcing him to shoulder the problems that Alec had to deal with on his own was the last thing he wished. He couldn't do that.

Alec abruptly untwined their fingers, which they'd kept locked as they ran from Hogsmeade. The faster the less painful, he guessed, just like ripping out a band-aid and yet, his heart cracked in two and opened a fresh wound, that he immediately tried to heal by resting his hand on Magnus' chest. The teacher's confused eyes when he pressed down, just so, tugged at his heartstrings.

"You remember what you asked me?" Alec whispered, staring at his fingers.

He could not look into Magnus' eyes. He was a coward, scared of what he'd see in them if he did. Beneath his palm, he could feel Magnus' heartbeat, and he imagined its steady rhythm lose its strength as the teacher realised what Alec was going to say.

"You made me promise to tell you when it got too much," he said, his voice rough and heavy with regret, with longing, with emotions he had to repress lest they overwhelm him. "This is it."

"Oh," Magnus murmured, looking down at the fingers splayed on his chest, keeping him at a distance. "Alright. Sorry if I was too forward or..."

"No!" Alec exclaimed, his outburst so vehement that it startled the other man, "You... You weren't. I actually really, really want to kiss you right now but I... it's... It wouldn't be the sensible thing to do."

"Oh," Magnus said again, blinking in realisation.

He sounded sad and Alec hated himself for killing the myriad of stars in his eyes. He wished he could take the words back, kiss Magnus as if nothing had happened, but he knew deep in his heart that the happy satisfaction it would bring them would only last a short while, before it was replaced with hurt and tears.

He wasn't sure that the teacher had foreseen it as well but he had certainly grasped that Alec wasn't only talking about the possibility of a kiss. He meant the possibility of a second date, then a third, of holding hands and cuddling in front of Ragnor to annoy him, of huddling on a couch together at Christmas with mugs of hot cocoa to warm their hands. The possibility of them.

Alec had closed the doors to that sweet world even before they'd opened and he was angry now, not because of the lost opportunities, but of the pain he was inflicting to them both. He should never have said yes to that date in the first place. He should have known better.

"I led you on," he realised in a gasp, "I'm so sorry, Magnus, I..."

"No," the teacher told him, "Alexander, stop. You never promised me anything you're not able to give me. You only said that you were trying and that's what you've done today. You don't have to blame yourself for anything."

"Yes I do, Magnus," Alec protested, "I should have known that I wouldn't..."

The Auror grew quiet then, feeling the tingling in his fingertips, and he took a deep, calming breath to keep his magic in check.

"I like you," he blurted out, self-control be damned. "I like you but I'm messed up and I can't... I can't allow myself to be close to you like this, I don't want... to hurt you."

Magnus slowly raised his hand and covered Alec's own, still resting on his chest and above his heart, slotting their fingers together, proving him yet again that he wasn't afraid. While the gesture brought comfort to Alec, it also made him wonder just how much time the teacher would need before he started to notice the Auror's dangerous, rough edges. How far would he have to slip to scare him away?

"You won't hurt me," Magnus assured him, putting a finger across Alec's lips when he tried to protest - because the teacher had no idea what he could do when provoked, he had not seen... "However, as I know you don't believe in this nor in yourself, I can understand that you're... scared to do something you'll regret. Fine."

"Fine?" Alec repeated, ashamed when his voice came out brittle.

Why was he saying that? Was Magnus already giving up on him? Alec knew it would be best: he was the one getting away and he couldn't blame the teacher for doing the same. Yet, he feared that he was fine with this decision because their time together had not meant as much to Magnus as it had to him.

"Yes, fine," Magnus repeated, with a smile so tender it immediately put Alec's worries to rest. "I like you too. So I think I can wait for you to feel... more comfortable around me, more confident in yourself. We can be friends first, if you prefer."

"Friends," Alec echoed thickly. "I think I would like that."

Oh yes, he would like that, as much as he would hate it. He was aware that his control over his magic would be put to the test anyway, perhaps less than it would have if Alec had listened to what his heart desired, since friends didn't usually kiss each other... Which was as much of a relief as a regret, and he already knew that one day, friendship would not satisfy either of them anymore. He could only hope that when that day came, he was ready for Magnus... Or he would lose him entirely.

"Good," the teacher said, squeezing his fingers before releasing his hold onto them, and Alec's now cold hand fell limply by his side. "I want to be there for you, if you'll let me."

Alec bit his lip and took an involuntary step backward, which he only noticed when Magnus' little but genuine smile dimmed. It only proved his point, didn't it? Even like this, he was already disappointing and hurting him.

"I... I would let you," he told Magnus, muttering between his teeth, "but it wouldn't be right. You shouldn't carry my burdens."

"I can't," Magnus easily admitted. "Doesn't mean I can't support you through the hardships, though."

Alec didn't answer but a small, comprehensive smile made its way on his face. He wouldn't win that fight, he understood as much: Magnus was probably just as stubborn as he was, if not more, and he could tell that even with a firm no, the teacher wouldn't stop caring, even from afar. It was incredibly kind of him - and spoke volumes about his wish for a deep friendship or more with Alec - as well as impossibly foolish. It didn't seem like he would accept it though, not from Alec, and perhaps he needed to realise by himself how much trouble he was getting himself in.

"I'll try," Alec softly said, "to let you in rather than push you away. But I'm going to, Magnus, I know that. I'm going to snap at you for no reason or shut you out, and you'll hate me for it. I... I'm not sure what I have to offer that could possibly make it worth your while."

Magnus chuckled, a surprising sound in their situation, and Alec didn't miss the hint of disbelief in his quiet laughter.

"Friendship is not a business deal," he told the Auror with a slightly dismayed smile, as if he was wondering what Alec's friends were like to make him say something like that. "You really don't have to make it worth my while. That's not how friendship works, at least not for me."

Well, Alec didn't have many friends left, so... He actually couldn't remember his last, genuine relationships free of expectations: save for Raj, his partners at the Ministry had been colleagues more than friends, relying on him to watch their backs while they did his, his fellow teachers were acquaintances more than anything else... Except for Magnus. He was not exactly a friend either, was he? Not yet. They both wanted to be, although they also both hoped for more, as they'd made it clear earlier, but they had to start off somewhere...

"Look, Alexander," Magnus added when the Auror didn't say anything, "you can tell me to fuck off if that's what you want. I just think that you are a good man and I really hate to see you so lonely and sad. I... I think I'd like to make you smile forever."

Alec's heart thumped painfully, echoing against his ribcage. How was he supposed to resist when Magnus was looking at him like this, with this melange of admiration and will to protect in his eyes? When he was saying the words that meant exactly what he had wanted to hear in the past months? Where his work partners had stayed away, sometimes too scared to even ask how he was coping, Magnus made sure to speak of forever. Metaphorically of course, but it got his message across all the same: the teacher didn't want to walk away, not even when Alec himself was unsure of whether he should let him be close to him or cut short every attempt at friendship. Perhaps, though... Perhaps they could try. Magnus wouldn't give up just because of Alec's doubts, so they might as well see how long it would last... with some precautions.

"If you really want this, you have to promise me something," Alec whispered.

"Sounds fair," Magnus answered with a smile. "After all, I asked the same of you before our date. Shoot."

"You won't like it," Alec warned him, "but I need to know I can trust you to do it anyway."

"I suppose it is nonnegotiable?"

The Auror flashed him a wan smile and Magnus nodded, although worry was etched onto his face as he waited for Alec to explain himself.

"If one day," he started after taking a deep breath, "I tell you to leave, to run, to get to safety, promise me you'll do it. No matter how bad I look, how much I might need help, promise me that you'll go. Even if it means leaving me behind."

The teacher paled, blinking in incomprehension.

"Why would you..."

"Promise me, Magnus," Alec insisted as he leaned forward, interrupting the other man. "You won't try to stay. You'll run."

He saw hesitation colour Magnus' features and he gnawed at his lower lip. He understood what sacrifice he was asking of the teacher, whose moral compass certainly didn't agree with abandoning someone in a time of need. Magnus shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was about to say, and Alec could feel the fierceness in his grip when the teacher raised his left hand to cup his face, his thumb caressing his jaw.

"I promise," Magnus eventually swore, sounding like the words and their heavy implications were choking him.

Alec didn't imagine the hint of rebellion he detected there, a tiny bit of I promise to do as you say, although not without a fight first but he couldn't find the will in himself to call the man out on it. If he was completely honest... He knew it was madness and still, he felt warm inside at the thought that Magnus wouldn't leave him alone even in the darkest of times... And if he had to fight against himself harder to make sure he wouldn't hurt him, then so be it.

Chapter Text

In spite of Magnus' promise for friendship, Alec had managed to convince himself overnight that he shouldn't expect anything good coming from it: he was certain that Magnus would avoid him like the plague come morning. Perhaps one night of hard thinking would make him realise that Alec wasn't enough - or too much - and that he didn't need to carry the weight of someone else's issues. Alec would understand. Maybe it would even be better like this: then at least, the Auror was certain that he wouldn't hurt Magnus.

Still, when he entered the Great Hall on Sunday morning, eyes underlined by circles darker than his pupils or almost, his gaze zeroed in on the teachers' table and followed along the seats until he found Magnus. The man looked well-rested and was engaged in lively conversation with Maia, which included flying bits of toasts and dripping marmalade as they both gesticulated wildly in their impression of a dragon. At least Alec thought it was a dragon, given the teeth both teachers were baring while flapping their arms by their sides. From their own tables, several students were watching them with amused, albeit slightly confused expressions. Most of them seemed to think that it was too early to have this much energy.

"May I sit or would that be too risky for me?" Alec asked when he reached his colleagues, glancing at his usual seat on Maia's left.

"Sit," she answered, patting the empty space by her side, "We need your input."

"Regarding...?" Alec trailed off, a bit worried, hoping they wouldn't ask him to judge their poor imitating skills - he wouldn't know how to tell them that they made pitiful dragons... gently.

"Which do you think is the most impressive between a dragon and a blast-ended skrewt?" Magnus asked, drawing Alec's eyes to him, smiling before his voice dropped as he added, "Hi, Alexander."

"H... hi," the Auror stuttered in surprise, his cheeks flaming when Maia raised an eyebrow both at Magnus' suave tone and his own stammering. "Uh... Dragon?"

"Thank you!" Magnus exclaimed, flashing Maia a triumphant grin, "See? I told you so!"

"There are no dragons in the Forbidden Forest, though," she pointed out, "so you're lying."

"I am not!"

"Tell him, Alec," Maia turned to the Auror, caught in the middle of pouring himself a glass of orange juice, "that dragons don't actually live at Hogwarts."

"Well..." Alec drawled, unsure of what the conversation truly was about, "there are a few reported sightings in the archives at the Ministry, I believe..."

He didn't mention that these sightings had occurred a few centuries ago and Magnus waggled his eyebrows at Maia, who rolled her eyes in return.

"I win," the Transfiguration teacher insisted, "Don't try to deny it."

"What's the debate about?" Alec enquired at last, "I'm not sure to understand."

"Mister Liar over here," Maia started, pointing at Magnus and prompting an affronted cry, "and I were sharing memories... and discussing who's had the most dangerous encounter in the Forbidden Forest when we were teens."

"You met a blast-ended skrewt?" Alec asked with interest. "Never had the chance myself."

"Chance?" Maia repeated, her eyes wide with disbelief. "Are you serious? Oh, I forget you used to be an Auror, I'm pretty sure you lot all have a death wish or something. Skrewts are nasty."

Alec would have agreed, in spite of his previous enthusiastic comment about the beast, if his brain hadn't stopped working for a second at her offhand observation. She hadn't meant to shock nor offend him but... Maia considered him an ex-Auror. The realisation hit him, hard, that everyone starting from his fellow teachers to his siblings to his... ex-colleagues at the Ministry saw him in such a manner, the former Auror who'd quit his job and given up on protecting the magical community.

He'd resigned, that much was true... However, he'd told Imogen that it was only temporary, a decision made for the sake of everyone else - and his own first. He'd promised he'd come back, one day, once he was better, and she'd nodded gravely. Her troubled eyes had betrayed her doubts though, as if she didn't believe that he'd be able to return to the job, to the field, ever again. Alec hadn't exactly known what to do during that unexpected and unscheduled break, so he'd spent a few months wallowing and lying to his family as he assured them that he was fine, until late July when Luke visited his tiny London flat with a surprising suggestion.

"Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers never last long", he'd said, oozing calm and assurance despite the dooming words. "Care to take the job?"

"I never taught kids before," Alec had pointed out, although he'd already made his choice, assaulted with sudden memories of Hogwarts' hallways and lake, the sense of home and safety, the excitement at the beginning of another year, with purchases to make on Diagon Alley and the prospect of fresh knowledge to master.

"Perhaps," Luke had agreed, "but you have more experience in defending yourself and others than all the teachers from the past ten years. You would be good at this."

Maybe he was. Still, teaching wasn't what he wanted to dedicate his life to, no matter how pleased he was when his students' eyes sparkled with interest and understanding. He had been, still was and would forever be an Auror, even when he was working far away from the Ministry of Magic. The day something or someone threatened Hogwarts, he had no doubt one would find him standing between the students and the enemy, no matter what it was this time.

On that thought, Alec returned to his breakfast and helped himself to one toast and the thinnest slice of bacon he could find. He never ate much after a sleepless night, his stomach too upset for that, still twisting uneasily with anguish. However, the relaxed atmosphere of the Great Hall on a Sunday morning brightened his mood, regardless of the sky that was just as grey as it had been on the previous afternoon.

A few seconds later, Maia stood up with furrowed brows while muttering about dragons and technical impossibilities, and she narrowed her eyes at Magnus before walking away. She stopped next to Luke though, most likely to ask him what he thought of the teacher's story.

"Have you really seen a dragon?" Alec whispered, leaning towards Magnus, smiling when the other man guffawed.

"Thirteen-year-old me certainly seemed to think so," he admitted with an air of conspiracy, "Maybe it was a young harpy, though?"

Alec snorted, shaking his head.

"Thirteen-year-old you or not, how could you not tell one from the other?"

"Alexander!" Magnus cried, one hand on his heart, "Are you saying that I'm an idiot? I'm hurt!"

"You know that's not what I meant," Alec answered with amusement, rolling his eyes at Magnus' dramatics, for pretending annoyance was probably better than showing just how relieved he was that they could still joke and banter with each other.

"True, you're too good a man for that," Magnus answered - he meant it, that was obvious, so how exactly was Alec supposed not to fall for him? "What about you though? Scariest encounter in the Forbidden Forest?"

Alec didn't say anything at first, staring down at his plate in concentration. He'd seen so many creatures in the forest, both during detention and while sneaking out of the castle at night, and he wasn't forgetting about those he had heard in the bushes but never caught a glimpse of... Which had been more frightening then the beasts he'd actually seen with his own two eyes.

"I don't know which one was the scariest," Alec confessed after a while, "but..."

He grew quiet for a second or two, looking around for the marmalade that he eventually located in front of Magnus. He held out his arm and wiggled his fingers when he realised it was too far out of his reach, smiling when the jar was smoothly propelled into his waiting hand.

"... but meeting Centaurs was impressive for sure," he finished.

He expected some kind of reaction to the news that he'd met these creatures that could be as savage as they were wise but nothing came and he looked up, catching Magnus' troubled eyes.

"What?" Alec asked thickly, already certain that the other teacher's shock wasn't only due to him seeing Centaurs in the Forbidden Forest.

"You... can do wandless magic?"

"What?" Alec repeated, following Magnus' gaze to glance down at the jar in his hand and... Shit. "Oh. Uh... Yes? Sort of?"

"I know... knew someone who could do that," the teacher said slowly. "That's characteristic of powerful wizards, I believe."

Or broken ones, Alec added in the privacy of his mind, in the midst of panic. His magic wasn't naturally stronger than anyone else, not much anyway... He had been taken and locked away, taunted and tortured, kept in that beautiful, therefore all the more terrible room for months. If he had been so powerful from the start, none of that would have happened: he would have resisted Jonathan, held onto Raj just a bit longer so he stayed safe, come back to his family at the end of the day. Instead, he had been too weak and he'd lost. During the following months, he'd had to test his will to fight, to live, and push his limits until he became stronger... Only for a moment. He'd been half-dead by the time the other Aurors found him.

"I swear I'm just like everyone else," Alec eventually lied, forcing his dry lips to part on an innocent smile.

"Oh, believe me..." Magnus whispered, "You are special."

There was no mistaking the spark in his eyes as he spoke, nor the affection in his words or the softness of his smile. Alec blushed and quickly looked down so that no one would see the hot colour of his cheeks - no one but Magnus, whose gaze was still set on him. It had been so long since anyone had looked at him like this, like he was wanted for who he was and not who he used to be... If he kept this up, Alec wasn't sure how long he would be able to stick to friendship and not grab Magnus by his collar to kiss him.

"Professor Lightwood?" Allen Jacobson called that Thursday afternoon, five minutes before the end of the class, when the general attention was wavering as the kids were already thinking of their Potions class that was next. "I have a question... I know it's not the subject of this lesson but..."

"Open and curious minds are never to blame," Alec answered with confidence, although he hoped he wasn't digging his own grave if Allen came up with something tricky, "Ask away."

"It's just..." the boy started, looking a bit... sheepish or hesitant, the Auror wasn't sure. "I was wondering about Dementors, Professor."

Oh. Not the nicest topic to discuss, as the mere mention of the creature could make a person's mood drop for the entire day... Halloween was close though, so perhaps this time of the year gave inspiration to scary questions - although several students sitting close to Jacobson glanced from their classmate to their teacher uneasily, as if they didn't really look forward to hear the question nor the answer.

"What about Dementors?" Alec enquired, expecting the common curiosity about how to defeat them.

"Where do they come from?" Jacobson asked instead, surprising his teacher in the process, "I mean, they come from Azkaban, yes, but how were they created?"

"Good question," Alec answered, stalling for time as he tried to gather his memories in order to explain the Dementors' origins as accurately as possible. "Uh... There are several theories, actually. Some say they were created by the Ministry of Magic when Azkaban became a prison but I know for certain that it isn't true. It is, however, correct that a specific team of Aurors studies Dementors."

At the back of the classroom, Max perked up and Alec had to repress a smile. His little brother had always loved to hear him talk about his job and his cases, although Alec never shared the gory details they sometimes included. He never used to mention the too-sensitive and important information either, since he didn't want Max to know too much and end up as a target for the dark wizards he could carelessly mention to his little brother.

"The exact process is uncertain," Alec added, "but it's been proven before that Dementors are born out of people's emotions, negative ones. Sadness, anxiety, fear... Dementors feed on these until they suck out every happy thought from you, which makes them very difficult to fight off."

"But you can!" Max exclaimed with a grin, looking like he was Alec's number one fan in this instant, "Right?"

"Show us, mister Lightwood!" another teen said, "Please, please..."

The whole class murmured in agreement and Alec stared at Max one second too long, in the kind of silent message siblings perfectly understood, until the boy looked down bashfully at the subtle reproach in his brother's gaze. Alec had never been one to show off and now Max was asking him to do exactly that?

"Fine," he groaned, picking up his wand from the desk in a swift move. "Dementors are a representation of sorrow, so what you need in order to defeat one is a Patronus, a sort of shield created with..."

He trailed off, waiting for a suggestion, that was quick to come as several students shouted happiness!

"And a huge dose of it," Alec confirmed, "The Patronus Charm is hard to achieve as you have to focus on one single, warm, happy memory to push away the fear and cold a Dementor makes you feel."

His students nodded eagerly, all pairs of eyes staring at him in expectation, impatient to see him perform the charm. It made him nervous. Alec hadn't done it in a while, hadn't needed to... He'd visited Azkaban before, several times in fact, to escort this or that madman in prison with his partners and every time, his Patronus had worked, remaining by his side for the duration of his team's presence inside the walls of the fortress. Today though, he wasn't sure he would succeed.

His hand shook on his wand, a small tremor that no one noticed but him. His magic was boiling in recoil, as if it would refuse to cooperate, and Alec gritted his teeth. This was a part of him. He could control it and he would prove it: it was going to work. It had to. If it didn't, the fact that he would humiliate himself in front of his students was nothing compared to the horrible sense of failure he would experience. It would only undermine his already fragile confidence.

Alec focused. The first happy memory that he could think of was Raj, bursting through the door with his wand raised high, followed up by several Aurors, but he quickly dismissed the thought. Seeing Raj had filled him with relief more than happiness and Alec remembered falling into his partner's arms, crying and clinging onto his cloak as tightly as his shaky fingers enabled him to. This wasn't powerful, not enough to resist a Dementor, so Alec switched to his return to Hogwarts.

He'd first seen the lights of the castle, shining through the windows and illuminating the dark, old shape of the turrets and walls, and he'd been overwhelmed with sudden nostalgia. The seven years he'd spent at Hogwarts had been some of the best in his life and there he was, back to school and more than ready to make the most of this second chance he had, after everything that had happened to him. He'd looked at the outline of the castle cut across the grey sky and felt like hope and new beginnings and home and...

"Expecto patronum!" he exclaimed.

Relief flooded him when silver threads came out of his wand at once. They were slender, turning around each other until they assembled to become thicker, stronger, and they spiralled into the shape of a shield. He heard a few students gasp at the sight, clearly impressed, but he couldn't bring himself to smile at them, suddenly overwhelmed with disappointment. Perhaps it was the first time most of these kids saw a Patronus, hence their admiration as they believed that his own was amazing... Still, Alec had entertained other expectations and all he got was... nothing. Where was his tiger? The gigantic beast with its stripes and its teeth that would bite into the Dementors' forms and frighten them? With a sigh and a flick of his wrist, Alec allowed the weak Patronus to fade away, feeling bile rise in his throat. Jonathan really had taken everything away from him. His sanity, his job, his friends... even his happiness. He'd been aware of that but he hadn't thought... Hadn't even fathomed that his ability to conjure a corporeal Patronus would be weakened because of it. He'd known he was diminished. He just hadn't imagined how much.

"Class is over," Alec rasped out.

Perhaps his return to Hogwarts hadn't been strong enough, he mused dejectedly while his students left the classroom, their excited waves going unnoticed. It had been the first time he'd felt alive in months and still that didn't suffice to create his Patronus? What other memory could he summon?

He briefly thought of Magnus and the way he'd looked under the rain, carefree and smiling. Alec remembered that his heart had been singing and fluttering on that day, until the two of them had stopped in front of the doors and the Auror let his insecurities take over. It was a happy memory, yes... but it was also tainted with misery the moment Alec lost all confidence and retreated back in himself.

"What happened to your Patronus?"

Alec startled at the voice but when he looked up, it was only Max standing in front of him - as well as his confused frown. It made sense that he wouldn't understand why his Patronus had been shapeless when he'd cast the charm: Max had seen his tiger before.

"Nothing," Alec said with resignation. "It's just... not strong enough to take form."


"Different reasons," the Auror answered with a vague gesture of his hand, "Don't worry."

"Is it because of what happened to you?" his little brother asked anyway.

His eyes were alight with determination and Alec knew that Max wouldn't drop it just because he asked him to: while the boy had learned guilt-tripping tricks from Jace and how to make his brain work - for school and mischief alike - from Izzy, his stubbornness was all Alec's. His brother didn't even have any precise idea of what he was talking about: he knew even less about the events from months ago than their siblings or parents did, as none of them had wanted to trouble him unnecessarily.

Of course Max had been upset though - and that was putting it mildly - for the long months his brother was gone, lost in some place they knew nothing about. They hadn't even known if he was alive... After his return, Alec had thought long and hard about the explanation he should give his brother but in the end, he'd told him as little as he could: he'd been taken and hurt by an evil man and he would need time to recover... but he'd kept the details to himself.

"Yes," he finally said, "it's still... too fresh in my mind. It's tampering with my magic but I'll be fine, don't worry."

"You like to say that," Max accused him, arms crossed against his chest and head tilted, as if the new angle would help him see through Alec better.


"Don't worry," his brother repeated his words. "It has the opposite effect, you know. Like, you know you're not good but you hate that people worry about you so you tell them not to, but we know you so we worry anyway... You know what I mean?"

"I guess," Alec chuckled, suddenly sorry for everyone he'd told these words to, "but really, you shouldn't..."

"If you tell me not to worry one more time, I'm going to hex you, teacher or not," Max threatened him - he almost looked convincing, with his narrowed eyes and annoyed demeanour, so Alec nodded.

"Fine," he grumbled, "What do you want me to say, then?"

"How you're doing would be good, for starters."

"I'm alright," Alec said, trying to sound cheerier than he probably looked, "I like the job, the kids, the other teachers..."

He trailed off when he caught his brother's doubtful expression. What now? He was only enumerating the good parts of this new life, those he genuinely enjoyed. Was that more worrying than comforting as well?

"You're not getting better, are you?" Max asked softly when Alec stopped talking, his tone gentle and his eyes full of concern for his big brother. "You couldn't make your Patronus appear."

"Thanks for reminding me," Alec groaned. "It will come back. I need time."

Merlin, he hoped so. He'd never imagined that the deprivation of his tiger would hurt so much and yet, it did, like he was missing a part of his soul. If the Dementors were the lack of happiness, the inability to feel joy, what did it make a Patronus? The exact opposite... and now his capacity to materialise this intense happiness was gone. He'd known he had walked out of Jonathan's lair a different man but he'd convinced himself that for the most part, it was in his head. The physicality of it was much harder to take. It made everything... real and acute and harsher.

"I'm working on being better," Alec eventually concluded, trying to reassure his brother some more without telling him not to worry. "I'll get there, I... I have people helping me. Sort of."

He briefly thought of Mister Stache who, although not human, brought support without even being aware of it, and then there were Magnus and Ragnor... Even teaching helped, for he could focus on something else than himself - unless that backfired, just like this class had.

"Alright," Max drawled, not fully convinced. "If you say so. What about your date? Did he help?"

"Yes," Alec answered, before he chose to play the honesty card, "and no. We like each other but... As I said, I need time."

His little brother nodded. The Auror wasn't certain that he fully understood his meaning but regardless, Max chose not to pry.

"I know I'm younger and you might not want to share everything with me like you do with Izzy and Jace," he told Alec instead, suddenly looking sheepish and afraid to overstep, "but you know you can always talk to me, right?"

"Yes, Max," Alec answered, feeling his heart melt at his brother's shy and earnest expression. "I know. Thank you."

Alec had always been a quiet kid growing up. That didn't mean he had been the perfect students at Hogwarts though: he'd done his best to get high grades and praise from his teachers but he'd also caused his fair share of mayhem, more often than not in collaboration with Jace and Izzy. Still, he'd never liked to talk much to people outside his close group of friends, especially when it was idle chatter.

He enjoyed deep conversations and topics too serious for his age and because of that as well as for a bunch of other reasons, the prospect of making a career at the Ministry had appealed to him - as an Auror, he wouldn't have time for nonsense. He was going to dedicate his life to fighting evil and protecting the wizarding world, which was serious business that didn't allow its employees to make room for enjoyment.

Or that was what fifteen-year-old him thought at the time. Three years later, he'd met Hodge and Raj, among others, and he'd realised that getting the job done didn't equal loneliness or intense concentration twenty-four hours a day. He'd had the time of his life with these two... Hodge had trained them both and remained professional until the very end of their instruction: once they'd become real, qualified Aurors though, they'd unlocked their access to a man who was funny and not as serious as he seemed to be, eager to share both hilarious and tragic anecdotes from the past years and that, more than their intense training, had made them feel part of the team.

Alec soon realised that the same process of warming up to his colleagues and them to him had started, a little while back even, as they shared more and more elements of their private life with him as they met up in the staffroom and talked. Maia opened up to him about being a werewolf, which Alec would never have guessed she was save for the claw marks on her neck, though he hadn't dared to assume.

"Someone once asked why I didn't hide them," she confessed when he told her as much. "But why should I? I got attacked and survived, even though I turned out a bit different. What's the shame in that?"

It hit a little too close to home so Alec didn't answer. Their situations were alike and at the same time, very different. A werewolf attack was unforeseeable and what could one do against the creature once it lost control of itself and decided to bite? However, it had been Alec's job to prevent attacks before they even had a chance to happen and he had known that repercussions for Lilith's arrest would come. He had been ready and still he'd been weak enough to be taken. It was his fault, his responsibility. Maia, on the other hand, was a victim.

"Wasn't it hard?" Alec asked after a while, his voice thick, "Teaching here... The world's kind of prejudiced against werewolves."

Maia snorted.

"You don't say... It's become easier with the years, though. Like, Luke's fought all his life for our rights and he became the first werewolf Headmaster in Hogwarts' history, so we can say there's been progress along the years. Also, nobody messes with Luke. That helps."

Alec chuckled and was about to agree when the door to the staffroom suddenly opened, making a few heads turn. Lorenzo walked in a few seconds later and as he looked around for an available chair, their eyes met for a brief instant that had Alec sucking in a breath. He hadn't seen the man since the Quidditch match - he hadn't avoided him but he had not actively sought him out either, too ashamed and scared of the fallout to talk to him.

There were too many teachers in the room for Alec to discuss the situation with him in peace, so he settled for directing an apologetic smile Lorenzo's way: it was returned in kind, with no small amount of relief as the Charms teacher realised that Alec really had nothing personal against him. Good. Even if they never became friends - which Alec would understand, considering what had happened - at least they could be civil to one another.

"Alexander!" Magnus suddenly called, a neat pile of parchments following in the wake of his raised wand, "Do you have a minute?"

"Of course," Alec answered at once, without missing the snort coming from Maia.

She stood up to leave her seat to Magnus, not without glancing at the Auror to point at his face. Heart eyes, she mouthed before breaking into a wide grin that got Alec to scoff... Only for a short while, as the Transfiguration teacher sat next to him and let his stack of parchment fall onto his lap.

"I need your expertise," he said, tugging on one specific roll to show it to Alec, "I gave my sixth-years an assignment on the use of Transfiguration as a defence mechanism and... Here, look at this one. Would you say that turning a Kappa into a Grindylow is efficient? Does it make your chances of survival rise?"

Alec blinked at the students' discussable choice, then at Magnus' no-less-arguable decision to ask him about it: he might teach Defence Against the Dark Arts, he was still far from being an expert on magizoology. But Magnus had brought his doubts to him, not anyone else... Alec would do his best to give a detailed description of both beasts the student had chosen, because Magnus trusted him with this and a lot more, and the Auror suddenly smiled.

Perhaps his tiger was gone... but it wouldn't last long.

Alec didn't manage to sleep on Halloween's night, although he wasn't sure why. He was just as tired as usual, perhaps even more so because of the feast in the Great Hall, and he should have dropped like a stone as soon as his back had touched the mattress. He'd noticed before that the more exhausted he was, the quicker he fell asleep - even though it didn't always last.

This time, however, he waited and waited for sleep that never came, got the time to be slightly disappointed that Mister Stache wasn't there, until he finally grew fed up enough to leave his bed.

Three o'clock in the morning was as good a time as any for a walk in the woods, wasn't it?

It didn't take him long to leave the castle, not even when a ghost tried to hold him back and discuss philosophy with him, before telling him that he should go to sleep: he looked way too pale for a living man and I would know something about this, believe me!

Alec kept going though, until he slipped under the cover of high trees he had not seen in ten long years. The night wasn't cold but still Alec draped his cloak more tightly around his shoulders as he walked deeper into the woods, where the temperature was fresher, as if the Forbidden Forest was telling intruders to go back the way they'd come from. Alec didn't feel like he didn't belong though, not in this place he had visited so many times before (sometimes with a teacher but more often than not on his own.)

He'd only meant to take a stroll in the forest in order to clear his head and keep his mind off his insomnia but it quickly became obvious that his feet had stopped obeying his brain, soon taking the familiar path he'd walked on so many years before. The first time he did, he couldn't have guessed what he would find at the end of the road but now he was prepared, even though they might not be there.

Alec remembered being terrified when he first met the Centaurs, five or six of them maybe, tall and wild-looking, their eyes a frightening mix of humanity and bestiality, wisdom and feral instincts. He'd made it out of there alive, because he hadn't done anything wrong and Centaurs didn't attack children, to his great relief. Alec wasn't a kid anymore but he wasn't afraid of what he would find after a few turns through the trees either.

Perhaps he shouldn't have been surprised that, when he stepped into the clearing at the end of the path, four Centaurs were already there, silent and still as if they'd been waiting for him. Which they probably had been, based on what Alec knew about them... They understood the world differently from humans, to the point that even their magic didn't feel the same at the wizards' but older and wiser.

His pace faltered until he nearly stopped, uncertain whether he should keep going as if he hadn't noticed the welcome committee, since he wasn't sure of their intentions either. Centaurs weren't known for their open-mindedness... Should he turn around and head back for the castle?

"Here you come again, Alexander Lightwood," one of the Centaurs suddenly said, taking the decision out of his hands with his voice that was rough and low, although it sounded as clear as a waterfall.

Alec squinted, trying to see the features of the creature better in spite of the darkness, but he couldn't be certain that he'd met this Centaur before. His mane was a rich brown, almost reddish on the tips and easy to remember, but it didn't ring any bells. Yet the Centaur seemed to know him by name... Perhaps that wasn't surprising: Centaurs guessed things in ways beyond the human comprehension.

"What is it that you want this time?" the Centaur asked without making time for pleasantries nor formal introductions, which Alec thought was quite representative of their customs.

"This time?" he repeated, brows furrowing. "I don't remember wanting something from you the first time around... I got lost."

"And lost you are again," another Centaur said.

This one's coat was adorned with dapples that went through several shades of grey and Alec narrowed his eyes at him. They had met, hadn't they? He didn't ask, for he was a hundred percent certain his question would be ignored, and he only glared a little. Judging by his tone, the Centaur didn't simply mean that Alec had strayed away from the path of the forest. What he was implying ran way deeper underneath Alec's skin.

"What do you know about that?" he grumbled, starting to regret not having turned back when he had the occasion - what kind of idiot willingly walked up to Centaurs?

"Mars is quite visible tonight," the first one said with an utter disinterest for his question, not that Alec should have expected otherwise.

As if on cue, the three others looked up and Alec followed, briefly staring up at the sky and the stars that were visible through the scanty canopy of this part of the Forbidden Forest. He had never paid much attention in his Astronomy class and his training as an Auror had not required of him the skill to read a sky map or draw it, so he was completely unable to spot the planet even as he searched for it.

"Mars was the Roman god of war," the dapple-grey Centaur added, "Did you know that?"

"Yes," Alec answered with a nod, barely managing not to roll his eyes, "but I don't see what Mars has to do with anything. Plenty of stars are visible tonight."

"So you haven't heard," the Centaur concluded, shaking his head, "You would do well to go back to the castle. They will need you."

Before Alec could ask for an explanation or calm his heart that had suddenly begun to beat faster at these words of doom, the four Centaurs turned around, now utterly disinterested in him. That was why Alec hated them, sometimes: they were always ready to say confusing words that sounded like dreadful prophecies but giving away the details? Never.

He didn't expect the dapple-grey one to look at him one last time while his companions galloped away, his gaze softening.

"Don't despair, Alexander Lightwood," he whispered, the wind carrying the quiet sound of his voice. "Help might come to you from the most unexpected place."

And then he was gone.

Alec ran. The Centaur's ominous words had kindled a nearly full-on panic inside him and he took the shorter way out of the Forbidden Forest, sprinting through the bushes instead of making a detour to get back on the sinuous path leading out of the woods. Wand drawn and uncaring of the thick thorns tearing at his cloak, Alec stormed out of the darker part of the Forest and he didn't slow down until he was back on school grounds, the castle tall and silent in the distance. Nothing looked out of place, it seemed, but Alec knew that Centaurs wouldn't meddle with wizard business and give out a warning without reason. Something must have happened or was about to. He was ready.

Cursing the rule that made it impossible for anyone to Apparate once inside Hogwarts' area, Alec took a breath and picked up his pace some more. He should go to Luke and tell him what little the Centaurs had shared with him so that they could...

Two silhouettes ahead of him made him drop that trail of thought as soon as he caught sight of them, in spite of the darkness. They were walking with their backs on him and perhaps they hadn't noticed him yet but Alec still raised his wand defensively, instincts kicking in.

"Stop right there!" he shouted, a hex already on the tip on his tongue.

The two others froze. Alec expected abrupt moves, quick attacks coming from both of them, but all he received was a chuckle and words from a voice he knew too well.

"Is that any way to welcome an old friend?"

Slowly, the two intruders turned around with their empty hands on display to show that they didn't have their wands (although Alec knew better than anyone that wandless magic could be just as, if not more, destructive) and they smiled.

"H... Hodge? Raj?" Alec stammered, taken aback, before he dropped his wand at once.

"Hey, Alec," Raj said with a pointed look at his torn cloak, "Looking good."

"Shut up," Alec growled, "Come here."

Closing the distance between them, Alec drew his friend in a tight hug that was returned with just as much strength. A sense of familiarity seeped into him as they embraced each other after months of separation, ever since Alec had left the Ministry. Raj had been the only one to actually support him at work, going as far at to snap at several Aurors who'd sent nasty looks Alec's way - Raj had no idea he knew, but Alec had heard he'd even hexed one of their colleagues who'd been a bit too talkative and mocking about his troubles while he wasn't there to hear.

Alec stepped back after a while, smiling as he held Raj at arm's length to watch him. He looked good, as if the job had treated him well, and it was a relief for Alec to know that his fellow Auror was doing alright, even without him to watch his six. He shook Hodge's hand next, hugged him briefly as well, and he realised that he was smiling. Seeing them both felt like jumping in time to go back to his glorious days and now more than ever, he wished he'd been strong enough to stay. He liked teaching and it paid the bills, as Muggles said, but it was his job, while being an Auror was... his whole life.

"What are you doing here?" Alec asked once the shock of this unexpected reunion subdued, remembering the Centaurs' warning far too well and growing worried once again. "Did something happen?"

He got his answer as soon as Raj's and Hodge's expressions turned grim, and he braced himself for the worst as his former trainer started to speak.

"Asmodeus escaped from Azkaban."

Chapter Text

Alec had seen Asmodeus once or twice, on several occasions when he'd escorted a prisoner to Azkaban. He'd last visited the fortress a few months ago, after most of his physical wounds had healed and he'd felt strong enough to Apparate with Raj right outside the area, in which rules applied as they did at Hogwarts. He hadn't travelled for Asmodeus' sake though: he'd done it for one purpose only and it had been quite personal.

Raj had gone inside with him but he had patiently waited in the hall while Alec walked up to Jonathan's cell. He'd felt like it was something he needed to do and he needed to do it alone, even though his friend had assured him that he had nothing to prove - but didn't he, really?

Jonathan wasn't tied up, chained nor sedated, for not one of these measures was necessary in a prison such as Azkaban, where Dementors guarded the prisoners perfectly well. The Dementor in charge of Jonathan's cell had floated away for a little while, just long enough for Alec to stare down at his tormentor and make sure that he was locked away, in a place where he couldn't reach him. The man had looked so young and pale in that cell, almost pitiful, far from the terrifying monster that had enjoyed torturing him. While Alec didn't take pleasure in knowing that a man was suffering, witnessing Jonathan's fate for himself had helped him a great deal, although not enough to stop the nightmares entirely: Lilith or her son were still coming for him most nights.

On his way out, Alec had passed in front of Asmodeus, whose cell was only a few doors down from Jonathan's. As far as he could remember, the man had looked peaceful, though there had been a gleam of malice in his eyes that remained impressive, even behind bars. Had he already been planning his escape when he'd visited? Should he have noticed something that could have helped prevent it?

"Do we know if he acted alone?" Alec asked once he'd completely processed the news, as he headed for the castle with the two Aurors.

Raj opened his mouth to answer but Hodge shook his head before he could say a word.

"Sorry, Alec," he said, sounding sincere, albeit final, "but you're not part of the investigating team. We can't reveal details to anyone not directly involved."

Alec felt something break in his chest at the words. The wound was only slightly soothed when Raj scoffed, not even bothering to hide his disapproval.

"That's ridiculous," he protested, "Alec is one of us!"

"Was," Hodge corrected, sparing one glance to his former trainee, "I'm sorry, Alec, I really am, but that's the truth."

Raj looked furious but Alec found the strength in himself to nod, his throat tight with an emotion that he couldn't name, between sadness, resentment and bitterness. Back in the days, Hodge would never have questioned his legitimacy to know about a case... He guessed things changed fast.

"We need to speak with Luke," he added a bit more softly. "If he agrees to it, maybe you can stay and listen."

Alec nodded again, feeling like he was holding onto a buoy just so he wasn't drowning, and he hoped with all his heart that Luke would understand his desire, his need to know what had happened in Azkaban. No matter what, he remained an Auror in his heart and in his blood, and to know something seriously bad had gone down and be unable - forbidden! - to help in any way was killing him.

He caught Raj's apologetic side-glance and shrugged, trying to keep a neutral face, but his friend only scowled. He knew Alec too well to buy the act, he was aware that his partner wasn't taking Hodge's imposed distance from the case, their case, kindly. Raj looked like he understood, would have reacted in the same way if their roles had been reversed, and Alec felt a surge of affection for this man who'd always stood by his side with pride, even when no one else had.

The three of them made their way to Luke's office in silence and while it didn't last long, the minutes it took them to get there were awful for Alec, who had nothing to focus on other than the growing anxiety inside his chest. More preoccupying than knowing how Asmodeus had escaped, a feat not so easy to achieve, the question of why Aurors were showing up at Hogwarts specifically was toying with his nerves. If the students were in danger...

The stone gargoyle guarding the Headmaster's office allowed them to climb the stairs once it had been pacified with the appropriate password, which Alec provided for the two Aurors - judging by their confusion when he spoke, they would probably never have guessed that it was dumplings.

Entering the office in the wee hours of the morning was just as impressive as when Alec had for the first time, when he'd been summoned in the middle of the night along with Izzy so that the Headmaster who had preceded Luke, Professor Penhallow, could tell them that their (idiotic) brother had been transferred to St Mungo's. The fool had been secretly tending to an injured salamander in his bed, until the animal had set fire to his sheets - and Jace himself.

Luke obviously had different tastes than Headmistress Penhallow, based on the moon phases paintings that had not been there the last time Alec visited this room, ten years ago or so. He briefly wondered whether that was pure masochism or unabashed pride to have the moon on display like this, but he quickly voted for the latter: Luke had always defended werewolves with fervour.

Other than these paintings, unmoving and therefore most likely made by Muggles, the office was littered with the same small objects and weird machines that belonged to the Headmaster's study more than the Headmaster himself did, that Alec had already seen on one of his previous visits. The detail that got him to smile even in these circumstances of uncertainty, which was so very Luke, was a colourful pamphlet forgotten on the sturdy desk that advertised for takeout to what seemed to be a Chinese restaurant, the Jade Wolf.

"If you are interested, I highly recommend the Peking duck," Luke's amused voice suddenly rose in the office.

Alec looked up to see the Headmaster smiling at him as he walked down the stairs that led from what he assumed were private chambers to the study, where the two Aurors - and a half, apparently - were waiting for him.

"Auror Starkweather, Auror Dhawan," Luke acknowledged each of them with a nod as his feet landed on the floor of the office. "Bad day to meet again. I got your message."

"I wish we didn't have to meet like this," Hodge agreed with a frown, "Has the Minister gotten into touch with you already?"

"Not yet," Luke answered at once, though he glanced at the hearth not too far behind the desk, where a bright fire was burning. "I expect her to reach out to me soon, though."

"Then we can tell you what we already know and Imogen will keep you updated as soon as we have anything new, I guess."

Luke nodded and motioned for them to sit with him, his wand quick to summon tea and scones. Alec didn't know what time it was, probably between four and five in the morning, and he suddenly realised that he was starving. Forbidden Forest exploration would do that to you, he supposed, especially when it was followed by the news that one of Azkaban's most dangerous prisoners had escaped. Still, he hovered behind his former partners, hesitant to include himself into their circle just like that, and Hodge eventually sighed.

"You're already here," he said, "so you might as well hear this. If that's alright with you, Headmaster? Alec is not technically..."

"I want to help," Alec interrupted him, "in any way I can. If Asmodeus escaped, I don't think three Aurors on Hogwarts grounds are too many Aurors."

"Right," Hodge muttered, obviously torn between the logic of that statement and the fact that Alec hadn't been cleared for field duty. "Professor Garroway?"

"As both an Auror and a teacher," Luke said, "I believe Professor Lightwood is a valuable asset in this situation. Do you take milk with your tea, Alec?"

Raj coughed to hide a laugh while his friend shook his head and wordlessly took a seat between him and Hodge, who looked actually quite relieved that he hadn't been the one to make that decision. If Alec fucked up, at least he wouldn't be held responsible for it. Alec's eyes found Luke's and he tried to convey as much gratitude as he could in his gaze, until the Headmaster winked at him. Merlin's beard. Luke trusted him far more than Alec trusted himself most of the time.

"So," Luke prompted the Aurors, "How did the son of a bitch escape?"

Alec nearly swallowed his sip of tea wrong at his phrasing and he had to massage his throat to make sure that he wouldn't choke to death. Headmistress Penhallow would never have said something so blunt. He loved the difference.

"Rather easily, to be honest," Raj answered, which prompted a groan for Hodge. "What? It's true, we might as well admit our mistake."

"What happened?" Luke asked.

He looked serene but Alec could almost see the tension in his body as he waited for the actual explanation, as well as the anger that he was trying to repress. If the Ministry was somehow responsible for Asmodeus' escape and endangering people... One would be pissed at less than this.

"You know that he's still under investigation, right?" Hodge asked, "He never confessed for several crimes that we are positive he committed, though we don't have solid evidence to turn that suspicion into fact. It isn't uncommon to have him transferred to the Ministry for further questioning."

"The Minister sent several Aurors to supervise his transfer to London," Raj added, sounding bitter at the mere recalling of the events, "Asmodeus was quiet as always, he was in shackles blocking his magic and it was all going very well, except that he was constantly smirking at Victor and... he dropped his guard."

"Victor... Aldertree?" Alec enquired, perfectly calm on the outside but boiling with rage inside.

"Yeah," Raj winced, knowing all too well that Aldertree had been one of the main people to fuel the wave of defiance and criticism against Alec after he'd gone back to the Ministry. "Asmodeus managed to grab Victor's wand... So the shackles became useless. He got out of them and then, there was no stopping him."

"He didn't even need the wand anymore," Hodge added, "I knew his wandless magic was powerful but... I had never seen it for myself."

Alec shivered. Sometimes he grew scared of his own powers, this ability for wandless magic that he'd gotten without ever wishing for it, and he was afraid of what it could do to him and to others if he didn't control it... The thought of what he could become if he was not careful terrified him.

"Aldertree's an idiot," he grunted to shake himself out of his thoughts and refocus on the discussion at hand.

"We don't need to share our personal opinions in this," Hodge snapped, "It's enough of a mess already, so if you can't..."

"I believe Alec was only stating facts," Raj interfered, the hint of a smile fighting its way up his lips.

Hodge glared at them both but didn't say anything else, probably thinking that reuniting these two troublemakers had been the worst mistake he'd ever made, and he turned to Luke. He didn't catch the mischievous smile Raj flashed Alec.

"We don't know his current location," Hodge admitted to the Headmaster after a few seconds, "but we're a hundred percent convinced that he'll be headed for Hogwarts as soon as he can."

"It would be logical, yes," Luke whispered, briefly closing his eyes. "I activated Hogwarts' defences as soon as I got your Patronus, Professor Rey will have to check a few wards in the morning but the walls are safe. Professor Bane will direct the..."

"I'm sorry," Hodge interrupted with a frown, "but is it wise to involve Magnus Bane in any of this?"

Alec blinked. Was that wariness he could hear in his old mentor's voice?

"I assure you Magnus will want to be involved," Luke said, "and it wouldn't be fair to keep him on the bench. If you want to try though, be my guest. Speaking of which, Alec, would you mind waking him up and bringing him back here?"

Alec set down his teacup and nodded a bit slowly before he stood up, too confused to protest. Why should Magnus not be included in Hogwarts' defences, if other teachers were? Why would Hodge, whom Alec didn't think personally knew Magnus, be reluctant to accept his help?

The questions kept turning in his mind as he made his way to Magnus' chambers. Alec had never been inside his quarters, though he'd walked past them several times, and knocking at his door before dawn felt weird, tasting like illicit affairs that had to be conducted before sunrise so they would not be caught. Feeling like a shy duckling, Alec gave a series of quick rasps against the door.

He wasn't surprised that he had to wait a little and knock a second time, then a third, a bit louder. No one in their right mind would expect to be waken up before five in the morning, especially after the Halloween feast that usually didn't finish before midnight, and Alec felt a twinge of guilt at the prospect of bothering Magnus at such an early hour.

All trace of guilt vanished, however, when the door opened to reveal a sleepy Transfiguration teacher, who seemed to have put on his dressing gown in a hurry, judging by how askew the clothing laid across his body. Alec glanced at his bare shoulder but quickly looked up, suddenly feeling ashamed that he was gazing at something that wasn't his to stare at. Magnus didn't seem to have noticed.

"A... Alexander?" he whispered, blinking owlishly.

"Hi," Alec said quietly, surprised by the soft tone of his own voice as he kept the volume down, unwilling to rush Magnus in any way. "Sorry to wake you..."

"What time is it?" he mumbled - and Alec took a deep breath to ground himself, because Magnus was adorably grumpy when he was still half-asleep.

"Too early for this," he said as honestly as he could, loving the tiny and sleepy smile that answered him. "Luke wants to see you."

"Luke?" he repeated, his eyes opening a bit wider at the news, as if it was pulling him out of the tight clutches of sleep. "Why? Did something happen?"

"Yes. Come on, he'll tell you himself."

Magnus nodded, still not alert enough to demand more details about that, and he nearly stabbed Alec in the eye when he took his wand out of the pocket of his dressing gown to lock the door behind him.

"Sorry," he groaned, "M'not quite awake."

"That's alright," Alec said, fighting a smile since he didn't really want Magnus to think that he was mocking him, "This way."

He gently caught Magnus' elbow and steered him in the right direction before the teacher could walk straight into a wall. With every step they took towards Luke's office, Magnus started to function properly again and he pulled his gown tighter around himself.

"I should have dressed better," he muttered, glancing a bit helplessly at his pyjama pants, visible beneath the hem of the dressing gown.

"I didn't give you much time to do that," Alec apologised, "You're still perfect, don't worry."

Magnus let out a startled laugh, that made the Auror realise what he'd actually just said. Merlin! He was more tired than he'd thought after his day of classes, the feast and his escapade into the forest. Thankfully, Magnus didn't tease him about it. He merely squeezed Alec's hand, that was still holding onto his elbow, and the Auror didn't think he imagined the tenderness in his touch.

"Will you really not tell me why Luke wants to see me?" Magnus suddenly asked, as if he'd just remembered why he was out of bed at this ungodly hour - and he might have done just that, seeing how out of it he'd been until a few minutes prior.

"Well..." Alec trailed off, still unsure that he should be the one to explain everything. "I think it's better if we wait until we're there."

Based on the exchange between Luke and Hodge, he'd sort of gathered that Magnus was deeply concerned with this whole Asmodeus business, though he had no idea why. He had never worked on his case so he didn't know enough to understand all the ramifications of it and he'd been too young when Asmodeus was arrested to remember anything from the papers. Maybe Magnus had seen something at the time, even though he would have only been a child himself?

"Dumplings," Alec stated when he found himself in front of the gargoyle once again.

He heard Magnus mumble something about being hungry and then, they were in the stairs and all too soon in front of the door, that Alec pushed open after a quick knock of warning.

"Magnus," Luke immediately greeted the teacher, a sympathetic smile on his lips. "Sit down, have some tea - a biscuit, maybe? Sorry about the time, you know I wouldn't bother you if it wasn't urgent."

"I guess it really is, for Hogwarts to welcome two Aurors in the middle of the night," he pointed out, briefly nodding at Raj's and Hodge's unmistakable robes. "It also explains my presence here."

Magnus looked like he already knew he would receive some bad news, Alec thought in disbelief as he conjured one more chair for himself, since the older teacher was now sitting on the seat he'd previously vacated. He wasn't sure about the meaning behind his cryptic sentence.

"So... Is he dead?" Magnus asked before anyone could say anything.

Alec couldn't decide whether he sounded hopeful or resigned, perhaps both, but surely he didn't mean Asmodeus... How could he possibly know whom they had been talking about before his arrival?

"He escaped, Magnus."

Luke spoke softly, carefully, and Alec realised that the Headmaster himself didn't know how Magnus was feeling, his tone gentle as if it would be enough to prevent a violent reaction. What followed was only silence, shocked and horrified.

"Oh," the teacher eventually said in a whisper. "I see."

"We think he might be coming for you," Hodge added with less gentleness than Luke.

Alec's blood froze in his veins.

"I'm sorry, what?!" he exclaimed, cold fear suddenly gripping at his heart, and he stood again. "Wait a minute, why... Why would Asmodeus... Magnus?"

"You don't know?" the teacher asked, his surprise clear on his face and in his voice, before his expression turned a bit hesitant, unsure of how Alec would take the news. "Asmodeus is my father."

Alec didn't understand at once. It was too strange, too hard to imagine that the Magnus he knew, who was kind and sweet and just so amazing, could be related to Asmodeus, the monster that had killed dozens of people and never expressed any regret. Then, in the blink of an eye, it made perfect sense. I know... knew someone who could do that, Magnus had said after witnessing the Auror doing wandless magic at breakfast. Alec suddenly felt sick.

How... How could Magnus like him and enjoy his company? Knowing what his father had done with his powers, how could he not be scared of Alec? How could he even trust him not to turn into a madman like Asmodeus?

Magnus stood up as well, his hands raised at chest level as if he wanted to placate a spooked animal. He was looking at the Auror in worry, unable to decipher his expression, which Alec quickly tried to school into something more neutral. This wasn't about him and his fears, it couldn't be: Magnus should be his primary concern, Magnus who'd just learned that his father, a notorious criminal, had escaped and was potentially hunting him down.

"Alec?" Magnus whispered, still obviously anxious, "We'll talk about this, I promise, but... later, alright?"

The younger man nodded, tried to put a smile on his face to reassure the teacher, who suddenly looked much more tired than he had only a few moments ago, when Alec had knocked on his door. He could only imagine how Magnus felt right now, knowing that his father was outside, lurking somewhere, anywhere, ineluctably coming for him. Alec glanced at Hodge, who'd sounded so wary before... Did he think that Magnus would help Asmodeus? That he was like him?

"What happened?" Magnus asked tiredly, tight knuckles gripping the back of his chair.

Alec studied his face as Raj explained in few words how Asmodeus had tricked them, playing with Victor's nerves until he'd lost his composure and reacted the wrong way. Magnus didn't look surprised, as if he had known that this day would come, but his eyes screamed sadness and fury cocktailed together, now boiling under the surface and prepared for an explosion.

"Has he said anything?" Magnus added, "Anything about me?"

"No more than he said the last time he saw you," Hodge answered, "That's why it makes sense for him to come here - that, and you are his last living relative, the only one who could help and shelter him in his current situation."

"What does that mean?!" Magnus snapped at once, the muscles of his hand clenching, this close to fly to his wand. "I don't intend on helping him! At all! Are you implying that I might be..."

"How exactly do you think Magnus could house Asmodeus at Hogwarts while I am here?" Luke asked, cutting his teacher short before it could get ugly. "Unless you're saying that I am an accomplice too?"

"Of course not!" Hodge spluttered, "But we have to think like Asmodeus! We must examine every possibility, think of every ally he could have..."

"I'm not one of these allies you speak of," Magnus growled, "and if I come face to face with him, be assured that I will be the one to kick his ass straight back into Azkaban."

That, at least, was crystal clear. As an Auror, Alec understood the necessity to keep both eyes open in such a situation, to be wary of everyone who was somewhat close to Asmodeus but... Hodge was wrong. Perhaps Alec was biased, because he knew Magnus, unlike Hodge, but he was one hundred percent convinced that the teacher was not a suspect in this case. If anything, given his reaction, it was rather obvious that Magnus could be a precious help to arrest Asmodeus once more.

"Well, now that we are all on the same page," Luke brought everyone's attention back to the task at hand, "maybe we can start discussing our options."

"The Minister would like for Auror Dhawan and myself to remain at Hogwarts to supervise the security measures that will be taken," Hodge said, ignoring the way Magnus was still glaring at him, "as well as to patrol the perimeter. With your permission, of course."

"This is a school," Luke objected, "I don't want the students to feel watched nor uncomfortable. The Ministry knows Hogwarts can handle itself, we've never needed reinforcement before and this isn't going to change. I can allow you to patrol the grounds but not the castle."

Hodge didn't look happy at all, although he didn't openly rebel against that resolution: the Headmaster's calm demeanour but determined expression showed that he wasn't about to change his mind. Alec respected his decision, although he didn't necessarily agree with it: Hogwarts' headmasters and headmistresses had since long grown wary of the Ministry of Magic intruding into the school business, which had resulted several times in bigger disasters than it would have if the Ministry had left them alone. Still, this was Asmodeus they were talking about... Even with the defences of the castle and the teachers keeping guard, shouldn't they accept all the help they could get?

"This isn't what the Minister asked for," Hodge pointed out, "She wants Aurors inside the castle for absolute, certain safety and..."

"And my teachers and I are perfectly capable of ensuring our students' safety ourselves," Luke interrupted him, "I assure you. Hogwarts is a place of learning, a safe place for many wizards who would not be accepted elsewhere, and I will do everything in my power to keep it that way. I will not have the Ministry pretend to be worried about our safety and seize this opportunity to spy on us."

Ouch. So that was what Luke's reservations truly were about? It wasn't the first time that Alec heard about the tensions between Hogwarts and the Ministry but he'd never realised how far they could reach... It made sense, though. Despite the progress that had been made along the years, the Ministry sheltered many prejudiced people who still believed in a superior kind of wizards, which obviously excluded werewolves - among others. Alec had even heard, though in hushed, shameful tones, of registers kept inside the Ministry that listed all creatures and wizards who were not... like others. Could it be that Luke feared Raj and Hodge were working on such lists, under the cover of helping on the Asmodeus' case?

No. He knew them. Raj was a close friend and Alec was certain that he would not work for such a purpose, not willingly. As for Hodge, he might abide by strict principles but he certainly wasn't an asshole. Just overzealous.

"Minister Herondale has..." Hodge started again, a bit angrily this time, but Raj interrupted him.

"If I may," he said, and Alec recognised the hesitation in his tone as the doubts of someone who knew he was right but didn't dare to rub it in their former trainer's face. "Minister Herondale only mentioned there should be an Auror or two inside the castle. She didn't say it had to be us, specifically."

All eyes suddenly turned to Alec, who felt a flicker of hope in his chest. What Raj was implying was... Merlin, he loved his friend. Could it be? Could he really go back to what he did best, even if only for a while and unofficially so? Alec glanced at Luke, awaiting a decision, and seeing the Headmaster's smile had him lighting up in a second.

"I agree with this suggestion, Auror Dhawan," Luke said, "It is an excellent compromise."

"Technically, Alec is not currently an Auror," Hodge pointed out, "but one of your teachers. This isn't..."

"No matter who employs me," Alec interfered, trying to rein in his disappointment at the way Hodge kept dismissing his ability and eagerness to help, "I remain an Auror. You trained me, you know me and you know what I'm capable of."

"I only know what you were capable of," Hodge corrected, though not without some hint of kindness - that sounded too much like pity. "I don't want to doubt you but..."

He trailed off, as if it wasn't necessary for him to finish his sentence to let everyone else understand his meaning: Alec's Auror days were over. The worst part was that he was right... and Alec knew it. Still, he recoiled in shock, the words bringing him months back at the Ministry, in a circle of hatred, suspicion and wariness, and he barely registered Raj's gasp, offended on his behalf, nor the strange sound that left Magnus' throat, like that of a cat hissing.

"That's enough," Luke said firmly, standing up and making the teacups and scones vanish with a swift twist of his wand, full of repressed anger. "As I said, you can patrol the school grounds, I'll take care of the rest."

He pointed to the door then, that opened soundlessly, in a clear sign that the Aurors had overstayed their welcome. If he had not been too lost in his mind, Alec would have felt bad for Raj, who had tried to keep the conversation civil and respectful while Hodge alone was responsible for managing to offend not only the Headmaster but also two of his teachers in the same half-hour.

"Don't listen to him," Luke said once the Aurors had walked out of his office, "If he doesn't acknowledge it, then it's the Ministry's loss: Hogwarts knows your worth, Alec. I will be reassured to know you're watching over us all."

Alec nodded in silence, not sure whether Luke actually meant these words or was only trying to make him feel better. Maybe he could believe him though, if only to appease his own insecurities.

"You won't be alone," Magnus added, stepping closer to Alec.

He looked calm again, although his eyes were glowing with remnants of anger, slowly replaced with a cold determination. Alec didn't envy Asmodeus' fate once he would come face to face with Magnus, if he even managed to get that far.

"I'm going to hex him back into Azkaban," the teacher growled, confirming Alec's thoughts, "He'll wish he never escaped in the first place... Unless you want me to leave the school?"

Alec startled at the words, addressed to Luke on such a sad, dejected tone that it broke his heart a little. Did Magnus really believe that the Headmaster would want to push him away from Hogwarts just because his father was who he was? Judging by Luke's face, he didn't like the suggestion any more than Magnus or Alec himself did.

"No," he answered. "Don't even think about it."

"I don't want to put the kids in danger," Magnus argued, shedding new light on the reason for his potential departure, "I'd rather leave for a while if I have to."

"Hogwarts is the safest place in the world," Alec stepped in with a frown, refusing to hear that Magnus would be willing to have his job taken away from him - he knew only too well how painful it would be for someone like Magnus, who loved his job with his whole heart. "The school needs a great wizard like you."

Magnus snorted, a bit sadly.

"I'm not sure it does, when you're here," he answered softly.

Alec shook his head. He knew Magnus was speaking of his wandless magic and perhaps he was right, perhaps he could deal with Asmodeus on his own if he showed up... but Alec didn't control that magic, not well enough anyway, and he couldn't trust it.

"Even so, I need you," he whispered.

"We all do," Luke added, "and you're staying, Magnus, it isn't debatable."

Magnus nodded, flustered at the vote of confidence. Alec was also positive that there was a hint of relief on that gorgeous face now that he knew that he wouldn't be cast away because of the actions of his father - but how could anyone possibly blame him for being his father's son? He hadn't chosen his family.

"I will arrange watches among the teachers," Luke eventually concluded, "and ask Lorenzo about the wards when I see him at breakfast. You two go... talk and sleep. Your morning classes are cancelled."

"Thank you," both Magnus and Alec answered at the same time.

They glanced at each other, wan smiles on their lips, and Alec motioned Magnus to go down the stairs first. As he closed the door to Luke's office behind himself, Alec wondered whether he'd been the only one to think that the gratitude in Magnus' voice wasn't only due to the cancellation of his classes. Just like Alec, actually, who certainly appreciated the fact that he was allowed to catch a few hours of sleep but was mostly thankful for being involved into the process of defending the castle. Given his recent experience, it would have made sense for Luke to want him as far from any threat as possible.

The Headmaster knew when to give people a chance, apparently - or maybe he was simply crazy.

Alec looked at Magnus as they wordlessly made their way back to his chambers, their pace as slow as when they'd come to Luke's office, although this time the exhaustion on Magnus' face was there for a different reason than the interruption of a good night of sleep.

"Will you be alright?" he eventually asked, his voice too loud for the silence of the hallways.

Magnus shrugged.

"I suppose," he answered softly. "I... When I was a kid, I used to think that Asmodeus would come for me one day. To hurt me, like he hurt so many other people. He told me, when he was arrested... I'll see you again, my beautiful boy. I'll see you again. It's been twenty-five years since he was arrested and I... I thought I would be ready. Turns out I wasn't."

Magnus abruptly stopped walking when Alec did and he turned to the Auror who stood speechless, with his heart in his throat, unable to say or do anything to alleviate the pain he could hear in his friend's voice, see in his eyes.

"Tell me what you need," Alec begged him at last, "Magnus, I don't know what to do to help you... I want to but I just... I don't know how."

The teacher blinked, a beat of silence echoing in the distance between them.

"Please, hold me..." Magnus whispered at last. "Don't let go."

Alec understood the words for the desperate plea they were and he spread his arms, just in time for Magnus to step into his embrace and collapse against his chest, as if he'd finally crumpled under the weight of what Asmodeus' return meant. Alec held him, as he'd asked, one arm around his shoulders and the other in his hair, shielding him.

As they stood there, still and quiet, Alec was briefly reminded of the last time they'd been so close, when they'd almost kissed. This felt far more intimate than what they'd nearly done that day, far from any desire, with only the eagerness to bring Magnus the comfort he so desperately needed: the teacher was hugging him like he was afraid that he would never been given the chance again. Don't let go, he'd said.

Alec tightened his hold around Magnus.


Chapter Text

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you that Asmodeus was my father," Magnus whispered, staring into the swirling depths of his bowl of hot chocolate.

On Alec's impulse, the two men had switched directions before they could reach Magnus' chambers and had instead made their way down to the kitchens and their secret door. The Auror had tickled the pear in the bowl of fruit painted on the wall and seconds later, the pear was giggling and turning into a door handle. A few more steps and they were surrounded by zealous house-elves bowing and suggesting with their squeaky voices that the wizards sat down while they prepared them scrambled eggs and sausages, some pie maybe, treacle tart or anything else they might want, anything at all, really, it was no trouble.

Magnus wasn't hungry so Alec had asked for two hot chocolates instead of any solid food, as he figured the warmth would do the teacher some good. Based on the way Magnus gripped his bowl with both hands, he'd been right.

"I thought you knew we were related, to be honest," Magnus added before Alec could say anything. "Being an Auror and all that..."

"I never worked on the case," Alec answered, "Never read up on it either, all I knew was that he was a criminal who'd made too many victims to count."

"He killed my mother first," Magnus whispered, his eyes lost somewhere beyond the horizon of his past. "He killed her, because she wanted to run away with me. To protect me."

Alec startled at the unexpected revelation and he turned eyes wide with surprise and heartbreak toward the teacher, who didn't notice. He... He couldn't believe it. Refused to, because it was too painful to imagine: Asmodeus had been in Azkaban for twenty-five years so how old was Magnus when he'd become an orphan? Eight? Nine, at most? Alec couldn't even begin to fathom how hard it must have been for a kid so young...

When the teacher's hands started to shake, Alec gently took the bowl from him and put it down on the long table behind them. Slowly, only aiming for support and not taking advantage of the situation, he slipped his right hand into Magnus', who immediately squeezed it.

"Sorry," the teacher whispered with a sniffle. "I'm... I'm over it, I swear I am, but knowing he escaped..."

"You don't have to apologise," Alec said on the same low tone. "Neither for being emotional about it or not telling me, I... I get it. I can't say I'm without secrets myself."

"Your father is not a dangerous criminal," Magnus protested, softly. "The very kind of people you work to arrest. How can you sit next to me and not be mad?"

"Just like you can stay beside me and not be afraid," Alec shot back without missing a beat, covering Magnus' hand that he was already holding with his left one, and now, now, he understood why the teacher insisted on remaining by his side, fearless and still hoping that they could evolve into something more than Alec and Magnus, into Alec-and-Magnus. "I don't care who your dad is. I care about you and you're not him."

Magnus blinked, gold briefly flickering through his pupils, before he looked down at their joined hands.

"So we're good?" he whispered, doubt lingering in his voice.

Alec nodded, squeezing Magnus' hand just a bit tighter. He didn't deem the question necessary, because he couldn't comprehend why they wouldn't be: Magnus was the furthest thing from a criminal. However, he did grasp just how much Magnus needed to hear his answer to actually believe in it.

"Yes, we're good," the Auror answered, and because he wanted to trust in these words and couldn't bear to see Magnus so downhearted, he added, "We'll always be."

The teacher gnawed at his bottom lip in worry, as if he couldn't quite believe that it would be so easy to get an always, and Alec remained quiet. He didn't think now was the time to tell Magnus that maybe he was right and that they'd never be good forever, although it might turn out to be true, with time. Alec carried a heavy load of baggage, after all... but if neither of them believed in an always, why would they even try?

Sleeping, at last, did Alec a lot of good in spite of the little amount of rest he got after walking Magnus back to his chambers. They'd parted ways with hands that lingered onto each other's and tiny smiles, although Alec's had turned into a concerned frown as soon as Magnus had closed his door. It was obvious, as well as to be expected, that the teacher was deeply affected by the recent events and Alec couldn't help but think that he would do something stupid, like leaving the castle unbeknownst to everyone else in order to confront his father on his own.

He considered Magnus a reasonable enough wizard but what sort of pain could a man endure without having his reason crumple at his feet? Alec wouldn't be surprised that Magnus decided to go on a personal vendetta alone - still, he would do everything he could to keep him at a safe distance from his father.

Oh, he wasn't going to deny Magnus the opportunity to get closure, no, because he knew better than anyone else how necessary it was to face his demons. That didn't mean he would let Magnus get hurt if he rushed onto Asmodeus' trail unprepared... Alec would step in and get hexed for him before that could happen.

What if they were wrong, though? What if Asmodeus didn't plan on hurting Magnus? He hadn't seen his son for twenty-five years... What if he actually wanted him by his side, to achieve whatever terrible purpose he'd concocted in his mind before he escaped from Azkaban?

The thought was dangerously flirting with Hodge's barely veiled accusations against Magnus... Earlier that night, Alec had considered as a ridiculous idea the possibility of Magnus helping his father, although he'd been aware of being biased because of the friendship that bound them. Now that the teacher had told him about his mother's fate, however, Alec couldn't imagine that this would ever happen, no matter Hodge's opinion. In what universe would Magnus forgive Asmodeus, let alone be willing to work with that monster?

Before he gave into the sweet call of sleep that was burning behind his eyelids, the discussion they'd had in Luke's office played in his mind several times, along with these new considerations. He tried to sort through everything that had been said or left unsaid but more than anything else, Hodge's words stuck. In the darkness of his bedroom, he forced himself to accept them: his former trainer might have been wrong about Magnus, but he had been right about him... It was true that he wasn't who he used to be, he knew that all too well, felt it deeply in his flesh and his magic. Was this difference enough to cast him aside though? Yeah, definitely.

He'd admitted to himself before that he could be a danger to others. Wasn't it why he'd decided to keep his distances with any kind of romantic relationship with Magnus? With the kind of proximity, emotional as well as physical, that could be dangerous if he went off? Had Luke been a fool for hiring him and allowing him to teach kids? Was his trust misplaced, was it the result of a life spent fighting discrimination that had blindsided him into giving Alec a chance, to prove a point?

Of course not, he reasoned himself. Luke was responsible for more than a hundred kids, he wouldn't take an unstable Auror in need of a career change under his wing just to make him happy, not if he didn't believe that Alec could handle it. One more proof of trust, that he wasn't even sure to deserve... although Luke had been right, at least for the greater part. Alec had snapped but he hadn't lashed out and it had only happened that one time...

One too many times, still. He dreaded to think of what the consequences would be if he lost control, truly lost control... He couldn't rely on Magnus to pull him out of his own head every time, it wouldn't be fair to make him shoulder such a heavy responsibility. The teacher had his own hardships to face and if Alec's former colleagues insisted on keeping a watchful eye on him in the unlikely eventuality that he sought to help his father... There would be trouble. Alec was glad that he'd at least managed to bring Magnus some sense of calm and serenity in the midst of his emotional distress, to keep him grounded.

Perhaps he wasn't so damaged after all... Perhaps there was still a dim light somewhere inside him, battling with his inner darkness, and he clutched onto that thought. It had to be true, he couldn't, didn't want to be a lost cause. He was desperate to do right by Magnus, by the Ministry, although reaching that last objective would certainly be harder. Given his strategic position inside the walls of the castle, he didn't think he would be given much of a chance to prove himself and catch Asmodeus on his own - Hodge and Raj were guarding the Gates, they had better odds than he did... Not that he actually wanted to face Asmodeus himself, anyway. Keeping Magnus safe would be satisfactory enough.

Alec missed breakfast since he woke up shortly before eleven in the morning, feeling like a hippogriff had run him over. Not a good sensation. He was glad not to have attended breakfast though: the owls bringing mail would have also delivered the newspapers and Alec was certain that Asmodeus' face was currently all over the front pages. He didn't want to witness the students' reactions to the news, not when he already knew they would ask him about it: why not, since he taught them Defence Against the Dark Arts and had never made a secret out of his former job? He was the best source of information they could possibly wish for.

He entered the staffroom while stifling a yawn, waving at Ragnor and Maia who were leaning over a Muggle device that Alec identified as a Tevelision. He'd seen one of these in Andrew's house when they'd worked together... A lifetime ago, it seemed.

"I really don't see the point," Ragnor was saying, "You mean to tell me that Muggles stay in front of that... thing to watch people argue about politics? Don't they have anything better to do with their lives?"

"It's not just about politics," Maia answered, rolling her eyes. "There are documentaries, TV shows and movies, all sorts of things, really."

"Boring," Ragnor concluded all the same, "Dreadfully boring."

Alec snorted and let them bicker in peace, heading for the comfortable cushioned chairs in front of the fire. November had come, along with cold winds and rains, and the days were getting shorter. The sky beyond the windows looked greyer than the castle walls and Alec was glad to be teaching indoors, unlike Alaric whose class of Care of Magical Creatures took place right at the entrance of the Forbidden Forest more often than not. Alec hadn't felt the cold too much the previous night, hectic as the experience had been, but he wouldn't go back for a calm stroll without a scarf and a thick sweater beneath his cloak.

The Auror's favourite chair was already occupied, by an awful and oversized woollen jumpsuit that was knitting itself - and showed teeth when Alec made to move it. Carefully letting go before he missed a finger, he grudgingly turned to another seat, that was taken as well. This time, however, the sight didn't create a horrified frown but a delighted noise in Alec's throat.

Mister Stache was curled into a ball, his flanks swelling and hollowing at the rhythm of his deep and slow breathing as he was fast asleep in front of the hearth. It had been a few days since the cat had last come for his evening cuddles in Alec's room and he had wondered about the feline, hoping that his absence didn't mean something bad had happened. He looked alright though, his hair shiny and his little face unharmed. Alec reached out with a smile.

"I wouldn't wake him if I were you," Ragnor suddenly whispered behind him.

"I didn't plan to," Alec answered on the same low tone, fingertips inches away from the top of Mister Stache's head. "He looks so peaceful."

"He does love to sleep in front of the fire," Ragnor chuckled. "Always has."

"You've known him for long?" the Auror asked, hoping that the Herbology teacher was in a sharing mood - he still knew close to nothing about Mister Stache, to his great frustration.

"I took him in when he was little," Ragnor said, smiling a bit sadly as if in remembrance of trying times. "He needed a place to stay, so Jia Penhallow introduced us. He quickly warmed up to me, despite the circumstances."

"You said he wasn't your cat," Alec accused him softly, remembering his first days, when his old teacher had denied knowing anything about Mister Stache, though he was mostly confused: why so much mystery around this cat?

"Haha, very funny," Ragnor snorted, before he did a double take at Alec's genuinely curious expression. "Wait a minute, you..."

Ragnor trailed off and glanced at Mister Stache, still blissfully asleep and unaware of the fact that two wizards were talking about him, before he looked at Alec again. He seemed upset.

"You don't know," Ragnor realised.

"Don't know what?" the Auror asked, bringing his hands down and behind his back, settling without thinking into the standard position he used when awaiting mission briefings at the Ministry. "Ragnor, what's going on?"

"The bloody idiot!" the teacher seethed and though he was clearly not addressing Alec, the Auror still cocked an eyebrow. "He didn't tell you!"

"Who didn't tell me what?" Alec asked again, growing a bit angry now, tired of being kept in the dark, "Ragnor, tell me!"

"Merlin, I'd like to!" he exclaimed, apparently forgetting they weren't supposed to wake up Mister Stache, "But you shouldn't hear it from me. This will be a big enough mess already."


"Sorry, Alec, I really am," Ragnor interrupted him, sounding sincere both in his apologies and his decision not to speak another word of this, "You'll know soon. I'll make sure of that."

It sounded rather ominous, especially associated to the glare Ragnor sent to no one in particular before he stormed away, his cloak billowing behind him as he turned around and knocking into the yellow jumpsuit, that made a weird sound of klaxon and shook its needles like fists after his retreating back.

"What was that?" Alec wondered aloud after Ragnor had left the staffroom.

"Alaric's hideous jumpsuit," Maia answered. "He's making it to keep a baby hippogriff warm this winter."

"What?" Alec deadpanned, before he realised they were talking about two different things. "No, not that, the..."

He gestured vaguely from Mister Stache to the door of the staffroom and Maia snorted.

"Ah, that. Well, men being idiots and making stupid decisions, that's what it was."

She wasn't helpful at all and yet, Alec knew he wouldn't get anything better than that. She looked at him, assessing, something clearly on the tip of her tongue while she debated whether she should speak or not.

"Seriously though, you haven't pieced it together yet?" she gave in after a few seconds. "I thought you Aurors were supposed to be all smart and clever. No offense."

"None taken," Alec shot back out of reflex, dumbstruck and frozen by the fire.

Maia meant no offence, he was certain, and she didn't know him nor his life so well but... her words hit him with painful acuity all the same. She must have noticed his crestfallen face though, because she frowned.

"I hurt you," she stated.

"No," he answered, although she wasn't asking. "You didn't."

"Cut the crap," she told him, "I can see it on your face. I'm sorry, I didn't mean..."

"I'm fine," Alec said firmly, briefly thinking that Max would get mad at him for pretending, yet again. "It's just... Twice, in a very short time, I've been told that I'm a shit Auror. I guess it will get easier with time."

Maia stared at him. She didn't say a word but kept her eyes locked on him, until she decided that they had a situation and that Alec needed to hear a few things to screw his head on right.

"When I was a student here," she said, her voice grim, "the other kids weren't scared, because they knew I was taking Wolfsbane Potion and I'd be inoffensive once I turned. Instead of making friends with me though, they bullied me. Called me a monster, mocked me, told me that as a werewolf, I would never get friends nor the job I wanted here - until I believed them."

"What changed?" Alec asked softly.

"Luke became Headmaster during my last year," Maia answered with a smile. "A werewolf, Headmaster! I was... amazed, maybe even a bit jealous. He made me realise that only I could decide who I was, not a bunch of idiots. So if I was one of these idiots earlier, I'm sorry."

"It's alright," Alec told her, and he meant it.

"Thank you," Maia said with a hint of relief.

"No, thank you," he shot back, "for your story."

"Anytime. Us survivors should stick together, don't you think?"

"I suppose..."

"We really should," she concluded in his stead with a laugh.

They didn't speak after that but Alec didn't reckon they had to say more, as they'd come to a tacit, mutual understanding: in time of need, they would find a friend in each other, whether they wanted a shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear. He surprised himself into thinking that yes, perhaps he could share pieces of his past experience with her - he was almost positive that Maia, fearless as she seemed to be, wouldn't shy away from him if she knew a bit more about him, although he would keep the most gruesome details to himself.

He spared a thought for Magnus, who had proved him several times over that he wasn't scared either but... He wasn't trying to get into Maia's pants - not that he was actively doing anything to seduce Magnus either - so he figured he would be less affected if she turned her back on him after all. However, he had a feeling that she wouldn't, so Alec allowed himself to smile, really smile, before he decided to leave and check on Magnus.

After the events of the night, the teacher certainly deserved to smile as well and Alec wondered if perhaps he could be the one to light up Magnus' day, just like Maia had done with him.

He didn't manage to find Magnus before lunch. He got no answer when he knocked on his door and he wasn't in his classroom either, which had him growing anxious at the possibility that Magnus had left, either to find his father himself or to get away from kids he could be putting in danger, ignoring Luke's words. Alec was half-tempted to warn the Headmaster but he thought better to keep looking and wait until the evening at least, just in case Magnus wanted peace and had retreated to an isolated corner of the castle to deal with his emotions by himself.

Such a behaviour would be understandable and yet, immense relief submerged Alec when he caught sight of him at the teachers' table, sitting next to Ragnor... and apparently arguing with the Herbology teacher.

"... know I should tell him!" Magnus was hissing when Alec approached from behind, close enough to catch the end of his tirade, "But I've waited so long and now it's impossible! He'll hate me!"

"You don't know that," Ragnor protested.

"I do! I would hate for anyone to do this to me! I've tried to tell him but I don't think the time is right and there might not be a perfect moment to..."

"Hey, Alec!" Ragnor exclaimed, making Magnus jump on his seat and turn around with freakishly wide eyes.

"H... hey," the Auror answered haltingly as he sat down, eyeing Magnus who looked like he'd just seen a Thestral, "Are you alright? I wanted to check on you earlier but I couldn't find you..."

"Merlin's beard," Ragnor grumbled, "This is too much for me. Magnus, you have to..."

Alec frowned when the Herbology teacher let out a yelp of pain, pretty sure that Magnus had just crushed his foot to shut him up, and he crossed his arms against his chest.

"What?" he asked, lips set in a stern line.

"Young love!" Ragnor hurried to say, glaring daggers at Magnus, "Young love, so much affection between you two, all that sexual frustration... Can't stand it anymore, unless you decide to properly date one of these days. That's all."

"What?" Alec repeated, flabbergasted this time, dropping his arms in shock as he spluttered, "There is no sexual frustration between us! Not really! I... I mean, it's... Magnus?"

"Well, I do want to kiss you senseless whenever you enter the room," the teacher confessed shamelessly, "but I promised you I wouldn't do anything to make you uncomfortable, so..."

"I didn't," Ragnor added, standing up, "and I'd like to point out that Alec didn't say anything against love and affection. Now, I'll make myself scarce. You two should talk."

With one last pointed look at Magnus, the older teacher walked away while his plate magically followed him, until he plopped down on the other side of the table, next to Lorenzo. The younger men stayed quiet for a moment or two, glancing at each other with hesitation, not sure this was the proper place to address the elephant in the room: just how far did the affection they held for each other run? Could Alec even pretend to let himself love and be loved? Well, whether he allowed himself to or not, he still had feelings that wouldn't vanish overnight, he knew that much at least.

"You know," he said on a very soft tone, so quiet that Magnus had to lean forward to hear him, "I wouldn't be uncomfortable if you... kissed me senseless. I just... I wouldn't know what to do with myself after. Nor where we would stand."

Magnus blinked, speechless for once, and his jaw nearly fell to the floor while Alec chuckled at his reaction. The teacher was quick to recover and his eyes settled on Alec's right hand, resting on the table nearby his empty glass. He brought his own hand up, carefully brushing his knuckles against the back of Alec's hand in the softest, gentlest of caresses that made the Auror want to lift Magnus' fingers to his mouth and kiss his palm, the inside of his wrist, to feel his pulse against his lips. Alec stared at the rings on Magnus' fingers, mesmerised.

"Maybe we'll find out, one day," the teacher whispered.

"I... I look forward to it," he answered with a voice that betrayed his hope and eagerness for that day to arrive soon, "Truly, I do."

Although Magnus had promised that he would be there once the right time had come, Alec didn't want to keep him waiting for too long - what if he decided to move on or fell for someone else, someone who could return his feelings at once? He didn't deem Magnus so fickle but matters of the heart didn't always obey reason... He knew exactly what he was talking about, for he was sensible enough to realise that now was not the right time to start anything serious with Magnus but did his heart understand that? Not at all.

His heart was rather angry at his brain, to be honest.

"So..." Alec drawled, not at all subtle in his attempt to talk about something else, "How are you coping?"

"Rather well, considering," Magnus answered, rolling with the switch in topics without blinking an eye. "The newspapers covered the escape and I'm not once mentioned as his son, so that's good. I didn't want thousands of owls to swarm Luke's office with letters demanding I resign."

"I don't think he would have let you."

"Probably not," Magnus agreed with a small smile, "but I would have left anyway. Angry parents are bad for a school."

"This school is lucky to have you," Alec protested, quite vehemently, "You're a Transfiguration prodigy, a good man and most students' favourite teacher, so how exactly should Hogwarts go on without you?"

Magnus let out a chuckle, flashing Alec the fondest of looks, and he slipped his fingers into his hand to give it a grateful squeeze. He opened his mouth, his gaze warm and gentle, but his eyes suddenly caught something behind Alec's shoulder and his features hardened all of a sudden. He dropped Alec's hand.

"Sorry," he apologised, abruptly standing up to leave, in front of the Auror's dejected eyes, "I seem to have lost my appetite. I'll see you later, Alexander."

Gaping like a fish pulled out of the sea, Alec watched him go in confusion, until he whipped around - and then he understood Magnus' unexpected departure. Raj and Hodge had entered the Great Hall and were striding towards the table, where they eventually took Ragnor's and Magnus' empty seats next to Alec.

"What are you doing here?" he asked incredulously, "I thought you were supposed to watch the gates..."

"We were," Raj answered, "but we've decided, and Luke agreed, to bring two more Aurors so we can work in pairs and take turns - one team at night, the second one during the day. So we're on our break."

"Luke was kind enough to allow us inside for lunch and dinner," Hodge groaned, what he truly thought of Luke's amiability clear from his tone.

"You put him in a foul mood," Raj pointed out, "We should be glad he didn't throw us out at all."

"Or that Magnus didn't hex you," Alec added, not quite managing to remove any trace of bitterness from his tone.

Raj snorted, while Hodge just glared.

"We have to pull on every thread we can see," the older Auror declared, "I'm sorry, Alec, but Magnus Bane is a suspect whether you like it or not."

"He wanted to leave," Alec said between gritted teeth, "He wanted to leave so the kids were safe."

"Or so he could meet with his father behind our backs," Hodge shot back, before he added with more kindness, "I have nothing against the man, Alec, but every case requests to investigate on everyone involved, no matter how slim the chances of culpability can be, and if you weren't so busy thinking with your dick, you would agree with me."

"Hodge!" Raj exclaimed, scandalised, while Alec blanched.

"I'm sorry?" he growled, without realising that his fork and knife had started to shake on the table, "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Calm down," Hodge said, eyeing the cutlery carefully, his right hand subtly sliding down, no doubt to the wand he kept in a thigh holster. "I'm not judging you. You like Bane, it's obvious... So I'm just saying you're not objective, that's all."

Alec kept quiet, knowing that his mentor was right, and he noticed the tension in his mind, on his magic, which he loosened at once. The cutlery stopped moving, while Alec looked down in shame.

"Sorry," he whispered, "Didn't mean to."

"I know," Hodge said, bringing his hand back on the table as if he hadn't been ready to neutralise Alec if needed. "And I know you probably hate me right now, both for this and what I said yesterday. I..."

He sighed, looking tired and not at all odious like Magnus or perhaps even Alec could have thought that early morning.

"I'm sorry, for what I said before," Hodge admitted, "Maybe not what but how I said it. I meant it, even though my words were harsh... I'm trying to look out for you."

Raj fidgeted on his seat, his face distorted into a frown of discomfort as he sat between the two of them, glancing hesitantly from his friend to his mentor, on the lookout for any sign that the overwhelming tension would turn into a fight. Alec nodded imperceptibly to make him understand that he wasn't about to get mad at Hodge or lash out, which seemed to appease Raj a little, although he still looked anxious.

"Telling me I'm useless is not looking out for me," Alec objected as calmly as he could. "It's... hurtful."

"I'd rather hurt your feelings than have you killed on the field because you weren't ready to go back out and went anyway," Hodge answered. "I trained you. I know how good you can be, are, but not right now."

Truth, again. Arguing would be useless, Alec knew that, because it would mean denying the obvious. Raj's eyes flicked to him one more time and his shoulders slumped when he caught the dimness of the light in Alec's defeated eyes.

"So... Does any of you have some good news to share?" Alec asked with a forced smile, as if he wasn't that affected.

"Not regarding Asmodeus," Hodge answered, and the younger man was glad that at least, he now had the right to know about the case without Luke glaring at Hodge from behind his shoulder - he would take whatever he could get. "No one has spotted him, he'll probably lay low for a while. It's good that Bane stays here though, because we know exactly where Asmodeus will end up, one day or another."

Alec frowned and dug his fork a bit too forcefully in his Shepherd's pie but he chose not to get mad about Hodge considering Magnus as bait or a mere mean to an end. It would not lead them anywhere, especially since his control over his magic was running thin as soon as his former trainer mentioned the teacher... Maybe he should admit that if this case had been about anyone else, anyone he had no ties with, he would have understood Hodge's reasoning, even condoned it.

"On a whole other matter, I do have good news!" Raj said excitedly after a little while, eager to avoid the kind of topics that could lead to heated arguments and thrilled at the prospect of telling Alec what he didn't know yet, "I'm seeing someone!"

"Congratulations!" Alec exclaimed, truly happy for his friend, although he hadn't expected that kind of news, "Man or woman?"

"Woman," Raj answered, "Really, you're the only man I ever fell for..."

"Quite literally."

"Shut up," Raj groaned in remembrance of the step he'd missed in the stairs on his first day of training at the Ministry, when he'd landed straight at Alec's feet. "I was young and clumsy, okay?"

Alec snorted but he let it go, unwilling to tease his friend too much. They'd never dated, although Raj had asked him out once and he'd accepted, but they had quickly realised that they would work far better as friends - best friends, even. There had been no resentment, no misunderstanding or ambiguity and better yet, no strain in their friendship ever since.

They trusted each other with their life and Alec knew too well how much Raj was suffering from their separation... He'd blamed himself for failing at keeping Alec safe when Jonathan had attacked their team and when he'd finally found him, months later, he had wept above his friend's body, overwhelming relief and horror at the terrible sight before his eyes taking the form of teardrops falling on Alec's cold and nearly lifeless face.

Alec shuddered.

"Lucia wants to meet you," Raj was saying, "I think you would get along. What do you say, maybe when this settles down, we could go on a double date?"

"Double?" Alec asked in confusion, which got Raj to roll his eyes.

"Lucia and me, Magnus and you," he explained as if it was obvious.


"We... Magnus and I aren't actually dating," he confessed, though he really, really wished he could say otherwise.

"Yet," Raj shot back, a mischievous smile adorning his lips. "I saw the way he looked at you... Merlin's balls, I'll eat my wand if you're not together by the end of the school year!"

Chapter Text

The first afternoon after Asmodeus' escape proved Alec that he had been right about his students and their curiosity. When he entered his classroom to meet with his first-year kids, several groups had formed in the room, each gathered around different newspapers that had the same front page, more or less: while the titles surrounding it varied, the grainy picture of the man smiling down at them was the same.

"Hello, everyone," he said as he put two dozens of parchment rolls down on his desk, one eyebrow arching when several of his students jumped in surprise, apparently too engrossed in their discussions to have noticed his arrival. "Take your seats, please..."

They complied at once, not daring to disobey their Auror-turned-teacher who looked exhausted but also not bothering to switch the newspapers on their table with their textbooks. With a sigh and a whispered, resigned Accio, Alec received one of the newspapers in his open hand and observed the picture on the front page. If he focused hard enough, he could distinguish some familiar features on Asmodeus' face but someone who didn't know that they were related would never guess that Magnus was this man's son, not based on that photograph anyway.

Alec himself, who was lucky enough to know Magnus and have been allowed very close to his gorgeous face, found the resemblance faint. The distorted smirk on Asmodeus' mouth and the dark madness in his eyes were enough to hide the details hinting at a blood connection between Magnus and him.

"I guess you have questions," Alec said softly, letting go of the newspaper that fell on his desk with a muffled thud.

Oh yes, they did. Dozens of hands shot in the air at once and the Auror was glad they weren't trying to speak all at the same time. A few wanted to know how he'd escaped and Alec had to make up a vague explanation, no matter how much his moral compass enjoined him to tell them the truth. Former employee of the Ministry of Magic or not, he wasn't allowed to divulge details of the case, especially not to kids. Others wondered whether it was true that Asmodeus was targeting Hogwarts, hence the Aurors' presence, and they didn't look comfortable at all.

"It might be in his projects," Alec admitted, even though he didn't mention Asmodeus' relationship to Magnus nor the chances that he would come for their Transfiguration teacher, "which is why both Aurors from the Ministry and your teachers are watching every entrance, secret or not, to the castle. If he tries to get in, we'll know and believe me, we will protect you."

He would make damn sure of it.

"Are you going to arrest him?" McKinnon asked, her eyes shining with excitation that dimmed a little when Alec told her that he hadn't been officially charged with that mission, although he added that if he stumbled upon Asmodeus in the upcoming days, he wouldn't let him walk away freely.

"But what do we do if he gets in anyway?" another kid asked, his voice full of fearful doubts.

Alec paused at the question and stared at the boy, Samuel Aldertree, who'd always seemed self-confident when it came to the class but now looked pale and scared - and then it clicked. Aldertree. Victor's son. How had he not realised it before? The child had always been participative, it wasn't as if Alec had an excuse not to have paid him much attention in the past months!

Crap. Did he know that his father had messed up during Asmodeus' transfer? He shouldn't have heard of that, unless Victor had written to him already... Alec prayed with his whole heart that Samuel didn't feel ashamed on his father's behalf - nor, Merlin helped them all, like he had to fix the situation, somehow. His father's mistakes weren't his to set straight and Asmodeus' escape was just that: a huge mistake.

In Luke's office, Alec had been first in line to blame Aldertree, perhaps as a petty vengeance for making his last months at the Ministry hell, but he was in the best position to understand how, once facing dark wizards, sometimes all the experience and training in the world weren't enough to resist their powers.

"You shouldn't have to do anything," Alec eventually answered the boy, his voice soft and appeasing, before he encompassed the whole class with his eyes. "That responsibility is not on any of you but on us, so don't play the hero. If you meet Asmodeus, your best chance is to run. You might try a defensive spell but..."

Alec trailed off when he saw the sparks of interest in his students' eyes and he backpedalled, shutting up instead of telling them that such spells would probably not be effective, given the extent of Asmodeus' powers. Well, no need to frighten them any further.

"Wands out," he thus enjoined them, striding toward the back of the class and to the enchanted wall reflecting the trees of a forest and bushes rustling under a breeze they couldn't feel, "Get in line, please."

Taking his own wand, Alec flicked it to the tables and benches, which were propelled towards the opposite wall to give them more space to work safely. The kids looked excited, understandably so, because it was the first time Alec called them to the enchanted wall with their wands instead of a quill and a roll of parchment.

So far, his students only knew one of the many uses Alec had installed this wall for: they had studied dangerous creatures lurking in the woods at the beginning of the school year and their teacher had summoned each of the beasts on the wall so they could examine their appearance and observe their behaviour. Better than a picture in a textbook, this was also a safer way to study the magical beasts that could be dangerous for mankind: he didn't want to accidentally lose one of the kids in the Forbidden Forest, either literally, after a wrong turn, or to a poisonous bite.

On this day however, Alec had something else in mind.

"This is a bit advanced," he warned the students gathered a few meters away from the wall, stepping in front of them, "and there would be no shame in not managing the charm, which requires magic of a more... mature sort. I'm talking about the disarming charm. Has anyone heard of it?"

Nods and whispered yes answered his question, except for a few Muggle-born students who mostly looked confused and perhaps a bit scared, which wasn't surprising. These kids often entered Hogwarts having no idea of what was expecting them beyond the stone walls and they barely had the time to get used to this or that magical nonsense before they were hit with something new, even more impressive, and now they were realising that the Wizarding world wasn't safe, not fully. They certainly never imagined that they would need to learn defensive spells at the sweet age of eleven to fight off a mad wizard, though Alec would do everything he could to prevent that kind of situation to ever happen.

"As the name says," Alec explained to everyone's benefit, "this spell is meant to disarm your opponent, make them drop their wand - or any other object, really. You see how important that can be, right?"

Except when said opponent had mastered wandless magic for many years, not that he told them that part. Again, no need for panic.

"Casting the spell is rather easy," he soldiered on, glad to have his kids' undivided attention by now, "You only have to point at your attacker and say Expelliarmus. Repeat with me, Expelliarmus!"

"Expelliarmus!" they all followed like a choir, and Alec grinned when he caught weak red sparks burst from a few wands, "Excellent, very good! Now we'll just move this a bit..."

Turning towards the enchanted wall, the Auror lifted his wand and swiftly moved it from right to left, as he would leaf through a book, to change the forest background into something a bit more... unpleasant, therefore best suited for what he had in mind. Each of the decors held a memory, was a place Alec had visited, either for his job or during a personal trip - which he'd taken less and less often as time went by, too busy running after dark wizards to enjoy a holiday out of his flat in the capital.

He didn't consciously think of the background he wanted, ignoring a few dark London's streets, a Scottish landscape soaked in rain and a deserted hallway at the Ministry, until he randomly stopped on a dimly-lit alley that he didn't recognise at once. When he did, however, his whole body stiffened.

Sudden memories of Jonathan laughing and Raj holding onto his hand flashed in front of his eyes, and he was trying to stay with Raj but he was slipping, slipping and slipping, until neither of them could hold on anymore and they lost each other - Raj looked terrified and he was screaming his name, but Alec was pulled into a vortex of darkness and he was going to land in that terrible room and the torture would start again and he...


He was at Hogwarts, in his classroom, and he was safe. Jonathan was in Azkaban, he'd seen him there, and the man could no longer reach him nor hurt him. Blinking, Alec found himself facing the enchanted wall again, staring blankly at the alley, except that he didn't feel like he was in there anymore. The stone floor was solid beneath his feet, his wand real in his hand, and he could hear his students' excited whispers behind his back. They didn't seem to have noticed anything, so Alec guessed he wasn't gone in his own head for long, thank Merlin.

Looking away from the alley where he'd been defeated and made prisoner, the teacher cleared his throat. His wand was shaking between his fingers.

"So, uh... I'm going to... project people on the wall," he started with hesitation, trying to get his head back in the game, "All of them will be holding something - a wand, a bag, anything at all. One by one, you will all attempt to disarm the person. Don't worry about not getting the charm right, this is only practice - of an advanced magic no less. The wall will absorb the charm, so don't fret about accidentally hurting someone, it won't happen. Ready?"

The kids nodded, although some were gripping their wands as tightly as they would a buoy, glancing uneasily at the alley displayed in front of them. He would not openly brag about it but Alec was damn proud of this wall that he'd recreated, based on the one the Aurors in training used at the Ministry. He'd changed a few things to make this specific wall harmless, while the one he'd worked with during his first months on the job used to throw the offensive spells and hexes right back in his face if they weren't properly executed.

"Alright, let's start!" Alec exclaimed with more cheer than he actually felt inside, "Mister Longley, go!"

So it began: with every kid stepping forward, looking either determined or terrified in spite of Alec's reassuring words, the Auror would summon the image of a wizard he'd met at least once in his life, as the wall was connected to his memories. He didn't choose actual dark wizards whom he'd fought in his career but the driver of the Knight Bus got his brief moment of glory, as well as the witch employed at Quality Quidditch Supplies on Diagon Alley and even a few Muggles carrying their grocery bags. At some point, running out of options, he even summoned his own image, which had his next student in line drop her wand in surprise.

"It's alright, Miss Wilson, I'm right here," Alec told her with an amused smile, although he wasn't laughing at her, "Try again!"

This time, he dug a bit deeper in his memories and snorted when he remembered these movies he'd watched with Andrew, who'd tried to explain to him that the actor had changed many times but the character was the same, and the next person to appear on the enchanted wall was James Bond. After a brief moment of confusion at the sight of the device that Muggles called a gun, Wilson yelled Expelliarmus and she disarmed the MI6 agent with ease, as if she'd done so all her life - and she was the first one to manage the charm on the first try.

"Good job! Five points to Ravenclaw!" Alec exclaimed with a grin, then turned his attention to the next student in line, "Let's try it, Mister... Donovan!"

It took a solid while of trial and error but by the time the class was drawing to an end, Alec was proud that most of his kids had managed to get some sort of result, even as small as red sparks only. Besides Olivia Wilson, three of four students had succeeded in actually casting the charm, though it had been slightly too weak to disarm their opponent... The Auror looked at them all with pride regardless, because they had known that their efforts might not pay off but they'd tried anyway, driven by enthusiasm and eagerness to see if they could make it work.

Of course this, this joy and satisfaction he felt at his useful guidance and the achievements of his students, was too good to be true: the universe couldn't let him catch a break. Elated with the results of this lesson that he hadn't planned at all, Alec's grip on his focus loosened for a second, not long at all, yet long enough to project on the wall the one image he really didn't want to see.

The man flashed across the enchanted surface, pale and smirking, in full control of his powers unlike the last time Alec had seen him, trembling in a cell of Azkaban. The Auror's heart missed a beat at the sight but he snapped back to attention in an instant and Jonathan was gone as fast as he'd come... but the damage was done. Alec's energy went freefalling, swooped to the lowest level as if he'd been fighting the man again, and he suddenly felt empty inside, drained, although his sudden exhaustion soon turned to anger. This was just a memory on a wall, he shouldn't let it affect him so much...

Alec put his shaky hands behind his back as he faced his students again, a brave smile on his lips while he pretended not to notice their curious glances. They hadn't missed the fleeting apparition, judging by the worried frowns some of them were sporting.

"Congratulations," he uttered, glad that the class was nearly over, though he couldn't say as much for his day, "you all did very well. From now on, we will use the wall for practice more often, this time with first-year spells and hexes. Now, don't go disarming each other in the hallways or I'll know!"

Alec smirked at the few embarrassed giggles that echoed in the classroom and he stared at the three culprits with an eyebrow raised high, aware that he'd seen right through their plans - and they knew he knew, which had the students shyly look down at their shoes with red cheeks. After a few more minutes of discussing the lesson, they all exited the classroom in small groups, though some didn't before glancing at their teacher in concern. Oh. He guessed he hadn't quite managed to hide the tremors of his body... The reassuring smiles he flashed them were hard to summon but he did, and they left looking like they trusted their teacher was perfectly fine. However, one boy still didn't seem alright, though the Auror was pretty sure it had nothing to do with his own wellbeing, and he put aside his exhaustion to focus on the child.

"Samuel," Alec called before Aldertree's kid could walk through the door and head for his next class, "A word, please?"

The boy looked surprised, perhaps even a bit apprehensive, but he motioned his friends to wait for him outside and turned to face his teacher, waiting with wide, curious eyes for Alec to tell him the reason behind his request. To be honest, the Auror didn't know where to begin in order to broach the topic of the kid's father and not make Samuel feel like he was prying into something that was none of his business. Clearing his throat, he stared awkwardly at the boy, who looked just as uncomfortable as he felt.

"You seem rather upset," he eventually told the teenager on a soft tone. "Do you... want to talk about it, maybe? You don't have to, of course, but I need you to know you can reach out to someone, if you want."

Samuel had to blink a few times, the rapid fluttering of his eyelashes keeping tears at bay, and he heaved a shuddering, heartbreaking sigh.

"I... just... You know my dad, right, Mister Lightwood?" the boy asked, his gleaming eyes dark as a rainy night sky, "He said you worked with him before."

Alec nodded, a bit concerned about the details Victor might have given his son about him and he suddenly grew wary of where this conversation would lead them. However, Samuel was quick to reveal why he'd looked so uneasy during the lesson and while it wasn't a pleasant reason, Alec was selfishly relieved that it had nothing to do with him.

"He... he's on the team that tracks Asmodeus," the kid told his teacher on a brittle tone, "and the newspapers, the other students, everyone says Asmodeus is one of the most dangerous criminals of Azkaban and I... I'm scared for my dad."

Understandable, Alec thought. It would be foolish to think catching and defeating Asmodeus would be a walk in the park and still, he tried to reassure Samuel to the best of his ability. He knew the kid would not stop worrying at once but if he had any influence on him, then Alec had to try to appease him, somewhat.

"Your father is well-trained," he said softly, "and he has years of experience. He won't rush after Asmodeus if he's not certain it is as safe as can be."

Especially after the trick Asmodeus had played on him during his transfer to the Ministry: Aldertree had made one mistake, he wouldn't go for seconds. Alec merely hoped that he wouldn't play heroes and deal with Asmodeus on his own in a stupid attempt at redeeming himself. He had a kid, he ought to know better than putting his life on the line by running inconsiderate risks. Victor was smart enough for that.

"Besides," Alec added, smiling at Samuel who looked desperate to believe in his comforting words, "your dad won't be alone. We work in pairs, most of the time, and I'm sure your father's partner won't let him get hurt."

Samuel nodded and opened his mouth to say something but he changed his mind at the last second, his cheeks flushing as he looked down at his feet and bit his lower lip.

"You can talk to me," Alec reminded him gently.

"I know," Samuel whispered, "but you can't promise me he'll be alright..."

Alec's heart stopped.

"No," he answered after a beat, telling the truth in spite of how it made his throat dry and painful, "I can only promise that he'll do his best. We all do."

The boy nodded again, whispered a sad thank you Mister Lightwood and quietly left the classroom. Alec wasn't sure how to feel about that exchange, not sure that he'd fully succeeded in comforting Samuel, although he'd looked like he was grateful that Alec had taken part of his time to talk to him.

It was frustrating, the Auror thought as he tiredly let his next students in the classroom, telling the seventh-years to split into pairs and get ready for duelling practice. Teaching, in itself, came easily enough but to know he was close to the kids, saw them nearly every day, and couldn't do much more than giving them comforting words when they had a problem was a terrible thing.

Alec supervised the duels with a watchful eye, glad that he didn't have much to do for once - while he wasn't one to back down and abandon his responsibilities, he could feel the weight of his mental and physical exertion, burning on his shoulders. He would give everything for a nap, right there and then, for once not plagued with nightmares and Jonathan's laughter.

Speaking of which, the decor on the enchanted wall was still waiting to be switched back to the relaxing forest background Alec usually set for his lessons but he felt a bit queasy at the thought of what he would see on its surface if his concentration faltered again while he was working on the wall. He would wait until the class was over and all his students had left.

Only by sheer strength of will, or stubbornness perhaps, did he manage to remain standing until the end of his class, instead of curling on himself in a corner and cry like he wanted to - so it definitely amounted to a victory. He kept his smile in place for as long as he could, glad to see his students eventually flitter out of the classroom, but when he caught sight of Milo, who looked like he wanted to have a word with his teacher in private, Alec had to hold back a hopeless sigh. He wasn't sure he would survive a second emotionally-charged discussion with a student, even though this one seemed like he was glowing with happiness.

"Yes, Milo?" he asked.

To his surprise, the boy quickly backed away, flashing him a tiny smile, bordering on apologetic for the disturbance.

"It's nothing, Professor, don't mind me," Milo said, his smile turning soft and sympathetic when he met Alec's sunken eyes, "It's not a good time, I'll leave you alone. Good afternoon, Sir."

"You too, Milo..."

The boy hesitated before leaving, watching Alec in worry.

"Take care of yourself, Mister Lightwood," he whispered before bolting out the classroom, as if he didn't want to wait for Alec's reaction, not knowing if he was allowed to openly try and comfort his teacher, given their history.

He almost imagined he could hear his little brother's voice in his head, saying You have to let people take care of you, for once. He thought of Magnus then, Magnus, his gorgeous eyes and how he would not back down from the challenge, if Alec allowed him to care for him more than he already did. How could he, though?

Alec's eyes settled on the enchanted wall, at the back of the classroom. He didn't want to approach it again, not today, he should have headed for his chambers for a quick nap before dinner, but... His muscles decided before his brain could. He took a first step towards the wall and the dark alley that still covered the enchanted surface, feeling like he couldn't enjoin his own legs to stop, turn around and put his problems behind him, just for this day. Alec could almost feel the hook that had pierced through his navel, sinking in his flesh and tugging, dragging him forwards without his consent.

The alley didn't remain empty for long, though no kind Muggle carrying his bread back home appeared, nor the handsome face of Agent 007. The weak hold Alec had tried to maintain on his memories snapped like a rubber band and finally, Jonathan came back onto the wall, standing in front of Alec and staring at him directly, as if he wasn't just an image, the shadow of what his real self could be. Don't run away, the Auror thought as he forced himself to look at the man and forget the open door behind his back - he had to fight the fear, it didn't matter that he started shaking, that he felt sick, he had to be stronger than this memory.

"But you're weak," the image suddenly said, in an echo of Alec's thoughts, and the Auror stumbled backwards in shock.

The projections weren't supposed to talk. The Jonathan on the wall was but a memory and never had he said these words to Alec in the alley - taunted him and his fellow Aurors, yes, ridiculed them when he finally got his hands onto Alec...

"You were scared then," Jonathan reminded him with a smirk. "Scared and powerless. An Auror, you say? Don't fool yourself, Alec: a real Auror would never have been taken..."

"Shut up," the young man snarled - and that was it, the loss of the remaining shreds of his sanity: he was talking to a wall, to the summoned image of a man who wasn't even speaking his own mind...

Because these words were not Jonathan's. He'd never uttered them - they were Alec's, a reflection of his own doubts, fears and self-hatred.

"Oh," Jonathan shot back, his smile turning soft, "Am I hurting your feelings, Alec? The truth hurts, doesn't it?"

"SHUT UP!" he yelled.

His hands moved forward, angry magic exploding between them as he threw all his powers against the wall in a frightening desire to hurt, to tear the man apart, image or not. The huge mass of energy slammed into Jonathan's body and for a horrible instant, the blond man floated in the air, his face distorted in pain that Alec wished he could have inflicted him for real, and then the image shattered without a sound.

Alec collapsed onto the floor of his classroom, his hands shaking with electricity and his lungs fighting to draw breath, and when he dared a glance up, the forest was back on the enchanted wall. He wanted to cry.

Silence settled over the classroom and then...

"Alexander?" a voice called softly from the door, followed by hesitant footfalls that stopped at a distance, "Can I come closer?"

If the voice and the use of his full name hadn't been enough, then Alec would have definitely recognised Magnus at his question: who, at Hogwarts, would be stupid enough to seek Alec's presence after such an obvious display of aggressiveness?

"Yes," he answered, even as shame invaded him at the thought that Magnus had witnessed this, and to his great horror, he realised that he was begging, nearly desperate. "Please."

Pride and dignity forgotten, Alec let Magnus sit beside him, close but not too much, and he folded his trembling hands into his lap when the Transfiguration teacher tried to get a better look at them.

"I'm not hurt," he mumbled without meeting his eyes - he didn't deserve to.

"Maybe your hands aren't," Magnus whispered, "but you are."

"How much of this have you seen?" Alec asked, deciding not to comment on Magnus' words and gesturing toward the wall instead.

"I saw you kicking his ass," the older man said as if this wasn't a big deal, which Alec answered with a joyless snort.

"If he had been real," he stated, "I would have killed him."

"Probably," Magnus agreed, "but he wasn't."

Alec nodded quietly. The silence stretched on for a long while, far from uncomfortable, until Alec's breathing evened out and his hands were finally steady again, but now he felt cold. He leaned to the side so that he could draw what little warmth he could from Magnus' and his shoulders brushing but it seemed like he had miscalculated the distance and the other man sat farther away from him than he'd thought. He ended up with his cheek pressed against Magnus' shoulder and he was going to sit upright and apologise when the other teacher sneaked his arm around his waist, holding him there. Alec didn't even flinch, too tired for that.

"Take what you need," Magnus whispered. "Warmth, comfort, affection, I can give it all to you. You just have to let me."

He would, Alec thought as he closed his eyes, if only he could be sure that Magnus would not have to bear terrible consequences from it. He vaguely felt Magnus' lips on the top of his head, caressing his hair more softly than any breeze could have. His heart tightened painfully at the sweet gesture, that he knew he could not return. Merlin, he loved that man so much and still he couldn't allow himself to do more than this, remain passive in his arms, awfully aware of all the longing he kept buried in the depths of his chest...

"How did you know I would need you?" Alec whispered, not even noticing where exactly his thoughts had led him.

"I didn't," Magnus answered. "I had the first-years after you did and a few... seemed worried about you. They said you looked ill so I thought I would check on you."

"Thank you... I'm sorry you had to see this, though."

"Don't apologise," Magnus scolded him gently. "This is not your fault."

If you'd been a better Auror...

Alec opened his eyes, kicking Jonathan's ghost from his mind as he focused on Magnus' shoes that he could see from his position, snuggled into his arms as he was.

"You remember the promise you made me?" Alec asked softly, "About running away if I told you to?"

"Yes," Magnus grumbled, apparently disgruntled that the Auror himself hadn't forgotten about that, as he'd only promised with a lot of reluctance that he would obey Alec's command. "I know what you're going to say, that I should steer clear, that what I saw could have happened to me if you'd heard me come but hadn't realised it was me before striking... I know all of that, Alec, and you know I'm..."

"... not afraid," the younger man finished for him on a sigh, shifting that he could look his friend in the eyes. "Yeah, I know. But this isn't just about you, Magnus, I... I need to know you'll keep that promise. If... If I'm going to be close to you like this, I need the assurance that you'll be safe if I snap, because you'll run as soon as I tell you to. If not for yourself, for me? Please?"

Magnus observed him in silence for a moment, before he nodded and sighed, loosening his hold around Alec's waist to pat his thigh.

"You have no right to ask that of me with those big sad eyes," he groaned, "Makes it hard to deny you anything. My answer hasn't changed anyway, I promised you I would follow your lead, didn't I?"

Alec nodded, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders, that sagged in relief.

"However," Magnus spoke up again, "I think right now you should listen to me and I'm saying that you need some rest. You look terrible."

"Thanks," Alec snorted.

"You're welcome. Now hop, hop, we're going into your bedroom - so forward of me, I know - and we'll have dinner together and I'm not going to leave until you're in bed and asleep. Do you snore? I bet you do."

"I don't!" the Auror answered, feeling his cheeks heat up.

"Oh, yes, you do!" Magnus exclaimed, pointing his forefinger at his red face.

As he gently slapped away the teacher's finger, Alec felt a smile bloom on his lips and for the first time since he was a little kid accidentally casting spells and setting his mother's clothes on fire, he marvelled at magic and the pure kindness that emanated from Magnus'.

They did end up having dinner in Alec's bedroom, sitting cross-legged on his bed as if they were two teenagers sharing sweets in their dormitory after a trip to Hogsmeade. It was strange to realise just how much Magnus belonged in the room, as if something had been missing before and Alec had not realised what until then.

The teacher called a house-elf and politely asked if it wouldn't be too much trouble to bring them a plate each of something simple but hearty and warm; when the elf claimed that it would be her genuine pleasure to cook for them, they hadn't expected her to come back a while later with a large casserole of beef stew and dishes of sweet potatoes and grilled vegetables - as well as a chocolate cake for dessert, with a colourful icing of magical fireworks that spread across the dark chocolate and turned into sparkles, before they vanished only for the process to start all over again. It was scrumptious but also so rich that they couldn't eat the whole cake for fear of their full bellies exploding.

Contrarily to what Magnus wished for him, Alec couldn't climb into bed and simply sleep off the exhaustion until the following day: this night was his first night on watch duty and no matter how bad the day had gone, he would take his responsibilities. He had assured Luke that he would help to catch Asmodeus, so that was exactly what he was going to do.

"There's no need for that, Alec," Magnus protested when the Auror reminded him that he was supposed to patrol the east wing of the castle, "I can take your place, you must rest!"

Alec shook his head, touched by Magnus' offer but also determined to see this through.

"You have your own area to patrol, don't you?" he asked softly. "Tomorrow's Saturday, I'll sleep in the morning. I'll be fine, Magnus..."

The don't worry that he wanted to follow up with stayed stuck in his throat. Maybe Max had made a point.

"Alright then," Magnus breathed out, apparently understanding Alec's desire to make himself useful despite his personal situation. "We keep watch tonight, then we sleep like babies, and what do you say we eat the cake leftovers for lunch tomorrow?"

"Cake isn't a proper lunch," the Auror pointed out, too surprised by the proposition to actually answer it.

"Whatever," Magnus concluded with a grin, "So, deal?"


The corridors Alec walked through were all empty, save for a ghost or two that came from the west wing to keep him informed of the situation on that side of the castle. Everything was quiet, both inside and outside the walls, so there was no reason for Alec to get excited but... Merlin, he was.

This? Watching the hallways, guarding the kids, protecting them in times of need? This was what he was good at and he could feel a calmness invade him in a way it hadn't for a long, long time. He was slipping into a familiar headspace, flooded with the serene focus of a mission and the light tension in his shoulders that, far from revealing nervousness, kept him anchored in the reality of what was happening.

Alec almost hoped that something would happen tonight because he was ready for it and he knew he wouldn't mess up. Almost, because while it would prove Hodge that he was still a valuable asset, he didn't actually want to endanger the students for the benefit of his own glory.

Nothing happened, though Alec maintained vigilance and kept his eyes and ears open until three o'clock in the morning, when Luke himself came to replace him.

"Nothing abnormal to report, Headmaster," Alec said at once, knowing Luke would want to know how his watch went.

"Good, thank you," the older man answered, scanning the corridor thoughtfully, "Get some rest, Alec, it's clear you need it."

"I know. I haven't slept much for the past few days... nor well."

"Catarina could provide a Potion for Dreamless Sleep if you wanted," Luke suggested, "It might do you some good."

"It's fine," Alec said, shuddering at the thought and furiously hoping that he'd find Mister Stache in his chambers when he got back, "I'll manage. Good luck, Headmaster."

He quickly walked away before Luke could say another word, getting down the first stairs he came across and not even looking where he was going. Dreamless Sleep potions... He'd taken them before, even made his own, but... He didn't want to become dependant on them. Even more, he didn't want to have what little control he kept on his dreams stripped away from him: his nightmares, telltale sign of his troubles, were his to deal with, his fight to fight. Take the fight away from him and what did he have left? Nothing but fears and no mean to battle them.

Deep in thought, Alec slowly shed the metaphorical Auror robes he'd worn that night, until his awareness shrank to its usual level - which was already higher than most people's. Don't bring the job home, Hodge used to tell Raj and him back in the days he was training the both of them, it never ends we...

Alec startled when he heard a soft noise in one of the classrooms on his right - no one was supposed to be there at this hour of the night. His pulse spiked as he listened carefully and when he heard a few more sounds, still soft but just a tiny bit louder, he located the incriminated room and raised his wand.


The door opened in less than a second, unable to resist the strength of Alec's nonverbal spell, and he stormed into the dark room ready to attack or defend himself, depending, and he stopped dead in his tracks when two silhouettes sprang apart with scared yelps.

"P... Professor Lightwood?" one of them stammered in shock.

Alec's brain realised that the owner of the voice was not an enemy before his muscles did and only when his wild heart finally started to slow its beat did he lower his wand, his fingers still crackling with unreleased magic.

"Milo?" he said at last, with an apparent calm that he was far from feeling inside. "And..."

A twist of the wrist sent two small balls of light floating near the Hufflepuff boy and his companion, bathing the classroom in cold hues of blue that illuminated Milo's face as well as that of Slytherin student.

"Milo and Sebastian," he finished softly, before he snapped, "What the hell are you two doing here after curfew? I could have hexed you! We are in the middle of a situation and you just..."

Alec trailed off as the boys shyly looked down and then, the Auror finally took in their messy hair and puffed lips. Merlin...

"You were making out," he concluded, crossing his arms over his chest with a sullen expression, that darkened even more when the boys nodded. "Look, whatever you two have, I'm really happy for you but while I understand it can be hard to sneak into each other's dormitory at night, you don't go wandering the hallways after curfew, especially not now that we have a criminal on the loose!"

"Sorry, Mister Lightwood," Milo answered, his tone filled with painful shame.

"You're lucky I'm not giving you detention," Alec grumbled, "but I'm taking ten points from each of your Houses."

"Thank you, Professor," Sebastian softly whispered, aware that they were getting away lightly.

"Go back to your dormitories," Alec sighed at last. "Head straight back, no detours, no more making out in the classrooms."

The boys quickly left, hand in hand, and Alec waited until the sound of their footsteps had vanished to slowly sit on one of the tables in the class and let out a shaky breath. They had no idea... Alec could have hexed them. He could have... he... Milo's bloodied face suddenly flashed before his eyes, Sebastian's lifeless expression, the two of them unmoving on the floor, and Alec buried his face in his hands when a sob escaped his throat.

How could he have been so stupid? Hodge had been right from the start, he was in no shape to get back in the field and help, what use was he anyway? What kind of Auror couldn't make the difference between foes and friends the second he stumbled upon them?

This was too much. He couldn't stay at Hogwarts, not right now, not when he felt so instable and knew the slightest push would be enough to make him explode. He had to leave, to put some distance between the kids and him before it was too late...

Tomorrow's Saturday, he remembered telling Magnus. The school didn't actually need him on a Saturday or a Sunday, he could escape for the weekend, come back Sunday night and be ready to face a new week of classes on Monday. He needed a break.

So he returned to his chambers, wrote a note to apologise to Luke that for everyone's safety, he wouldn't be able to take his watch the following night and enchanted it to fly like a paper airplane to the Headmaster. Once it was done, feeling both guilty for not leaving a note to Magnus and unable to do it at all, to admit to his own weakness, he walked out of his room with nothing but his wand in the back pocket of his jeans and his cloak that he wrapped tightly around him. He felt cold again.

Leaving the sleepy castle behind him, Alec hurried down the grounds to the Entrance Gates, glad that neither Raj nor Hodge were on watch duty that night to stop him and ask where he was going. He passed the two Aurors guarding the Gates with a nod of acknowledgement and took a few more steps away from Hogwarts, away from the charms that kept anyone from Apparating in or out of the castle grounds.

Then, with a loud crack, Alec disappeared into the night.

Chapter Text

It felt strange to Alec, after a little more than two months waking up in his cosy bedroom at Hogwarts, to open his eyes to the ceiling of his flat in London. The place seemed oddly empty and lifeless now that most of his possessions had gone to the Highlands, though the major difference didn't reside in the lack of belongings that could have given a homely atmosphere to the flat: above all else, it felt cold. Sure, a merry fire usually crackled in his fireplace at Hogwarts, yet Alec couldn't pretend that the cold he felt in his flat only came from the hearth that hadn't seen anything else than ashes for a long time.

It was more than a mere physical sensation, more than his skin that was cool to the touch or his numb fingertips that were easy enough to warm up with a spell or a simple but comforting cuppa... Alec felt like his heart was an icy, ravaged desert, and he knew the exact reason behind so much desolation.

He had not warned Magnus of his hasty departure, too much of a coward to face him or even send him a note in order to give him an explanation. He'd broken the promise he'd made to join him for lunch and eat their cake together, he'd betrayed his trust... and Magnus probably didn't even know it yet.

It was barely nine in the morning and if Alec was right, then Magnus was still in bed, recovering from his night on watch duty, blissfully unaware that the Auror had slipped away. Alec couldn't even entrust Archer with a letter of apology for Magnus, since the eagle-owl had not followed him back to London but had remained, cosy and warm, in Hogwarts' owlery.

Albeit hard to believe, Alec could already picture something worse than imagining Magnus wake up with a smile at the prospect of having lunch with him, only to be sorely disappointed once he heard about Alec's disappearance. His guilt skyrocketed at the thought that Magnus would forgive him in a heartbeat for deserting him, once the teacher knew why he'd run away...

Alec didn't want his forgiveness. He didn't want any more of this kindness that was so deeply rooted into Magnus' whole being, the concern he showed Alec in all their interactions, his obvious affection that the Auror didn't even deserve. He wanted Magnus to get mad at him for leaving without a word, for going back on his promise to be there come morning, for hurting his feelings. He couldn't bear the thought that Magnus accepted with a smile to suffer from his reckless decisions.

Alec was lost though, indecisive. How was he supposed to spare Magnus more pain, other than by distancing himself from the teacher? How would that not break his heart even more? Alec was neither conceited nor a fool, so he'd realised by now that Magnus' interest in him was not a phase but a real and deep desire to be with him, fuelled by sincere feelings. Yet Alec didn't know how he could give him what he wanted, what they both wanted, without hurting him in the process.

They were stuck. This hopeless situation nearly made him consider taking up Luke on his suggestion to use a Potion for Dreamless Sleep again, even though he had his reservations about it. If he gave in, though... if he slept, perhaps Alec wouldn't feel on edge as much as he did every day, every night. Maybe he would grow less anxious, less prompt to raise his wand with a spell begging to be let out on his tongue... Less dangerous and more like his old self. He would finally be able to function properly, as if nothing had ever happened to him.

It had, though. It had and he would never be the same anymore, whether he used a potion to rule over his nights or not. Sure, thanks to that artifice, he would function - but that was it. He wouldn't be normal, just seem like he was - and since he was already pretending to be fine, what use would it be? It would be just another game, a way to lull Magnus into a false sense of security: Alec wouldn't scream at night, wouldn't hex him in his sleep if he came too close... and it would all be a lie. Magnus deserved far, far better than that.

Alec summoned another cup of tea from his kettle in the kitchen, staring gloomily into the depths of the hot liquid. Black tea, the very same colour as the clouds that seemed to have established their permanent residence in his mind. He didn't want to satisfy himself with the distance he'd put between Magnus and him, even when he was the one to blame for that situation, and he knew that he would have to make a decision at some point.

Either he accepted that he was too dangerous for any kind of intimate relationship with Magnus - or anyone else, really - or he accepted to compromise and use these damn potions. Maybe only a small amount could still be effective enough to... numb his high level of awareness. Or, on the contrary, make him aware of his actual surroundings so he wouldn't think of Magnus as an enemy and curse him. Perhaps it could work out... and he knew exactly the person to ask for answers.

Alec sighed before downing most of his scalding tea in two or three gulps that burned down his throat and brought tears to his eyes, although he welcomed the pain. Sometimes, it felt good to hurt and know why, know how to stop that pain. One glass of cold water later, the Auror put on his coat and a beanie, then he was out of his flat, locking the door behind himself with a silent and wandless spell.

He lived in a Muggle neighbourhood of Brixton and perhaps the only perk of his new ability for wandless magic was this, locking his door without taking his wand out and thus, without being noticed by his nosy neighbours - unless they were just being friendly whenever they asked how he was doing, in spite of the dark circles underneath his eyes, visible even at night. Since he had not been home for a while, he expected his overfriendly neighbours to assault him with bright smiles and wild assumptions regarding his whereabouts as soon as he would step over the threshold, so Alec hurried down the road and turned left toward an alley with skip bins that was usually empty. This day didn't disappoint and when he was certain that no one would see him, he Apparated.

The reception area in St Mungo's was crowded, as per usual, and Alec had to navigate the crowd of Healers in lime-green robes who were examining the even largest flock of witches and wizards in need of help, to make his way towards the Welcome Witch. She looked all but welcoming, to be quite honest, and Alec watched her snap at a man with two gnome heads sprouting from his shoulder blades as she gave him directions to the right department.

"You don't seem injured," the witch told him as soon as she glanced at him, raising an offended eyebrow - because clearly, he was wasting her time.

"I'm here to see my sister," he explained, "Isab..."

"Visitors are not allowed in before two o'clock," she interrupted him before he could even finish his request, "Come back later."

"She's a Healer," he shot back as calmly as he could, "Isabelle Lightwood?"

Her eyebrows rose higher and twitched. She obviously recognised the name, although Alec couldn't say what she found most annoying: the fact that he was, indeed, not a visitor or that she was facing one of the (formerly) greatest Aurors of Great Britain. Unlike the students, she'd probably followed the case of his disappearance in the newspapers and perhaps she'd even asked Izzy for more direct information.

"Certainly, Sir," she answered, now sounding very polite. "You'll find her on the third floor. She'll be on her break quite soon, actually."

"Thank you," he muttered before he turned left and headed for the stairs, not without catching the Welcome Witch's voice for a while longer, now returned to snappy tones and quips.

Walking through the labyrinth of stairs and corridors, Alec was glad that it wasn't his first time at St Mungo's: one could easily get lost and never find their way back if they weren't accompanied by someone from the staff. Injuries were a rather recurrent foe whenever Aurors were concerned and everyone he knew at the Ministry, himself included, was transferred to St Mungo's at least once or twice a year. It came with the job... so he had no trouble navigating the place.

Finding Izzy on the third floor, where they treated potions and plant poisoning, didn't prove to be too much of a hardship either: his sister was right there in the hallway, giving a stern warning to a kid victim of uncontrollable giggling, telling him that he had to stay off food for a few more hours and certainly couldn't go up to the fifth floor to snatch sweets from the tearoom. When the child walked away, his head hanging low and his shoulders sagging, he let out a shrill giggle and immediately covered his mouth with his hands as he blushed to the roots of his hair. Alec couldn't help but laugh at that and Izzy turned at the sound.

"Alec!" she exclaimed in surprise, her face lighting up at once.

The young man smiled at her when she started running toward him, her grin so large it nearly reached her ears, and he was grateful for her thoughtfulness when she stopped just short of hugging him, waiting for his consent. Merlin, he'd missed her.

"Come here," he said, spreading his arms.

She didn't need to be told twice. Isabelle snuggled up to him and Alec enclosed her in his embrace, laughing when she had to rise on her tippy toes to put her chin on his shoulder.

"Shut up," she groaned in his ear, "Let me enjoy this moment. What are you doing here? I'm so glad to see you, I missed you so much! You never write!"

"Last time I did, you sent back a Howler," Alec grumbled. "I lost all credibility that day."

Izzy stepped back and looked at him in concern.

"Don't tell me you let it scream at you in front of other people..."

"Your owl arrived with the morning post," Alec answered, shrugging. "I was trying to eat breakfast, didn't think of walking out of the Great Hall..."

His sister looked even more worried when she heard that, biting her lip as she crossed her arms against her chest, wrinkling the Healers' emblem that was embroidered on her robes.

"Are you telling me that I outed you to the whole school?" she asked, "Shit, Alec, I'm so sorry!"

"It's not as if I was still in the closet," he mumbled, "and it didn't have any negative repercussion so don't fret. I'm not here to talk about that."

"What are you here to talk about, then?"

Oops. Maybe he shouldn't have said that, he realised when he caught her piercing gaze that was analysing him, trying to conclude whether or not she should be extra worried. Alec tried to smile, appear cool and relaxed - a hard feat, these days. If she sensed that something was wrong, she would not stop pestering him, directly or through offhand comments, until he spilled the beans.

"Can't I visit my favourite sister?" he asked a bit weakly.

"I'm your only sister," Izzy pointed out, rolling her eyes.

"Which is why I love you twice as much," Alec concluded with an innocent smile, "When are you taking your break?"

Instead of answering him, Isabelle grabbed her wand and pointed at her robes, which vanished to reveal a tulip skirt and a soft-looking cardigan underneath the uniform.

"Right now," his sister said before she turned around and gestured him to follow, "Come on, we'll get something to drink and eat in the tearoom upstairs and then, you'll tell me everything."

Alec certainly didn't intend on telling her everything that was going on in his life - he would never be done with it if he started, so he meant to ask her about the potions only but in the end, he didn't even manage to... Not when Izzy ordered two teas and two pastries, a piece of mint and chocolate cake for her, one of cherry pie for him, and the sight suddenly made his eyes prickle. Shit.

The young man looked away, tried not to meet his sister's eyes as they sat around the table that was closest to the exit, except that Izzy had always been far too observant for him to hide anything from her.

"Talk to me," she gently said, "I'm here for you, you know that, right? If there's anything I can do..."

"It's nothing," Alec muttered, wiping his eyes in shame - because he was crying over cake, because he should have been at Hogwarts and not at St Mungo's, hiding in his sister's workplace. "I'm an idiot."

"Having feelings doesn't make you an idiot," she told him, her voice just this side of scolding. "And it's not nothing if it upsets you."

The Auror nodded. He knew that, she'd repeated those words enough last summer, when he assured her that his nightmares were nothing she should concern herself with. He knew and still he wasn't convinced.

"I was supposed to eat cake with Magnus today," he whispered, his eyes set on the pie without actually seeing it, as an image of the teacher's disappointed expression popped in his mind, "and I'm here instead. I didn't even let him know, he... he must be expecting me. When he hears that I ran away, he'll..."

Alec trailed off. He didn't want to say aloud that Magnus would hate him. That would be too painful.

"I'm not sure to understand," Izzy said cautiously, reaching for her brother's hand that she squeezed, trying to keep him there with him and not hundreds of miles away. "Why did you run? From whom? Alec, what happened at Hogwarts?"

The young man took a deep breath. He didn't want to bother his sister with his inability at dealing with his own life but she looked really worried now, and he knew it would only get worse if he told her that he was fine and that he would take care of his problems on his own.

"You've heard about Asmodeus' escape, didn't you?" he whispered.

"Of course I have," she replied, her voice grave even as she retracted her hand to dig into her cake, before she pointed her fork at him. "I don't live under a rock, you know? But I don't understand, what does Asmodeus have to do with anything?"

"We have reason to believe that he wants to reach the school," Alec revealed, his voice growing even quieter, forcing her to lean forward to hear him. "Aurors are patrolling the perimeter and..."

When he hesitated, not sure that she would understand his decision, Isabelle looked him straight in the eyes, her composed gaze conveying that she would listen to him with fortitude, no matter the reckless decisions he might have made.

"You volunteered to help?" she guessed after a few more seconds of silence.

"Yeah," Alec sighed, his shoulders sagging, "and I wasn't ready."

"Did something bad happen?"

"No," he answered, noticing how her body seemed to unwind at his words, "but it could have."

A shudder went from the top of his head to the tip of his toes as he remembered how much he'd scared the two boys when he'd stormed into the classroom, as well as his own fright upon realising what he could have done to them.

"I didn't want to stay at Hogwarts last night," Alec finished in a whisper, "I needed to be alone, away, so I could... calm down without hurting anyone. Magnus doesn't know, I... I left as soon as I could."

"Who's Magnus?" Izzy asked with a frown, before her face cleared. "Oh! He's the one you wrote about, in your letter? The most gorgeous and kind man you've ever..."

"Yes," Alec interrupted her before she could quote the full letter to him, "He's the one."

She waggled her eyebrows, clearly teasing him, and once he cracked a smile she quickly turned serious again. Alec suddenly remembered why he loved their discussions so much, when she wasn't trying to make him talk about his trauma: she knew how to defuse explosive or potentially tear-inducing situations with a touch of humour here and there... but she never made him feel like his question or his problem wasn't important.

"You can go back, you know," Isabelle told him, her voice really soft but without any hint of pity. "If you want to be with Magnus, it's not too late."

"I could do that," Alec admitted - and he wanted to, so much... "but I won't. I think I really need a break, not just a few hours away. I'll go back tomorrow night, if I'm sure that I'm okay."

Isabelle watched him in silence, although her expression was speaking the words she wasn't saying aloud. Alec was not okay. He was doing slightly better than he was eight or even two months ago, however, and she had to take it. She could see that Hogwarts was doing him some good, breaking the poisonous routine of the wariness that had settled all around him at the Ministry.

Her brother didn't share much, especially when he thought that showing vulnerability and being weak were the same thing, but she knew how much his fellow Aurors - his friends - had hurt him with their behaviour. Distrustful, mocking, spiteful, seeing only the traumatised Auror and not the man who had nearly killed himself trying to protect their names and undercover identities.

"Write to your boyfriend, then," Izzy forced herself to say instead of wrapping her brother into a blanket and never letting him go. "Tell him why you left so he doesn't worry about you too much and send it as soon as possible. If you ask the Owl Post Office for a fast delivery, maybe Magnus will have it by tomorrow morning."

"He's not my boyfriend," Alec mumbled.

"Come again?" Izzy said, looking dumbfounded, "You... You're not together?"

When Alec shook his head, she seemed even more dismayed.

"Didn't you go on that date?" she asked, and when he nodded, "You never went any further than that?"

"We... almost kissed, that day," he confessed, feeling himself blush as he reminisced about that day, remembered Magnus, laughing under the rain, his lips exquisite and inviting as he came closer... "Then, I... Well. Chickened out. He understood, though. So we... we're friends. We grade papers together, we eat together sometimes, like yesterday evening. We support each other, too? I mean, he's going through a rough time these days and I'm... me, so there's that."

He didn't mention how he hungered for Magnus' presence every day, how he'd felt when the teacher had hugged him the previous day, in the silence of his classroom after his experiment with Jonathan's image. He didn't tell his sister about the secrets and reassurance they'd shared over a bowl of hot chocolate either, feeling like these moments were theirs and theirs alone to know about and cherish, but Izzy's scrutiny probably saw right through him. She understood that wasn't all there was to his and Magnus' relation.

"You're doing all of that and you're not dating," she concluded, making it sound half like a question and half like a statement. "Alright. You like him though, don't you?"

Alec nodded miserably. It was more than that, he knew as much, and judging by the sudden realisation dawning on Isabelle's face, his feelings were showing. Not only his love for Magnus, but his insecurities as well.

"Alec," she said, unable to hold back a sad sigh, "I know you, I know what you're thinking. Please, don't deny yourself the happiness you deserve... You are worthy and a good man."

The Auror looked away when his eyes burned again. He knew that, deep down, but it was hard to remember it when he was constantly scared of slipping and hurting someone else in the process. Besides, when he recalled what he had done to Jonathan before he was rescued... What kind of good man could do such a thing? It didn't even matter that he hadn't fully been himself at the time, he'd still done it. He didn't point that out though, because it was the part he hadn't revealed to anyone but Raj - and then again, not in too many gruesome details.

They had all seen Jonathan of course, how badly hurt he was when the Aurors arrested him, and especially the Healers... Thankfully, Izzy hadn't been allowed to help neither her brother nor his tormentor: her superior had believed her to be too deeply involved and, fearing her skills would be affected if she wasn't in the right headspace, she'd been told to wait with her family to know how Alec would fare. Isabelle had talked to her colleagues since then so she knew about the state both Jonathan and Alec were in when the Aurors brought them in to St Mungo's. She had tried to broach the topic with her brother, to understand, only to see him shut down and grow mute. Alec didn't think he could bear to see his own sister be afraid of him.

"I know," he whispered in the end, if only to appease her.

Izzy didn't look fully convinced: she had too much experience analysing his blank expression not to see the lingering doubts under the mask. He smiled at her in gratitude when she didn't push, glad that she understood his discomfort at discussing his own worth - something that she couldn't find quite healthy, he bet, yet she was willing to drop it, for him. He didn't deserve her.

In the end, Alec didn't mention the potions and tried to think of other topics to discuss with his sister so that he wouldn't make their short time together about him only. His vocation in life wasn't to worry Isabelle and he'd already failed at that today so... No asking. He would be fine.

Genuinely happy and proud of her, he congratulated Izzy when she told him about the breakthrough she and her team were about to make relating to the treatment of infectious bites from a new kind of dragon that had been smuggled into the country, then proceeded to interrogate her about the man she had been seeing for a few weeks. He concluded that Meliorn, whose mother was apparently a Veela, sounded like an alright-guy but he made her promise to keep him updated.

"I will," she said, "if you promise not to ask Raj to run a background check on him."

"I'd never dare," he muttered, even though he had been planning exactly that.

Based on the look she gave him, she knew.

Hogsmeade on a late Sunday evening was quiet, the streets empty, and even the dark windows of the Three Broomsticks Inn made it look less crowded and merry than usual. Alec shivered as he strode up the street, a slow but continuous drizzle seeping through his cloak until he had the luminous idea to shield himself beneath a magical, invisible umbrella. Holding his wand above his head, he looked down to the bag in his other hand to make sure that the cake he'd bought as an attempt at apologising to Magnus hadn't been damaged while he Apparated from London to Hogsmeade.

He hadn't followed Izzy's recommendation to send a letter to Magnus. If he had to beg for forgiveness, which he highly doubted since Magnus was the most compassionate man he had ever met, and explain himself, he wanted to take the brave route for once and do it face to face, even if he had to endure Magnus' sad but understanding smile. After all, it would only be fair that he suffered the consequences of his actions.

Far from feeling courageous, Alec still braced himself for what was to come and picked up his pace as the rain started to pour down and turned the soil into mud around him. The ethereal umbrella still protected him but his shoes wouldn't survive much longer if he didn't get inside at once... So he was glad when he finally saw the Entrance Gates, though his hopes for a warm bath before he sought out Magnus were short-lived at the sight that welcomed him.

What the...

The umbrella vanished into nothingness and the cake fell to the ground when Alec rushed toward the two bodies that lay between the open gates, faces down in the mud, and his heart went wild with panic. He pointed his wand down, murmured a quiet Lumos and collapsed next to the bodies - corpses, he realised at the light of his wand when he turned them over - and two different feelings invaded him nearly at the same time.

Relief came first, along with a terrible calmness that seemed to wrap his mind in cotton when he understood that neither Raj nor Hodge had been on duty at the gates this evening. Then arrived horror when he recognised Duncan Armstrong and Sebastian Verlac, Aurors at the Ministry, now lying dead on the path that led to the castle, their eyes open to stare at a moonless night forever.

Alec stood up and tightened his grip on his wand while he glanced around, breath caught in his throat. The corpses were still warm in spite of the cold rain so they must have been attacked seconds ago only... Which meant that Asmodeus was close. Perhaps he was even looking at him right then, hiding in the shadows.

It could not be anyone else than him, although Alec had reckoned that Asmodeus would lay low for a little while longer after his escape, so he could attack when they didn't expect him to anymore. However, if Armstrong's and Verlac's corpses were anything to go by, it didn't matter whether they expected his arrival or not... He had killed them anyway, perhaps with a mere flick of his wrist.

Alec had to step over Armstrong's body to cross the gates and he forced himself not to look down, not to see the man's wide open and lifeless eyes nor the dumbstruck horror reflected on his face. He cast careful glances all around but everything sounded and looked calm and if not for the two dead Aurors, he would have thought that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Still, two men had died and the criminal was on the loose, probably headed for the castle this instant, with the intent to find his son.

There were teachers patrolling the hallways, Alec suddenly remembered, skilful but untrained teachers who couldn't imagine what it was like to fight dark wizards, especially one like Asmodeus who was as powerful as he was merciless. Merlin, teachers were not all that would stand in his way... Idiots in love who didn't care for the curfew, house-elves, students who were sleeping in their dormitories without the slightest idea of who was coming for them... If Alec allowed Asmodeus to reach the castle and he happened to stumble upon any of them, they were dead.

The Auror shook his head to clear his mind, droplets splashing all around him. He had to warn Luke. It would take too long to run to the castle and maybe Asmodeus had already beaten him there, so...

Alec squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. The last time he'd tried to cast the charm, he had failed, but he couldn't afford a repeat of that poor performance right now... He aimed his wand at the castle and focused, trying to find a rest of happiness in the depths of his chest.

"Expecto patronum!" he shouted.

He could do this, he thought, gritting his teeth as silver threads slowly gathered under the heavy rain, too tenuous to take form. He had done it a hundred times before, he'd mastered this charm years ago! His magic was bubbling in his veins, crackling at the tips of his fingers and begging for release, like a tiger in a cage, and he knew he could do it, if only he wasn't so scared of himself and what he could do if he really tried...

"Expecto patronum!" he repeated as he clenched his wand tighter, "Expecto patro..."

The Auror yelped in pain when a sudden blast of energy barrelled into his side and catapulted him in the air, before he crashed onto the grass a few meters back. He gasped, realised he'd dropped his wand, and his fingers came away bloody when he clutched his right side. Shit. Alec rolled over, trying to get back on his feet, and he had to push his soaked hair away from his face to see Asmodeus advance on him, leaning on a cane that did nothing to diminish the aura of doom that surrounded him.

The malice in his eyes was almost the same Alec had already witnessed in Azkaban the last time he'd been there, only this time it looked unbridled, and he realised that nothing and no one would keep Asmodeus away from his son. He didn't advert his eyes from the dark wizard when he stood up, giving up on the very thought of locating his wand, and Asmodeus' eyes flashed with satisfied cruelty as Alec looked at him with a challenging glare.

"Move," Asmodeus said.

His voice, suave as if he wanted the Auror to believe that he had nothing to fear from him, surprised Alec. Close to Magnus' own soft intonations, it sounded similar to his and at the same time, it could not have been more different. There was a harshness beneath the charm, something that betrayed how much blood Asmodeus had on his hands...

"Why don't you make me?" Alec suggested softly.

Asmodeus laughed.

"You are funnier than these two goons," he stated with a jerk of his head toward the gates, where Duncan's and Sebastian's bodies were slowly cooling down, "but you are as foolish as them."

He hated to admit it but Asmodeus was probably right, Alec thought with a hysterical bark of laughter, which turned into a growl when the man moved his hands in an intricate pattern before he stretched them out, in a wordless, wandless and deadly attack. Fear grasped his heart but Alec didn't look away, ready to stare death in the eye when it came, although he raised his arms in front of his face in a stupid reflex.

Except that the spell didn't hit him. He felt the gush of air on each side of him when the dark magic ricocheted on something, he didn't know what, until he realised that a small shield made of blue waves was spinning in front of him, thin threads of magic connecting it to his fingertips.

"Interesting," Asmodeus commented. "I didn't know that Hogwarts sheltered other teachers with wandless abilities. Garroway knows how to surround himself with quality. Let's see what you are capable of..."

Other teachers?

Alec shook his head and tried to stay focused as he slowly disbanded the shield, panting with the effort, his ears ringing. He hadn't done this on purpose, his magic reacting on instinct to protect him, just like it had when... No. He couldn't think about it, not now. The energy was flowing unrestrained in his body, more powerful than he had ever felt it before, and a crazy idea popped in his brain while Asmodeus kept looking at him, playing with a spell in his fingers, contemplating where he should throw it to test the Auror's reactions and abilities.

He was doing this for Magnus, Alec thought. For Magnus and everyone else, people who deserved to live in a world in which one of the most dangerous criminals wasn't anymore, for his students, for Raj - and for Duncan and Sebastian. With a scream of rage, Alec pushed forward and opened every inch of himself, magic suddenly surging out and rushing toward Asmodeus like thousands of daggers - which the dark wizard deflected with a smirk and a dismissive hand, as if the Auror hadn't just pumped into his powers more than he had ever dared to.

Alec fell to his knees.

"You have potential," Asmodeus drawled above him, "and you're wasting it. A shame. You remind me of my son."

The Auror managed to flash him a dark look, until he realised that Asmodeus was wiping the blood from a slash across his cheek. Oddly, this gave him hope. At least his attack had not been fully ineffective... He had to try again, although he didn't know if he would survive a second attempt at hurting Asmodeus - or maybe he had to focus the last drops of his energy on warning the school. What use would he be dead, if he didn't even manage to kill Asmodeus nor send word to Luke before he died?

"Stupefy!" he yelled to distract Asmodeus while he stood up, wobbly on his feet.

As he'd planned, the man sneered at him and blocked the weak Stunning Spell Alec had sent his way, although he hadn't expected it to work. However, it gave him just enough time to close his eyes and focus, to forget the man who was marching on him in fury. Behind his eyelids, Alec took cover, dug into his memories and let them flow. Isabelle's smile when she'd seen him in the hallway at St Mungo's the previous day. Jace's laughter that echoed in the staffroom, his joyous face dancing into the fire. Max's wide and content eyes when he'd received the box of Chocolate Frogs Alec had bought for him at Hogsmeade with Magnus. And Magnus... Magnus' everything.

"Expecto patronum!" he shouted.

He heard Asmodeus snarl, didn't pay it any mind. Alec collapsed on the wet grass when all his energy was drained by the Patronus Charm, still he saw the beast, saw his magic that wasn't limited neither by his wand nor his inhibitions anymore, and it turned and turned, shaping large paws and sharp teeth, drawing stripes, turning Alec's hopes into a majestic tiger. The animal roared and reared, turned to dash toward the castle, and the Auror's lips curled in a tired smile.

"Levicorpus," Asmodeus suddenly seethed.

Alec only enjoyed a few seconds of self-satisfaction when he realised that he'd upset Asmodeus enough to make him utter his spell before he was hanging upside down, his ankle trapped in the cold grasp of magic. Blood rushed to his head but he was too exhausted to fight Asmodeus' hold on him, not even when the wizard twisted his hand, curled his fingers around thin air, and Alec started to choke.

Chapter Text

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

Alec's heart was beating against his eardrums, hammering on the inside of his skull like a blacksmith on his anvil. He was suffocating. His nails left five irregular red lines on his skin when he clawed at his tattooed neck, as Asmodeus' magic curled around his throat more tightly with each passing second. He could hear a weird sound below the echo of his heart, that he soon realised came from his own wheezing. Still hanging upside down, he didn't manage to break the invisible hold around his ankle nor his windpipe. His sight dimmed, became black and blurry around the corners of his eyes. The heartbeats in his ears turned into shrill ringing.

This is it, Alec thought. This was the night he would die, fighting like the Auror he was, had always been, no matter what people whispered behind his back. He hoped the Minister would be proud of him and maybe even give him a medal, post-mortem. Damn it, he was allowed to feel petty in his last instants, wasn't he? Then he fucking hoped everyone at the Ministry would feel guilty for laughing at him, whispering behind his back and avoiding him like he was a madman - the madman who was going to keep Asmodeus busy long enough to get himself killed but also to warn the Headmaster of the dark wizard's arrival on school grounds.

He merely wished that Magnus wouldn't be the one to find his body, once it would be over. If he'd caused the teacher pain in his life, he didn't want to cause even more of it with his death...

Alec clenched his teeth when blurred lines danced in front of his eyes and he slowly closed them, ready to welcome the fate he should have met months ago if Raj hadn't rescued him just in time. He'd only delayed the inevitable... Aurors didn't live long lives.

The tendrils of magic around his ankle and his throat suddenly lost their strength and Alec rasped out a quiet cry when he crashed on the muddy ground, his shoulder taking the brunt of his fall when he protected his head with his arms. He coughed and gasped for air, then his eyes widened when no other spell constricted his sore throat. Alec took a deep and long breath while he could, one that smelled like wet grass and tasted like rain, like life.

"I am disappointed," Asmodeus said behind him. "You didn't even try to defend yourself."

Alec twisted around, his knees slipping in the mud, and the swift move tore a hiss from his throat. He clutched his side, still torn and bloody, with a shaky but protective hand that did nothing to numb the pain... The touch made him feel as if a dagger was slowly reaching deeper and deeper into his flesh. The Auror gritted his teeth and tried to distract himself from the chilling sensation by glaring at the man who was still standing over him, talking as if they were just having a nice chat around a cup of tea.

Did he not care about the Patronus Alec had sent to the castle? Was he that powerful, that he didn't feel the need to worry about the cavalry he'd called for? Merlin, he definitely was... Why wouldn't Asmodeus just kill him then, get it over with? One flick of his fingers would be enough... Did he want to humiliate him some more before he took him down for good? Torture him?

No, please, no. Alec had been through this before, he'd survived it before, but at what cost? He couldn't do it again. He wasn't afraid of dying but... the prospect of the pain scared him, as shameful as it was to admit to such a weakness. His high pain tolerance wouldn't matter: months ago, he'd begged Jonathan to kill him, to make the slow agony stop, and he had an inkling that he would suffer a lot more in Asmodeus' hands. Alec doubted that a criminal like him knew mercy, so his death would be slow and painful.

If this was to be his fate though, Alec would face it standing, not curled on himself and on his knees. With any luck, perhaps this time his heart would fail him before the pain could devour him body and soul.

The Auror shifted to get up. He winced with every movement he made and his suffering showed on his face as clearly as if it had been painted there by a grim but talented artist. Alec eventually managed to stand up, mostly out of stubbornness, although his knees nearly gave out and Asmodeus laughed.

"It hurts, doesn't it?" he asked, not without kindness, and that frightened Alec more than the prospect of torture. "Your wandless magic... You weren't born with it like I was."

"H... How do you know?" Alec stammered before he could think better of it, taken aback by the assurance in Asmodeus' voice.

"If anyone knows anything about wandless magic, it is I," Asmodeus answered as his eyes gleamed with gold and looked Alec up and down. "I can see it, you know? It flows in you, strong and wild, untamed. You didn't train to control it... and you are afraid. I see the gashes inside you, where your magic burst through your body. Looks like it was wild and painful. So how? How did this happen?"

When Alec gritted his teeth, unwilling to answer, Asmodeus flashed him a soft, terrifying smile.

"Ah, to think I was only trying to make conversation," he said quietly, shaking his head. "As you wish. There are other ways. Legilimens!"

Alec groaned when the spell hit him with full force - it didn't hurt but he felt a cold haze enter his mind, coating each thought, each figment of his brain, and he snapped his eyes shut. No. He wouldn't allow Asmodeus to travel inside his mind and get access to his most personal memories, whether happy or traumatising; they were his and nobody else's, unless he decided to share them. Alec withdrew from his own mind, focused on one single thought to use as an anchor and close all doors to his other memories, holding it close to his heart like a shield against Asmodeus' intrusion: a bowl of hot chocolate, house-elves in the background and a warm hand in his own.

He felt Asmodeus smile in his head but Alec's resistance eventually pushed the wizard away and he stepped back, freeing the Auror's mind from his mental grasp.

"You're not a bad Occlumens," he commented, "You trained your mind more than your magic. You know who wasn't as good as you?"

When Alec kept quiet, fighting to remain on his two feet and not collapse on the grass, Asmodeus took a step closer, then another and another, until he was close enough to put his hand on Alec's cheek.

"Jonathan Morgenstern," he answered his own question and felt Alec shiver beneath his fingertips. "It is interesting, you see, to navigate your cellmates' minds. It frees you from your own imprisonment and you get to learn a thousand new details about the world outside of Azkaban. Jonathan's mind was scarred... Just like yours, except yours feels even rawer. You were the source... Auror Alexander Lightwood."

Alec jerked his head aside and staggered backwards. Asmodeus looked fascinated, which wasn't reassuring at all, and the Auror put as much distance between them as he could, though he didn't get far on his wobbly legs.

"You could be so powerful," Asmodeus murmured with glinting eyes, "more than you probably think, if only you embraced your powers. I could teach you control, you know? I can teach you how to use your magic without pain, without making an effort, until the slightest start of a thought gives you what you desire... I can show you how to close all these gaping wounds inside you. All you have to do is join me."

"What for?" Alec blurted out, flabbergasted at such a ridiculous suggestion.

He was an Auror and he had been ready to die on the job a few minutes ago, did Asmodeus really deem him that fickle, to switch sides in a heartbeat? Would that please him, to corrupt an Auror so easily? Judging by the smirk that deformed his lips, yes... but to his own horror, Alec paused.

He couldn't trust Asmodeus. Alec would never join him to fight for whatever crazy cause he had chosen to believe in but... Could he really teach him? Help him to control himself so he would not put others in danger anymore? What if... What if this was exactly what the centaur meant the other night, when he'd told Alec that help would come for an unexpected place?

"Powerful wizards should lead this world, don't you think?" Asmodeus said softly, a questioning lilt to his voice that lay more on the rhetorical side than anything else, "So that is what I intend to do. I came here for my son but there's no reason I shouldn't be grateful for two skilled associates instead of one. Besides, you seem quite fond of Magnus... This is your chance to conquer him."

Alec sucked in a breath. Asmodeus had seen more in his mind than the Auror had imagined, he'd caught the fleeting face in his memories, hidden behind the hand that Alec had so tenderly held in his own that early morning in the kitchens... It made sense that Magnus' father would try to tempt Alec and use this knowledge to his advantage.

"Other dark wizards have tried to rule the world before you," he still chose to challenge Asmodeus, "and they have failed. What makes you any different?"

"Dark wizards," Asmodeus parroted with a chuckle, "Is that how you call ambitious people? Because I want power, I'm the villain of this story?"

"You murdered people," Alec reminded him, clinging to that fact and desperate to forget that maybe Asmodeus could actually help him, because it didn't and would never feel right, "and you want me to follow you? To trust you and learn by your side... what? The best ways to kill a kid's mother?"

Asmodeus looked surprised at Alec's words and then, when he understood what the Auror was referring to, he narrowed his eyes.

"You and Magnus are that close, uh?" he guessed as he flexed his hand, almost as if he was warming up. "Good. Since you don't seem too eager to come with me, perhaps I should just use you to help me convince my son that his place is not in a school but by my side..."

Alec expected the renewed grasp around his throat. What he didn't expect, however, was a cry somewhere behind him, followed by an angry incantation that cast a bolt of white light in Asmodeus' direction. The criminal deflected the spell with a snarl but it was enough for him to release his grip on Alec, who would have crashed down and probably never gotten up again, too tired for that, had two gentle hands not supported him and gently lowered him to the ground.

"Magnus..." Alec whispered in awe when he found himself into the teacher's arms.

Merlin, he had the worst timing ever, but Magnus simply looked gorgeous with fury, his eyes gleaming as he kept them firmly set on his father, every single one of his features icy and focused. His fingers tightened around his wand and Alec stopped breathing for a few seconds. Gone, the kind Transfiguration teacher who ate cake on Alec's bed like a teenager; he had made room for the prodigious wizard with a golden reputation, and the Auror could feel the warmth of his magic radiate from his body and comfort his own broken shape.

"We received your Patronus," Magnus told him, his voice softer than his expression, "Gorgeous beast."

Alec beamed at him and a flush of pride and pleasure coloured his cheeks. Worst timing ever, indeed... Although he wasn't allotted much time to enjoy the embrace around him, nor the teacher's compliment. Soon, Asmodeus was smirking down at them.

"Son," the dark wizard greeted Magnus softly, apparently not too upset by the sudden interruption, but then his voice hardened, "and... people whom I didn't invite to our family reunion."

Glancing up, Alec noticed that Raj, Hodge and Luke had come too, wands drawn and surrounding Asmodeus to keep him in the middle of a circle, from which he would not be able to escape... unless he killed one of them.

"Surrender, Asmodeus!" Hodge shouted, "You are outnumbered and more will come down from the castle. It's over."

"Oh but we're only getting started," he seethed, "Crucio!"

Alec gave a small cry of terror at the word. He wasn't the target of Asmodeus' spell, yet he curled up on himself, his shrinking silhouette quivering in fear; one second he was lying on the grass, the next he was back in that horrible room, locked up and terribly alone. He could almost feel the pain in his flesh, down to his bones, as the ghost of the torture he'd been put through suddenly came back to life. It was not Asmodeus' voice ringing in his ears and haunting his mind but Jonathan's, shouting Crucio and pointing his wand at the Auror's weak and writhing body, again and again and again...

Unaware of what was going on around him, trapped in his own head, Alec didn't see Hodge manage to cast a Shield Charm just before the curse hit him. Asmodeus didn't wait to watch the effects of his spell though: he spun, hands stretched out, and this time the attacks came quickly and without a word, so the Aurors and teachers were slower to protect themselves. Magnus was forced to push Alec away from him when a stray spell hit the ground beneath their feet and the surface exploded; grass and mud and stones rose in the air while the blast knocked Alec over. His wrist snapped.

The pain, real and physical this time, replaced the memory of Jonathan's sadistic treatments. The sudden pulsing ache down his wrist felt like deliverance and Alec looked up with bleary eyes, that widened as soon as he began to grasp what he was seeing. Chaos. Chaos was unfolding all around him, his friends were fighting and... and he was useless, drained and scared still, unable to do anything to help them as he held his broken wrist close to his chest.

Alec had to squint in order to follow what was going on, disoriented with the amount of spells that slashed across the dark sky in colourful but brutal flashes. Luke's curses were spiralling through Asmodeus' but they never reached him, not when the wizard summoned a column of wild fire that burned the Headmaster's magic away. Hodge had moved closer to Raj and his wand shot left and right like a sword as it blocked the curses aimed towards him and his young partner, vulnerable as he looked away from Asmodeus for a moment in order to focus on his arm.

Horrified, Alec saw that a snake of fire had curled around his friend's wrist and forearm, and it hissed when it sank into his flesh and burned his skin. Raj screamed. On impulse, Alec started to crawl towards him in a vain attempt to help but a wild fear seized his heart, nearly made it stop, when he saw Raj collapse.

"No!" he yelled in distress when his friend took too long to rise, "Raj!"

"Alexander, don't move!"

His eyes wide open and set on Raj's unmoving body, Alec froze at Magnus' command without question, without any hesitation to comply. He trusted him with his life and he didn't need to see what was happening, what danger he was in, to do as asked. When he did turn his head however, he spotted Magnus at once and all breath left his lungs.

His eyes had turned completely golden, much like his father's, except that the threat in them wasn't aimed at Alec but at Asmodeus himself. The heavy rain had ruined Magnus' hair and his boots were slipping faintly across the mud but still he stood tall and enduring. His wand became a blur of chestnut wood when he moved it, fast and precise; it slashed through the air and gathered the bits and pieces of earth and moss that had exploded before, pulled roots from the ground, and Alec watched them come together and form a large shape, akin to that of a huge felid.

Magnus' creation jumped high above the Auror, landed between Luke and Asmodeus whose spell would have blown up in the Headmaster's face otherwise, and then it attacked. The creature was quick as it ran towards Asmodeus and Alec's eyes widened when it swallowed the jinx cast by Magnus' father without apparent trouble, though it coughed smoke as it surged forward again. This time, Asmodeus welcomed the creature with a snarl and a rapid succession of hexes that bounced left and right.

The felid couldn't avoid them all, Alec reckoned with an anxious gasp, for it was huge, as clumsy taking turns as it was swift in straight lines... and he was right. The creature that had been born out of Magnus' magic swerved to avoid the first curse but then, its shoulder was hit with the second one - then its side, its belly, its leg... Magnus grunted in dismay when he lost control over his creature, the magic that tied them suddenly severed, and Asmodeus sent it topple backwards with a bang.

"Confringo!" Luke yelled before it could collapse on them.

The large felid burst into tiny, harmless bits that rained down around them and Hodge made the remaining pieces vanish so they wouldn't get in their way. With one last glance to Raj, who to everyone's relief, was weakly shifting, he stepped forward at the same time as Luke and Magnus did. Asmodeus' only reaction was an amused, albeit angry as well, bark of laughter.

"Nice try," he told his son, "but still vastly insufficient. You're limited - your wand limits you. You still refuse to see what you could do... if only you decided to step up and become who you are truly meant to be!"

"Become like you?" Magnus guessed, his face distorted by fury - and fear. "That is my worst nightmare."

"Is it?" Asmodeus asked. "Is it? Your magic, my magic... Don't you feel them calling for each other? You were meant to be by my side so we could rule this world!"

A tide of violent magic rolled in and those of them who were still standing lost their balance. Alec managed to catch Hodge's eye across the distance and his former mentor gave a subtle nod of his head. They understood each other without the need for words and Alec, as much as he wished that they could warn Magnus and Luke of their plan to strengthen its effect even more, knew that they couldn't waste time in discreet indications, for fear that Asmodeus caught and understood them.

When Hodge nodded again, they scrambled to their feet. Alec felt like his body was going to fail him if he pushed himself any more but he couldn't give up now, not while Asmodeus was still fighting without showing any sign of weakness. He allowed his magic out and with his good hand, he shaped it in a line to meet with Hodge's and settle in a trap around Asmodeus to limit the range of his powers. To Alec's surprise, the cage felt stronger than he'd imagined, what with only the two of them to feed it, but then he realised that a third person had joined them.

Of course.

Too weak to be steady on his feet, Raj had still managed to bring himself to his knees and even though his wand trembled, he held on and connected his magic to his friends'. A red halo was pulsing around his arm but when the Auror met Alec's gaze, he forced a smile, as if to say that it wasn't that bad. Alec didn't believe him.

He had no choice but to trust him and focus though, especially when Asmodeus' first assaults against the cage they'd locked him in came, harsh and brutal, and the aggressive ripples rattled their bones.

"Hold on!" Hodge yelled, his face distorted under the intensity of the effort.

They did, albeit with difficulty, but they refused to break down now - they couldn't. They were connected now, so one's fall would mean the two others' demise as well. All three Aurors welcomed a short-lived but appreciated respite when Luke and Magnus added their joined forces to theirs: taking advantage of the fact that Asmodeus' focus was set elsewhere, they attacked him from both sides, until he couldn't keep up his attempts at breaking the trap and was forced to defend himself instead.

It wasn't ideal: the Aurors needed a few more of their own to complete the configuration and keep it stable, because as skilled - and determined - as the Headmaster and the Transfiguration teacher were, they had never trained like Aurors and they didn't think in the same way, didn't have the same reflexes. There was no one else to help them though, Sebastian and Duncan lay dead at the Gates and no one was coming down from the castle... Maybe Hodge had been bluffing before. So Magnus and Luke gave it their all and an array of spells and hexes flew, some a mere tingle for Asmodeus, meant to distract him, and others a bit trickier. A smirk curled up Hodge's lips when the dark wizard had to speed up to protect himself, faced with the relentlessness of Luke's and Magnus' offensive.

Asmodeus gave a low cry when the combined spells finally - finally! - hit their target and he stumbled as he failed to fully block Luke's Expulso curse, that propelled him backwards at the same time as Magnus' spell slashed at his face. A slow trickle of blood painted a thin line of red on the dark wizard's cheek, from a cut that matched the one Alec had given him earlier, on the other side of his face.

It was too much for Asmodeus. He looked furious when he straightened and rose from his crumpled position.

"Enough!" he yelled with an explosion of power so intense that the three Aurors slipped backwards and barely managed to maintain their trap in place.

The air around Asmodeus was vibrating with his puissance, which was only begging to find a target to destroy. He was still surrounded by the Aurors' lines of magic that fenced him in, which he'd noticed before he couldn't cut through; his only solution was to attack the holders themselves. Raj didn't stand a chance when Asmodeus hexed his already injured arm with a Flagrante curse.

"Raj!" Alec yelled when his friend's arm took fire.

"I can't hold it anymore!" the Auror screamed in warning, "Let go, both of you!"

They didn't have the time to react. The lines of magic suddenly snapped, cut as soon as Raj reached his limit, and they hurtled towards the two others Aurors, unguided and without purpose, an energy as pure as dangerous.

"Protego!" Hodge shouted before the backfiring spell could hit him, but Alec didn't get the chance and the magic slammed straight into him.

Alec screamed. He didn't realise that he was falling in the grass, couldn't pay attention to anything that wasn't pain as the wayward energy searched for a goal, a place to fit, and insinuated itself beneath his ribs and into the sensitive gashes of his already wounded magic... Tears rolled down when searing pain exploded inside his body, each and every one of his nerves went ablaze as the power grew and grew, too great for one man to withstand, and Alec's eyes widened in panic when he understood what was going to happen - what had already happened once.

He knew he had to stop himself before it was too late and he hurt one of his friends - he remembered a scene of destruction, a pale body next to him, barely breathing, barely alive, and the terror that had invaded him months ago upon seeing what he'd done to Jonathan was rising inside him again.

"No," Alec whined.

He tried to curl on himself to protect his friends but he should have known that it was useless... When his magic finally rebelled against the aggression, pain sliced through his bones, muscles and flesh like sharp fangs that knew one purpose only, his destruction. His body arched and large rays of blue light burst from his chest - he screamed, screamed until the sounds died in his throat, screamed until he felt like the pressure was going to split his skull in half. He convulsed, his fingers twitching and scratching at the grass, and Alec believed he was dying, at long last.

The pain couldn't mean anything else, it hurt so much... It was worse than the first time it had happened and he'd already thought that he and Jonathan wouldn't survive but this? This was absolute agony. His own magic and the remnants of the spell were whirling above and around him; it dug in his flesh as it tried to return within his ribcage but the power was too intense and potent to settle comfortably in that wretched place where haywire magic had already done a lot of damage before.


Alec didn't recognise whom the voice that screamed his name belonged to. It sounded muffled, far away, like it was part of a different world, and the pain was clouding his eyes. He couldn't see who was worrying for him.

"Magnus, don't touch him!"

No one should touch him. He was dangerous, wild, his magic like a tornado in the sky and the first time it had spiralled out of control, it had nearly killed Jonathan and him... Whom would it devour this time? His best friend who was already injured? Hodge, who would take his last breath with the confirmation that he was right and that Alec wasn't fit for duty anymore? Luke, the man who had trusted him for a job when no one else had? Or Magnus, the one who was willing to give him everything? No, Alec couldn't let this abomination happen. He had to find another way to satiate the hunger of the powers inside and outside of him.

"Do you see, Magnus?" he thought he heard Asmodeus say, "Do you see what you have done? If you had taken your rightful place by my side when I offered, there would have been no need for fighting and your friend wouldn't be in so much pain! This is your fault..."

"Shut up!" Magnus snarled - through the fog of pain in his mind and body, Alec managed to hear the anger in the teacher's voice and he was glad for it, because Magnus had to know that Asmodeus was taunting him, he shouldn't believe that any of this was his fault...

Tears rolled from his eyes, narrowed against the pain, and Alec tried to see beyond the maelstrom of his magic. He briefly wondered if he was hallucinating - for if he wasn't, then Magnus had just put away his wand, in a slow and deliberate move, and he placed his hands at chest-level just as calmly, with his palms turned towards his father.

"Magnus," Luke called with urgency, a warning in his voice, "Think ab..."

Several detonations interrupted him at once. Magnus aimed at his father and shot white flares in quick succession before the Headmaster could finish his sentence, his expression closed-off and murderous, finding an echo into his magic that he was manipulating with his bare hands, as if he'd done this all his life. The pain was starting to numb every other sensation but Alec still felt the rage and the anguish, too, in the teacher's magic that reverberated against his own, felt it quiver when Asmodeus blocked Magnus' spells with some difficulty but also, with incredible delight.

"That's it," he encouraged Magnus, "That's it, son! Let your anger do the talking... Fight me!"

Asmodeus' words seemed to have exactly the opposite effect on Magnus, whose hands suddenly fell to his sides, limp and indecisive. His expression betrayed the turmoil inside him, part of him eager to fight, to hurt the man who had plucked his mother's life like a flower from the ground, and the other part scared of what he would do if he allowed Asmodeus to win, if he let himself be consumed by the fire of anger that his father was trying to fuel.

Alec whimpered when his magic grew more insistent, even wilder than before, and he guessed that his pathetic, curled-up position wouldn't spare anyone for long: the blue of his magic was bubbling, reaching further away from him no matter how hard he tried to keep the wild beast around him, to hurt no one other than him... But he couldn't fight on both battlefields, his own and Asmodeus'. He had to choose whether he ended the dark wizard or tried to stay alive and maintain what little control he still had over himself, before it was too late and his strength of will became a thin, breakable thread.

They should neutralise Asmodeus first... He was too dangerous for Alec to make any different choice. Maybe though, just maybe, it didn't require his own destruction.

"Ma... gnus..." Alec uttered, his voice no more than a weak breath lost in the rain.

He didn't know how the teacher managed to make out the soft whisper but once he caught his attention, Alec directed it to the snarling magic above him, hissing in the air as it tried to find a victim other than the Auror who was resisting as much as he could.

There was another one, right in front of them, a man whose ambitions were threatening everything as they knew it. Alec had lost the fight but other soldiers were still standing and his magic was right there, ripe for the taking, and who better than Magnus to use it? Now that Alec had seen what he could do without his wand, he was certain that Magnus could defeat his father... if his source of energy was powerful enough.

His eyes turned into a plea when Magnus looked confused. He had to be quick, before Asmodeus realised that he, too, could manipulate Alec's renegade magic if he wanted to... Because if he did, there would be no stopping him anymore. When the incomprehension in Magnus' gaze grew into fierce determination, Alec was overwhelmed with more than relief: the absolute certainty that Magnus would make it flooded his veins and if anything, the magic still swirling in the sky became stronger, as if fed by Alec's and Magnus' decision.

"What are you doing?" Asmodeus demanded, his brusque tone betraying his wariness when his son turned away from him to focus on Alec instead. "Magnus?"

"Take it," the Auror whispered, "It's yours."

Magnus nodded and squared his shoulders, before he raised his hands.

"No!" Asmodeus yelled when his son allowed his magic to reach out for Alec's, when he finally grasped what their plan was, "Magnus, don't!"

Too late. Alec welcomed Magnus' warm and refined magic, let it tangle with his own, wild and fearful, until the pain in his joints subdued somewhat, until his became Magnus', theirs, until he felt void of the too-much, of the ache that his tattered magic had created when it was attacked by the Aurors' destroyed configuration. Once he unburdened himself, Alec collapsed, his breathing ragged and laborious.

Magnus didn't even bother to shape the new powers into a spell but he threw all his anger, childhood traumas and regrets into one blow that he delivered with minute precision. It was dangerous, glorious, and a wicked, albeit weak, satisfaction rose inside Alec when Asmodeus screamed in mixed fury and pain and toppled to the ground.

Stunned, shocked and blood trickling from his nose, Asmodeus rolled on his side with a wheeze and leaned on his elbow to flash his son a glare full of hateful admiration. He looked like he wanted to say something but he couldn't, suddenly grimacing and resting his palm flat on his chest, where his robes were torn and his skin bruised, burnt, bloody. As if on cue, hundreds of tiny cuts and slashes appeared on his face and hands, perhaps even all over his body, slowly bleeding.

Hodge didn't wait for the dark wizard to get his footing back, although he probably wouldn't have been able to. In an instant, the Auror aimed his wand forward, fired several arrows in a conjuration spell that Alec vaguely smiled at, when he recognised it as one of his favourites... which was the last thing he could focus on. Millimetre by millimetre, his smile dimmed until his eyes fluttered shut, and he missed what happened afterwards.

He didn't hear how each arrow whistled as it flew in the distance, pierced through the shoulders of Asmodeus' robes and pinned him down - all but one, that Magnus intercepted and changed into a spear without a word, before he marched toward his father with an unreadable expression plastered on his face.

"Magnus, what are you doing?!" Luke exclaimed, following him up close.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Magnus seethed and then, in a whisper that sounded like it was meant more for himself than for anyone else, he added, "He killed my mother. Killed dozens of innocents... Why shouldn't he die, too? The world won't regret him."

"You... can't," Asmodeus snickered in one last show of power, although he was interrupted by a coughing fit that made him spit blood. "You're... my son. You don't want to kill your father... You can't. You don't have... the strength to do it..."

"Shut up," Magnus' voice clacked through the air like thunder, as he tightened his grip around the spear. "You don't know what I can or can't do!"

"Bane!" Hodge's voice cut through the father-and-son conversation, "He belongs to the Ministry of Magic. You don't get to decide of his fate yourself so step aside!"

Magnus didn't answer.

"Magnus, that's enough," Luke insisted, his hand hovering over the teacher's shoulder, hesitant to touch him and risk pushing him into doing something reckless. "You don't want to be like him. You said it yourself, it's..."

"My worst nightmare," he finished in a breath. "Yes."

Magnus lowered his hand. A crease appeared between his eyebrows as he fought against his desire for revenge - wasn't it justice, though? - for a while longer but eventually, his fingers went lax, not enough to drop the spear but enough to show that he didn't intend on using it anymore. His eyes, however, were still set on his father.

"What did I tell you?" Asmodeus murmured, the glint in his eyes still present, still mad, although it was growing less and less focused by the second. "I knew you couldn't do it. You might... have beat me, you didn't do it on your own. You're still weak and..."

Magnus couldn't resist anymore. He jumped on his father before he could utter any other word, quick and swift like a cat surprising its prey, and his fist collided with Asmodeus' face with a loud crack.

"Magnus!" Luke shouted when Asmodeus went down, boneless.

"I didn't kill him," the teacher said, flippant, and he had no doubt that his fist had done far less damage than his magical attack. "Now you deal with him. I don't ever want to see him again."

"Incarcerous!" Hodge exclaimed at once, thick ropes bursting from the tip of his wand to wrap themselves around Asmodeus' body. "Consider it done. I'll just wait for the back-up from the Ministry, they should have gotten the message I sent from the castle by now..."

He'd better be safe than sorry, so Hodge reached into one of the many pockets of his Auror robes and pulled out a pair of shackles that were engraved with runes meant to block a wizard's ability for wandless magic. Asmodeus might be unconscious for now but Hodge didn't look forward to having him wake up without some kind of assurance that the dark wizard wouldn't try anything against him.

"I'm going to cancel the interdiction to Apparate on school grounds for a short while," Luke commented as he helped the Auror to manacle Asmodeus, "It should be easier to get him back to Azkaban. Or St Mungo's first."

"Do what you have to," Magnus told them, "I'll take care of the wounded."

On these words, he straightened up but hesitated for a moment, before he ended up taking his wand out again. He had a reason for not using wandless magic when he could avoid it and he didn't want to make a habit out of it now that he'd been forced to play that game to defeat his father.

"Expecto Patronum," he said with his wand pointed at the castle.

His thoughts went to Catarina as he watched his Caracal take off to warn his friend that the whole range of her skills would be much needed tonight. Perhaps they would even need to organise an urgent transfer to St Mungo's, if Cat's talents weren't enough...

Magnus slowly turned. He wasn't sure whom to tend to first; his heart was lurching in his chest, screaming at him to drop everything and run to Alec who had grown worryingly quiet for a while, but then he felt guilty for not even minding Raj who had been so clearly injured too. Eventually, he levitated them both and strode toward the castle, his wand up and keeping the two Aurors horizontal in the air. They looked terrible, pale and sickly, except for Raj's arm that was still glowing red.

Magnus' free hand curled into a fist. He hated his father for being responsible for so many horrors, so much hurt... He could forgive Asmodeus' attempts at making him stray from the right path but torturing and killing the people he cared about and loved? Never. He was aware that killing his father in return wasn't a solution but the temptation had been so, so great... It scared him.

Scarier was the prospect of Alexander dying, though. He didn't dare to look at him too closely, for fear of what he would find on his beautiful face. He was breathing, barely, but it had to be enough for now. How long would it be enough? What he had seen... The powers he'd used, taken from Alec with his permission, should have killed the young man. They probably had come close to and Magnus dreaded to think of what could have happened if he hadn't thrown the rebellious magic in his father's face but let it feed on Alec. He shuddered and sped up along the path.

The teacher wasn't surprised to find students in the hall when he passed the doors, their faces a rainbow of expressions from fear to excitement to curiosity. Their eyes widened when they settled on the two bodies that Magnus' magic was still keeping in the air.

"Is that Professor Lightwood?" one of the kids whispered - and it was like a powder trail, catching fire and spreading flames through the gathered crowd.


"Is he dead?"

"What happened?"


It didn't go without difficulty but the students eventually cleared the place, encouraged by a few smarter students who a) didn't look forward to detention and b) had noticed that Alexander and Raj needed medical help and decided not to stay in the way.

"QUIETUS," Ragnor then said, pointing at his own throat with his wand, and his voice took back its usual volume. "Here, let me help."

Magnus gladly transferred Raj into Ragnor's care. He hadn't noticed before, plagued with worry as he was, but the hand holding his wand was shaking with exhaustion and having one less body to lift was a welcome change.

"Sorry I couldn't come down," his old friend muttered. "Kids were running all around the place, saw the flashes of your spells... Maia and I had to stop a few from going out and see what the ruckus was about. You won? Are you okay?"

"Yes," Magnus answered.

Ragnor cast him a sharp glance at his curt answer, though he didn't add anything. However, given how well he knew Magnus, the teacher had no doubt that he didn't quite believe him. Right now, though, it was true: he was truly all right but perhaps he wouldn't be anymore once he took the time to slow down and think about everything that had happened. But not now. Someone else needed his entire focus.

"Here," Catarina said as soon as they arrived in the hospital wing, "Lay them here."

She pointed at two freshly-made beds, where Ragnor and Magnus carefully deposited their precious burdens. While the Herbology teacher stepped back from Raj as soon as he was lying on the soft sheets and made room for Cat, Magnus couldn't move away from Alec. The beautiful hazel shades of his eyes were covered by a glassy veil and when Magnus gently, cautiously grabbed his hand, he felt nothing but icy skin.

"Come back," he whispered, a thick lump stuck in his throat and mangling his words, "Please, come back..."

He hadn't understood how bad the young Auror had it, nor what he truly meant when he said that he could lose control... Magnus had seen the aborted attack on Lorenzo and the one against Jonathan Morgenstern on the wall in the classroom but he'd thought... He'd thought Alec couldn't control his reactions in a situation of danger, not his own magic. He'd never been afraid, because he trusted his own powers and believed he could block Alec's instinctive attacks if needed and now... Now he was afraid, though not for himself. He was afraid that Alec might hurt himself, or worse, but how could Magnus help him?

Mister Stache helped with the nightmares and the anxiety, Magnus knew that, but what could he do, in his cat form or otherwise, to settle Alec's powers down? He'd already started to visit Alexander less and less under his Animagus features because he couldn't bear the weight of his own guilt at the thought that he was tricking the Auror, who knew nothing about Mister Stache's identity, and he couldn't find the courage in himself to just tell him.

"Move, Magnus," Cat told him without heat but without much kindness either, too focused on her patient to care about Magnus' feelings in this very instant.

The Transfiguration teacher stumbled back, until he bumped into Ragnor's solid and reassuring form. He nearly curled into his old friend's arms to cry but he resisted the urge - Alexander's healing process had no need for his tears - and he refused to budge when Ragnor tried to steer him away from Alec's mattress. Magnus was still holding onto Alec's hand.

"Come on," Ragnor urged him on in hushed tones, "We should let Catarina work. Besides, you need to rest and be taken care of too."


Magnus couldn't leave Alec. He was fine himself, albeit a bit bruised and, if he thought about it for a few seconds, shocked, but he wasn't the one in critical need for medical attention.

"I'll send for you if anything happens," Cat said at once, without even looking at him, "Good or bad."

It wasn't a comforting prospect but at least he would know - ignorance was worse after all - and Magnus slumped against Ragnor. He could not do anything to help either Cat or Alec right now anyway, he would be more of an hindrance than anything else and if she hadn't thrown him out yet, it was only because she knew that he needed a moment, some time to comprehend that Alec had well and truly made it down to the last step, had used his last drop of energy to stall for time and give them the opportunity to take Asmodeus down.

"Come," Ragnor repeated.

Magnus' heart broke in two when he had to let go of Alec's hand and walk away from him.

Chapter Text

Alec didn't realise that he was waking up. First there was nothing and the next second, he could hear soft footfalls padding across the place - what place, where was he? - the gentle clinks of glass phials one was putting down onto furniture, and he even made out unhurried swoosh's as silent spells were cast. Sound came back before all else and then, touch and scent followed at their own, slow pace. The room smelled like miscellaneous plants, not the kind that decorated houses and clean gardens but rather the sort that healed, and his nose detected whiffs of different odours, either pleasant like that of lavender or smelly like those that made up the medicines Alec would never manage to taste without scrunching his nose up.

The caress of cotton on his bare chest distracted him from the smells around the room and it almost coaxed him into opening his eyes to see where he was. Almost. He felt so good right now, lying comfortably on a mattress that was neither too soft nor too firm beneath his back, and his body was warm. He couldn't be under a heating spell, Alec realised when he focused long enough to notice that not his whole body felt hot but only his right side, warmed by something tiny and fluffy pressed against his ribs.

Alec opened his eyes when the softest of breaths tickled his skin under the blanket and his disoriented brain needed a moment to recognise the decor around him. The hospital wing? He felt like he'd turned into Archer as he blinked a few times and willed the high ceiling above him to stop spinning like that. He'd made fun of his eagle-owl before, mimicking his sluggishness whenever he closed his eyes but Merlin, he would never do it again. His head hurt.

Everything hurt, come to think of it. Muscles he hadn't believed existed, nerves he hadn't even fathomed could be that important, bones that had never felt so fragile before... Well, he felt them all with sharp intensity, now. Almost drowned into the vast ocean of dull but pulsing pain then came the light breath again. When he tried to lift the blanket to peek at what was happening beneath it, his arms were so heavy and hard to move that Alec nearly gave up on satisfying his curiosity.

Admonishing himself for his own weakness, he soldiered on and eventually managed to negotiate with his screaming muscles until he could catch sight of his own abdomen if he strained his neck a little. A tired but genuine smile lit up his pale face when he found Mister Stache curled against his ribs and fast asleep, his slow breath quiet and warm upon his skin.

Alec rested his head back on the pillow with a heart about to burst, as it was filled with so much gratitude for the presence of the little animal and the overwhelming affection he seemed to have for his human friend. Mister Stache had grown into the guardian of his nights, fending off the dreadful aftermath of nightmares, and now he apparently watched over his convalescence with the same dedication.

"Welcome back, Alec," a voice said to his left.

The Auror slowly turned his head, feeling sheepish as he finally noticed Catarina who was sitting not far from his bed, a grin on her lips. He didn't think his mind was playing tricks on him as he noted that besides the obvious joy at the fact that he was awake, that smile mostly betrayed extreme relief. He had no idea how badly injured he'd been when he'd ended up in the hospital wing but he remembered fighting Asmodeus just fine and judging by Catarina's expression, she'd doubted he would make it through in one piece.

"H... Hey," he croaked out, pulling a face when his voice came out harsh, grating, and felt like dry sand in his throat.

"How are you feeling?" Catarina asked, though the contrite smile her grin turned into meant that she had a good idea.

Alec weakly rolled his shoulders in what could have passed as a shrug. Where to begin? His body was aching, he knew as much, though he couldn't quite explain in which ways... He felt drained, as if he'd consumed all his energy and couldn't quite build it up again. Also, his brain was still half-asleep, as it seemed, for he couldn't quite recall the details of Asmodeus' attack on the school. A hazy thought was nagging at the back of his mind, as if he was forgetting about someone or something important, that he should have been worried about as soon as he opened his eyes...

"R... aj," he suddenly remembered, and he coughed when his friend's name got stuck in his throat. "Raj?"

"He's fine," Catarina reassured him at once. "I stabilised him when Ragnor and Magnus brought you here... but he had to spend a week at St Mungo's."

Alec let out a deep breath, halfway between relief and dread upon hearing that his best friend had been so badly wounded that even Catarina had preferred to bring him into the care of the Healers at St Mungo's. Wait. One week?

"What... day...?" he wondered, so exhausted that he didn't even managed to form the whole question, and he grew a bit worried when Catarina pursed her lips.

"November the twenty-fifth. You've been here for roughly a week... after you spent two other weeks at St Mungo's."

Alec gasped. Three weeks?! Three weeks since Asmodeus' attack and he'd been out the whole time? Merlin's balls. Why had he spent such a long time at St Mungo's? He was confused, he couldn't remember quite yet what had happened precisely... He grasped that he'd been wounded, given his presence in the hospital wing and the extreme exhaustion that was weighing down on his shoulders, and frankly, he wasn't surprised: Asmodeus had been so powerful... but what had he done to him, that justified such a long time spent in a bed? An insidious little voice whispered to his ear that Asmodeus hadn't put him in this situation but himself and Alec shook his head to ignore it. No. He didn't remember. He didn't want to remember.

Alec shifted on the mattress until he could pull down the blanket a bit and his hand softly landed on the back of Mister Stache in search of comfort, the warmth of his tiny body reassuring and appeasing. The cat didn't stir, as if Alec's touch didn't bother him, and it reminded him of Magnus, Magnus who wasn't scared to hold his hand and be close to him, Magnus who'd even wanted to kiss him, once upon a time... Alec suddenly wondered if he still wanted to.

There were more pressing matters at hand though, matters he should focus on before he fell asleep again. Namely, he had to ask how Magnus was faring, he who had been forced to fight his own father. That, Alec remembered: the way the teacher had protected him, pushed him away from Asmodeus' spells... Perhaps he'd dreamed it, but Alec thought he'd seen his eyes glow golden too, like his father.

"Magnus?" he finally whispered with a glance to Catarina.

The gaze she set on him, on his hand running through Mister Stache's fur, was tender and full of affection, though a hint of frustration managed to cloud the gleam in her eyes.

"Tired," she answered. "The first week was awful for him. Asmodeus' arrest was all over the newspapers, he was angry all the time... and you weren't there."

Alec's heart gave a painful beat. To think that Magnus had always been there for him and the one time the teacher needed him, he wasn't there... How long would he keep disappointing Magnus?

"I'm sorry," he mumbled.

"It wasn't a reproach, Alec," Catarina said softly when she realised how he'd taken her comment. "I meant that... you were at St Mungo's for two weeks and every night, Magnus would Apparate to ask if he could spend the night by your side. Every night, he got the same answer: you were in a critical condition and no one could stay with you, lest it get worse. He was growing desperate."

His head was spinning. Alec remembered the pain, a pain so atrocious he'd thought he was going to die. He'd even hoped for it, so that he wouldn't feel such agony anymore... He'd come close to it.

"As soon as you were transferred here," Catarina added, with a smile this time, "the hospital wing became Magnus' new home. He hasn't left your side the whole week - Luke agreed to teach a few of his classes - and he won't go even when I tell him to get some rest. He sleeps here, too."

Yet, right now, he wasn't there, Alec thought, a bit drowsy as he blinked and needed to fight harder to keep his eyelids open. A shame. He wanted to check that Magnus was doing okay with his own two eyes and talk to him. Maybe he would be in luck the next time he woke up? In the meantime, he needed Catarina to play the messenger.

"When you see him," he whispered, his sight already blurry as he burrowed deeper into the pillow beneath his head, "Tell him I'm sorry... for the cake. I was looking forward... to eat it with hi..."

Alec fell asleep mid-sentence. Next to him, Catarina shook her head and glanced between her patient and her friend, his cat-self snuggled up close to Alec's ribs, as far as possible from the edge of the mattress. Alec's hand had slipped down next to him, as if to make sure he wouldn't fall off.

"Bunch of idiots," she grumbled.

The next time Alec woke up, he suddenly feared he'd gone back in time and was still but a teenager living at his parents' place: the worried faces of Max, his mother and Izzy suddenly appeared above his head, while Jace and their dad remained where they were standing, a bit further away from his bed, talking to Catarina and... Oh, Magnus was there too.

"Ugh," he groaned, unable to say anything else and a bit stunned at the sight.

"Hi, Alec," Izzy said, and he was glad her voice was soft and quiet.

He was confused for a second as he didn't know how she'd guessed that his head hurt, before he suddenly remembered that his sister was a Healer and probably had a better idea than even he had, about the potential consequences of his injuries and the symptoms he would feel while he tried to get better. As he carefully sat up, Alec really, really hoped her fellow Healers had taken care of him at St Mungo's and left Isabelle out of it: no one should have to go through the trouble of witnessing their big brother hang between life and death and be responsible for his survival. That wouldn't be fair.

"You're all here?" he wondered quietly once he was settled, leaning against his pillow, and he carefully glanced around the room and at his family.

Mister Stache wasn't there anymore, however. He'd probably been bothered by the sudden crowd surrounding Alec and left to find a more tranquil spot to nap.

"Of course," his mother answered, a tone higher than Isabelle, and Alec winced when the inside of his skull vibrated at her loud words, as if they'd been a hammer striking his head. "Miss Loss came by our place with the Floo this early morning to tell us that you'd woken up, so we immediately departed for Hogsmeade. We've rented a room at the Three Broomsticks to visit you more easily and stay with you for a while."

This morning... So little time had passed since he'd first opened his eyes? Alec felt like he'd slept for a thousand years. Judging by the concerned faces and red eyes looking at him, they'd probably thought that he would never wake up.

"You scared me," Max whispered with a very small voice, brittle, and Alec's heart broke for him. "When I saw Professor Bane carry you in the hall, I thought..."

The teenager shut up, drawing a shuddering breath while tears welled up in his eyes. Alec himself felt close to cry as he witnessed his little brother's pain and fear.

"Come here," he said, slowly lifting his arm so Max could duck under it and cuddle his brother.

Max hugged him tight and though it hurt a little, Alec let him. He understood. Max needed to feel that he was really there with him, warm and alive. He placed his hand on his brother's head, messing his hair up as he pressed him even closer. In front of him, his mother looked as if she was fighting not to cry as well and Alec's eyes widened. Maryse Lightwood never shed a tear.

Well, that wasn't exactly true. She'd cried, the day he'd been rescued from Jonathan's hands and brought into St Mungo's. He had not seen her tears, as he had been close to death at the time, but Izzy had filled in the blanks for him. He'd missed a month or so at the time, his body too exhausted and his mind too scarred to wake up earlier.


Alec's breathing hitched as he abruptly connected a few dots. Three weeks asleep and battling for his life. His body drained, aching, weak. Blue rays of magic bursting out of his chest... Alec let go of Max, staring at him, them, Magnus, in horror. He remembered.

"I did it again," he gasped, and he tried to curl on himself to seem smaller, make himself less dangerous for his friends and his family as the dreadful realisation dawned upon him. "I lost control..."

"You were attacked," Magnus nuanced at once, his voice soft but firm, as if he'd expected Alec to blame himself and couldn't allow him to - Merlin, no, the Auror didn't want their first conversation after Asmodeus to be this, he wanted to make sure that Magnus was fine, not for the teacher to worry about him and have to comfort him once again. "Your magic reacted."

"What do you mean, you lost control?" Max wondered with a curious look at his older brother, who suddenly remembered that neither he nor his parents and siblings had given the teenager an exhaustive version about what had happened with Jonathan. No one even knew about the most gruesome details actually, save for Raj.

"Maybe we should discuss this at another time," Jace suddenly interfered, coming closer to the bed until he could squeeze Max' shoulder and subtly urge him to step back and give their brother some space. "You need to rest some more. We can come back tomorrow, now that we know you're awake and... well."

Jace grimaced at that last word and Alec nodded at the apology in his eyes. They both knew he wasn't well but they would both pretend, for Max' sake.

"Good idea," Catarina chimed in rather innocently, at the same time as Alec started to yawn. "It would be better for him."

"Yeah," Jace insisted with a forced smile, still too worried about the Auror to make it completely genuine, "I didn't come back from Finland to have you falling asleep on me!"

"You're missing the Quidditch season for me?" Alec asked with a tiny smile. "How generous of you."

"Only one match," Jace shot back with a wink, "but that's still a huge sacrifice. The things I do for my big brother, eh?"

Alec smiled, grateful for his brother who was trying to lift the mood with his humour rather than make it even more dramatic like his parents and their long faces. Unwilling to put his family at risk, drawing peace from Jace's teasing, the Auror forced himself to push back the panic that had risen in his belly at the dreadful realisation of what he'd done and he managed to relax a little.

With any luck, he was still too weak to lose control at all: he wouldn't dare use his magic right now but even if he did, he wasn't sure that anything would happen. The magic inside him felt dormant, just as exhausted as him and probably not too eager to turn into a wild tornado again, not so soon after its last outburst. Perhaps it was safe to be with his family at the moment... but it wouldn't last long. Although Alec was glad that they'd made the trip to Hogsmeade to be closer to him, he was also relieved when they bid him goodbye and slowly trickled out of the hospital wing. He wasn't selfish, he tried to convince himself while flashing his father a tired smile when Robert squeezed his arm, before leaving. He just didn't want to endanger anyone... What if his weakness was not enough to rein in his devastating abilities? What if he could control himself even less than he usually did? What if this attack had lasting consequences over his self-control, what about his students? Should he even keep his job?

Standing by the foot of the bed, Magnus seemed to hesitate as he glanced between Alec and his family, who clearly didn't expect him to stay when they had to leave. The Auror was tempted to hold him back, to apologise for his broken promise and plead for forgiveness, but he was too tired for that and eventually, Catarina's glare made her friend understand that he had to go, too. Maybe Magnus would finally get some sleep in the comfort of his own bedroom instead of the hospital wing.

Good for him, Alec thought, but he suddenly felt cold as he was left alone, alone with his fears and imprecise memories he was scared to delve into.

The next few days and nights didn't give him the chance to ignore what had happened and eventually, Alec was forced to face the truth: he'd lost every shred of control he had over his magic and himself that night. Well, almost. He had managed not to kill anyone, at least, himself included. He remembered fighting side by side with Hodge, Raj, Luke... and sharing his magic with Magnus. He blamed himself for it. What had he been thinking? It could have killed him...

Three days after waking up for the first time, Alec had yet to see Magnus and have a long discussion with him. The teacher had finally taken his classes back from Luke, according to Max, who came by to check on his brother whenever he had a free minute. Alec reckoned that Magnus had only given up on staying with him because Maryse and Robert spent a lot of time around the hospital wing now that their son was awake at normal hours, and he didn't want to intrude on Alec's time with his family - or face awkward questions about the reason behind his constant presence by their son's side.

To be honest, his parents were dotting on him more than they'd ever had in his life before and Alec wasn't sure this was a change he appreciated. When he discussed it with Jace and Izzy, they agreed to say that it was terrifying.

"Mum, especially," Jace commented, his hand down the box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans a third-year student had gifted Alec to wish him a good recovery. "I've never seen her more emotional than she is right now."

"You forget the year Max was born," Izzy shot back at the same time as she stole the box from her brother, "Accio!"

"Hey! I wasn't done!"

"It's supposed to be mine," Alec reminded them on a stern tone, though he was smiling.

He had almost forgotten what it was like to spend time with his siblings and enjoy himself. He knew he wasn't supposed to, that he had to be cautious around people, but... Jace and Izzy made it hard to remember.

"Ew, dirty sock!" his sister exclaimed and spat the bean, which vanished with a swirl of her wand that Alec glanced at with envy.

He hadn't dared to use his wand since he'd waken up, though it was resting on the bedside table and easy to access.

"That's karma, hahaha!" Jace laughed at Isabelle, until she hexed him where it hurt. "Ouch! Izzy! I'm supposed to fly on a broom in two days!"


Besides his siblings and his parents' visits, Alec was touched when Milo shyly made his way to him. Plenty of students had been impressed by his exploits, that hadn't been kept secret: still according to Max, Luke had addressed the students and teachers the morning after Asmodeus' arrest and had explained that Professor Lightwood played a major role in the success of the operation and that without him, Asmodeus would have reached the castle... He didn't dare to imagine what could have happened, then.

Thankfully, Luke had kept the details under wraps, so that no one but those who had fought Asmodeus knew what had happened. Nevertheless, students had taken it upon themselves to help Alec recover as fast as possible and they seemed to think that showering him with sweets from Honeydukes was the best way to do so. Out of respect for Alec's privacy, Catarina kept the students away from him but collected the gifts with great pleasure, too happy to witness Alec's horrified face at the sheer amount of Chocolate Frogs he was receiving day after day.

For Milo, however, she made an exception and allowed him inside the hospital wing but only because Alec recognised his voice and told Catarina to let him in. He didn't regret it: the young man looked really happy to see him, as well as relieved, and if he seemed rather hesitant when he gave Alec a small package wrapped in colourful papers, the Auror didn't mention it and unwrapped the gift at once instead. Speechless when he collected the snow globe in his hand, he turned wide eyes toward Milo.

"You made this?" he asked in wonder.

"Y... Yes," the young man answered, "I... I tried to make it as realistic as I could. I... I saw your Patronus the other day, when... Well, you know. Seb helped me do it."

"I take it everything's going well with your boyfriend?"

"Yes," Milo squeaked, his cheeks flushing, "and it's kinda thanks to you, so... We wanted to do something nice for you."

"Thank you," Alec said and carefully settled the glass sphere on his bedside table, his throat dry. "It is beautiful... and very thoughtful of you both."

When Milo left, Alec took the snow globe in his hand again. Inside, Milo and his boyfriend had managed to create a miniaturised tiger, that roared and rose on its hind legs before running around the edge of the glass or jumping to catch snowflakes. Milo and Sebastian probably meant to cheer him up only, perhaps show their admiration too, who knew, but Alec didn't think they realised just how much he'd needed to be reminded of such an accomplishment, after he'd struggled for so long to cast his Patronus... There he had it though, the proof that he was still capable of creating beautiful and pure magic.

As his siblings and his parents had their own lives to go back to, in London, in Finland and wherever else, they bid him goodbye on a misty morning of December, not without making him promise to write as soon as he could and consider to visit during the Christmas holidays.

With their absence, Alec was starting to get bored in the hospital wing, until Catarina told him that he could finally go back to his own chambers and usual activities - though she forbade him from even thinking about teaching again this week. He tried to argue that he felt better now, physically at least, and he was five weeks into his convalescence so surely he could...

"I will tie you to this bed if I hear you've put one toe into your classroom," she threatened him, deadly serious, and Alec raised his hands in surrender.

After all, perhaps it was better like this for now... He had yet to cast a spell and assess the damage he could make while doing so.

That evening, he packed a bag of all the sweets he hadn't been able to eat during the past weeks without risking an indigestion and headed for his chambers, where he had the pleasant surprise to find a lively fire already burning in the fireplace and, standing next to it and carrying a tray in his hands...

"Magnus?" he gasped.

"Surprise?" the teacher said with a smile, that looked somewhat unsure. "I hope it's okay that I..."

Magnus trailed off and glanced around, encompassing the hearth and the fire that had made the room warm and cosy, as well as the chocolate cake on the tray. He shouldn't accept this. He could be dangerous still, especially for Magnus who always came so close to him, to his heart, but... He was tired of denying himself what he truly wanted, exhausted to keep his guard up all the time. Couldn't he have this evening?

Alec let out a strangled laugh and dropped his bag in the corner by the door.

"It's more than okay," he answered at last, "I've wanted to talk to you since..."

"I know. I... was looking forward to it, too."

They didn't need words to settle on Alec's bed like they'd done it before, so long ago it seemed, before Asmodeus arrived at Hogwarts, before the Auror ran away to London. Magnus smiled as he used a spell to cut the cake, his joy so obvious at the prospect of sharing it with Alec that it was enough for the Auror to start talking, blurting out a lot of words he'd meant to say to Magnus for weeks.

"I'm sorry about last time," he whispered while staring at the cake, too ashamed to look Magnus in the eye. "We were supposed to have lunch together and I left you alone without even sending you a note, I... I feel terrible about that. I should have..."

"Alexander," Magnus interrupted him, a crease between his eyebrows, "Don't think that I don't want to talk about it but... I feel like I've just found you again. Can we just... eat this cake before anything else? Apologies, explanations... There will be time for all of that later, don't you think?"

Surprised but glad at the same time that they could have this one last moment of peace, Alec nodded and they both smiled at each other before digging in their plates. The smiles stayed on their lips. There was something in the air, Alec mused, a feeling the Auror couldn't quite pinpoint... Something had changed, as if the brief sharing of their magic, as their powers became tangled, had brought them closer without their notice, as if they didn't really need words to understand each other anymore.

Magnus' smile had seemed softer, more intimate, and he knew he'd answered in kind. His fingers brushed the teacher's mouth when he smeared chocolate at the left corner of his lips and Magnus allowed the touch to linger just a few seconds, long enough to make Alec's heart beat faster but also short enough not to make any of them feel pressured to do something.

As they ate, Alec asked Magnus about the students. Most of them were tired and looking forward to the holidays and from what he'd heard, they were waiting for Alec to return with growing impatience, which was quite gratifying to hear. He knew that his job didn't consist in being liked by the students but teaching them, though it didn't hurt to know they actually enjoyed his class.

"We should do this more often," Alec commented once his belly was full and satiated. "This is nice."

"I was hoping you'd like the surprise," Magnus said softly, glad that his plan had worked out. "Cat gave me your message, so I thought... I didn't know how you would react to this, to be honest. She said you were still pretty out of it when you told her about the cake..."

"I was sincere, though," Alec answered, "and I meant what I said earlier. I was... I had to go, that night. Patrolling set me on edge and I... I was afraid I would hurt someone if I didn't but... that doesn't justify leaving you without saying anything. I felt so guilty and I didn't know how to face you because..."

"There's nothing to be ashamed of," Magnus gently said. "You did what you thought was best for everyone..."

"Was it the best for you?" Alec shot back, before he answered his own question in part, "Maybe, because my absence protected you but you, how did you feel?"

Magnus looked at him in silence, his expression unsure until Alec encouraged him to talk with a nod. He could take it, he thought fiercely, even if Magnus told him that he'd hated him for not fulfilling his promise. Maybe he deserved his hatred, or at least some resentment or disappointment. He'd let Magnus down.

"Since you want to know," the teacher started, "at first I found it... kind of funny, actually. Not in a bad way! I thought you'd overslept, since you'd had such a hard time the previous day and I didn't want to bother you - you needed the rest. So I waited for you but then... time went by and you still didn't come. When I knocked on your door and you didn't answer... I started to panic."

Alec closed his eyes, overwhelmed with regrets. Just as he'd feared... Magnus had been worried about him. Far from feeling happy about the importance he held to Magnus' eyes, the fact that his selfish behaviour was responsible for the teacher's panic only made him feel miserable.

"I... I'm so sorry," he murmured, his throat tight, the sorrowful words choking him. "It wasn't my intention."

"I know," Magnus answered.

His left hand travelled up the bed sheets in a slow movement, akin to a caress, until his fingers found Alec's and stayed there, squeezing his hand to comfort him.

"I eventually found Luke," the teacher added. "He didn't know we were supposed to meet, or he'd have warned me earlier. He told me you'd had to leave for.. safety matters, I believe? It didn't quite reassure me, to be honest."

Alec sighed, a deep and sad breath that came from the abysses of his soul. He had so many things to atone for... and Magnus didn't seem to be mad at him. How? He wasn't a stranger to anger, Alec had seen it burn within him when Magnus had fought against his father. Magnus trusted him, though. It made him do strange things.

"I'm sorry," he repeated, his apology sincere even though the words sounded void of any meaning now, after he'd said them so many times. "Magnus, I can't... I can't promise you it won't happen again. Sometimes I need to run away, even from the people I care about the most, because... because I care and I wouldn't bear to hurt any of you. I'm so scared of what I could do to you, to anyone, that... sometimes I feel like I can't breathe at all."

"You have never hurt me," Magnus declared, his voice a bit louder and his grip tighter around his hand, as if to drive the point home - but Alec was thick-headed.

"Not physically," he protested, "but don't pretend it didn't hurt that I wasn't there that Saturday morning, because I won't believe you."

"It did," Magnus admitted, "and then it didn't. Luke found a cake in a bag by the gates when... he took care of the bodies of Auror Verlac and Auror Armstrong. It didn't take a genius to figure out you'd brought it to Hogwarts and so I knew... I knew this lunch we should have had meant as much to you as it did to me."

Alec closed his eyes. It was useless to argue with Magnus, wasn't it? He might as well switch topics... He didn't know what he'd done to deserve such a good man in his life, one who supported him through the hardships and forgave him when he was being an idiot.

"I suppose I missed the funeral?" he whispered quietly.

Magnus nodded.

"The Daily Prophet wrote about the ceremony," he said. "They were both decorated by Minister Herondale."

The teacher hesitated, as if he wanted to add something else, but he seemed to think better of it and didn't utter any other word. Though curious, Alec chose to trust Magnus' judgement: maybe he didn't need to know more.

"Enough about me," he decided, "Tell me about you. How are you feeling? Don't believe I forgot you fought, too..."

He trailed off but couldn't hide a worried glance at Magnus. How did he feel about hexing his father and helping Aurors drag him back to Azkaban? The atrocities the man had committed didn't change the fact that he was Magnus' father.

"I'm glad he's back behind bars," the teacher said, as if he'd read his mind and knew exactly what Alec meant. "Some days I can barely believe we managed to do something like this, it was so crazy! It's a relief but it hasn't been easy to... come to terms with it. I wanted to kill him, you know? For everything he did, for my mother, for all the victims... Luke talked me out of it, though."

"I'm glad he did and you listened," Alec confessed. "Vengeance wouldn't have made you feel better about what happened."

Jonathan had tried to avenge his mother. It had only brought him more pain. Vengeance was just a way out for the anger and hatred but once it was accomplished and these dangerous feelings left you, what remained? What happened to people who lived for vengeance only, once it was over? They lingered, purposeless and empty, with no idea how to move on and what to do. This couldn't happen to Magnus.

"It wasn't about vengeance," Magnus told him, "not really. I just wanted... I still think he deserved to die but the sentence wasn't mine to pass. He used to decide who died and who lived, back when he started killing people. I've never wanted to be like him."

"Is that why you never use your wandless magic?" Alec couldn't help but wonder aloud.

Magnus' magic had felt so warm and gentle against his own sharp-edged and shattered power that he didn't really understand why the teacher didn't explore these abilities he had more often. He had been so surprised, impressed too, when Magnus had attacked his father without his wand! However, a shadow fell upon Magnus' eyes upon hearing the question and Alec backtracked as fast as he could, feeling guilty for even asking. It was none of his business and if Magnus didn't want to talk about it, the least Alec could do was respecting the teacher's wish to keep his secrets.

"Forget it," he blurted out, "I shouldn't pry, don't answer that."

"I don't mind telling you," Magnus shrugged. "I inherited my powers from Asmodeus. It flows in my blood, just like it does in his and did in his father's and his father's before him. They weren't all good people. There's a reason we've always made it into Slytherin."

"You can't seriously believe that Slytherin is made of bad people only!" Alec protested.

"No, of course not," Magnus answered, and Alec remembered that Quidditch match when the teacher had told him he had always been proud of being a Slytherin, and he believed it. "Though at a time, it did, and my family is very ancient. Anyway, as the tradition commended it, I learned to use this ability."

"Your father trained you?" Alec asked, his guts churning with unease as he remembered Asmodeus' proposal to join him in exchange for teaching him to control his powers.

"Yes... and he made me do terrible things."

Alec didn't ask for details. He didn't want to know, not when Magnus' expression clearly showed that he didn't want to remember that part of his early childhood.

"It's in my blood," Magnus repeated, "which is why I don't use this magic... often. Not at all, if I can avoid it. I'm afraid the temptation to exploit these powers to the actual length of their potential, as my father would say, would be too great. I'd rather not venture on that path."

Alec frowned at the words. Did Magnus have so little faith in himself, that he doubted he would be able to resist the poisonous call of such powers? He guessed that was wisdom speaking and he agreed that it was a sensible choice not to look for the temptation in the first place but he couldn't bear to think that Magnus didn't trust himself a bit more. If he had to be the one to comfort the teacher on that point, he would gladly do it - and before he realised it, he raised his free hand to cup Magnus' cheek.

"I respect that," he whispered, his thumb caressing Magnus' soft skin in slow circles. "I need you to know, though... You're nothing like him or... or your terrible ancestors. You're a good man. Probably the best one I know."

He smiled when Magnus blushed and his eyes sparkled, but as the teacher looked down in sudden embarrassment, Alec let go at once. He didn't want to make him feel uncomfortable.

"I'm not sure I'm such a good man," Magnus whispered.

"It doesn't matter," Alec shot back, "I know."

Magnus shook his head like a stubborn kid and Alec snorted. So he was supposed to agree whenever the teacher told him that he wasn't dangerous and didn't scare him but Alec couldn't praise him in the slightest? Unfair... and a bit weird, too. Magnus had always accepted his compliments with a smile before. Did something change?

"Do you... do you have exactly the same abilities as Asmodeus?" he slowly enquired, unwilling to dig deeper if Magnus would rather drop this conversation.

"My father's magic is... unique," the teacher snorted, "and while he did teach me, I haven't practiced in a very long time. I'd say I'm less strong than he is, why?"

"He said he could see my magic," Alec mumbled, his heart growing heavy in his chest as he remembered Asmodeus' golden eyes and his assurance that the Auror's wandless magic had been triggered - looks like it was wild and painful. "Can you?"

"I could," Magnus answered with furrowed brows, curious as to why Alec was asking this, "but I never looked. I'd never scan you like this without your consent, as it would be... quite intimate. You felt it, when our powers collided?"

"Yes..." the younger man whispered, "It was strange. Not in a bad way, though. It felt... comforting. It numbed the pain a little."

"I'm glad."

"I'm not," Alec sighed, "I shouldn't have done it. You didn't have to shoulder that devastating power."

Alec regretted it even more now that he knew just how much the teacher feared to become like his dad if he manipulated a magic too powerful for him to resist. He'd tempted him and Magnus, to defeat his father, to keep Alec alive, had overstepped his own boundaries without the slightest hesitation.

"What are you talking about?" Magnus asked, "I did what I had to do - we both did. What other choice did you have? Don't tell me you'd rather have died!"

Alec didn't answer. He'd prayed for death to come, that was true, because he hadn't thought he could survive the pain - and if he'd had to choose between dying and surviving but killing his friends in the process, the decision would have been easy to make. Now that he was there though, holding Magnus' hand on his bed, he was glad to be alive.

"It could have killed you," Alec whispered, "I could have killed you. You and I were lucky you could handle all that raw magic."

"You saved us all, Alexander," Magnus asserted. "We got lucky. Lucky you had such power at your disposal, lucky you were strong and brave enough to withstand it for so long, and lucky you had the idea to transfer it to me. You did nothing wrong."

"I almost did, though," he confessed, looking away from Magnus who had not once faltered in his determination to fight his father, unlike him. "Asmodeus suggested that I should... join his side. He promised he could teach me to control myself, my powers, and for a moment, I... I considered it, Magnus. Not for long, but I did. Even now, I have half a mind to go to Azkaban and tell him yes. It's... The pain... It was so intense. I know I would do anything not to feel it again - perhaps even compromising myself."

"You won't have to," Magnus whispered as he took both of Alec's hands in his own and made the words sound like a promise. "You won't have to see Asmodeus again, you won't have to suffer again... Alexander, I can teach you."

Alec's whole world came to a stop.

"You... What? Can you?" he asked, his voice weak. "You... you would?"

"Yes," Magnus answered. "I've never done it before but I went through that training and I know what matters for absolute control. Besides, according to quite a few students, I'm an excellent teacher."

Alec laughed.

"Quite a lot of students, actually," he corrected.

"You said it, not me," Magnus teased, eliciting one more bark of laughter from Alec.

"Are you sure, though?" the Auror couldn't help but ask after a minute. "Shouldn't you want to stay away from me now that I showed you..."

"Move," Magnus interrupted him all of a sudden and gently smacked his thigh when Alec only looked at him in confusion, "Come on, move over!"

Bewildered, Alec obeyed and watched with wide eyes Magnus turn his clothes into pyjama's and slip beneath the sheets, though not before levitating their plates to the bedside table to avoid any disaster.

"W... What are you doing?" the Auror stammered.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Magnus shot back with a bold wink. "Spending the night, to prove you I'm not scared of you. Unless you send me packing, of course."

There was a challenge in those eyes and Alec suddenly realised that he didn't want Magnus to leave - ever. Had he not been craving his presence since day one, while trying to distance himself from him at the same time for fear of what he could do to the teacher? The same teacher who'd seen him lose control more than once and had still not run away screaming, the one who had just volunteered to help him, the one who had always told him, without fail, that he would be there for him. What more proof could Alec ask for?

"I... I'll be back in a minute," he muttered, before he hightailed it to the bathroom and changed into his own pyjama's.

When he came back to the bed and climbed onto the mattress, suddenly narrower than it had been during all these nights he'd spent alone, he whispered:

"You don't have to stay, you know. You made your point."

His heart wanted Magnus to stay there but Alec knew it wouldn't be fair to coax the teacher into staying if that wasn't his actual desire. His worry was useless. Instead of getting up to tell Alec that he'd changed his mind, Magnus snuffed the candles with a flick of his wand and rolled closer to him, his eyes open on a silent question that the Auror answered by spreading his arms and allowing the teacher inside his embrace.

Perhaps it should have felt odd, to lie so close to each other for the first time, tangled, but Alec could only breathe in the scent of Magnus' shampoo and marvel at how well their bodies fit together, as if they had always been meant to end up like this. His hand fell to the small of Magnus' back and he smiled when the teacher arched into the touch like a cat. Alec feared his heart might burst, filled to the brim with happiness and warmth, and he wished that this moment would never pass.

"Magnus," he whispered, suddenly shy and determined at the same time, "I want to kiss you."

"Yes, Alexander," came the breathy answer, "Please do."

Magnus' eyes were shining with the flickering lights of the fire. His eyes were golden, his lips red, and they parted in a smile to welcome the careful touch of Alec's mouth against them. He couldn't tell who gasped, who cupped the other's face first, whose hand ran through the other's hair to settle on a warm neck. All he knew was that Magnus' eyes were golden, his lips red, and that he was in love with this man.

Chapter Text

Alec woke up alone. In this fleeting instant between dream and reality, he wondered if he'd made up the previous evening and the night that had followed - shining eyes, his own face reflected in golden orbs, red lips on his. The memories felt real, almost tangible, but the drowsiness lingering behind his eyelids made him fear that it had all been but a fantasy. No, he realised when he caught sight of the piece of parchment carefully laid next to him on the mattress, covered in lines of Magnus' neat handwriting, it happened. Magnus had been there, with him. Still half-asleep but already smiling, Alec squinted to read the message.

Had to go give my classes but you looked peaceful so I didn't want to wake you. Hope you slept well. See you later? M.

Alec wasn't even disappointed that Magnus and he hadn't been able to wake up side by side: this parchment proved that the previous night had actually happened, which was enough to put him in a good mood, to reassure him, too, and let him know that he hadn't imagined this moment of bliss as they fell asleep into each other's arms.

Nightmares had spared him, this time. Alec pushed away the silly thought that perhaps Magnus' presence had appeased him; while it would have been comforting and incredibly romantic if true, he knew that his exhaustion was mostly responsible for the lack of bad dreams. After all, he'd had as many rough nights as untroubled ones during the few weeks he'd spent stuck in the hospital wing - and Magnus had not once slept in his bed at the time.

He was glad that his extreme tiredness granted him a few calm nights now and then, even though he was aware that it wasn't a healthy mechanism. He also knew he couldn't exert himself all the time just to sleep better at night. His mind playing tricks on him was enough, he didn't need his body to start giving up on him as well.

With a sigh, Alec face-planted onto the mattress and slipped his arms beneath the pillow to press it closer to his face, almost hoping that the feathers inside would swallow him whole and lull him back to sleep. He needed it, he felt it in his bones... He hated to admit it but Catarina was right: he wouldn't have lasted one hour if he'd attempted to go through his classes of the day. Besides, he wasn't certain that he felt up to the challenge of facing his students' inevitable questions.

They probably had plenty of those, although Luke had spoken to them already. Alec guessed that hearing about the events from the Headmaster's mouth was less thrilling than having the hero of the day tell his own story. Ah, how he wished he could skip ahead of time, avoid the questions and be back into his routine with the kids already...

Alec groaned into the pillow and flipped onto his back. His eyes were wide open now, all remnants on sleep gone, and he guessed it was useless to try and fall asleep once more. Hadn't he slept enough during the past month? Even if he didn't resume his classes this week, he couldn't spend the whole day in his chambers or he would go mad... So he decided to treat himself to a long, very long, and relaxing bath.

The bathroom in his quarters was mostly functional and didn't allow for much relaxation: a mirror, a sink, a shower but no bathtub... contrarily to the few large bathrooms scattered here and there around the castle, to the prefects' or teachers' exclusive usage. Of course Alec could have tampered with his shower and turned it into a bathtub but he wasn't sure it would be wise to use his magic at the moment.

On the bedside table, his wand suddenly seemed to call for him, as if it had read his mind and wanted to be reunited with its owner. Suddenly nervous, Alec hurried to the bathroom to ignore the call and change into simple trousers and a sweater, as he didn't particularly wish to roam the castle in his pyjama's, and he folded his black robes over his arm to put them on after his bath.

He tried to resist the temptation, he really did, and yet he didn't manage to leave his chambers without his wand. He quickly put it into the pocket of his trousers before shutting the door behind him and heading for the teachers' bathroom, his wand a comforting weight by his side despite everything. An Auror's reflex, born out of a constant recommendation of Hodge's... Never go anywhere without your wand.

Alec didn't plan on using magic to get his bath running and he sure hoped he wouldn't have to face a mortal enemy in the bathtub this morning so really, he could have left his wand in his chambers but... Old habits died hard, even when they were not useful. After all, if it came down to it, Alec knew that he could defend himself without his wand as well: given that he cast aside his wariness toward his own abilities, he didn't actually need a simple wooden stick in order to do magic - though he really, really wished he wouldn't have to cast any spell or charm today. He didn't trust himself, not yet, perhaps not ever anymore... Unless his training with Magnus proved to be effective - and fast.

The Auror looked forward to these sessions, even though he had no idea what it would be like. Better than anything he could have been taught by Asmodeus, for starters. Alec still couldn't believe that he'd been tempted to say yes... The man was evil and Alec admired Magnus even more than he did before, now that he knew about the teacher's childhood, spent in the shadow of ancestors who apparently didn't care much about good deeds. Magnus had come out of it both powerful and kind-hearted, which was not a common combination. How many would have chosen an easier path, chosen to embrace the dark arts instead of rebelling against everything they were taught, told to do?

Alec couldn't repress the foolish grin that illuminated his face. He was proud and... happy. The recent development of his relation with Magnus wasn't enough to erase all the scars of his mind and body or make all the bad memories, experiences and baggage disappear but... He truly felt lighter than he had in months. Hadn't he gotten so many good things, lately? The long weeks of convalescence aside, he'd been reunited with his parents and siblings, all three of them, he'd been drowned in candies and chocolates, spoilt by his students, distracted from boredom by some of his colleagues whenever they could spare a moment and... Magnus. Merlin, he hoped he could keep this. It felt almost too good to be true.

"Hey, Alec!"

The Auror's bubble burst at the voice and he turned to Maia with a smile. The sight was apparently a rare enough occurrence for her to arch up her eyebrows.

"Hey," he said, sheepish.

"You look chirpy," she pointed out with a smirk, though she didn't ask what had put him into such a good mood - did she know already? - and she took in his messy hair, sleepy face, then jerked her head at his robes. "Teachers' bathroom?"

"Yes," he confirmed, "I need to unwind a little."

"Understandable," Maia snorted, "I'll leave you to it, then. Just so you know though, the fourth tap on the left, by the largest bathtub, perfumes the water with lavender. Does wonders on tense muscles. I turn it on after long moony nights."

"Oh," Alec blinked in comprehension, "Thank you, Maia. I'll make sure to try it out."

"Enjoy," she said with a wink, before she went on her way and waved at him without turning around, "See you later!"

Alec kept smiling until he made it to the bathroom. He liked Maia, he really did, and he was grateful for the way she hadn't directly asked him how he was faring but had made sure to let him know that she cared and wished the best for him anyway.

The bathroom was deserted when he arrived: he guessed it was a bit late for a morning bath, as most of his colleagues were certainly already busy in their classrooms or in the staffroom, grading piles and piles of parchments. After he locked the door behind him and took a proper glance around the bathroom, a gasp of silent admiration passed his lips. He'd walked past this room plenty of times before but he had never actually entered it until then, and he was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the decor. He didn't know if the sun was actually shining outside, in this December morning, or if the warm light that pierced the stained-glass windows was magical, but it didn't really matter. The result was the same, as the place was bathed into a clear light, reflected by the dark floorboard beneath his feet in crowns of bright blue, gentle red and yellow ochre.

Glad to have the whole place to himself, Alec took off his shoes and his sweater, unbuttoned his jeans, let them fall to his ankles, and he stepped out of his underwear without the slightest embarrassment. He padded toward the largest bathtub at the far end of the bathroom - a swimming pool, really - and his eyes widened at the sight of an incredible amount of taps on each side. He turned the water taps as well as the fourth one of the left, like Maia had advised him, and the heady scent of lavender spread through the room while bubbles rose in the air as water filled the bathtub.

The bath was warm and foamy by the time he dipped his toes in and then, he stepped forward until the water reached his chest. A sigh of pleasure escaped his throat at the gentle licks of the tiny waves on his skin and he leaned back onto the hard side of the tub. Merlin, it felt good. Alec closed his eyes and allowed his mind to wander, dream of sweet-scenting gardens with bushes of lavender and a lake, why not, under a blue and sunny sky. He didn't actually move until his fingertips looked like ripe plums and he was about to fall asleep again.

Shaking himself out of the beginning of slumber, he swam to the other side of the bathtub where towels and cloths were folded onto low shelves of dark wood and he grabbed one of each to clean up and dry himself afterwards. Another tap provided the soap, a creamy-coloured bubbly liquid that turned out to be coconut-scented. Alec inspected his body as he washed his arms, his belly, his legs. Miles of pale skin that spoke better than words about his life, tattoos and scars a summary of his job at the Ministry. A few drops of essence of dittany would have sufficed to turn most of his scars into faded lines or make them disappear altogether but he'd never wanted to, as each one was either a victory or a learned lesson. Some, he didn't think could ever vanish, even with the help of a decoction.

The worst one was a rugged line running down his breastbone, between his pectorals and stopping above the ribs. When he'd rescued him from Jonathan and found him half-dead, Raj hadn't seen any blood across his chest - running under his nose, from the corners of his eyes, yes... plus the dry blood of dozens of slashes across his arms and belly, from the torture he'd been subjected to whenever Jonathan grew tired of casting the Crucio curse on him and needed to get his hands on his body to let out his anger and frustration at Alec's silence.

So, there had been no blood to see there but Alec's chest had been split in half all the same, the wound real and a blue glow oozing from the gash - the same colour as that of the rays of magic that had torn his body apart one month ago or so, reopening the wound. The scar felt tender, raw, a perfect rendering of how his magic felt inside him.

In hindsight, the three weeks he'd spent sleeping, both at St Mungo's and in the Hogwarts hospital wing were but a short while in order for his magic to rebuild itself enough to let him open his eyes. It took longer the first time... Still, he could tell that his magic was only holding him together enough so that he wouldn't collapse. Alec wasn't certain that he would survive a third explosion of his powers, a third loss of control.

He wondered if anyone would ever fully understand the behaviour of magic, its origins, or why some ancient families like Magnus' possessed the innate ability for wandless magic while others never managed to reach a high enough level of knowledge and practice to master it. The list of questions was endless: why could this specific kind of magic be triggered for some, like Alec, why did magic, even in its simplest form, inhabit some people and not others, dividing the world between Wizards and Muggles... He reckoned that they'd probably never get the answers to their questions but it didn't make them any less interesting, just more frustrating.

Perhaps Magnus had answers... although surely not all of them, Alec mused as he climbed out of the large bathtub, towelled off and slowly got dressed. The Auror recalled Asmodeus' words, about his knowledge on the topic of wandless magic... Didn't it make sense that Magnus would know a lot about it too, since it ran in his blood like it did in his father's? Even if he had explored the range of his powers less than the rest of his family, they were part of him. Shouldn't he understand them better than Alec, who'd only been living with these abilities for a few months?

Alec was about to open the door that would spit him back into the busy life of the castle when he came to an abrupt stop. A few months? Merlin, no... He'd been too busy since September and the beginning of the school year at Hogwarts to quite keep track of time but... Now that he thought about it, Jonathan had caught him mid-December. Alec's life had been knocked upside-down for nearly one full year already, almost day for day, although his magic hadn't gone haywire at the time - not yet. Alec closed his eyes as a wave of nausea rose in his throat and he didn't move until he was certain that he wasn't going to be sick. He was glad he hadn't kept tabs on the sad anniversary of his capture. He didn't want to think about it. He was in enough trouble as it was without adding the pressure of dealing with this kind of memories, that already invaded his mind more often than not.

He felt a bit dizzy as he shook his head to chase the thought away and when he eventually opened the door, he stumbled two steps backwards in sudden fright when he realised that someone had been waiting for him on the other side. The tiny and frail creature standing before him, dressed in clean though shrivelled fabric that looked like a pillow case, let out a squeak.

"A thousand apologies, Mister Lightwood, Sir!" the house-elf exclaimed, bowing until her nose touched the floor, "Stidy didn't mean to scare you."

"You... didn't," Alec quickly lied, well aware of some elves' tendencies to punish themselves if they deemed they'd failed their master - or any wizard, really. "Did you want something?"

"Not Stidy, no," she answered with a jerk of her head, "Stidy was asked to tell you, Mister Lightwood, Sir, that Mister Auror Dhawan is waiting for you in the staffroom, Sir."

"Raj?" Alec wondered aloud, suddenly elated at the prospect of seeing his friend, "How long has he been there?"

"Half an hour, Sir," Stidy replied, and hurried to add, when she saw Alec's surprised expression, "Stidy would have come to you sooner but when Stidy told Mister Auror that Mister Lightwood was in the bathroom, Sir, Mister Auror said not to bother you."

"Alright, Stidy," Alec slowly answered, feeling a bit guilty at the sight of her worried face: she clearly wondered if she'd made a mistake in waiting for Alec at the door rather than barging in and witnessing his state of undress. "You did a good job, thank you very much."

Stidy flushed and bowed again, even lower if that was possible.

"My pleasure, Mister Lightwood, Sir," she answered, before she vanished with a loud crack.

If Alec had wondered what he was going to do for the day since he was forbidden to teach, he didn't have any more doubts right now. He hadn't seen Raj in more than a month, ever since they'd both fainted - which would have been shameful for two experienced Aurors like them if they'd been fighting anyone other than Asmodeus - and he hadn't really gotten any news from his friend save for a get-well card he'd found among the numerous toffees that had been delivered to him during his bed-bound weeks.

There was a little jump to his step while he made his way to the staffroom and the ghost of Nearly Headless Nick that he came across in an otherwise deserted hallway didn't fail at pointing his obvious joy and his quick pace. Alec didn't stop for a chat, though he could tell Nick would have loved that - later, maybe. Nearly Headless Nick had the whole eternity to catch up on their talk.

"Raj!" Alec exclaimed when he entered the staffroom and spotted his friend, warming himself up by the fireplace.

"Look at you!" Raj shot back, opening his arms wide - or, well, arm, singular, because the other was in a sling - and welcoming Alec into an awkward embrace, "Breathing and in one piece!"

"It's good to see you too," Alec snorted and took a step back to observe his partner, who motioned him toward the chairs facing the hearth. "How's the arm?"

"Still hurts from time to time," Raj answered when he sat down next to him, then shrugged - but only on the side of his good shoulder, Alec noticed. "The Healers at St Mungo's thought they'd have to cut it off but in the end..."

"You made it with all your bits, too," his friend noted with a smile.

"Yeah," Raj said and wiggled his fingers on the hand that was stuck in the sling. "Could have been worse."

"True," Alec said sombrely, unable to hide the bitterness in his tone.

Raj looked pained, as if he perfectly understood the words his friend didn't speak aloud, and he squeezed Alec's shoulder with a comforting smile.

"You saved us all, Alec," he whispered, his words echoing those Magnus had said to him as well. "I know what you feared would happen but... it didn't. You didn't kill anyone. Even Asmodeus made it out alive!"

"That doesn't change anything," Alec muttered.

"It changes everything, my grumpy friend," Raj insisted, "It means you're getting better at controlling your magic. It's good, Alec. And as I said, look at you! You only needed a month to be back on your feet this time and you are even hotter than before! How unfair is that?"

"Have you, by any chance, missed the dark circles under my eyes, my pallid skin and weight loss?" Alec wondered with a chuckle, fully knowing that his friend was just teasing him in an attempt at minimising how horrible the consequences of their encounter with Asmodeus could have been.

"I was only trying to be nice," Raj grumbled, before his lips spread onto a grin and he spoke with a lighter tone, "Since you want my honesty though, you actually look terrible. I'm pretty sure Magnus Bane still makes heart eyes at you anyway, even with you being this mess, so... Everything's fine."

"So you came to laugh at me," Alec grunted in return, pretending offence when he'd actually noticed the offhand but comforting comment about how Magnus still wanted him, even now that he'd truly seen him, "How nice of you."

"How dare you!" Raj frowned, though there was a smile tugging at his mouth. "I just wanted to check on you... and take a break from the job, to be honest."

"You're not cleared for field duty yet, are you?" Alec asked with a pointed look at his friend's arm. "You've been assigned to paperwork?"

"Pretty much, yeah," Raj said and let out a sigh so deep and dejected that Alec couldn't help but chuckle at his friend's misery. "I charmed my quills to sign reports in my stead, my hand was starting to cramp up. Paperwork is so boring! Really though, I came for you. I haven't had the time to come by these past two weeks and I wanted to make sure you were... as good as can be. Also, asking for the day off to come see you was a big fuck you to the hierarchy so I feel like it's a double win, really."

The crease between Alec's eyebrows deepened. Raj had never been in trouble with the hierarchy before and the young man couldn't fathom any reason for such sudden animosity. Sure, there had been that memorable occasion when Raj had yelled at Imogen Herondale for accepting Alec's resignation - he'd screamed about how she didn't actually want Alec working under her command anymore, because she was too much of a coward to deal with Alec's trauma and take measures that would make the job easier for him.

The Minister had not been pleased... especially since every single Auror working for the Ministry had been present to this meeting that was supposed to be a chance to notify everyone on the Lightwood situation, as they'd dubbed it. Imogen had not enjoyed the experience of having her authority challenged, before witnesses to top it all.

It was about to get really ugly when Hodge had subtly cast the Confundus Charm on his former trainee. Two seconds and a lot of confusion later, Raj was waxing poetics about Imogen's bosom while two Aurors choked on their repressed laughter and Hodge was screaming that an enemy had made it inside the Ministry to attack the Aurors. As red as a lobster, Imogen had cut their meeting short and charged Hodge to figure out what had happened. Unsurprisingly, his enquiry had not given much result.

"Why?" Alec finally asked, "What happened?"

Raj snorted.

"Our hierarchy is being a pain in the ass as usual," he groaned. "They decorated Duncan and Sebastian with a medal."

"I know," Alec answered, "Magnus told me. What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing, nothing... It won't be of much use to them now but I guess it's a gesture in their memory and for the families too, but... That doesn't really matter. My point is, Hodge and I were up for a medal as well."

"And?" Alec prompted him when his friend grew quiet, so he guessed congratulations were not quite in order.

"I turned it down when I realised you weren't given the same honour."

Alec started and he gaped at Raj. He couldn't believe this. Not that he wouldn't be considered for such a distinction - it had to be expected, after all, it matched with the behaviour of the hierarchy toward him from the past months - but that his friend would not accept to receive his own just for that... He was flattered. Mad at Raj for refusing what could have propelled him up towards higher levels of authority in the Auror Office but flattered all the same.

"You shouldn't have," he whispered.

"Of course I should have!" Raj exclaimed. "Do I need to remind you that we're a team? You and I against the dark arts, partner, you and I. If I'm getting a damn medal for what I did against Asmodeus, then you bloody deserve one as well. Even Hodge thought so."

"What? No way!"

"Yes way," Raj shot back with a grin, before he turned serious again. "He was impressed. You did good, Alec."

"Thank you," the young man mumbled, before he swatted at his friend's good arm when he saw the glimmer of admiration in his eyes, "Quit looking at me like that."

Raj raised a placating hand, though he knew Alec wasn't truly mad at him. The conversation died down and they stayed silent for a moment, enjoying the comfortable quietness between the two of them as they sat and observed the crackling fire. Eventually, they both started speaking at the same time and their words straddled the other's.

"What pretext did they use to justify that I wasn't getting a medal?"

"We look like two grandpas."

Alec chuckled at Raj's words. He had a point, even though they both knew Aurors seldom reached a ripe age - at this point though, they'd probably gotten through the worst their career could throw at them and perhaps they could hope for a more peaceful future at the Ministry, now that Asmodeus was back in Azkaban. Some Aurors, if they were lucky, never even came across a dark wizard in their life but only dealt with dangerous artefacts on the black market, cursed Muggles or weird and violent murders to investigate.

Alec and Raj were far from lucky. Lilith, Jonathan, Asmodeus... They'd come face to face with the three of them in the span of a year and half! Of course it came with the job and they knew what they were signing up for when they started the training but... they deserved some peace now, at least for a while. Well... Raj did, anyway: Alec wasn't a Ministry employee anymore, after all. Wait. Was that the reason why...

"They don't consider you an Auror anymore, Alec," Raj told him softly. "So the Minister didn't see why she should reward you with a medal from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

"Makes sense..." Alec whispered.

It hurt, though. Years of loyal services, months spent bleeding and resisting the cruel invasions of his mind to protect his fellow Aurors, the Ministry and the Minister herself, plus that fight against Asmodeus that he could have chosen not to get involved into... He did it, all of it, not just because he had to and it was his job - even when it wasn't anymore - but because he cared and he knew his sacrifices made the Wizarding world a safer place. It hurt that the battle he had fought for so many years with his whole heart could be so easily ignored, just because his mind and his body weren't quite working with him anymore.

"It doesn't," Raj shot back. "There have been instances of civilians who were decorated for exceptional deeds, people who became unexpected heroes because they worked for the safety of our community, because they stood up against something or someone... Merlin, the Minister even considered Bane and Headmaster Garroway for this kind of medals! She thought better of it when she realised that..."

Raj shut up and cast an apologetic glance at his friend, whose eyes didn't stray from the bright flames. Alec didn't need to hear the next words that would come out of his mouth to understand what that was all about. Of course Minister Herondale had changed her mind... She didn't want to reward an ex-Auror, fine, but how would she justify not giving a medal to Alec if she did Luke and Magnus? She wouldn't want anyone to point out that she'd missed someone - or for people to start wondering about the reason behind such accidental forgetfulness.

"She won't acknowledge my role in this and it makes sense, Raj," Alec stated, aiming for a detached tone, as if it didn't hurt. "I get it, really. I'm a loose cannon. Imagine that I'm decorated and then freak out and hurt someone; if word goes out that the Ministry knew about the risks, the threat I could be, and chose to reward me... It will raise questions. Why didn't they keep an eye on me? Why wasn't I locked up?"

"Alec!" Raj protested, but his friend wouldn't listen.

"Minister Herondale won't take that chance," he concluded. "I wouldn't either."

Alec noted the expression of disbelief plastered on Raj's face as he shook his head, slowly, as if he couldn't quite believe how stubborn his friend was being.

"Listen to me," the Auror said, pointing a finger at him and poking him in the shoulder - Alec was grateful he hadn't aimed for his scarred chest and he had an inkling that Raj knew it would have hurt. "You and I have been teaming up for nearly ten years. I trust you, I've always trusted you, and what happened to you didn't change that. Maybe you and your magic are a mess right now but given the choice, I would take you back to go out on the field again, in a heartbeat. No hesitation here, Alec. You're still my best friend and we'd still make the best team out there. I wish you would trust yourself like I do."

Alec blinked. Did Raj want to see him cry? Well, he was onto the path of success.

"How can I?" he whispered with a thick voice, "I could hurt..."

"Whom? Whom have you hurt until today, Alec?"

He hesitated.


"He was an accident," Raj shot back, "and besides, he kind of deserved it. That's not the point though. The point is, you never hurt anyone, because you've always been terrified of doing so, and you've always managed to control yourself."

"Sometimes barely," Alec muttered.

"But you did it anyway," Raj insisted. "I was too out of it to see what happened with Asmodeus but Hodge told me and... I don't know many wizards who could have controlled themselves like that. You have never hurt anyone... except yourself."


"It's true," Raj added with a shrug. "You've suffered long enough at the hands of Jonathan, it's time you stop torturing yourself too."

Alec looked away. It sounded so simple... and he wanted to agree with his friend, get rid of the constant weight burdening his shoulders but how? Stop torturing yourself. Easy to say for someone like Raj who had not experienced what he had. Alec didn't blame him, he knew that his friend was only trying to help, but... Raj didn't understand. He could not understand, because he had never felt the surge of power inside his body and been helpless to keep it under control. He had never witnessed his own magic destroy everything or everyone that stood on its path, had never feared it would tear him apart, and he had certainly never felt Jonathan's cold hands close around his heart at night. Good. Alec didn't wish these things on anyone.

"I know," he eventually whispered.

Raj cast him a critical look and what he saw on Alec's face, perhaps even in his soul, didn't please him much.

"You don't think you deserve peace," he said flatly, though Alec could discern the upset gleam in his eyes when he looked up.

"It's... not that," he mumbled, although his friend wasn't completely in the wrong, "I just..."

"Talk to me, Alec," Raj pleaded when his partner grew quiet and hesitated. "Whatever you might tell me, I won't judge you."

"You never did," Alec said with a sad smile, and then he raked his hand through his hair in a distressed gesture as he started talking, just like Raj wanted. "I long for peace, you know? That's... that's all I want right now but it means letting my guard down. I've tried before and it... backfired."

Alec closed his eyes when Lorenzo's terrified face came back to his mind. If only it had been the only time he'd nearly lost himself... but after the Quidditch match, there had been that time when Alec would have hexed Milo and his boyfriend if he hadn't realised who they were just in time, plus the way he'd lashed out at Jonathan's memory on the enchanted wall of his classroom, not to mention Asmodeus.

Yet he'd let his guard down the previous night around Magnus. It had felt so good then, not just the kiss and the trust on Magnus' end as he snuggled against Alec's chest without a single doubt regarding his safety, but to open the gates he'd kept shut around him for months without feeling like the sudden vulnerability he was allowing would be his or someone else's downfall.

At least Asmodeus' attack on Hogwarts had proved one thing... Magnus didn't need protection. He could take Alec down anytime... The Auror was secretly relieved about it, both because it lessened his fear to hurt Magnus and because it meant he could breathe in his presence instead of watching out for the slightest detail that might upset the fragile balance of his magic. Around other people however, he could not show the same carefree attitude: he wouldn't allow those who didn't share Magnus' skills nor his resistance to strong magic to become victims of his powers.

"That's no way to live, Alec."

Alec let out a bitter laugh at Raj's words.

"My life has changed" he told him, resignation seeping out of his voice. "I have to adjust and... deal with it."

Raj frowned but Alec didn't give him the time to say anything else.

"It's true," he added, and he gestured at their surroundings, the fireplace and the forgotten heap of parchments one of his colleagues was surely supposed to grade soon. "I work at Hogwarts, I'm not an Auror anymore... and let's face it: I'm probably never going to be an Auror again. This is something I have to accept."

"Can you?" Raj asked him.

His tone didn't betray any challenge, just concern, and Alec was grateful for his best friend once more. Raj cared a lot, perhaps too much, about him and he only wanted him to find happiness in this new situation. After partnering up with him for ten years or so and seeing him at his lowest, Raj knew him well, probably better than anyone else, and his worry was legitimate. Could Alec truly satisfy himself with teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, as close to his former field of work as that subject was?

"I miss the job," Alec confessed quietly, noting that Raj didn't look surprised at all to hear as much, "but I enjoy teaching. I love these kids and if I can help them to protect themselves once they're out in the world... That's good. Besides, Hogwarts is..."

Alec didn't find the words to express what he meant but Raj smiled and he knew he understood. Hogwarts had always felt like home when he was a teenager and he'd found the same comfort upon his return. If he really thought about it and managed to forget about what he'd had and had been before, Alec guessed that he could be happy with this job and everything else that came with it... but maybe it would turn out, in a few months, that it wasn't enough anymore. This new life had given him the chance to meet Magnus though and this was worth every single drop of blood he'd shed in the past. Speaking of which...

"Magnus told me he could help," Alec said to his friend, who narrowed his eyes in concentration as he tried to follow and understand the sudden change in topics, "To control my magic, I mean."

"Oh!" Raj realised. "So it won't hurt you again? That's amazing! Did you say yes?"

Alec nodded and his friend flashed him a grin that he returned, though it was only slightly less bright and wide. Raj didn't even consider that learning to control these powers could be useful - life-saving, even - for other people than Alec himself... Another small smile lit up his face at the thought that Raj truly was the best friend he could ever have asked for.

"When will you start?" the latter asked, sounding as excited as if he was the one planning to train Alec.

"I don't know," he answered with a frown, "I guess we'll wait until I'm a bit less tired? We only started discussing it last night so..."

"Night?" Raj suddenly screeched, his eyes wide open, and he repeated, "Night, you say? When did you start spending nights with Magnus Bane? Merlin's balls, Alec, are you finally together?"

Alec blushed. Were they?

"I'm... not sure?" he squeaked out, stunned by his friend's enthusiasm and large grin that had to be painful on his lips. "Maybe? We kissed last night?"

"Is that a question?" Raj snorted, "Did you or did you not kiss last night?"

"We did kiss," Alec confirmed, glad that his voice didn't sound so hesitant this time: instead, it took on a light but audible dreamy lilt.

Raj didn't even laugh at him for it.

"I'm so happy for you," his friend told him, clapping both of his shoulders. "I knew I'd seen the chemistry between the two of you. When you get married and I have to give the best man's speech, I'll make sure to stress how I was the one who knew from the start that you'd end up together. I have a knack to feel these things."

"Yes," Alec agreed with sarcasm dripping from his voice, "Just like you felt from the start that you and I were meant to be together and that is why you decided to fall at my feet on our first day at the Ministry?"

This time, Raj was the one whose cheeks coloured and he let go of Alec's shoulders to collapse back onto his chair.

"Not cool, Alec, not cool."

Alec laughed and his hand found Raj's to give it a squeeze, apologetic and grateful at the same time, until his laughter turned into a little smile that stayed on his lips as he replayed his conversation with his friend in his mind. Stop torturing yourself. Maybe he was right and maybe Alec could do this. With Raj's support, Magnus', his family's, and the subtle changes this new life was bringing to him, perhaps he could start looking towards the future instead of always glancing back over his shoulder.

Chapter Text

Magnus didn't sneak up on him per se. Yes, he came from behind and Alec didn't catch sight of him until the teacher's fingertips appeared on each side of his shoulders, but Magnus knew him enough to guess that a surprise hug wouldn't be a good idea. He warned him of his arrival in the staffroom in an elaborate display of magic and just a few seconds before Alec felt Magnus' hands on him, an outlined quill appeared before his eyes and wrote a short sentence in golden letters he now associated with the Transfiguration teacher: Hug incoming in 5... 4... 3... 2...

"One," Magnus whispered in his ear, before he pressed a kiss to Alec's cheek. "Slept well?"

Alec didn't pay any mind to Raj's Cheshire-Cat-like grin as he turned around and faced Magnus with a bright smile that seemed to smooth the subtle line of concern around his eyes. Had he been worried about his reaction to the kiss?

"Quite, yes," Alec answered, "Thank you for the note, this morning... and now, I guess. I like this kind of reunion."

"Merlin," Raj gasped, drawing both men's attention to him, and Alec wasn't sure to like the happy fire in his friend's eyes, "I was totally right. Excuse me gentlemen, I'll leave you to enjoy your reunion. See you for lunch in a few minutes, if you're not too busy?"

To Alec, he silently mouthed wedding and then skipped to the door of the staffroom where he nearly bumped into Ragnor and Alaric who came in from the opposite direction. Magnus watched Raj go with puzzlement and when he glanced at Alec, the Auror felt himself blush.

"What did he mean about being right?" the teacher wondered. "Were you talking about me?"

"Perhaps," Alec answered, feeling bold enough to flash Magnus a coy smile.

"In good ways, I hope?" the other added, plopping down next to him, on the chair Raj had just vacated.

"The best," Alec promised, which was the absolute truth, although he wasn't about to give Magnus the details of his conversation with his best friend: it was a bit early to start talking about a wedding, no matter how confident Raj felt about that future. "Hey, uh, I meant what I said, you know? About the notes and..."

"The kiss?" Magnus supplied for him before his expression turned sheepish, something Alec had never witnessed in the teacher's behaviour until then, "I didn't think before kissing you so I... I worried you might not have wanted it to happen in public."

"I really don't mind," Alec promised.

The Auror couldn't say that he'd had many relationships in the past to flaunt in people's faces but that didn't mean that he was against demonstrations of affection in front of an audience. After his coming out, he'd never been shy about his sexuality and if Magnus wanted to kiss him in the staffroom, whether it was a mere peck on the cheek or a lasting and languorous kiss, Alec would welcome him with open arms.

Magnus smiled and really, Alec should have seen his next action coming. Eyes half-closed in anticipated pleasure, the teacher leaned over the sidearm of his chair and brushed his lips against Alec's. The touch was light, like the reverent caress of an artist seeing their finished work for the first time, and the Auror felt himself melt into the warmth of Magnus' mouth. This second kiss should have felt like a discovery still, uncharted territory that they needed to explore carefully while taking their time... In reality, Alec knew that he was coming home and when the teacher grinned into their kiss, he thought that there was nothing sweeter than falling in love.

When Magnus and Alec joined Raj in the Great Hall, they found the Auror sitting next to Maia as well as busy filling his plate, helping himself to green beans and pie which fat sausages were eventually added to, once Raj located them at the other end of the long table. He waved his wand in a lazy move in that direction and Luke had to duck when two sausages bolted and nearly hit him in the face before landing into the rightful plate. Magnus snorted at the sight of the Headmaster wiping drops of meat juice from his face with as much dignity as he could muster, and Luke glared at him, although he didn't manage to actually complain.

Cutting short any comment he could have made, the chit-chat that was coming from the four tables on the students' part of the Great Hall suddenly grew into loud clapping that had Ragnor drop his fork in surprise.

"What... What's happening?" he wondered and glanced with curious eyes towards the students.

Some were still sitting, others were standing on the benches but almost all of them were giving someone an excited round of applause. Alec looked around the Great Hall in confusion: who were the kids congratulating? Did he miss something important during his convalescence, like a Quidditch match brilliantly played and won by a Seeker whom the students were welcoming in the Great Hall with so much enthusiasm?

Magnus apparently caught on faster than he did because he started clapping too, then turned to Alec... and so did the entire Great Hall. Uh, what?

And then he understood. Oh, Merlin. It was his first... well, public appearance since the night Asmodeus had attacked Hogwarts and everyone was cheering, glad to see him on his two feet again and back to his seat at the High Table, among his colleagues. Alec blushed and looked down while fully knowing that the hundreds of candles lighting up the place would not allow him to hide how red his cheeks had turned. If Magnus were to kiss him now, he would burn himself to the heat of his skin.

When Maia elbowed him and prompted him to lift his head again, the Auror vowed not to cry as he bravely looked up and locked eyes with a few students - Milo, Olivia, Samuel and so many others... and of course, clapping more loudly than his fellow students, Max, beaming with pride and happiness at the sight of his brother alive and kicking, back to the place where he belonged and not in a hospital bed.

This, he could deal with, Alec reckoned after a while. His lips curled upwards, although it was a shy hint of a smile and nowhere close to the large grin on Raj's face. As it turned out, it wasn't so bad to be applauded by the young generation and get the proof that he could still be useful and save people's lives, even though he wasn't an Auror anymore. When the clapping didn't subdue however, Alec started to wonder... What had the Headmaster told the kids, exactly? They were all acting like he'd defeated Asmodeus all by himself - unless Magnus and Luke had gotten the same reaction on the first morning after the events?

"Did Luke go overboard?" Alec whispered to Magnus, trying not to lean too close to him - Raj had already wiggled his brows at them when they'd arrived together, and after the bit in the staffroom, that was enough teasing for one day. "What did he tell them?"

"Nothing but the truth," Magnus answered with a smile that reached and illuminated his eyes, "but you can't blame the students for twisting the facts a little. Welcome to the legend, Alexander."

The younger man groaned. Legend? What, did Magnus really believe that people would remember his name for the years to come? Surely not, if only because Alexander Gideon Lightwood was a mouthful when compared to popular and great witches and wizards like Circe or Merlin or even Godric Gryffindor - a mouthful as well, in Alec's humble opinion, but at least it sounded catchy.

Whatever heart-warming satisfaction he might have drawn from this situation vanished as soon as the clapping died down, leaving only an attentive silence behind, hundreds of eyes set on him with the same gleam of expectation shining in all of them. This was a joke, right? They weren't seriously waiting for him to say something, were they?

Based on the way every single one of these kids - and even quite a few of his colleagues - seemed to be holding their breath, they did in fact count on him to give a memorable speech and Alec had no doubt that they would be sorely disappointed if he kept gawping at them like he was now, frozen on his seat. Maia helpfully stepped on his foot beneath the table.

"Stand up," she quickly whispered, "Say something!"

Alec obeyed on reflex but he kept quiet, his mind blank as he literally had no idea what to say. He wasn't cut for this kind of thing, unlike some people - Jace gave great and inspired speeches that always managed to motivate his team before a match, or so he said anyway, while Hodge had a gruffer approach to what a speech should be, meaning one short sentence with a command both clear and easy to follow. Alec? Ha! Alec could teach a class full of eleven-year-old teenagers without trouble or stand up to a dark wizard (almost) as easily but Merlin forbid he tried his hand at bloody speeches.

"If I'd known I would have to give a speech, I'd have stayed in the hospital wing a bit longer," he blurted out as soon as he opened his mouth.

Laughter rose from the Great Hall but in spite of the distance between them, Alec could make out the frown on his little brother's face. Ah... Perhaps it was too soon to joke about that, which was exactly why no one should have requested that he spoke in the first place. He'd better hurry up and get it over with.

"On a more serious note," he quickly added and felt his cheeks heat up again, "thank you. It's good to be back and you gave me such a warm welcome... I'm touched, really, and I'm looking forward to resume my classes with you. On that note, I think we should probably eat? Better than listening to my babble. Enjoy your lunch!"

Alec plopped back down on his seat before anyone could ask for more and he kept his head resolutely down as more applause and laughter echoed against the high ceiling of the Great Hall. If his former colleagues could see him... Auror Lightwood, reduced to a bashful mess because his students cared about him. Alec only dared look up again when the sound of cutlery clicking together and the gentle buzz of conversation replaced the clapping, so he was sure that he was not the centre of attention anymore.

Four large meatballs suddenly landed in his plate, courtesy of Raj who apparently thought that even short speeches like Alec's requested drastic energy refills, but Magnus chose a more conventional way to convey his approval.

"You did well," the teacher complimented him with a smile.

The younger man flushed in pleasure at the praise, and then at the warm hand that Magnus rested on his thigh, beneath the table. Alec didn't know how to interpret the squeeze that followed. Was it one more sign of approval, support or just the need to feel close to him now that Magnus knew he was allowed to show his affection? Alec didn't think it actually mattered. He liked it.

Magnus had never shied away from touching him, even when he should have been afraid of him, even when they had not yet been... whatever they were now. They'd held hands under the rain in Hogsmeade, they'd hugged and clung to each other in moments of distress, and most of the time, Magnus had been the one to initiate this kind of touch. He hadn't started any of these himself but Alec had welcomed the closeness all the same, both physical and emotional, and under the thick layers of fear that paralysed him at the thought of slipping, he'd even marvelled at it. Now that he didn't need to be scared of hurting Magnus anymore, perhaps he would allow himself to embrace or kiss his friend first.

Alec blinked in surprise when Raj handed him a dish of roasted potatoes that appeared from nowhere, and he seemed unaware that he was interrupting his best friend's deep introspection. There would be time for that later... For now, it mattered that he learned to enjoy each instant in his friends' company and to relish every second that he could safely spend with them, instead of reflecting upon his fears. Alec switched the potatoes with the beef casserole in Magnus' hands and rejoiced when his fingers brushed the teacher's for mere seconds.

Delighted at the touch as well as the tiny smile of secretive ravishment that bloomed on Magnus' face like a flower under the sun on the first warm day of Spring, he suddenly wondered how he had managed to deny himself this unabashed happiness for the past months. Now that he'd tasted Magnus' mouth and committed to memory the shape of their tangled bodies when they shared a bed, he knew he would not go back to the recent days, to ignoring his feelings and pretending that he was fine just being friends with the teacher. He could not.

"When do you plan on starting your classes again?" Magnus asked as he helped himself to crispy potatoes, curious after Alec's short address. "How much time off has Cat given you?"

"Too much," the younger male said with a scoff, although he could tell that Catarina would be shrieking if she heard that he was complaining - she probably thought she hadn't given him enough time to rest. "She said I couldn't teach this week. At all!"

The unimpressed look Magnus cast him was enough for Alec to understand that he shared Catarina's opinion. One week should be enough, shouldn't it? Enough for him to at least rest and regain some strength, until he could put his feet into his classroom again. He wouldn't start on the spells right away, though: theory was good too, sometimes, especially since he didn't feel comfortable using magic anymore. Not right now.

Perhaps neither Catarina nor Magnus liked the idea of him getting back to work so soon but what else could he do? Wander through the castle hallways and chat with the ghosts or the house-elves for a whole month? If he couldn't be an Auror and if he couldn't teach anymore... he would become useless.

"You have to take it easy, Alexander," Magnus told him lightly. "You nearly died."

Alec looked down to his plate. Death didn't frighten him but Magnus' light tone that didn't suffice to hide immense pain at the thought that he could have lost his life in that fight... That scared him. He never wanted to inflict such agony on Magnus again and he knew, had their situations been reversed, that he would act in the same way. He'd want to protect him.

"I understand, Magnus," Alec swore to the teacher with a brief squeeze of his hand. "You're looking out for me and I'm grateful but... I'm fine."

Magnus arched an eyebrow.

"As fine as can be," Alec easily amended, for he now knew that he didn't have to hide from Magnus. "I promise I'll be careful but I need to do something with my days. I have the week off and I'll respect Catarina's command but then... I'm back in class."

"As you want," Magnus gave in, "but if it gets too much..."

"I won't push myself too far," Alec finished for him.

"That's all I ask," the other man admitted with a little sigh of relief upon realising that they were on the same page. "I don't doubt you though, you should know that."

Alec nodded.

"Don't worry about it," he said, and he meant it.

Magnus' concern wasn't born out of fear of Alec but for Alec himself, out of affection and care, so it didn't bother him. On the contrary, he deemed himself lucky to have a man like this in his life, who understood wandless magic and didn't consider Alec a madman or a dangerous wizard not to be trusted - which, ironically enough, was how Alec had seen himself at first, though that impression had only been strengthened by most of his colleagues at the Ministry. He could see that now, after spending several months around people like Maia or Luke, he realised that he'd only made it easier for people to shun him. He'd thought that... if they were scared of him, there must have been a good reason.

Not to say that he was not dangerous at all. Time had proven that he could snap and put people's lives at risk but... wasn't Magnus willing to teach him control, in order to avoid such episodes?

"I'm aware that I still need to be cautious," Alec told Magnus to reassure him some more, "both about my workload so it doesn't affect my health and about my powers so they don't... blow up in my face again. I don't want to do anything I might regret and I don't think I'll teach the kids spells as soon as I get back to it, I know that I... I have to feel in control enough for that."

"You'll get there," Magnus said softly, though that gentle tone didn't lack in certainty, and Alec decided that even if he didn't trust himself sometimes, he could at least believe the teacher.

"You still want to train me?"

A firm nod answered him. A wave of affection threatened to choke him at that and he ducked in his plate again, unable to look Magnus in the eyes lest the teacher see something that Alec wasn't ready to let him know yet. He was going to tell him but... Not now. He didn't want Magnus to believe that his feelings were dictated by his gratefulness for the offered training.

"You can start whenever you want," the teacher added, "I guess you're eager to begin... The sooner you can control your abilities, the sooner you get back to your usual ways in class, right?"

That got Alec to look up with wide eyes.

"Whenever I want?" he repeated in surprise. "Shouldn't we wait until... I mean, you seemed to think that one week off wasn't enough after what happened so... Don't I need some more rest before we begin?"

"What are you imagining?" Magnus chuckled, "That I'll have you cast wandless charms and hex dummies on your first time?"


Magnus shook his head and stole a meatball from Alec's plate. The Auror didn't even think of complaining: not only had Raj overestimated his capacity to gulf down that much food after his convalescence, but the teacher also sniffed at the meat curiously, his nostrils almost vibrating, and Alec was so surprised at the display that he forgot to talk. Magnus must have felt it, because he glanced at his companion and turned a bit red.

"Sorry," he mumbled as he put his fork down and reached for his glass, probably to give himself something to do that didn't require he looked at Alec, and he drank a few long and slow gulps. "Uh, so what about tonight?"

"Tonight?" Alec echoed, feeling a bit dumb for his confusion, "What about it?"

"You, me, the Room of Requirement," Magnus all but purred, and the younger man wondered if the teacher was so mortified about how he'd caught him smelling that meatball that he needed to redirect his embarrassment elsewhere... and decided that flirting was the right way to do it. "For your first lesson?"

"Oh!" Alec perked up, glad to discuss it but also worrying about Magnus at once, "Uh, yes? Won't it be too long a day for you, though? You are working."

"I'll let you do all the work tonight," Magnus promised with a wink, "but if you want to wait..."

"No!" he exclaimed, suddenly filled with dread at the thought that if he delayed the start of the training, what little control he still had over his magic would wilt even more. "I'm fine with tonight if you are."

"Then it is settled. It's a date!"

Alec cast the teacher a side-glance and a tiny smile tugged at his lips upon witnessing how impatient Magnus looked, probably mirroring Alec's own expression. He already knew that he would spend that afternoon counting down the slow hours that separated him from that evening in the Room of Requirement, but he had to remind himself that Magnus' goal was to train Alec and nothing else, no matter the words the teacher had used... Though he couldn't help but ask for a clarification.

"Is it?" he wondered, "A date?"

Magnus' answering smile was cryptic but Alec stared at him in silence, unimpressed, until the teacher laughed and relented.

"Maybe... After we get some work done, nothing and no one should keep us from enjoying our time in the Room of Requirement... It could be our third date."

"Third?" Alec echoed, his brows arched. "When... When was our second one?"

"Uh... Our dinner in your bedroom, before you left?" Magnus answered, though he sounded quite unsure.

"That was a date?"

"I... guess it might have been?"

"Oh," Alec concluded, awe rising in his chest and warmth filling his heart. "Alright."

Of course. He remembered how special it had felt, to have Magnus in his quarters for the first time, to have him take up the emptiness of his bedroom that sometimes felt lonely and cold despite the fire in the hearth. The teacher had been sitting on his bed and Alec would be lying if he didn't admit that a few far from innocent thoughts had crossed his mind. He hadn't dared disturb the peace between them though, happy with what they had - after all, he hadn't believed he could ever get more than that.

"Third date, then," Alec decided with a smile as he speared another meatball on his fork and eyed it happily. "Good. Should I bring anything for the lesson tonight?"

"Just comfortable clothes," Magnus answered. "This one time at least... It should help."

Alec wasn't worried. He trusted the teacher to be gentle with him and not ask anything that he wouldn't be able to do yet but... He was curious.

"What exactly will you have me do?"

"Meditation?" Alec asked in surprise when Magnus let him into the Room of Requirement that night, and he stopped on the threshold to look around.

The Room of Requirement could take up many aspects, depending on the needs of the people who sought entrance. A place to hide or get rid of certain items and make sure that no one else would put their hands on those, a secret hide-out for couples who wanted some time alone... and, apparently, a place filled with scented candles and cushions placed in a circle to allow for efficient meditation. Unless Magnus had prepared this for the second part of their evening?

"Of sorts," the teacher answered with a smile, motioning for him to step further inside. "I'd rather call it anchoring."


Instead of using words to explain himself, Magnus took Alec's hand and helped him get over his slight hesitation, dragging him to the centre of the room, in the middle of the pillows. There, he examined his choice of clothing and winked at Alec, which seemed to mean that he appreciated the loose pants and the sleeveless top beneath his zip-up sweater. Magnus was wearing a similar outfit, minus the sweater, which revealed toned arms that Alec shyly adverted his eyes from. He had never seen him wear something else than the robes he donned to teach his classes or, that one precious time, his pyjamas. Even then though, Magnus had changed with the help of magic and Alec hadn't gotten a single glimpse of the smooth skin beneath these clothes.

He still wouldn't have dared to look - not without permission, not when the sight could feed his imagination in ways he hadn't needed back then, for fear of hurting himself even more. Now that he and Magnus were... closer and welcomed the change of dynamic in their relationship, it became harder not to stare. Hopefully Magnus wouldn't notice.

"Like what you see?" the latter asked with a smirk, and Alec spluttered.

"No! I mean, yes, but..."

Magnus laughed, before he placed a gentle kiss on Alec's lips. The Auror shut up at once, his heart beating wildly to his ears - maybe it was too soon to tell but he didn't think he would ever get used to the sensation of Magnus' soft mouth upon his own, whether he expected it or not. He still had a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that the teacher wasn't scared to be with him, let alone touch him like this - but he was ecstatic all the same. His lips were tingling, parted as they hoped and longed for one more kiss, but Magnus stepped back.

"Relax," he told Alec and smiled in reassurance, before he turned around and knelt on a cushion, resting his buttocks upon his heels. "Join me?"

The Auror obeyed and grabbed two pillows that he shoved together and a bit closer to Magnus, choosing to sit cross-legged on them. As he observed his friend and saw his expression turn from playful to focused, he could tell that the mood had just shifted and that he'd better get ready for the beginning of their session. He tried to erase the lovesick gleam from his own eyes and took a deep, grounding breath to let out most of the tension that inhabited his body. If interrogated, he'd grudgingly whisper that he was a tad nervous.

"Ready?" Magnus asked, glad to see Alec nod, even though he wasn't quite sure what he was agreeing to. "So, we'll start with the basics tonight. This, for instance..."

The teacher trailed off and raised his right hand, curled into a fist, between them. When he opened it, his eyes flashed with the golden colour Alec had already seen before and an orb of light rose from his relaxed palm, unhurried and pulsing as it bathed the Room of Requirement in warm shades. Mesmerised by the sheer gentleness this orb exuded, Alec lifted hesitant fingers, unsure whether he could touch it or not, but Magnus didn't say anything... so he brushed his fingertips against the small ball of magic.

The energy undulated beneath his hand, rippling like a giddy stream and Alec's eyes widened. How? How could wandless magic feel so pure, so far from malevolent? Asmodeus' had felt wicked to its very core, corrupted and manipulated in the sole purpose of hurting, while his own reminded him of boiling water, ready to overflow if it detected the slightest crack in his control. Warmth certainly wouldn't emanate from his magic, only rebellion and fear and ache.

When he spoke again, Magnus' voice was but a whisper, comforting and soft, as if he'd followed Alec's thoughts.

"This is what you obtain when you are in control," he explained, "when you trust yourself and your magic, when your powers are balanced... and in harmony with yourself. This is what you need to achieve."

"How?" Alec almost whimpered, "Every time I use it, it's... destructive."

"Not every time," the teacher objected, and the orb came to brush Alec's jaw in a light and calm caress, as if it had been Magnus' fingers bringing him serenity. "The first time I saw you use your magic like this, a marmalade jar flew into your hand. There was no malice in that move, no destruction, because you didn't think. You wanted that jar and you got it."

Alec blinked, surprised that Magnus still remembered such a mundane and insignificant instant and would pick that one as an example, out of all the more intense moments they had shared before. He was right, though... The Auror didn't remember that well but he'd probably not considered the dangers of reaching for the marmalade with his mind when he'd done it.

"So I... I shouldn't think?"

"Not too much, at least," Magnus nuanced. "Wandless magic is... or should be, I guess, natural. Thinking about doing something should be enough to do it. It's a performative art, I'd say."

"A what now?" Alec exclaimed, squinting as if that would help him understand Magnus' words better.

"A performative art," Magnus repeated patiently. "You think of something and it has an actual effect on our reality. If I think about a soft breeze messing up your hair..."

Alec started when a gentle wind actually blew in his hair, that ended up sticking in four or five different directions, and his eyes widened. That was...

"Amazing," he whispered. "Can I really do something like that?"

"Perhaps not right now," Magnus admitted, "but once you're in full control? Sure."

Alec kept quiet. Control was the issue... and he guessed he wouldn't achieve that even if he tried to stay cool and composed: he didn't live the calm kind of life - he never had, not as an Auror, and teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts wasn't the kind of subject that would grant him boring days. He must have looked disheartened at the thought, because Magnus reached for his hand and held it between his own.

"Can you feel your magic?" he asked, "I mean, inside you?"

Alec nodded. More often than not, he tried not to pay attention to the wild powers running beneath his skin, rampant, about to explode and hurt, but they were everywhere, like a restless colony of ants, and mentioning them only made them feel even more there.

"That's good," Magnus said, taking him aback with the simplicity of that statement, "It should be easier for you to be in control then, because you won't have to search for it... So, step two! You see, when you use a wand, it serves as a... a channel of sorts, to turn the raw magic that every wizard possesses into the tame energy needed to cast our spells. When you use wandless magic, however... your body becomes that channel. If your magic isn't under control, if all that raw energy pours out of you unchecked..."

Alec gasped.

"You understand," Magnus said softly as he tightened his grip on the younger man's hand in support. "You lived it once."

"Twice," the Auror whispered.

Magnus suddenly looked like he'd swallowed a lemon whole and he stared at Alec. He'd never outright told him, he suddenly realised, and why should he have? That wasn't a moment he was proud of, nor a time he wanted to relive. Magnus had probably read the papers that came out after his rescue though, he knew how badly injured both Jonathan and he had been... Now that he had witnessed how much damage Alec's devastating powers could do, Magnus wouldn't need long to put two and two together. Just on point, the teacher's voice rose, laced with hesitation.

"Was that what happened with Jonathan Morgenstern?" he enquired, not sure that he was allowed to broach that topic, and he paled when Alec nodded.

"I don't really want to talk about it," the latter added with a grimace. "Sorry..."

"Don't apologise," Magnus said, "It's... understandable, I guess. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have... but to think you've survived it not once but twice... You are incredibly powerful, Alexander."

"Didn't feel like it, at the time," Alec mumbled.

He squirmed and dislodged Magnus' hand in the process, which he immediately regretted when the teacher seemed to think he'd gotten too far and had upset him: he tried not to let it show but Alec read through his guilty expression anyway. He guessed that years spent interrogating people and sniffing out lies from truth had its side-effects.

"It's okay, Magnus," he promised, "I don't want to get into the details but that doesn't mean that I'm mad at you for asking about it. We're good. How can I prevent it from happening again, though? I'm not sure I can go through this a third time."

Magnus let out a sad chuckle, far from amused. He didn't say anything but the fear in his eyes betrayed him: he didn't even want to think about it happening again.

"Your body must become the channel for your magic," he whispered, voice shaky. "but your magic itself has to be calm and quiet so it doesn't hurt you. It should be pliant and work with you, not for you or against you."

"How do I do that?"

"Close your eyes," Magnus enjoined him, and he waited until Alec had complied to go on, speaking in hushed tones, enticing and urging the Auror to relax and just do as he was told. "Focus on your magic. Can you feel it right now?"

Scared, angry, frustrated, raw, scared, angry, frustrated, raw, scared, angry, frustrated, raw....

"Yes," Alec whispered, "It's... all over the place."

"Alright," Magnus breathed out, "You see, you need to ground all that energy, keep it together so you can reach for it more easily, if you want to. Usually, wizards like us gather their magic right... here."

Alec didn't flinch when Magnus splayed his palm over his heart. Behind his closed eyes, he could swear he saw him smile.

"For protection," the teacher added. "Try. Find the strength in your mind to pull your magic closer to you. Wrap yourself in it."

Alec complied. He wasn't sure he was doing it right but he tried to visualise the tendrils of magic that ran through his body and he pulled, tugged, fought in his head and grew frustrated with his own powers when he didn't notice any change, until he thought he felt something snap, like a whip clacking somewhere around his third left rib.

"Ow," he grunted and opened his eyes.

"You got mad," Magnus noted without judgement. "Don't."

"But it's not working!"

"When you arrived at Hogwarts the first time," Magnus shot back, "you certainly couldn't cast a Patronus Charm: you learned. So be patient, Alexander. You've only tried once."

Alec snapped his eyes shut again. Magnus was right but in his anticipation, he'd forgotten what training meant: the repetition of an exercise until he reached full mastery of it, perfection. This could be a long, slow and painful process.

He tugged at his powers again; more carefully this time, trying to be as patient and supportive with himself as he was with his students in class but he felt resistance after only a few seconds - he pulled harder, and a blue spark rose in the air between Magnus and him when his magic gave him the silent equivalent of screw you.

"Merlin's saggy left ball!" he seethed.

"Colourful, I like it," Magnus commented with amusement, but he turned serious again the next second, "Alexander, would you mind if I... had a look?"

"What?" the Auror asked in confusion, eyebrows already high, until realisation dawned upon him. "Oh! You mean... take a look at my magic? Like your father did?"

Magnus winced and Alec did, too, when he grasped how poor a choice of words that had been.

"Yes," the teacher admitted. "You don't have to agree, obviously, but I thought it might be easier if I could give you some directions or at least see where it goes wrong. If you agree, it won't be painful nor feel like an intrusion, I promise."

"I know," Alec told him, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean... Of course you can look. I trust you and I know that you'd never do anything to hurt me."

Magnus made a face at that, but his expression was gone too fast for Alec to analyse it deeper. Then the teacher nodded, blinked, and when his eyes opened again, the Auror was happy to find that they had taken the golden colour he had learned to appreciate whenever it appeared: Magnus let it happen far too rarely. He guessed that made sense, though: they only turned golden when Magnus used wandless magic, which he didn't reach out for that often. The fact that he was willing to do so for Alec was significant, heart-warming and a little terrifying at the same time. He'd never thought someone would be willing to push back their limits for him.

"I'm ready," Magnus whispered. "Try again."

Alec took a deep breath and pushed down a shiver of self-consciousness at the thought that Magnus was watching him and could see everything that made him him. On the exhale, he grappled with his magic once more but he was so anxious to show Magnus that he could do it, that he went too far and too fast. BANG! A small explosion propelled him backwards and Alec collapsed onto the pillows behind him, a bit stunned.

"Sorry," he rasped out as he propped himself up on his elbows. "Are you okay? Did you see something?"

"Yes and yes," Magnus answered.

He stood up and offered his hand to Alec, who grabbed it and let himself be pulled to his feet again. He blinked when the teacher raised his hand to run gentle fingers through his messy hair like a comb, although judging by his frown, it didn't tame that wild nest up there in the slightest.

"Your magic eludes you," Magnus then explained. "It does follow your command, to an extent, but then... I believe you think too much."

"What do you mean, too much?" Alec wondered. "I can't think less. I have to focus on my magic, on gathering it up, on keeping calm, on feeling everything that happens inside me, on not hurting you, on..."

"So you do realise you think too much, don't you?" Magnus insisted, "I believe you need an anchor, Alexander. You need to think of something that makes you happy and will keep you calm while you work on your magic - and you'll only think of that. Keep it in mind, focus on it, so you forget about all the rest: your fear that you won't succeed, the pain you remember from the other times... Your anchor will keep you and your magic calm and in harmony."

Alec clasped his hands behind his back, musing over Magnus' words. An anchor...

"So... A bit like a happy memory that channels the positive magic to create a Patronus?" he asked, not certain that he understood it properly.

"Kind of," Magnus answered with a nod. "Except that your happy memory can change and if it is strong enough, your Patronus will still appear. It would be best if your anchor stayed the same, though."

"Can it be a person?" Alec asked again, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he stared at Magnus. "Someone I feel calm and safe around, someone I trust?"

"I am honoured," the teacher told him very seriously, and Alec wasn't surprised that he'd seen right through him, "but it's not a good idea. Your anchor is supposed to help you be calm but if one day you're mad at me, it will become useless. Same goes for other people - even animals. An object would be better."

Alec nodded. He didn't dare tell Magnus that he'd never be mad at him, for it would be naive on his part. Of course everyone could be angry, even at the people they loved, and pretending otherwise would just be foolish. Still, Magnus' grave tone was a bit... worrying. It sounded as if he expected Alec to get mad at him sooner or later but... why?

"Can you think of something to serve as your anchor?" Magnus asked, and Alec's mind cleared from these intriguing thoughts. "Don't tell me, that should remain private. That anchor belongs to you."

The Auror nodded and tried to come up with something. Closing his eyes to retreat within the depths of his mind, he considered his wand first but while important, it didn't feel right to be used as his anchor: it was too obvious, not to mention he had a weird relationship with it at the moment. He also briefly entertained the thought of choosing Hogwarts itself, as it had always been a place he'd been able to call home, but the castle awoke too many complex emotions inside him. He was happy to be there of course, but his presence resulted from a personal failure at the Ministry and that... wasn't so positive.

If an anchor was too intricate, surely its effect would subdue? He had to find the perfect one, an item that would make him smile, keep him at peace with himself, and make him feel confident enough to know that he could use his wandless magic for good...

Alec opened his eyes.

"I think I have one," he eventually said.

"Let's give it a try, then," Magnus encouraged him, "I'll keep watching, if you don't mind, so I can see if it's working."

"Okay," Alec agreed, cracking his knuckles as he sat down again. "Ready?"

"Hit me with your best shot."

The Auror snorted and let his eyelids snap shut, but he committed Magnus' teasing smile to memory. Before he started wrestling with his magic again, he summoned the image of snowflakes falling in slow motion onto a tiger that pranced around a snow globe. He remembered how warm he'd felt when he'd unwrapped his students' gift, moved by the attention and grateful for the reminder that his magic could still work for spells that required goodness.

The tiger in his mind pushed on its strong hind legs and leaped out of the sphere in one powerful jump. Alec imagined that it travelled through his veins until its focused eyes reflected the blue of his magic and the beast invited these powers to follow it back, leading blue sparks and volutes that soon resisted. The tiger stopped, waiting, not giving up yet. Alec knew he was able to surpass himself, though - hadn't he proved it with his Patronus? Hadn't he survived?

Alec probed at his magic, until it relented and moved forward again. It didn't last long, for it halted again after a few seconds, but then he heard Magnus' voice.

"You did well. Let go now, gently. Give it a break."

The tiger returned to its snow globe and the magic retreated. Alec realised that he was panting when he opened his eyes again and he considered an excursion to the kitchens to grab a glass of water and maybe something to eat, but the Room of Requirement provided that in a heartbeat once it felt its occupant's desire. Magnus chuckled and waved toward the table that had suddenly appeared, pouring Alec and himself a glass of water each in a shower of golden sparks. One of the glasses then flew into Alec's expecting hand and the parched Auror let out a sigh of tired gratitude before he started drinking in long gulps.

"How do you feel?" Magnus asked.

"Exhausted," Alec confessed, surprised when his voice came out hoarse, and he coughed. "I didn't think I would be so bad at this."

"Remember that it's the first time you actually train," Magnus reminded him, "so don't be so hard on yourself. You're doing great. Whatever you chose as your anchor seems to be working."

"Nothing exploded this time," Alec snorted, and pushed his glass to the side. "I guess that's a win."

"It is," the teacher confirmed. "You'll get better and better at this, don't worry. When you're fully able to rally your magic, we'll take the next few steps, one at a time. First, you'll have to do the same even when you are distracted. Second, learn to use only a small part of your powers for simple spells, instead of throwing everything that you've got into them, or you'll tire yourself out even faster. Third..."

"One step at a time sounds good," Alec interrupted Magnus rather sheepishly. "Let's not think that far ahead for now. I'm not even sure I'll manage to do this when I concentrate, so if you start distracting me..."

"What, don't tell me you're scared of a little difficulty?"

Alec glared at Magnus. The teacher had to know - of course he did - that the Auror would rise to the challenge, and it took him less than a second.

"So distract me," Alec shot back.

"If you insist," Magnus gave in with a dramatic sigh, as if he couldn't believe that Alec would be so hot-headed, though he made a show of wiggling his eyebrows, "Remember though, if you need to let go, do it gently. Ready?"

Alec closed his eyes instead of answering him and focused on the snow globe again. It felt easier, the second time around, to steer the tiger towards the magic inside him and he was glad when he felt it move - but then, a warm breath tickled the thin skin behind his ear and his concentration faltered.

"I win," Magnus whispered when he saw Alec's magic escape his grasp. "Try again."

The Auror soldiered on. Magnus' breath ghosted along his jaw.

"I win. Try again."

Fingertips trailed up and down his arms. The tiger huffed in annoyance when the blue sparks flew away. Again. Magnus held his hand, entwined their fingers, and he settled behind Alec, folding himself against his back and spreading his legs on each side of the Auror's, whose magic bubbled happily, though out of its own will. Again. Lips mouthed at the tape of his neck. Again. The tiger jumped onto the magic, flicking its tail, trying to coax the blueness into playing with it. The magic shivered, wondering if perhaps it could trust the beast... Magnus was warm against Alec's back. Again. The corners of his eyes crinkled when Alec shut his eyelids tighter. The magic inside his body felt joyful as it ran after the tiger. Magnus' thumb was tracing a pattern onto the back of his hand and leaving behind a path of tingling skin. The magic didn't step back.

Suddenly, Alec twisted into Magnus' embrace and pushed him into the pillows at the same time as the tiger lay down in his chest, surrounded by a calm field of blue magic, and his lips met Magnus' in a kiss that wasn't meant for teasing. He kissed him until he grew breathless, until Magnus' fingers were painful where they were tangled in his hair, until the lips beneath his own felt swollen, until Magnus' ribcage touched his own every time he took a quivering breath.

"I win," Alec told him, and his eyes were as blue as Magnus' were golden.

Chapter Text

"Focus," Magnus chided Alec when he realised that he was distracted.

"I am focusing."

"No, you're staring at my arse."

"It's a great arse," Alec defended himself and flashed the teacher a candid smile when he turned around to stare at him with high brows.

"Smooth," Magnus eventually answered with a smirk, "but so not the point."

Alec smiled but nodded. The teacher was right, of course, as the main reason for their presence in the Room of Requirement was his training and not that light flirting, although Alec felt like he deserved a break. They'd been at it for one hour already and his whole body was starting to cramp up: sitting cross-legged worked for a while but his lower back was killing him by now.

One week into his daily training, Alec was now getting better at gathering his magic on the first try and actually keeping it in one place, instead of having it floating around his body like an iceberg in the ocean. Magnus had slowly introduced him to the next few steps then, meaning that Alec had learned to focus on his magic while doing basic tasks such as walking around the Room of Requirement, reading and grading one of his students' parchment or writing a letter to his parents to let them know that he was going to stay at Hogwarts during the Christmas holidays. While simple, the exercise had proven harder than he'd anticipated and he'd had to handle his growing frustration as well, although it had not quite worked out: his quill had torn through the thin parchment several times.

Alec knew that he was getting better but he hadn't reached the perfect balance yet. His successes were still too erratic, some days his eyes glowed a bright blue for one or two seconds at most and other days, they remained desperately hazel. I love your hazel eyes, Magnus had whispered in his ear when Alec had confided into him, admitting that he was scared his only-once-achieved full control had been but the beginner's luck. According to Magnus though, a colour change wasn't the sign of a wizard in full control of his powers, only that of a wizard who'd reached his full potentiality. Someone who would be nearly unstoppable if they decided to use their powers for immoral purposes.

"Your eyes always turn to gold when you use wandless magic," Alec had softly pointed out, comprehension dawning upon him all of a sudden, and everything made perfect sense.

Magnus had nodded, though he hadn't said much else on the topic. Between his ancestors' inclination for the dark arts and his own immense powers, Alec understood that Magnus might fear temptation and preferred to avoid it altogether.

"Still not focusing, Alexander," Magnus' amused voice brought him back to the here and now.

"I know, sorry," Alec groaned and closed his eyes, annoyed with himself for wasting time when the teacher was going out of his way to train him and make sure that he could handle his powers.

"It's fine... Look, we can take a break and try again later, alright?" Magnus suggested, sounding rather worried. "The point isn't to completely exhaust yourself."

"I'm okay," Alec lied, unwilling to make Magnus think that he was going too hard on him - he could take it, anyway.

He wasn't surprised when Magnus narrowed his eyes at him in a clear expression of disbelief: the teacher knew him far too well to be fooled.

"One more try won't kill me," Alec assured him, "then I'll take a break. Promise."

Magnus pursed his lips but he chose to trust his trainee's judgement and ended up nodding, although it was clear he would have preferred that Alec wasn't so stubborn. He was growing used to it, though.

"Fine," Magnus grunted, "but please, don't exert yourself for this."

"I won't," Alec swore, offering a reassuring smile.

"Let's try again then... Step by step," the teacher reminded him gravely. "Remember your anchor... Then gather your magic, keep it close and calm, and portion it."

Alec clenched his teeth at the last words: this was the novelty of the day and it was safe to say that he had failed each and every single one of his previous attempts at the exercise. At first, he hadn't understood why Magnus would want him to do such a thing. Why make him divide his magic when he'd insisted for so long on the importance of keeping his energy together? When he'd asked, Magnus' patience be blessed, the teacher had explained everything in details.

Alec trained for several purposes, although the most urgent and important one was the safety of everyone, himself included. However, the point was also to enable him to use his wandless abilities if he wished to, but without exhausting himself... which required that he only used a part of his powers, accordingly to the difficulty of the spell he wanted to perform. Right now, Magnus was trying to make him lift a feather in the air, a basic action, really, but Alec had not yet managed it. Not that he didn't know how to do it, he could feel that his magic was ready, his tiger brimming with excitement at the prospect of finally be released, but he... he couldn't do it. Didn't really want to, to be quite honest, for fear of making the whole room explode.

"Do I... do I really have to use wandless magic?" he eventually asked in a quiet whisper and saw Magnus tilt his head.

"What do you mean?" he wondered, not sure to understand where Alec was going with his question.

"Well..." Alec hesitated, "You... you don't use wandless magic when you can avoid it. Right?"


"Then... Do I really have to? Why don't I just... forget I can do it?"

Magnus stared at him in silence for a long time, until Alec started to wonder whether he was merely searching for the right words to use or had forgotten how to speak altogether. Was his question that shocking?

"Magnus?" he asked softly. "Are you alright?"

"Yes," the teacher eventually breathed out, "I'm just wondering... but I'll tell you later. First... Alec, this wandless magic you can perform... It's not just something that will go away with time. It is a part of you, just as it is a part of me, and neither of us can change that. Nothing and no one can force you to use it, though. I chose not to, unless I can't avoid it, but I'm always, always, in control. Until you reach that same constant control, I'm sorry but you'll have to train. Only after that will you be able to decide for yourself what you want to do with your powers."

Oh. Alright. That made sense, though it wasn't pleasing to hear that he would have to practice the wandless spells for a while longer because... he was still scared. He was scared and he couldn't tell Magnus - oh, the teacher would try to understand, Alec didn't doubt that, and Magnus would tell him that he didn't fear him, that he could fight off his blows if Alec ever lost control again but... He was afraid all the same, perhaps not for Magnus anymore but for everyone else, everyone who wasn't as powerful as them.

Most of all, he was scared to suffer. He didn't want to admit to such a shameful thing on an Auror's part but the memory of the pain he'd sustained before still haunted him and he knew he wouldn't survive a third time - he would make sure of it. Some days were better than others, though. Sometimes he felt like he could do this, train and get better and live a normal life, but other days he didn't see the point in even trying. Magnus spoke of constant control but how could he achieve that, when he wasn't even constant in his own emotions, his own motivation?

At least Alec was a tiny bit comforted at the thought that his wandless magic wouldn't be inevitable forever. If he could make it through the training and get the results both Magnus and he were hoping for... Perhaps he could lock his abilities away and never use them afterwards. The prospect appeased him somewhat - Magnus didn't look calm at all however, and Alec could see a storm brewing in his eyes. Before he could ask what was so upsetting though, Magnus spoke again.

"I have a question for you," he said, a badly-hidden hint of urgency in his voice, "and I want you to be honest when you answer me."

"I've always been honest with you," Alec answered at once, and he stood up to advance on Magnus and take his hand, then he confessed, "There are some... details from my job, my past, that I haven't shared with you but everything I've told you was true, I..."

"I know," the teacher whispered with a feeble smile as he squeezed Alec's hand. "It's not about that, you... you have every right to keep some things secret and I wouldn't want you to tell me anything against your will."

"You worry me," Alec confessed, staring into Magnus' concerned eyes. "What's wrong?"

"Alexander, when was the last time you cast a spell?"

"W... What?" he stammered in surprise, as he had not expected that question at all.

"Any spell," Magnus urged him on, "With or without your wand, nonverbal or otherwise, when?"

Alec didn't even need to think about it. He knew exactly when he'd cast a spell for the last time and he could even remember which one.

"During the fight against your father," he said with complete honesty, just like Magnus had asked, even though he'd kind of gathered from the question that his answer could potentially pose a problem... but he couldn't guess in which ways. "Why does it matter?"

Alec looked at the teacher in concern when he didn't answer but nothing on Magnus' expression helped him to understand what was so bad about the whole situation. However, the teacher's grip on his hand tightened and while Alec first thought he hadn't noticed, a glance at Magnus' face proved him otherwise. Magnus looked like he was scared to lose him. Alec couldn't stay in the dark anymore. He cupped Magnus' cheek and rested his forehead against his, leaning in close to reassure him, let him know that he wasn't going away, and his breath caressed Magnus' lips.

"What's wrong, Magnus?" he whispered. "Talk to me."

"Why haven't you?" the teacher asked in hushed and worried words as he wrapped his fingers around Alec's wrist in a tight, anchoring grasp, "Why haven't you done magic yet?"

"I... I don't dare to," he stammered, his throat dry, "I... I'm... I don't want to hurt someone. Or myself. I can't use it while I'm not in control and... you've seen how well that's working out at the moment."

"You are a wizard, Alexander;" Magnus said, and Alec could once again hear the concern and urgency in his voice as he spoke, "You can't just... not do magic and repress it, it's dangerous!"

"How so?" Alec shot back, curious. "How could it be more dangerous than me performing wandless magic and losing control?"

Magnus stepped back and he took a deep breath before he even attempted to talk, clearly too upset and scared of what Alec could do to himself if he wasn't careful enough and kept being stubborn. When he finally spoke up, his words were a clear warning.

"You've understood by now that magic has its own energy, its own will and desires. You could even say, its own emotions. How do you think your magic, your very powerful and still unstable magic, will feel if you stop using it and start repressing it instead?"

Alec looked down. It was too easy to understand, because he had been in that position before, at the Ministry, where his colleagues had decided that he wasn't worth their trust and friendship anymore. He knew the loneliness, the emptiness inside...

"It will feel rejected," he murmured.

"Exactly. You are rejecting a part of you, an energy that will feed on your negative thoughts about it, your magic will grow frustrated, sad and angry, so angry... until it will turn into a disaster that even I could do nothing against. You know what I'm talking about, Alexander, don't you?"

Alec nodded in silence, unable to form words around the lump in his throat. He'd read enough classified files in the archives of the Ministry to understand what Magnus meant, and it was nothing good. He remembered his horror upon reading about young Muggle-born witches and wizards whose magic had been rejected by their parents, terrified by the powers their children owned and that they couldn't understand.

In turn, the kids had tried to do everything they could to reassure their parents, to be accepted and loved, and they'd ignored their magic and its manifestations. They'd fought against that unspeakable part of themselves, that part that made their parents hate them... Until their magic started to feel sad, desperate and lonely - until it grew perverted, resentful and terribly aggressive, willing to hurt its host or whomever else, in hopes to feel even slightly better.

"An Obscurus," Alec murmured, feeling a shiver run up and down his back at the thought of the destructive energy that made no difference between self-hatred and murder of others.

"Yes," Magnus answered, his expression sombre and still anxious. "Obscurial children were rare, even back in the days when wizards and witches were persecuted, but... There have been a few modern instances. The older the person is when it happens, the more destructive the Obscurial becomes."

Alec shook his head. So Magnus thought that he would meet this fate if he refused to use his magic? He wouldn't... He wasn't turning into an Obscurial. Yes, he had been repressing his magic for the past few weeks but he didn't hate it, he was just... so, so scared.

"I won't become an Obscurial," he told the teacher, softly, his voice just this side of pleading, for he needed Magnus to believe him, to believe in him.

"Prove it to me," Magnus answered, just as desperate to know that he shouldn't worry about Alec, "Hex me."

"Hex... I'm sorry, what?!" he exclaimed with wide eyes and took a staggering step backwards.

"Hex me!" the teacher repeated, louder, more pressing, oblivious to Alec's shock at the suggestion that sounded more like an order.

"Not against you," Alec refused, his hands raised in front of him as he stepped further away. "Never against you!"

"Then cast a simple spell, any spell," Magnus insisted and reached for Alec's hands, "I'm not afraid of you."

"But I am!" the Auror eventually shouted, wild eyes meeting Magnus' even as he pushed him away, and his voice broke into a whisper. "I'm... I'm terrified of myself."

Alec swallowed back a sob. He collapsed on the floor, spared a grateful thought for the Room of Requirement that provided a plush cushion for him before he could hurt himself with a harsh landing, and he brought his knees up to wrap his arms around them and hide his face. He was shuddering - and so ashamed! Ashamed at his own weakness that Magnus was witness to. He wished that Magnus could understand... but he didn't know enough for that, since Alec had made a point of not telling him anything about his time with Jonathan - Magnus had seen his reaction to surprise though, he had seen his raw power and his loss of control... In a way or another, Magnus knew all of him already.

"I'm sorry," the teacher murmured after a while of silence, his hand hovering between the both of them, unsure whether he was allowed to touch Alec. "I shouldn't have..."

"No, I'm sorry," the Auror sniffled. "I'm... I'm always whining. You offer to train me, you try to help me, you use your own wandless magic, even though you don't like it... You're doing all of this for me. And I can't even do the same for you."

"Stop," Magnus begged him, falling to his knees, and he didn't hesitate any longer before he grabbed Alec's hands and held them tight. "Don't compare us... I don't mind using wandless magic when it's for a good reason, a great purpose; helping you is a great purpose. Not using it in other circumstances is a choice I made by myself, I didn't go through anything traumatic that scarred me like it did you."

"Your family wasn't traumatic enough?"

"You know what I mean," Magnus shot back, raking tender fingers through Alec's hair, glad when he felt the Auror unwind a little. "I was born with the ability for wandless magic and I was never afraid of it in itself but for you... It's different and it's okay, Alexander."

"Mine was triggered," Alec said softly. "Your father saw it."

He didn't need to ask whether Magnus could see it as well or not: the teacher nodded as soon as he was done speaking, a wordless confirmation that he had caught that detail as well when he'd looked at Alec's magic. With a heavy heart, the Auror pushed himself just out of reach of Magnus' fingers and he stared at him in thoughtful wonder. The teacher had surprised him in good ways, time and time over, and Alec had never been given any reason not to trust him, so... He would tell Magnus. After everything they had been through together, he deserved to know. He needed to know, so he understood Alec's fears and he could decide where to go from there, and they wouldn't be spending their time in this room in vain.

"Do you know how it happened?" he eventually asked Magnus, just as softly as before, trying to control his tone so his voice wouldn't crack.

"No," the teacher admitted, "I was aware that it was possible to trigger wandless magic, my family told me about it once, but... not in details."

"It happened during my time with Jonathan Morgenstern," Alec said, not quite able to meet Magnus' eye.

He knew he didn't have to fear judgement from him but Alec had grown used to side glances and criticism spewed behind his back at the Ministry, where no one but Raj had heard the full story, minus a few details too gruesome to share. Magnus was different from the colleagues who had badmouthed him at the office, he believed that, but even so, the events weren't pleasant to recall.

"I... I'd guessed so," Magnus murmured, suddenly hesitant to speak and encourage the Auror, for he could tell that this wasn't an easy moment to remember on Alec's part. "You do know that you shouldn't feel obligated to tell me anything, right? Don't think that you have to justify yourself or..."

"I don't," Alec reassured him, and Magnus' concern only strengthened his decision to tell him everything, "but I think you should know. It... might be about time that I talk about it."

Magnus' eyes bulged out of their sockets.

"You never told anyone?!" he exclaimed. "How... how did you manage to deal with this all by yourself?"

Alec should have answered that he didn't, that this burden hadn't become any lighter over the past months, but he shrugged instead. He'd told Raj... and now he would tell Magnus, because he trusted these two men with his life and he knew that they would not pity him. Besides, he didn't want to hide this from Magnus any longer - not that he'd actively been trying to keep it a secret: it just wasn't the kind of topic to broach over lunch nor out of the blue, and he hadn't been ready to talk back then. By now however, they'd circled the story a few times without ever getting into it but Alec felt confident enough about himself, about Magnus and what they had together, to open up that last part of himself.

"I was with Raj when I was taken by Morgenstern," Alec started slowly. "We didn't see him coming, one moment everything was calm and the next, we were under attack. He was alone and we should have been able to take him down but he... he overpowered us. He was so angry about his mother's defeat, so set on revenge, that his spells were more powerful than they should have been. Lilith's power came from necromancy and I think she taught her son a trick or two. I'm not sure. There have been enquiries from the Ministry but I didn't ask to read the file and the conclusions afterwards, I wasn't... I didn't even want to know. Whatever power he used doesn't really matter anyway, Jonathan still got his hands on me."

Alec closed his eyes for a brief second as he remembered the cold hatred in Jonathan's glare and the dig of his nails in his skin. He had tried to block these memories but they always came back to haunt him... When he looked at Magnus again, the teacher was listening to him in intent silence, not saying anything just yet, but his face was an open book. Every page reflected horror, both at what Alec had already said and what he hadn't shared yet, although Magnus had an inkling about what was to come... He knew about Alec's nightmares and his troubles with magic, not to mention the small part Magnus had read in the newspapers that had covered his rescue.

"Jonathan wanted to bring down as many Aurors as he could," Alec added without noticing that his voice was no louder than a whisper by now, "but for that, he needed names and locations and he... He asked me."

"You didn't tell him," Magnus guessed, his eyes filled with pain on Alec's behalf as he realised that Jonathan hadn't been pleased by his silence.

The Auror shook his head. Instead of speaking, he got to his feet and unzipped his sweater to stand in his sleeveless top only. Magnus' confusion at the gesture didn't last long and his eyes soon widened as they settled on the scars across Alec's arms, dozens of slashes that had faded over the months, until they looked like white lines on his skin.

Alec didn't stop there. The Room of Requirement filled itself with warmer air as he grabbed the hem of his top and slid it over his head without hesitation, even though he knew that Magnus might not like what he would find underneath. Magnus didn't look away. He stared at Alec, glanced from more slashes across his stomach up to the thick scar that cut his chest in half, and the Auror could not see any disgust in his eyes. He had not expected any less from him.

"When the Cruciatus curse wasn't enough for him," Alec explained, "Jonathan used other methods. He wanted to leave his mark, too."

"This one isn't his, though," Magnus whispered as he pointed to the worst scar of all, his eyes golden, and Alec wondered what he could see. "Your magic did this?"


"Can I...?" Magnus started, unsure, his hand hovering between them.

The lump in his throat was too thick for him to formulate a proper reply, so Alec just nodded. He shivered when Magnus ran his fingertips down his chest in a light touch, and he wondered if he felt the hard edge of the scar beneath his skin, if he could feel remnants of the pain that had almost killed him on that sad day of March. Ironically enough, this same pain had enabled his partner to save him from Jonathan's clutches.

"How did this happen?" Magnus eventually rasped out, as if emotion would suddenly overwhelm him too.

"I didn't talk," Alec whispered. "I... He kept hurting me but I didn't... I promise I didn't say anything. I kept hoping that Raj would come, even other Aurors, but then... Months passed and they didn't. Jonathan had concealed his lair so the Ministry couldn't track him down and they just couldn't find me. I was weak, he had taken my wand... So I did the only thing I could think about."

"Wandless magic," Magnus supplied for him.

"I didn't even know that I was trying to do that," Alec admitted with a sad smile, before his voice wavered. "I just... I just wanted to hurt him. Just once, I wanted him to feel the same pain he was inflicting me and I... I kept saying the curse in my head and I was trying so hard to imagine that I had my wand, that I could cast the spell... I reached too deep within myself."

The Auror took a deep breath. He felt like crying as he reminded himself of how low he'd fallen, to wish for someone else's pain so much... Even someone as vile as Jonathan Morgenstern.

"You saw what happened with your father," Alec breathed out. "Something just snapped in me. My magic exploded, it poured out of me and I could feel how... how eager it was to hurt. It attacked everything on its path, Jonathan... and myself."

Alec quivered. That day, he'd felt like he'd exploded, like his magic had destroyed his whole body to get out and in a way, it had. His magic, unbalanced, couldn't be contained by his exhausted, tortured body, and it had spiralled out of control. He had nearly killed himself trying to attack Jonathan, to protect himself, and it had shattered him from the inside.

"I'm so sorry," Magnus whispered, "So sorry that you went through this."

When the teacher carefully wrapped his arms around his waist, Alec didn't resist and fell into the warm embrace with gratitude. He closed his eyes, his chin propped upon Magnus' shoulder, and he let out a short breath at the complete acceptance he was receiving. There he stood, his soul as bared as his body, and Magnus had just taken them both into his care.

"I guess I should be grateful," Alec mumbled to his ear. "My magic held such powers that the Tracers from the Ministry went completely crazy. That's how they found me, actually."

The Minister had dispatched several teams to investigate the source of this intense energy, that they hadn't been able to identify. Raj and fellow Aurors had been sent on location at the same time as a dozens of investigators from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement who feared a breach in the International Statue of Secrecy... Raj had been in for a surprise. He hadn't given up on finding his best friend and had dedicated every hour he wasn't working for the Ministry to his hopeless quest, until Alec himself had provided the one sign Raj needed to help him.

"Alexander?" Magnus suddenly said, and Alec hummed to confirm that he was listening. "I'm sorry for what I asked earlier. I shouldn't have tried to coax you into casting a spell against me."

"You didn't know..."

"That's no excuse," the teacher insisted.

"Then I forgive you," Alec answered, shifting to stare at Magnus. "If I had explained this to you sooner, you wouldn't have asked at all, so..."

Magnus scoffed.

"Please don't start feeling guilty because you didn't tell me about what happened as soon as we first met," he groaned. "You should think about yourself more, not just about me."

"Look who's talking," Alec muttered. "Always worrying about me..."

"Because I care about you," Magnus shot back. "Who could blame me?"

His words managed to curl the corners of Alec's mouth into a smile, tiny but genuine. For reasons that he didn't understand, the sight seemed to trouble Magnus, whose eyes suddenly looked about to drown in their tears.


"I really want to kiss you, Alexander," the teacher told him on a low tone, like he would tell a dangerous secret, and Alec nodded.

He tasted salt on Magnus' lips but couldn't ask why, for Magnus' hand on his neck pulled him near, until all he could breathe and think was him, until he saw nothing but him even behind his closed eyes, and then he felt a gentle energy prod at his own. Gentle yes, but powerful and familiar too, and he didn't even think before he allowed his magic to greet Magnus'. His tiger flicked its tail in happiness before it jumped to play with the golden halo and Alec melted into the kiss even as he loosened his fearful hold on his magic. Still, he didn't forget about the taste of Magnus' mouth.

"Are you alright?" Alec asked when their lips parted, plump and red.

"Yes," Magnus answered, his eyes back to normal, and Alec wondered if he'd used a drying spell unnoticed. "I'm fine. I'm just quite emotional right now."

"Sorry about that," the Auror apologised a tad bashfully as he scratched his arm and suddenly remembered that he was naked from the waist up.

He bent down to pick up his top and his sweater, covering his scars and closing the parentheses around their moment.

"Should we call it a night?" Magnus enquired, "Get some sleep and come back tomorrow? Or maybe next week, during the holidays, when we are both well-rested. I'll think of another way to train you... if you still want me to."

"Is this still about the part where you asked me to hex you?" Alec wondered, his nose scrunched up in a frown. "It's fine, Magnus, I promise. I'm still willing to train with you, now more than ever... but tomorrow might be best."

As if his body was putting a stop to this session as well, Alec suddenly yawned. He hadn't taken the time to focus on his body, too caught up in his memories and the mental effort his training demanded, but now that the adrenaline was wearing off, he felt the fatigue down to the marrow of his bones. Maybe he'd overworked himself a bit.

"Alright," Magnus agreed with a relieved smile at the prospect of rest, for the both of them. "Let's go, then... Do you want to make a detour by the kitchens for a late night snack?"

"Too tired to eat," Alec grunted while he zipped up his sweater, although he would have liked not to leave Magnus so abruptly - and then, the illumination. "Uh, maybe we can sleep together like the last time?"

He noticed his poor choice of words when the older man glanced at him with barely-concealed amusement and wiggled his brows. Alec flushed.

"I didn't mean..."

"I know," Magnus said, bumping their shoulders in reassurance. "Lead the way, Alexander."

The Auror feverishly nodded, still feeling the heat burn his cheeks. He was glad that Magnus didn't misinterpret his comment and understood exactly what he meant - although Alec couldn't say that he had never thought about more. Not now, however. He just didn't want to sleep on his own... He'd really appreciated - euphemism - the night Magnus had spent in his bed and besides, he had grown used to sleeping with someone up close in his personal space... Mister Stache hadn't visited him since his convalescence in the hospital wing and Alec missed the small animal as much as he worried about him. He hoped nothing had happened to his little cat...

Once inside Alec's chambers, the two men easily found their space, taking turns in the bathroom and meeting again in the middle of the sheets, where Magnus lay on his back and tugged the Auror close, until his chest became a pillow for the young man's head. After this emotional evening, Alec allowed himself to be taken care of and sighed in contentment when Magnus started to run his fingers through his hair.

"I didn't think we would ever get like this," Alec whispered so he would not disturb the peaceful silence between them too much.

"Me neither," Magnus admitted. "See? Sometimes life takes a turn for the better."

"It seemed so impossible though..." the Auror added. "I was so certain that I could never have what I wanted..."

He wasn't only talking about Magnus and the nature of their feelings for each other. From the first day he'd tried to get back to work, at the Ministry, he'd understood that he had come back a changed man - jumping at every noise, fingers hitching for his wand at every second for fear of what could happen if he lowered his guard for even one instant... and yet he'd dreaded to slip and cause an accident. Beyond the matter of love though, he'd been terrified that he would never know what peace of mind was anymore. Here, in Magnus' arms, he was finally learning to enjoy the present and not think of what would happen the next day.

"You have me," Magnus promised him in a whisper. "You will always have me."

Alec's heart jumped. It was the closest they'd ever gotten to discuss the special bound that existed between them, the attraction they'd felt since day one that they had agreed to let evolve into friendship first.

"I can't believe you waited for me," Alec tentatively started, "There are so many witches and wizards out there, who would have been easier to l... be with."

"There might be," Magnus said, booping Alec's nose when he yawned, "but I never met another you and believe it or not, it's you I want."

"You like a challenge," Alec grunted, finding it harder and harder to keep his eyes open.

"I like you," Magnus simply answered and really, this conversation wasn't good for Alec's heart: its beat was way too excited for this late hour.

"Me too," he still managed to mumble, his voice barely audible as he slowly drifted off to sleep.

"Merry Christmas, Mister Lightwood!" one of the kids shouted as he left Alec's classroom on the Friday before the holidays.

"Thank you, Sean," he shouted back before the teen could disappear through the door, "Enjoy your time off!"

"You too, Mister Lightwood!"

Oh yes, he fully intended to enjoy the holidays: he was exhausted. He'd resumed his classes a few days prior and his students had welcomed him back with grins so wide it looked like they hadn't seen him in years. To his surprise, they had been quite mindful of his privacy and they had not asked for a detailed retelling of the events that had so suddenly deprived them of their Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. They had just enquired about his health and then, they'd gladly listened to him as he slowly found his footing again in front of his young audience.

He had only prepared theory classes for the week before the Christmas holidays: not only so he didn't have to perform magic just yet but also because he guessed it wouldn't make much sense to teach them a new hex or a spell. The students wouldn't be able to practice before they went back home for Christmas anyway, so Alec would rather wait until January.

A knock on the door distracted him from his thoughts and when he looked up from his spread notes that he was trying and failing to gather into a neat pile, he found Milo's familiar smile as the boy waited for the authorisation to come inside the class. Alec grinned: these meetings had grown into something of a habit. He wondered what it was about, this time, that made Milo seek him out like this instead of waiting until they had a class together...

"Come in, Milo," he told the teenager. "How are you?"

"I'm good, Mister Lightwood, thank you," Milo said, still smiling, and he pointed at Alec's wayward notes. "Do you have a moment or should I come back later?"

"I'm all ears," he answered. "Do you need something?"

"I have a question," Milo nodded, before he bit his lip and added, "It's... uh, a personal question so I understand if you refuse to answer."

Oh? Oh, Merlin, did he mean to ask about sex? While Alec was glad that Milo was trying to find answers to his questions and felt comfortable enough to discuss this with a teacher, he didn't necessarily want to know about any of his students' sex life. His face must have shown part of his reflection, because Milo snorted and was quick to reassure him.

"Not that kind of question," he said. "I was just wondering what you are planning to do with Professor Bane for Christmas."

"I'm sorry?" Alec asked, bewildered.

"Well, it's our first Christmas together, Seb and I," the kid beamed at him, "and... I'd like to make it special so I thought maybe you had an idea or two?"

It was cute, as well as terribly foolish to ask him because Alec had never known how to throw a proper party but he couldn't even tell Milo that: all he could focus on was...

"Professor Bane and I," he repeated, completely stunned. "How do you know that we're..."

He didn't say together. They weren't, were they? They hadn't talked about it... Not yet, at least. Their feelings set aside, they were kissing, drooling over each other and sleeping in the same bed from time to time but that wasn't enough to be considered an actual relationship. Were they even doing something together for Christmas? He wasn't sure. They had not planned so far ahead...

"Don't you remember?" Milo asked, "I was there when... I mean, I saw you? The day I confessed I had a crush on you - this is still so embarrassing, I'm sorry - and he... uh, cuddled you?"

Alec didn't even think of correcting Milo about his phrasing: his feelings were genuine and thus his embarrassment, unwarranted. No, he was too confused about the situation his student was describing.

"I... I wouldn't have cuddled Mag... Professor Bane in front of you, that's not... professional."

"Well," Milo shrugged, "He was in his cat form, so... He's kinda irresistible like that."

Alec's brain short-circuited.

"What?" he gasped.

"You really don't rememb... Uh, are you okay?" Milo asked.

Alec didn't know what kind of expression was plastered over his face but apparently, he was pale enough to make the teenager worry about him. Two words were running in circles in his mind. Cat form. Did Milo mean that Magnus was...

"He's an Animagus?" he whispered in shock, feeling like the ground was shifting beneath his feet.

"Merlin's balls!" Milo exclaimed in shock, "Don't tell me that you didn't know?!"

"Does everyone?"

"N... No," the boy stammered, casting increasingly worried glances at his teacher. "The first- and second-year kids don't know, it's... It's kind of a surprise and there's a tacit rule, we don't talk about it. We study Animagi in our third year, you see, and Professor Bane likes to make a dramatic entrance."

"Sounds like him," Alec choked.

Milo looked down to the Auror's hands, shaking on the desk, and he gnawed at his lower lip, helpless as he witnessed his favourite teacher trying to hold himself together and clearly in pain, so devastating and raw as it shattered his heart in thousands of pieces that Milo could almost picture falling at the man's feet.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered. "I thought you knew, I thought... Did I ruin everything?"

"No, Milo," Alec told him, "You didn't do anything wrong. On the contrary."

Milo wasn't convinced, especially when the teacher raised a hand to wipe at his eyes without even trying for discretion: he trusted Milo not to talk about this to anyone.

"I... I'll leave you to it," the teenager said softly, his own heart breaking for his teacher. "I guess you need to talk. I'm really sorry, Mister Lightwood."

"Me too, Milo," Alec whispered without looking at him. "Me too."

Chapter Text

After Milo's departure, Alec had to catch himself on the desk so he would not collapse onto his knees. His hands were still shaking and his heart, a heap of broken pieces inside his chest, gave a pitiful beat as emptiness suddenly filled him. He'd offered his complete and utter trust to Magnus and now...

The tears he had tried to hold back in front of his student spilled free when he thought the name, so precious and cherished only ten minutes ago, now leaving nothing but intense pain and confusion in his mind. Why? If Magnus and Mister Stache were but one entity, why had he not said something?

Alec was tempted to reject Milo's words, to forget their conversation altogether or count it as one more of the many nightmares that plagued his nights... For how could he accept, even imagine, that this was the truth? Could Magnus really betray him like this, after all they had been through together? After they'd held each other so tenderly, had cared for one another, after Alec had confided into him... He might as well have ripped Alec's heart out of his chest himself.

The Auror blinked when he realised that he could not see the surface of the desk through his tears anymore, the furniture of his classroom reduced to a blurry shape the colour of dark wood, and he wiped his eyes again. He had to speak to Magnus, he realised, although he didn't really want to... He didn't want to face reality.

As long as he didn't hear the admission from Magnus himself, Alec could still pretend that this was a mistake and that Milo had been under a Confundus Charm... but the second he stood in front of Magnus, there would be no excuses anymore. The pain, the terrible monster that was already devouring his insides, would swallow him whole. He needed to find out the truth, though... The uncertainty and doubts were far worse and only fed the pain within his chest.

Alec hurried out of the classroom before he could think better of it. He had never been one to recoil in front of unpleasant truths and he wasn't about to start now, so before he did anything unreasonable, he needed to decide whether he had been a complete imbecile by confiding into Magnus. As he strode through the hallways and passed by a few students whose eyes followed him in concern, Alec promised himself that he would not yell and that he would not show how hurt he was, not before Magnus had a chance to explain why he had not deemed him worthy enough to know that he was an Animagus...

If it was true. Perhaps he was a fool for hoping but he couldn't help himself and was still holding onto the thin and fragile wish that this was but a misunderstanding. Could Magnus truly morph into a cat? Oh but he was a fool indeed, he understood with a gasp, as he suddenly recalled cruel details he'd overlooked over the past few months and that made so much sense now, in the light of his new knowledge.

Then why? Why should Magnus choose to remain silent on this ability he had? It wasn't a secret, not when half the school knew anyway, so what could justify that he'd kept Alec in the dark for so long? Was it a joke to him? Or...

The Auror's world shifted and he nearly lost his footing when a horrible possibility crept into his mind. He'd met Mister Stache before meeting Magnus. What if... What if Magnus had been spying on him? What if no one trusted him, after his resignation from the Ministry, and the staff - or Luke or Magus himself or even Imogen, Merlin, he didn't know - had wanted to make sure that he wasn't a safety hazard? Hadn't he wondered, once... why Luke had decided to hire him to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts when even the Ministry didn't want him anymore?

What if he'd charged Magnus with getting to know him under the cover of his cat form so that he could put him under surveillance? A cat felt emotions far better than humans did and Mister Stache could have sensed Alec's distress before he lost control and hurt someone... So what if his whole relationship with Magnus was not based on trust and friendship but a lie?

Hurt beyond words, Alec didn't think before he pushed open the door to the Transfiguration classroom and stormed inside but he did freeze when he realised that more than twenty pairs of surprised eyes were set on him. Merlin. Of course there would be students in a freaking classroom.

"Alexander?" Magnus gasped, so surprised by the unexpected intrusion and, worse, the expression on Alec's face that he called him by his first name without noticing.

"Professor Bane," the Auror answered, ignoring the ache in his chest at the sight of the worried teacher, "I need to talk to you. Now."

"Class dismissed," Magnus said at once, turning to his students. "We were almost done anyway. Enjoy the holidays and merry Christmas, everyone!"

Alec didn't pay attention to the choruses of Merry Christmas, Mister Bane! that echoed in the classroom, too busy questioning the situation, wondering... How could Magnus be so concerned about Alec, so kind and so willing to interrupt his lesson to help him and yet had not bothered to tell him that Mister Stache wasn't an actual cat? He needed answers but the more he looked at Magnus, the deeper he felt the weight and importance of his treason... and the less he wanted to listen to an explanation, if there even was one. His heart was bleeding enough as it was.

"Alexander," Magnus repeated once the last students left, quick and silent though they did not fail to glance at Alec's red eyes in wonder, "What is wrong? What happened?"

He took a step forward, hand already outstretched to squeeze Alec's in his comforting grasp, but he stopped moving when the Auror eluded his touch without a word. His expression must have betrayed his silence, however. Magnus looked like he'd just been slapped.

"Is it true?" the Auror enquired, his voice hoarse and grim.

"What?" Magnus asked in genuine confusion.

Of course it was true, Alec thought bitterly while he watched the teacher blink. Magnus' hair was as dark as Mister Stache's fur, they had the same golden eyes, they felt the same concern for him, and now that he thought about it, Alec had not once seen his four-legged friend and Magnus in the same place at the same time. Oh, Magnus had played his game so, so well.

"Mister Stache," Alec whispered, hating the flash of panic that briefly lit up Magnus' eyes, but loathing even more the stray tear he could feel, following the gentle curve of his cheek and falling from his chin to wet the stone floor between their feet. "Are you an Animagus?"

"Who told you?"

Alec took another step back and his right hand clutched the dark fabric of his robes upon his chest, as if to still the fresh wave of hurt that crushed the shards of his heart in that instant. Magnus wasn't even trying to deny it.

"Certainly not you," he managed to utter through the emotion seizing his throat, and he was filled with a vicious satisfaction when he caught Magnus' subtle flinch at the veiled accusation.

"Alexander, I can explain..."

"... that you tricked me?"

"No!" Magnus exclaimed, his eyes wild and completely panicked as he realised that Alec was slipping through his grip and shutting him out, which he had never done before, not even when he'd been consumed by both fear and haywire magic. "I didn't mean to! Please, listen..."

"Save it," Alec spat, shaking his head without realising that he was going back on the promise he'd made to himself as he refused to hear Magnus out. "You... you had months to tell me, not a few days or weeks but months."

"Alexander, I..."

"I love you!" Alec finally shouted, unable to keep his feelings to himself any longer, hoping that Magnus would understand why his treason hurt so much, and he was oblivious to the tears that suddenly rolled down his cheeks and took part of his pain along, which had been in desperate need of an escape, "I... I trusted Mister Stache, I trusted you! I... I trusted you and you... you..."

He grew quiet when his throat refused to let out another sound, for he choked around a sob. This time, he didn't feel any satisfaction when he saw that Magnus looked as if he'd just been punched in the gut, his face stricken with unbearable regret and guilt.

"Alec," Magnus whispered with urgency, seeing his opening in the Auror's sudden and forced silence, "I understand that you are angry but please..."

"Angry?" Alec repeated around a humourless laugh. "I'm not angry, Magnus, I'm..."

Broken, betrayed, furious, sad...

"Destroyed," he completed in a murmur.

One look at Magnus' crestfallen and crumpling figure was the last glance Alec allowed himself before he turned around and left the classroom, unable to stay there any longer. He walked away and was surprised, albeit grateful, that Magnus didn't call him back: part of him didn't actually want to depart and had the teacher tried to hold him back, Alec would have faltered in his resolve, halted his steps, and he would have looked at Magnus once more.

Perhaps the teacher had guessed as much, perhaps that was the reason why he finally stayed still, gave up on explaining himself, and watched Alec go away in silence. Magnus knew him... and he knew not to upset him even more. The cold distance that stretched between the two of them as the Auror went on felt like straining a muscle and tearing apart two entwined elements that should not have been separated... As if he was slashing through everything Magnus and he could have been.

The Auror broke into pieces and stumbled through the corridors, trying to find his way back to his chambers, feeling like he had abandoned half of himself and all of his heart in the classroom behind him. He had not walked far when he stopped and rested his forehead against the cool stone of the wall on his right. He felt nauseous, almost as if the last bits of his heart were trying to claw up his throat... It hurt so much, that emptiness inside him, the knowledge that he had given his trust and his heart only to have them both trampled, not only by Magnus but... by everyone.

Every single teacher knew, he suddenly realised, everyone but him. Ragnor, Magnus' protector since childhood, Cat, who'd muttered under her breath that Magnus and he were idiots, Maia, too, who had tried to hint at the things he should have understood long ago... and Luke, of course. The Headmaster knew everything that was happening on school grounds after all, whether it concerned him or not. Why had no one deemed it necessary to tell him, unless he was right and they'd wanted to keep an eye on him?

He still didn't know Magnus' actual reasons, hadn't stuck around long enough to hear them, and he didn't understand why no one else had shouldered that mission instead. Had they enjoyed his naivety? Laughed behind his back, because the poor little Auror was too infatuated with their resident Animagus to put two and two together?

The thought made the tiger inside Alec snarl in protest. He wasn't an idiot. Just a man who had believed that he could trust the people around him, one person in particular, and had been deceived...

Alec let out a broken cry and punched the wall in fury, mindless of the sting that suddenly shot through his fingers. He only noticed the sparks that burst from his fist and he leapt from the wall at once, scared to see it collapse under the brutal assault of his magic. When nothing of the sort happened, Alec didn't allow himself to feel relieved about it but he jogged away with an unsteady gait, his mind working a mile a minute.

What now?

He was lost. He didn't want to see Magnus. He didn't want to see his colleagues. He'd written to his parents to let them know that he wouldn't visit during the Christmas holidays but in light of the recent events, he didn't think staying at Hogwarts for these two weeks was an available option anymore. He'd looked forward to it though, to having more time to spend in Magnus' company without any class schedule to stick to and interrupt them. He could scratch that plan now, tear it down to hundreds of pieces and make them vanish from one swing of his wand... except that he didn't want to use it, even though it had been calling him for weeks now, from the depths of his robes pocket.

Alec reached his chambers without really noticing that his path had led him there and he entered his bedroom on reflex, finding himself blinking owlishly at his bed. What was he supposed to do now? Gather clothes and leave for a few days, his mind whispered, and he wanted to follow what appeared to be sound advice. He couldn't stand to be near so much magic in this instant, too resentful to the powers that seemed set on tricking him over and over again, so he had to rule out a stay at Hogwarts.

Perhaps it wasn't too late to pack a bag and catch the Hogwarts Express back to London. He didn't want to risk an Apparition in the wretched state he was in, uncertain that he would manage to concentrate hard and calmly enough to reach his destination without Splinching himself. He was in enough pain as it was and losing some body parts didn't appeal to him.

Decision made, Alec grabbed clothes from his wardrobe at random and rolled them into a bundle that he pushed into a bag. He made a quick job of it, eager to get away, and the next thing he knew, he was walking the path from the Gates of the castle down to Hogsmeade.

The Auror was not far from the station and surrounded by quite a fair amount of students - who took one look at his face and immediately knew better than to try and greet their teacher - when he stopped walking, struck by a sudden thought. The Hogwarts Express was a bad idea: he had not considered it before but... More than seven hours on that train, with nothing else to do other than endlessly replaying his conversation, if he could even call it that, with Magnus? Apparating actually sounded safer. If he Splinched himself in the process, at least the physical pain would alleviate that of his heart.

He was still going to London, he decided. He hadn't changed his mind regarding the holidays with his family: his parents had last seen him lying on a hospital bed so they would watch him as if he was a crystal vase on the edge of a table for the whole duration of his stay. As for his siblings, one glance at him would suffice to notice his heartbreak and he didn't want to dodge questions all week.

Raj's place, then? Alec shook his head to himself as soon as the idea popped into his mind. While his friend would be delighted at the prospect of spending even part of the holidays with him, Alec couldn't intrude like this... Raj had a girlfriend, now. They would probably try to make the most of the Auror's few days off and Alec didn't think Lucia would be happy about her boyfriend's best but traumatised friend third-wheeling.

Beyond that, he didn't think he wanted to be anywhere close to magic at the moment, nor to a wizard or a witch who knew him. Every single one of them would enquire about his red eyes and overall pitiful state; if he explained, which one of them wouldn't tell him that he should have seen it coming, that he'd had all the clues and only needed to put them together to complete the puzzle? He didn't want to be blamed for his lack of perception, he could do that by himself well enough, thank you very much.

Eventually, Alec thought of someone else, someone who wouldn't show him anything but support and would be happy to see him again after so long, if only for one day. If his friend was busy, he could still go back to his flat after his visit, although he couldn't say he was looking forward to spending the holidays alone with his thoughts in his empty place. Alec shook his head, exhorting himself to take it one step at a time: first, he had to make it to London in one piece... So he closed his eyes to picture his destination and when the tiger inside him gave him a little, encouraging nudge, Alec Disapparated.

Alec didn't remember the exact address but when he reopened his eyes, he knew that he had, at least, arrived in the desired neighbourhood. A bit shaken after his travel, he leaned on the wall of the back alley he'd landed in and waited for the dizziness to pass, slowly, until he could see clearly again despite the crawling darkness of the late afternoon. Most people vomited when they first Apparated and though the Auror wasn't a novice in this matter, this one Apparition had exhausted him and left him feeling rather nauseous.

Once he was able to stand a bit taller and was positive he would not throw up, Alec stepped out of the shadows and found himself walking into the vibrant lights of the Christmas market established in the street. A bit curious, as it had not been Christmastime when he'd last walked these streets, he slowed his pace to admire the ornaments above his head and at the windows of the pubs. Snowflakes and striped candy canes, garlands and wreaths decorated the doors of the houses on each side of the street as well as the chalets where Muggles were selling their goods, all with a smile despite the growing cold.

Alec walked a bit faster when a couple passed him by, laughing as one held a chocolate star to the other's mouth, wrapped in each other's arms. His chest was crushed by sad jealousy over their obvious happiness - he would have given anything to hold Magnus' hand in this street, to laugh with him as they pointed to horrid Christmas trinkets, to drink hot cocoa as they navigated the bustling market and kissed under the mistletoe hanging from the roof of certain chalets. Too late for that, now...

Too late for everything. Alec forced himself to leave the crowded area before he could break down and he went looking for his friend's house instead. He remembered the place, a terraced house that didn't look too modern on the outside, although the interior was made up of sleek kitchen and bathroom appliances, and elegant albeit affordable furniture that created a spacious living-room and bedroom. A Muggle house, lacking the oddities of a wizard's home like a fireplace and its little pouch of green powder on the side or a crazy ghoul hiding in the attic, but a warm house nonetheless... Even more so to Alec, who'd made a real friend there.

He met fewer people as he put some distance between the Christmas market and him, and even less when it started raining. Alec didn't pay attention to the weather and he didn't even raise his wand above his head for protection against the downpour. Instead, he looked up, squinting against the sky's fat tears, and he glanced to the rainbow flags hanging from balconies or closed windows, slowly growing limp under the weight of the water.

A few pubs were open and Alec smiled against his will as memories invaded his mind, memories of pints and discussions about music and Muggle shops or police investigations. He remembered getting flustered as people flirted with him and suggested they should buy him a drink, offers that he'd relentlessly refused, too confused to note the genuine interest in some men's eyes.

Alec eventually made it to the doorstep of his friend. He rang the bell without hesitation, even though he didn't know whether his friend was home, whether he would be welcomed despite the months that had passed, and so he waited under the rain. When the door opened, Alec blinked as he was bathed in the light coming from inside and he heard his friend's voice before actually seeing his face.

"Bloody hell, Alec! You're alive!"

The Auror let out a breathless laugh as he was suddenly hugged, a brief but heartfelt embrace that put every fear he could have had about his welcome at ease, before he was tugged inside and away from the rain. He took a good look at his friend then, from his wavy blond hair to his bright smile, down to the rainbow bracelet around his wrist.

"Hi, Andrew," Alec said with a tiny smile, slightly apologetic for visiting without warning. "It's been a long time."

"More than a year," Andrew Underhill pointed out with arched brows. "It's so good to see you!"

"You too," he answered, "Sorry I didn't keep in touch, I... went through some stuff."

They had kept in touch at first, actually. Alec had received letters to his flat the Muggle way while Andrew had freaked out the first time Archer cried out at his window to be allowed inside, but they'd written to each other. Wait, you don't have a phone? Andrew had wondered when Alec had jotted down his address on a loose sheet of paper, before muttering something about their lack of technologies.

"Guessed so," Andrew nodded, motioning him further inside once he'd taken Alec's soaked coat to hang it onto the peg and left it to drip on the floor. "I knew something had happened to you when you stopped replying to my letters... I was serious before, I'm surprised to see you alive - positively surprised, mind you. You Aurors... You do a mad job, worse than us."


Andrew snorted.

"Sit down," he told Alec as they reached the living-room, and he made a beeline to his kitchen. "Do you want a beer? I remember you actually enjoyed... what did you call it? Buggle beer?"

"Muggle beer!" Alec shouted from the living-room.

"Right," Andrew's voice came out a little faint, as if he'd put his head in the fridge to find the drinks. "Do you need a glass or are you fine drinking from the bottle?"

"Same as you," Alec answered, unsure what a Muggle like Andrew would find more proper, "but either way is fine."

"Bottle it is, then," his friend said when he reappeared, handing a cool bottle to Alec before he sat on the edge of an armchair across the room and fought with a bottle opener, "I'm sorry but my dishwasher died on me two days ago and I'm tired of standing at my sink."

"A dichwosh-what?" Alec asked with arched brows, even as he waited for Andrew to pass the opener over.

"Never mind," the policeman giggled, and his eyebrows rose too when he saw that Alec hadn't taken the cap off his bottle yet. "Don't you have magic for that?"

Alec grew cold all of a sudden.

"I... Yes," he mumbled, "Uh... It's a long story but I... I can't really use magic at the moment."

"Can't or won't?" Andrew asked and hummed when Alec looked at him in surprise, "Thought so. You look... conflicted."

The Auror didn't confirm his statement aloud but he nodded. Andrew smiled in sympathy and reached out for the uncapped bottle, that he opened with a sharp move up of his wrist.

"Cheers, mate," he said after he gave Alec his beer back, and for a short moment there was nothing but the sound of their throats working around a long sip of alcohol. "So? Want to talk about it?"


"Please," Andrew scoffed, "I don't need to be a magician like you to read your mind and know that something's not right."

"I'm a wizard," Alec pointed out, "not a magician."

"You got my point," Andrew said, his words followed by a shrug. "So, is it your job? Your family? A man?"

Alec bit his lip, which seemed to be enough for his friend.

"Ouch," he whispered, "Heartbreak. Do you need something stronger than beer?"

"I didn't come here to get drunk," Alec protested, "but thanks for the offer."

"Anytime," Andrew chuckled, before he asked with a careful softness to his tone, as if he expected Alec to break apart, "You came here to find a friend, didn't you? Do you want to talk about what happened between you and your man?"

He was right, Alec realised. He had not come all the way to London and to Underhill's house just to be around a Muggle and as far from any magic other than his own as he could get. If that had been his purpose, then he might as well have Apparated in the middle of the Highlands, in a deserted place. No, he had indeed come to find a friend, a confident, even though he had not been aware of it... and who better than Andrew, who had seen him seduce half a gay bar without noticing and had then heard him talk about his vision of love?

"I met someone," Alec whispered without pronouncing the beloved name, for it would hurt too much, "and it was good and safe, until it wasn't anymore."

"What did he do?" Andrew asked, his voice still soft and not pushing, just open and willing to listen - perhaps this was what Alec had hoped he would find in London... but if he wanted his friend to understand the depth of his pain, he had to start from the very beginning.

"I got into trouble last year," Alec explained with a grimace, aware that it was putting it lightly, and he took a sip from his beer.

"What kind of trouble?" Andrew frowned around his question, since he had not missed the haunted look in his friend's eyes.

"The kind that comes after you arrest a criminal, when her crazy son seeks revenge."

Andrew flinched. Alec guessed that he perfectly understood what he was talking about: they may work for different communities, their job was still the same and the criminals they dealt with were probably just as bad... although with different weapons.

"You got out, though," Andrew softly said.

"Thanks to Raj, yes - you remember him? Auror Dhawan?" Alec wondered, glad when his friend nodded. "He found me but I wasn't... I... I nearly died, Andrew. I think a part of me actually did. I'm not the same anymore and my magic is... out of control, sometimes."

"Is that why you don't want to use it?"

"Yes," Alec admitted, "I was working on it though, I was training with... with..."

"Your man," Andrew finished gently in his stead, when understanding dawned upon him. "What went wrong?"

"I was an idiot," the Auror grunted. "I am an idiot. I didn't realise that there was... more to who he pretended to be. I trusted him, I told him my darkest secrets, and he... he couldn't show me the same honesty."

Andrew frowned, not sure to follow, and Alec couldn't blame him. The situation was complicated, for sure, and he had to explain himself clearly if he wanted his friend to understand.

"I'm not an Auror anymore," Alec eventually mumbled, neither proud nor happy about that fact, and he couldn't quite look Andrew in the eye as he said so, unable to stand the surprise in his gaze that reminded him far too painfully that he shouldn't have been pressured into that decision in the first place. "I had to quit. I'm teaching kids now, young witches and wizards... Not something I thought I could do but I think... I think I'm good at it?"

"I'm glad," Andrew whispered, still a bit shocked by Alec's announcement as well as seemingly angry, because he hadn't missed the peculiar phrasing Alec had used that led him to believe that he hadn't willingly handed in his resignation. "So, you fell for a new colleague of yours?"

Alec nodded and rested the cool bottle of beer against his forehead. He appreciated the chill of it, that helped him to focus instead of just dissolving into sobs at the painful reminder of his foolishness. When he spoke again, his voice betrayed his emotion.

"I made friends with a cat before that - and yes, this is important," he added before Andrew could raise his eyebrows again. "He... he helped. I have nightmares, sometimes, and he... he helped me calm down. Kept me company, so I wouldn't be completely alone even when I didn't feel good enough to be around people."

"Why do I feel like this turned out to be a problem?" Andrew asked, frowning, and he seemed rather worried.

"Because that cat was no other than Magnus," Alec whispered, closing his eyes to both savour and curse the name on his tongue, and then he remembered that his friend didn't actually know who Magnus was. "My colleague. The man I love."

"He... can turn into a cat," Andrew said flatly.

Despite the circumstances, the Auror let out a chuckle, albeit feeble. Andrew had seen his fair share of magical happenings during the time of his enquiry alongside the Aurors but Alec didn't think the Muggle would ever grasp the sheer amount of possibilities that a magical world could put into existence. Yet, he was trying to downplay his reaction, to make Alec believe that he could deal with this kind of news as if nothing wizardry-related would ever surprise him anymore...

"It's a long and intricate process but some of my people can turn into animals, yes," he explained, and he was glad for Andrew's ignorance since the lesson in magic helped him to detach himself - somewhat - from the heartbreak. "He's one of them... and he didn't tell me."

"B... but... why?" Andrew stammered. "Have you asked him? Did he tell you? Why would he keep the truth from you?"

"I don't know for sure..."

"What do you mean, you don't know for sure?" his friend shot back, even more shocked now. "When and how did you realise that..."

"This afternoon," Alec answered, and he had to pinch the bridge of his nose and dig his forefingers into the corners of his eyes to keep sudden tears at bay. "A student told me - accidentally. Everyone knew, Andrew. Everyone... but me."

A long silence welcomed his words and for a while, there was no sound besides that of two deep breathings and Alec's heartbeat that echoed against his eardrums. Eventually, Andrew put his beer on the floor next to his seat and rubbed his temples.

"This doesn't make any sense," he muttered. "If he - the cat - helped you... then Magnus probably didn't hide the truth just to hurt you. What did he say to you?"

Alec looked down, suddenly feeling like it was very important to find out how many tiles the floor of the living-room was made of. Shame burned low in his belly as he thought of his last moments with Magnus, because he had been angry and sad but most of all, he had been a coward.

"I didn't let him say anything," Alec confessed. "I was... scared to hear that he didn't trust me or that... I was a pity project. So I just told him that I loved him and left."

Another silence, a bit stunned this time. Alec wasn't sure to like the change.

"Please don't tell me," Andrew started, "that this was the first time you told him that you loved him."

The Auror hung his head even lower at that, aware that throwing his feelings at Magnus and leaving him right after that had been a low blow but... He'd just needed him to know, so he would understand why the secrecy surrounding Mister Stache was so hurtful. Andrew sighed, a long and drawn-out note, when he caught Alec biting his lip. The young man burrowed a bit deeper into his armchair and seemed to be gathering every ounce of patience he could muster before he spoke again.

"I can imagine that you are hurt," he started, "and I guess I can also understand that you didn't really want to listen to him. It was too soon... You know you'll have to talk to him at some point though, don't you, Alec? You can't leave it at that."

The Auror nodded, feeling more miserable than ever. While different, he felt the raw pain in his heart with the same acuity he had the shattering of his magic inside his body. That pain had passed and Magnus had been there when he woke up but this time... The heartache wouldn't go away until he faced him and got an explanation, one that he wasn't sure he was ready to accept.

"Not today," he eventually uttered.

"Of course not," Andrew answered, "You are too upset for that... and you look like death warmed over, no offence."

"None taken," Alec grunted, "I'm perfectly aware that the puffy eyes aren't my best feature."

"I wasn't talking about that," his friend softly added, and scratched his chin when Alec's eyes settled on him. "Can I speak my mind?"

"Of course," the Auror said, his brows arching in curiosity when Andrew took out that weird device Muggles called a fone or something, tapped it a few times and then threw it under his nose, "What..."

A picture. Andrew was showing him a Muggle picture of them, taken that memorable night at the bar, and Alec's throat constricted when he realised that he was smiling there, a bit shyly perhaps, but smiling all the same, with an innocence in his eyes that he had since lost. He looked happy. He wouldn't be so dramatic as to say that he had never been happy like that since that night - it wouldn't be true. He'd had Magnus, and teaching, and Max, and Raj, and the snow globe, and Hogsmeade... but for a few rare exceptions, these moments had always been shadowed by fear or a deep longing for what was no more.

"Why are you showing me this?" he asked, his voice low and sad.

"Not to hurt you," Andrew promised. "It's just that... This is the Alec Lightwood I met. Now, I guess you didn't walk out of whatever hardships you had to face last year just fine, which is normal, but... You don't look good. You've lost weight, you look haunted, and you slouch like you're carrying the whole world on your shoulders. I'm sorry but I don't think any of that is due to your current situation with Magnus."

Alec didn't answer, aware that Andrew was right... but no one among his friends had told him what he had, these past weeks. Had they grown so used to his current demeanour that they didn't remember who and how he was before? Some, like his colleagues from Hogwarts, had not known his pre-Jonathan self so it made sense - actually, the only one who'd kept saying that he didn't look alright was Max. Did it matter, though? Alec was dealing with his problems, wasn't he?

"I'm dealing with my problems," the Auror confirmed his own thoughts. "I'll get better. It will be like before... soon."

"Have you seen a doctor?" Andrew asked, not convinced.

"My sister's a Healer," he answered, not to mention the plenty others he had seen over the past year. "She's like your doctors. She tried to help but... I don't like the potions."


Alec nodded.

"Potions to sleep, mostly" he explained, "like your Muggle medicine."

"What about a therapist?"

"A what?" Alec echoed, taken aback, which seemed to take Andrew by surprise as well.

"A therapist," the policeman repeated slowly, so that his friend could understand the word, and then he faltered. "It's... Uh, it's like a healer, I guess, but... for the mind. Kind of."

"We don't call them therapists," Alec said, tilting his head as he thought about it, "We only use the one name. Our Healers work on the body and on the hexes that affect the mind, so it goes back to normal."

"No, you don't get it," Andrew sighed, smoothing down the lines of worry across his forehead. "Trauma and... hexes aren't the same thing. We Buggles aren't usually subjected to magic but our mind can still get in all sorts of troubles."

"Muggles," Alec corrected under his breath.

"Whatever, that's not important," Andrew shot back, dismissing the words with a lazy wave of his hand. "My point is, your mind doesn't get back to normal, Alec, that's not the way it works. You can never be like before, you can't erase what happened. You have to learn to live with this trauma and find ways to deal with it instead of throwing it under the rug."

"I... I don't understand," Alec stammered.

He closed his eyes, horrified to realise that they stung as if he was going to cry. He couldn't believe Andrew, he couldn't imagine that he would never be the man he used to be, couldn't accept that Jonathan had destroyed his life forever.

"Listen to me," Andrew's voice reached him through his distress. "After I worked with you, I was... upset. I had just found out that magic existed and that far from being a happy, marvellous world with unicorns, pointy-eared elves and muffins falling from the sky, it was a word just like mine, filled with good and bad people, except that those could easily kill me and everyone I knew - and I would be powerless to stop them. It... messed me up. I couldn't sleep for a while, because I half-expected a dark wizard to storm my home and point one of your wood sticks towards me... and whenever I fell asleep, I kept dreaming that they came to hurt me."

Alec didn't say anything, though he would have liked to reassure his friend. He knew only too well that some wizards and witches deemed themselves superior and didn't see the point in keeping Muggles around, except for their entertainment - not of the good kind, though.

"What did you do?" he eventually whispered.

"I talked to my boss," Andrew answered with a shrug, as if it was the most natural development Alec could have expected. "We often work with therapists, when a case stays stuck in our head... and we decided that it was important to have a therapist who knew about magic and could help us deal with it. We got in touch with your Minister to get her authorisation as well as her help in order to convince Doctor Lewis - the one in our team who seemed less likely to freak out about that kind of thing. He was quite excited, come to think of it... and he helped me cope, until I found a new normal."

"Do you sleep, now?" Alec wondered with a very small voice.

"Yes," Andrew answered with a nod as well as a smile, before he detailed his experience, "I learned to let go, to understand and accept that I can't control everything... Fear doesn't chase danger away. There are still nights that I spend lying in bed, wide awake, because miracles don't exist, even with a therapist... but now I can deal with it."

Andrew hesitated but then seemed to think that Alec needed one more subtle nudge in the right direction.

"I know it's not easy," he started, "but talking about your trauma could do you some good."

"I talked about it," Alec said at once. "To Raj and Magnus..."

"They are your friend and boyfriend," Andrew pointed out, his face grave, and Alec didn't get the time to tell him that Magnus and he had never gotten around to label their relationship. "They can support you, like I would, but they're not qualified to actually help you. You can't put that responsibility on them."

"I hate it when you're right," Alec muttered.

Because he was. Magnus could teach him control but neither he nor Raj could shoulder the burden of his mind or his pain.

"I can pull some strings," Andrew added, "and get you an appointment faster... if you're okay speaking to a Buggle like me."

"Muggle, Andrew," Alec said and rolled his eyes, although he was smiling. "Muggle."

Andrew shrugged and picked up his beer, allowing the Auror to think at leisure about everything that had just been said. A Muggle doctor for a traumatised wizard... It sounded a bit ridiculous, Alec had to admit it. Then, out of the blue, he remembered a dapple-grey creature in the Forbidden Forest and his quiet whisper.

Help might come to you from the most unexpected place.

Chapter Text

He trots upon cool and solid stone. The ceiling is high above him, the distance heavy and menacing, but he goes on, mindless of the darkness that has settled now that the round moon is up in the sky and the candles, snuffed out. He can see in the dark and he knows his way, he won't stumble because of a bump on his path.

He stops in front of a door that only needs a little push to give way. He steps inside, hesitant as never before, though his coming is just as unbidden as it was all the previous times. He's never been invited, not like this. The room is cold, the fire out, the bed made. No one is there... He expected it but still he yearns for a caress, a coo, a soft word accompanied by an even gentler touch.

He doesn't really think about how he doesn't deserve any of that anymore. His thoughts are simpler when he's like this, his heart is tinier, less broken, and the guilt doesn't choke him up as much either. His thoughts are simpler, wilder too, and it's sleeping by the fire, following the scent of a mouse, dirtying his paws on the battlements of the castle beneath the pale moon. It's also caring for an unsuspecting man and leaving the fear of truth and rejection to his counterpart.

He climbs onto the bed, nuzzles at the pillows that smell like him and them, their scents tangled like their fingers were. He curls into a ball there, in the faint hollow their shapes left in the morning, annoyed to find that there is no warmth remaining in the sheets, as if they never embraced each other in that bed.

He closes his eyes, longs for the missing, and he's glad to be a cat that doesn't cry, because his thoughts might be simpler now, he still remembers himself, his other self, falling to pieces in a cold and deserted classroom. It's sad to be a lone cat but he prefers this to being a human losing his lover. Distantly, as if that emotion didn't really belong to him, he knows that loss feels terrible. Somehow, he also knows that having no one to blame for this grief but himself feels much worse.