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Yiling Patriarch Dead - Fighting Ceases

His portrait’s frame appears in the Gryffindor common room, but he’s not there

 

The notorious Yiling Patriarch, known also as Wei Wuxian, died this night at the Ministry of Magic. His passing marks not only the end of the Terror of the Undead, but also the fall of Wen Ruohan’s tyranny. 

News, p1-5.

 


 

Special Issue 

Wen Ruohan Gone: End of Wen Dynasty

The Three Sworn Brothers finally put an end to the Great Oppression

 

The supreme leader of the Great Oppression of the Wizarding World, Wen Ruohan, was found dead in the early hours of the night. Jin Guangyao’s killing curse has put a definitive end to the two year long occupation of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy. Jin Guangyao, a promising member of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, along with his two Sworn Brothers, Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen (Minister for Magic and Head Auror, respectively), is the founder of the biggest alliance of all magical species in history: the Sunshot Campaign. 

 

Please turn to page two to continue

 


 

           ~•~  ~•~ ~•~  ~•~ ~•~ ~•~  ~•~

Memorial for the fallen to be held at Hogwarts

The date has been set for next Sunday

 

Following the deaths of the two biggest Dark Wizards of the past four centuries, Minister for Magic Nie Mingjue speaks clearly: "Pay your respect to the heroes of the Great Wizarding War!".

 

Find more about how to properly honor those who died at the page 4. 

 

List of witches and wizards who perished at the page 7.

            ~•~  ~•~ ~•~  ~•~ ~•~ ~•~  ~•~       

                                                           page 1

 


 

Wei Wuxian finally dead, but so is the truth

The one whose name many were too afraid to pronounce struck down at the Ministry of Magic

 

Wei Wuxian, better known as the Founder of the Terror of the Undead, won’t be coming back. After a terrifying battle that has left both Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic devastated, the Wizarding World can finally breathe without fear… But can it trust the Ministry? Head Auror Lan Xichen refuses to give his testimony and it makes us wonder what did truly happen on this tremendous night. What secrets are there to be held? Does his silence have something to do with the absence of the Yiling Patriarch in his own portrait? When will our questions be answered?

 

Many other situations in which the Ministry has left us in the dark in Cronicles, p12-16.

 


 

Auror Jiang Wanyin arrested

Enraged after being asked if he’s happy about his adopted brother’s death, he hexes four journalists

Jiang Wanyin, one of the two Aurors who have led the case of the Yiling Patriarch, is currently in custody. His violent reaction is unanticipated - known for his thirst for justice and his signature Soul Trapping hex, the Auror has never hidden his animosity towards the Yiling Patriarch, so why did he react with such ferocity? May it be that, despite all the atrocities committed by Wei Wuxian, he still loves his big brother? 

 

Exclusively in this issue

  1. The story of Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin through the years (see pages 2-7)
  2. The unedited photos of Jiang Wanyin's arrest (see page 8); 
  3. The reprint of “I want Wei Wuxian dead” - the infamous interview that Jiang Wanyin underwent under Veritaserum one year ago (see pages 9-11).

 


 

The Second Jade of Lan disappears after his battle with Wei Wuxian

Seen escorted by the estimated Headmaster of Hogwarts, Lan Qiren

 

Lan Wangji, loved and respected by the Wizarding population for his devotion to justice, was seen exiting the Ministry of Magic at four AM this morning in the company of his uncle, following the final battle with Wei Wuxian. Enemies since their days at Hogwarts, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian have had many public disputes through the years - it shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Hanguang-Jun, along with Wei Wuxian’s adopted brother Jiang Wanyin, are told to be the last two people who saw the Yiling Patriarch alive. However, it seems that we will have to wait for his testimony; a person who’s introduced themselves as a Hanguang-Jun’s acquaintance claims that Lan Wangji and the Lan family are currently grieving the loss of more than thirty family members who were engaged in the battle. Knowing Lan’s traditions, along with their famous 3000 rules, we better arm ourselves with patience: it might be long before we manage to get a hold of the Second Jade of Lan. 

 


 

Wei Wuxian - Wielder of Death or innocent musician? 

“He’s no killer! He’s a professional flute player!”

 

  • A witch who wills to remain anonymous is ready to shout the truth at the Wizarding World. What she says may be seen as madness by many; I must admit that I have also been skeptical when I received her letters. However, the cold, hard facts she’s armed with will make you question the truth. They’ve made me accept her request for this interview, after all. 

 

We meet shortly after the announcement of the Yiling Patriatch’s death in a cozy muggle coffee shop. Time seems to have stopped here, untouched by the scent of the Undead that has tinted the Wizarding World for years. She sits down and nods, ready for the first question. I can only pander.

Q : Wei Wuxian. A man feared by all. A killer, an abomination, the greatest shame of the Wizarding World. These and many other titles have been given to the Yiling Patriarch over the years, but, tell me, may it be that we’ve all been mistaken? 

A : Absolutely. Wei Wuxian has never been any of those, especially not a killer. I have tried to contact the Ministry of Magic many times to let them know that they have gotten the person completely wrong, but I guess it’s easier to put a blame on an innocent citizen who cannot defend himself (she says with a deep scowl on her face). Wei Wuxian has been a part of our city’s band for at least five years and the only thing he’s terrifying at is the speed at which he plays his flute.

(The interview continues on the next page). 

 

Chapter Text

Two boys were making their way through King’s Cross railway station. They were quite a sight: each one was pushing a heavy trolley filled with trunks, with an owl in a precariously balanced cage on top of each pile. They were quite a sight, yet barely anyone spared them a glance.

Muggles, older Wizards and Witches liked to say, were always too focused on their own little problems to notice the unordinary. 

The boy on the left, with hair as dark as his black robe, was giddy with excitement. It wasn’t difficult to tell; the way his head turned left and right and his eyes shone in the cold, damp morning of September spoke in his place. He was Wei Wuxian. 

The boy on the right was, on the other hand, too busy making sure that the boy on the left didn’t give too much in the eye to let his excitement run free. One could say that his face was too hard for an eleven years old, all scowls and no smiles, but he was a young boy at heart. He wore all purple and his name was Jiang Cheng. He was younger than Wei Wuxian by 5 whole days and it had to be said that he hated when Wei Ying called him his little brother with passion. It also was necessary to add that, in Wei Wuxian’s opinion, it only made the doing so twice as funny. 

 

~

 

“Jiang Cheng! Jiang Cheng! We’re almost there!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed, hitting Jiang Cheng on the arm with poorly contained enthusiasm. 

“Shut up!” Jiang Cheng hushed him, casting a rapid glance at the rushing crowd. Once he’d made sure that they hadn’t been spotted, he diverted his glare at Wei Wuxian. He was probably angry because he couldn’t defend himself from his adopted brother’s assault, since he wasn’t able to push his trolley with only one hand, but Wei Wuxian couldn’t be sure. Jiang Cheng was angry all the time.

Wei Ying looked at the boy with such seriousness that Jiang Cheng slowed down a little.

“You know, if you grimace and someone scares you, your face will remain like that forever,” he confided.

Jiang Cheng’s eyes widened in panic and the ugly expression vanished from his face. Wei Ying forced his lips shut to suppress a laugh, but his efforts were wasted, because a happy giggle reached them from somewhere behind.

“A-Li!” Jiang Cheng pouted, turning back to look resentfully at his older sister (and Wei Wuxian’s bestest Shijie in the whole entire world), who hid her smile behind the fabric of her robes. She was walking a few steps behind, pushing her trolley with one hand just like Wei Ying, but it was to be expected - his Shijie was very strong. They’d gotten lost, once, when Jiang Cheng had unleashed his dogs on Wei Wuxian. Shijie’d found them and had carried one on her back and the other in her arms all the way to the Yunmeng Jiang Mansion!

Wei Ying gazed at her in adoration. Then, with the corner of his eye, he caught what he’d been looking for. “Look! It’s there!” he shouted, his little joke already forgotten. How could he remember something so frivolous when the Platform 9 ¾ was right in front of them?!

“Stop shouting or people will look at us!” Jiang Cheng hissed, but he too had to be very happy, Wei Wuxian thought, because he didn’t even register that Wei Ying was tugging at his sleeve.

“We’re going to Hogwarts,” he replied, giving Jiang Cheng one last tug and lowering his voice conspiratorially at the end. “They will understand”.

“They won’t, because they’re muggle,” Jiang Cheng huffed, looking at Wei Wuxian as if he was stupid. Wei Wuxian let him, because that was what big brothers were supposed to do, and waved his hand carelessly. Then, his eyes lit with mischief. 

“The last to the wall has to stand up for the whole ride!” he declared without any warning and sprung forward.

“Hey, that’s not fair!” Jiang Cheng shouted from behind him, but Wei Wuxian could hear his footsteps quicken.

He was about to turn around and let Jiang Cheng pass first when an invisible whip enclosed around his chest. It made him stop so brusquely that he almost fell to the ground.

“Stop running around like a mindless child,” Madame Yu spoke coldly, stopping in front of Wei Ying with her wand out. She looked at him with eyes that bore no mercy. 

Wei Ying should’ve gotten used to the way they pinned him down, but he hadn’t.

“You’re bringing shame to a family you don’t even belong to,” she chastised him, harsh with her words and with the tone of her voice, and Wei Wuxian gulped.

“I’m sorry, Madame Yu,” he bowed his head and looked back up, hoping that his apology had sounded honest enough. 

Madame Yu, unfortunately, didn’t look like she was done. 

“Mother,” Jiang Yanli stepped in the middle just as the woman was opening her lips and put her delicate hand on Madame Yu’s forearm. “They are children,” she said, glancing at Wei Ying and at Jiang Cheng (also kept in place by his Mother’s whip) with affection.

Madame Yu looked down at her daughter, but Jiang Yanli held her gaze with a small, encouraging smile on her lips. Then, she finally relented and took off her spell.

“Go before you lose the Express,” she ordered, straightening her back and hiding her wand in the sleeve of her ornate robe.

Wei Ying regained all of his enthusiasm in a blink of an eye, much to Madame Yu’s disapproval. “Jiang Cheng, why don’t you go first?” he asked with a big smile. It only widened when Jiang Cheng shot an uncertain look at the sturdy wall. “Don’t tell me that you’re still scared! We’ve been escorting Shijie for two whole years already,” Wei Ying laughed, throwing his arm around Jiang Cheng’s rigid shoulders. His little brother tried to push him away, but Wei Ying hadn’t hugged him in more than one hour, so he didn’t immediately let go.

“Move!” Madame Yu snapped once Wei Ying took his arm off, but the push that she gave her son was gentle. She must’ve murmured something to him in parting, because Jiang Cheng nodded and leaned a bit onto the hand on his back. Then, in a blink of an eye, he was gone. Seeing Jiang Cheng disappear between the Platforms, Wei Wuxian did the only thing he could do: he took advantage of Madame Yu’s brief distraction and ran before the woman could’ve reminded him of his position in the Jiang family for more or less four hundred thousandth time. 

The last thing he heard was his name, shouted with indignation.

 


 

The Hogwarts Express was speeding through endlessly green fields and there was another boy in their compartment. His name was Nie Huaisang, Wei Wuxian learnt as soon as he asked if it was okay for him to sit down beside Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng. Nie Huaisang was shy, he wore brown and he was the younger brother of Head Auror-to-be Nie Mingjue, who he was terrified of. He liked comic books and his fan, and Jiang Cheng insisted in hushed murmurs that they had already met him at one of the parties in Yunmeng Jiang Mansion, but Wei Wuxian didn’t remember. He was too busy standing with his face plastered to the big window of their compartment ― he’d never seen so many trees in one place! Yunmeng Jiang’s family mansion was floating on water, after all!

“You’re drooling on the glass,” Jiang Cheng commented with distaste, pulling Wei Ying down by his outer robe. 

“Am not,” Wei Wuxian answered, making a face before throwing himself onto the place right beside their new best friend. The other boy was so engrossed in a comic book with fancy, moving drawings that he almost fell down in surprise, making Wei Ying laugh.

Wei Ying was about to ask if he already knew some cool spells when the door of their compartment opened and an elderly lady with a nice smile looked inside. “Anything from the cart, sweethearts?”.

“Jiang Cheng, it’s the cart Shijie’s told us about!” Wei Ying shouted right into his brother’s face, who slammed his hand over his mouth to shut him up. He had, however, made a big, big mistake. Wei Ying watched closely as his expression shifted from irritated to disgusted. 

“Ew!” he yelled, holding his slightly wet hand as far from himself as possible. 

“Your hand is salty, Jiang Cheng!” he laughed. “When was the last time you washed it?”.

Jiang Cheng put an end to their discussion by grabbing Wei Ying by the laps of his robe and pulling him down to the ground. 

In the meantime, Nie Huaisang, a bit shaken by the unexpected turn of events, began fumbling with the money in his belt pouch, all while trying not to get involved with whatever was going on on the floor. “Can I have three chocolate frogs?” he asked, avoiding Jiang Cheng’s foot by pure luck.

Wei Wuxian pried Jiang Cheng’s forearm from his neck and lifted his head, blowing to get his hair out of his eyes. 

“Do you have Cauldron Cakes, Auntie?” he panted, giving the lady his nicest smile and strengthening his grip around his brother’s wrists. 

She looked taken aback by the title (or perhaps by two boys wrestling on the ground of a moving train), but then she smiled. “I do, sweet cheeks”.

At her words, Wei Ying threw Jiang Cheng off of himself and stood up so fast he almost lost his balance, which made the cart lady laugh. 

“I will take three, then!” he clasped his hands. 

“Have four, I won’t charge you for the extra one,” the Auntie replied and winked, much to Wei Ying’s delight.

He was about to take the snacks when he remembered that his money was at the deep bottom of one of his two trunks, and he’d forgotten which one. 

He turned around and smiled sheepishly at Jiang Cheng, ruffling the hair at the base of his neck.

 


 

“First Years, here! First Years, follow me!” a prominently tall and robust man was shouting from the platform of Hogsmeade’s station, waving a big lantern in the air.

Wei Ying jumped down from the train (already dressed up in Hogwarts’ black robe on top of his own black one) and motioned to Jiang Cheng to pass him the first piece of luggage, when a gentle hand enclosed around his shoulder.

“Your luggage will be brought to your House after the Sorting ceremony,” a voice even gentler than the touch spoke and Wei Wuxian turned around. He could’ve recognized that tone among thousands of others.

“Shijie!” he greeted his adopted sister and received a smile and a pat on the head in return.

“Go, now, or you’ll have to cross the lake by swimming to the Castle,” Jiang Yanli joked, pushing Wei Ying in the direction of the shouting man.

“Don’t worry, A-Li,” Jiang Cheng cut in, jumping down right beside Wei Wuxian. “We swim all the time in Yunmeng,” he reminded her, “a mere lake is nothing for us!” his chest swelled a bit with pride.

Shijie laughed and gave Jiang Cheng a pat on the head too. A moment later, a sharp whistle rose above the chattering and all the older students rushed in the direction of the sound.

“See you in the Great Hall. Try not to rock the boat too much!” Jiang Yanli bid her goodbye, looking fleetingly at Wei Ying as she spoke her last words. Then, she disappeared among the loud mass of students.

Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng glanced at each other and then turned around. Nie Huaisang was carefully stepping down from the train, holding both of his robes high up in fear of tripping.

“Let’s all sit together!” Wei Ying proposed once their friend’s feet touched the ground, grabbing both boys by their sleeves and pulling them towards a little dock with a handful of wooden boats tied to the shore by the prow. When they exited the crowd, however, Wei Wuxian stopped on his tracks and his lips parted in wonder. 

Hogwarts castle rose high in the sky, all towers and glimmering lights, and Wei Wuxian fell in love. 

He’d seen it in the newspapers that Uncle Fengmian often left on the dinner table and on the photos that Shijie kept in her little album with care, but no picture and no painting could’ve ever compared to the real thing.

When Jiang Cheng didn’t tell him to shut his mouth, Wei Ying unglued his eyes from Hogwarts and glanced to his right, only to see that his brother was also transfixed.
He finally looked his age, with awe painted on his face and eagerness in his eyes, and Wei Ying let him be… For about fifteen seconds. 

“The last to the boat does all the homework for the whole week!”

That did the trick, even if the man with the lantern didn’t seem very happy at the sight of three boys, pushing and pulling to get onto the boat instead of being scared shitless.

 


 


It was Nie Huaisang who asked the fatidic question, right in the middle of the pitch black lake.

“What house do you want to be Sorted into?”.

“Gryffindor, of course,” Jiang Cheng replied without batting a lash, putting his nose high in the air while his short ponytail bounced in unison with the craft.

Nie Huaisang seemed to deflate at the boy’s answer. He must’ve been nervous, because he took out his pretty fan and opened it, hiding half of his face behind its fabric.

“My brother wants me to be a Gryffindor, but I don’t think that I’ll be sorted there…,” he admitted, but, when none of them asked more questions, he relaxed and glanced at Wei Ying.

Wei Wuxian was, however, many miles and many years away.

~


Wei Wuxian is very young and he’s sitting in his Shijie’s lap. The Good Uncle once told him that he was five and Wei Ying can show it with the fingers of his hand, but he can’t write it, even if his new brother who doesn’t like him very much can. Wei Ying is not worried, though, because Uncle promised that he will know how to do it very soon. He doesn’t know how much very soon is, but he likes his Uncle and that is enough for him.

His Shijie is talking to him about Howg-warts, a very special school that almost every witch and wizard goes to. His Shijie will go there in three years, and Wei Ying will too, but he will have to wait a little longer, she tells him. He’s not very happy that his Shijie will leave him with Jiang Cheng and his dogs, but he can always sleep outside, so he won’t have to be scared.

“There are four Houses,” she tells him, stroking his hair and looking somewhere ahead. Wei Ying turns his head in the same direction, but there’s only water and lotus flowers, so he looks back up. “When you arrive at Hogwarts, they put a big, old hat on your head. The hat is very special,” she muses, “because it can speak!”.

Wei Ying’s eyes widen in fascination.

“This hat can see all your qualities (Wei Wuxian doesn’t know what the word means, but he keeps quiet, because it doesn’t sound very interesting) and puts you in a House you best fit into,” she looks down at him, then, and her eyes sparkle prettily. His Shijie is all pretty, Wei Ying thinks.

“There’s Gryffindor and it’s the house of the courageous,” she lists, taking Wei Wuxian’s hand in hers and folding one of his little fingers. “Courage means that you’re not afraid of anything,” she explains, even if there’s a little crease in between her eyebrows.

“But I’m afraid of dogs,” Wei Wuxian pouts and his Shijie laughs.

“I know, but tell me: would you protect me or A-Cheng from a big dog?”.

Wei Wuxian is silent for a bit.

“I don’t want Shijie or Shidi to be bitten,” he shakes his head, in the end. Getting bitten is the worst. “I would protect you, but I would still be afraid,” he admits, trying to get the memories of the dogs that used to fight him for food out of his head.

Shijie smiles down at him. “Then that’s enough to be courageous,” she tells him and Wei Ying feels very nice. She folds another finger. “Then, there’s Slytherin. It’s the house of those who are ambitious. It means that they want to become very good at something or very strong,” she confides and Wei Wuxian perks up. He wants to be very strong!

Another finger gets down.

“The third one is Ravenclaw and it’s the residence of knowledge. If learning and discovering new things is what you like the most, then that’s the house you’ll probably belong to”.

Wei Ying doesn’t know if he likes to learn, because he’s never done it, but he likes the books with colorful, moving pictures that Jiang Cheng keeps in his room. He once stayed up all night with his nose so close to the pages that his eyes hurt the next day, but he doesn’t tell Shijie that. He doesn’t want to risk Madame Yu hearing.

At last, his Shijie folds the fourth finger and, instead of letting go, she wraps her hand around Wei Ying’s.

“The last one is called Hufflepuff and it’s the home of the loyal,” she concludes and Wei Ying tries to hide his confusion, because he doesn’t know the word ‘loyal’ either and he’s afraid that his Shijie might finally get angry at him, but she is nothing but patient to the very end. Only that, this time, she doesn’t speak right away. 

“Loyalty is when you keep the ones you love the closest to your heart, always in the first place,” she says, in the end, and pokes Wei Ying lightly on his chest. “But loyalty is also when you keep your promises,” she adds, looking somewhere in the distance again. She falls silent, then, and after a bit she sighs. 

“I guess loyalty is many things, A-Xian. So many that it’s difficult to put into words,” she gives his little fist one last squeeze before releasing it. 

Wei Ying scrunches his nose when all the informations finally find their place inside his mind. 

“And what if you’re more than one thing?” he asks, because he doesn’t know it he’s truly any of the qua-ti-lis that his Shijie has listed and he’s suddenly afraid that he might not go to Hogwarts after all. 

“Everyone is,” she replies and Wei Ying is stunned. “That’s why the hat can look right into your soul”.

“Then I think it’s not really important what House I’ll be in,” he concludes, nodding his head to himself. 

His Shijie laughs at that, her laugh just like the bells Madame Yu hangs everywhere, and ruffles Wei Wuxian’s hair.

“You’re only five and you’re already so smart, A-Xian!”

 

~

 

Wei Wuxian was older, now, and he knew many more things about courage, ambition, knowledge and loyalty, but his opinion remained unwavered. 

“Are Houses really so important?” he replied when his mind caught up with the present, looking at Jiang Cheng and at Nie Huaisang. “The only thing I want to do is magic!” he stated with glee, throwing his arms open and making the craft tilt dangerously. 

He was too busy laughing at Jiang Cheng’s feverish reprimands to notice another boat passing right by theirs. 

There was a boy, on that boat, with long, black hair and eyes that were melted gold, but Wei Wuxian didn’t notice him either. 

 


 

The moment they stepped out of the lake and made their way through the biggest entrance Wei Ying had ever seen, a tall, sternly looking wizard in white robes appeared out of nowhere holding a scroll. He had a funny goatee and all Wei Wuxian could think of for a second was how entertaining would it be to shave it off. His eyes, barely visible from below his sharp, furrowed brows, assessed all the newcomers, stopping briefly on Wei Wuxian. The boy smiled friendly, but it only made the man scowl more. 

“My name is Lan Qiren,” the old wizard spoke after a long while, taking mercy on the shivering First Years. His voice, Wei Ying noted, was as uptight as the man himself. “I will be your Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor and I am both Deputy Headmaster and Head of Ravenclaw. From now on, it will be expected of you to behave properly. None of you is to bring shame upon this institution,” Professor Lan Qiren instructed them, letting his eyes sweep over them for the last time.

“Now, stand one behind another in alphabetical order and follow me,” he ordered, turning around with a flutter of his pristine robes. 

“Don’t make him angry,” Jiang Cheng murmured in Wei Ying’s ear just as he was about to ask Professor Lan how to form the line without knowing each others’ names. 

Wei Ying relented, just this once. 

He stepped in front of his future colleagues and winked at Jiang Cheng, who covered his face with both of his hands. “Hi, I’m Wei Wuxian and I will probably be the last!”.

 


 

The Sorting ceremony was both everything his Shijie had told him about and nothing that Wei Wuxian had imagined. It had to be the atmosphere inside the castle, all lit up with torches and floating candles, or perhaps the magic that filled the air, that had Wei Wuxian looking at everything like he’d never heard about Hogwarts before. 

Someone had already been sorted, but Wei Wuxian’s thirst for knowledge had been satiated the moment he’d laid his eyes on the Sorting Hat, so he wasn’t paying attention anymore. There were so many cooler things to look at! Spirits! Ghosts! The night sky right above their heads! Wei Wuxian could only imagine how difficult the spells to charm the ceiling were! He wrapped his fingers around his brand new wand, longing for something he had no idea about. Not yet, at least. He only knew a few basic spells, but he would learn them all and even invent some on his own, he was sure of it. 

His eyes snapped back to the small, wooden stool as soon as Jiang Cheng’s name was called. He wanted to shout something in encouragement when the boy sat down, but he could feel Lan Qiren’s eyes on his face, so he only smiled at his little brother and gave him two thumbs at. Then, he glanced at the Hufflepuff’s table. His Shijie was there, sitting between two of her girl friends, and her kind eyes were firm on Jiang Cheng. 

Wei Ying looked back.The Sorting Hat looked huge on Jiang Cheng’s head and he had to clap a hand over his mouth to stifle a giggle. 

For a second, there was only silence. 

Then, almost like it was moving in slow motion, the hat opened its mouth and shouted:

“GRYFFINDOR!”.

Wei Ying applauded the loudest when Jiang Cheng made his way to the table tinted with red and gold. 

In the meantime, a boy named Lan Wangji was being called out. He was dressed all in white, unlike others, and he sat down in Jiang Cheng’s place with the grace of an adult man. Under the scrutiny of every soul but one, he patiently waited for the verdict, with golden eyes void both of excitement and of dread. No emotions crossed his face when the Hat took its time to make its choice, and he remained impassive when it finally shouted “RAVENCLAW!”.

The lone soul that didn’t see any of it was Wei Ying. He had a brother to cheer for, after all. 

 


 

The Sorting Hat was heavy and big, Wei Wuxian thought as soon as Professor Qiren placed it on his head, but it didn’t surprise him. It was understandable that potent, magic objects bore heavy weight. What caught him off guard was the fact that the Hat was speaking right inside his mind.

Another difficult one, it said and Wei Ying felt the blood freeze in his veins. What if the Hat wouldn’t be able to sort him?

You’re a vain one, youngling. I have sorted both the greatest wizards and witches of all times and the most frightening ones. I will find a House for you, it reprimanded him and Wei Ying felt a surge of interest that replaced the worry. Who knew what qualities had those wizards and witches had! He too wanted to become the strongest, so he could take care of his Shijie and Shidi!

Nosy, ambitious, too full of love for the others and with none for himself; with a great penchant for magic… 

The Hat felt silent after that and Wei Ying counted the seconds in his head.

You’d find your way in any of the Houses.

Wei Ying knew it! It didn’t matter, in the end! Not that he wanted to belittle the noble Hat’s task, of course. If it was the same, then maybe he could ask to be placed in Gryffindor? He’d promised to take care of his Shidi with his life, after all, and it would make things much easier. Besides, Jiang Cheng was always so scornful! What if he didn’t manage to make some friends?

You’ve asked for it. Measure up to the House of the daring and the reckless!

“GRYFFINDOR!”.

Wei Ying thanked the Hat with a big smile on his face as soon as it shouted Gryffindor’s name and then handed it to Professor Lan, who didn’t seem particularly happy. Wei Wuxian didn’t understand why, since he wasn’t even Head of Gryffindor. Jumping down from the stool, he turned around just in time to see a small smile on Jiang Cheng’s face, which muted into his usual scowl as soon as his little brother felt Wei Ying’s eyes on himself. However, when Wei Ying sat down right beside him and threw his arm around his shoulders, he saw that traces of that smile had remained in his brother’s grey eyes. Surrounded by happy cheers from his new housemates, he knew that he’d made the right decision.

 


 

Jiang Cheng was somewhere up and Wei Wuxian couldn’t find him. Two Gryffindor prefects had called all the First Years to show them the Common Room, but Wei Ying had stopped by one of the tables to take a big, red apple to eat it later. The moment he’d turned around, everyone’d been gone!

Now, he was running up a flight of stairs, but it was moving (just like every other!) and he was lost. He didn’t mind, though - he’d planned on exploring the castle anyway. Besides, the paintings were all entertaining and they kept him company, even if none of them answered his most pressing question: where is the Gryffindor common room? Perhaps they had to keep that information secret.

He took a turn, barely upholding his trajectory because he had to run fast if he wanted to catch the stairs on the left, when his face collided with something very hard and the apple he’d been holding flew away.

“Ouch!” he exclaimed and his hands flew to his nose. It wasn’t broken, thank Merlin, but something was surely not okay, because all he saw was white. He reached blindly ahead and his hand enclosed around something that felt suspiciously like a piece of fabric. He lifted his head and what little thoughts had been left in his mind evaporated.

There was a boy, maybe Wei Ying’s age or maybe older. His robes were all white, his hair was even longer than Wei Ying’s, and he looked at Wei Wuxian with eyes that seemed to hold the stars. He was so pretty that, for a fleeting moment, Wei Ying thought that he was dead and he was seeing an angel, but then the throbbing pain in his nose reminded him that he was still a part of the realm of the alive.

“I’m sorry!” he said when his mind finally focused on the surroundings, because he must’ve collided with the boy. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to do besides extending an apology, so Wei Ying made sure to accompany it with the nicest of his nice smiles.

The boy only looked at him, his eyes unwavering. His face looked like it was carved from marble, or maybe from jade, and it bore a very stern expression. It made Wei Ying think about Professor Lan.

“Did I hurt you?” Wei Ying asked when he didn’t receive an answer, glancing at the boy’s frame. “Do you want me to take you to the Hospital Wing?” he proposed, but then he remembered that he didn’t actually know where it was. Luckily, he saw a splotch of red on the floor. “Here! I will share my apple with you!” he declared, lifting the fruit from the ground and giving it a good wipe with the sleeve of his black robe. Then, he tore it almost right in the middle, like he’d done countless times in Yunmeng, and he handed the boy the bigger piece, wearing an even bigger smile.

The boy glanced briefly at the fruit. There were a couple of spots on the floor where its juice had dripped.

Ten seconds passed, but he didn’t take it.

Wei Wuxian had an epiphany. “Can’t you understand me?” he asked, trying to speak slowly and to pronounce the words with care. His shoulders slumped a little at the thought, because he didn’t know how any other languages, but he could learn! 

The serious expression on the boy’s face only deepened. He casted one last look at the apple and then pinned Wei Ying down with his golden eyes. 

“Running in the corridors is prohibited,” he said and he turned around, leaving Wei Wuxian with two pieces of an apple in his hands and with many questions at the tip of his tongue. 

Sadly, a furious Jiang Cheng appeared out of nowhere and grabbed Wei Ying by the collar of his robes before he could follow the mysterious boy. “Wei Wuxian, you idiot, where the hell have you been?!”.

Wei Wuxian took his eyes off of the stairs in front of him, turning his head and grinning at his little brother. “Jiang Cheng, have you been worried about me? Here, here, I’ve brought you an apple,” he pushed the apple into his Shidi’s hands to placate him and gave a big bite to his own quite-half. The only thing he received back was a punch on the arm.

“Come on, everyone is waiting and I won’t risk losing House points we don’t even have because you’re dumb!”.

Wei Ying laughed with glee at Jiang Cheng’s haughty expression, but he followed obediently. He couldn’t wait to see the Common Room!

When they arrived in front of a painting of a big witch in a very nice, pink dress, the confusion from the strange meeting was almost gone. 

The only thing left in its place was the aftertaste of a challenge, because nobody had ever rejected Wei Wuxian’s friendship before. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng managed to get past the Lady with a Nice Dress only when a very tall and very annoyed prefect found them throwing random words at the portrait fifteen minutes later.

“Gelidus,” he said, regarding them with an angry curve to his thick, black brows, while the Lady lifted the hem of her pink skirt and the portrait swung forwards; Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng could only gulp in response, because the boy’s snarl made him look like he held no mercy for the insubordinates. 

Once he disappeared inside the hole in the wall and was too far to harm them, at least physically, Wei Ying elbowed his little brother in the ribs.

“Gelidus! I was so close, Jiang Cheng! I would’ve gotten us in!”

Jiang Cheng looked at him with incredulity. 

“Your ‘so close’ was Jelly Bean, Wei Ying!,” he said, folding his fingers just like the adults at the parties in Yunmeng did.

“Ge-li and Jel-ly are pronounced the same,” Wei Wuxian explained matter-of-factly, hopping over the stone treshold.

“You cannot be serious,” Jiang Cheng retorted, shaking his head, and followed swift.

 



Their Common Room was very welcoming. Full of plush armchairs and scarlet tapestries, older even than the ones Uncle Fengmian treasured in the biggest parlour of the Jiang Mansion, it was nothing short of perfect for holding excited conversations and chess matches by the crackling fireplace, yet Wei Ying secretly liked their new Dormitory better. 

It had four four-poster beds big enough to fit two people in instead of one, tall, pointy windows that made the room look like it floated on air and a nook in the wall full of messy writings and long-forgotten secrets. 

Wei Ying drew two kissing figures there, right under a shape that vaguely resembled a heart, as soon as Jiang Cheng went to the bathroom along with their new roommates. 

They were twins, they’d said in unison when he and his brother had finally arrived, with identical voices and identical faces, and Wei Ying had felt overwhelmed for at least five minutes after the introduction.
 
“Jiang Cheng,” he murmured not very quietly when the hushed conversation at the other side of the room died down to peaceful breaths.

“Mm,” his brother grunted and Wei Ying heard the rustle of the covers when he turned around. 

“Are you sleeping?” he asked with his arms crossed behind his head, while his eyes lazily traced the patterns on the curtain above him, barely visible in the dark.

“I would if you stopped talking,” Jiang Cheng murmured back, but his harsh voice was blunted by the promise of a good night of sleep.

Wei Ying turned his head and looked in the direction of Jiang Cheng’s bed, always on his left, ever since they’d been little, even if he couldn’t see anything besides the fabric that fell around his own.

“Okay,” he whispered, quieter this time, and he pried open the curtains ever so slightly.

It was not long before Jiang Cheng’s breaths leveled down, but Wei Ying waited some more. Then, carefully lifting the heavy covers, he slipped out of the bed. Grabbing his wand and his robe, he cast one last glance at the silent dormitory, all grey in the moonlight that spilled from the windows. 

How could Jiang Cheng sleep so soundly knowing that there were three other Common Rooms, somewhere in the castle? If their own was so nice, then Wei Ying didn’t dare to imagine how marvellous the others were! 

In fact, since he couldn’t imagine it, he just had to see for himself!

 



 

The corridors were dark, but Wei Ying knew how to cast a Lumos, so the gloom wasn’t a problem. He was somewhere in the west side of the Castle, where the ceilings were high, and old, silver armors stood silently on pedestals by the walls; for a moment, Wei Wuxian was afraid that they would move, but they remained motionless. He was directed at the opposite side of Hogwarts, because he’d seen a tower almost as high as the Gryffindor’s one there, when they’d been crossing the lake. It probably held one of the other three Common Rooms, because why wouldn’t it? 

Once he reached a dead-end, he took a spiraling staircase on the left that surprisingly didn’t move and went up. The light from his wand made a few portraits shield their eyes and grunt in complaint and Wei Ying wanted to apologize, but in the end he kept quiet - it was better if they didn’t see his face just yet. 
He took another turn, then, and halted to a stop when his Lumos suddenly passed right through a translucent figure of a ghost, who disappeared before Wei Ying could’ve asked for directions. 

Ghosts, he’d noted at the feast the evening before, were much more talkative on the matter than paintings. 

When he looked ahead, however, all of his disappointment vanished: at the end of what looked like an antechamber, there was a wooden door with a bronze knocker in the shape of an eagle and it looked just like any respectable entrance to a Common Room would look.

He couldn’t help but smile as he came closer and lifted his hand, but, just when his fingers were about to touch the knocker, the eagle opened its eyes, startling Wei Ying so much that he almost dropped his wand. Then, without any warning, it opened its beak as well and Wei Ying covered it instinctively; instead of the screech of a bird, however, it had a gentle, melodic voice that echoed on the walls of the tower. “The more you take, the more you leave behind. What am I?”. 

He looked at the knocker in surprise, but it didn’t say anything else as it closed its eyes.

The more you take, the more you leave behind… It had to be a riddle, Wei Ying thought.
A riddle he had no answer to.

“Dear Mister Eagle,” he addressed the guardian of the Common Room that was most probably the Ravenclaw’s one, bowing courtly. “Could you let me pass even if I don’t know the answer? It’s a matter of life and death, you see”.

After a couple of seconds, he lifted his head and sneaked a glance at the bird, but it remained as inanimate as any other, regular knocker.

Wei Ying huffed out a breath and started to pace in front of the door. The more you take…  The more you leave… What did it even mean?! 

He was so engrossed in finding the solution that, when the door suddenly opened, he yelled in surprise and fell on his backside. His wand rolled away and the Wand-Lightning Charm flickered on the stone floor, coming to a stop by the wall.

Wei Ying quickly stood up, his mind screaming danger, and groaned inwardly at the pain in his lower back. He hurried to get his wand and, once his fingers enclosed around the familiar weight, he turned around and pointed it at the wooden door.

At first, he was sure that he saw a spirit, because the figure that stood in the doorway was pale and dressed in white, with hair as black as ink that fell on the fabric like rivulets of water. Wei Ying had seen many ghosts, but he’d never seen a spirit before, and spirits were known for being vengeful. 
His grip around his wand tightened, but then the spirit took out a wand on his own and cast a Lumos as well, which was very bizarre - Wei Wuxian was sure that such creatures couldn’t cast charms. 
He took a better look at the mysterious figure, but it was not until he got a glimpse of its eyes that he got hit by recognition.

“You’re the boy from before!” he exclaimed happily, lowering both his wand and his voice when it rumbled all the way down the staircase. “For a moment, I thought that you were a spirit,” he confided in hushed tones, grinning at his own imagination.

The boy, however, didn’t put his wand down, pointing the spell right at the center of Wei Ying’s chest with a blank face.

Wei Wuxian’s smile faltered a bit when he remembered that the one and only thing the Ravenclaw had ever said to him was something about the rules, but then it came back with a touch of mischievousness.

“Look, I just want to take a look at your Common Room. How about we trade the passwords?” he proposed, because who could’ve remained impassive in front of such a suggestion? “I’m a Gryffindor and my name is Wei Wuxian, but you can call me Wei Ying,” he introduced himself, then, remembering his manners, and closed the distance between them with one hand outstretched in greeting.
However, any other word died on his tongue, when, instead of shaking his hand, the boy lifted his wand even more and positioned himself in front of the entrance. 

Dear Merlin, was it possible that, of all the Ravenclaws, Wei Ying had had the misfortune to meet the only one who wouldn’t accept his offer? 

Well, it was lucky that he was resourceful!

“You know, it’s very impolite of you to reject a handshake,” he said with a little curve of his lips, noting with amusement that the expression on the boy’s face hardened. He wasn’t completely expressionless, then! 

“Not to mention that you didn’t give me your name either…” he mused, moving to the side while the golden eyes traced his every movement. “That’s rude,” he finally called his opponent out and, when he heard a sharp intake of breath, he seized his opportunity and stood on his tiptoes.

He barely managed to get a glimpse of a statue tinted ember by a fireplace when the door closed with a loud bang and a Flipendo passed mere inches from his shoulder.

Wei Wuxian looked at the boy in astonishment. He knew jinxes, which, in Wei Ying’s eyes, took the business to a whole new level. 

Sudden excitement filled his chest. Duelling would be even better than sneaking into Common Rooms! 

He quickly lifted his own wand.

“Wandering around the Castle after dinner is forbidden for students under the age of thirteen,” the boy recited dully, unmoved by the sight of Wei Ying’s wand pointed at his face, and his eyes were sharp under a white forehead ribbon Wei Wuxian had never noted before. 
“Entering other Common Rooms is prohibited,” he said, taking a step forward and forcing Wei Ying to move back. 
“Bribery,” he advanced, unrelenting, “is prohibited”.

Wei Wuxian felt his back hit the cold wall, while the Ravenclaw’s wand, still aimed at his chest, continued to get closer.
Cornered and at disadvantage, he quickly thought of a diversive; if he didn’t, then the Duelling would not take place at all! 

Glancing at the knocker and then back at the boy, he realized that they were both out of their respective Common Rooms. 
He smiled, slowly, and the gesture made the other boy halt to a stop. 

“You broke the rules too,” he informed the Ravenclaw and laughed when his pale, glimmering eyes widened almost imperceptibly. “You’re wandering around the Castle past curfew, just like me,” he pointed out. 

He had a split of second to move out of the way before another Knockback Jinx took him straight in the chest, but he jumped aside just in time.

His laugh echoed on the walls and, when the the perfect come-back jinx came to his mind, it became even brighter. He murmured Nox and the little antechamber fell into darkness, disrupted only by the dim light coming from a window on the wall.

With great care, just like he’d trained at home, he pronounced:

“Tarantallegra!”

, and when the spell successfully shot out of his wand, he smiled in delight.

If the Ravenclaw was surprised by the counter attack, it didn’t show. He simply took a step back, moving too graciously for a boy so young, and easily dodged the spell. His posture didn’t lose an ounce of its composure and soon the only indication of movement was the waver of his white, sleeping robes and the flutter of the strands of his strange, forehead ribbon.

Suddenly, a very funny thought occurred to Wei Ying.

“In those white robes and with loose hair, you almost look like a maiden!” he shared his epiphany with his opponent, who, judging by the look on his face, didn’t appreciate Wei Ying’s observational skills as much as he did. “You even wear a ribbon... And you didn’t concede me your name,” he grinned, because all the facts suddenly started to add up. “You’re far too pretty to be a boy, too! Are you sure you’re not a girl?”.

“Preposterous,” the boy replied. That single word, accompanied by the angered clench of his jaw, was the only warning that Wei Ying got, but there was not much he could do; an Expelliarmus made his wand fly out of his hand and land on the boy’s outstretched palm, and, in a blink of an eye, their Duel was over.

Wei Wuxian clapped his hands.

“Do you know how to cast an Expelliarmus?” he asked with awe, because that was some advanced magic for a humble First Year student like Wei Ying. “How old are you?” he had to know, because it was difficult to tell. The Ravenclaw didn’t look much older than Wei Ying, but his stiff conduct and his love for the rules could’ve been those of an eighty years old wizard! 

Unsurprisingly, however, the boy didn’t reply.

Wei Ying was about to pester him until he spoke, because he had to, at some point, and because nobody had ever escaped Wei Wuxian’s curiosity, when a slightly breathless voice came from somewhere below.

“Who’s there?!”.

Wei Ying’s stomach did a funny flip. 

They’d found them! 

He quickly turned around, but, in the feeble moonlight, the only route of escape he saw was the spiraling staircase from which the breathless voice had just come.

“Quick,” he looked back the the Ravenclaw boy, who didn’t seem scared at all. “Let’s hide in the Common Room,” he whispered, reaching out for his wand, while heavy steps started to echo from the bottom of the stairs.

The boy, however, took a step back, moving both wands away from Wei Wuxian.

“You broke the rules too!” he muttered with rising urgency when the steps got closer. “If they find us, you too will get detention!” he pointed out, trying to reach out again, but the result was the same.

Wei Ying was speechless. This boy was truly not going to hide!

“THERE YOU ARE, DELINQUENTS!” the voice suddenly roared out between shallow wheezes and Wei Wuxian turned around. It was too late.

On top of the stairs, there was a man with hunched shoulders, sunken cheeks and long hair with a bald spot on the top of his head. 
He was wielding a broom that he pointed at Wei Wuxian and at the Ravenclaw boy in an accusatory manner as soon as his bulging, pale eyes locked on them, while a loudly meowing cat rubbed itself on his shins.

The man looked down briefly and the ugly expression muted into fondness, which looked even worse on his features.

“Very good, my sweet, they were lurking by the Ravenclaw Tower indeed,” he spoke to the cat lovingly, before his crooked smile, directed at the animal, shifted into something much more unpleasant.
“Students out of bed at this hour, and on the first night as well!” he said, assessing them, while his expression became more and more creepy. “Such a behaviour must be punished, musn’t it, Mrs Norris?” he asked the cat, whose yellow eyes locked on Wei Ying’s, making him dislike the animal instantly. “Both of you are coming with me to the Headmaster,” he declared and his lips stretched even more.

Wei Ying looked at his opponent/misfortune companion miserably, because the boy was surely very smart if he was a Ravenclaw and knew how to cast an Expelliarmus, but, much to his anguish, he didn’t even deign him with a glance. 

He passed right by Wei Wuxian, bowed to the man without uttering a word, and started to descend.

“What are you waiting for?” the man spat at Wei Ying, waving the broom dangerously close to his face.

Wei Wuxian sighed and briefly entertained the thought of fleeting, just like he’d done too many times to count when Madame Yu’d seen him procrastinating instead of cleaning, but then he decided against it.
The Ravenclaw had his wand and Wei Ying had waited too long to get it. He couldn’t leave it behind just like that, so, with one last sigh, he complied.
 

 


 


All of Wei Ying distress was gone the moment he laid his eyes on the big Gargoyle that guarded the Headmaster’s office. It looked almost real! His hand itched to touch it, but he had a feeling that it wouldn’t be proper thing to do. Besides, the unpleasant man had already threatened him with his broom thrice.

“Snallygaster,” their capturer said with strange enthusiasm, and the Gargoyle came alive. It stepped aside, revealing a steep, spiral staircase.

“Move,” the man urged them inside, looking at them with utter distrust, as if they could escape. Wei Ying, however, wanted his wand, so it was out of question, while the other boy had voluntarily conceded himself. They both quietly obeyed.

Soon, they were entering the Headmaster’s office and Wei Ying’s lips parted in wonder.
It was a big, circular room, with an enormous library and strange, glittering objects chasing one another under the high ceiling. It was filled with clattering noises, and its walls were completely covered by chattering portraits. Wei Ying caught a few snippets of hushed conversations.

“I tell you, Dylis, I saw the Minister of Magic shaking the bastard’s hand!”.

“Hey, get out of my portrait! Last time you were here, you drank all of my wine!”.

“... she was in the left wing of the tower, murmuring something about revenge…”.

He scooted closer to the last portrait, because he was curious about the whole revenge affair, but a loud cough made him straighten his back.

The Headmaster, an old but proud wizard with long, grey hair and no beard Wei Wuxian had seen at the center of the staff table in the Great Hall (and who’d given a long speech Wei Ying hadn’t listened to, too busy trying to put his hand through passing ghosts), lifted his eyes from above an ancient looking scroll and gave both Wei Ying and the Ravenclaw an encouraging smile.

Wei Wuxian responded with one of his best ones, reserved only for the hardest situations.

The Headmaster looked him in the eye with an edge of amusement from behind a big, sturdy desk, before diverting his attention to the man who’d brought them there.

“Argus,” he greeted him, but his voice, on the contrary to his appearance, sounded very tired.

“Headmaster Li,” the man, Argus, bowed as deeply as his hunched back allowed him to, “these two students were caught outside of their Common Rooms”.

The Headmaster regarded them in an assessing way.

“Wei Ying, courtesy name Wuxian. First Year Gryffindor,” he said, then, and Wei Ying nodded.
“Lan Zhan, courtesy name Wangji, First Year Ravenclaw,” he moved his gaze onto the silent boy while Wei Wuxian tried to contain his enthusiasm. His name was Lan Zhan and he was a First Year, just like Wei Wuxian!
Now that he knew those things, not to mention that they had already faced Argus the Wheezing together, it was impossible for them not to become friends!
“May I ask what’s the reason behind your late escapade?”.

Wei Ying’s eyes locked on Lan Zhan, who was looking at Headmaster Li with great politeness. Suddenly, his heart sped up. It was his fault that they’d both been caught. Lan Zhan would be a fool not to put the entire blame on him.

Lan Wangji, however, didn’t open his mouth.

“Very well,” Headmaster Li mused, but there was no anger to the tone of his voice. “I know that it’s only the first day of the school year, but wandering the corridors in the dark is dangerous for students who don’t know the layout of castle,” he said, speaking the last words with much more seriousness. His gaze hardened slightly, but then he looked somewhere behind them and sighed, propping his temple on the long fingers of his hand.

The door behind them opened and Wei Ying turned around.

Professor Lan entered the office in long strides, without a hair out of place despite the late hour of the night, and bowed to the Headmaster. Then, he looked at Lan Zhan.

“Wangji,” he only said, but his voice was so full of reprimand that it surprised Wei Wuxian; nevertheless, the sudden change in Lan Zhan’s demeanor was even more shocking.  Wei Ying had never seen him anything but proud and unwavering, but that single word had made his shoulders slump and his head bow. He looked much more smaller, like that, and Wei Ying felt a hard pang of guilt in his stomach.

“Headmaster Li,” he stepped forward and bowed deeply, while Professor Lan huffed: “Wei Wuxian! I knew you were nothing but trouble!”. 

He ignored the man in white and put a hand on his chest, straightening up.
“This whole situation is solely my fault,” he admitted. He’d been punished many times in the past, so nothing could scare him, but Lan Zhan looked like he’d never broken a rule in his entire life. “Lan Wangji was only trying to stop me, so please, if you must punish someone, punish me,” he concluded, bowing again, but then he heard a rustle of fabric right by his side. 

He lifted his head and saw Lan Zhan, standing with his head tall once more.

“I will take punishment,” he spoke, and Wei Ying’s jaw dropped.

“No!” he cut in with disbelief, looking at the Headmaster, whose eyes were traveling between the two of them with something between surprise and curiosity. They were very green and lively, almost like they belonged to a much younger person. “Headmaster Li, I insist, I’m the only one to bla - “

“I, too, am not without a fault,” Lan Zhan interrupted him mid sentence and Wei Ying’s arms fell to his sides in resignation.

Who, on Merlin’s striped socks, wanted to voluntarily serve detention?!

“Wangji,” Professor Lan spoke with a dangerous edge to his voice, but this time Lan Zhan’s back remained straight.

“Well, then,” Headmaster Li said in the meantime, standing up somehow slowly, and went around his desk. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at them. Wei Ying couldn’t help but note that, for a man so old, he was frighteningly high. “Professor Slughorn’s just happened to pass by my office. There seems to be a problem with the inventory of the Potion ingredients,” he confided, but Wei Ying failed to see any connection to their case.

The Headmaster fell silent for a brief moment, then, but he soon spoke again:
“Some copies of it have disappeared and the original one has to be rewritten at least three times,” he informed them and Wei Ying felt dread settle in his throat. 

He absolutely, utterly hated coping!

Headmaster Li looked at him like he’d just read his thoughts (which, Wei Ying didn’t have any doubt, was completely possible in a world full of magic), which made him keep his mouth shut. 

Then, the man glanced up at Professor Lan, who was still busy looking at Lan Zhan with disappointment.

“Professor Lan,” he called him and the man’s attention shifted completely to the old Headmaster. “Do you think that four hours of detention will be enough to copy the names of three hundred and seventy two ingredients three times?”.

Three… hundred… and seventy two… Wei Ying must’ve heard wrong. It was pure horror!

“If it won’t be enough, then they will rewrite it three more times in a handstand,” Professor Lan replied and Wei Ying turned his head so fast that his hair smacked him in the face.

Writing in a handstand?! Madness!

He looked at Lan Zhan, but the boy’s face didn’t give away anything. Not even a tiny bit of devastation!

“I’m sure that it won’t be necessary,” Headmaster Li hurried to reply and Wei Ying wanted to fall to his knees and thank him from the bottom of his trembling heart.
“Now,” he walked around his desk and sat back in his very comfortably looking armchair, “I must ask Young Mister Lan to give Young Mister Wei his wand, so that both of you can go to sleep,” he said, looking at Lan Zhan, who, despite his previous aversion to do so, stretched out his hand and wordlessly passed the wand to Wei Ying.

Wei Wuxian took it and, once he felt that little surge of magic that run through his arm every time he gripped his wand, he gave Lan Zhan a big smile. 
Lan Wangji, however, didn’t reciprocate. With the hand of Professor Lan on his shoulder, he bowed to the Headmaster and to Argus the Wheezing and exited the room.

“Young Master Wei, Argus will accompany you to the Gryffindor’s Tower,” Headmaster Li said and Wei Ying turned to look at him. The man was regarding him with that same amusement that had been there at the very beginning of their meeting. “You should rest well,” he commanded. “Tomorrow will be a busy day”.

 


 


Only when Wei Ying slipped under the covers of his new bed, with heavy eyelids and a big jawn on his lips, he realized that Lan Zhan and Professor Lan had the same surname.

Could it be that Professor Lan was the Ravenclaw’s father?

Wei Ying shuddered at the thought. If that was the case, then he didn’t envy Lan Zhan at all.

 


 

 
“Wei Ying! Jiang Cheng!” Nie Huaisang shouted after them just as they descended the steps that led to the Great Hall. They both turned around, Jiang Cheng looking splendidly refreshed and Wei Wuxian just a bit more disheveled than usual.

“Nie-xiong!” Wei Ying greeted him back. “You’re a Slytherin!” he exclaimed, then, looking at the crest on his friend’s chest. His hand made its way to the back of his neck in sheepishness when he gathered that he had completely missed his Sorting, but Nie Huaisang didn’t seem offended. If anything, he seemed miserable.

“My brother was furious,” he admitted with big, sad eyes, and reached for his nice fan. 

“Why?” Jiang Cheng asked quickly, even if he tried not to sound curious. Wei Ying knew better, though - Jiang Cheng had always liked gossip. Back in Yunmeng, when he’d thought that Wei Wuxian hadn’t been looking, he’d intentionally wandered around the kitchens, where the tattle was of the primest quality.

Nie Huaisang glanced around nervously and then exhaled.
“I told you. He wanted for me to be a Gryffindor, like him. He will become an Auror, just like every other man in our family,” he confided, sounding more and more distressed, “and he says that I must be one too, but I just want to paint my fans and read comics!” he concluded his confession, opening the fan in one swift motion and hiding his face behind it.

Wei Ying put a hand on his shoulder and gave him an encouraging smile.

“I’m sure he’s not that bad, Nie-xio - “ he started, but then he almost bumped into somebody. When he glanced up, he realized that he couldn’t have knocked into a worse person. The super scary Gryffindor prefect was towering above him!
Strangely though, he didn’t even spare Wei Ying a glace. 

“Huaisang,” he spoke instead.

Wei Ying glanced around in surprise. Had Nie-xiong done something bad?

“Brother,” his friend uttered with trembling voice and Wei Ying’s jaw fell open.

He elbowed Jiang in the ribs and whispered:
“Jiang Cheng, the terrifying prefect is Nie-xiong’s brother!”

“Shut up!” Jiang Cheng whispered back frantically, but the scary boy had obviously heard their exchange. He slowly looked down at them.
Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying made themselves smaller.

When the prefect returned his attention to his brother, Wei Ying hazarded a little thumbs up at Nie Huaisang, but a) it didn’t bring the desired effect and b) Jiang Cheng immediately swatted his hands away, because, between the two of them, at least he had some sense of self-preservation.

“Stop wasting time on rubbish and eat breakfast,” the older boy commanded without an ounce of leniency and Nie Huaisang’s shoulders slumped. “You are not to be late to your first class,” he said before turning around and going away, leaving the three of them in various states of fright.

“Heh,” Wei Ying broke the silence after a bit, but no other words of consolation came to his mind.
He gave Nie Huaisang a little pat on the shoulder. 

It only made it slump more.

“Come on, let’s have breakfast,” Jiang Cheng said loudly and, just like that, the bad mood dissipated.

“Yes, Merlin, I’m starving,” Wei Ying replied, and this ever-present hunger got even worse when he caught a whiff of freshly baked bread that filled the Great Hall.

“You’re always starving,” Jiang Cheng replied, but then his stomach made a loud grumble, which made Wei Ying laugh in turn.

“Who knows whom we’ll have our lessons with,” he wondered out loud once they entered the Great Hall and he took a look at the four long tables.

“Everyone,” Nie Huaisang answered swiftly, making Wei Ying look at him with surprise. “I heard that Headmaster Li wants to strengthen the unity between the Houses,” he explained. “The Houses we’re partnered with for every subjects will change each week”.

Wei Ying went over the idea in his head and he soon gathered that he didn’t mind.

“Oh, I forgot to warn you,” Nie Huaisang added, and both Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian stopped and look at him questioningly. “There’s a Ravenclaw student you can’t mess with,” he said with a gravely expression on his face.

Wei Ying was about to ask who it was and why, but then he caught a glimpse of a white ribbon by the Ravenclaw's table.

“LAN ZHAN!“ he shouted and smiled with glee when the boy in question slowly lifted his eyes from above some thick book he’d been reading and looked at him. 
“Our tables are close to each other!” he exclaimed happily, but Lan Zhan’s stony expression didn’t give away any signs of recognition. In fact, not even a second later, he looked back down and resumed his reading.

Wei Ying’s smile didn’t waver. He was already getting used to being ignored.
When he turned back to ask who that mysterious student they had to watch out for was, he was met by two utterly stunned expressions.

“What?” he asked, perplexed. “Do I have some Piquant Toothpaste on my face?”.

Jiang Cheng only looked at him some more before shaking his head, while Nie Huaisang stole a glance at the Ravenclaw’s table.

“Wei Ying, what mess have you gotten yourself into?” he asked anxiously.

“What do you mean?” Wei Wuxian asked back.

“Lan Wangji is that student you can’t anger. He’s the second most talented wizard of our generation,” he explained, casting another jittery look at the table of the Blue and Bronze. “And,” his voice dropped down with seriousness, “he’s Deputy Headmaster’s nephew!”.

Wei Wuxian looked at Lan Zhan, who hadn’t moved an inch. 

Merlin, his back was so straight! How could he sit in the same uncomfortable position for so long?

“He caught me sneaking into the Ravenclaw’s tower last night and we both ended in the Headmaster’s office,” he said lightly and Jiang Cheng choked on his saliva.

Wei Wuxian patted him on the back.

“You…” he stuttered between ragged breaths, “... did what?!”.

“I was caught sneaking into the Ravenclaw’s tower last night and then ended - “ Wei Ying started to repeat, but Jiang Cheng interrupted him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?!”.

“You said you were sleeping!”.

“Because you asked what I was doing!”

“Guys,” Nie Huaisang coughed quietly and they stopped their bickering. 

 
.
.
.

 
“You should’ve told me!” Jiang Cheng whispered angrily.

“I’m sorry!” Wei Ying whispered back. “Next time we’ll go together, but the password to the Ravenclaw’s Common Room is a riddle and I don’t know how to solve riddles!”.

“Me neither!” Jiang Cheng muttered hotly. 

“I guess I’ll just go and eat,” Nie Huaisang exhaled, leaving Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng in the middle of the Great Hall.

“I’ll tell you next time, pinky promise,” Wei Ying extended his hand in a peace offering.

Jiang Cheng regarded it with suspicion, but then he lifted his own. Their fingers intertwined. “Pinky promise”.

“Now, let’s eat before I die of starvation!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed, rising his voice to normal tones, and plopped himself down on the first available spot by the Gryffindor’s table.

“You can’t die of starvation if you ate not even twelve hours ago,” Jiang Cheng lectured him.

Wei Ying ignored him and stuffed a toast inside his mouth. Some pieces of it flew out when he unexpectedly shouted “Shijie!” and waved in the direction of his most beautiful and kindest shijie of all times.

He could see Jiang Yanli hide a happy smile behind the sleeve of her robes, just like she always did, and wave back.

“You’re disgusting,” Jiang Cheng said, but he too was saluting his sister with a big smile on his face.

“Not more than Nearly Headless Nick,” Wei Ying replied, swallowing a huge piece of bread, and pointed at the Gryffindor’s ghost. “I wonder why he nearly takes off his head only by the boiled potatoes,” he pondered, eliciting a snicker from his little brother.

They smiles died down when Nie Huaisang’s brother appeared out of nowhere and dropped some pieces of parchment right beside their plates.

“It’s the lessons plan,” Jiang Cheng turned the paper around as soon as they were out of imminent danger. “We have two hours of Potions with Slytherins,” he read out loud, but then his voice croaked, “and two hours of History of Magic with Huffepuffs”.

“I also have detention in the Dungeons at four,” Wei Ying added, casting a rapid glance at a rectangular piece of parchment that laid on his copy of the plan, and the grim shadow of duplication of long lists creeped back to loom over his head.

 


 

Potions were led by a very prominent man with a benevolent smile on his face. 

“My name is Horace Slughorn and I’ll be your Potions Professor in the foreseeable future,” he introduced himself, strolling into the classroom right behind his round belly covered by a sweater with tensed buttons that cracked dangerously with ever step he took. 
He took a good look at all the faces in the dark classroom and then, with a swish of his wand, he produced a parchment out of thin air. 

“Let’s take attendance first, shall we?”.

As he called them out, Wei Ying couldn’t help but notice that his eyes lingered a little bit longer on some of the students, and sometimes Professor Slughorn stopped to list whatsoever to recount some anecdote about somebody’s family member.

“Jiang,” he called out and Jiang Cheng lifted his hand from beside Wei Ying. They were, obviously, sitting in the farthest corner of the classroom. 
“Oh,” Professor Slughorn smiled once he saw him. “You look just like your mother, young man,” he said and Jiang Cheng wriggled a bit in embarrassment when he realized that all of the attention was on him. “A brilliant witch, I must say. Brilliant and fierce!” the Professor continued, unperturbed, and laughed gingerly. “One of my best ones, I have to admit”.

Jiang Cheng nodded, but looked a bit lost for words. Fortunately, Professor Slughorn was already calling another name.

“Nie,” he read out loud after a bit, glancing around until he caught a sight of the Slytherin boy, who was sitting behind a desk that was right beside Wei Ying’s. 
“Head Auror Nie’s son?” he asked, then, and when Nie Huaisang nodded with reluctance, the Professor’s face lit up. “An exceptional ex-student of mine!” he reminisced with grandeur. “Just like that older brother of yours, Nie Mingjue. Natural talent must run in your veins, dear boy,” the man winked at him, which made Nie Huaisang clam up. 

Finally, after just a few more elations, he got to the end of the list (throwing a brief ‘see you in the afternoon’ at Wei Ying and making all the students regard him with badly hidden curiosity) and then the proper lesson began. 

They didn’t do much besides learning how to control the flame under their new, shiny cauldrons, but Wei Ying enjoyed it anyways. 

He enjoyed the prospect of a forty lines long essay about the importance of correct heating much less.




 


History of Magic was… Peculiar. They all jumped in their seats when Professor Binns, a very old and wrinkled ghost, entered the classroom passing through the chalkboard (Wei Ying’s Shijie had mentioned something about the man being a big surprise, but, ‘not to spoil the fun’, she hadn’t said anything else, turning a deaf ear to Wei Wuxian’s pleads. Still, who could’ve imagined that the man was actually dead and had, like, four thousand years?), but that was all the excitement they got.

Somewhere in the middle of the second hour, with Wei Ying being one of the two people who hadn’t yet fallen asleep (albeit the blonde Hufflepuff girl with two bouncy ponytails was starting to struggle to keep her eyes open), his curiosity got the better of him and he asked Professor Binns how old he was. 

Jiang Cheng snored lightly by his side, but Wei Wuxian had long covered him from view with his book.

The ghost lifted his transparent head with slight confusion, looking as if he was surprised that somebody had spoken. After a brief moment and an even quicker glance around the classroom, he most likely judged the noise much less important than the First Great Colonization of the Future Wizarding England, because he went back to his notes as if nothing had happened.

Wei Wuxian exhaled and propped his chin on the palm of his hand, finally giving up to the drowsiness. He’d really wanted to know.

 





Lunch came quickly, followed by some moping (on Wei Ying’s part) and a couple of ‘serves you right’ (from Jiang Cheng) by the fireplace in their Common Room.
Soon, Wei Ying had to get up and, not even ten minutes later, he was turning the last corner to the Potions Classroom. 

His mood lifted considerably when he saw Lan Zhan, pristine and proper as always, standing in front of the wooden door. He didn’t look happy, but he didn’t look sad either. In fact, he just looked upright.
Before Wei Wuxian could open his mouth and disrupt the silence, the door opened and Professor Slughorn invited them inside. Six scrolls of parchment, two quills and two bottles of ink were already waiting for them on the desks at the very front of the classroom.

Wei Ying hovered by the entrance, truly not wanting to get in, but he had little choice - not when Lan Zhan was already bowing and sitting by the desk on the right.

Professor Slughorn greeted the Ravenclaw with a fatherly expression on his face, but spared only a glance at Wei Ying.

When they were both seated, he went around his own desk and took a very moldy looking piece of paper out of one of its drawers.

“This is the original inventory,” he instructed them and Wei Ying almost beathed out with relief. It didn’t seem so bad. At least not until the man shook his hand a little and the paper unfolded seven times.
“It has some corrections and updates, but I trust that you’ll manage to copy everything meticulously,” he said. Wei Ying didn’t even know what ‘meticulously’ meant. “Behind a good Brewing Chamber, there’s always a good inventory,” he revealed, then, as if the notion could’ve been of some help, and charmed the parchment so that it hung itself in the air, right between Wei Wuxian’s and Lan Wangji’s desks.

“Now, my boys, let’s start. You surely want to be out of here before dinner, don’t you?”.

 





Wei Ying’s head started to hurt somewhere between Fire Seed and Frabberghasted Leech, and he was only on the letter F. Of the first copy.

He snuck a twentieth glance at the Ravenclaw boy, who had long finished the first scroll and was now in the middle of the second. Lan Zhan hadn’t moved since they’d sat down, if one didn’t count the rise and fall of his wrist over the parchment and the occasional lift of his head, and Wei Wuxian was bored.

Unfortunately, the first occasion to do something other than writing presented itself only after two excruciating hours.

“I have a matter to discuss with Professor Sprout, but I will be back soon,” Professor Slughorn announced, lifting himself up with some difficulty. “I hope that you’ll behave,” he assessed them with a severe expression. “Patience is, after all, the most important virtue in the art of potion-making,” he said and, with those sage words, he left the room.

As soon as the sound of his steps died down, Wei Ying dropped the quill and stretched his arms above his head.

“Lan Zhan,” he looked at the other boy, who placed the second scroll by the edge of the desk and reached for the third. “Want to see if we can find where Professor Slughorn keeps all those ingredients?” he proposed, because the idea suddenly seemed very good. It was surely better than sitting and copying!

Lan Zhan did not reply.

Wei Ying huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. The Ravenclaw was so boring! He only sat straight and kept his face still!
His annoyance, however, vanished quickly.
“Lan Zhan ~ “ he tried again, but Lan Wangji was unremovable. 

Very well, then, Wei Ying thought to himself. Lan Zhan might be boring, but teasing him surely wasn’t.

He smiled playfully and leaned over, propping his cheek on folded arms right on top of Lan Zhan’s desk.

“Lan Zhan, why do you always ignore me?” he lamented, looking at the serious boy from behind the strands of hair that always escaped his ponytail.

Lan Wangji merely shifted the parchment to his right, lifting his head to look at the original inventory.

“Lan Zhaaaannnnn,” Wei Wuxian whined, because how long could one person ignore another?

He straightened his back when the Ravenclaw unexpectedly put his quill down, but, before he could chant victory, Lan Wangji took his wand out of the sleeve of his white robes and pointed it at him.

Langlock ”.

Wei Ying’s tongue affixed to the roof of his mouth and he made a strangled sound. What a merciless way to silence him! Lan Wangji truly was heartless!

Gripping his throat, the looked at the Ravenclaw in a pleading way, but nothing else than muffled sounds escaped his mouth.

Lan Zhan looked at him with his mouth set in a hard line and with clear annoyance in his golden eyes, but he did not take off the spell. Wei Ying tried to grab his forearm, because the jinx was terrible and it made him feel like he was suffocating, even if he could breathe perfectly well, but the Ravenclaw snatched his arm away before Wei Ying could grasp it.

“Do not call me Lan Zhan,” he spoke, and the tone of his voice was harsh.

Wei Ying nodded quickly, because he couldn’t take it anymore, and the Ravenclaw finally cast the counterspell.

As soon as his tongue returned in its place, Wei Wuxian looked at the other boy with resentment, but he couldn’t help but smile.

He truly did not have any sense of self-preservation.

“Would you prefer it if I called you Lan Er-gege?” he asked, grinning shamelessly.

He wasn’t even surprised when his tongue got glued to the roof of his mouth the second time, but the outrage on Lan Zhan’s face was completely worth it.

Chapter Text

A stab of pain.

(Pain?)

On his left forearm.

(How could he feel pain if he didn’t know what it meant to feel? Because he didn’t, not anymore. Not when the concept of time had long slipped away from fingers he didn’t have).

It burned, like flames on his skin.

(That couldn’t be true. There was no space for burn and there was no space for light. The place that trapped him was home only to darkness and to the sorrow that hadn’t left him even when his soul had). 

His arm burned, and so did his lungs.

(Wei Ying didn’t understand. Pain was for the alive, but he’d died long ago. He’d forgotten the faces of his beloved ones, even when he’d clung to those memories with whatever had been left of him, yet he’d never forgotten his death).

“...m up…”

(He could hear voices, now. Maybe he hadn’t paid enough for his sins. Maybe Death would make him listen to those who‘d died at his hand).

“... ke him up…" 

(He didn’t want to. What if Death made him listen to his Shijie’s screams? They were the only thing he thought about, but he couldn’t hear them again… He could not, oh Merlin, not anymore! Please no!

He tried to stop the memories that had haunted him since he’d entered the Veil, but they didn’t let him go. Not this time. 

With eyes that were no longer there, he saw his faceless Shijie, falling lifelessly when the spell that was supposed to save her failed. 

No.

He saw Jin Zixuan, being killed by a hand that should’ve listened to him, but that hadn’t. 

No.

He heard his own voice, raw and inhuman, shouting the same spell over and over again, because at least one of the two had to live, but neither got up. 

Enough.

He heard Jiang Cheng, screaming his name with such hatred that it made Wei Ying’s heart stop for a moment, because it made him understand that, for them to live, he had to die instead. 

Please stop.

He felt someone’s warm fingertips graze over his own as he fell back, right through the Veil, with his heart in his throat and gold on his mind. 

STOP!

He felt cold, right before his soul got shredded into pieces he’d spent countless years picking up.

NO! ).


“WAKE HIM UP!”

The scream tore through his thoughts. It had never happened before and Wei Ying didn’t know where it came from, but he listened to it. He listened, because he wanted for it all to stop. He listened, because he wanted for Death to finally leave him alone. He listened, against the force that had never relented its grip and against the panic woven into the marrow of his bones, and he opened his eyes.

There was wetness at their corners when he saw, for the first time in thirteen years, but it was no long before he had to close them again; a foot connected with his ribs, making him choke on his first breath. 

He didn’t even make a sound, because the nightmares in his head were still too loud. 

Where am I? Who’s there?

When the answers didn’t come and the screams in his head got louder, he tried to listen to the quiet huffs that escaped his mouth, focusing on the fleeting caress of air on his parted lips; it tasted better than anything he’d tried before.  

He didn’t know how much time passed, but, eventually, when the noise subsided and the huffs got steadier, Wei Ying pushed every thought in the farthest and darkest corner of his stitched soul. Only then, he understood.

He… was breathing, and his lungs burned with every intake of the cold air.

He was alive, even if he’d never managed to outsmart Death. 

A second blow made him curl and wrap his arms around his stomach. There was someone else, with him, but he couldn’t understand where he was; with his face planted on the ground, the only thing he saw was a wooden floor, poorly illuminated and full of dust. The awareness of being alive that filled his body with each loud beat of his heart made it difficult to gather anything else.

“Mo Xuanyu!” someone called out with a voice filled with venom.

Mo Xuanyu? Wei Ying had never heard such a name. Trying to lift himself with arms he barely remembered how to move, he breathed through his nose and almost choked again; above the stench of dust that clung to the floor, there was an overwhelming smell of blood, and blood meant only one thing. Dark Magic.

Someone grabbed him by his hair and lifted him from the ground just as he started to raise.

“Where is that bracelet mother bought me at Borgin and Burkes?!”.

That question must’ve been directed at him, Wei Ying gathered, since no one else had spoken. He blinked, slowly, until his eyes adjusted to the scarce illumination. One could’ve thought that, after countless days of seeing only dark, Wei Wuxian would’ve been able to see clearly, yet he wasn’t. He’d lived in the dark only because Death had taken his eyes away. 

When shadows finally started to take shapes, he looked at whoever was speaking.

His capturer was a large boy in his late teens, with dark splotches of anger, or perhaps physical strain, on his round face. His lips were curved in a scowl and his small eyes were squinting at Wei Ying with unhidden hatred, but he didn’t look like a threat. Wei Wuxian ignored him, turning his head around even when the pull at his hair started to hurt. He got a glimpse of some boxes lined by a wooden wall, and then his eyes laid on another boy, much skinnier than the one who was holding him. It was undoubtedly the one who’d kicked him twice. 

Wei Ying felt his lips stretch in a grin. They were wet, yet he didn’t remember licking them, so he let his tongue pass over his teeth. They tasted like blood. 
His grin widened, which made the skinny boy back away from him. 

A hand full of rings slapped him across the face, but he didn’t even recoil from the impact. Such feeble pain was nothing compared to how much the tears on his souls had hurt. 

“Did you forget how to speak, you fucking weirdo?!” the large boy shouted so close to his face that he felt a few droplets of saliva hit his cheeks, but Wei Wuxian didn’t answer. The boy acted like knew him and it could only mean that he wasn’t the Yiling Patriarch anymore. At least not in body. 

After one more slap, the boy released him and Wei Ying cupped his cheek, pretending to fall miserably to his knees. 

“Search the whole damn place!” the boy shouted at his helper, who started to pry open  the old, dusty boxes that filled the shack Wei Wuxian was being kept in. Or, rather, the shack a certain Mo Xuanyu was being (had been?) kept in. The bully’s brusque movements made particles of dirt dance in the single ray of light that came from the door left askew and Wei Ying noted that neither of the two was using magic, which meant that they weren’t of age yet. 

Taking advantage of the fact that they couldn’t seriously harm him, Wei Wuxian looked around and every little piece of information he’d gathered in the past few moments slotted into place: 

painted with drying blood, both on the ground and on the walls, was a Summoning Array that took a soul for a soul, leaving behind a body given away of one’s own free will. Wei Ying recognized it; he’d read about it in one of the books he’d stolen from the Forbidden Section of Hogwarts Library.  

He traced a piece of pattern with his (no, not his, Mo Xuanyu’s) fingers. They came off red, which meant that the sacrifice was recent.
Just how desperate must’ve this man been to summon Wei Wuxian’s soul, of all the souls? 

At that thought, Wei Ying felt a pang of sympathy and everything around him stopped. The only thing that was left was the sound of blood thrumming in his ears. 

He wasn’t supposed to feel sympathy. Not after he’d traded it all for the power of Death. 

Could it be that, along with his body, he’d received Mo Xuanyu’s unblemished mind? If that was the case, then - 

No, it wasn’t possible. It would’ve been too good to be true. 

Yet, his lips itched to try.

After a heartbeat, he gave up to his own want and lifted his hand, murmuring Lumos. The tips of his fingers lit up. 

Wei Wuxian had magic again. 

He could feel it in his veins, down to the depths of his brain, where his power had once used to reside. It wasn’t strong - he’d even dare to say it was weak, insignificant when compared to the magic he’d used to wield at Hogwarts. He could already tell that most of the spells were out of his reach, not with this body, but he could do magic again. It was enough. No, Merlin, what was he saying?! It was more than enough! 
Besides, if his theory was true, then his soul was still tinted black with Death. He didn’t need magic to command the dead. Their own remnants of power and the resentment that fueled them were more than enough. 

He murmured Nox before the boys could see him performing wandless magic. If Mo Xuanyu had been kept in a hut, then it meant that he wasn’t able to open the door. Not without his wand, which was, unsurprisingly, nowhere in sight. 

“Young Master Mo, there’s only rubbish and horse shit in here!” the boy who’d kicked him huffed, disgusted. 

The large boy, Young Master Mo, grabbed Wei Ying by the hair before he could react, yanking his head up. Again.

“Speak up, you crazy cutsleeve, or I swear on Merlin’s beard, I will kill you with my own hands! You know I will! You’re alive only because my mother says so, but she won’t protect you when I tell her that you’ve stolen my things!” he shook his arm, pulling at the strands of Wei Ying’s hair. He looked like he meant his words… Or rather like nobody had even denied him anything. 

Wei Wuxian smiled. He could go with ‘crazy’ .

“Me?! Stolen from you?!” he shrieked at the top of his lungs, indignant, and the boy released him from sheer surprise, making his knees bang of the floor. 

With much more easiness that he had anticipated, Wei Ying stood up and patted away a patch of dust on his knees, even if it didn’t change anything in his appearance - his robes were all dirty and drenched with blood, but at least they were black. The motion, however, made hot pain shot through his forearm and he forced himself to suppress a wince. It was the same pain that had pulled him out of the grasps of Death and he was starting to have an idea about the prize of the Summoning Ritual. 

Body for Mo Xuanyu, vengeance for Wei Wuxian. 

He sighed on the inside, because it was was not the best time to dwell on whatever vengeance had Mo Xuanyu wanted to achieve - he had to get out of the damn place first. 

You have stolen my wand!” he shouted without slipping out of his role and pointed at the boy’s impressive chest with the arm that didn’t hurt. 

His suppressor’s little eyes widened with incredulity, only to shrink back with anger a second later. 

“Me?! I haven’t touched anything that’s yours! It would make me become a cutsleeve like you!”.

Again with the cutsleeve! Wei Ying resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Wizards and Witches married people of the same sex all the time! Wei Ying had always preferred pretty witches, so he wasn’t a cutsleeve himself, but what was wrong with liking boys? They could be pretty as well! 

“Right now, you looked through all of my things!” Wei Ying didn’t relent, turning to point his finger at the other boy as well. “Give me back my wand! I want my wand! Give it to me!” he screamed, stomping his feet. Then, he folded his knees, feeling the pull at the muscles of Mo Xuanyu’s legs, and lunged forwards. The sudden motion made Young Master Mo throw his arms in front of himself and trip over a box. He fell down with a heavy thud, right by Wei Ying’s feet.

With one of the two down, Wei Ying turned around.

“Maybe you have stolen my want, little one,” he grinned, his mouth still full of blood, and walked towards the other boy. He was hunched in a corner, looking at Wei Ying with eyes wide from fear. Wei Wuxian’s grin turned into a smirk. So much for courage. 

He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder -

“Guards! GUARDS! Stop him!” Young Master Mo screamed and it was not long before Wei Ying heard loud pops of Apparition right outside the shack’s door. He cursed inwardly. Sometimes, weak, magical families hired stronger witches and wizards for protection, and Mo family must’ve been one of those. Still, he’d just resurrected! There was no way he was going to allow them to put him back inside four walls! 
With eyes that had completely regained their sight, he looked for the shack’s weakest point, soon pinpointing it on the wall beside him. There must’ve been a window, once, but it was now barricaded with boards. However, a few weak rays of light that peeked through the cracks were giving it away.

Having only one-third planned his escape, due partially to a limited amount of time and partially to the short span of his attention that hadn’t changed even after his death, Wei Ying strengthened his grip on the boy’s shoulder just as the first spell left a dent in the shack’s door. Ignoring the boy’s yelp, he focused on the source of the boy’s magic and whispered, barely moving his lips: 

“Furtum”

He felt a surge of power in his own magical core. Good; the spells he’d invented inside the cave he’d been thrown into after he’d given his magic away were working. 

The magic he took should be enough to let him cast a stronger spell.

He looked at the wall.

Bombarda!

As splinters and pieces of wood flew in the air, leaving behind a hole big enough for Wei Ying to go through, Wei Wuxian thanked Merlin for remembering how to cast non-verbal spells. A hex passed above his head, flying right through the remnants of the wall, and he screamed with false terror as he started to make his way out. Unfortunately, passing through the gap took him longer than it would’ve had before, because his new body was much smaller and weaker than his old one. 

Once he stumbled out, the harsh midday sun made him hiss at the sudden brightness. Blinking rapidly to get rid of the unpleasant sensation, he looked left and right to assess eventual obstacles, but there were none. The shack was in the middle of a field devoid of any other buildings. 

Cursing himself for not having thought about it earlier, he maximized his focus, took a step forward and then spun around. However, when he blinked again, he was still in the same place. 

Damn it. Too weak to Apparate. To think that, with his old body, he’d even mastered the art of flying without a broom!

Another bang reverberated in the air.

“They want to kill me! I don’t wanna die! SOMEBODY HELP ME!” he shouted, backtracking with his front facing the shack and ready to defend. After a few steps, however, his back collided with something hard. And bony. He turned around and his face stopped just an inch from the muzzle of a big, black thestral.The animal looked at him with white eyes, completely unimpressed, and Wei Ying’s new face lit up with glee as he momentarily forgot about the pursue.

“What a cutie!” he exclaimed, trying to pet the thestral on its forehead.

The animal only snorted, spraying Wei Wuxian’s face with a little bit of snot, but then its ears perked up. He must’ve gotten a whiff of Mo Xuanyu’s blood. 

Suddenly, the shouts from behind the shack got louder.

With no time to lose, Wei Ying tore a part of his sleeve and put it right by the thestral’s nostrils.

“What about I let you munch on it while you take me far, far away? Mh? ~ “ he waved the piece of cloth left and right, noting that the animal moved his head in unison with the fabric. 

A moment later, it faced Wei Ying and folded his knees.  

“Good boy!” Wei Ying clapped his hands in delight, throwing the bloody fabric on the ground, and mounted the animal. The thestral neighed, standing back up and stomping his hooves with malcontent, which almost threw Wei Ying off of its back. It had a pretty big temper, Wei Ying mused as he wrapped his right arm around its hollow neck. “Good girl!” he corrected himself, sighing with relief when the thestral finally stopped to move, neighing again. “Now, go!” he shouted, nudging her with his talons. 

A Stupefy passed an inch from his ear, making it tingle. He turned around, only to see three more red hexes coming his way.

“Come on, baby girl!” he urged her, giving her a much harder shove, and the thestral finally opened her big, bat-like wings. Then, with a strong shove of all four of her hooves, she took off... Right in the direction of a big building that had to be the Mo’s Residence.

Vain were Wei Ying’s pleas not to go there, and Merlin, didn’t he plea! However, as one of the big, wooden doors only got closer and closer, he abandoned any attempt at convincing the stubborn thestral to turn around and braced himself for the impact. In fact, in a blink of an eye, her surprisingly sturdy legs were hitting the ground and Wei Wuxian was flying off of her back, right onto the heavy door.

He cast an Alohomora, hoping that his own magic was enough, because there was hardly any time to take some from his surroundings. That one was and had always been his best invention, but it came with a prize. Time. That he didn’t have. 

As he heard the door creak and give up under his spell, he threw a weak Cushioning Charm and shielded his head with both of his arms. Unluckily, his fall was not deadened and, what was worse, his left forearm took a nasty hit on the Mansion’s hard, marble floor. A grunt of pain escaped his lips as he pressed the bleeding arm to his chest, and it echoed on the walls of a completely silent parlour. 

He clenched his teeth and looked up. 

It was to say that, in a different situation, he would’ve probably stopped to take a look at the delightful fresco on the ceiling, or perhaps he would’ve laughed at an extremely hideous representation of some wizard that was hanging right above a fireplace. In a different situation, there wouldn’t have been an angry witch with pompous robes and a big, ostentatious ring on one of her fingers, breathing heavily above his head and blocking most of the view, yet there he was. 

“Mo Xuanyu!”. 

Wei Ying reluctantly unglued his eyes from the left side of the ugly portrait and took a good look the woman. She had a haughty face that was framed by dark hair, but a few threads of silver she’d probably forgotten to conceal gave away the age she seemed to hide behind a heavy makeup. To Wei Wuxian, it only made her look older. 

“I told you not to disturb when we’re having guests!” she shouted with poorly concealed ire as soon as she had his attention, pulling a short wand from one of the layers of her uncomfortably looking mantel. Then, seeing that he stayed put, she glanced behind her shoulder and her expression switched from enraged to sorry in a blink of an eye. “Dear boys, please pay him no mind. He is a part of Mo’s family, but he’s lost his mind at a young age,” she said, lowering her voice at the end and sending Wei Ying a look of compassion, but it didn’t seem very authentic with her wand still pointed at his face. She probably expected for Wei Wuxian to react, but he was too busy assessing the ‘boys’ to play his part. It was difficult not to, with all that white.

“Madame Mo, excuse my impertinence, but Mister Mo looks hurt. What if the impact broke some of his bones?”.

Wei Ying sighed, because it was truly the proper thing to say for someone who came from the righteous Lan family.

The boy who’d spoken was standing a few feet away from all the other occupants of the room, most likely Mo family members, looking in his direction with worry. His posture was perfectly proper, his hair was tied up with meticulousness and his grey eyes shone brightly from below the Lan headband. Woven into the lap of his robe, right by his heart, was the Ravenclaw’s crest.

If the thought of Lan Zhan hadn’t made his heart leap to his throat, Wei Ying would’ve made a comparison between the two of them.

Right beside him there was another boy, also dressed in white, but somehow more sluggish in his motions. He was looking at Wei Ying with perturbation instead and he too was a Ravenclaw, but it was to be expected. All Lans were.

“Oh, no, Mister Lan,” the witch, who was in all likelihood the Head of the Mo family, was quick to dissipate any concern. “I’m sure it’s only a few scratches! Absolutely nothing to worry ab - “.

“MOTHER!”.

Young Master Mo’s voice rang loudly in every corner of the parlour and everyone’s attention instantly turned to him. He was grabbing the edge of the open door with one hand, while the other was grasping his knee. Sweat was dripping down his face, probably because he’d run all the way to the Mansion, and it took him a moment to regain his breath before he shouted again.

“HIM!” he pointed his finger at Wei Ying (making the heads turn again) as soon as he could talk once more, looking at him with even more hatred than before. “He stole my bracelet and then escaped the shack!”.

Wei Ying took a deep breath when the gears in his mind slotted into place. If the boy was there, then it meant that the Guards were there too and that he had approximately very little time before they captured him. Standing up with more speed that he would’ve expected from Mo Xuanyu’s body, he did the only thing he could do: he jumped forwards and grabbed the Righteous Lan by his white sleeve, hiding behind his slender back. 

The poor thing jumped a bit in shock, but, as four Guarding Wizards barged in and pointed their wands at Wei Wuxian, his stance hardened and one of his hands flew to the side to cover a bigger part of Wei Ying. 

Wei Wuxian liked him.

“Madame Mo,” the boy spoke with calm, even if the scene that had unfolded in front of his eyes was nothing less than bizzarre. “I’m sure that whatever is happening can be solved without using our wands, regardless of the severity,” he lifted the hand that wasn’t covering Wei Ying in a calming way.

Wei Ying hid a grin behind a grimace.

“Right!” he exclaimed from behind the boy’s back, making him jump again. “How can I defend myself if you’ve taken away mine?!”.

“They’ve taken his wand?” the Other Lan murmured to the Righteous Lan with surprise just as Young Master Mo shouted: “You’ve stolen my bracelet!”.

The Righteous Lan turned his head and casted a glance at Wei Ying, who nodded his head with fervor.

At that, uncertainty crossed his young, fair features. Wei Ying didn’t blame him - he looked no older than sixteen, seventeen maybe, and if he was still wearing Ravenclaw’s robes, then it meant that he was no more than an Apprentice in a Ministry department. Such a situation was probably out of the range of his jurisdiction.

Luckily, Madame Mo turned out to be one of those women who wanted to avoid embarrassing messes at all costs.

“Of course, Mister Lan,” she swiftly agreed, lifting her hand and motioning to the Guards to put away their wands.

“But mother,” Young Master Mo protested, “Mo Xuanyu took my bracelet! The one you bought me last week!”.

Madame Mo gave her son a look that instantly shut his mouth and then she moved her eyes to Wei Ying. He pretended to shudder with fear as he made himself smaller, until only the top of his head peaked from behind the Righteous Lan’s shoulder. 

“Mo Xuanyu,” she spoke harshly and Wei Ying straightened his back just enough to meet her gaze. “Have you stolen my son’s property?”.

“I have not!” he shouted back, noting that the volume of his voice made her wince. She truly was a woman who wanted to avoid bad impressions on her guests! “Your son and his friend have searched the shack you keep me locked in and they’ve found nothing! Where else would’ve I hidden it?” he asked, coming out and opening his arms, not bothered by the fact that the Lan boys were casting Madame Mo strange looks. It was not his fault that she kept a family member prisoner. “If you’re so sure that I’ve stolen it, then Accio it!”.

Madame Yu’s eyes narrowed, but she had little choice but to listen to him.

Accio bracelet!” she huffed. For a brief moment, everyone seemed to hold their breaths, yet no bracelet came out of Wei Ying’s robes.


“See?!” he exclaimed, pointing his finger at Young Master Mo. The boy lifted his hand as if to slap him, but Wei Ying jumped back behind the Righteous Lan’s back. “I don’t have it, but you have my wand! I want my wand! Give it back to me!”.

Finally, the Other Lan spoke up. “Madame Mo, can we see the warrant that certifies that Mister Mo is not fit to use a wand anymore?”.

Wei Ying looked at him. Another smart one, hm?

“Of course,” Madame Mo recomposed herself, although more slowly than before, and casted an Accio again.

As soon as the piece of parchment made its way into the room, the Righteous Lan grasped it and the two boys rapidly went over the text. Then, he turned around and looked at Wei Ying with a veil of sadness in his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mister Mo,” he spoke quietly, “but we can’t give you back your wand just yet”.

Wei Ying blinked, slowly, and then his lower lip wobbled.

“But I want my wand!” he wailed, throwing himself onto the ground, much to the boy’s surprise. “I won’t move until you give me my wand!” he hit the floor a couple of times with his good hand to strengthen the dramatic effect.

The Lan boy looked at the second Lan boy with slight panic, but the other only shrugged helplessly.

“Mo Xuanyu, get out of here! We have important matters to discuss!” Madame Mo commanded, looking like she’d lost her patience for good, and started to walk in his direction.

Wei Ying scrambled behind the closest piece of furniture, swiftly drying his non existent tears with the back of his hand. “No, please, no more shack,” he pleaded, gripping the back of what turned out to be an old armchair. “I’ll behave, I promise!”.

Madame Mo looked like she was about to hex him five ways to Azkaban, but in the end she breathed out and squared her shoulders.

“Young Misters,” she addressed the two Lan boys after three more calming breaths, letting Wei Ying be, “I hope that the problem with the Inferi will be resolved tonight”.

Wei Wuxian’s curiosity piqued. Inferi? Were they roaming the world free again? Was there someone crazy enough to follow Wei Ying’s steps, even if they only lead to death?

“Of course, Madame Mo,” the Other Lan answered, bowing curtly. “We will have to ask you not to leave the Mansion from dusk until dawn. No place outside will be safe when there’ll be no light”.

The conversation continued, then, but Wei Ying was not listening anymore. Taking advantage of the fact that the general attention was not focused on him, he finally lifted the sleeve of his dirty robe. There, on his forearm, all the way across the flesh, were three deep cuts. One for every life that had to be taken.

As he looked back up, stealing a piece of food from a tray left behind by a very old and very wrinkled house elf, he had no doubt that the ones who needed to perish were Young Master Mo, his friend and Madame Mo.

Munching on a little sandwich that only partially soother the bitterness in his mouth, he suppressed the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. It looked like he would have to stay in the Mo Mansion a little bit longer. If he didn’t pay the prize and avenge the one who’d given him his body, he’d die again.

It could be worse, though. At least the Little Lans were there and the night seemed promising.


 

Evening came very quickly, but it was understandable - Wei Ying had spent the whole afternoon following (pestering) the Little Lans across the Mansion’s big garden and making questions about things (Inferi) they couldn’t talk about with a crazy ex-wizard. His efforts hadn’t brought any fruits (besides little, green apples he’d taken from a tree in the courtyard that had tried to strangle him with its branches afterwards), but at some point the Righteous One (Sizhui) had casted a very nice Tergeo on his robes, while the Other One (Jingyi) had threatened to punch him, because he’d asked the same question seven times. In rapid succession.

“Mister Mo,” Lan Sizhui nudged him very carefully with his hand and Wei Ying opened his eyes. Some time must’ve passed since he’d left the boys alone, because the sun was low in the sky and it tinted everything orange.

He threw his arms over his head and yawned; it had been so easy to pretend that he’d fallen asleep, when in reality he’d been gathering enough power to keep his wounds from bleeding. He’d had to, because Lan Sizhui was a sharp, young wizard. If he saw them, he’d try to heal them, perhaps with some dyttany. They, however, wouldn’t close, and the boy likely knew what unclosing cuts meant. “It’s time to go inside. The sun is almost gone,” he said, giving Wei Ying a somehow reassuring, little smile.

Wei Wuxian looked at the boy from the brick wall he was perched on, assessing his face. Mo Xuanyu had eyes that were the same color as Lan Sizhui’s. Wei Ying knew it, because he’d seen his own reflection in one of the big mirrors of the Mansion. Mo Xuanyu had pitch black hair, his body was a bit shorter than his own had been and, much to Wei Wuxian’s dread, he looked very much like Wei Ying himself when he’d been a teenager.

“But I don’t have a place to sleep,” he replied, pouting, but he jumped off of the wall with obedience.

Lan Sizhui looked pensive for a moment.

“Maybe I can transmutate something into a bed,” he murmured to himself, touching his chin, but then Lan Jingyi, who’d appeared out of nowhere, cut in.

“Sizhui, you can’t go casting spells like that!” he reprimanded the other boy. For a Lan, he surely was unusually short-tempered. “The Auror Department tracks every single charm and hex we cast, and you’ve already used a Tergeo. For no reason whatsoever!”.

Lan Sizhui looked at Lan Jingyi with consternation and Wei Ying decided to take pity on the boy.

“Isn’t making noise prohibited by the rules of Cloud Recess?” he asked, poking Lan Jingyi on the arm, and the other boy’s cheeks pinked up. Lan Sizhui, Wei Wuxian could’ve sworn, hid a smile behind the sleeve of his robes.

“See you later, boys!” he chirped, then, completely ignoring their stay insides, and he made his way towards the Mansion.

There was an ugly sensation, nagging at the base of his brain. Inferi were the weakest creatures of Death, but the spell to revive them was difficult and long forgotten by the wizarding population. Moreover, before he’d fought his last battle, he’d destroyed every single piece of research about the Undead. He was sure of it - Fiendfyre did not spare anything. The rest of the knowledge had died with him behind the Veil. How was it possible, then, that some of them were walking the grounds again? 

 


 

As Wei Wuxian looked down at two lifeless bodies lying in the courtyard of the Mansion, he thought that maybe, just that once, Fate had decided to be gentle with him. It surely hadn’t been gentle with Young Master Mo and with his friend, whom the bodies had used to belong to, but they had decided to defy it, after all. They must’ve sneaked out of the Mansion, careless of the Little Lans’ reminders, but they had never stood a chance against one or more Inferi. Not without their wands, and perhaps not even with them. 

Wei Ying stole a look at his forearm. He’d been right about the vengeance - there was only one cut left. He looked up, then, but the Little Lans were still at the other side of the garden. They hadn’t seen the bodies yet.

Suddenly, something moved in the corner of his vision and Wei Ying’s senses sharpened. He jumped behind the hedge rising at the sides of a cobblestone road that lead to the gates and held his breath. He’d been waiting for the creatures to come out since the sun had set.

Not even a blink of an eye later, a deafening scream broke the silence of the night and the doors of the Mansion opened, banging on the walls. Wei Ying saw the Lan boys turn in alarm just as Madame Mo crossed the doorstep, with cheeks that were wet with tears and black from the smudged makeup. She stumbled on her heavy robes, choking on a sob that was her son’s name, while the boys Apparated right in front her, throwing their arms open to keep her from entering the grounds.

Only Wei Ying saw the shadow that had moved in the corner of his eye lunge forwards. 
The boys would hear it approaching in a heartbeat, yet the problem was, Wei Ying thought fleetingly, that a heartbeat was too long, because the creature was not an Inferius. It was too fast, too focused, too little afraid of the light that poured out of the Mansion’s open doors. It was an Undead, with sharp nails and even sharper teeth, and it was reaching for the one closest to him. For Lan Sizhui, a heartbeat was too long.

Wei Ying pushed the bile that had risen up his throat down. He couldn’t let his past get the better of him. Not now. 

He hit both of the boys with a Knockback Jinx right before Madame Mo pushed them to the ground, but that split of second saved them from the Undead’s attack, whose hands closed around Madame Mo’s throat. Then, without waiting for them to get up, he run to the two dead bodies and he placed the palms of his hands on their chests. When he reached for the magic that clung to the bodies’ bones, his soul cracked with the darkest of energies, as if it had been waiting for Wei Wuxian to use the power of Death again.

Resurrectio”.

Two tiny, dark spots blemished Mo Xuanyu’s mind.

“Kill the Undead,” Wei Ying commanded and the Inferi obeyed, because how could they not? They were the weakest creatures of Death because they followed their Master’s desire unconditionally, but they could only fulfill one task. Attack or defend. Kill or protect. Move or stay. The Undead, on the contrary, fulfilled them all, because they were given a part of their soul back.

“Jingyi!” he heard Lan Sizhui scream from the ground and he looked up just as the boy cast an Incendio by the Undead’s feet. The Inferi stopped on their tracks and Wei Ying tried to put out the fire, but he didn’t manage to. Mo Xuanuy’s magical core must’ve been drained with the Knockback Jinx.

He could only curse as he watched Lan Jingyi nod, his hair long unbound, and Apparate right behind Madame Mo. The boy grabbed her by the robes and tried to Apparate again, but the Undead’s grip was stronger than steel - it Apparated with them and snarled, biting the air mere inches from Lan Jingyi’s face. It would’ve gotten him at the second try, because the boy didn’t relent his hold on the woman’s robes and because the Undead didn’t fail, but they’d landed far enough from the flames - Wei Ying’s Inferi finally launched themselves on the creature’s back and pried it off of Madame Mo’s throat. Lan Jingyi, on the other hand, reacted fast, with eyes widened in fear and surprise, and Apparated one last time, dropping to his knees by Lan Sizhui’s side with the motionless witch in his arms. 

Wei Ying saw him press his trembling fingers to her throat, but he already knew the verdict. His forearm didn’t hurt anymore. 

For a moment, everything seemed to stop under the crushing weight of death. The peace didn’t last long, though, because the Undead roared again. Wei Ying’s Inferi were losing, but it was to be expected. The most they could’ve done had been buying them a bit more time. 

“That is not an Inferius,” Lan Jingyi spoke, slowly, as he looked at the monster who was barely kept in place by the other two. “Sizhui,” Wei Ying heard him gulp, “this is too much for us”.

“You’re right,” Lan Sizhui nodded and his voice wavered. He cast a brief, scared glance at Madame Mo’s body and then pointed his wand towards the sky. “Let’s hope Hanguang-Jun can come,” he whispered, but it the silence of the night, disturbed only by the sounds of the Undead, Wei Wuxian heard every word.

Anyone. Anyone but him.

“Use a Patronus!” he shouted at the boys, screwing the furtivity. Incredible as it was, none of them had noted Wei Ying before.

“You crazy idiot! Get back inside!” Lan Jingyi screamed with panic, pointing his wand at him.

Lan Sizhui, on the other hand, was looking at him like he knew that he’d been there all along. A bright boy indeed, that one. If he’d only put his wand down, for Merlin’s sake.

“The Undead are vulnerable to anything that’s positive!” Wei Ying didn’t relent, motioning towards the creature with rising urgency. It would not be long before it tore the Inferi’s heads off.

The Little Lans glanced at each other.

“I might be crazy, but I’m not a liar!” Wei Ying shouted, then, and they both looked at him with fear and determination in their eyes. They gave him a curt nod and, turning back to face the Undead, they lifted their wands.

Expecto Patronum!”.

Nothing but a silver mist escaped the tips of their wands.

EXPECTO PATRONUM!” they shouted again, but their efforts were in vain.

“Sizhui,” Lan Jingyi’s voice broke when the Undead finally managed to behead one of the two Inferi, “call for help!”.

Wei Ying watched with dread as a bright, loud firework exploded in the sky above their heads. 

Its glimmering pieces were still fluttering in the air when a silver Patronus, too quick for the human eye to see, hit the Undead right at the center of its chest. At the same time, bright, high flames engulfed Wei Ying’s Inferi.

He was there, and Wei Wuxian had to go.

Trying to act inconspicuously, he ruffled the hair at the base of his neck, even if his heart was hammering in his chest.

“Nice job, boys!” he gave the Little Lans a thumb up and a sheepish smile. Then, humming a melody he must’ve heard once but he didn’t remember where (because that was what unsuspicious people did), he started to backtrack towards the Mansion.

When his back inevitably hit something steady, Wei Ying closed his eyes and stopped to hum. He swallowed a breath that got caught at the back of his tongue along with the smell of sandalwood, and, with all the remnants of what little was left of his courage, he turned around.

For a brief moment, all he saw was gold.

Lan Zhan looked different, now, yet somehow he hadn’t changed at all.

Chapter Text

Lan Zhan was taller, now, compared to Wei Ying’s new body, and Wei Ying couldn’t help but think that he had finally grown into the man he had always been.
He stood proud in the darkness chased away by flames and fireworks, looking like he too was made of light, with a face that had been sharpened by time, but that hadn’t lost the familiarity of its seriousness along the way. His robes smelled of sandalwood and of years that had passed (and of a sadness so big that it left Wei Ying breathless), and his eyes were bright upon Wei Ying’s grey ones, but they had always shone, more even than the stars they’d used to trace on the top of the Astronomy Tower.

Caught in his gaze, golden and unwavering and great like the expanse of Good, Wei Ying remembered their first encounter, rushed between white fabrics and moving stairs. He remembered it, now, even if he hadn’t before, because Death had not been kind to him. It hadn’t been kind to anyone who’d tried to defy it.
It had taken parts of him that had gotten lost, together with the shards of the last thing that had remained truly his, and, suddenly, he hadn’t been able to remember the Lotus Pond on the first day of summer, with glimpses of orange that had glimmered like the petals Shijie’d wore in her hair. He hadn’t been able to remember the sound of his voice, commanding thousands to die, but only after it had shouted his love for Jiang Cheng while Wen Qing had carved the magic out of the depths of his mind. He had forgotten the first time he’d touched hope in the softness of Uncle Fengmian’s coat with hands split from cold, and he hadn’t remember the taste of words sweeter than honey, such as I love you and thank you.

It had been when the memories had come back, clear like the first rays of the morning after the darkest of nights, that the punishment had been the most severe. It had been the scenes, lost and found, and memories of what had been but what wasn’t anymore, swallowed by his greed, that had made him understand the meaning of pain.
He still got confused, sometimes, when the edges between the life in which he hadn’t been blinded by power and the life after blurred together. He wasn’t able to tell the difference between the feeling of raindrops and blood on his skin anymore, even if he remembered people saying that blood was thicker than water. 

Lost in the realm of Death, between found memories and barely assembled pieces of his soul, he hadn’t been sure which words had been pronounced first: Get lost or I will share my apple with you?  

Now, however, he remembered the fruit split in half, full of young and pure promises, and he recalled the firmness of Lan Zhan’s shoulders, much wider than his own. They had carried justice made of light, and of spells of silver and gold, and Wei Ying’s arm, thrown around countless times even if Lan Zhan had never allowed nor wanted to.
When the time had come, they had carried the weight of the world that had kept becoming heavier too, pushed by Wei Ying to a place so deep not even Hope’d had the right to exist; a place not even the light of Hanguang-Jun had been able to reach.

Sometimes, he’d regretted that he hadn’t been more selfish. That he hadn’t let Lan Zhan’s shoulders carry some of his weight as well.
Sometimes, he’d thought that, maybe, he should’ve gone to Gusu after all.

Lan Zhan, his mind wanted to ask as he faced the man he considered a friend, but to whom he was the greatest enemy, have you lost your hope in me, at the very end?

“Hanguang-Jun,” his mouth spoke in its place, because he had long lost the privilege of Lan Zhan’s faith; Hanguang-Jun and not Lan Zhan, because he was not Wei Wuxian anymore. 

Lan Zhan’s eyes hadn’t moved away from his own, even if the flames had started to die down and the last remnants of the firework had vanished in the dark. His lips didn’t part in greeting nor in question, and even the ribbon he’d always worn didn’t flutter in the autumn air, humid and still, for once making Lan Zhan look tangible instead of unearthly. Like that, he terrified Wei Ying even more.

For a frightening moment, Wei Ying thought that maybe Lan Zhan knew. Maybe that was why he was looking at him like that. 

Just as the thought caressed his mind and his heart sped up even more, threatening to stop beating altogether, Lan Zhan looked away, somewhere above Wei Ying’s head, and the irrational fear vanished, almost making Wei Ying laugh at himself. 
How could’ve Lan Wangji known that the soul in this new body was Wei Wuxian’s? There were no traces of magic, no traces of the summoning and no traces of the vengeance he’d had to commit. Besides, it was not like Lan Zhan could’ve know such Dark rituals. During the last years of Wei Ying’s life, he had been very clear about his thoughts on the matter and about his revulsion against Wei Wuxian.

Now, however, there was no distaste in the hard lines of his face and it almost took Wei Ying back to the times when his laugh had been real and Lan Zhan’s hands had been busy tearing Wei Wuxian’s paper flowers entangled in his hair.

“Hanguang-Jun!” the boys’ voices echoed loudly in the courtyard and Wei Ying averted his eyes from Lan Zhan’s motionless face, taking his mind off of reminiscences that had belonged to another lifetime and that were not Mo Xuanyu’s to live.

When the boys stopped beside him, breathless from the fight and with traces of fright still lingering in their young features, his face had already been schooled into carefreeness. 
He’d had years of practice, after all.

The corner of his mouth almost lifted up when he saw that their eyes were lit with joy when they bowed deeply in front of Lan Wangji, who acknowledged them with a flicker of his pale eyes. It didn’t, in the end, because the boys suddenly straightened their backs and turned towards him.

“Mister Mo,” they spoke in unison, and bowed again, “thank you for your assistance”.

Wei Ying’s lips parted, but no sound came out of his mouth.
It had been long since someone had thanked him and showed him gratitude instead of distrust.

“Hanguang-Jun,” Lan Sizhui spoke before Wei Ying could’ve found something, anything to say. “We’ve been sent to investigate an Inferi attack on the Mo Mansion, but one of the creatures we’ve fought against was not an Inferius. It was not afraid of light and it showed signs of basic intelligence,” he conveyed concisely, but then he looked behind and his voice got stuck in his throat.

“Madame Mo is dead,” Wei Ying said, clearing his throat and saving Lan Sizhui the trouble. He motioned to the body that lied beside the charred remnants of his own Inferi and the dust that had been the Undead, pushing all of the emotions into the same corner of his soul reserved for memories. 

(For a fleeting moment, he wondered if his soul could shatter to bits again under the weight of sorrow, but then he discarded the thought). 

“There are also two other bodies, further down the road,” he added, pointing in that direction, and the Little Lans’ faces became white as a sheet of parchment.
Lan Zhan, on the other hand, remained impassive as he vanished in a flicker of robes, apparating without that loud crack that usually accompanied the journey.

He reappeared between the bodies and took out his wand. A spell left its tip, filling the courtyard with green, glowing shapes that made three silhouettes lift from the corpses. They didn’t move from where they’d been evoked, but, when Lan Zhan closed his eyes, they opened their mouths and chanted.

Wei Ying didn’t catch anything, but it was understandable.

Lan Zhan’s Inquiry was only for his ears to hear.

He felt a pang of nostalgy; the green lights shone on Lan Zhan’s face just like the emerald rays at the bottom of the lake had shone on Slytherin’s Common Room. Lost in the view, he almost forgot to panic, but then his eyes snapped wide open.

The echoes of the souls had undoubtedly seen him casting Resurrectio with his own hands, and there wasn’t any plausible explanation to why a crazy wizard without a wand was resurrecting corpses.

Chapter Text

Wei Ying’s first thought was to go. It didn’t matter where, just like it had never truly had - there would always be a place far enough and hidden enough; a place where no one else would set their foot in, like the lone tree in a field long forgotten at the back of the Jiang Mansion or the mounds that people had called Burial because of the lives who had fallen there in the First Magical War.
Nobody had ever visited those places, yet they’d welcomed Wei Ying as if he’d belonged there - as if he’d belonged somewhere just shy of the reach of others.

Wei Ying could get out. He could grab Lan Sizhui or Lan Jingyi and take away every drop of magic that swirled in their minds - it would take them some time to regain it, but they would be fine.
He could put his hands on the ground and call the dead, for surely there were many - earth was the biggest vessel of everything that didn’t live anymore, after all.
He would cut it close, because Lan Zhan’s eyes were closed and it would give him only a second of advantage, but Wei Ying would make it enough.
He would dirty his mind only a little, not enough even to light the first sparkle of madness; he would just have to bring the shadow that had loomed over his shoulder since he’d died (his own) back into the world that he had once destroyed.

It would be easy.
It would only take one word.

Wei Ying could go and hide in a shelter that it wouldn’t have taken him long to build. He would need some wood, but he could transmutate some leaves and pebbles into boards to make it through the first night. They wouldn’t hold long, but it would be fine. He would gather enough power to summon real wood before they gave away.
Maybe he’d go to a forest, where the rays of sun would shine on him through the branches with the same green glow that reflected on Lan Zhan’s face there, while he pretended that everything was alright and fended off the memories and the guilt when they came, because that seemed to be the only thing he knew now.

Wei Ying could get out, yet he was tired of running from the hefty prize he had to pay for all he’d done.

Maybe, if he was still alive once he paid it, he could give in to his heart’s longing and check on those who he’d protected until the very end.
Maybe he could find Wen Ning and finally give him back what had been forcefully taken away from him.
Maybe, before he died again, he could see Jiang Cheng’s face, if only for a moment, even if his little brother had long stopped to consider him family. He didn’t blame him, though. 
He only blamed himself. 

Wei Ying looked ahead, where everything was green, gold and white, and where Lan Zhan stood with his eyes still closed. He had never thought about it, but, as he watched the three echoes of souls, he wondered if Lan Wangji would’ve ever called his soul, had it not been ripped to bits. 
He discharged the thought soon afterwards; Hanguang-Jun hadn’t spoken to him when he’d been alive, if not in reprimand. Why would’ve he talked to him when he’d died?
Yet, as Wei Ying kept looking ahead and counted the seconds in his head, he couldn’t help but ask himself if it was okay to finally be a little selfish. There was a prize to pay and Hanguang-Jun was the noblest of all men - Wei Ying had never gone to Gusu with him, but maybe Lan Zhan could show him how to pay back, because Wei Wuxian didn’t know how. But he would listen.

Thirteen seconds passed before the lights disappeared, the echoes went away and Lan Zhan’s eyes opened and locked on Wei Wuxian’s.

Had Wei Ying never gathered his memories back, he would’ve escaped, because Lan Zhan had always meant responsibilities and prisons made of three thousand rules.
He had, however, spent too many sunless days living through everything again and again and again, torn between what had happened and all the what ifs, so he welcomed Lan Zhan’s gaze and every repercussion it carried with his head high.
There was a slight trepidation in the pits of his stomach, because Wei Ying feared Death and Lan Zhan held no compassion for those who practiced the Dark Arts, but it passed soon - he might be afraid of Death, but he was not scared of dying.

If it came to it, then to die at the hand of Lan Zhan would not be a bad end at all.

He would've never thought that such a small, silent admission could've made Wei Ying's shoulders feel lighter and his lips curve in a small smile. Then, when no spell hit his chest and no shackles closed around his wrists, Wei Ying almost scolded himself for having assumed the worst - Lan Zhan had never been a Judge, only a Carrier of Justice; he would not punish Wei Ying on the whim of his own impulses, if he even had any.

“Mister Mo.”

Lan Sizhui put a hand on his shoulder, pulling Wei Ying out of his thoughts and making Lan Zhan take his eyes away from Wei Wuxian and rest them on the boy.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, looking at him just like he’d had when Wei Ying had flown into the parlour with an Alohomora on his lips and a bleeding arm pressed to his chest.

Wei Ying couldn’t help but smile wider, bolder. He still lived in the past, because how could he not if he’d just woken up, but the present didn’t look so dark - the Lan family had truly outstanding students.

“So worried about the old, crazy me!” he replied, letting his lips stretch until he laughed, and gave the boy a light pat on the head.

Lan Sizhui’s eyes widened and his cheeks flushed with pink.

“I - I,” he stuttered, which made Wei Ying laugh more and Lan Sizhui blush darker, “I was wondering if you’ve noticed some differences in the way you perceive your surroundings,” he said, glancing down. 

Such a polite boy, Wei Ying thought with amusement, but he relented his teasing. “What to you mean?” he asked.

After a moment of silence and thought, Lan Sizhui convened the proper words. Like a little Lan Zhan, Wei Ying thought and smothered another smile.

“Does your mind feel more clear?”.

At that, Wei Ying sobered up and looked at the boy in confusion.

“It does, now that you point it out,” he started, slowly, putting a finger to his lips in contemplation. He had been pretty disoriented when he’d woken up.
It had taken him a lot of time to come up with a plan, he’d forgotten that he could’ve apparated right away, he hadn’t been able to tell a male thestral from a female one at the first glance… But he’d been sure that the reason behind his clumsiness had been the fact that he’d just come back to life after Merlin knew how long! Could it be...?

He searched for something else in the boy’s face, lit up by his confirmation, but Lan Sizhui didn’t say anything else. Instead, he looked at Hanguang-Jun.

“Hanguang-Jun, excuse my insolence in diverting from the task,” he bowed with hands clasped in his lap, making even Lan Jingyi look at him questioningly, “but I’ve noticed that, even if Mister Mo has been proclaimed crazy long ago - ” long ago? “ - he’s become less and less lunatic during the day. I couldn’t help but investigate,” he admitted, keeping his head low.

When Lan Zhan did not admonish him, he straightened his back.

“I have found fresh stems of Ephedra in the Mansion’s kitchen,” he said, pulling a small pouch from behind the laps of his robes.

“Infusion of Insanity,” Wei Ying whispered, looking down at his hands, still stained with blood that had become dark enough to be mistaken for dirt.

What exactly had they done to Mo Xuanyu?

When he looked back up, Lan Zhan was opening the pouch in Lan Sizhui’s grip wordlessly. The stems, all neatly cut, flew from the sack and landed graciously on the opened palm of his hand.

“But they had the warrant, Sizhui! His mental health must’ve been evaluated by someone from the Ministry!” Lan Jingyi finally intruded, stepping in and outstretching his arm towards Wei Ying in a blur of white and blue.

Lan Zhan summoned a glowing pouch and put the Ephedra inside. “Show me.”

Lan Jingyi hurried to take out the slightly crumpled piece of parchment from the front pocket of his robes and he passed it to Hanguang-Jun.

The man examined it and, in the end, he tapped lighty at the top corner of the paper with his wand.
Then, his golden eyes pinned the boy down.

“Jingyi,” he said with a voice that was gentler than his gaze, yet it still made the boy grasp the hems of his sleeves with nervousness. “The steps of the Evaluation.”

Lan Jingyi looked lost for a second, twisting the fabric between his fingers, but then his head tilted slightly forwards, as if he was encouraging himself.

“Step one: verify the authenticity. For Ministerial documents, the M on the right side of the crest will glow three times when tickled,” he recited and Wei Ying almost laughed out loud. For dozens of years wizards and witches had tried to counterfeit the crest, yet only the Ministry was able to enchant it to light up at the stroke of its employees’ fingertips. Wei Ying wondered if all the mighty and pompous people who worked at the Ministry of Magic knew that their spell was a weak copy of what Muggles had achieved long ago with their fingerprints.

“Step two: check both front and back and confirm the presence of the date of release, the signature, the stamp of the Department that has released the document and the date of expiration,” he listed, folding the fingers of his hand as he spoke.
“Step thr -”.

“Repeat step two,” Lan Zhan interrupted and Lan Jingyi looked like he was about to jump out of his skin from sudden anxiety.

“C-Check both front a-and back,” he started again, glancing jittery at Lan Sizhui, who glanced back and bit his lip, but stopped as soon as he realized that he was doing something undecorous.

“Hanguang-Jun,” he bowed for Merlin knows which time, “the document bears no date of expiration. According to the second paragraph of Article 7 of the Code of Administrative Procedure, in case of lack of the date of expiry, the document is to be considered always valid”.

Wei Ying glanced from one Lan to another. From what it looked like, Lan Zhan was some kind of a teacher, and the notion made a shiver run down his spine as he remembered everything he’d had to copy under Hanguang-Jun’s unrelenting eye.

He decided to give the Little Lans a helping hand before they had to rewrite all the Code of Administrative Procedure.

“According to subparagraph 8 of the same article, the Evaluator must always cast a Revelio at the end of the Evaluation, for concealing data might occur,” he spoke and, when everyone turned, he laughed at the horrified expressions on the boys’ faces.

“Hanguang-Jun!” they both clasped their hands in apology, “we have not cast the spell!”.

Lan Zhan produced another glowing pouch and put the piece of parchment inside. “It is fine,” he said and the boys exhaled with poorly concealed relief.
“Protego Maxima,” he spoke then, barely moving his lips, and Wei Ying felt the spell encircle the whole Mansion; it was followed by a non-verbal Expecto Patronum that immediately vanished into the night. Making the pouches levitate into Lan Sizhui’s hands, Hanguang-Jun commanded: “Give your reports to Brother,” and he put the wand back into the sleeve of his robes, just like he’d used to do since him and Wei Ying had been eleven.

“Hanguang-Jun, did you send the Patronus to call the Investigators?” Lan Sizhui asked and his eyes lingered on the spot in which it had disappeared, seeming almost sad.
Wei Ying recalled that he hadn’t been able to summon one when it had been most needed and sighed. The boy went too hard on himself. 

Then, as if struck on the head, he registered the meaning of his words.
The whole Brigade of Investigation was coming to the place!

“Mn,” Lan Zhan replied, ever so eloquent, and Wei Ying realized that he wouldn’t have been given any chance at redemption. Not with the Investigators who acted like gods first and asked questions later.

Wei Ying would have to go, even if, for the first time in two lifetimes, he hadn’t wanted to.

“Well then!” he exclaimed and clapped, putting on that smile that had always kept him hidden from the prying eyes of others. “Now that the evil has been extirpated and my madness has gone away, why don’t we part our ways on a friendly note?”.

Turning towards the Mansion, he furtively patted the pockets of Mo Xuanyu’s robes in search for something sharp - if he stabbed himself, then perhaps the thestral from before would co -

He avoided colliding with Lan Zhan that apparated in front of him by pure reflex.

“Heh,” he laughed nervously, hoping to elicit mercy, because there was nothing left for him to do and because he was running out of time. He’d defied Lan Zhan only when his mind had been completely black, but he would not restore to that. Not anymore.
Then, suddenly, his smile shifted from nervous to playful as easily as it was to breathe.

Say, Lan Zhan, have you become immune to my shameless tongue?

“Hanguang-Jun, if you keep appearing in front of me like that, I will fall for you!” he teased and the Little Lans inhaled sharply. “I might not be crazy anymore, but I still like beautiful men. How can I remain impassive when you look at me with those pretty eyes and with that pretty face? What if I fall in love with you? Would you take responsibility and reciprocate my feelings?”.

Something flickered in Lan Zhan’s gaze, making Wei Ying hold his breath in anticipation, but his features remained still and posed, with no trace of anger in the faint lines around his golden eyes - it was Lan Jingyi who got indignant in his place.

“Shameless!” he shouted, hitting Wei Ying with a Stinging Hex and making him yelp. “How can you say such outrageous things to the honorable Hanguang-Jun?!”.

“Enough,” Lan Wangji commanded and Lan Jingyi put his wand down, still glaring, while Wei Ying massaged the sore spot on his back and glared back, because maybe he was still twelve at heart. “Testimony is required”.

“Right, Mister Mo,” Lan Sizhui cut in in the most educated way. “Also, you must get your wand back”.

Wei Ying almost smacked himself on the forehead. Hadn’t he wailed about his wand like an idiot until a moment ago? He’d dug his own grave again, not even a day into his new life!

“Yeah, right, I’ve forgotten about my wand!” he chuckled weakly, because Lan Sizhui was smiling at him with that nice smile that reminded Wei Wuxian of Lan Xichen and made it impossible to say no.

In a heartbeat, he could only watch as the boys Apparated and wait until the Investigators took him away.

However, in the stillness of the autumn night, Lan Zhan did not keep him in place.

“Let us go,” he said from beside Wei Ying, extending his forearm, and something leaped in Wei Ying chest at the sight of it.

“Where to?” he asked, because old habits died hard, but this time he gripped it without waiting for a response.

“To the Ministry,” Lan Zhan replied and Wei Ying tried not to let his shoulders slump, because that meant that he could not remain with Lan Wangji. He would get caught by someone there and locked away, but now that he’d decided that he didn’t want to hide anymore, he wouldn’t let anybody pry the possibility to finally do good.

He felt almost guilty when, as the familiar pull settled around his middle, he tightened his grip around Lan Zhan’s steady arm and took some of his magic away. 
It was okay, though. Lan Zhan would not be able to tell. 

People hadn’t called Wei Wuxian the greatest wizard of the Jiang family for no reason.

 


 

They Apparated right in front of an abandoned telephone booth. It was painted bright red, but it had clearly seen better days - with patches of paint that came off in big pieces and the telephone hung askew, it surely didn’t prompt Muggles to use it.

“What is this, La - Hanguang-Jun?” Wei Ying asked, catching the slip of his tongue just in time.

Lan Zhan fortunately didn’t look like he’d noticed.

“It is the visitor’s entrance,” he said in his usual monotone and opened the door. It creaked under his touch, but there was no one in the death of the night to pay them any attention.

With a light sight, Wei Ying stepped inside the booth and turned to face the alley. He had stolen much more magic that he usually did, because Lan Zhan’s source had been so bright and vast that it had seemed endless, but he still was too weak to escape.

What he didn’t expect was for Lan Zhan to come in and close the door behind him with another loud creak. Their breaths, one quiet and one suddenly uneven, mixed together in the cramped space while their shoulders aligned; soon, he had to fight the urge to fly out, because Lan Zhan’s presence was too overwhelming! Besided, in that position, the telephone was poking him right between the ribs - there was certainly no need to get in together!
He was about to turn around, but then he realized that if he did so, instead of their shoulders, their chests would align. Even he wasn’t so utterly shameless!
Moreover, the whole situation had to be uncomfortable for Hanguang-Jun, yet it didn’t stop him from performing his duty and keeping an eye on Mo Xuanyu.
Lan Zhan, you’ve become even more righteous! he thought with an edge of incredulity.

When Lan Zhan moved, Wei Ying snapped out of his internal distress and looked to the side. He almost stopped to breathe, because Lan Zhan’s eyes were already on him.

He had been a fool in ever wanting Lan Wangji’s complete attention. He could’ve never borne it, had it been given to him when they’d been young.

“To descend, it is necessary to press six-two-four-four-two,” Lan Zhan spoke and Wei Ying welcomed the distraction with a quick exhale. 
The Lan family should prohibit being so audaciously beautiful instead of banning three thousand unnecessary things, he thought to himself as he jabbed the numbers with slightly too much force.

Soon, a feminine voice welcomed them to the Ministry and a silver badge slipped out of the automat.  


Mo Xuanyu
Revocation of mental health evaluation,


it said. 




The Atrium was exactly as Wei Ying remembered -big, superimposing and posh. The only difference was the lack of people, stepping out of the green flames in the walls and rushing towards the elevators, and the absence of the Fountain of Magical Brethren that had always stood right at the center, constantly affirming the superiority of wizardkind above all species. There was a big, golden stone in its place now and when Wei Ying squinted his eyes, he could make out neat rows of names engraved in its flat surface.

He didn’t have time to look at much else, because Lan Zhan was already moving ahead, but maybe it was for the better -the last time he’d been there, too many things had happened. He remembered only snippets of his last battle, for his mind had been far too lost to madness and resentment, but they were enough to never let him forget how much evil he’d caused; how all he’d ever done had never seemed enough, until suddenly Wei Ying had been crossing the point of no return and every word he’d spoken had carried destruction.

He fell into step behind Lan Wangji, fumbling with the badge pinned to his robes.

They crossed the whole Atrium and came to stop in front of a desk with a big, black ACCEPTATION on top. A young and very bored witch was sitting behind it, chewing a gum and flipping through the pages of a newspaper. Wei Ying didn’t catch its title, but his eyes widened against his will when he saw the date, printed neatly in the top corner. 

XXV sept. 2019

It’s been thirteen years, he thought, rearranging his features back into carefreeness and shutting down the storm in his heart.
He was thirty four now, even if he’d been twenty one when he had taken his last breath.

When Lan Zhan’s imposing figure cast shadow on the pages of the newspaper, the witch lifted her eyes, annoyed, but then her lips parted and her cheeks became scarlet.

“H-Hanguang-Jun!” she stuttered and hastily closed the journal, straightening in her chair. 

“Hello,” Lan Zhan replied, ever so polite, making the witch blush even more. She tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear with a trembling hand and Wei Ying couldn’t help but laugh. There was a warm sensation in his chest that chased away the uneasiness from before- the fact that some things, like Lan Wangji’s popularity, had remained the same even after thirteen years was... Grounding. Reassuring.

“You!” the witch exclaimed as soon as his laugh echoed on the walls, pointing her manicured finger at Wei Ying’s face.

“What about me?” he asked and his mirth muted into confusion. 

“Don’t you remember?!” she stood up, making the chair scrap on the marble floor.

“No,” Wei Ying admitted honestly, because how could he?

At his reply, her nostrils flared and her hands clenched into fists. “The last time you’ve been here, you’ve tried to seduce my boyfriend! With me standing right beside him!”.

Wei Ying stepped back, but her words brought escape. Mo Xuanyu, he thought, I don’t know what mess have you gotten yourself into, but after hearing this, Lan Zhan’s indignance will be so great that he won’t even look at you again!

“Young miss,” he put his hands in front of him in a calming manner, even if his lips curved with amusement instead of parting with shame. “If you have a boyfriend, then why do you look at Hanguang-Jun as if you’d like to see him drop to his knee and ask for your hand?”.

Wei Ying didn’t have time to dodge the hard slap directed at his cheek, but, to his surprise, it never connected with his face; the witch’s hand hit an invisible shield and bounced back.

He turned his head, fully expecting to be met by Lan Zhan’s chastising gaze. As anticipated, it was there, but it wasn’t directed at Wei Wuxian.
Not this once.

“Visitors should not be harmed,” Lan Zhan spoke with calm, lowering his wand, but there was a thunderstorm in his eyes. It made the witch sober up immediately and Wei Ying think about all those times he’d called him shameless.

“I-I’m sorry, Hanguang-Jun!” she squealed, mortified, and she sat down without looking Lan Wangji in the face. She tapped an old machine that looked like a typewriter with her wand and, after a series of clicking noises, it produced a long piece of parchment that she tore off. “Mister Mo,” she addressed Wei Ying with a deep bow, “your past evaluation has been revoked. Please go to the Ministerial Wizarding Register Department for the re-evaluation,” she passed him the piece of parchment and averted her eyes.

“Thanks!” Wei Ying replied, taking it between his index and middle finger in a motion practiced for years, and winked in her direction. Then, with a big smile on his face, he looked at Lan Zhan.
“Hanguang-Jun, thank you for your assistance, but you must have other, more important things to do. I’m sure I can manage everything by myself,” he said and almost patted Lan Zhan on the shoulder as he passed by, strolling casually in the direction of the elevator, but, in all honesty, he should’ve known better.
His struggles had always been in vain in the face of Lan Wangji’s unyielding virtue.

With a simple “no other duties”, Lan Zhan closed the distance between them. They both stepped into the elevator and soon the only noise that filled the silence was the swish of those little paper airplanes the Ministry used to communicate between the Departments.

Thirteen years ago, Wei Ying would’ve been enraged about the fact that the same people who had called him Monster were using his own inventions, but he had been hot-headed and angry, then. Now, he was just tired.

Lan Zhan pressed a button on the wall and the iron bars closed.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying mused as the Atrium disappeared in a flashy blur, unaware of the name he’d used.

Lan Zhan didn’t reply and Wei Ying turned to look at him, re-enacting the scene that had happened countless times at Hogwarts.

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk to that pretty witch at the Acceptation desk? She would dump her boyfriend for you,” he teased, smiling, and waited for a response.

When the elevator stopped on the seventh floor and three tired wizards came in, greeting Hanguang-Jun with various degrees of awe and respect, Wei Ying’s smile wavered.

It looked like Lan Zhan had finally learnt to suppress every emotion.

He didn’t know why the notion made him feel disappointed, but he shrugged it off. Lan Zhan didn’t owe him anything, after all.

When the voice announced their arrival on the fifth floor, he almost missed the quiet “Nonsense”, spoken only for him to hear.

Turning his head in surprise, he couldn’t help but smile again.
Lan Zhan wasn't looking at him and his expression gave away nothing, but Wei Ying didn’t let it fool him - he could’ve recognized Hanguang-Jun’s voice anywhere.
With amusement still lingering in the corners of his lips, he let his eyes glaze briefly over Lan Zhan’s flawless profile and then focused back on the bars.

Questions about the fair sex had always riled Lan Zhan up the most.

 

Chapter Text

The Evaluator’s office was situated in the room between the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and the Auror Headquarters.
The moment the elevator stopped on the second floor, a low buzz settled in Wei Ying’s ears and his vision blurred, because he realized that Jiang Cheng could be there, regardless of the late hour of the night and of the fact that Wei Wuxian didn’t even know if, after thirteen years, he was still an Auror. Faced with the possibility of meeting him not only in the corners of his imagination, made of shameless desires he didn’t deserve, Wei Ying understood that he was not ready.

The worry passed when a group of disheveled Aurors squeezed past them into the elevator as they were stepping outside, just before Lan Zhan’s sharp eyes could’ve noticed.

“Move!” one of them shouted, turning around and hurrying two other Aurors that were still fastening the clamps of their outer robes around their necks. “Chief Jiang is already at the crime scene and he will have our asses if we don’t get there now!”.

“Yes, boss!” the two, one man and one petite woman, shouted back and run, almost colliding with Wei Ying on his way out.
When the iron bars closed behind them and the cold voice announced the department of the elevator, they all saluted Hanguang-Jun. Then, in a blink of an eye, their faces, some set with determination and some with trepidation, disappeared from the view.

Purple robes, Wei Ying though and tired to ignore the painful stab at the mere mention of Jiang Cheng’s name. It could only mean that his little brother had finally become the Chief of the Investigation Department, just like Madame Yu had always wanted.
Wei Ying knew that it would’ve been appropriate for him to be glad, yet the only thing he was able to think about was whether the position had made Jiang Cheng become as ruthless as all of them had always been.

He waited for Lan Zhan to lead the way.

They passed by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, motionless and poised when compared to the chaos that was the Auror Office, and stopped in front of a worn out armchair, placed beside an even more tattered door with a once golden plate hung slightly off-the-center.

When neither made any move to enter (Wei Wuxian wasn’t exactly sure what he was supposed to do, because he naturally hadn’t read the piece of paper from the Acceptation), Wei Ying glanced questioningly at Lan Zhan, who was in turn looking at the door with the slightest crease between his sharp, graceful eyebrows.

When he felt Wei Ying’s eyes on him, he averted his gaze from the plate. “It is the Evaluator’s office,” he said and his words only made Wei Ying feel more confused.

“I know, Hanguang-Jun. It’s written right there,” he replied and pointed his hand at the door with a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
Then, he shook his head, because something was happening to his vision - beside Lan Zhan, there was another Lan Zhan.

“Wangji,” the other Lan Zhan spoke with a smile (a smile!), and it was an experience so strange that it took Wei Ying’s uncooperative brain full three seconds to remember that Lan Zhan had a brother. They’d used to call him Zewu-Jun, the greatest wizard of their generation, a man of unparalleled talent and beauty, and it was incredible how none of the honorable names that had been given to Lan Xichen over the years was untrue.

“Oh,” the man’s lips formed a little o as he looked down at Wei Ying, placing a slender hand on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “It is good to see you again, Mister Mo,” he said, smiling anew, and Wei Ying smiled radiantly back, swallowing the discomfort in his gut - to have witnessed such a myriad of expression on a face that looked exactly like Lan Zhan’s, if not for the darker shade of gold in his eyes, was truly too strange!

“Thank you, Zewu-Jun,” he replied, bowing. The meeting did not elicit a surge of heart-wrenching emotions and Wei Ying welcomed the change with relief - Lan Xichen had always been good to him, at Hogwarts. Unlike his brother or his uncle, he had always closed an eye to Wei Ying’s shenanigans and he had always been fair.

The First Jade of Lan tilted his head forward as well, but then his face sombered.

“Wangji,” he repeated without taking his hand away from Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “Would you mind joining me in my studio?”

Lan Zhan’s eyes flickered to Wei Ying and Lan Xichen laughed softly.

“Do not worry, it will not take long. You can come back to your duties soon,” he said, glancing at Wei Ying as well.

“I won’t escape, Hanguang-Jun, if that’s what you’re thinking about,” Wei Ying added under Lan Xichen’s clear gaze, even if his words were not a promise - in a place full of Aurors, there was simply no room for running off.

“See?” Zewu-Jun’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Now, Mister Mo, I believe you have a visit to attend to,” he said and squeezed Lan Zhan’s shoulder, making the man finally turn away.

“See you later!” Wei Wuxian called after the Twin Jades of Lan with as much fake cheerfulness as he could muster and knocked on the door when they disappeared in the midst of cubicles full of maps and “WANTED”s. The old plate tilted a little under the motion, but fortunately it didn’t fall off, which made Wei Ying exhale with relief.
He didn’t have any money to pay for the repairs and it was not like he could pin the expenses on Lan Zhan, wasn’t it?



The room was small but cozy, with two comfortable armchairs and a big, enchanted window that opened on the Stonehenge, bathed in moonlight. What wasn’t so welcoming was the elderly witch in St. Mungo’s lime-green robes, sitting in one of the chairs and looking like she didn’t want to be there at least as much as Wei Ying didn't.

“Mister Mo,” she said in a nasally voice and motioned to the seat in front of her. “Let’s hope that this visit goes better than the last, shall we?”

Wei Ying sat down and glanced around, but the walls were plain and undecorated; they served their purpose, because he focused on the woman soon.

“Are you the doctor who’s evaluated me last time?” he asked, assessing the Healer and pretending that he was trying to remember her bored face.

The witch only looked at him from above her half-moon spectacles and summoned a stack of papers with a flick of her wand.

“Why don’t you leave the questions to me, Mister Mo?”.

Wei Ying crossed his arms over his chest. What good could ever come out of an interview with someone who hadn’t been able to recognize that he’d been poisoned to madness?

The woman either didn’t see or chose to ignore his defensive stance. “What is the last thing you remember?” was the first thing she asked.



~⊱❈⊰~



In another room, far from the standard protocol questions and made up answers, two figures sat down at the opposite sides of a polished, wooden desk. At the first glance, they looked exactly alike. However, if one looked closely or long enough, one could see that they were similar only in the fair features of their faces and in the reliability of their frames. One wore a smile that stole hearts and brought hope even to those who had long given up, while the other had his mouth set in a stern line. One had eyes that were deep and warm, while the other’s ones were pale and cold, just like the emotions he wore on his face. One was the greatest wizard of the magical world, but the other had always been the greatest disciple of Lan.

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen spoke, finally letting his smile down. Rare were the times when he did that, usually confined to the small cottage he went back to every night and to the fleeting moments during which he didn’t have to be the strongest of all men.

“Brother,” Lan Wangji replied, motionless in his seat, but Lan Xichen knew his little brother like the back of his hand and better. There was restlessness in the slight lift of his poised shoulders and the measured breaths that made his chest rise.

Lan Xichen knew what it meant. He had witnessed it for years, after all.

“The Undead are back,” he said, even if Wangji knew, and allowed himself to rub at the spot between his eyebrows, just shy from the rim of the headband that had always been a part of him.

“En,” Lan Zhan answered while his shoulders remained tense and his eyes strained.

Lan Huan had always thought that it was too bold to assume that, after Wei Wuxian’s death, there would be no one greedy enough to dip their hands in the power of Death.



~⊱❈⊰~



Wei Ying tried not to squirm too much in the armchair that had suddenly become constrictive. The Healer had been scribbling something on his chart for the past ten minutes. What if the she didn’t give him her clearance? Would they take him to St Mungo’s and put him in the long-term residents’ ward so he could waste away there?

Just as Wei Wuxian thought that he was ready to risk it all and flee, she took off her glasses and tore away a piece of paper.

“Mister Mo,” she addressed him and Wei Ying straightened his back.

“Welcome back in the Dark Artifacts and Dark Arts sub-division,” she took out her hand.

When Wei Ying didn’t shake it immediately, dumbfounded, she huffed a small, genuine laugh.

“We’ve missed your expertise,” she said and arched her brow, extending her arm some more.

Wei Ying clasped her hand with his own and they exchanged a surprisingly firm handshake.

“We’ve also missed your coffee,” she confided, letting go and slipping back into her cold demeanor, but not before she gave Wei Wuxian a quick wink that Wei Ying instinctively reciprocated.

“Thank you,” was all he could muster.

“Now go,” she shooed him out, putting the piece of paper in his hands and opening the door with a lazy swish of her wand. “I’m too old to work hours like these”.

When Wei Ying was out of the door, he stole a quick glance at the parchment.

C L E A R E D           F O R         W O R K 

was scribbled on the bottom with red ink.

Sub-division of Dark Artifacts and Dark Arts, the Healer had said.

What an irony of Fate.

“Mo Xuanyu,” someone called out and Wei Ying almost didn’t react, but then he remembered that Mo Xuanyu was, indeed, himself.

He lifted his head and his eyes laid on a familiar face. It took him two blinks to connect it to a name.

Meng Yao, or rather, Jin Guangyao, as the man had taken to call himself during the Sunshot Campaign.

“Mister Jin,” he bowed, speaking carefully, because he didn’t know what had tied Mo Xuanyu to the man when he’d been alive and Meng Yao had always been too perceptive.

Jin Guangyao laughed melodically at the formality and didn’t hesitate to put a hand on Wei Ying’s forearm.

“I told you not to call me that,” he admonished Wei Wuxian with a playful look in his eyes. “I know we’re at the workplace, but it makes me feel old, brother.”

Brother.

Mo Xuanyu was one of the bastard’s sons.

Wei Ying stopped himself from yanking his forearm from Jin Guangyao’s infirm grasp and gave him a sheepish smile instead, catching a silver “W” woven into the lap of his golden robes with the corner of his eye.

He went for a safe: “but you’ve become so important! It only seems fair.”

“Always with the same excuse,” Jin Guangyao replied, shaking his head in a fond manner, and Wei Ying almost sighed in relief.

When he saw two figures in white, unmistakable even in the distance, he thanked Merlin that Lan Zhan took his duties so seriously.

“Hanguang-Jun!” he exclaimed, waving his hand and diverting from the conversation with Meng Yao before something he said could’ve given him away.

Jin Guangyao also turned around and his delicate, indisputably Jin face, lit up.

“Er-ge,” he welcomed Lan Xichen as soon as the Two Jades of Lan stopped in front of them. “Hanguang-Jun,” he then saluted Lan Zhan.

“A-Yao,” Zewu-Jun reciprocated the greeting with his usual, easy smile, and so did Lan Zhan. Minus the smile, of course.

Wei Ying could’ve sworn that Lan Xichen’s cheerful expression wavered when he averted his attention to him, but, when he blinked, it was there in all its kind glory. It must’ve been a trick of light, he thought as his posture relaxed.

Before any conversation could’ve arisen, with a whooshing noise announcing its arrival, a big, paper plane materialized before them.
Hovering in air, it started to unfold.

“Lan Xichen, Jin Guangyao, Lan Wangji, Mo Xuanyu,” it spoke with a high-pitched voice, “are requested in Minister Nie’s office. Priority: high. Postponement: none.”

Wei Ying looked at the three men as the paper plane burnt and the ashes vanished before they fell on the carpet.

“Me?” he asked, because he must’ve misheard.

There was no scenario in which he imagined Minister for Magic Nie Mingjue in need of Mo Xuanyu.

“It would seem so,” Jin Guangyao was the only one who responded, his voice neutral.

“Da-ge is calling,” Lan Xichen said, his eyes flickering briefly to Wei Ying, too quick to notice. “Let us go.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying whispered as soon as two of the Three Sworn Brothers were far enough.

Lan Zhan didn’t reply, but this time he conceded him his gaze.
It hit Wei Ying suddenly and he almost didn’t speak again, because Lan Zhan looked… unsettled. No. He didn’t look different from normal, but maybe it had been the six years they had spent together at Hogwarts or the years that had followed that made Wei Ying just know.

He held back the words that would’ve voiced his worries and put up the piece of parchment instead, exclaiming happily.

“I’ve been cleared!”

Lan Zhan went over the brief letter much quicker than Wei Ying had.
When he looked back at Wei Wuxian, there was a bit more ease in the hard set of his lips.

“It is good,” he said.

They catched up with the other two men in no time.



Nie Mingjue was, if possible, even more terrifying than how he’d been at Hogwarts and during the Sunshot Campaign.
He greeted only Lan Xichen outwardly, reserving a brief nod and a furrow of his angry brows to the other three.
While Jin Guangyao and Lan Zhan sat down unperturbed, Wei Ying recalled all those times he and Jiang Cheng had used to hold their breaths in the presence of the scary, muscular ex-Prefect.

“An Undead and two Inferi were detected at the Mo Mansion at 00:07 AM this morning,” he said without further courtesies and wastes of time, reading out from a report that lied on his impressive desk. Then, his eyes locked on Wei Ying, who gulped. “Care to explain what the fuck does it mean?”.

“It means exactly what it says in the report,” Wei Ying replied before he could catch his tongue and cringed as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

Before Minister Nie could rip his head off of his shoulders, Lan Zhan came in his rescue.

“Inferi’s presence was registered around the Mo grounds two days prior,” he outlined, text-book like. “Apprentices Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi have been judged suitable by Brother and sent to eliminate the danger. At 00:08 AM, a call for help was made with the use of the designed spell. At 00:08 AM, I arrived at the scene and witnessed a fight between the Inferi and the Undead - “

At those words, everyone’s focus sharpened.

“The Inferi oh-so-casually acted on their own and decided to fight what has been their ally since created by Wei Wuxian,” Nie Mingjue commented, but his harsh irony was not directed at Lan Zhan; if fact, his eyes had never left Wei Ying.

It felt strange to hear his name again.

Wei Ying was torn between lying and bending the truth, but Lan Zhan knew that he had been the one who’d Resurrected the corpses.

“What was I supposed to do?” he asked and the truth passed through his throat with some difficulty - he had gotten too used to lie. “I’ve been poisoned mad for Merlin knows how long, without a wand and with two young boys who didn’t stand a chance in a direct fight. I knew the spell, so I used it.”

Would’ve they preferred it if he’d left the Little Lans to die?

Nie Mingjue regarded him with an indiscernible expression and Wei Ying grasped all of the remaining straws of his courage to keep his gaze. He was the Yiling Patriarch, Merlin damn it! He’d fought with open wounds and blood vessels kept together by a Sticking Charm!

“I know you did,” the Minister spat after a moment and Wei Ying felt like he'd passed some kind of a strange test. Besides, Nie Mingjue didn’t curse and/or kill Wei Ying on the spot, so Wei Wuxian counted it as a win. “And the means, just this once,” he put a great weight on the last three words, “justify the goal.”

Lan Xichen turned to look at his oldest Sworn Brother, but he didn’t comment on his judgement.

“Do it again and I’ll personally make sure that every single one of your body parts is buried in the farthest corners of England.”

“Yes, Chifeng-zun!” Wei Ying saluted Minister Nie with a hand to his forehead. He really didn’t want to be dismembered.

The man turned to the other occupants of the room with a grim face. “Someone’s found it and is bringing souls back.”

“It’s impossible,” Wei Ying whispered. It had gotten lost with him behind the Veil.

His words, unfortunately, had been heard.

“Why?” Minister Nie asked sharply.

“Da-ge,” Jin Guangyao cut in unexpectedly with a calming smile. “My brother is still surely shaken from his poisoning and all the maltreatment he’s received. Maybe it would be better to send him off,” he looked at Wei Wuxian with worry.

“He’s been cleared, which means he can work,” Nie Mingjue replied with a tone that bore no argument. “Otherwise, I have no need for him or for his sub-department any more.”

Jin Guangyao looked like he wanted to say something, but in the end he only stood up.

“Since we’ll be here for a while, I might as well make tea,” he declared and went over to a high cabinet that stood in the corner of the spacious office peppered with portraits of Ministers of Magic who had passed away.

Soon, a kettle whistled and the aroma of black tea with the barest hint of sweetness filled the space.

Wei Ying scrunched his nose.

The tea smelled like those white, detestable flowers Madame Yu had made him pick from the fields whenever she’d felt like it. The odour was very weak, but Wei Ying had inhaled enough of it to last him for eternity.

“Who would like a cup?” Meng Yao asked courteously, reminding Wei Wuxian of how he had always tended to everybody’s needs, students and professors alike, when they’d been at Hogwarts. His ability to remember the likings of everyone had made him become very popular, gaining him even the access to the Slug Club.

Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji both politely declined, since it was well past 9PM and consuming beverage or food after curfew was prohibited by the Lan family rules except for emergency situations, while Nie Mingjue vaguely waved his hand and Jin Guangyao levitated the steaming cup in front of the man with a soft clink.
Wei Ying tried not to look too disgusted as the smell hit his nose, especially because everybody else was unmoved, and asked:

“Can I have something stronger?”.

Minister Nie didn’t look like he approved, but he didn’t deny Wei Ying’s request.
Maybe there was a tiny, microscopic bit of sympathy under all those muscles, heavy frowns and murderous gazes, Wei Ying thought.

“Is Firewhisky okay?” Jin Guangyao asked and he nodded.

“Why is it impossible?” Chifeng-zun asked as soon as everybody was seated, gulping his tea in one go despite its temperature like the man who feared nothing that he was.

Wei Ying pondered over his next words, picking them carefully.

“Nothing that falls through the Veil can be retrieved,” he said at last, because it was safe to assume that everybody in the room knew that Wei Wuxian had taken the Hallow with him when he’d died.

Jiang Cheng and Lan Zhan had been there and they’d seen, after all.

“Not even the Stone?” Minister Nie pressed.

Wei Ying laughed, briefly, keeping the bitterness that was the Yiling Patriarch’s alone away. Then, he looked the man in the eyes.

“Especially not the Stone, Minister Nie. It belongs to Death and it had always belonged to it. Nothing can escape the Veil once Death claims it,” he said with certainty.

He was the only one who had managed to get out, but he had a soul, the only thing Death wasn’t able to mark as its own. A soul was and would always be owned by itself. It could come back, but an object couldn’t, no matter how many lifes would perish in an attempt to retrieve it or how many times it would be summoned.

Wei Ying said so, leaving only the first part unspoken.

“Besides,” he added, “Cadmus Peverell had created both the Stone and the Veil. The Stone has been his first creation. It took from the world of the dead back into the world of the living, but, precisely because it worked like that, it was faulty. No one can take from Death without paying back.” He knew it better than anyone else. “The Veil, on the other hand, is the perfect connection, because it works the other way around and Death never refuses something that falls into its hands.” With a heavy sigh, he repeated:
“the Stone cannot be retrieved.”

“Wei Wuxian knew that when he killed himself,” Nie Mingjue said, his words more of an affirmation than a question.

“I don’t see why he wouldn’t, if I do,” Wei Ying shrugged. “Some of these information could even be found disguised between the books in Hogwarts Library Forbidden Section.”

“We know,” Chifeng-zun replied with a dark frown on his face.

“Uncle has been furious when you’ve told him,” Lan Xichen suspired, looking at Wei Ying.
He seemed tired.

“Wei Wuxian has probably discovered those books much earlier,” Wei Ying said, keeping it vague, and the conversation died down as everyone went over the informations in the quietness of their own minds.

“Is there another way to create the Undead?” Jin Guangyao asked after some time.

Wei Ying looked at Mo Xuanyu’s brother. He was starting to feel the exhaustion creeping into his bones.

“I don’t know,” he replied earnestly.

“Then we’ll have to find out,” Minister Nie stated as if it was the easiest thing under the sun, with a voice that was not so harsh anymore and with words that were a bit slower than before. He too had to be tired. In fact, after a moment, he pressed his fingers to the sides of his nose, right beside the inner corners of his eyes.

“Mo,” he threw. “You’re under Witness Protection until your case is solved. Hanguang-Jun, I hope you can take care of that.”

“Da-ge,” Lan Xichen cut in and his urgency startled everybody in the room. He must’ve realized it, because the strained look on his face vanished in a blink of an eye, as if it had never been there before.

Before anyone could ask what had just happened, Lan Zhan spoke for the second time since the meeting had started.

“I will do what needs to be done.”

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen said and, when Lan Zhan looked at him, there seemed to be a silent dispute taking place in the gold of their eyes.

“I’ll see all of you tomorrow at 2 PM. This needs to be solved before the situation gets out of hand,” Chifeng-zun ordered, unaware of what was going between the Two Jades of Lan, the
dismissal clear in his words.

 




The implication of Nie Mingjue's parting words, wouldn’t they be able to catch whoever was calling the Undead, weighted heavily in the air as Wei Ying, Lan Zhan and Lan Xichen ascended to the Atrium; Jin Guangyao had remained with Chifeng-Zun, offering to re-brew him some more tea, a proposal the Minister had quietly complied to. 

Wei Ying wanted to break the silence, because the atmosphere was becoming unbearable, but there were clearly some things left unspoken between the two Lan Brothers, so he just put his hands in the pockets of his robe and hummed to himself. 

He had too many questions and too little answers. Was Mo Xuanyu on the case? Just like that? If so, then why him? What exactly was Witness Protection and where would he be taken next?

When the elevator started to slow down by the eight floor, Wei Ying almost jumped to the bars. When they opened, his heart broke. 

There was Jiang Cheng in front of him, looking at Wei Ying in the same way he'd had when Wei Wuxian had killed Shijie.

He grabbed him by the arm with a force so blunt it sent daggers of pain up to his shoulder and to where his heart had once used to be and spun. 

Chapter Text

September passed in a blink of an eye, rushed between new classes and new spells, and covered the expanses of the grounds with a layer of brown and red; the only spot that remained green was the piece of field beneath the Whomping Willow, because the tree swiped it relentlessly, as if offended that some leaves had the audacity to invade its territory. Then, October came, and with it came shorter days and cold rain that tinted everything grey, sparing only the fierce scarlet of the Gryffindor Common Room.

Wei Wuxian didn’t notice the passing of the time, too busy running through the corridors, reading every line in each book and wailing at Jiang Cheng to let him copy his homework, and suddenly it was the 31st of October and the Great Hall looked the awesomest that Wei Ying had ever seen.

There were big pumpkins with scary expressions that chased whoever met their carved eyes; sticky, thick cobwebs that hung from the ceiling (charmed to look like a tempestuous sky) and trapped the students who touched them; ghosts who glowed green and boo’ ed at the most unsuspecting ones, and bats. Bats entangled in Wei Wuxian’s hair.

“Jiang Cheng!” Wei Ying shouted, trying to shield his eyes and wave his fist with vengeance at the Hogwart’s Poltergeist at the same time.

“What?” his little brother barked, finally lifting his eyes from the blood-red cherry pudding he’d been stuffing in his mouth.

“Help me!” Wei Wuxian pleaded while Peeves cackled loudly behind his back.

“It’s your fault for provoking him,” Jiang Cheng scolded Wei Ying and went back to his meal.

“I only said that bats are cute! Why are you so heartless, Jiang Cheng?!” Wei Wuxian lamented, mentally evaluating the probability of him setting his own head on fire, should he use his wand to get rid of the animals. “What if I become bald?!”.

His little brother gave him a long, suffering glare. “Then I won’t have to cough balls of your hair every time you decide to sneak into my bed!”

Even if the pain of locks being pulled from his scalp was sharp, Wei Ying laughed.
“But Jiang Cheng, you always sleep better when I cuddle you!”.

Jiang Cheng jumped to his feet with a face that had become redder than a beetroot.
“Wei Wuxian!” he shouted, reaching for the wand tucked behind his belt, and looked around to make sure that nobody had heard Wei Ying’s words. However, he hadn’t needed to worry - the shameful tease had gotten lost in the middle of the ruckus of the Halloween Feast almost immediately.

Wei Wuxian was about to open his mouth to make fun of his brother a little bit more when he saw Nie Huaisang shyly approaching their table.

“NIE-XIONG! HELP ME!” he cried out, pointing at his hair, but the only reaction he got from the Slytherin boy were wide eyes and quick shakes of his head.

“I - I don’t know how, Wei-xiong,” Nie Huaisang stuttered and threw his arms in front of himself, backtracking. Then, one of the little black animals took flight in his direction and the Slytherin ducked under the closest table, letting out a terrified shriek. However, there must’ve been something even more frightening in the midst of the Raveclaws’ black and blue robes, because he leapt from under the table almost immediately with another shout on his lips. 

“L-Lan W-W-Wangji, I’m sorry!”.

Truthfully enough, Nie-xiong had chosen the space where Lan Zhan was sitting as his hiding spot and was now stuttering under the white-robed boy’s stony scrutiny!

Wei Wuxian would’ve doubled over with laughter at his friend’s bad luck, had Peeves not thrown a handful more bats in his direction. With the fear of balding still clear in his mind, he did the only thing he could do - he swung his legs over the bench he was sitting on and run, Lan Zhan’s name loud on his lips.

The Ravenclaw boy slowly turned his head and looked right at Wei Ying.

In was a scene well known among the First Year students, and perhaps among the older ones as well - after all, the rivalry between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji had been going on for already two months.

Wei Ying, however, didn’t like it when others used the term “rivalry”. He’d come to Hogwarts with the intention to learn the most and not to become the best, but each time he tried to explain it, nobody would listen to him. ‘Then why did you bet that you’ll learn Alohomora before Lan Wangji?’, they’d ask; ‘he jinxed your tongue three times during Astronomy last monday,’ they’d point out.

How could they not understand that Lan Zhan had been the first person to learn quicker and to know more than Wei Ying? How could they not see that there were very few things funnier than making the proper Lan boy lose his boring composure, like drawing big mustaches on paintings of witches?

Wei Wuxian laughed out loud as he remembered that Lan Zhan had caught him mid act the last time he’d done that. He’d been so angry that the tips of his ears had become red, even if his face had remained as plain as ever.

When the squeakes of the bats got closer, Wei Ying snapped out of his thoughts and sped up. “Lan Zhan, save me!” he shouted, jumping the last meter or so. He extended his arm, fully intending to grab Lan Zhan by the sleeve and to hide behind his back, but Lan Wangji stepped aside with the most stoic expression of them all.

Wei Ying widened his eyes.

“Lan Zhan, how can you be so cruel? Are we not friends?” he cried, trying to go around the white-robed boy, but Lan Zhan sidestepped again.

The look that he gave Wei Ying next could turn fire into ice.

“Not friends. Wei Wuxian should stop joking around,” he said and sat down again.

On one hand, Wei Ying wanted to grin and to call Lan Zhan out for saying his name for the first time in two months; on the other, he wanted to pout and to retort that he was not joking around - the bats in his hair were very much real! 

In the end, he didn’t get to do any of these things, because Peeves chose that moment to appear behind Lan Wangji, giggling shadily.

“Such a nice hair!” he guwaffed, looking at the back of Lan Zhan’s head, and reached inside the pockets of his colorful costume.

Wei Wuxian opened his mouth to warn the other boy, but there was no way he would be quick enough - Peeves was already stretching the ghostly hand full of bats above his head, going for the perfect throw.

Wei Ying also looked at Lan Wangji’s hair, longer than his own, and shiny and straight.

“Don’t!” he yelled and jumped between the Poltergeist and the Ravenclaw, opening his arms to shield Lan Zhan’s back. The boy would surely have to cut his pretty hair off if the animals tangled it too much!

“Don’t?” Peeves repeated with a high-pitched voice, undoubtedly imitating Wei Wuxian. “If you wanted more, you could’ve just asked, snotty brat,” he smiled with malice and took the swing. 

Wei Ying closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable.

“Peeves, would you mind returning the bats to their liars under the stairs? I’m sure they must be really scared in all this light,” a voice that sounded like the calm after the storm rang from beside Wei Ying, making his eyes snap back open.

“Hehehe, of course! Lan Huan is always so polite to the old, dement Peeves,” the Poltergeist bowed mockingly, making all those who’d witnessed the scene gasp with disbelief. Then, he vanished in a puff of smoke that smelled like expired eggs and the tugs at Wei Ying’s locks stopped altogether. 

“Mh, it’s not very pleasant to eat with such a smell hanging in the air, don’t you agree?” the same voice spoke again, amusement clear in each word, and Wei Wuxian turned around. 

Lan Wangji was standing up again and he was smiling. At Wei Wuxian.

Wei Ying rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands, pressing hard. 

He remembered that last summer he’d opened a very old barrel of seasoned Firewhiskey and the smokes that had come from the inside had made him hallucinate.
He had to be hallucinating again. Jiang Cheng had told him not to eat so much meat - he should’ve listened!

“Lan Zhan?” he asked for good measure as soon as the black circles vanished from his sight.

At that, the boy smiled wider and casted an Evanesco, making the greenish cloud of stink disappear.
A group of girls by the Gryffindor table sighed and ooh’ed, and a few Ravenclaw boys glared.

“I’m Lan Zhan’s brother. My name is Lan Xichen,” he introduced himself and extended his right hand.

Wei Wuxian looked at him with marvel.

Lan Zhan’s brother looked exactly like Lan Zhan!

“I’m Wei Ying!” he clasped Lan Xichen’s hand with excitement, forgetting to introduce himself by his courtesy name. It happened, sometimes. The name “Wuxian” had been given to him only two months ago, after all.

“It’s nice to meet you, Wei Ying,” Lan Xichen smiled again, eliciting a new wave of sighs, and shook their hands.“I hope that Peeves has not hurt you,” he added with concern, but the preoccupied look went away as soon as Wei Wuxian shook his head. “In that case, thank you for saving my little brother,” he patted Wei Ying on the shoulder, his golden eyes twinkling in the candlelight, and turned around to look at Lan Zhan, who was already standing up.

“Brother,” he only said, emotionless as always, but Lan Xichen gave him a very warm, little smile that reminded Wei Ying of his Shijie’s ones.

Wei Wuxian opened his mouth to ask Lan Zhan why he’d never said that he had such a cool big brother when someone grabbed him by the collar of his robe. 

“Five points from Gryffindor for running in the middle of the Great Hall.”

The three of them turned around.

Wei Wuxian paled a little.

Lan Zhan didn’t bat a lash.

Lan Xichen chuckled.

“Da-ge, it was Peeves’ doing,” he said, putting a hand on Nie Mingjue’s forearm, and Wei Ying’s fear vanished.

He didn’t know if he was more stunned by the fact that Lan Xichen was not afraid to touch the Gryffindor’s prefect or by the fact that Nie Mingjue actually listened to Lan Zhan’s brother and released Wei Ying’s robe from his iron grip.

Wei Wuxian tasted freedom for whole two seconds.
Then, Jiang Cheng materialized by his side and took him by the elbow.

“We’re very sorry for the inconvenience,” he rushed and turned around immediately, tugging Wei Ying along.

Wei Wuxian tried to twist his arm out of Jiang Cheng’s hand, but his little brother had a vicious grip. Wei Ying couldn’t help but feel a little proud - it’d been him who’d taught it to Jiang Cheng.

“Bye, Lan Xichen!” he waved his free hand and smiled brightly. “See you later, Lan Zha - “

“Stay. Quiet,” Jiang Cheng pulled at his sleeve with force, making Wei Ying fall flat on his backside by the Gryffindor’s table.

As soon as his brother sat down, Wei Ying whispered with big eyes: “Jiang Cheng, have you see - mpfgh!”

Jiang Cheng cleaned his hands from the greasy bun he’d just stuffed in Wei Ying’s mouth with a tissue and glared, making Wei Wuxian stay put. After a heartbeat, though, his expression shifted and he murmured furtively:

“Not here. Nie Mingjue is coming back to the table. We need a safer place to talk.”

The bun in Wei Ying’s mouth effectively silenced his laughter.
He nodded imperceptibly and motioned to the Slytherin table, where Nie Huaisang was nibbling at his dinner.

Jiang Cheng glanced in that direction and then nodded back, mouthing two words: Potions. Tomorrow.



 

By the end of the Halloween Feast, Headmaster Li announced that the Astronomy lesson for the First and the Second Year students had been rescheduled for the same night and, while many grunted and moaned, Wei Ying cheered. It was obvious that Uncle Headmaster wanted them to witness the Ghost Parade!

Wei Wuxian liked the man very much, even if he always looked so tired. He’d once invited him to Yunmeng, because he knew the best places to rest, such as the roof of the Yunmeng Jiang Mansion or the wooden boats that floated on the lake, but the Headmaster had declined. He had to work, he’d said, and he’d only laughed when Wei Ying had scrunched his nose and had admitted to the man that the adult life sounded boring.

Now, it was almost midnight and Wei Wuxian was standing on the top of the Astronomy Tower. It was one of Wei Ying’s favorite places - rising high above the Castle, its view spaced from the Forbidden Forest (that Wei Wuxian had yet to visit, but he was waiting for the right occasion), through the grounds (and through the groundskeeper’s hut and his big, scary dog), to the Quidditch pitch.

Wei Ying angled his telescope in that direction, sighing longingly. They’d told them that the pitch was being renovated, because a herd of Fire Salamanders had built a nest right under the wooden stands. While the rebuilding itself was not difficult - his smart Shijie had explained to him when he’d come to her, very disappointed - the charms that protected the pitch could be casted only in a few periods of the year.
Wei Wuxian only hoped that they’d finish soon.

When he heard soft footsteps behind him, he unglued his eye from the lens - when they’d reached the top, he’d left Jiang Cheng with Nie-xiong, who’d refused to come to the edge of the Tower, but it was almost time. His brother must’ve come back.

He looked around and the greeting died on his tongue, because what he saw was not purple and black.

Lan Zhan was standing right in front of him, his hands clasped in his lap and his back straight, and he was looking at Wei Ying with that gaze that Wei Wuxian had never understood.

He was so surprised that, for a second, he didn’t know what to say, but then his lips curved upwards.

“Lan Zhan, coming here to reprimand me for something?” he asked, interwinding his fingers behind his back, and swayed on his feet, backwards and forwards. “I’m not breaking any rules.”

Lan Zhan stayed silent for a while. His eyes flickered to the ground, but he lifted them up soon.

“Not to reprimand,” he said, shaking his head a little, as if he didn’t trust the words to convey their meaning by themselves. “To apologize.”

Wei Ying’s smile fell.
“Apologize?” he repeated, because he must’ve heard wrong. Lan Zhan?! Saying sorry to him?!

“Wei Ying has asked for help,” Lan Wangji explained, pronouncing the words slowly, as if it hurt him to speak, and Wei Wuxian suddenly wanted to laugh. “I have not provided it.”

The gears in Wei Ying’s head finally slotted into place. Lan Zhan was talking about the Feast!

“Don’t worry, Lan Zhan!” he beamed.
“This Wei Ying is strong enough to protect both Lan Wangji and himself. With me, you don’t have to be scared of the enemies!”.

At his words, Lan Zhan’s ears became red and his hands curled into fists.

“Ridiculous,” he spat with eyes narrowed in anger, but his distress only made Wei Wuxian beam more.

“There’s no need to thank me for saving you, Lan Zhan,” he teased and jumped away when the Ravenclaw reached inside the sleeve of his robe.

Wei Ying got ready for the unpleasant feeling of having his tongue glued to his palate, but, just as Lan Zhan opened his mouth to cast the spell, a white, small snowflake fell right on the tip of his nose, making the Ravenclaw stop.

Then, another one got caught in his eyelashes, and Lan Wangji blinked.

One more blink, and there were snowflakes all over his black hair.

Wei Ying looked up with wonder. “Lan Zhan!” he exclaimed when the tiny pieces of snow hit his face and melted on his skin. “It’s snowing!”.

Lan Wangji looked like he didn’t know what to say, but Wei Wuxian didn’t mind. He could talk enough for both of them.

He extended his arms and caught the snowflakes in his hands, watching with wonder how they swirled in the air and vanished between his fingers.

“It never snows in Yunmeng,” he said. “It’s so pretty,” he sighed happily, then, when the snow started to fall for good, spinning in the wind that always blew hard at the top of the Tower.

The peaceful moment was, unfortunately, interrupted by Jiang Cheng’s scowling voice that resounded from behind, making Wei Ying drop the snowflakes and turn away from Lan Zhan.

His brother was standing on the other side of the Tower, motioning for Wei Ying to come with one arm, while the other was trapped in Nie Huaisang’s tight grip.
“Wei Ying! The Parade is starting!” he yelled against the whistle of the wind while their Slytherin friend pried his eyes open and dared to peek down on the grounds.

“I’m coming!” Wei Wuxian shouted back and run, bumping into a couple of other students.
He reached the opposite edge just as the whole sky above theirs heads became green and all the ghosts of Hogwarts rose into the night.




The perfect occasion to talk about what had happened during the Halloween Feast came the next day.

Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng were sitting in their usual spot on the back of the Potions classroom, effectively hidden from view by the fumes that came out of the cauldrons.
Nie Huaisang was occupying the table to their left and was currently talking to Professor Slughorn, who’d almost finished his round around the class.

His expression was much more serene than when he’d stopped by Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng’s cauldron - their Boil Cure potion resembled a thick blob of mud instead of a ‘clear liquid that releases pink smoke when brewed successfully’, because Wei Ying had accidentally hit the mortar with crushed snake fangs with his elbow and Jiang Cheng had dropped its entire content (more or less thrice the needed amount) into the mixture.

Nie-xiong’s cauldron, on the other hand, was enveloped in pink clouds, making him look even more flustered under Slughorn’s praises than he already was.

“Next time I’m with him,” Jiang Cheng grumbled for the sixth time and Wei Wuxian promptly ignored his laments.

Finally, after one last fatherly pat on Nie Huaisang’s shoulder, Professor Slughorn went away.

Wei Ying leaned towards their Slytherin friend.

“Nie-xiong, Lan Zhan has a brother,” he whispered and smiled when Nie Huaisang didn’t look surprised.  

“The first wizard of our generation, Lan Xichen,” the Slytherin only nodded and waved his fan in front of his face to disperse the hot fumes of his potion. The boy truly knew everybody!

Jiang Cheng scooted closer.

“He made your brother release Wei Ying. Just like that!” he related, his usual grimace forgotten in the face of wonder.

“I know!” Nie Huaisang also widened his eyes. “He’s the only one my brother listens to. They’ve been friends since before Hogwarts…” he recounted and put his fan by his mouth, giving the surroundings a quick glance, “... and he’s stronger than Mingjue. Even if he’s a year younger.”

Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng quietly gasped.

“How old is he?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Fourteen,” Nie-xiong confided and Wei Ying marveled. So big and so strong!
“He’s the first student ever to have been elected a Prefect before his Fifth Year.”

The two Yunmeng brothers glanced at themselves, stunned.

“But how come that there are only two Lans in the entire Castle?” Wei Ying inquired. He’d heard that the Lans, along with the Jiangs, were two of the biggest wizarding families of the country. In fact, the Gryffindor and the Hufflepuff tables were quite full of violet robes hidden under the standard black ones; Wei Ying didn’t know every descendant of the Jiang family, but he recognized many of Jiang Cheng’s distant cousins who came to Junmeng every summer to be trained by Madame Yu.
The white robes, on the other hand, were only two.

Surprisingly, it was Jiang Cheng who answered his question.

“The Lan family doesn’t usually mix with the Wizarding World. They live and study in this big academy that’s called ‘Cloud Recess’. It’s in a place named Gusu, but nobody really knows where it is, and they have to follow 3000 rules.”

Wei Ying’s jaw dropped.

“3000 rules?” he whispered, incredulous. “That’s why Lan Zhan is so proper and unfunny!”.

“You should wish to be like him,” Jiang Cheng barked, but Wei Ying was immune to his admonishing.

“I think I’d die if I had to live there,” he admitted, much to Nie Huaisang’s entertainment.

Jiang Cheng ignored him for the sake of their House points. “Why do Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen study at Hogwarts and not in Gusu?” he asked instead of punching Wei Wuxian.

Nie-xiong, fortunately, had the answer.

“Their uncle, Professor Lan Qiren, has been elected both Deputy Headmaster and Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor four years ago. I don’t know why, but he’s something of a guardian of the Two Jades of Lan - “ Wei Ying smiled at the nickname “ - and he just brought them to Hogwarts with him.”

Their conversation, sadly, died there.

“Mister Jiang, Mister Wei,” Horace Slughorn looked down on them, his face barely visible from below his big belly, and the three boys immediately straightened in their chairs.
“If you have time for gossip, then I fully expect to see two vials with a perfectly brewed Boil Cure on my desk in - “ he cast a Tempus - “fourteen minutes.”

Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng glanced inside their cauldron.

The consistency of their potion had switched from mud to asphalt.

As soon as the Professor turned around, they both looked pleadingly at Nie Huaisang.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng had been the first one to answer the call that had come in the middle of the night, but it hadn’t come as a surprise to anybody who’d been unlucky enough to score the late shift. Jiang Cheng was always the first.
He doesn’t have a family to come back to, people who thought they knew him explained to others when he wasn’t there to shorten their leashes and to show them how work should be done. 
They didn't know that Jiang Cheng didn’t go home because, sometimes, he couldn’t stop himself from scrubbing his arms raw to get rid of the ashes that the Wens had left behind.

‘Attack on the Mo Mansion, Lower Slaughter, 51° 54′ 21.6″ North, 1° 46′ 37.2″ West,’ the Patronus had said, its silver gleam weak under the galling, yellow lamps that never went off in the Department of Investigation. ‘Hit Wizards and Investigators required.’

Nothing out of the ordinary, really. A message heard too many times a day, varying only in location, that should’ve been spoken with Hanguang-Jun’s dead-man’s voice, because, if there was one thing he was better at than Jiang Cheng, it was being an empty shell of the man he’d once used to be.
Everybody looked at the Lan as if he had rainbows coming out of his ass, but Jiang Cheng knew better. He recognized his own kin.

It should’ve been a simple case. One Jiang Cheng should have thrown onto the stack of parchments that had piled on his desk over the days. One he should have thrown on the backs of his subordinates, always bent, always scurrying, just like when his mother had used to sit in his chair.

It would’ve been a simple case, but Lan Wangji’s godforsaken voice had not sounded dead at all and Jiang Cheng had known.

There were things witches and wizards had buried in the deepest corners of their minds and then had covered with presumptuous certainties of them not coming back.
These same things that nobody wanted to remember were hanging on every wall of Jiang Cheng’s office, gleaming red even if their moving photographs were black and grey, and they never let his anger rest. And now, after all this wait, there they fucking were.

Jiang Cheng’s cloak weighted heavily on his shoulders when he put it on. He knocked down a half-finished cup of coffee in the process, but he levitated it just before it hit the ground and shattered to pieces. He could’ve repaired it if it had, but there were not many things he hadn’t destroyed yet and it felt important, somehow. To preserve them. To remind himself that he hadn’t failed in everything.
He grabbed the cup and placed it back on his desk, the motion calm and so unlike the storm that had been nesting in his chest for thirteen years.
Jin Ling had given it to him when he’d still been small enough to cling to Jiang Cheng’s leg and to walk around the Auror Headquarters like that.
It was purple and sparkly, and it had a very wonky “Best Uncle” written on the side with gold glitter. Nobody knew that, though. Jiang Cheng had always made sure to charm it grey. It wasn’t anybody’s fucking business, after all.

He left the office after a moment that his mind did not perceive. People were already rushing left and right in the middle of the usual commotion that accompanied the arrival of a new case, but Jiang Cheng did not register it either. He was too busy replaying the last time he’d seen him - a record that could’ve as well been engraved on the backs of his eyelids for how many times he’d seen it. Nobody got in his way as he walked, anyway. They had learnt to know better a long time ago. 

He didn’t look around to make sure that he had everything before he stepped into the elevator.
There was no need.
His wand was enough. 
Zidian was enough.
And if it turned out that they would not suffice, then so be it.
He would kill Wei Wuxian with his bare hands.

-

When Jiang Cheng’s steps echoed loudly in the empty Atrium, they sounded like they were really bringing him closer to the revenge he could almost taste on the back of his tongue.

“Achieve the impossible,” his family’s motto was, and Jiang Cheng was going to live up to it.
He was going to walk into his own downfall like nobody had ever had before, even if he didn’t know it yet.

 


 

The first time Jiang Cheng vacillated was when he passed by a corpse of an Undead.
For a second, he was seventeen again, crouched down with his head between his hands to mute out the the hisses of the Fiendfyre that had burned down his home and his mother and father.
For a second, Zidian didn’t come when he casted the spell and his heart hammered in his chest, but then the purple lighting stroke once, twice, thrice, and Jiang Cheng remembered that he wasn’t in Yunmeng. He remembered that there were no Wen dogs murdering his family, because he had murdered them first, a long time ago.

He blamed the brief moment of weakness on the lack of sleep and welcomed the anger that boiled in his veins with twice its usual fervor like a faithful companion. He was prepared. There was no one in the whole fucking Wizarding World more prepared than him.
He didn’t set the corpse on fire, even if his hand itched to level the whole property down. He was not going to let even an ounce of resentment leak out before he put his wand to Wei Wuxian’s head.

When he got to the hut, located a couple of hundred meters from the Undead, there was still no sign of his team apparating in the courtyard. In a normal situation, Jiang Cheng would’ve waited for them and then he would’ve made them strip down and dress up again, and re-apparate where they were goddamn supposed to until they did it quickly enough. Right now, however, Jiang Cheng didn’t give a fuck.
He pushed the hut’s wooden door open and it fell off under his touch, raising a cloud of dust in the air, but it had already been swaying on its hinges anyways. Not that Jiang Cheng cared.
Not when the inside of the shack smelled faintly of dried blood, the odour persisting even if one of the walls was almost completely gone.

“Lumos,” he commanded and his wand obeyed; in the meantime, loud pops and hurried footsteps resounded from the gardens.
He didn’t even blink when the light revealed the Array and the amount of blood that had been used to paint it.
It didn’t take a fucking genius to gather that it had been meant to summon, and all Jiang Cheng needed was one glance.

Wei Wuxian had stood in the same spot he was standing in right now and Jiang Cheng wondered if he could choke on the rage that was filling his throat and never breathe again.
The thought almost made him smile as he forced a breath in his lungs with practiced ease, tucking his ire in the endless space that the discipline whip had carved in his chest.

As if he’d fucking allow something so insignificant as death pry Wei Wuxian from his hands again.

Wei Wuxian, who’d had the arrogance, the fucking audacity to take his own life before Jiang Cheng had managed to close his hands around his throat and draw the last exhale out of his cursed mouth.

Jiang Cheng had waited thirteen years for this moment.

When he spun, some shouted to wait, that they weren’t sure if it had been the Yiling Patriarch who’d been summoned. Jiang Cheng, however, had never been a patient man.

 




The first place he went to were the Burial Mounds - the cursed graveyard that had become Wei Wuxian's home, where nobody had set their foot since the Aurors had wiped out the last remnants of the Wen family.
 
Wherever Jiang Cheng looked, there was only mud and ruins of the pitiful, wooden houses Wei Wuxian and his protégées had built when he'd left. There was not even a splotch of green in sight, but Jiang Cheng hadn't expected anything else; nothing had ever grown in the Mounds. The earth was too stained with blood for that.
His boots made a wet, ugly sound when he lifted his feet to march towards the base of the mountain, barely visible in the Burial Mounds' eternal fog. Soon, the stench of decay became so thick that he had to transfigure a galleon in his pocket into a handkerchief and wrap it around the lower half of his face.
Then, finally, when he was almost by the feet of the mountain, a shrill scream cut through the silence of the night. 

"Took you long enough," Jiang Cheng huffed, lifting his arm in the air, and hissed when eight sharp, long claws wrapped around his forearm and tore through his robes. "What the hell, Daisy?!".

The big eagle owl gave him a glare that rivaled those of her owner and let out a high-pitched sound full of disdain.

"Stop lying. You're the fastest bird in the goddamned country," Jiang Cheng glared in response and, after a moment, Daisy relented her grip. 

"Find him," he only said, and he owl opened her wings and leapt into the air, chirping twice. Even in her smaller form, her wingspan was broader than the span of Jiang Cheng's arms. 

"Showoff," Jiang Cheng murmured under his breath, but some of the scorching burn in his stomach had gone away. 

There had never been a prey Daisy hadn't been able to find. 

 




Wei Wuxian was not in the Burial Mounds. Jiang Cheng hadn't found him in the cave he'd lived in and went mad in, and Daisy had come back empty-clawed, so he went to the Knockturn Alley next.
There were no doors that did not open in front of him and no hideouts that passed unobserved under Daisy's watchful eyes, but Wei Wuxian was not there either.

Some of the subordinates who had managed to reach him were now scattered around the Muggle London, because the Yiling Patriarch had never shunned its dirty slums, but Jiang Cheng was already far away, climbing the cracked steps of the Shrieking Shack.
It was all made of moldy walls, Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian's initials carved into the boards, and memories Jiang Cheng had locked at the very bottom of his Pensieve, and Wei Wuxian was not there either. 

He went to the Cave on the Cliff, then, but he did not make it to the end.
The resentful energy made his back bend and his knees buckle, and for a while he could not stand up anymore. 
Through gritted teeth and through the sweat pearling at his temples, he casted a Homenum Revelio; he had to chase away the ghastly shadow of something resembling dread that slowly started to settle down in his chest, then, because there was no one there here.

When he could move again, he apparated to the forest that'd had the highest density of resurrected corpses during the Sunshot Campaign. Nothing.

He went to Caiyi Town, then, and split its rivers with Zidian. When all he found was pebbles and golden loquats, he apparated to Yunmeng.
His hair had long escaped the tight ribbon he'd tied it with since he could remember; some had gotten caught in his lashes and some in his mouth, but Jiang Cheng didn't care to push it aside, because there was no one on the decks of the Lotus Pier except for him and for the bells his mother had used to hang under the roofs when he'd been little. 
Most of them had melted in the Fiendfyre, but some had been spared by the flames, as if not relevant enough to have been bothered with. He remembered how A-Li had polished them all clean when they'd dug them out of the ashes.

A-Li had always been good with the cleaning charms. 

A-Li had always been good with everything and Wei Wuxian was not in Yunmeng, because Yunmeng had not been his home for a long time. Not since he had chosen the Wens, the murderers, over Jiang Cheng. 

Jiang Cheng hadn't mattered, then, and he didn't matter now.

There was something in his gut that he couldn't quite pinpoint, but he didn't stop to understand what was it.
One should not be surprised, though - it was not him who'd just vacillated, after all. It was his mind, and Jiang Cheng had buried his emotions for far too long to be aware of something so trivial. 

A smile forced its way on his lips, and a young wizard who'd come out to greet the Head of the Jiang Family stopped on his tracks, not daring to come closer to him.
Good, Jiang Cheng though as he spun one last time, the Atrium clear in his mind. Wei Wuxian had always said that the best hiding place was in plain sight, after all.

 




Jiang Cheng had thought that his rage had reached its peak when Wei Wuxian had died like a coward, leaving A-Li and Jin Zixuan with their souls barely clinging to their bodies.
He'd thought that it could've never become bigger than how it had been each time Jin Ling had slid his little, warm hands between A-Li's cold ones; greater than the one he'd felt when Jin Ling had shouted for his niáng and for his ā diē to wake up, and deeper than the one his nephew's weak fists had left on his chest every time he'd scooped him in his arms to pry the boy away from his parents' beds at St. Mungo's. 

Yet, the anger that filled him when he laid his eyes on the body Wei Wuxian had possessed, so similar to how the Yiling Patriarch had been, was incomparable to anything else he'd felt before. Wei Wuxian, who was standing in the Ministry of Magic, humming a song under his breath as if he'd never destroyed Jiang Cheng's family. As if he'd never destroyed half of the Wizarding World because of his conceit
Jiang Cheng could've killed him. Right then and there. Right under Hanguang-Jun's empty eyes and Zewu Jun's false smiles. 
Instead, he took in all of the sudden fright that made Wei Wuxian's new features pale when the man walked straight into Jiang Cheng's arms and added it to the arson that threatened to burn his chest open. Then, before the Two Jades of Lan could take Wei Wuxian away from him, he grabbed what had meant to be his thirteen years ago and vanished. 



Jiang Cheng took him to Yunmeng. He tamed his rage until it was no longer scorching hot, so that he could wear it like an armor around his heart, cool and unyielding. 

They landed in the middle of the Central Pavilion, built and carved by the finest craftsmen Yunmeng had ever had and painted by the most skilled artists of the land - a gem among the endless decks of the Lotus Pier, a perfect replica of what had used to stand in its place some seventeen years ago; the most beautiful place to receive the guests before inviting them to the Jiang Mansion that spanned over the center of the lake. Jiang Cheng, however, had never really been a good host; he didn't stop to let Wei Wuxian admire the view. What he did instead was tighten his grip around the possessed body's arm and ignore the hiss of pain that came out of its mouth as he pressed the tip of his wand to its throat.

His private quarters were not far, but he did not hurry anymore - his anger had been shaped to his heart and his steps were leisurely, much like the clouds that were floating in an otherwise clear sky of Yunmeng. After all, nobody would arrive. Jiang Cheng's exterminated family had always been most famous for its impenetrable wards. Only Jiang Cheng could come and go as he pleased; to others, the Lotus Pier was either an unreachable fortress or an unescapable prison. Not even the Lans would be able to break through. And the remaining witches and wizards who lived under Jiang Cheng's roof knew not to disturb him when he brought guests.

Eventually, they arrived in front of the big door that divided Jiang Cheng's rooms from the rest of the estate. Jiang Cheng opened it with a flicker of his wand, while the hand that was gripping Wei Wuxian pushed the man inside so hard that he tripped and fell to his knees. Jiang Cheng took him by his collar, then, and muted out the wheezing breaths that Wei Wuxian had started to take as he dragged him to the biggest room, wand right by his neck. The doors shut behind them and the curtains closed as they passed, and soon the only thing left to do was to cast a Muffliato to silence the sounds that would come, because they'd reached the place that held Jiang Cheng's mother and father's ashes.

Jiang Cheng released Wei Wuxian, but he did not wait for the man to regain his breath in between the harsh coughs that made his entire new body shake. "Zidian," he said like he'd done thousands of times, and the purple whip that he kept closed in his mother's ring appeared in his hand, its weight the most familiar thing Jiang Cheng had. 

He lifted it up, until its grip was by his head and until the violet lightings were louder than the blood that was thrumming in his ears.

Then, with all the rage that had piled up in his muscles over the past sixteen years, he brought his arm down.

Zidian hit Wei Wuxian right where the disciple whip had hit Jiang Cheng. 

It tore his black robe and left a burned mark on his pale skin. 

It did not trap Wei Wuxian's soul and, before Jiang Cheng could register that Zidian had failed, Wei Wuxian spoke.

"This body is not possessed."

The man's voice was nothing like the playful laughs of the boy who'd caught pheasants instead of studying and nothing like the bloodcurdling tone of the murderer who'd sold his mind to Death. 

Jiang Cheng's throat burned and the cold calm slipped through his fingers as if it'd never been there in the first place. 

"Don't you fucking lie to me, Wei Wuxian!" he shouted, the words passing his gritted teeth in a growl, but he'd known that things wouldn't have been so simple - he hardened his stance, preparing himself for the attack just like he'd done so many times in the darkness of his rooms, and lifted his arm again.

"Zidian is never wrong," Wei Wuxian looked him in the eyes and how could he, how dared he look so sad, as if he had the right to feel sorry

"SHUT UP!" Jiang Cheng screamed, and the hatred in his voice made Wei Wuxian wince just as Zidian stoke down again, not giving the other man a chance to make a move. This time, the gash on Wei Wuxian's skin didn't disappear, but his soul still didn't come out and all Jiang Cheng could see was red.
He pushed it past the corners of his eyes, quick and stern. The man in front of him was Wei Wuxian and he would pry his soul from the flesh with sheer force if he had to.

He wrapped the whip around Wei Wuxian's torso and took a step forward. The lightnings on Zidian crackled as violently as he felt.

"Get," he hissed, grabbing a fistful of black, tangled hair. "Out," he pulled and Wei Wuxian scrambled to his feet, but he lost his balance because Zidian was tying him too tightly. "Of," Jiang Cheng yanked him up again and dragged him in front of two little tablets. "This body," he forced him to kneel in front of the two things that were left of his parents and lifted the man's head, making it impossible for Wei Wuxian to look away. 

When the only thing he got was a lone tear that left a wet trail on Wei Wuxian's cheek, Jiang Cheng got to one knee. 

"Swear on my parents' graves that you are not Wei Wuxian, then," he said, bringing his face close to the possessed body's ear, and the coldness of his voice surprised even himself. "Look at their tombstones and at the ashes that me and A-Li had to summon when we saw that there were no bones left to be dug and swear that you are not him."

Another tear streamed down on Wei Wuxian's face, then, and a single word left his cracked lips. 

"No."

When Jiang Cheng heard it resound on the walls of the Memorial Hall, something strange stirred in his gut; something different than the resentment that he'd gotten to know so well.

At first, he could not gather what it was. He'd known that Wei Wuxian's soul had taken this body, after all. He'd been sure of it and it didn't come as a surprise - all these years he'd waited and waited, till the possibility of Wei Wuxian's comeback had become a matter of time and not a presumption and till the people from his own Department had started to look at him as if he'd been crazy. He had known.

Yet, when he finally understood what was that thing that had managed to rip a bit of his rage apart, his whole body chilled.

It was something Jiang Cheng hadn't felt in so long that he'd forgotten how it'd used to make his stomach unclench. 
Something Jiang Cheng hadn't known he could feel, because he'd thought that he'd been able only to hate, black and red and unconditionally, ever since the War had left him nothing more than angry whips and angry words, and a merciless hand. 
He remembered how he'd made all of those things his. How he’d sharpened his ire in the shape of his mother’s disappointment and his sister’s closed eyes, and how he'd finally become the first. How he'd finally excelled.
He also remembered how, before he could've backed off, he hadn't known how to not be angry anymore. 
That was why he didn't recognize relief when it came right away. 

In a different situation, he might've sat down and let the tears that were gathering in the corners of his eyes flow freely. He would've gone to A-Li, then, to tell her that he wasn't completely lost. 

But he felt relief towards Wei Wuxian and it was unacceptable, so he killed the traitorous emotion before it could show on his face. 

He was disgusted by himself. All this time, and he was still weak. 

"Then get the fuck out," he growled with venom, reaching for the rancor that was not difficult to find since it filled him to the brim, and stood up, Wei Wuxian's hair still in his hand. 

"I can't," Wei Wuxian replied with that frail voice that made Jiang Cheng revolt. 

"Then I'll make you," he said, and maybe it was the awareness that he was the one in control of the situation, but he felt calm again. Wrathful, but calm. Just as he was supposed to. 

Wei Wuxian did not say anything else. He just knelt, and Jiang Cheng stroke again, tearing the robes on the body's back apart. When Zidian made Wei Wuxian fall forwards, the man just lifted himself up without making a sound and it only made Jiang Cheng more furious, because he wasn't. Fighting. Back - 

"You goddamned COWARD!" he shouted when he couldn't hold back his words anymore and when Zidian started to become heavier. "Haven't you done enough?!" he spat, lifting his hand nonetheless. "Haven't you killed enough?!" he hit once more, against the sharp pull of the muscles of his arm that should have not been there. "Did you come back to finish what you started? To kill me off just like you've killed all the rest?" he yelled and his vision became blurry because of the ire, and he didn't notice that Wei Wuxian had finally gotten up until a loud slap made his head turn to the side.

He was so shocked by the sudden pain blooming on his cheek that, for a moment, he could only cover the spot with his hand and look at Wei Wuxian, who was standing in front of him with a shadow of the old temper that had reigned on his face when he'd become unrecoverable. 

"Call me coward. Call me murdered. Call me scum," Wei Wuxian spoke, his words trembling, but then his features sharpened and Jiang Cheng had to take a step back, because the alarm bells suddenly started to ring in his ears and he was facing the Founder of the Terror of the Undead again. "But never say that I want to kill - " his voice broke then and his eyes overflew with tears, and Jiang Cheng finally snapped back, " - you."

Jiang Cheng hit him square on the jaw, his wand clenched in his fist. 

"You don't want to kill me?" he repeated, smiling mirthlessly. He felt the acid taste of hate that always clogged his throat get stronger, and he wiped his hand on his robes before he could snap the possesses body's neck and just end Wei Wuxian's existence there. Then, before Wei Wuxian could move, he bound him again and the brittle smile fell off of his face. "You don't want to kill me just like you didn't want to curse A-Li or to put a hole through Jin Zixuan's chest?" he asked, gripping the man's jaw. 

He was about to land another hit when Wei Wuxian looked him right in the eyes. 
There was blood in the corner of his mouth and wetness on his bruised cheek, and, for a heartbeat that almost made Jiang Cheng sway on his feet, he believed him. But then Wei Wuxian said "I'm sorry," and the last straws of whatever fickle self-control Jiang Cheng had deceived himself to have were gone.

"You can shove your 'sorry' up your ass!" he snarled and commanded Zidian to close around the man tighter. How could Wei Wuxian think that Jiang Cheng could've wanted his worthless apology when all he'd done had been tear his family to pieces?! "Do you think I can trade your 'sorry' for all the years Jin Ling had lived like an orphan?!" he shouted, then, because the resentment he'd been feeling started to climb up the walls of his throat and he couldn't stop it anymore. "Why won't you just die?!" he spat, clenching his fist and abducting his arm, because it was either that or 'why did you leave me alone?!', but Jiang Cheng had gone over it.

"I wanted to," Wei Wuxian replied after a moment that seemed to stretch into eternity, and Jiang Cheng wanted to scream at his cowardice. He wanted to tell him that he hadn't payed the consequences of his actions and that his life had been Jiang Cheng's to take. He wanted to do many things, but none of them would've gotten him the answer he wanted, so he took a deep breath. It startled Wei Wuxian. 

"If you don't want to leave this body, then I'll just have to see by myself how to make you get out."

His words seemed to have done something to Wei Wuxian, because his eyes widened with fear.
Then, he pleaded:

"No,"

and the prayer filled Jiang Cheng with a vicious satisfaction that grew when another no broke the silence.

He had never heard Wei Wuxian beg. Not when the Wens had ordered his mother to cut Wei Wuxian's hand off; it had ben Jiang Cheng who'd gotten to his knees for him and who'd implored with his forehead pressed to the floor.
Not when Wen Ruohan had kept them prisoners and had thrown them into the Chamber of Secrets to die.
Not ever, and Jiang Cheng made sure to look Wei Wuxian straight in the eyes when he said:

"Legilimens."

He could feel every barrier Wei Wuxian was trying to erect crumble under his will. Thousand of blurry memories swirled around him, moving in unison with the denial Wei Wuxian was repeating like a mantra in his head.
Jiang Cheng didn't know where to search, but he'd had years of experience - he went through the thoughts until he found the most guarded one.
The one that made Wei Wuxian scream NO the loudest. 

It was not the solution to how to take Wei Wuxian's soul away and Jiang Cheng's anger gave way to clouded confusion. 

He had to blink twice when he saw himself and Wei Wuxian, both battered and not older than sixteen, climb up a path in the woods. He forced himself to pry his eyes off of his own arm, slung around Wei Wuxian's shoulders in search of support, and he looked around.

He knew that place.

It was Baoshan Sanren's mountain.

Before Jiang Cheng could make any sense of why Wei Wuxian hadn't wanted him to see this particular memory, the surroundings around him melted, and, in a blink of an eye, Jiang Cheng was on the top of the mountain.

He saw his younger self, sound asleep on a battered piece of ground. These must be the moments before the restoration of my magical core, he thought, but why was he seeing the process? Hadn't Wei Wuxian told him that no one else could've come with him? Why had Wei Wuxian been there? 

When he closed the distance between him and his sixteen year old self, he heard some muffled voices coming from behind. He recognized one of them as Wei Wuxian's and he turned around. 

His lips parted. 

His brother was leaning over a scroll of parchment with somebody who was not Baoshan Sanren. 

It was Wen Qing. 

Jiang Cheng was so dumbfounded by the view that he didn't pay any mind to the fact that Wei Wuxian was fraternizing with the enemy. 

"Wei Wuxian," he could hear Wen Qing say and he took in the way her brows were furrowed and her expression unhappy. "Before we start, I have to tell you that I haven't been able to come up with a safe procedure," Jiang Cheng watched her lift her head and look at Wei Wuxian, whose eyes were running over the text. "The chance of success is... Fifty percent, at best."

Jiang Cheng's mind was blank. What were they talking about? Procedure? Success?

In the meantime, the younger Wei Wuxian gave Wen Qing one of his bright smiles and Jiang Cheng had to push away the feelings it awoke in him.

"Then it's fifty percent more than what it will be if we don't try."

What a reckless reply, Jiang Cheng couldn't help but think, because it was exactly something that Wei Wuxian would've said. 

"You could die," Wen Qing leveled Wei Wuxian with the stare both him and Jiang Cheng had gotten to taste too many times in their fourth and fifth year at Hogwarts. 

Die?

"Well, if I don't die for my little brother, then who am I gonna die for?" Wei Wuxian replied with carefreeness.

His words knocked the breath out of Jiang Cheng's lungs.

"Besides, I've already promised to protect him with my life. I'm the second half of the Twin Prides of Yunmeng, after all!" he pointed at himself and puffed his chest, and Jiang Cheng choked. 

What had Wei Wuxian done?

"If something goes wrong, I'll just come back as a ghost, like Myrtle!" Wei Wuxian laughed, then, and yelped when Wen Qing smacked him on the head. 

"Shut up and lie beside Jiang Wanyin," she ordered and Wei Wuxian complied. 

Jiang Cheng watched as Wei Wuxian lied down. He watched as the boy turned his head to look at his own younger self and gave his sleeping form a smile.

"See you in a couple of days, Jiang Cheng," he watched him say, then, before Wei Wuxian squeezed the younger Jiang Cheng's limp hand. 

"Ready?" Wen Qing crouched by their heads and glanced down. 

"I was born ready," Wei Wuxian replied with a mischievous expression, but Jiang Cheng was not fooled. He could see how deep were the roots of the anxiety that was nesting in Wei Wuxian's heart in that moment. 

His own heart was beating so fast that he had to sit down. 

What had Wei Wuxian done?

"Once I'm done with the transfer, I will knock some sense into that stupid, empty head of yours," Wen Qing said, annoyed, but Jiang Cheng picked up the tremble in her voice even if the only thing he could hear was the ringing in his ears.

Transfer? he thought and his heart threatened to break his ribs. 

"I'm not scared of you," Wei Wuxian chuckled, but the knuckles of the hand that was gripping Jiang Cheng's were white. "Once Jiang Cheng gets the magic back, he'll protect me," he smiled and glanced at Jiang Cheng's sleeping face once more. 

"Not if he'll get even an ounce of your idiocy along with your magical core!" Wen Qing growled, but there were tears in her eyes when she lifted her wand and when all went black. 

Then, before Jiang Cheng had the chance to breathe, everything turned into a blur.

He watched as Wei Wuxian woke up magic-less. 

He witnessed his capture and he stretched his hands when Wen Chao threw his brother into the Cave, but they passed through the memory without seizing Wei Wuxian before he fell. 

He had to cover his ears when the voices of the dead that pulled Wei Wuxian down made his blood freeze in his veins. 

Enough, Jiang Cheng thought and he squeezed his eyes shut when he saw all the times Wei Wuxian had joked that he hadn't needed his wand anymore. 

Enough, he shook his head when the notes of Chenqing overcame everything else. 

"ENOUGH!" he screamed when he heard himself plea Wei Wuxian to leave the Wens behind and to come to Yunmeng with him.

He jerked back with a violent shudder and fell, breaking one of the ornate vases Jin Zixuan had gifted for the Memorial Hall. His cheeks were wet and his breaths were harsh, and for a bit they were the only thing that resounded in the room. When the memories that were not Jiang Cheng's finally vanished from before his eyes, the only thing he could see was Wei Wuxian's new face, so much more scared than before.

"Jiang Cheng - " Wei Wuxian said with that broken voice that was not his and made an aborted move that got put down by Zidian. 

Jiang Cheng, on the other hand, didn't take his eyes off of him. Anything else than Wei Wuxian and the thudding noise of his own heart disappeared, but when the buzz in his ears became too loud, his heart went away as well.

He didn't know how much time he sat on the wooden floor, rewatching everything time after time and struggling to breathe.

What he'd seen could've not been true.

Wei Wuxian could've not given him his core, even if at some point it occurred to Jiang Cheng that the man was still there. Wei Wuxian hadn't escaped, yet he could've. Jiang Cheng was not delusional - he knew that Wei Wuxian was stronger than him.

It couldn't be.

It couldn't be.

It couldn't be.

He repeated those words again and again and again with growing desperation, but his head felt like it was going to explode no matter how much he shouted them in his mind;
and when everything he'd believed in started to fall apart right in front of him, Jiang Cheng wondered if he was falling apart too. 

"You're lying," he murmured, and his words were quiet at first. "YOU'RE LYING!" he shouted then, when the denial settled in, and lunged forwards. "My magic is not yours!" he grabbed Wei Wuxian by the laps of his torn robe and shook, his vision covered by crimson and his mind by the guttural terror of the possibility of having been so, so wrong. 

"Then kill me," Wei Wuxian replied and, just like that, Jiang Cheng stopped to move. 

"What?" he croaked, swallowing something salty that had gotten past his dry lips, and a bit of the red haziness went away. He blinked and looked at his brother's worn out features. 

"Cast an Avada Kedavra and see if I die," Wei Wuxian explained as if he was talking about checking what would happen if they were to add too many slugs to a potion. "Kill me, Jiang Cheng," he repeated. 

Jiang Cheng's eyes searched for that crinkle beside Wei Wuxian's lips that had been there every time his brother had been about to shout that he'd been joking, but it was nowhere to be found.

"Are you crazy?" Jiang Cheng asked, incredulous, but other words died on his tongue when he realized what he'd just said. 
He'd waited thirteen years to kill Wei Wuxian, who was now standing in front of him and letting Jiang Cheng murder him, and he didn't.
It was not Wei Wuxian who was crazy; it was Jiang Cheng, who could not tell his older brother from the Yiling Patriarch anymore. He put his head in his hands and a loud, humorless laugh bubbled in his chest, because Jiang Cheng had finally gone crazy and he'd been right and Nie Huaisang had lost, because Jiang Cheng had become crazy before Nie Mingjue - 

"I can't believe you're still placing bets with Nie-xiong," Wei Wuxian let out a dry chuckle and Jiang Cheng almost replied that Wei Ying could shut his trap, because he'd finally won against that sneaky bastard, but he caught himself just in time.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked when there was nothing else he could think of, accusatory and brash and hoping that the volume of his voice muted out the noises of his heart breaking all over again. He watched as the traces of mirth that had lit Wei Wuxian's eyes faded away, but he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry. 

"There was no need," Wei Wuxian answered after a bit, lowering his gaze, and his words revived the anger from the depths of what was left of Jiang Cheng's sanity.

The had been no need. Of course. Jiang Cheng hadn't needed to know. Jiang Cheng had never needed to know anything. He'd always been second, after all. To the teachers, to their friends. To his own father. 

"I was ready to die for you!" the words left his lips, broken, and he almost clasped his hand over his mouth, because that was not what he'd wanted to say.

"What?" Wei Wuxian widened his eyes. 

Fuck it, Jiang Cheng thought, then, and he let his shoulders down. Fuck it all, because there he was, standing in front of the fucking graves of his parents, chatting with Wei Wuxian like the goddamn failure he was.

"Did you think that the Wens have captured me after they'd burned Yunmeng down?" he asked, sarcastic and bitter. Careless. "They were closing up on us. They would've gotten us in a day or two." 

He fell silent, after that, and he exhaled slowly when no words seemed good enough. 

"That day you went somewhere for a bit, I let them take me," he said in the end. "So that you could get away."

Wei Wuxian got livid. 

"You - " he stuttered, tarnishing in Zidian's hold, and Jiang Cheng felt a strong pull at his ring finger. "Are you insane, Jiang Cheng?!" he shouted, his voice rasp from when Jiang Cheng had hauled him through his rooms, and Jiang Cheng almost laughed at the irony of the situation. "You were the future Head of the Jiang Family!".

At that, something in Jiang Cheng snapped.

"You," he inhaled through clenched jaws and he called Zidian back so that he could grab Wei Wuxian with his own hands, "have no fucking - " he pulled hard at the black robes and brought Wei Wuxian's face close to his own " - right to tell me what I was!". Then, before he could think better and before he could tame his pettiness, he roared: "You've left me, Wei Wuxian! What the fuck do you know?!" and he connected his fist with Wei Wuxian's cheek again. 

His brother didn't speak anymore, as if there was nothing he had to say to Jiang Cheng. He only fell to his knees, but Jiang Cheng went down with him - if he had to go through all this hell, then so would Wei Wuxian.
When he hit again, he couldn't help but wonder if hell was really all that different from his life. There'd been flames when everything he’d owned had burned to ashes and there were flames now, after all, in his stomach and in his mind, and they hadn't stopped to flicker even when everything inside him had burned down as well.

Jiang Cheng hit, because he'd been wrong and he didn't know what to do; because he was lost, but he had no one who could tell him how to say 'sorry'.

He hit, and he hit, and Wei Wuxian took every punch with those sad eyes that Jiang Cheng couldn't look into, because they'd been supposed to be red and blank and bad, just like the Dark Arts that Wei Wuxian had turned to when he'd had no other choice. 
At some point, his arms failed to lift up again, so he clenched his teeth and hit with his head instead. He felt a warm streak of something flow down his cheek, and it only made him butt his head on Wei Wuxian’s harder, because Jiang Cheng wanted Wei Wuxian to feel the despair he was feeling; because if Wei Wuxian couldn't feel it himself, then he would draw it out with fists.

Jiang Cheng knew that he was being ridiculous. He knew that his spitefulness was the reason why nobody liked him and nobody cared, yet he couldn't stop. After all, he had not always been angry, but he had always been brittle and bitter.

Merlin, I'm fighting like a muggle, he thought. Mother would've been so ashamed of me.

For the first time in his life, Jiang Cheng found that he didn't care. What good would it bring to care? She was dead anyways. She was dead and his father was dead and his sister was not waking up and Jiang Cheng was so, so tired

Something grazed the back of his head and the noise in his mind stopped.

“I know, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian whispered from somewhere very close, and Jiang Cheng remembered that his forehead was still on Wei Ying’s. “I’m sorry. I was supposed to help you. You should’ve never been so tired.”

The mist that veiled Jiang Cheng’s mind was there and then it wasn't. 

He was looking at a pair of grey, bloodshot eyes that were not red at all, and suddenly he was eleven again and he was crossing his fingers under the big Gryffindor table.
He was using both hands, because one didn’t seem enough and he couldn't risk it, not when Wei Ying had to be a Gryffindor too. He hoped that he was doing it right, but he still closed his eyes and prayed a little, just like he’d heard many adults do, because A-Li was by another table and she couldn’t tell him if he’d crossed them wrong. Then, the Sorting Hat shouted Godric’s name and Jiang Cheng was so happy that he didn’t manage to hide his smile in time, but it didn’t matter. Wei Ying never thought he was too weak anyways and Jiang Cheng would not be alone - 

Jiang Cheng was not alone. His unforgivable, unforgettable idiot of a big brother was there and he didn't have to be alone anymore.

He felt his head fall onto Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. The hand that had been cupping the back of his neck pressed his cheek into the dirty folds of his brother's robes and, just like that, Jiang Cheng crumbled.

His shoulders fell and his tears too, and he shuddered, because a sob finally tore through all the rage he’d piled up in his chest. 

He cried, for all those times he'd had to swallow his tears and act like the Head of the Family he had not been ready to become. 

For all those times he hadn't come back home because he hadn't wanted to sleep alone.

For his Mother, to whom he had never been enough.

For his Father, to whom he had never been Wei Wuxian. 

For his Sister, to whom he had been just right, and who had loved Wei Wuxian even when he'd put a death sentence on her. For A-Li, who wouldn't have hated Jiang Cheng for not being able to hate Wei Wuxian in the end. 

"It's okay, Jiang Cheng," Wei Wuxian whispered, but he was crying even louder than Jiang Cheng and what kind of a dumbass consolation was that, just like Wei Ying himself - it only made him press his forehead to the robes harder - 

He cried for his Brother, who had never left him alone. 

-

He didn't know how much time they stayed like this. His knees had long become numb and the sky over the Jiang Mansion was not black anymore, but Wei Wuxian's hand had remained unyielding, just like the shoulder Jiang Cheng had cried on. 
Yet, eventually, dawn came and there were no tears left to cry, and Jiang Cheng knew that things would not be fine just like that.

Wei Ying would've pretended along, had Jiang Cheng chosen to do so. How could he, though, when he'd spent so many years feeling wronged? He could not forget so easily. He was not good enough to do that. Not selfless enough. Not forgiving enough. He could not stitch the wounds that run deeper than his flesh in one night, and a part of him didn't want to. 
Wei Wuxian was back and he was there, but it didn't change the fact that he had lied to Jiang Cheng for years; it didn't change the fact that, even if his brother's last spell had bought his jiě and her husband some time, it had been Wei Wuxian who'd confined them to the four pitiful walls of St. Mungo's in the first place.

Jiang Cheng did what he was best at. 

"Go away," he said and he felt Wei Wuxian still under him. 

"Go away," he repeated, pushing himself up on those steady shoulders that had taken his despair. 

"Get out," he barked, finally meeting Wei Ying's eye; he must've vanished his bruises at some point, because his face was unblemished again and Jiang Cheng's heart was racing once more.

When his brother smiled, it was a little too sad and a little too strained.

When he smiled, Jiang Cheng didn't push the relief away when it came, because he wanted Wei Ying to go, but he didn't want him to be gone.

And Wei Wuxian understood. 

Just like he always had. 

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian went. Of course he did. It was not so difficult, in the end – not when Jiang Cheng had spoken like he hadn’t meant it, and not when Zidian had torn off those pieces of his soul that had been the ugliest.
His hands, forcefully pried off of the shoulders that Wei Wuxian would’ve wanted to keep by his chest for another thirteen years, lingered on Jiang Cheng’s purple robes, just above his Shidi’s knees. The fingers of his new, weak body were numb from keeping down all the shudders that had shaken Jiang Cheng’s back and his very own throat, but he let them hover over the soft fabric while he smiled and listened to another ‘get out,' just long enough to take away the filth of the dead tucked under the violet of the Yunmeng Jiang. Jiang Cheng must’ve gone to the Burial Mounds and brought it along, at some point; Wei Wuxian dispersed it and waited until Jiang Cheng’s eyes were not so haunted anymore.
He lifted himself only when he was sure that they weren’t, and he kept his heart far from his throat and his tears away from the corners of his eyes, because Jiang Cheng had told him to go away, but he hadn’t meant it. Wei Ying knew it.
His Shidi had remained the same, even when he’d become ruthless, just like Wei Wuxian had feared; vicious, just like he remembered Madame Yu being. Wei Ying, however, did not resent him for all the whips and all the hits – it’d taken him nothing to vanish the bruises on his face and to conceal the rips on his robe, with Lan Zhan’s magic, even if he would’ve rather kept them there forever, so that he could’ve never forgotten. That it was his fault that Jiang Cheng had lost himself along the way. That it had been his own greed to pull the worst out of his Shidi’s heart – his brother, who’d thrown himself into the enemy’s arms so that Wei Wuxian could’ve lived -

Wei Ying didn’t look back when he passed by Jiang Cheng, who was still kneeling on the floor of the Jiang Mansion. It was wooden, unlike the ones made of stone that were so often flaunted by the Wizarding families from England. It was warmer than the stone ones and less hard too, and Wei Ying didn’t look back, because he didn’t trust his arms not to hold onto Jiang Cheng and his tongue not to say something that might ruin the fragile bond born somewhere between the thunder and the things they’d shouted.

The way back was not long, because Wei Wuxian knew it by heart – back when Jiang Cheng’s chambers had still been some of the many Parlours, his Shidi and he, and sometimes even their sweet Shijie, had used to spy on the conversations of the adults and to run as quick as they could when Madame Yu’s voice had reverberated with anger through the open windows.
Wei Ying smiled at those memories and at the corridors filled with laughter, but he couldn’t bring himself to feel guilty about it – there was no one beside him in the Central Pavilion it hadn’t taken him long to reach, anyways. Besides, the audacious desire he’d kept hidden even from himself had not only become true – it had exceeded his every shameful expectation. He’d not only seen Jiang Cheng’s face – he’d held his Shidi in his arms and Jiang Cheng had allowed him, Wei Wuxian, the Yiling Patriarch, to take some of his hardships away.
Wei Wuxian had used to think that he’d known the flavor of happiness, hidden in the sweets that the aunties from Yumeng had always spared for him and in the pranks he’d so loved to pull. Now, however, he knew that he’d never really tasted it, if not in the soup his Shijie had cooked for him and for Jiang Cheng when something had not been okay – nothing could possibly taste better than the bitterness of Jiang Cheng’s get out, spoken exactly like the ones his little brother had reserved for Wei Ying each time he’d crawled into Jiang Cheng’s bed after his Shidi had explicitly told him not to do so.

When the view unfolded in front of him, Wei Wuxian stood by the edge of the Pavilion for a bit. The Pier was as beautiful as always, its lake peppered with specks of pink and white that looked like halos in the first rays of the sun. September had always been warm, in Yunmeng, but not as damp as the summer nights filled with fireflies and sweet scents of the pastries sold by the docks.
Soon, the lotus roots would be ready to be harvested.

Before he could stop himself, he thought of the time he’d used to consider Lotus Pier and the Jiang Mansion home.
What a foreign word has that one become, he mused, but the thought left his mind when he exhaled through his lips. He welcomed the smile that stretched his mouth, then, much smaller than the ones he usually brandished, but so, so much truer, because Wei Ying had worried about rain, but it had come and run down his and Jiang Cheng’s faces, passing through the fabric that covered his shoulder. He had worried about lightning, too, but then he’d watched it off to the light of the morning.
Wei Wuxian had worried about those and many other things, but there had been no need to worry, in the end.

Jiang Cheng was not ready to forgive and to welcome him back, but maybe, maybe he’d be, at some point, and it was more than Wei Wuxian could’ve ever asked for. It was more than enough.

He cast one last look at Lotus Pier before the sun became too bright to look at.
When he realized that the possibilities he had were as endless as the stretch of the water that surrounded the Jiang Mansion, his hand ventured to his chin in a subconscious gesture.

He could go anywhere. Do anything.

The thought made his smile widen. Its edges, however, were sharp.

There was a murderer summoning the Undead, and Wei Wuxian had never given up on a prey once he’d laid his eyes on it.

He untied the red ribbon that kept his hair in a ponytail and put it between his lips. He gathered all the locks, then, just as unruly as his own ones had been, and tied them up again. His efforts did not bring much change – there were still too many strands that feel over his eyes, but Wei Wuxian had never really been good at grooming.
I’ve been handsome enough without all the pampering, he thought and it made him snicker.
If Jiang Cheng had been there to hear it, he certainly would’ve punched him and told him not to be so vain.

He stepped forward and shifted the weight of Mo Xuanyu’s body to the toes, making the last plank of the Pavilion creak under his feet. Then, as the sun hit his face, he jumped.
Swirling in the fall, he grinned to himself at the amount of power he’d managed to snatch from Lan Zhan in such a brief spat of time. He vanished, just as his feet were about to ripple the surface of the water. 

 




He didn’t manage to apparate in the alley with the red telephone booth, but, to his defense, all the alleys in the corners of the city looked exactly the same. He found the right one almost right away, anyways. It was not difficult, since London was still pitch black, unlike Yunmeng. All it took him was an acceptably dry newspaper and a sandgrain of whatever was left of the magic he had - soon, his little papermen were sprinting on the sidewalks and disappearing around the corners, easily mistakable for mice, should’ve anyone seen them.
When one of them finally came back and stuck to his cheek, Wei Wuxian didn’t have to do much besides following the direction indicated by its little, scribbled arm. Rounding the third corner, he saw the booth and patted the paperman on its head, laughing briefly when the tiny thing wrapped its arms around his finger.

“I missed you too,” he said and laughed again when all the remaining minions gathered around his feet; his chuckles, however, turned into a yelp when they all started to pull at the hem of his robes, as if they too wanted to be scooped in his arms. “Hey, stop pulling!” he admonished them and grabbed a fistful of the fabric that fell around his thighs, yanking to pry it from their disobedient hands, but without any success. “Okay, okay, I promise I’ll call you sooner than in thirteen years, okay?” he tried to placate them, then, a strained laugh passing through his teeth. It seemed to work, because some of them stopped to tug in favor of tilting their heads... In what was a perfect replica of how Wei Ying had used to tilt his own each time Jiang Cheng had tried to trick him into eating his gài lán by saying it was not so bitter. “I said I promise!” he huffed when none of them backed off, but it was his fault, really, for having created them with his own image in his head, because he’d been oh so cunning. “I’ll let you run around Gusu. How about that?” he unsheathed his last weapon and grinned when it did the trick – in fact, as soon as the words left his mouth, all the papermen stepped back and formed a wonky row. Then, with a quick snap of Wei Wuxian’s fingers, they turned into dust.
Wei Ying truly couldn’t fanthom why they seemed to like Gusu and Cloud Recess so much… Maybe it was because that was where they’d been created, fruits of boredom and yet another attempt to break the rules of the Lan family.

“Don’t think I don’t know you’re there,” he mused, but his voice was light as he turned his head. He glanced at his shoulder just in time to see the paperman that had lead him into the alley swirl until it was turned with its thin side towards Wei Ying, probably hoping that it wouldn’t have been seen. Its efforts elicited a genuine laugh from Wei Wuxian. “So unruly!” he chuckled and the paperman seemed to preen at his reprimand. “So shameless too!” he exclaimed happily, but he tucked one finger under the collar of his robes. “Get it and don’t get seen.”
The little thing immediately plastered itself over his cheek; then, before Wei Ying could scold it for losing time with hugging him, it slipped under the fabric and disappeared from view.

-

As Wei Wuxian descended to the Atrium, he couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the fact that the auntie with the soft voice had refused to give him a badge with 

“Secret and Extremely Classified Stuff” 

printed on top, and even more so when she hadn’t settled for the acronym either. His discontent vanished as soon as she agreed to release one with 

“Priority Passer-by Protection,”

though.

-

The Atrium was slightly busier than how it’d been some hours ago, even if the time that had passed seemed to stretch like days inside Wei Wuxian’s mind. Just as he stepped into the imposing hall, a tiredly looking wizard cut in front of him, muttering under his breath while looking at a fancy pocket watch he was keeping way too close to his round face. Wei Ying managed to snatch a glance at the extravagant accessory, yet he barely got to see that it was already past 5 AM before he got swarmed by a small crowd of witches and wizards, all dressed in robes of the most various colors and all way too awake for such an early hour in the morning.

“Mister Mo!” they shouted, trying to get close to him, and someone even grabbed him by the forearm in an attempt to pull him through. Yet, before Wei Ying could register any of the faces that looked at him with preoccupation - an event so foreign that it left a tingling sensation on Wei Wuxian’s skin - the people fell quiet and parted, making way for none other than the most esteemed Zewu-Jun.

The First Jade of Lan looked as impeccable as always, every hair in place and not a single wrinkle on his blinding robe. As he walked towards Wei Ying, nothing but composed, he looked exactly like those models on every cover of Witch Weekly that the Gryffindor girls had fawned over by the Gryffindor table and under the classroom desks.
When he got close enough, though, Wei Ying saw that there were shadows under his eyes, and only a trace of that brilliant smile on his face. And once he’d stopped in front of Wei Ying and tilted his upper body forwards in greeting, Lan Xichen assessed him as if he’d been worried too.

“Mister Mo,” he spoke, and even his voice was pleasant to the ears. Then, before Wei Wuxian could return the greeting, he did something completely unexpected.

He bowed.

When all the witches and wizards gasped, Wei Ying was assaulted by a deep embarrassment.
To have the strongest wizard of their generation bow so low to him was completely unseemly! Even if he wasn’t Wei Wuxian in body anymore!

“Heh, Zewu-Jun - ” he panicked a little and lifted his arms to do something, like patting Lan Xichen on the shoulder, but then he thought that maybe touching Head Auror Zewu-Jun would’ve not exactly been a good idea - in fact, Lan Zhan had never liked it when Wei Ying had touched him without permission, and now that he thought of it, Lan Zhan wasn’t there -

“Mister Mo,” Lan Xichen repeated, still bent. “I apologize. It is deplorable that you have been exposed to danger after being put in the witness protection program. I hope that you can forgive my unacceptable negligence.”

Wei Wuxian hurried to reply, because he truly couldn’t handle all those apologies.

“Danger?” he laughed the word off, but it came out a bit too loudly and he tried not to grimace when it rebounded off the marble walls.
Fortunately enough, Lan Xichen straightened his back, albeit it was debatable whether he did so because of Wei Ying’s good intentions or because of the volume of Mo Xuanyu’s voice. Wei Ying, however, did not stop to dwell on that trivial problematic. Also, Zewu-Jun’s eyes seemed to linger on the badge pinned right over Wei Ying’s heart.
“Chief Jiang and me have only had a friendly conversation!” he continued, mostly unperturbed, because it was not very probable that Lan Xichen could’ve understood the joke, and he ignored the blatantly doubtful expression on every surrounding face at the combination of ‘Chief Jiang’ and ‘friendly’ in the same phrase. “See?” he opened his arms and smiled, because his wounds were all in a place that went deeper than flesh and Zewu-Jun would’ve had to strip him down to his marrows to see, “I’m totally fi - ”

His voice died in his throat, then, because everything went white and all the people stumbled backwards, as if pushed away by an invisible force.

Lan Zhan, Wei Ying sighed in his mind, squeezing his eyes shut to get rid of the spots that danced in front of his vision, couldn’t you tone down your appearance for the sake of these poor people’s eyes?

Once the specks vanished, it was not difficult to spot Hanguang-Jun. Not when he was standing the middle of the Atrium, his unblemished robes still hovering in the air from the impact of his arrival.

For a moment, long like the black, black hair that lingered in front of Lan Wangji’s face in thrall to the momentum, time seemed to still. Then, space stilled as well, and Lan Zhan’s eyes met Wei Ying’s.

There was a thunderstorm, in them, gold and not purple at all, so dark that it made Wei Wuxian’s chest tighten under the sheer pressure of that gaze, because Lan Wangji had looked this angry only when Wei Wuxian had killed half of the Wen family using nothing more than resentment and the Dark Arts.

For the briefest of moments, the edges of Wei Ying’s new life blurred with the edges of the old one, and Wei Wuxian thought that Lan Zhan was angry at him. That he knew. But then Lan Zhan’s eyes, unblinking and still fixed upon his own, seemed to focus, and some of that thunderstorm faded away, leaving behind only clouds that were as grey as the shadows Zewu-Jun’s and Lan Zhan’s eyes. It left behind confusion as well, because Wei Wuxian did not understand.

How could Lan Zhan look relieved and angry at the same time? How did one not exclude the other? Why?

Before he could make any sense of it, he saw Lan Xichen put a hand on Hanguang-Jun’s forearm with a quiet “Wangji.” His voice was soothing and calm, just like it had been during the Sunshot Campaign, when nobody had been able to tell the ally from the foe anymore, yet the air in the Atrium tensed, almost like a premonition of something dreadruf.
Then, Lan Wangji bowed and extracted his forearm from Lan Xichen’s hand.

When he turned his back on his brother and started to walk towards Wei Wuxian, it was not quite like the awe-inducing spectacle Zewu-Jun put on wherever he went without intending to, not with an appearance that sad. Still, there were gasps and sighs coming from all around, every pair of eyes undoubtedly hung on Lan Zhan tempestuous grace, a sight so rare that it was almost unique.
Wei Ying, however, couldn’t help but think that it didn’t matter that Hanguang-Jun was a beauty who appeared once in a blue moon. Not when his expression made him look as though he was mourning.

When Lan Zhan stopped in front of Mo Xuanyu’s body, Wei Wuxian rolled his shoulders back and tilted his chin up, preparing for something he didn’t quite know.

“Where is Jiang Wanyin,” Hanguang-Jun spoke for the very first time when the silence around them became unbearable, and Wei Wuxian finally understood.

How could the righteous Lan Zhan not be angry when a witness had been taken away right in front of him? By Sandu Shengshou, of all people, of a temperament so bad that even thirteen years ago it’d had the enemies quivering at the sound of the Purple Lighting?

“His whereabouts are… unknown,” Lan Xichen replied from behind Lan Wangji’s back, but Lan Zhan didn’t turn around, only looked ahead.

Wei Ying, on the other hand, held his gaze for one, two, and then he let his eyes close. An exhale left his lungs, bringing his shoulders back down, slowly, for as long as it caressed his lips. Only then did he open his eyes again.

Jiang Cheng was a strong wizard, but Hanguang-Jun was stronger, and the Lan morality was inflexible to the point of being blind.
He could not let Lan Zhan go after his little brother. He would not allow him to take Jiang Cheng to Azkaban.

“I don’t know,” he replied, meeting Lan Zhan like an equal, even if he wasn’t able to look Hanguang-Jun in the face without lifting his head anymore.

He didn’t miss the tension in the muscles of Lan Wangji’s jaw, born from the blatant lie, but, after all, he’d been the cause of it too many times not to notice.

In fact, when Lan Zhan spoke again, the words left his mouth strained.

“You do not have to defend a kidnapper.”

Wei Wuxian felt irritation prickle at the back of his neck, and it was numbing enough that he didn’t realize that the air around them had become thick with Lan Zhan’s magic.

“I’ve already told you that I don’t know where he is, Hanguang-Jun,” he bit back, falling into the old pattern of fighting with Lan Zhan with a frightening ease, because Lan Zhan had sounded just like he’d had when he’d tried to dissuade Wei Ying from the path of the Dark Arts, as if he’d known better. As if he could’ve saved Wei Wuxian. As if presumption hadn’t been forbidden in Cloud Recess.

The knuckles of Lan Zhan’s hand, the one that was gripping the wand low by his side, went white. The pressure around them made the hair on Wei Ying’s arms stand up, but Wei Wuxian had never been intimidated by Lan Zhan’s power.
He took a step forward, closing the distance between the two of them, and held his ground.

His eyes widened against his will when the tension in the air disappeared as if it had never been there, and when the hard lines on Lan Zhan’s face became more shallow instead of deepening.
His surprise grew even bigger when all that left Lan Wangji’s mouth was not a lecture about what was right, but a small “come with me,” spoken too quietly for any other person to hear.

Wei Wuxian pushed the irritation that had led to too many mistakes in the past away, finding that the action did not hurt his pride like it had used to.

Lan Zhan, he thought, looking at that expression he had never been able to read, because it was not angry anymore, you have truly grown up, haven’t you? Leaving me behind like this, he shook his head, only a little, you make me look like a petulant teenager!

Then, he finally realized how quiet the Atrium had fallen.

He slowly turned his head.

There were at least twenty pairs of eyes, much wider than how Wei Ying’s own had been just a moment ago, all looking at Hanguang-Jun and at Wei Wuxian as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

Wei Ying sighed.
Then, he put his hands on his hips and leveled them down with a stare.

“Esteemed witches and wizards, don’t you have anything better to do than watch a lunatic run his mouth?”

His question made all of them snap back from the awe, and some of them even had the decency to look embarrassed. And when they all realized that Head Auror Zewu-Jun was still there, they dispersed quicker than how they’d appeared.

Wei Ying, for his part, almost didn’t turn around again, because he did not want to fight with Lan Zhan anymore. However, he knew that if he didn’t follow him, Lan Wangji would probably go after Jiang Cheng on his own. In fact, it was a blessing that he hadn’t gone yet, because Wei Wuxian would’ve had to chase him using the corpses.

It was incredible, really, that the path of someone like Wei Ying had to always crash with the path of the justest wizard of the Wizardkind, but he guessed that it had to be the punishment for having tormented Lan Zhan to no end when they’d been young.

With little left to do, he faced Lan Zhan again and, taking a random route, he said,Where to?”

He had to turn around as soon as Lan Zhan went in the opposite direction, because, of course, there was nothing beside the Atrium on the eighth floor.

For the first time ever, Wei Ying restrained himself from talking for the whole duration of the walk.

-

Lan Zhan lead them to an office in a corridor on the second floor Wei Wuxian had never been to. It was nothing like the cubicles full of posters, confiscated magical artifacts and piles of documents nobody ever filled in (not that Wei Wuxian really blamed them) - with meticulously carved screens, light blue fabrics painted with clouds that hung from the ceiling and big, big windows that seemed to open onto the brightening sky even if the Ministry was buried underground, it looked like it was taken straight out of Cloud Recess.

Wei Wuxian couldn’t stop himself from commenting on it, yet Lan Zhan beat him to the draw.

“Has Jiang Wanyin hurt you?” he asked and, for a second, the only noise that filled the room was the lazy crackling of the logs in the fireplace next to which Lan Zhan was standing.

Wei Ying looked up at him, because that was not the question he was expecting, but Lan Zhan’s profile was stone cold, as always, even if it was bathed in the light of the flames.

“No,” he replied, because what Jiang Cheng had done to him wasn’t even close to what Wei Ying had done to his Shidi.

“Are you hurt?” Lan Zhan asked, then, taking his eyes off of the embers and turning them to Wei Wuxian.

Wei Ying’s lips parted in confusion.

How was this question different from the last one?

“I’m fine,” he said, trying to understand what this was all about.

While Lan Zhan had remained impassive at his first reply, the second one must’ve struck something within him, because he turned his face away from Wei Ying; Wei Wuxian saw how his hand, half-hidden by the fabric of his white robes, clenched into a fist.

For a while, no one spoke. Then, Lan Zhan’s hand unclosed and he faced Wei Ying fully.

“Why?” he asked, and his voice was somehow strange, but Wei Wuxian was too busy being left open-mouthed to notice the change, because Lan Zhan had never needed to ask “why”. He’d always known more than anyone else, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but ask “why what?” in turn as he searched for some kind of clue on Lan Zhan’s face.

When Lan Wangji regarded him back, the air in the room tensed again, just like it'd had when he had marched towards Wei Ying in the Atrium.

Something flickered in Lan Zhan’s eyes, then, different than anger and annoyance and impossible for Wei Ying to understand, for it was gone too soon.

Lost to the words that chilled Wei Wuxian to the very core.

“Why must it be fine like this, Wei Ying?”

Lan Zhan knew.

“You - ” Wei Ying stuttered, backing off as quickly as his aching body could, and put his hand on the most ancient thing he could grasp, “ - you knew?” he asked, even if he’d already had the answer, and Merlin damn it, there was not enough magic in there to make him breach through the defences of the Ministry –

“Mn,” Lan Zhan replied, unmoving like those jade statues Wei Wuxian had once seen in the muggle part of the world, and it took Wei Ying’s hazy mind far too long to gather that Lan Zhan was not doing anything to catch him, and why wasn’t he, Lan Zhan knew that he was Wei Wuxian, he had tried to capture Wei Ying for years and this – 

–  this, along with the fact that Wei Wuxian had been called back from the dead and had held Jiang Cheng close to his chest after all this time –

– was too much.

Wei Ying was too tired for this.

His shoulders slumped down and he let go of what turned out to be an old incense burner. 

Then, he plopped to the ground.

He thought he saw a movement on Lan Zhan’s part, but he crossed his legs instead of getting up and put a hand to his temple, feeling a headache building there. It subsided a little when his thoughts returned more or less to their places. Once he came back to his senses, he almost shook his head at himself. He didn’t know what he’d been so afraid of. If Lan Zhan wanted to arrest him, then so be it. It wasn’t like he couldn’t escape from Azkaban, after all.

Lan Zhan, however, hadn’t moved at all, and when Wei Ying lifted his head only to see that Hanguang-Jun wasn't even pointing his want at him, he decided that this whole situation was too much for his barely resuscitated brain to handle.

“How long?” he asked, because at this point he could as well give in to his curiosity.

“Since Sizhui made the call,” Lan Zhan replied in his usual monotone and Wei Ying’s jaw dropped.

Lan Zhan has known since the very beginning?!

“Why?” the question left his mouth before he could stop it, and it was senseless, because even Wei Ying didn’t know what he was about to ask -
‘Why did you know?’
‘Why did you bring me to the Ministry only to have me reevaluated?’
‘Why haven’t you bound me on the spot?’ -
yet Lan Zhan seemed to understand nonetheless, maybe because he had never been a man of many words.

When he looked down at Wei Ying, it was overwhelming, almost like his gaze in the red booth elevator had been.

“Wei Ying,” he said, and he had never spoken Wei Wuxian’s name like that, “Because you never intended for that all to happen.”

As Lan Zhan’s reply faded into the burning noise of the fireplace, Wei Wuxian, for the first time in one death and two lives, was lost for words.

Nobody had ever told him that.

“Lan Zhan,” he whispered, because Hanguang-Jun’s name seemed to be the only thing he knew. Yet, before he could utter anything else, he heard a rustle right by his ear.

Dazed, he watched as the paperman he’d hidden behind his collar sprawled itself right across Lan Zhan’s cheek.

For a moment, everything stilled.

Then, Lan Zhan blinked, slowly, and his fingers brushed over the intruder on his face. His hand got wrapped up in two paper arms, and when he brought it before his eyes, the little paperman plastered itself on his palm, faceless-face first, as if refusing to be pried-off.

The scene made Wei Wuxian snap out of all those sensations he hadn’t felt since -
- his Shijie was gone -
and he would’ve blushed at his own reaction, if only he’d been a little less shameless.

He wasn’t, though, and his eyes might’ve gleamed red as he rose to his feet and extended his arm, demanding:

“Come back here.”

The little thing only lifted its head, but it did not make any move to get off of Lan Zhan.

Wei Wuxian exhaled through his nose.

“To harass me is one thing,” he said, pointing at himself, “but you can’t harass Hanguang-Jun like that!” he chastised his own creation, indicating Lan Zhan then, who was still keeping his hand perfectly immobile. The paperman, however, completely disregarded his reprimand.

At that, Wei Wuxian’s patience expired.

“Well, you’re not leaving me any choice,” he deliberated, pressing his thumb to his ring finger. Then, he started to count to three in his head – one, two, thr- – and the revived piece of newspaper jumped right into his face, poking him in the eye in the process.

Wei Ying quickly pinched it between his fingers and let it dangle in front of his hurting eyeball.

“Next time you disobey me, I’ll pair you up with paperman number 42,” he said, and the wayward minion rustled.
“Now,” he dropped his voice, “find Mo Xuanyu’s file and copy it all, and do not get caught. I’ll come and get you tomo - ” he stopped on his tracks, then, because his eyes caught something golden behind the paperman in his grasp.

Heh. Lan Zhan was still there. Wei Wuxian had forgotten.

He smiled as wide as he could and he stuffed his subordinate inside the first pocket he put his hand into. “Lan Zhan,” he let out a sheepish laugh, clasping his emptied hands behind his back. “I was just kidding, I must’ve been raving from all the tiredness!”

Lan Zhan looked at him like someone who had put up with Wei Ying for too long, but then he said “Auror’s Closed Cases,” and turned towards the fireplace, laying hold on a grey pouch that was filled with a fine powder that looked like ashes. 

Wei Wuxian gaped at him. 

Was Lan Zhan helping him break the law? 

Impossible. The Closed Cases were probably open to the public eye. 

“Lan Zhan,” he hurried to follow as soon as the paperman, a little wrinkled but overall intact, sprang out of his pocket and vanished in the gap under the door.

Lan Zhan acknowledged him with a brief “mn" and dipped his hand inside the pouch, taking a fistful of Floo powder .

“How did you know it was me?” Wei Ying asked, stopping by Lan Zhan’s side.

“Wei Ying must remember by himself,” Lan Wangji replied, making Wei Ying’s lips part in a silent what!

“But Lan Zhan, you know my memory has always been bad!” he protested, but Lan Zhan had already turned a deaf ear to his pleads in favor of lowering his head and stepping into the fireplace.
“Was it the Inferi?” Wei Ying supplied, because he had never been one to give up easily. “Or was it my undying charm?” he asked, putting his face closer to Lan Zhan and smiling playfully, but he was met by the coldest of walls. “Where are we going, by the way?” he inquired, then, because his immunity towards Lan Zhan’s indifference was infinite.

“Hogwarts,” Lan Zhan finally indulged him and Wei Wuxian started to smile -

Wait.

“What?”

Weren’t they going to Gusu?

“I must hold a lesson this morning,” Lan Zhan said, throwing Floo powder into the heart and somehow not letting even a speck of it fall on his robes.

“What?” Wei Ying repeated, looking at Lan Wangji with big eyes while the flames turned a vibrant shade of green. “Are you a Professor?”

Lan Zhan just looked at him, as impassive as always, only more green.

“Are you not an Auror?” Wei Ying pressed, grabbing some of the powder for himself, but Lan Zhan only looked forward and, very clearly, said Hogwarts, Eastern Wing.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian called him out, but the man was already vanishing. “Oi, Lan Zhan, stop ignoring me!” he huffed and took Lan Zhan’s place in the heart as soon as it became orange again.

When he repeated Lan Zhan's directions, he could only marvel at the fact that the respected Hanguang-Jun hadn’t even waited for him.

Then, he followed him in a blur of grey and green.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian had forgotten that there’d been a good reason why he hadn’t used the Floo Network since the memorable Ravenclaw Incident. There was ash in his eyes, ash in his mouth and ash on Lan Zhan’s robes, because Wei Ying was so busy making sure that his new sight hadn’t been permanently damaged during the journey that he tripped over the curb of whatever fireplace they’d Flooed to, landing on Lan Zhan’s hard pectoral, cheek first.

There seemed to be a slightly murderous aura in the air when Lan Zhan’s steady hands pried him off of his chest - Wei Ying could sense it, for he was good at it - but the reason behind it escaped him until he saw a black print of his own, flattened profile right under the clouds that fell from Lan Zhan’s shoulders. 

He managed not to laugh only because Lan Zhan did not like dirt almost as much as he did not like Wei Wuxian, and also a little bit because not much time had passed since the paperman’s escapade. Truthfully, Lan Zhan hadn’t commented on it in any way, for there had to be a rule about cherishing all the creatures, somewhere among the other 3000 Wei Wuxian had never bothered to learn, but he was also the man who had defenestrated Wei Ying. Twice. 

I should redeem myself before Lan Zhan Petrifies me, Wei Wuxian thought. Without losing any more time, he lifted his hands and patted Lan Zhan’s robe right where his own impression was to get the dust out of the fabric... 

But he only left three even darker handprints behind.

"..."

Quick, for maybe Lan Wangji hadn’t seen yet, he covered his dirty hand with the sleeve of his robe and stroked. 
To his growing chagrin, the marks turned into a huge, shapeless stain.

...

“Heh,” he laughed briefly and snatched some magic from Lan Zhan, because it wasn’t stealing if he was going to use it on Hanguang-Jun anyways. Then, before Lan Wangji could throw him out of whatever tower they were in, with all the skill of somebody who’d managed to unstain his socks (once), he pointed at Lan Zhan’s chest and said:

“Tergeo,”

and when the result turned out exactly as he’d expected, he could do nothing beside hoping that Lan Zhan would never look down at his chest again.

“Here, almost as good as new!” he exclaimed cheerfully, wiping his hands on the part of his robe that seemed the cleanest. 

Lan Zhan, on the other hand, looked down at his chest. 

Lan Zhan, not even giving me the benefit of the doubt! Wei Wuxian lamented on the inside and, when the man aimed his wand at him, he had to gingerly (and outwardly) remind Lan Zhan that hexing others was forbidden at Hogwarts.

Hanguang-Jun just looked at him strangely for a while.
Then, catching Wei Ying off-guard, he said “Scourgify,” and the spell was even better than the Tergeo Lan Sizhui had cast at the Mo Mansion; once Lan Zhan was done, there was not even a speck of dirt left on Wei Ying’s robes, both old and new grime completely gone.

“Wow, Lan Zhan, there’s really nothing you can’t not do!” Wei Ying’s marveled, swirling to peak at his fresh clothes.
His response, however, was not a good one; Wei Wuxian didn’t know why, but it called some of those shadows from the Atrium back onto Lan Zhan’s face, making the man turn away from Wei Ying before he could understand what had happened. 

Maybe I’ve spoken too loudly, Wei Wuxian thought to himself as he fell into step with Hanguang-Jun. He briefly pondered over reminding Lan Zhan that his chest was still half grey, but, after having seen Lan Wangji’s expression and having apparently developed some common sense when he’d been dead, he kept silent…

… for about 1.4 seconds, or as long as it took him to look at his surroundings.

“We’re at Hogwarts, Lan Zhan,” he couldn’t help but wonder with stars in his eyes, because it felt like the first time all over again.

It felt like home.

Hogwarts hadn’t changed much, even if there’d been a time Wen Ruohan had turned it into the Wen’s most impenetrable fortress. It felt old and new, in Wei Ying’s memories, as if the time behind the Veil could’ve been both a second and a century. There was a thrill, in the aching muscles of his his legs and arms, that made Wei Wuxian’s palms itch to call and his brain itch to fight, but it went away when he didn’t see the Qishan Wen’s Red Suns on every wall.
As it had always had, the Castle was lit up by torches, flames dim at this hour of the day as to not disturb the last moments of the slumber of the portraits, which seemed to have grown in number. 
Wei Wuxian brought his face closer to them, but, to his surprise, he couldn’t recognize any of the depicted personas... Which was strange, because Wei Wuxian had befriended and/or offended every single painting at Hogwarts during the six years he’d spent here.

“Where are we?” he asked, but it was a question mostly directed at himself; that Lan Wangji had already humored him so much was something Wei Wuxian didn’t have any logical explanation to.
Maybe Hanguang-Jun has ascended into godhood for having led such a sinless life, he mused. But if Lan Zhan was a god, then what did that make him? Maybe a vengeful spirit, brought back to test Hanguang-Jun’s virtue? The thought made him snicker. Yet, before he could ask Lan Wangji if he’d transcended mortality, his eyes caught a sight of something black and loop-shaped.

“Hahaha, it’s one of my mustaches!” he laughed, stopping by the painting of a particularly haughty witch who frowned in her sleep, making the mustache flutter up and down. “But it’s drawn so badly... Must’ve been one of my firsts,” he complained, assessing the unfinished loop on the left. “Lan Zhan,” he threw over his shoulder, wondering whether to poke the portrait or not, “where are the others?”

“It is the only one,” Lan Zhan replied from behind him. He too was looking at the painting, but he did not seem upset with Wei Ying for having “vandalized the school’s property,” as his Uncle had always liked to put it just before giving Wei Wuxian yet another detention that, more often than not, had been supervised by none other than Hanguang-Jun. Lan Zhan had probably already punished him for that one. 

Wei Wuxian cast one last glance at the painting.
It was a pity that his other masterpieces had been removed, but if he found this portrait again, then perhaps he could finish his job. The prospective made him feel fond, but the reason for the feeling was something so minor that he didn’t quite know what to do with it, so he just took his eyes off of the wall.
Then, just as he was about to turn around and follow Lan Zhan, something cold caressed his neck, making the hair on his nape stand up. 

He turned so quickly that his new body’s neck cracked, not fit enough to follow Wei Wuxian’s instinct. Still, he paid it no mind, because was almost sure that he saw something green. When he blinked, though, there was only stone and frames in front of his eyes.

Wei Wuxian’s instinct, however, was rarely wrong.

“Lan Zhan,” he spoke, his voice wary, and it took less than a heartbeat for Lan Wangji to face him, his wand already out of his sleeve and his focus on nothing but Wei Ying.

“There’s something in here,” Wei Wuxian lowered his voice, but he was not worried. Hogwarts was perhaps the biggest reservoir of raw magic that had never stopped to accumulate in its walls and its wards, and Wei Wuxian could take as much as he wanted.
“Non-material, causing cold sensation upon contact with human skin, quick to vanish,” he shared what he knew. Then, some smugness settled around his lips.
“Most likely a spectre.”

He saw Lan Wangji move his eyes to the corridor.
For a moment, Lan Zhan’s face remained solemn and his wand ready.
Then, he lowered his arm and the most minute crease appeared between his brows. His golden eyes, almost as dark as his brother’s in the dim light, lingered on the space that stretched behind Wei Wuxian’s back for a little more, but soon they refocused on Wei Ying again.

“It is nothing harmful,” he said, tucking his wand back into his sleeve with incomparable poise. “These quarters are warded against the uninvited. Wei Ying does not have to worry.” 

“Hey, I’m not worried!” Wei Ying refuted, but Lan Zhan was already walking away, so Wei Wuxian reached him as quickly as Mo Xuanyu’s legs allowed him. “Lan Zhan, I could take on one hundred spectres and still have an upper hand!” he insisted, because that was the truth. “No, what am I saying,” he corrected himself, and his ponytail swayed as he shook his head. “One thousand!”

Lan Zhan stayed silent, as always. Then, just as Wei Wuxian opened his mouth again, he said:

“I know,”

and effectively shut Wei Ying up.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying gasped, but the corners of his mouth were already curling up. “Are you…” he smiled, delighted, “... teasing me?”

In the face of his amusement, Lan Zhan’s features remained mild. It was a familiar view, even if a little different than what Wei Ying remembered, a little less hard; and although there was no playfulness on Lan Zhan’s face, it had Wei Wuxian laughing by the end of the next breath. When the laughter tickled his lips and echoed around them, Wei Ying almost stopped, because it sounded like it hadn’t had for a long time.
It sounded real, and like all those things Wei Wuxian didn’t deserve. He almost stopped, but then he didn’t, because he had always wanted.

To be happy.

So he laughed, because he might not have been arrogant anymore, but he still craved what he couldn’t have the most. For as long as it took his laugh to rebound on the walls and reach his ears, he thought that, deep down, it might not even have been so wrong - if it would’ve been, then Lan Zhan would’ve told him, for sure.

Eventually though, the sound became oppressive all the same.
When it happened, Wei Wuxian chuckled one last time.

“Nobody’s going to believe me that Hanguang-Jun walks around teasing people,” he said while the last trace of mirth left an upward quirk to his lips. “Lan Zhan, when have you become so shameless?”

“Not shameless,” Lan Zhan replied tepidly after a beat of silence, placing his graceful hand at the center of the lone door at the end of the corridor. “Saying the truth.”

“Always honest, Hanguang-Jun,” Wei Wuxian commented, allowing himself one last, brief chuckle, but there was no bite to his words - Lan Zhan was the most honest of all people, after all, muggleborn and magical alike.

When the silence settled down again, his eyes fell on the crease that had appeared under Lan Wangji’s touch and that had split the door in the middle.
With just a light shove, the doors opened and Wei Wuxian got to his toes to steal a glance at whatever was hidden behind them.

If the office in the Ministry had looked like it had been taken out of Cloud Recess, then the room Lan Zhan had just opened was Cloud Recess.

“Lan Zhan, this is Gusu,” he said, because, unless someone had invented the perfect version of the Gemino Curse while he’d been, well, dead, it was impossible to duplicate something so meticulously.

And the room was the exact copy of Lan Zhan’s Jingshi.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan replied, as if it could’ve been of any explanation to Wei Ying.

“Hm,” Wei Ying hummed to himself while he walked past Lan Wangji and unceremoniously entered the room.

He took a look at the walls, at the floor, at the lone, big bed by the window that was nothing like the pointy windows of Hogwarts. There were three other doors, on the opposite wall, one slightly opened and revealing a white, porcelain edge of a bathtub, and the other two closed.

“You’ve swapped it,” he concluded, for it was the most plausible explanation.

“En,” Lan Zhan entered the room and closed the door behind them.

Just then, the break of dawn came and, for a moment, Lan Zhan’s skin shone like the petals back at Lotus Pier.
Wei Wuxian remembered that the Second Jade had used to be ranked second in the list of best-looking young men in the Wizarding world.
He had to admit that Lan Zhan could’ve rivaled him in beauty when they’d been young.

“But how did the Castle allow it?” he pondered, sneaking a glance inside each one of the vases placed by a low, carved table.

No alcohol, of course. He stifled a sigh.

His disappointment, however, disappeared when his eyes rested on a box displayed on the central shelf of a beautiful, big library.
Lan Zhan had had a box like this, back when they'd been little; Wei Wuxian had used to be so curious about what he’d keep in it that he’d staged a whole infiltration inside the Ravenclaw’s common room.

“The rooms have been exchanged on the Principle of the Equal Value,” Lan Zhan replied, making Wei Wuxian take his face away from things that weren’t his.

He wondered if he’d ever get used to the way Lan Zhan, the person who’d hated him the most back then, treated him with nothing but indifferent politeness now.

“How much of Cloud Recess is here, then?” he asked, looking at the man, and ignored how his hands tickled with the desire to pry the lid of the box open.

“This room, a part of the Library Pavilion, a part of the grounds,” Lan Wangji said and lit the candles by the side of the bed with a small quiver of his fingers.

“Do we exist contemporarily in Gusu and at Hogwarts?” Wei Ying wondered, crossing the room and knocking on a random wall to see if it was truly, physically there, because this was the most advanced of the magical arts.

“It depends on the choice,” Lan Zhan replied. Wei Wuxian saw him summon the whitest set of robes he’d ever seen and place it on the edge of the bed.

“It depends on how you open the door,” he elaborated and smiled when Lan Zhan conceded him a brief, affirmative blink, or so Wei Ying thought.
“Lan Zhan, tell me,” he changed the argument, because his curiosity on that matter had been quenched. “What is witness protection?” he asked.
In the meantime, he shrugged Mo Xuanyu’s outer robe off of his shoulders and waved his hand, muttering something indiscernible under his breath. His garment flew towards the bed and started to fold itself, but the spell must’ve not been the correct one, because its sleeves got tangled in each other and what ultimately dropped to the floor was a big, twisted ball.

“Plicas,” Lan Zhan corrected his mistake.

“Thanks,” Wei Ying smiled at him when his robe folded with utmost precision, but Lan Zhan himself made no sign of undressing or getting ready to sleep.

“Witness protection implies a new identity and a new background in the place designed for protection,” he just replied to his earlier question and Wei Wuxian grinned, because that was everything he could’ve asked for.

“Lan Zhan, I could be anybody!” he exclaimed. “An exchange student, you know, since this body is younger, or a terrifying castlekeeper! Or maybe a specialist sent to eliminate some ancient beast from the pits of Hogwarts,” he listed and his smile grew wider with all the tempting perspectives.

Lan Wangji, however, dismissed his proposals with a curt, “Implausible.”

“Implausible?” Wei Wuxian repeated and a not good, possibly very bad idea of showing Lan Zhan the implausible occurred to him.

He strode to the bed and grabbed the white robe that Lan Zhan had placed there.
He put it on, then, and closed the distance between him and the other man, stopping when they were a chi apart.

“Since I’m going to sleep in your rooms, then why don’t we tell everybody that I’m your husband?” he asked and didn’t miss the moment Lan Zhan’s pale, pale eyes widened.

“Don’t I look good in your Lan white?” he questioned, smiling slowly, and lifted his arm to tug at the ribbon that kept his hair in place. One pull, and the strands fell on his shoulders and on his back. “You even only have one bed, La - ”

He didn’t get to finish. A Petrificus Totalus made his whole body go still, trapping the unsaid obscenity in his throat while his lips remained parted.
Then, he fell forwards and braced himself for the impact.

He had not expected Hanguang-Jun to catch him mid-fall. He had not expected to be lifted from the ground and pressed against the stain he’d left of Lan Zhan’s chest either.

In that moment, Wei Wuxian thought that, Petrified or not, he couldn’t have been able to move a muscle.
After everything Wei Ying had said, Hanguang-Jun was going to carry him to the bed.

As Lan Zhan started to walk, there was not even a trace of struggle on his elegant, unperturbed face, and not a grimace of strain as he lowered Wei Ying on the covers with much more delicacy that he could’ve ever possibly deserved.
And Wei Wuxian felt ashamed.
Even if he’d done nothing but tease and annoy Lan Zhan since they’d met again, Lan Wangji had never stopped to treat him with courtesy.

He wanted to apologize, but Hanguang-Jun did not lift the spell and Wei Ying did not blame him. His eyes were forced to look at the ceiling, but he felt it when Hanguang-Jun gently pulled the sheets from under him and he felt how they covered his body up to his chin. He thought he heard Lan Zhan whisper something, and, soon enough, the candles by the bed went out under his quiet command.

“Rest,” Lan Zhan said, a bit louder, and Wei Ying could do nothing but obey.

The spell came to its end only after Hanguang-Jun had left the Jingshi.







Wei Ying did not remember the moment he’d fallen asleep. He only knew that there had been an instant, or maybe a few, when he’d been a bit afraid to close his eyes; a bit afraid that he might not have been able to open them again. That he would have woken up in the space behind the Veil again. Yet rest had come easily, born from the strain of his new body and of his old mind, and, before he knew it, it was late in the morning and Lan Zhan was standing by the edge of the bed, holding a tray full of food in his hands.

Having lost at least fifteen solid minutes on an apology before he’d finally dozed off, Wei Ying threw the covers aside with a loud “Lan Zhan!”, but he almost fell off the bed when a deafening noise of shattering glass resounded from all around.
His Protego overlapped with the one Lan Zhan must’ve cast on him, but it managed to shield him from the shards of the broken glass just in time.

His shock didn’t last more than a second; once it was gone, Wei Wuxian jumped to what remained of the window by the bed and looked outside.

His eyes widened.

Every single window in the wing they were in had been smashed to bits!

“Lan Zhan,” he said, almost unconsciously, as the last remnants of sleep went away with the cool, morning air.
When he saw many young and stunned heads peeking out of the other holes in the walls, he turned around with a serious face, “Something’s broken almost half of the Hogwarts windows. I think we should investigate before it causes some real harm.”

Lan Zhan, however, didn’t seem to be listening.
With a dark, severe expression, he was looking at Wei Wuxian’s chest.

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying called him out, confused, but he too glanced down.

Ah, he realized. The concealment he’d cast on Mo Xuanyu’s torn clothes had worn off. There was a big, long rip right across his torso and probably other two or three on his back, but those were covered by the white robe he’d borrowed from Lan Zhan; and between the flaps of fabric, a red gash that still hadn’t healed stood out against Mo Xuanyu’s pale skin.

Wei Wuxian swiftly covered it with the laps of his new outer robe.

“Haha, it’s nothing, it’s nothing, I must’ve scratched myself in my sleep!” he laughed, but his explanation was cut off by the soft thud of the food tray landing on the little, carved table.

Lan Zhan looked frightful.

“Wei Ying,” he spoke, and something in the way he said it made Wei Ying still. “You have said that Jiang Wanyin has not hurt you.”

“Because it’s true,” Wei Wuxian replied, looking down and focusing his attention on tightening the robe around him.

“Zidian does not leave a mark unless the force behind the hit is considerable,” Lan Zhan retorted, cold.

“What do you want me to tell you, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying snapped, meeting Hanguang-Jun’s grave gaze again.

His question made Lan Zhan’s lips tighten.

At first, there was no answer. Then, the man’s eyes softened just like they’d had after their last argument, and what remained was that sad expression that, not for the first time, had Wei Ying wondering whether Lan Zhan was really mourning.

“Why must it be fine like this?” he spoke, the inquiry familiar and quiet.

“Because he’s my little brother,” Wei Ying replied. Because it’s my fault, he wanted to say, but it would’ve angered Lan Zhan even more - to Hanguang-Jun, the one in the wrong in the eyes of the law was Jiang Cheng.

“Your Shidi has wounded you,” Lan Wangji repeated, unbending, and Wei Wuxian wanted to tell him to stop being so sad only because, for once, Wei Ying would not let him do what was ‘right’.

“Wouldn’t you do the same if it was Lan Xichen?” he asked, but his words must’ve deeply offended the other man, for his expression turned grim.

“Brother would never - ”

“But if he did?” Wei Wuxian butted in and pinned Lan Zhan with his eyes, waiting for an answer.

For a while, Hanguang-Jun stood there, in the middle of the room, while his gaze turned more and more illegible.

Then, he reached for his wand and said “Fenestram Reparo,” and Wei Ying could hear how all the shards and all the broken pieces of glass became whole again. He cast a small “Accio” as well, to summon a vial made of earthenware. He placed it right beside the tray.

“For the wounds,” he said, straightening his back. 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying called after him, but the man was already turning away.

His eyes lied on the tray, but he could just make out the fiery red of the chili flakes in the congee Lan Wangji had brought him before he heard the door close.

 





Wei Wuxian was a man on a mission. With an apple in one hand, one in his pocket and no clue whatsoever about where or what did Lan Zhan teach the new, bright and promising hopes of the Wizardkind, he strolled out of the Jingshi, his black robe all set. Fortunately, luck was by his side - when he opened the door, he found himself in one of the corridors in the Eastern Wing of Hogwarts; knowing that Lan Zhan was a man of practicality, his class had to be somewhere near. 

Wei Ying threw the apple in the air and grasped it with ease when it fell down. Then, once he took a big, sweet bite that tasted just right after the delicious, spicy breakfast he’d stuffed into his mouth in record time, he rounded the nearest corner.

He managed to remain unobtrusive for about five meters, for there was no escaping the insatiable curiosity of the youth. As soon as he crossed a couple of niches in the walls, a chorus of low, excited murmurs arose behind his back. It was rare to have new people at Hogwarts once the year had started, after all. 

Wei Ying briefly entertained the thought of turning around and asking a student or two about Lan Zhan, but in the end he decided not to. Finding out like that wouldn’t have been even half as entertaining as doing it by himself!
With that thought in his mind, his feet took him to the moving stairwell. He hopped on the closest staircase just as it started to swirl in the air, taking another bite of his apple. He hopped off when the stairs stopped by the upper floor and, as soon as his body was on firm ground, he heard two, familiar voices.
The corners of his lips quirked upwards.

The Little Lans!

“... I tell you, you have to stop worrying, Sizhui! As if he could’ve not come when we called!” Lan Jingyi was murmuring not very placidly to a worried Lan Sizhui, who in turn was walking beside him with his head low.

“Who could’ve not come?” Wei Ying asked and grinned when they both lifted their heads and looked at him with wide eyes.

“Senior Mo!” they exclaimed, politely, and fast walked towards him. 

“Are you okay?” Lan Sizhui asked.

“We wanted to wait for you, but Zewu-Ju made us Floo back to the common room!” Lan Jingyi recounted with the slightest but respectful towards Lan Xichen amount of indignance.

Wei Ying blinked.
As he looked at their young, solemn faces, full of the same emotions that had taken him aback in the dark gardens of the Mo Mansion, something he couldn’t name settled in his throat.
He cleared his voice, but it didn’t go away.

“Hahaha,” he laughed nervously and ate some more apple, which seemed to help - when the sensation finally went away, he managed a quick, “No need to worry about me, Little ones!”

His laugh was honest when Lan Sizhui blushed, and even more so when Lan Jingyi started to look like he was trying very hard not to respond that they were not little. 

Before he ripped another generous bite of the fruit with his teeth, he asked again, “Who could’ve not come?”

Lan Jingyi sighed like he was bearing a heavy weight on his back and then looked Wei Ying in the face.

“Sizhui is still upset because he didn’t manage to summon a Patronus yesterday and he keeps worrying about what would’ve happened if his dad hadn’t show up,” he explained and, while Wei Ying’s brain was busy elaborating the statement, he looked aside at the other Little Lan.
“Hanguang-Jun would’ve never left us alone,” he assured Lan Sizhui.

Then, Wei Ying choked. 

Lan Zhan was Lan Sizhui‘s dad?!

“Senior Mo!” the boys grabbed him by the shoulders as soon as he started to cough, preoccupied, while Wei Wuxian hit himself on the chest, because the apple had gotten stuck somewhere in the middle. A hiss escaped his lips between one, loud cough and another - he’d struck himself right on the injured part! But it wasn’t the urgent matter, there! Lan Zhan had a child! A child who had been, by logic and a quick, mathematical calculation that Wei Ying had been forced to learn somewhere between the age of six and ten, conceived during the Sunshot Campaign!

“Jingyi, hold Senior Mo still,” Lan Sizhui said somewhere by his ear and Lan Jingyi stepped behind Wei Ying’s back. “I’m going to Accio the piece of apple.”

Wei Wuxian’s watery eyes shot open.

The objects summoned with Accio always took the shortest route to reach the summoner! Which was right through Wei Ying’s rib cage!
He shook his head vehemently and tried to explain it, but what came out of his mouth was another cough. Thanks Merlin, it still made Lan Sizhui’s wand stop mid-air.

Then, before he could come up with something else, Lan Jingyi wrapped his arms around his middle and clasped his hands right over Wei Ying’s stomach.

“Jingyi, what are you doing?” Lan Sizhui asked, but, although he was trying to maintain the calm, his voice was growing more and more distressed.

“It’s a move they’ve taught us at Muggle Studies,” Lan Jingyi replied from behind Wei Wuxian and bettered his grip. “It’s called the Heimlich maneuver and muggles use it to save each other. You just have apply pressure at the bottom of the diaphragm,” he explained and Lan Sizhui nodded jerkily while Wei Ying tried to gasp for breath, “like this!” he squeezed, hard, and the unchewed piece of food flew straight out of Wei Wuxian’s mouth.

And after having flown long a perfect, parabolic trajectory, it dropped right in front of the hem of a white robe.

Once Wei Ying regained his breath and wiped his eyes, the three of them looked up.

Lan Zhan was standing in the doorway of a class, perfectly put together and as distinguished as always, an involuntary witness of Wei Wuxian’s near-demise.

“Hanguang-Jun!” the Little Lans immediately bowed.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying rasped.
Unruffled by the accident, he reached inside his pocket and gripped the round object hidden within the folds of his robe. He had to apologize, after all!
“Here!” he extended the reddest, ripest apple he’d been able to call from the kitchens to Lan Zhan.

When Lan Wangji did not take the fruit out of his hands, Wei Ying brought it a little closer to the man and looked right into Lan Zhan’s eyes. “You haven’t eaten breakfast with me, Lan Zhan, so I thought that you might get hungry,” he offered. Then, he suddenly felt shy. His head and his arms started to drop, and an embarrassed laugh started to form in his lungs.

If he had been Hanguang-Jun, he wouldn’t have accepted too.

“Thank you.”

Wei Ying’s head snapped back up just in time to see Lan Zhan close his hand around the apple in Wei Ying’s palm and bring it to his chest.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes traced the red, shiny fruit, and then traveled to Lan Zhan’s jade face.

“You’re welcome, Lan Zhan!” he smiled, beaming and light.

Lan Zhan’s gaze fell to the food in his grasp.

“Class will start in ten minutes,” he said and, with that small statement, he went back inside.

Wei Wuxian, for his part, turned around and looked at the Little Lans. He noticed that their expressions were a bit too straight, but he let them be - it was understandable that they wanted to look their best in front of Hanguang-Jun!

On a whim, he ruffled their hair, lightly enough not to disrupt the placements of their forehead ribbons.

“Thanks for saving this old lunatic, boys,” he smiled at them and patted them one more time when they smiled back, Lan Sizhui small and warm, and Lan Jingyi wide, just like Wei Ying. Then, he watched them bow lightly to him and enter the class.
He followed them and, honestly, he should’ve known all along.

“Defense Against the Dark Arts?” he mused, just the slightest bit teasing, and found that Lan Zhan had been already looking at him.

“Only Defense,” Hanguang-Jun replied, taking a seat behind his desk. He was still holding the apple and Wei Wuxian wanted to ask him why he hadn’t put it down. He wanted to ask why Defense Against the Dark Arts was not called like that anymore; yet, he could hear voices coming from the corridor, so he settled for the most important thing before the lesson started.

Taking advantage of the fact that Lan Wangji was sitting, he leaned forward and whispered:

“You’ve raised Lan Sizhui well, Lan Zhan.”


-


At the beginning of the lecture, there was a brief moment of consternation - a young, Hufflepuff witch shyly raised her hand and asked who Wei Ying was, and Wei Ying almost looked at Lan Zhan in alarm under the scrutiny of more than thirty pairs of too perceptive eyes.

“I’m…” he started, clasping his hand on his nape and smiling - 

“Assistant Professor,” Lan Zhan finished and Wei Wuxian grinned, stealing a glance at him.

Seating behind the dark, wooden desk, with his regal face bathed in the rays of sun that spilled from the mosaic of glass that was the window on the wall, Lan Zhan looked like the finest art.

No wonder almost every witch in the room and a couple of wizards, too, hadn’t taken their eyes off of their Professor. Wei Wuxian almost cackled. So cute!

“Yes, I’m a Professor in training!” he grinned at the class.

There, right in the middle of the front row, Lan Jingyi gave him a small thumb up cleverly hidden by a scroll of parchment. Lan Sizhui, on the other hand, stood up and bowed.

“Welcome to Hogwarts, Mo-qianbei,” he said and straightened his back, a courteous smile lighting up his features. Only then did Wei Ying notice the shiny badge pinned right above his heart.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough time to call Lan Zhan and share his delight at the fact Lan Sizhui was the Head Boy, because in that moment every student sprung to their feet and said, “Welcome, Mo-qianbei!”


-


Lan Zhan’s lesson was different than what Wei Ying had conjured in his imagination somewhere between sitting on a plush chair Lan Zhan had transfigured for him and looking at a class full of young adults, all completely focused on every phrase that came out of Lan Zhan’s mouth.
Lan Zhan had always been quiet, and that was why it had taken Wei Wuxian some time to understand the difference between not having anything to say and wanting to say things just right, and many teasings and Langlocs. Eventually, though, Wei Ying had understood, and when he’d had, he had learned to listen thoughtfully; Lan Zhan had chosen his words with care, and with care they’d had to be held.

Now, however, Lan Zhan was talking.

His voice, deep and cold, steady and secure, carried notions and wonders. His phrases were still brief, but one merged into another, and Wei Wuxian found himself facing Lan Zhan just like his students did, because his teachings were spoken with a look in his golden eyes that made it impossible not to listen, alight and wise, as if Lan Zhan had seen and done all those things he was talking about himself.

There were a couple of moments when Wei Wuxian thought of adding something, but in the end he kept his trivia to himself. He was not so hasty anymore, and maybe it had something to do with the fact that he’d spent so many years waiting for something that had come only after thirteen of them.

There would be many more lessons until the end of the year.

Wei Ying did not mind waiting for a little bit more.

 
-


The lesson was over quickly, but Lan Zhan stayed behind and patiently answered every question his students asked him, one after another, from a long queue that had formed in front of Hanguang-Jun’s desk.

At last, a Ravenclaw boy with light green robes hidden under his Hogwarts’ black ones exited the classroom, and Wei Ying finally jumped to his feet.

“Lan Zhan, I can’t believe that the world is so unjust,” he said, but there was a big smile on his face as he propped himself on the edge of the desktop, too engrossed in his little spectacle to notice that he’d sat on Lan Zhan’s sleeve. “You’re so good at everything! You had to see how those students were looking at you, hahaha! But you probably did, right, Lan Zhan?” he laughed, brushing his hair aside when it went in his eyes.

Lan Zhan lifted his head from a very neatly kept register and met Wei Ying’s stare.

“Wei Ying also knows all the things I’ve taught.”

Wei Wuxian’s hand stopped just shy of his forehead.

“Lan Zhan,” he spluttered, “you can’t just say things like that with such a serious face!”

Lan Zhan’s brows furrowed ever so slightly.

“But it is the truth,” he spoke and Wei Wuxian had to hop off of the desk.

“Lan Zhan, all this lecture made me want to eat something with dòubànjiàng,” he said, already on his way to the door. “Let’s have lunch before we have to go the Ministry, or this weak body of mine will starve!”

 


 

As it turned out, in order to go to the Ministry, they first had to go back to the Jingshi.

Once they were inside the room, Lan Zhan closed the door and pressed his hand to its center. Just like the night before, it gleamed and, when it opened again, they both stepped into the same corridor they had Floo’ed to from Lan Wangji’s office. 

This time, Wei Wuxian remembered to close his eyes. He, however, did not remember to close his lips.

As soon as he said “Ministry of Magic, Office of Minister for Magic,” all the ash flew right into his mouth.


-


Nie Mingjue had already been waiting for them, and so had been Lan Xichen.

Wei Ying tried not to sputter too much as he bowed and saluted them with a Chifeng-zun and a Zewu-Jun, and breathed with relief when Lan Zhan took mercy on him and vanished the dust from his tongue.

The Minister for Magic did not reserve too many courtesies for them, on the contrary to the warm greeting from Head Auror Lan Xichen.

“Hanguang-Jun, Mo Xuanyu,” he just said and motioned to two armchairs set in front of his desk with a stern wave of his muscular arm.

As soon as Wei Ying and Lan Zhan sat down beside the seat occupied by Lan Xichen, he took out his wand and commanded, “Accio reports.” Two very opulent dossiers fell from one of the libraries by the walls and flew towards the desk.

Do we have to read all this?! Wei Ying bemoaned inwardly as he eyed the amount of papers that stuck out of the files.

“These are the reports that regard the appearances of the Inferi during the last thirteen years,” Chifeng-zun said and Wei Ying lifted his head at an astonishing speed.
Thirteen years of files?!
“Find a pattern,” Nie Mingjue ordered. Then, with a light tap of his wand, he opened one of the drawers of his desk.
To Wei Ying’s left, Lan Zhan graciously accepted the report.
“There have been no sightings of the Undead since Wei Wuxian’s death, up until this night,” the Minister continued, taking two small tokens out of the drawer and placing the round objects in front of them. “With these, you can access the old cases and the forbidden sections of the Ministerial Library,” he said. 

Then, he figuratively crushed Wei Wuxian under the weight of his stare. 

“Find an answer.”

“Yes, Chifeng-zun!” Wei Ying replied with enthusiasm as he tucked the token inside his inner pocket.
All this playing an obedient employee of the Ministry was becoming too endearing! Even the distaste at the amount of flipping through the files he’d have to do had vanished - with that tiny token, he could access all the invaluable books the Ministry had always kept their greedy hands on.

“Mister Mo,” Lan Xichen spoke for the first time since the greeting, then, and his voice was a striking contrast to the harshness of Nie Mingjue’s commands. Wei Ying turned his head and met his eyes.“Your rescue from the Mo Mansion will have to be kept quiet until the motive behind your poisoning is found,” he said, considerate. “Although Huaisang has promised to keep the Daily Prophet at bay, I must ask you to try to avoid the reporters as much as possible outside of the Ministry; otherwise, your cover as Assistant Professor could perish and your safety could be put at risk, even if you’re currently at Hogwarts.”

Wei Wuxian looked at his sympathetic expression and nodded along. The only thing that caught his interest, however, was the mention of Nie-xiong’s name. Is he an editor of the Daily Prophet? Wei Ying thought and his lips quirked. The position surely suited Nie Huaisang.
He dared a glance at Nie Mingjue, but, contrary to what he could’ve expected, there was not a trace of anger at the mention of his little brother's occupation on his face. He only looked a bit worse for wear than last night.
Perhaps that was why he dismissed them with a curt "that's all" not long after.

Following Lan Zhan, Wei Ying stood up and bid his farewells before they both turned away from the desk.

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen called softly as he accompanied them to the door.“Tell Uncle I will visit tomorrow.”

Lan Zhan looked at Zewu-Jun and Wei Ying could pinpoint the exact moment his gaze softened. “Yes, Brother,” he said and, with those two words, they left the room.




~⊱❈⊰~





When Wangji and Mo Xuanyu left with a click of the door, the Minister’s office fell silent, but Lan Xichen did not mind.

He had always cherished peace and Da-ge had never been one for many words, after all.

He’d never shared it with anybody, but moments like this took him back to when the times had been a little simpler, narrowed just to worries about yet another diplomatic meeting and to Wangji’s soft smiles whenever he’d managed to cook the dinner just right. They took him back to the evenings passed in the library that had lasted rigorously only until 8:30 PM, to the easiness of A-Yao’s grins and to the scoldings from the librarian each time Da-ge had slammed his big hands on one of the tables, irritated by yet another fugacious concept. 

Da-ge’s hands had always held too much power for his body to know how to tone it down, but it had never really been a problem.
Lan Xichen was strong enough to tame them whenever the need arose.

He didn’t let his eyes linger on the door as he sat back down, right across his oldest Sworn Brother who was busy going over one of the many reports of the day.
He had worried incessantly, last night, to the point of not being able to conceal his unsettlement anymore, but today Wangji had looked… Good.
Lan Xichen knew he hadn’t slept - there had been the same grey smudges under his eyes that he had, faint and visible only because their complexion was so pale, and the barest shadow of weariness in the way his brother had looked at him. It was undeniable that Wangji was tired. His back, however, had been straight and his head had been high all the same, and Lan Huan was proud, because his brother was a better disciple than him. Stronger and more just; gentler and more perseverant. Reckless when his heart told him so and always, always devoted.

Lan Huan was proud of him, and so very worried. There was a weight in his chest that had never truly gone away, because he had never gotten to taste audacity.
He didn’t know what to do if Wangji fell.
He didn’t know what it meant to give someone his everything, for he had always chosen self-control. For desire was forbidden, and so was envy. And Lan Xichen was not bold enough to fight for what he wanted but what he shouldn’t have, just like Wangji had done.

He didn’t let his eyes linger on the door, but he couldn’t stop them from resting on Da-ge’s face for a little longer than what his Shū Fù had taught him to be appropriate.

Nie Mingjue was a man of virtue, with a mouth too dirty for a Minister and a heart too big for his well being; he had an unyielding hand and no forgiveness for those who’d wronged, and the love of almost every soul of the Wizardkind, because, although he had never wanted to be the Minister for Magic, he had still taken the position and picked up all of the responsibilities that had come with it.
After sixteen years, those responsibilities were still perched on his shoulders.
In sixteen years, Nie Mingjue had not faltered.

Lan Xichen’s eyes swept over his Da-ge’s face and yet another, small piece of something he could not name left him. Da-ge looked even more tired than he usually did. The small wrinkles around his eyes and that line by the left corner of his mouth had long stopped to disappear, but now even the crease between his brows, born from the incessant weariness, did not go away anymore.

For a second, Lan Xichen wondered whether he could’ve smoothed it if he’d pressed his fingers to Da-ge’s forehead long enough. Then, he let his eyes down, grateful that the collar of his robe was high enough to cover the blush that made his stomach drop and his heart yearn each time he wanted to take some of his Da-ge’s worries away.
Fortunately, it did not take him much to recompose himself; he’d been taught to do it since he’d been old enough to understand the meaning of “importance” and “responsibility” - so when Nie Mingjue finally put the stack of papers down, Lan Huan called his name like he’d always had and his oldest Sworn Brother let his back slump, just a little.

“Xichen,” he said and his voice was raspy, as if he’d forgotten to drink. Lan Huan knew that it wasn’t excludable. 
With a small waver of his fingers, he opened the cabinet and summoned the tray, the pot and two little cups. It was only early afternoon green tea would be suitable.

Before the set could soundlessly land in front of them, Lan Xichen lifted his hand and watched with amusement as all the documents on Da-ge’s desk started to swirl in the air and to flow one over another, organizing themselves chronologically and leaving some free space.

“Thank you,” Nie Mingjue sighed with an edge of throatiness and stroked his eyes. Lan Xichen, on the other hand, ignored how those two small words almost made his fingers quiver just because Da-ge said them only to him and to no one else.

All these years, and he still was a fool. That was why, before his heart could long again, he discarded the futile thoughts in favor of preparing the correct amount of leaves in each cup; he covered them with a shallow layer of hot water a moment later. Then, he stirred the mixture, gently, until it reached the desired shade of pale green, and filled the cups.

He did not know what pushed him to ask. What he knew was that the question was a mistake even before he said it, but he’d never stopped to hope that Nie Mingjue would’ve changed his mind.

“Da-ge, why are you still here?”

He watched as Nie Mingjue lifted his eyes from behind the porcelain cup that looked so frail in his hand.

“Because half of my goddamned staff is incompetent and the other half is made of idiots,” Chifeng-zun grunted and threw his head back, downing almost all the tea in one go.

“Why don’t you resign?” he rephrased, refilling the cup, because he knew that Nie Mingjue was dismissing. “I will give up my position as - ”

“Xichen,” Nie Mingjue interrupted him, the warning clear in his voice and in the way his eyes narrowed with displeasure.

“There are many other, qualified wizards and witches who are more than prepared to take over your chair,” he continued, uncaring of the hostility of his oldest, greatest friend.
He still remembered how Da-ge’s eyes had used to crinkle at the corners from his short, gruff laughs.
How many years had it been?
“The Head Auror position has always been yours. I want to give it back to yo - ”

Nie Mingjue slammed his hands on the desk and Lan Xichen almost smiled.
Even if the War had taken everything they’d had to give and more, there were still some things that hadn’t changed.

“No one is good enough,” he heard Nie Mingjue bark and watched him stand up before he could reply, but it did not take him by surprise.
Chifeng-zun had never cared for all the rules their Pureblood families had drilled into their heads since they were two or three.

Lan Xichen wondered if this too was one of those qualities that made his heart feel like it couldn’t be held by the rib cage that had been supposed to keep it in.

“Do you want another war, Xichen?” Nie Mingjue asked, his tone rising, and Lan Xichen knew that the situation would go bad from there.

He took out his wand and swished it. Each pair of painted ears on the walls got covered by invisible hands; another swish, and every frame got enveloped by thick, black fabric that muted out the protesting shouts of the portraits’ residents.

“Not everyone is untrustworthy,” he said, calm, and rose to his feet as well. “The War is over, Da-ge.”

He stood in place when his words made Nie Mingjue round his desk and stop in front of him.

“Is it, Xichen?” Chifeng-zun asked lowly, but there was something in his eyes that made him look like he wasn’t entirely there.

Lan Xichen had known it had been a mistake. He should’ve not been reckless.

“Then why is your bed always facing the door as if it can give you that second of advantage if someone barges in? Why is your house so far away from the others, as if a duel could destroy everything around it?” Nie Mingjue asked and Lan Xichen felt cold all over.

How -

“Why,” Chifeng-zun continued and Lan Xichen could tell it would sting even before he spoke, “are you always alone?”

Lan Huan’s lips parted, but there was nothing left in his lungs to come out.

“Because you know that, if something happens, they’ll come out for those you cherish the most first,” his Da-ge spoke, and it hit him right when it hurt the most. “Because you’re just like me.”

When the last words hung in the air, something hot and long forgotten awoke in the pits of Lan Xichen’s stomach.

Da-ge had never called him out on his weaknesses before.
Lan Xichen had entrusted them to him.

Lan Huan had never let his anger run free, for it only brought devastation. Now, however, they were far from Cloud Recess and there was no one to ground him.
The temperature in the room dropped in unison with his temper and Nie Mingjue stopped moving. The torches flickered, flames blazing almost as fiercely as the foreign sensation of spite in Lan Xichen’s chest. When Lan Huan finally spoke, it was the coldest he’d ever had.

“I don’t see enemies among my brothers,”

but he regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth, because they made his Da-ge look as if he’d slapped him across the face.

His lower back hit the desk when Nie Mingjue got too close to him, more furious that Lan Huan had ever seen him.
Da-ge’s arms trapped him in place when the man put his palms on the desktop behind Lan Huan’s back, but Lan Xichen made no move – Da-ge’s hands had never hurt him and he knew that they wouldn’t, just like Nie Mingjue knew that Lan Xichen could break his forearms with a snap of his fingers, but that he never would.

While Chifeng-zun held on, Lan Huan held Nie Mingjue's ire.

As they had always had.

“It’s not you I don’t trust,” Nie Mingjue growled, bringing his face close to Lan Xichen’s.

Lan Xichen knew that some of the pain showed on his face when he spoke.
“We have sworn,” he said, and while his head remained high, his voice faltered a little.
He could not stand to watch A-Yao and Da-ge fall apart no matter how hard he tried to keep them all together.

“I don’t care about the Unbreakable Vow,” Nie Mingjue spat and Lan Xichen stopped the sorrow before it could taint his features some more.
He’d known it for a long time, but it didn’t make it less sad, just like it didn’t made his helplessness less frustrating.
“You’re the only one worthy being the Minister. I won’t give up the position to anyone else,” Da-ge’s voice softened and Lan Xichen closed his eyes for the briefest of heartbeats.

“I can’t,” he whispered. He had to let his gaze down, then, because he was unable to look at the fatigue woven into every inch of his Da-ge’s face.

Nie Mingjue had always had too much faith in him.
How could he not see that Lan Xichen would never be strong enough to lead their Wizarding World?

“And I won’t ask you to do it, but don’t ask me to resign anymore.”

When Nie Mingjue’s words swept over his forehead ribbon, Lan Xichen lifted his head in protest. “A-Yao could hold the position,” he fought, because why couldn’t they get past their misunderstandings

“I said no,” his Da-ge rose his voice again, bringing their faces even closer in the heat of the argument.

“I just want you to be happy!” Lan Xichen spat back and Merlin, it was such an ugly sound for the First Jade of Lan, too close the truth, but his voice died down in his throat when Nie Mingjue’s lips parted.

They were so close that he could feel Chifeng-zun’s hot breath caress his mouth; close enough that it left a thin veil of dampness on his own lips.

Then, he felt his Da-ge’s calloused palm slide up his cheek.

The tips of Nie Mingjue’s fingers brushed over the shell of his ear and slid in the hair on his temple; his hand traveled down to cup his jaw, then, and settled there, and the world around Lan Xichen stopped.

When Da-ge’s thumb skimmed across his bottom lip, Lan Huan’s heart stopped as well.

“This mouth of yours will be the end of me,” Nie Mingjue whispered and Lan Xichen could not hold it anymore.

He let his eyelids flutter and breathed out, feeling the exhale get lost somewhere between Nie Mingjue’s lips.
Then, he leaned into that hand that had owned his heart since Nie Mingjue had called him his friend and remembered all those nights they’d spent together, back to back when the War had only begun and chest to chest when they’d realized that there could’ve been no tomorrow. He remembered all those words they hadn’t spoken and all those times they’d been so busy pretending that neither of the two had held the other in his arms that, whenever it’d happened again, it'd felt like the last time.
Yet, just as he thought that he might finally be courageous enough to say “I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” lost in the warmth of Da-ge’s touch, Nie Mingjue’s eyes widened.

It was a slow movement, unfocused at first, but sharp enough to take Lan Xichen’s breath away when it finally settled.

It was not difficult to see the regret in the dark irises; Nie Mingjue’s eyes had only ever known pride and anger back then, and they knew nothing more than tiredness now.

Lan Xichen did not call Chifeng-zun’s name when the man took his hand away; he did not read anything into the way it seemed to linger by his skin either.
He did not clench his fists when Nie Mingjue stepped back and he did not move when the man turned around, because, after all, that was what they had always done.

Da-ge had always left. And Lan Huan had never followed.