Chapter Two

The sun rose into a cloudless blue sky on Boxing Day. Gods was it bright. The air bit at him, chilling him to the bone even several long hours after he'd come back inside. As good a day as any other for a funeral, Silas reckoned.

Mother died in the heat of summer. It rained at her funeral—a heavy, pounding rain that finally petered out about halfway through the ceremony but left a stickiness in the air that only contributed to the misery of the whole affair. It was a Muggle service, per her final wishes. Filled with Muggle guests and Muggle customs. It had seemed wrong, somehow. Like a denial of who she was.

Not so for his father. Much as he disdained their traditions, Cygnus Ellington IV could trace his name and his blood back to the Norman Conquest. For him, the old ways would be observed. Too bad Silas was the only one left to observe them.

Silas covered the mirrors with black crape—there were seven of them in the cottage, he now realized, each too eager to reflect his lonesome visage back at him. His wand remained stowed beneath his plain black robe as he covered the last one. Custom demanded he do this task by hand. With trembling fingers, he tucked the fabric behind the gilded frame and against the wall, letting it fall flat over the surface until his pale reflection was at last hidden.

Not sparing the mirror another glance, he turned and strode down the stairs. That task finished, he stepped outside and affixed a black wreath to the front door. Not that anyone would ever see it. They didn't have any neighbors, and he wasn't expecting any company. Regardless, he would do his duties. All of them. For his father's sake.

His father was home. Covered by a black shroud and resting atop a bier in the living room, but home nonetheless. Lucy Hollingsworth's father hadn't been so fortunate.

Walking back inside the cottage, Silas pulled the door shut behind him and went to work drawing the curtains closed. Closed tight. The only light came from the scant few candles resting in sconces along the walls. No fire burned in the hearth, and he missed its warmth.

Eyes planted firmly upon his feet, Silas fell into the chair at his father's side. So he would remain until dawn. There could be no magic. Not for any reason, and certainly not for his comfort. Seeing his breath hanging thick in the air, Silas wondered about the necessity of this tradition. But on this point, custom was firm: when a wizard's life was claimed by sorcery, his final rites mustn't include any of the same.

"Mors vincit omnia," Silas whispered the words, now more sure than ever of their truth. Death would always win.

"Mors certa, hora incerta," Alexis answered with the customary refrain, her hand on his shoulder. It was meant as a call to live life to the fullest, for death's hour was uncertain. Now, though, Silas took it as more of a warning. Death's hour was uncertain because he—even in his own mind, Silas dared not articulate the name—he could be anywhere. Or maybe everywhere.

He thought about Ryan, his eyes narrowing as he clenched his fists. Ryan, with his pure blood and quick wand. Had he known? Suspected? Silas remembered the story Ryan told him on the Express at the start of term. He had broken bread beneath the Hawkins' roof. Ryan's parents planned to follow Him. Silas shook his head, trying to steer his thoughts away from that road. He needed to keep his wits about him. Or else…

They found his father in his shop, the books that had consumed his life hardly noticing his passing. It had been a neat job, quick and tidy. The Aurors doubted he'd even seen it coming. The Killing Curse, they told him. Painless, best anyone could tell. But what did they know?

He sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "You don't need to be here, you know. I mean, if you wanted to be with your family-"

She pressed her forefinger against his lips, silencing him with her touch. "You need me."

Her tone invited no further discussion of the matter, so he didn't bother. Besides, she wasn't wrong. "Thanks, Ally. For everything."

She gave him a small smile, resting her hand on his knee. He leaned back in his chair, his eyes resting on his father's still form. It still didn't feel real. He looked away, rolling his head backward and staring at the ceiling. He didn't talk, and neither did she.

So they sat, waiting for minutes to turn to hours and the sun to fall then rise.

Sometime after dark, Silas felt his eyes fluttering closed. Beside him, Ally's breathing had long since evened out, her head lolling against his shoulder. Just as sleep prepared to claim him, the front door creaked open. Silas didn't turn around. He didn't need to. "Ryan."

Beside him, Alexis stirred. Ryan didn't answer, but Silas knew it was him. He could feel it. "I didn't think you'd come."

Ryan grabbed a chair and pulled it to Silas' side. Still, he didn't speak.

Alexis turned in her chair, her eyes clouded with sleep. "Silas? Ryan?"

A long moment passed with no one breaking the silence. Alexis gnawed on her lower lip and Silas cracked his knuckles. Finally, Ryan spoke.

"Gods, Silas, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." His voice was raw. Silas looked at him for the first time since his arrival. Dark circles had formed beneath his eyes and stubble marked his jaws. "If I'd known what he was planning—with your father—I would've…"

Ryan trailed off, exactly what he would have done going unsaid. But that was good enough for Silas. "I know."

Ryan nodded, casting his eyes above Silas' father. He threw his arm around his friend's shoulders. From the other side, Alexis did the same. Surrounded by the only two people he had left in the world, Silas allowed himself to cry.

The world around him felt different. Different in a way Silas couldn't put to words. How many times had he walked this path, crossed this bridge? He wouldn't even hazard a guess. He could make this walk in his sleep. Now, though, he found himself looking down, unsure of his footing.

The castle loomed ahead of him, its grey stone striking an imposing figure against the clear blue sky. He clamped down on his urge to turn and run.

Allie walked beside him. Ryan was up ahead. The silence cut to the bone. Each step seemed a mile. But on he went, for there was nowhere else to go

He wandered forward under the bright January sun, lost in the dark.

Silas cut a familiar course through the castle keeping his eyes cast forward and his jaw set. Conversations died around him as he went. There was no escaping it. No escaping the pitying glances and the "Poor Silas"es and the "All alone now, isn't he?"s. The half-whispers, spoken behind cupped hands but never exactly quiet, followed him. No matter where he went or what he did, the poisonous words crept into his ears. A constant reminder of what he'd lost and what he had to face. He ground his teeth and fought to keep the scowl from his face.

No less troublesome were the pointed looks from some of his housemates.

He hadn't seen Alexis or Ryan today. His fault as much as theirs, he supposed. He'd not exactly gone looking for them.

He allowed muscle memory to guide him as he wandered. Judging by the aching in his calves, he must've been climbing the stairs for a while now. Almost at once, he found himself at the top. The tip-top. The Astronomy Tower, more specifically.

He hadn't been up here in years. Silas and Astronomy hadn't ever seen eye to eye. The constellations were a load of rubbish in his estimation. Meaningless dots on a field of black.

Gilded telescopes surrounded him. He ran his hand across the nearest one and gave it a twirl. He didn't look through it. He found his way to the edge of the Tower and leaned against the balustrade. The cold night air whipped against his face and rustled his cloak. Usually Silas hated the cold, but in that moment he didn't mind. He leaned further out over the edge, standing on his toes and staring down at the ground.

"A long way to fall." The voice belonged to a woman, but Silas couldn't place it. Still, he didn't turn around.

"Long enough, I suppose." Below him, the rocky ground shone in the light of the moon. He pulled back and spun around. He rested his back against the parapet.

He hadn't seen her since the fall, when she'd left overnight and not come back. Lucy Hollingsworth looked much the same as she ever had. The same frizzy blonde hair and fair skin. The same green-trimmed robes. The eyes were different, though. She looked past Silas, or maybe through him, at a point way off in the distance.

"I didn't think you were coming back," he said.

She shrugged. "Neither did I."

Silas sat down with a thump, his back against the wall. Lucy joined him. Though they sat inches apart, neither made any move for the other's touch. Instead, Lucy pulled her legs close to her body, and Silas turned away from her.

"Does it ever get any easier?" he asked.

"God, I hope so."

He didn't see them until it was too late. Avery and Mulciber took him from behind. Silas may not have had Ryan's skill with a wand, but he could've matched the two of them in a fair fight. So they didn't give him one.

Silas pitched forward, barely able to get his hands up in time to keep his face from crashing against the masonry. By the time he reached for his wand, it was gone. He rolled over to face them. Mulciber smiled, a cruel thing with teeth bared and eyes dancing. Avery's face was blank.

Mulciber jabbed his wand at him. The hex hit Silas like a punch to the gut. He grunted as the wind was expelled from his lungs.

"No better than a Muggle, this one."

"Reckon we ought to snap his wand? Be doing him a favor, really."

Silas bit his tongue and narrowed his eyes. He didn't say anything. Instead, he kicked out with all the strength he could muster. His aim was true as his foot connected with Mulciber's knee. Silas almost grinned at the pop he heard before Mulciber howled in pain and crashed to the ground.

His joy was short-lived. He never heard the curse, but he felt his throat constrict. Avery stood over him, face still expressionless. As Silas squirmed, Avery at last allowed his lips to twitch.

As his vision began to cloud, the door sprang open. Ryan crossed the threshold, fire burning behind his eyes. His wand was liquid in his hand. Avery flew through the air, spinning. He crashed against the far wall and pooled to the floor. Mulciber went silent.

Ryan never so much as looked at him. "Get back to your dormitory, Silas. Now."

Silas clambered to his feet and made for the door. Behind him, he heard Ryan go to work. "Obliviate!"

Silas grasped his throat, flinching at the tenderness of the flesh, and shook his head.

Silas and Alexis lay in the shadow of the castle, overlooking the lake below them as the sun dipped low in the sky. Ryan was again absent.

"I sent them my acceptance," she said. "Saint Mungos, you know?"

Silas didn't respond for a long moment. He stared out across the water and watched it ripple in the fading sunlight. "Congratulations."

"I'm sorry, Si."

"It's your dream, Ally." He waved her toward him, and she scooted over and fell into his arms. He pulled her into his chest.

Even as he held her tight, he couldn't help but feel she was slipping away.

As morning approached, Silas lay somewhere between consciousness and sleep. As consciousness began to win out, the first things he noticed were the sounds. A creaking door, shuffling footsteps, and a familiar voice.

"You have to get up. Si, we've got to go."

"Hm?" Silas felt someone shaking him by his shoulders. He opened his eyes. Ryan stood above him, cast in shadows.

"We've got to get you out of here, Silas."

"Ryan?" Silas shook his head, trying to clear the sleep from his eyes. "What's going on?"

"No time. Grab your things." Silas frowned, staring into his friend's—his oldest friend's—eyes. Ryan wore a look of grim determination. Silas felt goosebumps raise on his arms at the look on Ryan's face.


"Silas, do you trust me?"

He hesitated only a second before nodding.

"Then grab your things. We have to go."

Silas grabbed his wand and pointed it at his trunk. "Pack!" Items flew from around the room—clothing and knickknacks—and crammed themselves into his trunk. The lid slammed closed. Truth be told, there wasn't much to bring with him.

Ryan offered him a length of rope. "Take this."

Silas grabbed his trunk in one hand and took the portkey with the other. A distant voice told him that it was a trap. That he was being led to his death. But damn it all if he didn't trust his friend.

Ryan swallowed. "You're the best friend I've ever had. Stay safe, Silas."

He felt a tug at his navel as his body was contorted through time and space. When he landed, it was on unsteady footing. Sand. The beach. He recognized it. Dover. He'd been here with mother and father a lifetime ago. He knew France was just across the Channel. His eyes scanned the beach, but he saw no hint of betrayal. Instead, all he saw was Alexis. He replayed Ryan's last statement in his head.

Her eyes were rimmed with red, her hair frazzled. She wore a nightgown.

"Ally, what's going on?"

"It's the Dark Lord. There were plans… Ryan only just heard." She shook her head, tears welling up in her eyes. "Silas, you have to go."

Her words took the wind from him.

"He left this for you." She held out another length of rope. "It'll take you to France. He sent you here first so I could—because I needed to-"

"To say goodbye?"

She could only nod.

"Ally, will you come with me?" It was the one question above all he feared to ask. Feared because he suspected the answer would crush him. But he asked it anyway. He had to know. Had to be certain.

Her eyes watered and she clenched her hands. He read the answer on her face before she began to shake her head. She needn't have voiced her answer. "I'm so sorry, Si. I'm going to be a Healer. I can't just…"

The world shook around him. Much as he'd seen it coming, her rejection damn near bowled him over. But now wasn't the time to grieve. He steeled himself and nodded at her. "I'll miss you, you know?"

She couldn't quite choke out a response.

"Don't reckon I'll ever forget you." Tears forced their way from his eyes too, now. "Take care of yourself, won't you?"

She threw her arms around him. For one last time, Silas lost himself in her embrace. She smelled like lavender and regret. Around them, the world kept spinning and the moment passed. When he pulled back, Silas looked her in the eye and knew he would never see her again.

Silently, he took the portkey from her hand. It activated on his touch, and Silas disappeared from her view.

Alone on the beach, Alexis stared out across the Channel as the water lapped against the shore. In the distance, birdsong greeted the rising sun. She dried her eyes.


AN: Obviously my intention had been to finish this in relatively short order. Here we stand nearly two years later. Whoops.