HI SORRY THIS IS LATE ON FFNET by like... months lmao

If you are happy, surprised, intrigued or even just plain bewildered to see an update to this story in the year of our lord 2022, you can thank Skee's traditional wedding for it— and everyone who has sent such thoughtful reviews over the years

I literally can't stare at this chapter anymore I'm just done good night and good bye *plays Hate it or Love it by 50 cent and descends back into the abyss*

Tom glares mutinously out into the burgeoning russet valley as if it had personally offended him, an expression of mild consternation just visible in the crease of his brows over his conjured scarf. It had only occurred to him, in hindsight, that perhaps mountainous regions in the southern hemisphere might in fact be cold during the summer months. It didn't help that being possessed by a major god of some bygone pantheon had the unfortunate side effect of making him susceptible to cold. Times like this he wished he'd been possessed by a god of fire.

"Oh for Circe's sake, Tom, stop with the brooding already. It does nothing for your looks I assure you." Margaret drawls from behind him, the prim click of her shoes loud against the cobblestone path.

"I'm not brooding," he insists, even though he was, in fact, brooding.

"No? So you're just staring heroically out into the distance then?"

With an irritated twitch in his brow, he turns away from the illustrious landscape to pin his companion with a glower that could even make the undead cower in fear. Unfortunately, Margaret was categorically unmoved by the display.

"I'm not brooding," he says again, mulishly. "I'm just… cold."

Which was true, but not the point. Lights flickered on throughout the baked-earth brick houses scrawling up and down the mountains. He could just make out the street lamps in the central plaza from this distance, long, winding staircases cutting through the chaotic lines of neighborhoods leading directly toward it.

Margaret isn't staring at the view; instead she's looking at him like he was a professional moron. "This city is full to the brim with furs." She points out, still unmoved. "Why don't you stop pouting and go and buy some."

Damn it all, she was right though. Not that he wanted to acknowledge her, but an actual alpaca scarf would go a long stretch farther than the conjured one he had on now. Maybe he'd even get a full ensemble. It was bloody cold here.

"Anyway, they're calling us back for dinner." Margaret continues. "Unless you feel like going without it, I suggest we get a move on."

With that, she flounces towards the teetering staircase, tossing a glossy pigtail behind her as she did so.

Tom couldn't exactly say he regretted many things in his short life, but following Margaret to Cuzco was definitely one of them.



That was, of course, to imply that Tom really had much of a choice at all.

With most of continental Europe and Eurasia embroiled in war, Tom had fully expected Harry to either cancel their yearly holiday, or keep it limited to domestic locations. Margaret had mentioned the school trips to South and Central America hadn't been cancelled, and when Tom had brought the subject up to Harry he'd been surprised at how fervently she agreed to it. Urged him to go, in fact.

There was nothing Tom wanted more in life than a holiday spent in the pursuit of knowledge, especially on dark magic and other related esoteric sundry, so it wasn't as if she had to try all that hard to convince him.

In hindsight, he should have realized just what it meant to go on a 'school trip'.

It's not that he didn't want to be here in the Cuzco region, learning from the Quechua in one of the most sought after study abroad programs in existence, (Tom did not want to know who Margaret had to strong arm to get him to come with her on such short notice) rather, he wanted to be here, but he also wanted Harry to be here. It didn't escape his notice that this was the longest period of time he'd be without her since she'd spirited him away from the orphanage.

It certainly wasn't coincidence that their first significant separation happened not only before he started his Hogwarts term, but also when all of Europe had descended into chaos.

Harry swore up and down that she would stay safe in New England, but Tom couldn't really believe that. Sure, she might geographically be safe, but the magical societies of Europe and America were far too interconnected for something like a bit of distance to mean much. After all, Grindelwald had no issue sticking his nose into their affairs with alarming frequency, despite being a prominent figure in Europe.

And worse: Tom had just left her there.

He stomped through the courtyard, frightening the group of nuns washing at the central fountain. Why they were staying in a monastery of all things, Tom hadn't thought to ask. He'd been so caught up with eying up all the architecture that before he even knew it they'd been shuttled into the place; airy and full of sunlight and yet closed off from the rest of the city by staggering stone walls. It felt thoroughly removed from such a vibrant and loud city, despite being located smack in the middle of the valley— the only real indication of the muggles beyond the walls were the occasional tolls of the nearby cathedral. Tom would have adored it in any other circumstance; namely, any other circumstance that would include Harry by his side marveling over the positively ancient cobblestone streets and the Spanish colonial ornamental embellishments over every doorway.

Everything about this place just reminded him of Harry, which really only made it worse.

She'd adore the weather; sunny with a cerulean blue, cloudless sky. He'd have to physically tear her away from the markets before she bought about a dozen different ponchos and scarves in dazzling colors and patterns— to say nothing of all the handcrafted jewelry. They'd probably need an entire other suitcase just for clothing. And the food was just phenomenal, even Margaret had said so, and she had the most notoriously picky palate of anyone he'd ever met. This was to say nothing of the fact that this was a place Harry had never been to before, so she'd already be utterly enamored with everything about it regardless of whether it suited her tastes or not.

He pushes out of the monastery at one of the side doors and spills out into a tightly winding stone street, full of people. The air was so cold and fresh up here, but the altitude is difficult enough to acclimate to that the study group has another planned day in the city to get used to it before they start hiking off to the Andes in earnest. Tom had to lean against the wooden door behind him for a moment, just to catch his breath as spots danced in his eyes.

"Honestly Tom, are you planning on skiving out of today's tours too, just because you're in a foul mood?"

Tom scowls as he's dislodged off the door behind him, the sound of the bolt scraping against metal loud in his ear as it opens. Margaret's positively disapproving face wedges in the space opened up, one disdainful eye peeking out from above her scarf.

"What are you doing here?" He returns, sullenly, turning his attention back to the crowds.

They get a couple intrigued glances from the locals, but otherwise no one pays them any mind.

Margaret slips through the crack in the door, fluffing her hair out of her tightly wound scarf. It's dyed a deep and startling crimson, with detailed, methodical diamonds in aquamarine and white stitched finely into it. Exactly the sort of excellent craftsmanship that Harry adores, he couldn't help but notice.

"Maybe I didn't feel like seeing the cathedral either." She replies, sniffing. "I mean, honestly, we're already staying in one to begin with…"

Frankly, Tom would have loved to see it. He has no lost love for the catholic church, but the building is historical and full of fascinating, hand-painted gold leaf reliefs, which was exactly the sort of thing he'd be interested in checking out.

But first of all, he's still in a foul mood.

And secondly: he's not even certain he can step foot in a church anymore.

He's become increasingly aware of it the longer he stayed within the confines of the monastery; whenever he got too close to the church built into its flank, a shaky, unaccountable feeling crawled up and down his back. Like ice cold fingers tracing his spine. The feeling grew progressively more uncomfortable when mass was actually in session. It wasn't painful persay, but still more than enough to gain his attention. It wasn't a reprimand— rather, a warning.

He supposed it made sense.

Certainly if he was marked by one god, he shouldn't be off galavanting into the house or worship of another.

In light of this, heading to see a church he wasn't in the mood to see anyway just sounded like borrowing trouble.

"The square is really quite nice though," Margaret is saying, when he turns an ear back her way. "Perhaps we should check it out anyway."

Tom just shrugs halfheartedly. They didn't have anything better to do while they lingered in the city.

Margaret leads him down winding, high-arched side streets and wider streets full of chaos and noise, until they emerge into the sun bathed Plaza de Armas, full of people at this time of day. There are not one but two cathedrals facing the square, but Margeret expertly pushes through the crowds in the opposite direction of both. She slips through pillars and food stalls until they end up in an inner courtyard surrounded on all sides by buildings, a lone rickety staircase winding up the side. Margaret bounds up them as if she knew exactly where she was going; curious enough to indulge her, Tom follows.

They land at the entranceway to some kind of small cafe. Tom's Spanish was negligible and his translation charm had long since worn off, but Margaret seems to have no issue playing a complicated game of charades to get them a table off the quaint little veranda overlooking the square.

"How'd you even find this place?" He asks with genuine intrigue, peering over the side of the railing to watch the excitement below.

Margaret rolls her eyes grandly. "Believe it or not, taking the time to talk to other people and ask around can do wonders for learning about the locale."

Tom's brow twitches at yet another sarcastic riposte from his (begrudging) friend. He folds his arms and leans back with a deep frown, watching her closely as she orders something that sounded rather complicated when the waiter swung their way.

After he's left, he continues to scrutinize her closely. Margaret merely holds his gaze, stoic and proper as always. With her hair in windy disarray peeking out from beneath her cap and her vibrant scarf tucked closely over half of her face, she had the air of a fashionably young moving picture star attempting and failing to blend in with a crowd. She'd probably be delighted at the idea of any comparison to Katherine Hepburn, however remote, so he refused to mention it on principle.

Instead, he asks; "Did Harry put you up to this?"

Margaret winds her long blonde curls through her fingers in a vain attempt to return them to their former meticulous style. "Whatever would make you think such a thing?"

It's Tom's turn to roll his eyes. "If I'm truly bothering you as much as I seem to be— you'd usually just call me names and flounce off. That you continue to stick around is pretty suspicious."

She sighs. "Fine, yes, she did. Are you really surprised?"

No, not really, but that doesn't make him feel any better.

Tom attempts to retain a degree of stoicism, but fails remarkably.

Times like this it felt as if Harry would forever be treating him as a child. Honestly, she really thought so little of him that she wanted him to have a minder? And worse, Margaret of all people? It was positively galling, honestly. He'd managed himself on his own for years before meeting her! He was more than capable of taking care of himself.

"Oh, stop that." Margaret says, waspishly. "It's not like she asked me to nag you about your bedtime or anything. She just assumed— and rightfully so, might I add— that you might be too preoccupied in your own head to truly enjoy the bountiful opportunity in front of you to its fullest."

Tom says nothing.

"An opportunity that, shall I remind you, was something you'd been whining about doing ever since I told you about it last year."

"I didn't whine," this Tom has to protest on principle.

Margaret raises a manicured brow, unimpressed.

The waiter returns then, placing an elaborate display of cups and sugar between them that Margaret accepts with the sort of pretentious grace likely befitting of an heiress of her stature. Tom couldn't help but roll his eyes and sigh at his predicament— how had he managed to end up here, in an entirely different hemisphere, with only Margaret of all people as his own company? At least at school he had Washy and Westley to use as a buffer when he couldn't stand her attitude anymore, and if all else fails, he could always just toss Ruth at the other girl.

He and Margaret… did not get along, frankly. Oh, they respected each other as fellow ruthless opportunists ready to climb to the top of a world that would happily tear them down, but they tended to butt heads on just about everything else. Margaret found him too intentionally plebian and he found her too uppity and self-centered to handle on most days.

They could make a good team when they wanted to though. And unfortunately, Harry seemed rather annoyingly charmed by his classmate— to the point she'd even pull her aside privately and apparently solicit her to make sure he was enjoying himself. Ridiculous.

"Of course not, you never whine, or sulk, or complain during once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that some people had to move mountains in order to secure." Margaret counters, primly stirring her tea.

He slumps lower in his chair. This was going to be a long trip.



It's a lovely summer day that finds Harry returning to London after what seems like eons away from it.

Taking her resident god of death/shadow back home with her wasn't necessarily her idea of a vacation, but it looked like she would be stuck with the creature, for good or for ill. She'd half hoped maybe changing dimensions might leave it stuck behind like a poor sod left forlorn at a bus stop, but no such luck.

Frankly, it was rather alarming how easily she managed to acclimate to being possessed by an ancient deity returned to the world by some fluke of accidental magic and bad timing. She didn't think for a single second that the encounter was coincidental, but for the life of her she couldn't quite understand what had happened to make it occur. Nonetheless he was apparently here to stay, and in the advent of Tom's South American adventures Harry finds herself randomly chattering to it (him?) to fill the void of silence. Spot thinks she's gone crazy. Spot would be right.

Staying in a house and dimension that feels lonely and a little miserable seems a bit too much like a voluntary exile, so it really doesn't take much canoodling by her concerned coworkers to finally use her accumulated vacation time.

"Turks and Caicos," Maddie opines, draped over the side of her desk and looking longingly out the window, as if she could see the Caribbean from here.

"That flight is murder," Donna denies, from where she too was hovering far too closely in Harry's space, coffee in hand. "And customs is such a hassle. What's wrong with Hawaii?"

"That flight is worse!" Her bouncy blonde coworker protests, swinging her legs over Harry's desk. "The Caribbean is so much closer! Oh, how about St. Thomas then? That's a territory, isn't it? No customs involved."

"I'm not American," Harry reminds her feebly.

It speaks volumes that she turns a pleading look down at her shadow, where Yama is resting, as if begging her resident creature to save her. Evidently he does not.

"Bermuda then?" Maddie tosses out. "Or the BVI?"

Harry has never been to the Caribbean, and has utterly zero plans of changing that in the immediate future. At least, unless Tom insists on it— which he very well might, he's been making noises about Chichen Itza for weeks now.

Still, Harry is in a bit of a bind.

She might have managed to get Tom to take his own vacation to Peru, but getting herself to commit to something has been rather hellish. Nothing seems to fit, in no small part because nothing in her life currently fits. She feels like a human-shaped blemish on the universe going through the motions of normalcy; a plastic veneer that scratches off just a little bit more, every time she goes to put it on. One of these days the costume won't fit at all, and then where will she be?

Maybe she'll just give up pretending, melt into the ground, and drift around in shadow with Yama.

"— well she has to go somewhere," Maddie insists with a flourish of a manicured hand, when Harry finally returns to earth from her latest existential crisis. "She'll lose all her PTO if she doesn't!"

"Let the poor dear pick where she wants then," Donna sniffs. "Stop trying to shove all your vacation aspirations onto her, just because you used up all of yours too fast."

"It's the weddings," Maddie says, aggrieved. "What am I supposed to do? Not go?"

"Yes, that would be the sensible thing."

"It's insulting!" Maddie gasps. "My friends would be so offended if I didn't."

Donan rolls her eyes. "Unless you're in the bridal party, I can't imagine them to be that upset about it."

"London." Harry blurts out, just to get them to stop arguing over her.

Maddie's mouth twists in a way that means she's blatantly judging Harry right now, but is too polite to say so. Donna looks a tad defeated, despite the fact she was ostensibly advocating for Harry to choose what she wanted— she was probably rooting for Mallorca, knowing her.

"Well, that's wonderful dear." Donna says, in a way Harry is sure she doesn't mean to be patronizing, but falls close to it anyway. "It's always nice to go home for a bit."

"London is a swamp this time of year though," Maddie grimaces.

"It'll be nice to see my friends," Harry says, and it sounds a bit flat even to her ears.

Like she's trying to convince herself more than she's trying to convince them. From the abyss at her feet, Yama peers up at her with his hollow yellow eyes.

Donna pats her shoulder, motherly and condescending all at once in a manner that would usually remind Harry of Mrs. Weasley, but Harry can't even remember what that feels like anymore. "That sounds lovely. Just make sure to enjoy yourself, love."

Harry returns it with a strained smile.

Unlikely, but perhaps she'll try anyway.



Hermione collapses onto the velvet settee across from her with an aggrieved sigh, expression pinched. Harry grimaces. This was never a good sign. She pushes over the cappuccino she'd gotten for her friend in silent offering. Hermione accepts it without pause; a mildly better sign.

"So, as you well know, there isn't exactly a lot of information on this subject available." Hermione begins, after downing at least half her cappuccino. Ah. Perhaps she should have gotten two. "In fact, I've now been to every magical library between here and Alexandria, and have yet to even come close."

Harry winces. That was… a lot of libraries, she has to imagine.

"... Sorry."

"Oh, don't apologize." Hermione waves her off, and Harry isn't sure if that is relieving, or even more upsetting. "It's been a while since I've had a research project this intensive, and I'll admit the novelty of being an adult with international portkeys at my fingertips hasn't quite worn off."

"Not quite at the same scale as scouring the Hogwarts library, is it?" Harry chuckles weakly.

"No, but something about the smell of old books is really quite nostalgic," Hermione laments, dropping into the seat across from her. She smiles. "And this, too— the three of us chasing after some great mystery."

"If only it was so straightforward as a Dark Lord to face in the end," Harry sighs, and then cursed internally. Hell, she just totally jinxed herself, didn't she?

Hermione's expression falls. "Yes… as difficult as the times were back then, they were rather— simple in a way, no? We always had a goal we were chasing."

"Being an adult is the worst." Harry agrees, emphatically.

Hermione smiles, but it came out more like a wistful grimace. "Indeed. Good and bad will never be so direct again."

Wasn't that the truth.

Harry traces the rim of her own cappuccino, frown settling deeply into her face. Hermione took a sip of her own cup, expression nearly taking a one-eighty as she savored the faintly aromatic taste of pure caffeine. Her brunette friend leans back in her seat with a briefly blissful look; as if everything in life suddenly appeared far more manageable after caffeine. Well, Harry could hardly disagree there.

"So are you staying at this hotel, Harry?" Hermione asks as she sets her cup back in its dainty little saucer, taking a look around at the well-appointed sitting room she'd met her friend in.

"This place? Oh, yes. It was recommended by a colleague."

Hermione's brows do a little impressed dance. "Are you on vacation then?"

"My company just changed to something called a 'use it or lose it' policy on vacation days, and I didn't use up all of mine last year." Harry says by way of explanation. "I think they used to just pay you out for unused days, or maybe roll them over? At any rate, people were scandalized enough already when I didn't use most of them up last year, and apparently it's a true travesty to let them go to waste."

Hermione gives her a sympathetic look. "You have no idea what to do with Tom out of the house, do you."

Harry grins sheepishly. "Is it that obvious?"

"Obvious? Definitely. Surprising? Not at all." She pops a biscuit in her mouth. "Anyway, getting a fancy hotel a stone's throw from Regent and Oxford seems a little too much like a staycation for my tastes, but to each their own."

"I guess I could have gone somewhere more exotic," Harry admits. "But I just…"

It didn't feel right, going somewhere without Tom.

She also feels a bit guilty at the idea of jetsetting off somewhere in her own dimension just to capitalize on the relative stability of the world in this era, knowing full well how much turmoil the other was facing. The alternative World War Two had launched explosively in the spring of Tom's final year at Wolcroft, after some sporadic fits and starts during the winter. Unsurprisingly, attempting to wage war in the northern countries during winter was rather inadvisable, so a great deal of the first few months of the year was posturing and establishing supply routes. There had been talk that perhaps Talin's announcement had been nothing more than words to rebuff their increasingly antagonistic neighbors.

That rumor had been thoroughly trounced after the Baltics had announced their alliance with Poland, who seemed entirely disinterested in the idea of foreign occupation so soon after their independence. Occupation that, squashed between the terror of the Soviet Union and the equally horrific Nazi agenda was looking more and more inevitable.

In hindsight, their last vacation was either an indication of the calm before the storm, or a testimony to how removed the magical societies could be from their muggle counterparts. Aside from brief glimpses across the gossamer curtain that separated them, the muggle world could have existed across a vast and intractable chasm.

"It didn't seem right." She finishes at last.

Which is true enough.

In the same manner nothing ever seems really right anymore. But if such a disassociation then could be considered an intractable chasm, how exactly was she to explain the here and now? Lounging upon a handsomely appointed velvet sofa, gilt tea table of intricate detail laid between them, gorgeous bay windows thrown open to reveal the mingling crowds of tourists on the street below. People stop to take photos of the hotel's Victorian facade on their smartphones, a pixelized reminder of people and histories untouchable through the stream of time.

Harry is not sure if she is relieved or disturbed, to find she feels so inexplicably removed from her surroundings, even in a city she knows so intimately, besides a woman who has known her since girlhood.

It's very possible Harry will forever be the elusive and desolate exception to the familiar mortal coil, no matter what she does. Marked either as a heretic or a deity for one reason or another, the outcome is the same. Forever abnormal.

Ever since she was a child she was the curious oddity on the outside, looking in. At the pantomime of the Dursley's playing house; at the entrenched and rich histories of a magical society she was made upon entry to feel like an interloper in. Amongst the nouveau riche of the early twenty-first century aristocracy picking up their progeny from Tom's school, the mingling coworkers congregating over the coffee machine expressing their delight at their weekend activities, and even now, watching women of similar age to her laugh and gossip in the sunlight on the patio outside, shopping bags at their feet.

"Well I'm glad you're here, honestly," Hermione rushes to say, as if sensing the maudlin turn of her thoughts. "I've been meaning to pick your brain ever since we stumbled upon the idea of alternate realities, but the timing has just been so—

She breaks off with an annoyed huff of breath, lurching out of the way to avoid her accidental spill of coffee. With a surreptitious look around them, she vanishes the ensuing stain away with a flick of her finger.

"Anyway," Hermione continues on smoothly, "would it trouble you to make me a timeline? I'm just so fascinated by the opportunity to study the butterfly effect in person. Of course, without having that moment of separation deducing the root cause will be difficult, but nonetheless what an opportunity…"

At least someone is deriving some kind of pleasure out of the ordeal, Harry can't help but think.

And why wouldn't she? From Hermione's perspective, this was all a very intriguing scientific study being played out right in front of her. She worried, peripherally at least, over Harry's general safety and to a lesser extent Tom's, but she had the sort of removed but respectful sympathy one would reserve for the reminder of the atrocities in human history. Emphatic, but unapproachable.

She sighs and pulls out a notebook from her purse that she'd commandeered just for this express purpose. Hermione's eyes light up at the sight.




Their study abroad professor has finally deemed them acclimated enough to begin their studies in earnest, and Tom had expected to be relieved to be released from the confines of Cuzco, but as it turns out he is once again full of an embittered regret.

Nowhere in the study abroad program pamphlet had they mentioned days of hiking and camping in the dense jungle mountains of the Urubamba region.

As it turns out, Tom might be a 'sullen and irritable little gremlin' (Margaret's words) but he is by far not the worst of the lot. Once they've all been herded into the mountains and begun their trek in earnest, Tom has the unfortunate opportunity to get to meet his fellow summer students in an irritably personal manner.

He and Margaret are the only two from Wolcroft, although there are two other girls from Salem who occasionally— and rather deferentially— orbit in Margaret's circle when she's feeling charitable. They're nice enough, but remind Tom an awful lot of Ruth and frankly, he can't be arsed to even remember their names. They chatter nonsensically about the cinema and their favorite radio channels, and knitting patterns. It says a lot that Tom would actually prefer a spirited debate on stitches than subject himself to any of the other conversations happening.

On the exact opposite side of this constant twittering are two boys who don't speak a lick of English, Spanish or Quechua, and don't seem all that inclined to use translation charms. The closest they've come to conversing with him is a vague grunt in his direction when he passed them a water canteen. Very rarely will they spare a sentence or two for each other, in what Tom thinks is Russian but can't be sure. They're from Durmstrang, so it wouldn't be surprising. Apparently there's usually more Durmstrang students in this program than any other school, but with Eastern Europe being a hotbed for the war right now it's not entirely surprising to see only two of them. He desperately wants to pick their brains about it, but somehow manages to refrain.

There is a single girl from Beauxbatons that Tom would have assumed mute if she hadn't quietly thanked him the other day for stopping her from faceplanting over a root. She might very well just be the only person on this trip Tom has any real interest in getting to know— aside from their Quechua guide, who is nothing short of impressive— and it has literally nothing to do with her lackluster personality. Apparently she comes from a long line of famous necromancers on the continent, which would explain why she's here on a tour ostensibly of ancient 'dark magic' societies when she attends a stringently 'light' school.

If these were the only students Tom was stuck with for the foreseeable future, he'd probably be able to bear it. Their two guides are phenomenally well-traveled and are quickly on their way to becoming two of Tom's favorite people ever, Margaret is (mostly) bearable, the two Russians are manageable, and the French girl might prove interesting if Tom could get her to stop stuttering over every second word.

But then there were the Hogwarts students.

Well, not all of them were students yet, but they congregated together in annoyingly loud ways and were in many respects difficult to tell apart. There was Abraxas Malfoy, the eldest of the group and therefore something of the reluctant ring leader; at twelve years old he somehow stood a full head taller than the others, and had an attitude to go with it. He complained loudly and endlessly over just about everything on the hike— the weather (pleasantly cool), the wildlife (kept well enough away by all his shouting), the physical exertion (apparently the lightest they'll have all week), and the altitude (Tom couldn't really blame him there). He very evidently had zero interest in being here, but was here anyway. From what Tom could tell— and it was difficult to ignore despite his best efforts, because it appears Malfoy only had one volume of speech and it was cranked to the highest voltage— 'cultured excursions' like this were a rite of passage in the illustrious history of his pristine lineage. Tom had to wonder how the line had continued on for this long if so; surely one of his obnoxiously loud pale-blonde ancestors would have been eaten at some point by opportunistic local wildlife? Apparently he had been expecting something with the pedigree of a dark ancient empire but without all the effort.

The only marginally redeeming thing about him Tom can see is that he bosses around the other three and seems able to corral them out of the worst of their behaviors. Mulciber, Nott and Avery are all fellow incoming Hogwarts first years like himself, and yet Tom finds he has utterly nothing in common with them.

It probably didn't help that the first real conversation he had with them basically amounted to; "Oh, you go to school? How plebian. To not be home schooled by private tutors, imagine such a pedestrian life!"

Such an attitude clearly wasn't going to endear them to any of the other students, all of whom happened to attend schools of rather well regarded renown.

Tom digressed.

Margaret— and by extension, Harry— had a point. He had a once in a lifetime opportunity to trek through the Incan trail with guides who could actually tell him all about the regional history and arcane magics of a bygone empire, and wasting effort on those four just seemed pointless.

"Camp's just up ahead, everyone!" Their professor, Savoy, gives a jolly shout from the front.

Tom, thousands of feet up the side of a mountain with no foreseeable way down, can only sigh in response.

Camp is exactly as illustrious as he imagined it would be. By muggle standards it would be nothing short of luxurious, with all the comforts the magical world had to offer, but clearly by pureblood standards it was thoroughly lacking. Tom was perfectly satisfied to have anywhere to flop face down at this point. He'd always thought he'd do just about anything in the pursuit of knowledge— he's starting to wonder if he's perhaps finally found his limit.

Savoy claps his hands. "Alright! Now who knows how to trap?"

The assembled children all stare at him with various looks of disbelief.

He laughs heartily. "I kid, of course! We have plenty of food preserved. But perhaps I could have some volunteers to gather firewood? Let's see now— Mr Mulciber and Mr Avery."

Both boys look up in disgust.

"We're not muggles, professor." Mulciber says, scandalized.

"Yes, and?" He peers over his spectacles at them.

They exchange a glance. "Only muggles need firewood." Avery points out, sneering.

"So you two can do wandless magic then, I take it? How impressive." Savoy enthuses. Margaret snickers under her breath, but quickly hides it under the pretense of clearing her throat. Even Tom can barely hold back a smirk as Mulciber and Avery turn a ruddy red.

"Well— that's!" The sandy-haired Mulciber protests, huffy.

Savoy just nods sagely. "And of course, there are always times when it's either inconvenient or just plain dangerous to be using spells of any kind. In which case, knowing how to gather and use firewood is fairly useful, no?"

Tom has to admit Savoy has an interesting point, even if he is perfectly capable of creating sparks and using magic without a wand. Casting spells can act as a dangerous locus for creatures of all kinds; when venturing alone in a jungle full of predators, it's probably best to minimize its use.

He ends up sitting beside Savoy and picking his brain at all the places he's been while they wait for the begrudging Mulciber and Avery to return. Savoy has been all over the southern continent, up and down the grand Andes and deep into the sweltering jungles below. He runs this particular student tour only once a year— apparently the turnout is much smaller than usual, but to be expected with the situation in Europe. He's surprised Malfoy actually sits near them and appears to be listening in with interest; he would have thought such tales of the common folk to be beneath him.

It's just after Savoy is finishing up a truly riveting tale about his encounter with the Muki beneath the mountains that he seems to take in just how much time has passed.

"Oh dear," he sighs. "I suppose I might've asked if they even knew what firewood looked like, hm?"

Tom stifles a smirk. "I can help them." He offers, generously.

"Would you?" Savoy brightens, clapping him on the shoulder. "You're a good lad, Tom."

He may have had ulterior motives other than just buttering up his professor— namely, getting to see the hilarious sight of Avery and Mulciber floundering in person. He finds Mulciber easily enough, just a stone's throw away from camp, looking confused as he prods at the undergrowth with a commandeered stick. He's churlish and uncharitable when Tom offers his help, but clearly doesn't know what he's doing and is ready to give up the pretense of even trying. He flounces back off to join the others without so much as a 'thank you'; Tom doesn't even bother getting annoyed. He carefully picks his way through the dense jungle, snagging a few dry twigs as he goes.

It's as he turns back to camp that he hears the snap of branches breaking beneath feet and a muffled whimper.

Frowning, he creeps closer to the source of the noise, wand in hand.

It's Avery, of course. He doesn't seem to have collected a single thing of use, Tom can't help but notice, irritably. He's also sprawled pitifully on the jungle floor like he'd just tripped over his own two feet and looked halfway to tears over it.

Then he stops.

Avery is not alone.

Tom was about to call out to him when he heard more twigs breaking, this time too loud to have come from the weight of a human. As he suspected, the massive bulk of a truly terrifying magical creature soon emerges from the trees in pursuit of Avery. There's no mistaking it for any of the usual predators of the jungle— this is a magical beast. And not just your run of the mill pixies or doxies either; definitely at least a quadruple X classification, if not higher. With it's staggering horns, rows of vicious teeth and enormous bulk that just barely manages to squeeze past the trees. It carries a lethal grace that he can't help but be in silent awe of.

It's just about to lunge at Avery when it catches sight of Tom by the trees, and freezes.

Tom holds his breath as they lock eyes. There's a sentience in its eyes that surprises Tom, even if it shouldn't. He wonders if it's the sort of creature capable of reading minds. He'd picked up a book on magical creatures native to South America, but the list was staggering— he could barely even remember the first hundred. This one seems familiar to something he'd read though, but what was it?

Those eyes seem to look right through him. His wrists burn alarmingly, as if in response. The pain turns searing soon enough, and Tom wants to reach down and inspect his arms to see if they've actually fallen off or if he's just imagining it, but he can't seem to pull his eyes away from the creatures. He feels as if he's on the precipice of something beyond his own world.

Supay, he thinks, panicked. A shapeshifting demon said to have goat horns and feet. It has connections and connotations with death and the underworld.

Tom almost wishes he'd forgotten this particular creature. At least then he could live under the delusion that he might make it out of this encounter alive.

Then suddenly, without any warning at all, it tugs its head away, breaking contact.

Tom lets out a great, shuddering breath as his knees buckle, eyes wide. He hears Avery let out a wretched sob, just as the magnificent horned creature turns back to the forest. It disappears into the drenched darkness within seconds, quiet as the night. Tom's heart beats a frantic tattoo against his chest, adrenaline racketing up into overdrive. He catches himself against a nearby tree, feeling like his soul had just snapped back into place. That it might have been dislodged at all was a terrifying thought in and of itself.

He all but drags Avery back to camp himself, barely even having the presence of mind to remember the blubbering boy.

He felt cold, down into his bones. Like he'd just encountered something far beyond what any human could possibly comprehend, and barely managed to make it out unscathed. The only part of him that doesn't feel numb are his wrists, where he's all but certain his runes are burning into his skin.

There's really no denying it; Baal Hammon probably just saved his life. Supay are said to be incarnations of death, not entirely unlike dementors. And just like dementors, to encounter one without any protection is all but certain to end poorly for the unfortunate wizard who just happened to stumble into its path.

"A Supay, you say?" Savoy's moustache does a strange dance beneath his stern brow, when Tom finally returns to camp and manages to explain, in halting sentences, what they saw. He turns to their Quechua guide, Maras, and begins to speak rapidly. His brow deepens. "Are you sure, Tom?"

Tom just shrugs, because truly he isn't. "I think so. He had goat horns, ears and feet, but teeth like a jaguar."

The two exchange yet another glance. Tom purses his lips, glancing back at Avery, who is utterly unhelpful and still shaking in his boots. "I could very well have been wrong— it could have just been a very large mountain goat."

"Perhaps, perhaps not." Savoy replies, after exchanging a few more terse sentences with Maras. "Supay, as a magical creature, is a reference to the Incan god of the underworld. Supposedly the Supay are emissaries of the underworld, in that respect. They're quite vicious— especially if you have nothing to offer them."

He frowns, puzzled, looking between the two of them. "If it truly was a Supay, it's really quite a marvel that both of you are alive…"

Tom doesn't like the sound of that. Also, Malfoy is eying him intensely from behind Savoy's shoulder, and it's making Tom's hackles raise. He doesn't like that look at all.

"Like I said, I could have been mistaken." Tom parrots dutifully, wishing he'd never brought it up at all.

Savoy spares him a critical look. Maras looks even more unconvinced, but after another conversation the two seem to mutually agree to drop the topic. Tom nearly sighs in relief as he returns to the campfire, dropping into a conjured chair next to Margaret. He doesn't miss the way his blonde classmate stares unabashedly at him, but he refuses to meet her gaze.



After hours and several tea sets spent pouring over Harry's lackluster notes, offset by Hermione's far more detailed ones, they decide to stop wasting away the wonderful weather and embark on some shopping of their own (for a given definition of 'wasting': Hermione is fairly certain most Londoners would give their left arm for an afternoon taking tea on one of the Langham's balconies) and maybe even a pub or two with Ron if they're lucky.

After going in circles on the matter for more than two pots of excellent bergamot tea, Hermione and Harry were no closer to finding the locus point of the parallel dimension than they had been when they started. They could both at least confirm, with reasonable certainty, that it was indeed still considered parallel. Where exactly the line was for 'parallel' and 'completely alternative' was still up for debate. Harry had a feeling it was approaching that line, with the exponentially growing list of differences in the timelines.

Whatever was going on in Eastern Europe had likely been brewing for years, maybe decades. The war breaking out as it had was just the culmination of wounds festering since the turn of the century; critical, systemic issues expanding until they could no longer be ignored.

What fascinated Hermione so thoroughly was how the two separate timelines responded to such grievances.

In history as they knew it, a great deal of effort by almost every country involved was put into avoiding war at all costs. Harry would have assumed that to be the right course of action, but as always, history laid bare to the eyes of time exposed ugly truths obscured by the enduring present. While the world powers were dawdling over trade agreements and poor economic growth, rural villages in the Soviet Union were systematically starved by the millions. Millions more would have already lost their lives to the gulags and concentration camps. Fascist ideals ossified into state agendas. By the time the war broke in earnest the Bloodlands of Eastern Europe had already proven true to their name— its title rising not from the political geography of empires but the human geography of victims, as Hermione explained it.

In the history Tom would one day come to know, the Baltic Alliance wedged itself between Hitler and Stalin as a reaction to such atrocities. The region which would be termed solely because it was the place Europe's most murderous regimes did their most murderous work had awoken and formed itself into a political territory.

Harry didn't consider herself to be in the position to cast judgment on either direction.

In some respects, her own reaction was quite chilling.

To feel so impartial and removed from such monumental suffering; as if the clockwork of mortal life had as much influence on her as the brief but beautiful life of the butterfly resting on their windowsill. Even here, bathed in the balmy warmth of a London afternoon, she could feel the cold hand of death at her shoulder, a reminder of the transience of life, Yama indistinguishable from her own shadow.

The numbness is disconcerting.

And as the days pass and humanity seems to slip farther and farther away from her, fewer and fewer things manage to drag her out of that emptiness. She wonders if there will come a day in her (long and terrible drawn out existence) life where she'll no longer feel anything at all.

But at least for now, that chilling indifference hasn't quite managed to successfully drag her into the abyss. The threads of her mortal tightrope might be fraying, but for now it continues to hold.

It's just as they're heading up to Harry's room for a quick change in wardrobe— on Harry's part, because she's dressed in her equivalent of leisure attire which Hermione insists is more than enough for a tour down Regent St, never you mind those fashion elitists off Bond St— that Hermione casually drops the social equivalent of a bomb on her.

"Oh!" Her best friend exclaims from beyond the bathroom, as Harry attempts and fails to figure out what to do with her hair. "I know just what will cheer you up! I can't believe I forgot to mention it!"

The enthusiasm in Hermione's voice is nothing short of alarming.

Harry pokes her head out with a wary squint. "What? Also, what do you mean, cheer me up? I'm in a perfectly cheery mood, thank you."

Hermione claps her hands. "Nonsense you've been in a foul mood and you know it." Hermione denies and then, brightly; "Parvati's getting married!"

Harry fails to see how this would, in any capacity, cheer her up— presuming of course that she was in need of it.

At Harry's lackluster response, Hermione gushes to add; "You're invited, of course! She asked me if I could get a hold of you to give you the RSVP and everything, since you're so off the grid these days. She asked if you wanted to be a bridesmaid, by the way, but I hedged that off since I know what your schedules like…"

Having a friend from school getting married at this age seemed rather sudden, but not entirely surprising. Or as joyous an occasion as Hermione was making it out to be. Sure, Harry was happy for Parvati and everything, but she fails to see how this is supposed to invoke the sort of enthusiasm in her that Hermione appears to think it warrants.

"Harry," Hermione leaps to her feet, holding her shoulders. "We are being invited. To a traditional Indian wedding."

She's silent for a moment. Then she realizes what this means, and then squeals in girlish delight.

Hermione's eyes light up as she shakes Harry by the shoulders. "They're doing the full three day thing— I don't really know all that much about it, apparently the first day is like a family thing only, but Lav was saying there's definitely room for at least three full outfit changes on the other two days if you're feeling up to it."

"Three sounds excessive," Harry says, faintly. "But I can definitely go for two."

"Oh, good, I was feeling the same. You know Parvati though— if this isn't the fashion event of the year I'll eat my socks. We might need to have at least one backup outfit."

"When is it? Let's start looking right away!" Harry enthuses, excited. "What time is it in Korea? Do you think we can get Ginny to go with us? Wait, she's invited, right?"

"Of course she's invited!" Hermione returns. "Harry, I'm fairly certain everyone from school is going to be invited. This thing is going to be enormous."

All the more reason to start hunting for the cutest Lehenga right away. Harry desperately wants to wear something bright and festive, but worries the vibrancy might clash terribly with her hair. Should she go for something more sedate but classic? The possibilities are endless.

"I dunno if she can come with us today, but we can definitely take pictures and send them to her." Hermione adds, whipping out her phone and beginning to search for stores.

She and Hermione exchange quick grins. As always, her forever brilliant best friend is right; Harry feels much better at the prospect of a good old shopping spree.




Nothing else of remark happens on their multi-day trek through the Andes, but Tom refuses to be lured into a false sense of security. Even as he lends a studious ear towards Savoy's endless anecdotes and lectures during the hike, he still makes sure to keep an eye out on their surroundings. As he learned the hard way, there were plenty of creatures in these mountains who found humans as nice appetizing afternoon snacks.

And if every once in a while he feels lingering gazes upon his back, he ignores it.

He has no answers— that he could or would give, at any rate— and so there's no point in starting a conversation. What would he say, anyway? So I might have encountered death, but lo and behold, my trusty god-sidekick came to my rescue at the last moment and told him to bugger off. Or at least, Tom is fairly certain that was what happened.

They reach the summit of Machu Picchu just as the first rays of sun crest the horizon. Balmy strips of glorious gold peel across the stark outline of the mountains. Mist glazes their wintry peaks, trailing lazily in the crisp morning air. He was told they'd reached the great Amazon jungle proper now, but nothing about the mild weather reminds him of any jungle he's ever read about. At this height even the formidable heat of the forests below bows to the thinning, cold air. Altitude, as it turns out, is no joke. He barely has presence of mind to spare for such a humbling, breathtaking sight, labored for breath as he is. All he can feel is relief at the idea of resting at the site, and perhaps begging for a portkey back to town.

Honestly, he'd been all set to unsubtly prod their guide and their professor on the death magic of the region, but after the incident on the trail he's not quite up to it anymore.

Tom stares down at his hands, untouched and unmarked aside from a few new callouses from the hike. His wrists haven't stopped burning since he encountered the harbinger of death in the jungle. He wonders what it means, and can't imagine it's a good sign. A dogged and meticulous determination to unearth any and all magics no matter how esoteric or arcane has been the driving force in his life ever since he discovered magic itself. And death, as the last and greatest of the unknowns of humankind, has always held a special place of regard and fascination in his heart. The unknowns that no human can ever truly comprehend; death, time, the fabric of reality, these are subjects he's always found so riveting.

And yet now, after staring down into that hollow abyss and finding that the unfathomable unknown had stared back, he can no longer summon up that capricious curiosity. Death is intriguing and irresistible— until he thinks of his own death. Then he is seized by a cold, paralyzing fear.

The key to conquering his fears is to understand them, he knows this.

But what can he do when what he fears is impossible to understand?

"You doing alright there, Mr. Riddle?"

Tom looks up. A shadow descends over him as Savoy peers down at him with a concerned expression. It appears the expedition is resuming the hike then; behind the bulk of his professor he sees the other students rising from their various conjured seats.

"Fine," he replies, standing as well.

Savoy just frowns further. "You're sure? No headache? Fever? You look a bit peaky."

"Just the altitude," he says. His gaze lingers behind the group leader, where he sees the shaky form of Armitage Avery staggering to his feet with the help of Nott. Malfoy, nearby, catches his eye. Tom quickly looks away.

"Right, well then. Let me know if you start to feel anything else." The professor insists, utterly unconvinced. Actually, if anything he looks even more worried.

Tom isn't sure what has the older man in such a worried fit, but he has to imagine it's connected with Avery, who's condition has progressed poorly as they continued on their trip. At this rate, Tom won't even have to beg for a portkey— Avery will likely require one to be whisked off to the nearest hospital, in which case he can just hitch a ride. On the subject, Tom isn't exactly free of worries himself. He has a feeling there's more to Supay than just a connection with death and vicious teeth that both Maras and Savoy aren't telling them. Every night the boy has woken up in fits of night terrors loud enough to disturb camp. His condition has grown worse with every passing day. It's true the two could easily be connected; poor sleep leads to a poor constitution, after all. And having night terrors about such an encounter is rather expected.

Tom's gaze flickers back to his fellow summer student; his face is silky pale and clammy, and though he angrily dismisses Mulciber and Nott whenever they hover around him in concern, he doesn't appear all that capable of walking alone. He's likely the reason they stopped at all when the ruins are already within sight. His eyes are bloodshot as his gaze darts to and fro with panicky insistence.

In contrast, Tom doesn't feel all that different than he had since the start of the hike. With the exception of his wrists, which haven't stopped burning, his constitution is just fine. He hasn't dreamed about anything concrete that he can recall, certainly not the Supay. When he tries to think back on them, he just remembers gold. Gold threads. He doesn't know what that means, but he's also never put much stock in divination and it's innocuous enough he readily dismisses it as irrelevant.

Through no fault of his own, he's likely dismissing far too many pieces as irrelevant.

Things come to a head later that night.

Or rather, the next day, when they discover Avery to be missing.

Tom feels a yawning pit open up in his stomach as he watches Savoy and Maras frantically comb the site for clues.

In the cold, wintry light of morning, Tom sits blankly on a stone ledge looking out over the ruins and stares into the sun. The terraced expanse around him is empty aside from him, the morning air clear of noise aside from the frantic calls of his professor below. He doesn't know where the other students are— in shock, perhaps, like him? Although the trip has been rather dauntingly adventurous, not a one of them had ever felt truly in danger during it. But to have one of the students just up and disappear in the middle of the night, past the wards their professor had set up, and the rather impressive ones of the site itself? What could have possibly taken him? What sort of beastly creature had been stalking them through the dark of the jungle, waiting for a moment of weakness?

He can, of course, think of one.


Tom blinks out of his reverie, turning at the sound of a new voice. Margaret walks up from behind him on the terrace above him, where she had been inspecting the path they'd come from, wand at the ready. Her cornflower blue irises are pinpricks in the wide expanse of the whites of her eyes, face drained of color.

"What?" He's immediately on edge. "Did you find something?"

Her mouth opens, then closes. Her wand hand is shaking when she points to him.

He frowns, then looks down.

He gasps loudly.

Margaret's shadow stretches out along the carved hillside, next to his own, which has warped into a macabre creature writhing like a dark stain against the stonework. He scrambles to his feet in shock, which of course does nothing as his shadow is still connected to his feet. Grand, nearly majestic horns emerge from an amorphous, atrous mass too dark to discern properly. The form seems to waver in the watery morning light, but nevertheless is much stronger than he's ever seen.

"Is that— " Margaret chokes. "The Supay?"

Tom has enough presence of mind to shake his head, eyes wide.

"No," he answers, after a long moment. "This is…"

This is Baal-Hammon, he thinks. The god he has accidentally garnered the favor of, for good or for ill. But he's never actually seen it before. Never even really felt its presence. Why is it here now?

Tom stares down at the creature rising from his shadow, pursing his lips.

Then he turns to Margaret. "I don't think Avery was taken."

"W— What?" Margaret was clearly not expecting that change in subject, voice dazed.

"I think he left of his own accord. That's why the wards didn't go off." Tom adds hastily.

"Why would he do such a thing?" Margaret reluctantly tears her gaze away from his shadow. "You think he knew? That it was chasing us?"

"I think it marked him, somehow," Tom answers, thinking quickly. His brow furrows. "Cursed him, really. I think the adults suspected something was wrong with him, but clearly didn't expect him to just leave."

Perhaps meeting eyes with the creature was its method of planting the curse on a person. Avery being cursed made a great deal of sense. His failing health, fits of extreme behavior and night terrors were all classic signs of curses. The real question— and the one that probably stopped his professors from intervening (assuming there was anything they could do)— was why Tom wasn't suffering from the same ailment then. Tom's good health and vague account of the creature likely confused them into thinking the beast had not been a Supay, and Avery's condition was unrelated.

He absentmindedly reaches down to rub his wrists.

The reason for Tom's uncursed status probably had a lot to do with an ancient deity fighting it off for him. Baal-Hammon might have even been staving it off this whole time, if his wrists burning was any indication of it using its power.

What did that mean then, that it was here now? It had never shown itself before.

Tom had a terrible, sinking suspicion that even a god of time and nature might not be enough to stand up against the powers of death.

"You… you haven't answered." Margaret says, shakily.

Tom glances back at her.

She jerks her chin back at his shadow, as if unwillingly to look in its direction.

"That's…" He doesn't even know how to answer. Grindelwald told him to keep Baal-Hammon's existence close to the chest, and he takes everything that man says with a grain of salt but he thinks its sound advice. He hasn't even told Harry.

"It doesn't matter." He decides, curtly. "It's not a Supay, is all."

"It's a monster," Margaret insists. In her wide, terrified eyes he sees: you're a monster.

The thought hits too close to home. It's the same gaze he saw in all the other children at the orphanage, before he'd realized just how special he was. He thought he'd gotten over it, once he accepted that magic was wondrous and his fellow orphans had just been scared, ignorant children. Seeing that look in Margaret's eyes, directed at him, again, made that hollow pit in his stomach stretch even wider.

"It's— " Frankly, she's sort of right. Those banished creatures of ancient times, the former gods of the earth, were called gods, demons, monsters, and deities in equal turns.

"That's a god, you daft girl, can't you tell?"

They both whirl around.

The rising sun lights Malfoy's hair in auric gold as he stands in front of it. Tom squints into the sun to make out his expression, as Margaret raises her wand once again.

"You're really going to use that thing on me?" Malfoy juts his chin at her wand, making no move to draw his own.

"If you're that worried about it, maybe don't startle people in the middle of a crisis." Margaret returns, narrowing her eyes.

Malfoy shrugs rather glibly. "Crisis, you say? Well, you're right things finally got interesting."

"Your friend is missing, possibly dead." Tom deadpans. "That's interesting to you?"

"He's not my friend," Malfoy chooses that of all things to reply to, sounding scandalized. "He's my vassal. His family has served mine since even before we moved off the continent to the isles."

Vassal, Margaret mouths, looking like she's half a step away from laughing hysterically.

"Nevermind that anyhow," he dismisses, walking until he's level with Margaret at the end of the ledge, to peer down curiously at Tom's shadow. "I knew there was something interesting to you." He declares, sounding rather proud.

Tom grits his teeth, unenthused to hear he's been watched this whole time like a curiosity at the circus.

"I don't know much about them myself, but there's a story some of the more barmy Malfoy portraits tell of our ancestor holding a contract with a god, once." Abraxas muses, staring directly at the shadow in a brazen manner even Tom would find difficult.

"Small wonder it left," Tom scowls under his breath.

Abraxas ignores the remark. "So which is it?"

Tom gives him an incredulous look. "Do you honestly think I'd just tell you that?" He asks, genuinely bewildered. He's well aware that the outrageously rich aristocratic purebloods tend to live in their own outrageous little worlds, but this is a bit much even in light of that.

"I'm not going to tell anyone." Malfoy announces, rather grandly.

Again— what exactly is going through his head? Does he think Tom is dim enough to believe him at his word? Remarkably enough, Malfoy is actually a rather difficult person to grasp.

"No, really," Malfoy continues, at his growing incredulity. "Such magics are banned by the ICW upon penalty of death, but what would I gain from reporting you? They're all a bunch of old curmudgeons anyway."

He supposes that's an explanation of some kind, but not exactly a convincing one. Tom still says nothing.

"Fine, fine, keep your secrets I suppose. You'd be less interesting otherwise," he shrugs, cavalier as ever.

"Tom, if Avery was cursed, what should we do?" Margaret directs to him, summarily ignoring Malfoy.

"We go after him of course." Malfoy interjects, leaning between the two. "He's my vassal. I can't just let him die. What would my father say?"

"Are you insane?" Margaret asks, very seriously.

"Do you honestly think you'd fair well against a creature like a Supay?" Tom asks at the same time, just as serious, but also curious in a rather morbid way.

"Me? Oh heavens no." Malfoy affects a gasp of surprise. Well. At the very least he seems self-aware enough of his own lackluster magical talents. "But you, marked by a god? I think we'd have better luck."

"Don't rope me into this," Tom refuses, brow twitching.

"You're already in this, whether you like it or not," Malfoy retorts, growing serious for once. "The only reason you weren't cursed as well is that god of yours, no? In that case, it's in your best interest if the teacher's don't find out. They'd have to report you."

Tom swallows. Yes, he's aware of that. Practicing specifically banned Ancient Magics like rituals to summon Gods is a wonderful way to end up publicly executed. And he's aware of the fate that would await him after they did report him. Locked up, if he's lucky. If he's unlucky, he'll go straight to being Kissed.

"And it's in my best interest to reclaim my vassal before he meets a timely end. I wouldn't hear the end of it from my father otherwise, you see. He might even disown me." Malfoy adds. "Terrible fate. Can you imagine?"

"How is it any worse than near certain death at the hands of a creature none of us know how to deal with?" Margaret points out, brow raised.

Malfoy gasps again. "To be disowned is much worse than death, I'll have you know. Great Merlin, what would I do with myself? How would I fund my lifestyle?"

Tom and Margaret stare at him with equal looks of despair.

He meets Margaret's gaze with no small amount of trepidation. Margaret says nothing, but her face is very pale, her lips thinned into a fine line.

"So, what, you want the three of us kids to go after Avery, alone?" Margaret clarifies, frowning. "You really are insane. What could the three of us do against a creature like that? We'd need the teachers."

"Ah, youth," Malfoy laments, tragically, "so trusting. You still believe in the authority of adults don't you? That's quaint."

"What youth?! You're not even that much older than us!"

Margaret huffs up in indignation, even as the gnawing pit in Tom's stomach grows. His eyes flicker down the mountainside, where he can barely make out the forms of their professors combing the chiseled cliffs. Margaret is hardly without grounds to stand on, but for such an unreasonable human Malfoy isn't exactly off the mark either. Tom has never, and likely will never, put too much trust into adults. Not even Harry, no matter how dear she is to him. Will the adults even manage to do anything?

It's not that Tom thinks the three of them are in any way superior to the adults— rather, even full grown wizards die easily at the hands of dangerous magical creatures. All the knowledge in the world won't necessarily be of much use against a monster that exceeds even the Ministry's danger classifications.

"My point still stands." His classmate retorts, crisply. "Whether or not our guides are of much use, getting involved ourselves is pointless. We'd only end up killed."

"Have it your way, I suppose," Abraxas sighs, throwing up his hands. "But the fate of a young, innocent wizard might just rest in your hands. How tragic!"

With that he saunters off, leaving Margaret sneering at his back.

"I knew he was a cad, but he's even worse than I expected." She says, grimacing with disgust.

"For a Slytherin, he's appallingly lacking in self-preservation," Tom agrees, but he's not really thinking about the vapid and oddly eccentric Malfoy.

Malfoy had been pretty on the mark about most of it, but he was wrong about one thing— Tom was certainly not unaffected by the creature's curse. He just had more means to fight it off than Avery right now.

He folds his arms tight around himself, as his wrists burn like fire.

He's fine, right now. But who's to say how long that will last?



Like everything cataclysmic in Harry's life, the tipping point of her precarious balancing act of both ignorance and willful denial of godhood starts in a manner rather boringly pedestrian.

That isn't to say that shopping for outfits for her friend's wedding is unexciting or anything, but there's certainly a normalcy to it that suggests an unguarded day of ubiquitous delights lies in store for her. An afternoon of trying on gorgeous clothes with her best friend, maybe an evening of catching up with Ron and some of their old classmates around a pub table.

Not— not this.

In one moment, she and Hermione are in an upscale boutique trying on dozens of ensembles in gorgeous embroidered patterns. Hermione had just managed to sweet-talk her into buying a stunningly festive lehenga in an ultramarine so bold Harry would have never picked it out herself. She had just finished putting it on, with ample help from one of the attendants, and was waiting in the dressing room to have it pinned and fitted to her size when she felt an odd tug in her was a novel sensation she'd never quite be able to put into words. A little like being pulled backwards through a curtain of heavy, lukewarm water.

In the next, she is… here.

She finds herself in a barren and desolate wasteland.

The air is so still, and so quiet, she wonders for a moment if she's even still on planet earth. She is so startled and dazed she just stares around with wide eyes. There is only an immutable, colorless sky above with its single solemn halfmoon at the westward mouth to remind her of what planet she's on. That, and the evidence of the savagery of which man commits upon itself, spread around her in the coughing dirt.

Dark caverns rent upon the parched earth beside the straggly remains of stripped trees. What was once a lushly appointed fitting room in a bustling store was now a hellish landscape interrupted by nothing, no sounds of customers and attendants, just a disinterred silence so profound it had taken upon a solemn, haunting life of its own; swelling in the air like the film of an uncertain vapor. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention.

Harry could not make sense of how she had come to be here.

It seems all at once a dream, and yet so unnerving as to be real.

Then shapes begin to chisel out from the deepening shadows entrenched below her. Black shapes lay crouched in all manners, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of abandonment and despair. They were dead; it became as clear as the thin daylight around her the longer she affixed her bewildered gaze to them. There was nothing earthly to them now, nothing but grey shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the changeless gloom. They extended uncountably into the distance, as far she could see.

Is it a vision of some kind? A glimpse into some myopic idealism, some sweating emptiness? But she's never been a seer, and doesn't think she'd start now.

An illusion, then?

But it cannot be that either. It's the smell, that tells her so. Gone is the lush jasmine fragrance of the storefront, replaced by the unmistakable fetor of rot and decay, cloying in the tepid air. In the indefinable blackness below her, a face emerges near her hand. Eyelids rose, and sunken eyes look up at her, enormous and vacant, a kind of blind white flicker in the depths of the orbs, flashing in the unspeakable moment between life and death. He can't be older than Tom, a boy by anyone's standards. Alive— at least— for now. She peers downward, feeling as if she's been caught up in the tidal force of this strange-not dream, a person in her own image.

Bones of all kind lay scattered at her feet. Stuck pitifully into the earth like a splintered ribcage of some poor archaic creature. Charred blackness lances around the pikes in a pattern of some unknowable wisdom.

He's speaking to her, but she does not understand the language. She doesn't even know where this is. When this is. Could she have been pulled through the very fabric of spacetime, an unstable star in unwilling orbit of a greater mass?

Then his skeletal hand brushes against hers, and she knows.

To speak now is a waste of energy. Skin against skin, his thoughts and wants are conveyed through the exalted power of a timeless benediction. An invocation as likely old as humanity itself: hands clasped around her own, head bent in supplication— a prayer in the feverish direction of God.

Never before did this land, this world, this life, appear so hopeless and so bleak, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness.

Born into the throes of the great famine, to watch mother, father, brother and sister wither to bones and return to the earth before his eyes. Men from the capital rove in packs like ravenous dogs, preaching of great revolution, dragging the defeated, emancipated bodies of kulaks in their wake to never be seen again. In light of the famine ravaging the countryside, even the gulags could be considered a sort of heartless reprieve. Driven by hopelessness, he follows the words of a wandering dyadya to the far outskirts considered remote even by his rural farming village.

Either by luck or by malice, the man's words lead the boy to the house of a well-known childhood terror. But the chimney is lit, meaning the prospect of food may be housed within. No matter the evil, the boy feels no other option but to move forward. The baba yaga within would have killed and eaten him, if the young boy had not been an unknowing volshebnik himself. An apprentice is better than a meal, or so the logic goes.

But when the Great Terror struck the countryside, not even a baba yaga lived through unscathed. Once again, alone: peasants of the land were dead, or scattered among camps the length and breadth of the Soviet Union. Men in uniforms trawled through the shallow graves looking for kulaks for their quotas for execution and deportation.

To say the boy was angry would be incorrect. Endless, exhaustive starvation made things like anger and frustration bitter dreams.

What had caused this young sorcerer to invoke what he knew to be a most dangerous and calamitous death ritual capable of invoking widespread devastation across the land was not really for Harry to speculate, but from what she knew of this boy now after reading through his mind, it no doubt stemmed from an idle, unexciting acceptance of his own fate.

He lets go of her hand; the hand of the deity he had prayed so fervently to, the exalted terror he had spent thirty days and nights digging through shallow graves for, collecting bones and old hearts to burn to charcoal ink, gold fillings for offerings, ribs for sacrificial circles. It was a ritual Harry was entirely unfamiliar with, but knew somehow, quite intimately, to be the sort of rural, savage magic Ministries around the world attempted and failed to quell. The sort of dangerous, cataclysmic powers that wiped out civilizations long ago, remaining in the far tendrils of society, passed down from one mouth to another.

Malevolent shadows swell beneath her feet. Relief glows in the whites of the boy's eyes.

Yama roils to life in a way that should frighten her, but doesn't. His frightening maw rises from beneath her feet in a roar of explosive, chillingly silent anguish. The ground beneath her shakes with his anger— or maybe it's her own— if there ever was even a distinction between them. This boy has summoned her for a great and catastrophic purpose, a cleansing and calamity all at once, and by the ancient magic that unwillingly binds her she has no choice but to complete his ritual.

There are shouts of men in the distance— they have been spotted by the secret police. The boy has eyes for none of it. He stares up at her: as if, throughout the heavens and the earth, she alone is the honored one. As if all the worship and supplication in this world belonged to her. Death, the great equalizer, the grace bestowed on this unfair reality equally to all, alone in its lonesome dynasty.

That look: it made her feel small and very lost, yet it was not altogether depressing, that feeling.



To believe in any kind of fate had always seemed a weakness to Gellert; a way of laying blame upon some omnipresent presence as a way of absconding from one's sins. He'd never been the sort to turn a blind eye to his own cruelty, for good or for ill. To window dress it as the deeds of terrible but great men, as the forefather of some grand and sweltering revolution.

He had no reason to expect his scrying compass to work on her when it had not during all his previous attempts the year before.

The boy was easy enough. Sullen and precocious as always, unwillingly ensnared in the thrilling adventure of new magics and new places. How he envied the sweet, unfettered excitement in his eyes; he remembered a time in his life not dissimilar to it, when it seemed as if magic was all he would ever need. As far removed from the theater of war as Tom was, checking up on him was something of an indulgence. He always found himself in a curious mood after spying on the boy; not as embittered as before, not as despairing.

Harry, however.

Well as he said, he hadn't expected it to work.

It must be tied to acts of incredible, impossible magic, he thinks. The last time he'd managed but a glimpse, an ephemeral moment of glory removed of time and space.

This time, the administration of his own memory provides him with a haunting context. It's enough to give him more than just a glimpse, but a time and place.

Before this moment, he would have said death was cheap. Death was cheap; it is easy and terrible and utterly unfair.

But to watch the makings of a black truth artists of language have long tried to cover with bright colors unfurl against the backdrop of simple human depravity was the sort of galvanizing moment that, he imagines, makes mere mortals 'see the light of god'.

It's such a droll thing, life. That mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose.

But death— the soundless, drowning, collapse of skin to soul— there was a great invincibility to it, something so profound and so ageless, something he hadn't seen in anything but unspeakable evils, or unyielding truths. The immutability of it, the faceless, unchanging stoicism: there was a certain grace to it.

Even the most terrible and powerful of men do not escape its tender embrace, no matter how grand or how ubiquitous and generic the life they lead may be. Emperors and peasants, equal in death.

What he finds when he finally manages to arrive at her location is both predictable and positively transcendent. After years under the cruel heel of Stalin's brand of communism it came as no surprise to find the Soviet countryside so entrenched in a wretched hopelessness that no single grain— of wheat or of human kindness— could grow root in its starving soil. But then, to see it rent assunder by a ruination so absolute even the party members in Moscow must feel its seething tendrils in their souls was not entirely unlike what he imagines the compatriots of the Old Testament felt watching their gods perform miracles. Salvation, at its most magnificent and unholy.

He should not be standing here watching the destruction in such awe.

When there was nothing left after this devastation; when the cleansing fires of calamity had absolved the world of its sins and left nothing but newness in its wake, the repercussions would be absolute. The Soviets would be looking for someone to blame, and the Baltic Alliance would be its first target. If he couldn't find a way to pin the blame on the Nazi Party it could lead to two fronts against two separate world superpowers.

He's certain he'll manage to find a way back to his mortal trappings at some point, long enough to worry about such human complications.

For now, it's enough to watch the divinity of a supreme being reign terror upon the earth.

Disaster and devastation leaves a stain upon both mind and matter. A scar crosses through the grey sky, a badge of a propitiatory act both arcane and unfathomable. The great scourge will linger across the stars for weeks afterwards (later, the West will grow unnerved with rumors of a great destructive weapon in the hands of the Soviets) as if in reminder, or forewarning. Peasants will speak of a tale that sounds as if taken straight from the ilk of antiquity; a calamity against oppressors like a biblical plague, Sodom and Gomorra reprised in the modern day. Governments speak of plagues, spreading sicknesses that skip one household but wreak havoc upon the next; peasants praying to unknown gods; ravenous, cannibalistic ghostly armies ravaging the countryside on the hunt for troikas threatening to take farmers away. The International Confederation of Wizards— who know better— can only cower and tremble in their robes, knowing full well that such a catastrophe can only be the advent of a primordial god.

(Harry tells him, later, as he watches flames as inextinguishable as the disinterred anguish unleashed from the souls of this hollowed ground roar across the skies, that she's not even sure if it was her.

He thinks it likely enough. He knows so little about her powers, it's difficult to make an educated guess.)

She's kneeling in the parched dust, disinterested in the dirt gathering in her curiously exotic outfit and immaculate hair. Chaos and calamity reign around them, as black lightning smites through the fields, and around the marks the earth rumbles and comes alight with the hordes of undead. In the distance he hears the screams of dying men, a vibrating note of fear and despair carried along the wind, as their former victims return to the living to enact a final act of fatalistic revenge. Harry remains either ignorant or dismissive of it all, a careless contempt for the evanescence of all things, gaze affixed on the body clutched in her arms. It's a boy who appears to be around Tom's age. What exactly about him is so special that she would drag his corpse against her person to cradle in death is beyond Gellert's purview, but she seems unable to tear her eyes away.

He could not define her as a savior or heretic, and found in him no desire to do so. To be a god or a monster was a matter of opinion, after all.

But between them, he thinks, past the appointment of mortal idealism, the abominable terrors and abominable satisfactions, is the unshakeable specter of the finality of life. The gripping death. A shadow insatiable of glorious ideals, of frightful realities, darker than the shadow of night, and draped nobly in the folds of a solemn emptiness.

He walks closer to her— but not too close. Well beyond the bounds of a ritual even he could not begin to parse the origins of, something so ancient and prophetic he feels the urge to avert his gaze from the damning charcoal lines. Well beyond the reach of the macabre demon pooling into her shadow, a creature so venerable and primeval he couldn't possibly begin to guess its origins. He'd thought it a true impossibility, when Tom had been marked by a god, but perhaps it just runs in the family.

As curious as he is about— well, everything to do with the current situation— he has a feeling voicing any of his questions aloud will only lead down a path not dissimilar to the last few times they've been alone together; namely, tears and an existential crisis. So he refrains.

Instead he just stands and watches, and wonders.

He knew what she was capable of, at least in theory. He always had, ever since she'd defied the laws of magic and life itself and rose from the dead. To see a brief vision of it through prophecy was a sight indeed; to see it in person? Truly humbling. No wonder Pershing was so entranced with her, and yet never made any real moves against her. He must have known, then, what sort of arcane powers lingered at her disposal. (Probably of a similar sort to the ones that remained at his, he couldn't help but think.)

The story, as bewildering a tale as it is, spills out in fits and starts.

"Yuriy," she says, staring down at the boy. His eyes are closed, dark hair untamed and dusty, cheeks still ruddy as if he was just resting his eyes, not locked in the final, eternal slumber.

"His name?" He asks, quietly.

She nods. "The old vedma who took care of him last called him that. He didn't know any other name— or at least, couldn't remember one."

This doesn't answer any of the burning questions he has for this woman, but perhaps if he's patient enough, they might unravel themselves in one way or another.

"He summoned me, I think." She chokes out. "I have no idea how. I wasn't… I wasn't anywhere near here, wherever here is…"

Gellert peers around, as if the local foliage might prove enlightening. "Romania? Ukraine?" Frankly, it was impossible to tell without asking, and anyone around to ask is either dead or currently undead.

Harry continues on, as if she hadn't heard him; "He knew it would kill him to do so. But he did it anyway. It wasn't about revenge, I don't think. The last thoughts going through his mind were about… balance. The great cycle."

Gellert glances down at the unmoving figure in her arms with a new light. Truly, this slip of a boy managed to bring forth such calamity? To summon such a colossal degree of devastation… he must have been a very powerful wizard. Or perhaps just a very well learned one. Harry mentioned an old vedma; likely a baba yaga of some kind then, and an ancient one at that. He's never had the opportunity to meet one himself— like many practitioners of old and dark magic, they like to keep well hidden from prying eyes— but he's aware they feast on the blood of unsuspecting young children to maintain their immortality, using a ritual only known to them. It wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility for an old and powerful witch like that to know enough about the old ways to summon the most powerful of their pantheon.

He surveys the black stained patterns surrounding Harry; they look enough like Glagolitic, the ancient Slavic alphabet. Then his eyes lower to the impenetrable shadow staining the ground around Harry, so intensely black it's as if it's staring back at Gellert. He deliberately doesn't look too closely at it, focusing back on Harry. She looks shocked, more than anything, as if the reality of it all hasn't caught up to her.

"I— I should bury him," she stutters, even as her fingers curl tighter around him, hand to his cheek, as if she doesn't want to let him go. "Give him a proper burial."

Her head bows low, features inscrutable as she traces his cheek.

"Do you know where he was from?" He asks, softly.

Harry shakes her head. "I don't think even he knew."

Gellert pauses, considering, before ultimately deciding to go with the burial customs he was most familiar with in the region.

"A kurgan, then." They're normally used for the wealthy and well-known; it's likely no one will ever know Yuriy's name, or at least know it and know what he had done, but he seems deserving of formality nonetheless.

Harry finally looks up at him. Her eyes blaze in the demonic, unholy light. Something ancient and unknowable stares back.

"They're not too difficult— a mound of earth about this high— " He motions with his hand. "Cremated body and belongings inside. No ornamentation."

Harry says nothing, merely nodding. She tenderly brushes his unruly hair away from his forehead one last time; the gesture is sweet, and maternal. Far too intimate and personal for the God of Death, he thinks. Then she stands, and seems to survey the landscape then, finally looking up from the pain of a singular death to see the irreducible reality of innumerable deaths by the policies of distant leaders.

She leaves the ritual circle without remark, but her shadow remains.

With a whispered incendio the circle and its instigator go up in flames. Afterwards she turns to him, expectant. He pulls out his own wand and pulls the earth beneath their feet into the closest approximation of tumulus sites he's seen before. She watches him do it with those luminescent eyes, then turns to the shallow graves around them and proceeds to perform the same process to them.

He has no idea how long they stand there, giving burials fit for kings to peasants whose names will never be remembered in the inscrutable hands of history. Perhaps they will be lost to the sands of time, but— as he watches Harry erect burial mound after burial mound— he thinks, he knows, death will remember them all.

He's not sure how long they linger here— an hour, or perhaps two, with the sky lumbering and overcast its difficult to tell— but it's long enough to have gathered a meager crowd of villagers either valiant or reckless enough to brave the apocalypse outside and see a god in its human form.

Harry notices them eventually, as they gather below the bark-stripped, empty trees in clothing as drab and colorless as the cadaverous earth below them. They murmur in low voices, incomprehensible over distance and language, staring with hollow eyes. Even if he can't quite make out their expressions he can easily discern the exalting hush of their whispers. Morana he hears, unfurling over the barren distance. The regional goddess of death, and winter, if he recalls correctly.

Harry stares back, and it's as if her stoic trance has finally fled, leaving a startled woman in its wake. She looks as if she cannot fathom them, although what about them is so unforeseen Gellert doesn't really know. They appear to be relatively ubiquitous rural peasants for this part of the world.

"What are they doing here?" She murmurs, quietly.

He follows her gaze, hands in his pockets.

"They think you're a goddess," he explains, although he thinks it should be obvious, even with the language barrier.

Harry turns to him in surprise. "What?" She says, aghast.

He gives a vague wave to her… everything. "Well, I mean…"

Harry looks down at herself, and then, remarkably, palms her face. He's not sure what to make of the gesture— too chagrined and human to be fit for a goddess, surely. Even after all that upturned dirt and dust and charred bone shards, her outfit remains stunning and immaculate.

"This isn't— I wasn't— …" She tugs haplessly at the elaborate braid running over one shoulder. "I was dress shopping for a friend's wedding." She explains, as if that's supposed to make any sense.

"Some wedding," he opines.

"They're going for a traditional look, obviously." Harry replies, petulant.

"Right, of course."

She sighs deeply. "Is there… I mean, am I supposed to be doing something right now?"

He shrugs, because he really doesn't know. "Smile and wave?"

She snorts. "What, like I'm the bloody Queen of England or something?"

He feels as if there's a reference in there that he's somehow not managing to get, despite knowing that the King of England does indeed currently have a Queen.

Her brief levity drains away as she gazes solemnly at their assembled crowd. "... How did you get here?"

"International portkey and apparition," he replies, blinking at the nonsequitur.

Harry draws her ornate dupatta closer around herself, looking bizarrely demure for a goddess that nearly laid waste to an entire empire. It speaks a lot that she takes his answer at face value, and does not question why, exactly, he was here at all. "Oh." She says. "Could you, um, take me back with you?"


"Yes, now." She hisses, frazzled.

"Right," he agrees, after a moment of hesitation wherein he continues to be utterly mystified by her entire existence, proffers his elbow.



Tom wakes in the middle of the night.

The tent he shares with Mulciber and Malfoy is preternaturally quiet now without Avery's snoring, or night terrors. Too quiet, really. It's silent like the dead.

He bolts upright, heart thundering in his chest.

His eyes are wide with terror as he meets eyes with his god for the first time. It has no tangible eyes, but he knows it's staring back anyhow.

You want me to go, don't you, he thinks, trembling.

I don't have a choice, do I, His hands clench against the bedsheets.

His wrists have gone cold.

Grindelwald had noted before that the pact he shared with this god was unintentional, and therefore partial at best. To call it a pact at all was probably even too ambitious. Perhaps if he'd made a true pact with this god, he might have been powerful enough to reverse this curse.

He grits his teeth. "Bloody hell." He doesn't make it a habit to curse, but this seems like a rather applicable time to do so.

If he doesn't do something about this, he's going to end up just like Avery.

If he tells anyone, he'll still end up like Avery, just with the added bonus of being dragged through the legal circus and being publicly executed.

And if he tries to face the Supay alone as he is now? Still just like Avery, except he'd have just made it easy for the beast by just confronting it directly.

"But you, marked by a god? I think we'd have better luck."

"Figured it out, have you?"

Tom startles, gaze torn from the deity to squint out into the darkness of the tent. He sees Malfoy wide awake, staring at him. Tom's eyes glance towards Mulciber, strewn over his bed.

"Don't worry about him, I knocked him out with a bit of potion in his supper earlier," Malfoy explains, sitting up and swinging his legs off the bed. As he tosses the blanket off, Tom sees he's fully dressed.

Tom stares balefully at the blonde. Malfoy just grins back.

He narrows his eyes at him, distrustingly. "So are you actually a vapid, arrogant ponce, or do you just like to pretend you are?"

Abraxas laughs. "I'll have you know I intend to spend the rest of my life as an irreverent and irresponsible pureblood heir for as long as my family fortune allows me to."

That's a yes, then. He's actually a ponce, and he likes playing it up too.

"It wasn't just a barmy old portrait of an ancestor," Tom says. Abraxas blinks at the nonsequitur. "That told you about gods and wizards." He clarifies.

"What gave it away?" The blonde drawls. "It was the name, wasn't it."

"Abraxas, likely of Gnostic origins: sometimes referred to as part of the Greek pantheon, and as an Aeon in the Nag Hammadi library, but most recently as a demon in Catholicism," Tom has done rather a great deal of research on such subjects in recent months.

"Well read, I see." Abraxas tips his head in acquiescence. "Then again, I suppose what with the position you're in you've had to be well informed."

Tom shrugs, still waiting on an actual answer.

Abraxas sighs. "Yes, I suppose the name would give it away; I'm hardly the first Abraxas in my family. I'm actually the tenth. The first supposedly took on the name of the patron god who served him faithfully, and firstborn sons in the generations thereafter have been given the name in hopes of currying Abraxas's favor once more."

"But it's never worked?"

"Not since the first," Abraxas confirms. "At this point, it's basically just a family tradition."

"Gods these days are basically just stories," Abraxas adds, and in the moonlight his eyes glint like silver pools as he stares Tom down. "Even the oldest families on the continent don't really believe in them anymore. If people find out there's someone who's once again awoken those ancient powers…"

Tom grimaces. "Yes, I'm aware of the current international wizarding laws."

It was one thing to teach it in the historical and purely academic context that Wolcroft did— and even then, that tended to skirt the line to such a degree that the school had plenty of senators on payroll— and entirely another to actually practice it outright. Such magics were banned, and for good reason.

"So you've really got no choice but to go," Abraxas reasons, sounding rather smug.

"It's not that simple." Tom denies. He takes a breath. "I— I'm not in any kind of pact with the god you saw earlier. It was an accident."

"An accident?" Abraxas repeats, incredulous. "You mean to tell me you… accidentally met a god?"

"Well… yes."

"Some wizards spend their entire lifetimes— or in the case of my family, multiple lifetimes— trying to achieve such a thing, and you're saying you did it on accident?"

"Yes, and while I may be marked and hold some kind of favor, there's no contract." Tom explains quickly. "At present, I really have no way of saving Avery, let alone myself."

Abraxas frowns at the revealed information.

"The solution is obvious, then." He decides. "You'll just have to form a pact properly."

"Do you happen to know of any ways of going about that?" Tom asks, only half-sarcastic. If Abraxas is as closely tied to his namesake as he says he is, he just might.

The blonde purses his lips. "I know of the way my family has tried, for centuries." He offers. "Obviously it never worked, but with you…"

Those eyes gleam at him, mercurial.

"With you, I think it will work."