I've no excuses… This chapter was supposed to be updated all the way back in March, and then in July, and somehow the months passed without noticing, and I'm only managing to post it now…. Anyway, this is the longest chapter yet (55 pages!) so I hope all the wait was worth it.

Oh, before you read, fair warning, there's some torture in this chapter (This is the Original family we're talking about). It's not super detailed or anything but, just in case, you should be warned.

Finally, a special thank you to everyone who left reviews, marked this story as one of their favorites, or followed it. You've no idea how much it means to me. It always makes my day.

Ok, enough talking, I hope you enjoy the chapter!

P.S. All my best wishes for you and your loved ones!


CHAPTER VII

I SOLEMNLY SWEAR IT WAS A COINCIDENCE

Scotland, 1002 A.D.

In a way, the constant hunger was the worst part of their new lives, Ingrid thought.

She could handle not being able to have a place to sleep in, to be forced to never stop to rest for more than a couple hours every day. And, after a long, long winter on the run, she'd even learned to ignore the perpetual state of freezing coldness in which her body was in. But, no matter how much she tried, she couldn't ignore her hunger and thirst every time they were unable to hunt some prey or find some source of water.

And it was made worse by the knowledge that there wasn't anything she could do to change the situation. This was their life now. If they wanted to stay together as family then they needed to stay on the run or her uncle Mikael would ended up catching them, and if he did, he would kill them all without hesitation. Because none of them doubted that, if given the chance, her uncle would make good on his promise of ending their existence for siding with Niklaus over him.

If they wanted to stay alive and stay together, they couldn't stop running. That was the sad, hard truth of their new lives.

Sadly, a life on the run meant that, besides the constant cold and general discomfort due to their inability of having a proper home, their options of food were limited at best. Some days they were able to hunt, to collect some fruits and herbs, or even to catch some fish and drink clean water. But that only happened every once in a while, when they were lucky enough to cross places like forests or rivers when the conditions were on their favor. If not, they could go days without food or water, and it was starting to take a toll on her.

The only good thing was that the rest of her family weren't as badly affected as her. They were able to ignore their hunger for human food and not felt anything besides a mild discomfort as long as they fed from human blood.

But that didn't apply to her. Even if her aging process had stopped, Ingrid was still human. She needed food and water to survive, especially when she kept exhausting herself daily to share her magic with Kol, which was something she refused to stop doing, not after seeing first-hand how much her brother needed it.

As a result, as the moons started to pass by, and their situation did nothing but worsen, she became weaker and weaker, silently aching for a decent meal that would sate her burning hunger for once.

"I'm sorry" Niklaus said, taking a sit by her side.

They'd stopped to rest and made camp for the night as twilight was fast approaching. But, while the rest of her family had enough energy to go and explore their surroundings, she'd collapsed on the ground by the shade of a tree as soon as Finn and Elijah had announced they were stopping for now, taking a moment to bask on the heat of the bonfire they'd quickly created for her. And she'd been resting there for a long while now, so Ingrid couldn't think on a single thing why Niklaus was suddenly apologizing to her. Confused, Ingrid did nothing but frown at him, silently demanding an explanation for his sudden apology.

"I went away in an effort to hunt something for you" he confessed, looking away from her "But I couldn't find anything… I'm sorry, Ingrid"

"It's okay"

"No! It's not okay!" he spat, turning in her direction to let her see the burning anger in his blue-green eyes "Do you think I don't notice how hungry you truly are? Or the fact that your body grows weaker and weaker with each moon that passes? And I… I can't do anything to help you…. I'm failing you"

"You're not failing me, Nik" she said, putting her hand on his cheek to bring him closer to her. However, seeing the way his face contorted in protest, she hurried to say "I'm serious, Niklaus... I know that you always give me a part of your share of food, and I also know that this isn't the first time you go hunting while the rest of us is resting. You've been trying your best for me. And I love you all the more for it… But there's not much any of us can do to change our situation. Sooner or later we'll have to accept that this is our life now."

Nik's expression told her that he knew she was right but he was refusing to admit it out loud. "I hate seeing you grow weak by the day" he confessed in a whisper, pressing his forehead against hers and linking their hands together in her lap "I feel like you're fading away in front on me and I can't bear the thought of losing you... I can't, Ingrid. I wouldn't be able to survive it."

"Shh, Nik. Don't think like that." She whispered, kissing his cheek "I'm here now and I'm not dying any time soon" She paused and, with a tone loaded on light teasing, she added with a smile "After all, I refuse to die before we marry"

Nik snorted, his face lighting up with reluctant humor. "If not getting married is what will keep you alive then I'm sorry, my love, but we won't be able to marry for the rest of our lives" he said with apparent solemnity while his eyes danced with mirth.

"Don't you dare, Nik!" she protested, suppressing the urge to laugh as she lightly smacked him in the chest "You promised to make an honest woman out of me!"

"But this will keep you alive, my love." He said, his smile and teasing tone slipping away as he adopted a solemn expression and stared into her eyes "And I would do anything to make sure you stay alive for the rest of eternity, even if it means I've to sacrifice myself to achieve it."

"Nobody has to sacrifice themselves" she assured him, pressing a chaste kiss on his lips "You and I, we'll figure out a better way to hide from uncle Mikael and then we'll get married and live together for the rest of eternity"

"Always and forever" he vowed, kissing her quickly.

"Always and forever" she repeated, smiling as his lips covered hers again.

There was nothing chaste about their kisses this time.

Instead, their lips sought each other out, parting to give way to their tongues. It was fast and passionate and a little desperate and perfect. And maybe that was why it was so easy to get lost in their little world, where nothing but them existed. Nothing else was important but Nik's hands as they traveled further and further down on her back and Nik's lips as he made a path of kisses towards her favorite spot on her neck, while her hands sharply tugged on his hair the way he liked as she gasped for breath. And then, just as his hands started to seek contact with her flesh under her dress, Niklaus stopped entirely and jumped to his feet, adopting a protective stance in front of her.

Ingrid couldn't do anything but blink, still feeling a little dazed, before all her siblings appeared around them, posture tense and filled with anticipation, as they took positions around her in a loose semicircle.

"What it's happening?" she asked, pushing past the embarrassment of knowing her siblings had been close enough to hear everything that had been going on between Nik and her only a second before. It wasn't something new, not after so long together on the run without any kind of privacy. But even still, she couldn't quite shake her embarrassment about the fact that her siblings knew basically everything that happened between Nik and her.

"Travelers" Finn answered, brow furrowed.

"Four of them" Elijah confirmed, tilting his head to the side as he heard something beyond her human capabilities.

And, suddenly, Ingrid understood why it seemed like they were ready to jump at any moment. They were getting ready for their meal. Their next kill.

Sometimes, it was easy to forget that her family had changed in a fundamental level she would never be able to completely understand, especially when they acted as they always had around her. When they joked and bantered like they'd been doing since they were children, or when they carried her in their backs just because she was exhausted, or even when they roundly refused to even consider the idea of drinking from her, no matter how hungry they were. In those moments, it was easy to forget that her family had become predators of human life and that made them monsters in the eyes of everyone but her.

"They're coming this way" Kol said with a bloodthirsty smirk filled with eagerness.

The rest of her family exchanged low whispered instructions on what they were going to do while she made herself comfortable on her little patch of ground close to the fire, knowing they could take a long while until they'd finished drinking to their hearts' content.

Sometime later, the four travelers arrived in the small clearing where they'd been standing. And Ingrid couldn't help but stare at them.

After all, they were, without a doubt, the most impressive collection of people she'd ever seen. They were riding atop four horses, two men and two women, all looking at least a decade older than Finn. One of them was a sturdy man with green eyes and brilliant red hair that looked like fire, he was dressed with a strange golden armor and he carried a long sword filled with red jewels. In contrast, the other man – who was slender and very tall, with black hair and grey eyes – was dressed rather plainly, with a deep green robe made of some kind of material she'd never seen before, and a large piece of wood hanging from his belt. And the women who travelled with them were no less impressive. One of them – who was perhaps the most beautiful woman she'd ever seen – wore a sparkling tiara at the top of her shiny black hair and her bright blue eyes seemed to match with the color of her pretty grey and blue dress. The other woman was no less beautiful, but her beauty was softer and warmer, matching her golden blonde hair and hazelnut eyes, as well as her brilliant yellow dress.

For a single instant, as Ingrid stared at them, feeling utterly enchanted and something else she wouldn't be able to name until decades later, she allowed herself to feel regret for what was going to happen next. Because, no matter what, these people didn't deserve the gruesome deaths that were coming their way. But, as soon as she thought that, she pushed all those feelings down and reminded herself that their deaths were necessary for her family's survival. And nothing was more important than her family.

Ingrid looked away.

She was accustomed to the screams of surprise and fright, as her family attacked using their unnatural speed to subdue their victims as quickly as possible before taking their time to feed from them. So she wasn't surprised when she heard unknown voices scream in the strange language that seemed to be common in the area, or the shrieks of the horses as they realized the threat. What she hadn't anticipated was the sudden blast of magic that crossed the clearing.

Ingrid gasped as she got to her feet and took on the scene in front of her with wide eyes.

Somehow, in those few moments she hadn't been paying attention, the scene in front of her had changed completely.

The horses had run off. And, on the ground, several feet away from her, were the two women. The blonde was frowning as she kneeled by the side of her friend – who was badly bleeding from an open wound on her neck – all the while murmuring in a new strange language as her hands glowed golden and the wound started to close itself. In front of them in a protective stance, were the two men. They were side by side, faces set into matching expressions of fury and determination, as they shouted in that same strange language and shot lights of different colors from their weapons.

And somehow – inexplicably, impossibly, miraculously – they were managing to keep her inhumanly fast and strong family from coming closer to them.

Stunned beyond belief – because that was magic, the kind of magic she'd used all her life and it was supposed to be impossible. That was what her aunt Esther and Ayana had said. That her way of using magic was unnatural. And oddity that had only happened with her – Ingrid could do nothing but stare as the black haired man shouted something which produced a powerful blast of magic that sent all members of her family flying far away. But it was only when she heard their screams of pain and saw the red haired man advancing towards them with his glistening sword raised that Ingrid found herself moving.

"STOP!" Ingrid screamed.

But the red haired man ignored her, still advancing in the direction of her family. And so, without a second thought, she run into the middle of the clearing and planted herself in front of him as a human shield. The man paused for a second before lifting his sword in her direction.

Instinctively, Ingrid raised her arms to protect herself and, somehow, she was able to create a large, blue shield made of magic. It was something she'd never done before but she didn't have even a second to appreciate her achievement before the stranger's sword hit the shield with a strength that could only be aided by magic. For a moment, her shield flickered, like it was about to vanish, but she gritted her teeth, ignored her exhaustion and pushed more magic into her shield until she started feeling a little lightheaded. She would not allow herself to fail – no matter the personal repercussions – not when her family's safety was at stake.

"- little sister?"

"- what are you doing?"

"- are you alright, sister?"

Ingrid was so surprised by sudden voices of her family that she almost dropped her shield. "What? I'm fine…. Everything fine. Stay in this side of my shield." A moment later, the five of them had taken positions around her in a loose semi-circle with Niklaus at her right – he was practically pressing to her side, and the way his body was all but shaking told her he was barely controlling his instinct to fight – and Kol to her left. In contrast to Nik, her brother seemed too taken with her display of powers to worry about anything else, he was staring in open wonder at the translucent shield made of magic and he'd a hand half-lifted, like he was in the middle of deciding if he wanted to touch it or not.

However, that was nothing in comparison with the reactions of the four strangers. All of them had paused their movements and were staring at her with an intensity she wasn't familiar with. It was definitely weird. But not exactly unwelcome. Not when they didn't appear to be hostile anymore, to the point that the two men had even lowered their weapons. After a moment, the four travelers exchanged a quick conversation in that strange language of theirs that ended when the four nodded their heads.

Suddenly smiling, the blonde woman stood up, arms extended towards her in a manner that reminded her of a mother beckoning their child closer, as she said something in that strange language again. Ingrid frowned, confused and wary in equal parts, still refusing to let her guard down. "I don't understand what you want"

At her words, it was the blonde woman turn to frown. By her side, the eyes of the black haired woman lighted up as she quickly said something to her companions, making them nod in what appeared to be understanding. The woman closed her eyes and chanted something under her breath but, whatever it was, Ingrid felt the magic as it traveled across the clearing, through her shield and finally reaching her and the rest of her family. "What did you do?" she demanded with a frown, even more wary than before.

In front of her, the four travelers smiled with wide, pleased smiled. The black haired woman even looked a bit smug. "Make it possible for us to understand each other" she said, still smiling.

"You can use magic for that?" she asked, her surprise and curiosity making her overcome her wariness.

If anything, the smiles of the four travelers only widened. "So, you do know of the gift you possess, little witch" the blonde woman said.

"Of course she knows she's a witch" Kol said before she could respond "She'd been doing magic practically since birth" Around them, the rest of her family echoed his words in one way or another.

Whatever she was expecting next, it wasn't the taken aback expression of the four travelers. For some reason, they looked even more stunned than a moment before. "You… you all have the gift of magic" the blonde woman said in wonder.

Kol took a step back as he'd been struck, his expression falling. "No. I don't have magic anymore" he denied, clenching his jaw and looking away.

"We all lost our magic after we were turned into this" Elijah explained after a moment, taking a couple steps to put his hand on Kol's shoulder.

"Lost your magic? What do you mean?"

"Turn you into what? Is that why you looked so strange when you attacked us?"

The two men said at the same time, their voices overlapping over one another. But they both fell silent when the black-haired woman advanced in their direction to stand side by side with the blonde woman. "That's impossible. My spell wouldn't have worked if you didn't carry magic in your blood" the black-haired woman said, pursing her lips "You've to be wand-wielders or…"

"…magic creatures" the blonde woman completed, tilting her head to the side "Well, there's only one way to know for sure" And, for some reason, she extended her hands in their direction once more.

"I don't what…" Kol started to say, looking beyond conflicted. But, this time, it was Ingrid's turn to cut him off. "I'm not dropping my shield" she said firmly "We still don't know if we can trust you"

The red haired man laughed, loudly. "Well, you were the ones who attacked us first. We were just defending ourselves."

The other man nodded, staring at them in consideration. "It was an impressive attack, though. It would have worked in most of our people…. Nonetheless, we are not part of the average wizards and witches"

"I think a round of introductions are in order" the blonde woman smiled "My name is Helga Hufflepuff. I hope we'll become good friends in time"

"I'm Rowena Ravenclaw" the black haired woman said, nodding her head in their direction "It's a pleasure to meet you all."

"Godric Gryffindor" the red haired man said, waving his hand at them.

"And I'm Salazar Slytherin" the black haired man said, nodding once "We're the founders of the first school of magic in this part of the world and, despite our less than ideal start, we would like to offer you a place in our castle."

Ingrid was so surprised that she ended up dropping her hands and vanishing her shield in the process. But, at the moment, she'd many more important things to think about. "Why? Why are you willing to put aside everything else and offer us a place in your home?" she demanded, fighting back the urge to immediately say yes. These people were like her and, after what she'd seen, there was no doubt in her mind that they could teach her things beyond her imagination. And now that she knew she wasn't just an oddity of nature, she wanted to learn more. But their offer made little sense after her family had tried to kill them just a little moment ago.

"You have magic in your blood and we made a vow to teach and protect everyone who has been blessed by Lady Magic" Rowena explained.

"But I can't do magic anymore" Kol protested immediately, clenching his fist.

"And yet, my spell worked on all you" Rowena rebuked "So that means magic still runs through your blood, making you a magical creature. And, therefore, you're one of us."

"I…" Seeing the lost look on her brother's face, she took one of his hands in hers in a silent show of support.

"There's a simple way of confirming if you have magic in your blood" Helga said, extending her hands in their direction for the third time "I have a gift, you see. With just one touch, I'm able to detect if another living being carries magic in their blood…. It's how we've been selecting our new students."

For a moment, as she felt how tight Kol was gripping her hand, she thought her brother would refuse to move. But, in the end, he let go of her hand and advanced towards Helga, putting his hands on hers. An instant later, their hands started to glow golden and the glow only grew as it encompassed all of Kol's body.

"Yes" Helga, smiling from ear to ear "You've magic in you. Very, very strong magic"

Kol closed his eyes, shoulders sagging a little in unmistakable relief.

"We can't use it though" Rebekah said, frowning a little as she stared at Helga.

"Maybe" Rowena conceded "But each magical race is different. It's true that some can't actively use their magic, but each one has some powers of their own. You just need to learn how to use the gift you've been given by Lady Magic"

"And you are willing to do this? To teach us?" Elijah asked, advancing forward "Even when we need to drink human blood to survive?"

"Of course, it's our duty" Helga said immediately.

"There are going to be rules, though" Salazar added, throwing a quick look towards Nik and the rest of her siblings "We understand that, as magical creatures, your needs and traditions may differ from ours. But we need to guarantee the safety of everyone under our protection. So, as long as you don't lay a hand on any of the inhabitants of the castle, you will be welcome to stay with us."

Godric nodded. "There are some villages of non-magical folks around the castle. You're free to feed there."

"And you won't think us monsters? For killing the people in those villages?" Finn asked, seemingly unable to stop himself from asking.

At her side, Nik flinched after hearing the word 'monster'.

"Of course not. You need to do what it's necessary to survive" Godric assured them.

"As long as you don't attack magical beings without reason, we don't particularly care if you kill non-magical people" Rowena added solemnly.

"You can kill them all if you want" Salazar murmured, gaining three exasperated glances from his companions.

"What do you say?" Helga asked, smiling gently "Would you like to come with us?"

Not knowing what to respond, she threw a helpless look at Nik. She didn't want to pressure her family into anything. But she wanted – desperately – to say yes and go with these four strangers. Maybe it was mad, and naïve, and reckless, but she believed them when they said they just wanted to teach and protect those with magic. And the idea of a safe place where she could learn magic and they could call home was a dream come true.

Maybe some of her thoughts were written in her expression because Nik's face softened as he nodded. "I think we should go with them" he said, never taking his eyes away from hers.

"But father…" Elijah protested.

"...Won't' think to look for us in a place like that" Finn cut him off.

"And we would be able to stop running for the first time in moons, Elijah" Rebekah said "Think about it"

"I want to go too" Kol added, looking fiercely determinate "I want to learn more"

Elijah pursed his lips as he stared at them in deep consideration. "Let's put it to a vote then" he said after a moment "Those in favor of going with them?"

And, as one, six hands were raised in the air, changing the course of history in ways they couldn't even begin to understand.

Not yet, anyway.


&&&/07/&&&


"Please… Please, stop…"

"Now, now, the day it's just starting… It's not fun if you start begging right away." Niklaus tutted. In front of him, and hanging from the ceiling from her wrists, Isobel sobbed as he drove a dagger bathed in vervain a little deeper into her stomach.

Five days before, Niklaus had met with Isobel Flemming for the first time.

The young vampire had stood arrogantly and proud in front of him, confident in her belief that knowing the location of his wife would guarantee he wouldn't harm her, especially because she'd ingested vervain and, therefore, she couldn't be compelled. So she had stood before him, smirking and barely making an effort to hide her smugness, as she used his wife's whereabouts as a trump card – The Nerve! – to force him to accept the deal Katerina was proposing.

But Niklaus had been playing these games for a millennium, so he had let her say everything she'd said and only then he'd let her see how enraged he was.

He had a wild, explosive temper to begin with, but there were certain things that were sacred in his eyes and anything concerning the love of his life was at the top of that list. And he was pretty sure that Isobel – who had lost her confidence pretty quickly after the first round of torture – had understood the lesson of why she should have never tried to use his wife to force his hand.

Now, five days later, he knew everything there was to know about Isobel, her connection with Katerina and his new doppelgänger, Elena Gilbert. Not to mention that he was in possession of all the memory cards with pictures and videos of Ingrid that Katerina had so graciously acquired for him. And more importantly, after bleeding Isobel, again and again, to make sure she didn't have any more vervain in her system, she was ready to take part in the next part of their plan.

"I see you've been keeping yourself suitably occupied in my absence" Finn commented as he entered his dimly illuminated torture room.

"You could say that" he nodded, turning in the direction of his oldest brother to catch his expression and judge how his mission had gone "And you? Did you find what we were looking for?"

Finn pursed his lips as he advanced until he was standing shoulder to shoulder with him. "I'm afraid I did not" he admitted.

The news wasn't surprising, not after failing time and time again during the last five days, but they still filled with the kind of hot, burning rage that clouded his senses. With a silent snarl, he used his dagger to cut open the stomach of Isobel, who howled in pain as some of her internal organs started to fall off.

"Please, stop… I'll do anything…" she sobbed, desperately, as her blood and organs started to make a puddle on the floor at her feet "Have mercy! Please!"

"Be silent or I'll remove your tongue!" Finn ordered, glaring at the weeping vampire into submission. His oldest brother's glare softened when his gaze turned to him "Are you feeling calmer, Niklaus? Even though it's not exactly what we were looking for, I've found something interesting you should see."

He was indeed feeling a lot calmer but only because he was amused to see the expression of raw terror Isobel was directing towards Finn. After all, it was always entertaining to see how lesser men cowed under the temper of his usually calm and indifferent brother.

He nodded. "Show me then"

"Follow me" Finn nodded in the direction of the door "It's better to discuss this far away from untrustworthy ears."

"Of course… but first…" Without warning, he turned around and snapped Isobel's neck, leaving her motionless body hanging from the ceiling with a pool of blood and other things at her feet. Satisfied by his work, he smirked as he followed Finn out of the room, to the upper floors and towards the study of the mansion in which they were residing for the moment.

"I looked into every record of MACUSA and I was unable to find the real identity of Ingrid" Finn said as he went over a series of parchment on the desk.

Niklaus frowned. "Yes, you've already said as much"

After they'd obtained the name Ingrid was using at moment – Aria Black – and they'd realized the name was but an alias, discovering her real identity had become one of their top priorities. But even with Finn searching in USA and Rebekah doing the same in Great Britain, they'd been unable to find anything about her. Which should be impossible because they were using the full resources and influence of their family and, normally, there was nothing that was denied to them in the magical world.

It was beginning to drive him mad, the idea that they would be unable to find anything and Ingrid would disappear without a trace, slipping through their fingers when they – he – were so close to being reunited with her again.

His only comfort was the fact that Kol was in Mystic Falls along with Elijah, keeping an eye on her from the distance. After all, if he could not be there, the only other person he trusted to do anything to keep Ingrid in their reach – including using force against her to do so – was Kol.

"Yes, and looking through some of the files, I found something extremely interesting" Finn said, smiling slightly as he handled him a specific piece of parchment "Take a look at that and tell me what you see"

Confused, he started reading and his confusion only grew the more he read. It was a compilation of reports about the spikes of magic in Mystic Falls, Virginia for the last five years. All of them pointing that – besides a slight increase in the normal level of wiccan magic – there had not been magic detected in the area. "What am I reading? This thing says no one has performed magic-" He stopped, eyes widening as he understood what was wrong with those reports.

"Exactly" Finn nodded, his tone starting to become a little animated "Ingrid has been living there for a least a year and MACUSA has not detected any spike of magic in that city, which should be impossible. So I searched deeper and I found this…" he said, handing him another piece of parchment. This one was a statement from two years before, acknowledging a contract between the British branch of Gringotts Bank and MACUSA. According to it, the area of Mystic Falls was under Gringotts jurisdiction for a five-year term and, therefore, any and all forms of wand-wielding magic in the area should be ignored.

"How did she accomplish this?" he asked, astonished at the mastery of it all.

As a general rule, Goblins didn't like humans, and they liked doing favors to humans even less so. They were a clever and proud race – and they'd every reason to be, as they controlled the magical banking industry around the world – and they were secretive of their ways by nature. Furthermore, because goblins distrusted the fickle nature of humans when it concerned matters of gold and treasure, they normally didn't interact with wizards and witches beyond the normal dealings between a banker and their client.

Which made this discovery all the more impressive. For them to have gone to this extreme to guarantee Ingrid's protection and anonymity showed that the goblins regarded her as a powerful and respected ally. And that could only have happened if Ingrid had proven herself to them by meeting, at least, three essential requirements. One, she had to have shown them trust and respect beyond measure. Two, she needed to have proven herself as a very, very powerful witch. And three, she needed to be in an extremely high position of financial power.

Niklaus had no idea how she could have accomplished the first requirement when she was still so young and barely out of school, and the second was a given, but the last one… Oh, there was only one way for her to have met the last requirement.

"She belongs to one of the Noble Houses in Britain" he realized, smirking.

In front of him, Finn nodded, looking equally pleased. "Exactly"

The Noble Houses of Great Britain – at least the ones that had managed to keep their titles and fortunes after the magical world had gone into hidden – were the only families who possessed the kind of financial power that would earn the respect from the goblins. Not only because of the impressive amount of gold they'd managed to collect through the centuries, but also because members of those families had been working alongside the goblins for generations of generations, and that had generated a special bond of trust and respect between both parties that others could never even dream of.

"Well now… It seems we need to call Rebekah and inform her of this discovery… We both know there's a special book that would make her search infinitely easier" he said, feeling almost cheerful.

This new discovery would certainly help their sister. And she needed all the help they could get her. In contrast with the relatively easy manner in which MACUSA had obliged to Finn's demands after they'd found out who he was exactly, Rebekah was having a harder time making the British Ministry of Magic comply.

Which was – much to their collective chagrin – to be expected.

Their family had not been on British soil for more than fifty years, and they hadn't been a part of British politics for even longer than that. And after everything that had gone down with the wars, and everyone who had been killed as a result of them, all their alliances in that country were gone.

Luckily, Rebekah could charm the Death itself if she thought it was necessary. And if that didn't work, well, their sister had never been reluctant to get her hands dirty when the occasion called to it.

"We also need to deal with your prisoner" Finn added after a moment of consideration "Knowing everything we know so far, there's no reason why we should keep her alive… It's better if we deal with her right now and then we let our brothers know, so they can move the next piece of the game and see how everything plays out"

"Excellent idea" he said, smiling wide at the prospect "After you, dearest brother"

Finally, all the pieces of their game had started to fall into place and it was time to make their next move.

Soon enough, he would be able to see his wife face-to-face once more.

Soon.


&&&/07/&&&


"Mistress shouldn't be working as a common muggle!" Kreacher cried out, his face contorting into a horrified expression that would have fit perfectly well in a horror movie.

"Calm down, Kreacher…. I'm not even doing anything yet" she replied, frowning in consternation when she failed to make use of the shovel in her hands in the way it was supposed to do, leaving her with a completely normal – if a little ruffled for all the poking – spot on the ground in the back of her house.

Sadly, the more she tried – and failed – to dig a hole on the ground, the more she was forced to consider that, maybe, in hindsight, buying a quidditch pitch for her house and then denying the offer to have a professional setting everything up hadn't been one of her best ideas. But, in her defense, it wasn't like she was going to allow a complete stranger inside her home and wards, not when she was completely capable of setting everything up.

And yes, it'd been imperative to buy the pitch as quickly as possible, no matter what Hermione had grumbled in their mirror call the night before about 'I know you want to give them the best but there's a thing called too much spoiling, Aria, and I think we should talk about it again'. It'd became imperative since the moment Teddy and she had taught Caroline and Tyler how to fly in their new brooms – both top-of-the-line models, of course – and she'd seen the pure, unadulterated joy and child-like wonder in their faces in the instant they'd been in the air. Because, obviously, now that there were four flyers in their family, they needed a pitch to play quidditch as Merlin himself had decreed it should be played.

So there she was, trying to dig a hole big enough to put one of the six hooped goal posts; and she was doing it the muggle way because, somehow, in all her years as a witch and teen soldier, she'd never learned how to dig a proper hole in the ground with magic. She knew how to vanish things, and conjure things, and destroy things, and other numbers of incredible things, but she'd never learned a spell to create holes on the ground deep enough that the posts wouldn't fall, at least not without completely damaging the grounds of her backyard. And it was vexing.

"This isn't getting us anywhere" she huffed after a little while, barely resisting the temptation of throwing the shovel far away and petulantly stomping over the patch of ground in front of her when she checked that yes, that particular, and infuriating, the little patch of ground still remained intact despite her best efforts. "How do muggles even do this?"

"Kreacher's Mistress working like a dirty muggle… Kreacher's ancestors must be cursing him from the beyond…. Oh, the shame!" Kreacher wailed, pulling at his ears as his eyes started to water.

The elf had not been impressed with the practical consequences of setting a quidditch pitch in their backyard – something about the standards of proper behavior for the members of a Noble and Most Ancient House – but even then, he'd dutifully followed her outside to help. However, after she'd announced her intention of trying to do it the muggle way first, his grumblings had turned into outright disapproval that soon turned into moans and cries of despair.

Ten years before, the sight of Kreacher crying would have caused her a mini panic that would have led her to agree to do anything as long as the elf stopped crying. But then again, ten years before, she'd been much more naive and she'd not yet learned how crafty Kreacher could be when he wanted to get his way.

So instead of immediately agreeing to anything, she took her time analyzing the pros and cons in her head, as her eyes went from Kreacher' expression to the shovel in her hands and then to the dammed patch on the ground in front of her. And, after a moment, she sighed as she decided to give in. Just this one time.

"Fine, fine… You win, Kreacher. You can do it your way"

Instantly, the elf stopped crying, his expression morphing into smug satisfaction as he straightened completely – confirming her suspicions that he'd been trying to emotionally manipulate her into agreeing since the beginning – and started snapping his fingers, vanishing the shovel from her hands and then he started to magically dig up the hole.

"Kreacher will take of everything as a proper elf should…. Kreacher will follow Mistress' plan for her pitch so Mistress should go and have fun elsewhere" He ordered, shooing her away with the hand that wasn't busy snapping his fingers at an incredibly fast pace and not even looking in her direction.

More amused than she cared to admit about being ordered around by her house-elf, Aria complied with his wishes and marched inside the direction of the house in search of her troublemaking kids.

To be completely honest, it had taken her a bit by surprise, the effortless way in which the three of them had connected after only knowing each other for a few days.

Aria had known they'd all been excited to meet – Teddy had been all but jumping in anticipation – but she had still expected a little more of awkwardness at first, as they got to know each other. But, funnily enough, Teddy had taken care of that right away when he had loudly proclaimed himself the eldest sibling right after the introductions had concluded, which had led to a pretty intense thirty-five minutes discussion as the three of them argued why they should be considered the eldest sibling in their weird family. And it'd only ended when Tyler had shouted 'I was born with the werewolf's gene before either of you were even born so that means I'm the eldest here, dammit' and had refused to listen otherwise. After that, Teddy had graciously accepted the position of the middle child because that meant he wasn't the youngest and Caroline had pouted and grumbled before finally caving in, but only after she'd made it abundantly clear that, as the youngest child, she expected to be pampered to her heart consent by her new older brothers.

It'd been pretty easy after that, especially after they'd discover a common love for pranks, sports and adventures. And, miraculously, the three of them had spent the last few days bickering and laughing like people who had known each other for years instead of only a few days.

At the present, Aria followed the loud and bright laughter to the second sitting room, where her kids seemed to have relocated at some point in the three and half hours since she'd left them on their own to finish with the preparations for that night.

For a moment, Aria stood under the threshold of the door, almost spell-bound, as she took in the scene in front of her.

All the tables and most of the furniture had disappeared from the room, leaving behind only the sofas and cushions, which were dancing in the air at different points and heights around the room as her kids jumped from one another trying to tag each other, and she would have wondered how Teddy had managed to do such an advanced kind of magic if the little box on the center of the room with the big logo of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes didn't tell her this was probably one of their newest products. There was a lot of laughing, cackling, and shrieking involved as – more often than not – one of them slipped when they were jumping and ended up falling into the wooden floor, which would have been worrisome if not because the floor had apparently turned into a trampoline that was making anyone who fell bounce right back.

Her kids were having fun as siblings and family were supposed to do, and Aria just stood there, soaking up in the rightness of the scene in front of her.

Once upon a time, she had a dream of something like this. After she'd stopped wishing for someone – anyone – to come and rescue her from the Dursley's and make her a part of their family, after she'd realized that family came in different shapes and blood didn't always equal love, after she'd lost Sirius and everything he represented, after the war had ended and she'd held Teddy in her arms for the first time; at some point, in between all that, she'd started to dream on having children of her own. She'd dreamed on a house full of children who loved each other and never doubted – not even for a second – how much she loved them. Children she would protect until her dying breath from everything that was wrong on the world and would never know war, death, and Evil in the way she'd known growing up. And, for a time after the war ended, when things had finally started to settle down and she'd gotten comfortable in her abilities to raise Teddy, Aria had thought her dreams could become true.

Or at least it'd been that way until she had realized what being the Master of Death truly meant and she'd been forced to accept – among many other things – that Teddy would be her only child. She could survive many things, but she wasn't strong enough to have more children, no when they – like all her other loved ones – would inevitably grow old and die, leaving her behind and breaking her heart in the process, especially because she wasn't even sure if her heart would survive Teddy's inevitably death.

A parent should never have to be forced to bury their child, it just wasn't in the natural order of things.

And yet, despite everything, in a way, she had gotten the children she'd always wanted. She had a son in Teddy. And, somehow, she had also gained two teenagers protégés in Caroline and Tyler. She might have not raised them and they might not share blood, but she loved them too. They were family. Her children. And no one would hurt them ever again, no if she had any say in the matter.

"That looks like fun" she commented after a long moment, causing the three of them to shriek in surprise and fall together in an ungraceful manner on the wooden floor. Soon enough, Aria found herself laughing, loudly, as the magic in the floor made it impossible for them to properly get up and they were forced to keep bouncing – all together – in a confused, graceless pile of body limbs.

"Mum! Don't laugh— Ouch! Ty! That's my leg!"

"It's really not that funny- shit, Care, stop moving!"

"What the-? A little help here, please!"

Still laughing, Aria took out her wand and ended the magic on the floor, and a second later she did the same with the floating sofas and cushions. Instantly, the wooden floor stopped moving and her three mischievous children started grumbling and pouting as they disentangled from each other from their place on the now unmoving floor. They were adorable, really. And she almost wished for a camera, as she needed a memento of this moment for eternity. But the expressions on their faces told her she would probably embarrass them if she did that.

Then again, wasn't it a fundamental parent's job to embarrass your kids?

"As entertaining as this is" she said, talking loudly over their grumblings "I came here to ask your help to set up the camp for tonight"

In a blink of an eye, she had gained their whole attention, especially Tyler's, who had paled a little as he stared at her with a hint of fear in his eyes. "Is it time already?"

Knowing how nervous he was about the whole thing, Aria shook her head immediately. "No, no yet… " She reassured him, seeing him relax "But Kreacher has taken complete control over my plans for the quidditch pitch, so I'm planning to set up the campfire the muggle way and I came here to see if you wanted to help"

"Oh! I'd love to help! It's been ages since I went camping so it should be fun!" Caroline agreed immediately. But even if she was smiling, her blue eyes held a hint of apprehension as they kept going to check Tyler's reaction.

"Wait until you see inside our magic tent! It's super cool!" Teddy smiled, bouncing on his feet with enthusiast and almost completely oblivious to everything else.

Tyler nodded, forcing a little smile on his face. "It sounds great. Let's do it."

It went pretty quickly after that. As Teddy took off in search of their tent and, after a brief interchange of looks between Tyler and her, Caroline followed her son closely behind.

"Are you sure you'll all be safe?" Tyler asked as soon as they were out of sight "If I don't lock up myself, there are many, many ways in which I could hurt any of you."

"Of course it's going to be safe" Aria assured him and, seeing the expression on his face, she sighed as she guided him out of the room and towards the backyard "Come, let me show you something"

Besides the three-story house with way too many rooms – and yes, she'd known it was probably a bit excessive when she'd bought it but, after living eleven years in a cupboard, she relished in having as much space as possible – the Mystic Falls' property actually consisted of twenty yards of grass landscape around the house and three hectares of forest in the back. Which meant that the property was big enough to allow Caroline and Tyler to claim a bedroom for themselves in the house – which they had done already – and to allow a werewolf to run free in the full moons around their land without worrying they might hurt someone.

They walked in silence until they were two yards from the invisible line that started the forest and, with a wave of her hand, Aria made visible for Tyler the golden line of runes on the ground she'd been painstakingly creating every night since they'd formed their magical guardian bond.

"What is this?" he asked, kneeling on the grass to take a closer look.

"One of my most inspired ideas" Aria said, proudly

"It feels… It feels like how it feels when I'm around you and Teddy and Caroline, and even my mom" Tyler said, frowning in a mix of confusion and awed as his fingers hovered a few inches above the runes. "It feels like safety and belonging… like-"

"—pack" she completed, grinning as she nodded her head. "That was what I was aiming for"

"I don't understand"

"Even with the wolfsbane potion, it's still dangerous for humans and vampires to be near a werewolf in a full moon night. The potion is going to allow you to retain control of your mind but the strong presence and instincts of the wolf within your mind won't decrease, and that means any mistake could lead you to hurt or bite someone by accident." Aria explained to a pale and wide-eyed Tyler "Of course, I'm going to be with you and that would help a lot but… just in case… I made this protective line to serve as a barrier around all the house"

Tyler crossed to the other side of the line and raised an unimpressed eyebrow in her direction. "It's not working"

Aria snorted, amused. "Because it's not active yet"

"But I can feel…"

"Right now you're only feeling an echo of the magic imprinted in the runes… I weaved the magic bonds the three of us share into a rather complicated set of compulsion and protection runes. I was trying to replicate the feeling of a pack bond so, when the barrier is activated, you'll feel like crossing it will hurt your pack mates and that would compel you to not do it…"

Both of Tyler's eyebrows lifted up in surprise. "So this won't physically stop me from crossing"

"No" Aria agreed "Instead, it will make you feel like the best choice is to not cross… Werewolves are particularly resisting to defensive magic of any kind on a full moon. It's why most wards don't hold up against a werewolf attack… The wards need to be both, powerful and deadly, to grievously harm a werewolf, preferably to the point of being lethal, otherwise, they'll keep attacking until the wards crumble… And, for obvious reasons, I wasn't going to try something like that with you."

Tyler huffed a sarcastic little laugh, even if his brown eyes showed her he was actually feeling relieved and grateful. "Well, thank you" he paused, contemplating something as he gazed at the runes "Do all werewolves need to be around their packs to survive and stuff? I mean, I know I feel much calmer when I'm here with all of you and you said the transformation is easier when the pack is around… so, what about lone wolves? Do they-? I don't know, act out because they're alone?"

"Umm, I don't think so? I told you about Teddy's dad, right?" Tyler nodded "Well, he was pack with my parents and godfather and he spend twelve years alone after my parents were murdered and Sirius was imprisoned… Remus didn't talk much about his time alone but he once admitted that most of his scars were the product of that time. And my godfather told me the reason Remus was always getting tired around the full moon was because he'd rejected his wolf so much and for so long that, in a way, turning into a wolf made him physically ill."

Tyler looked horrified. "That's…. I don't- Fuck… I don't know why but the closer the full moon draws, the more I think on how my uncle chained himself on the full moon and all that stuff, and I can't help but wonder if he fell into Katherine's schemes just because he was all alone and without a pack."

Aria winced in sympathy. For the little bits Tyler – and Caroline – had told her, Mason had been pretty close to Tyler up until he'd left for college. And she couldn't imagine how the teen was feeling about the fact that his uncle had been murderer only because he'd been consorting with a pretty dangerous vampire.

"Maybe that's part of the reason" she allowed "Or maybe Katherine promise him something he thought was worth risking his life for. I don't think we'll never know for sure…. Besides, there's always the possibility Mason did have a pack"

"If that was the case, wouldn't I- I don't know, felt something?"

"No really. You turned after Mason died and, before that, neither of you acknowledged the other as pack, so the two of you didn't have a pack bond to connect each other, much less a bond between you and the rest of Mason's hypothetical pack"

"Uh-uh" he hummed, no longer somber as his eyes started to shine in a way she was starting to be familiar with "So, in this hypothetical case, there could be a werewolf pack coming here to avenge Mason's death"

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. "If Mason did have a pack, then yeah. They would have felt the moment he died and werewolves are not known for letting that kind of thing go unpunished… What's with all these questions? You're not asking for curiosity anymore"

Tyler shrugged. "I got a call earlier from my mom asking if Mason had contacted me since he left. I told her no, obviously, but I asked her why the sudden interest and she said a friend of Mason's had asked her about it. I didn't think much of it… But with all this talk about pack and whatnot, I wonder-"

"-If that friend could be a member of Mason's pack?" Tyler nodded "Maybe. We won't know unless you decide to seek her out or something"

"Yeah, no thanks" he snorted, shaking his head as he hunched his shoulders and put his hands in his pockets "I'm perfectly fine with how things are right now, I don't need a bunch of strangers in my life"

His tone left it clear he wasn't saying any more on the matter, so Aria nodded with a smile and linked their arms together "In that case, let's go to help Caroline and Teddy set up everything for tonight"

Much more relaxed and with a little smirk on his face, Tyler let himself be towed towards the area where the other two were setting their little camp. Or, more specifically, where Caroline was directing Teddy on how to set up the tent.

"Hey! You're back!" Her little wolf grinned.

"Finally! Tyler, you should help Teddy with the tent and, Aria, you should use your magic to make the bonfire" Caroline commanded, pointing them with her finger.

"Bossy"

"She's been like this since we found the tent and everything else"

"Oh, this is nothing. You should have seen her when we were kids, she was way worse back then"

"Excuse me, I hear too much talking and too little work" Caroline huffed, lifting her right eyebrow as she crossed her arms.

If anything, the image was amusing and Aria couldn't help but snort, trying to control her laughter. By her side, Teddy and Tyler were sniggering without reservation.

"It's not funny!" Caroline protested.

"It is" the three replied in a chorus, smiling.

The blonde huffed in exasperation but the corner of her lips was lifted up, and it was obvious she wasn't really mad. And so, after a moment or two, they went to their assigned duties – Caroline correcting any mistakes they made – as they set up everything for their camp.

By the time the sunset had started, the four of them were sitting on logs of wood around a big bonfire as they roasted marshmallows, hot dogs and other little snacks Kreacher had provided for them. And, some meters away, in a middle point in between the house and the rune line, stood the magical tent where Teddy and Caroline planned to sleep that night.

"…so the quidditch world cup is going to be this summer?" Tyler asked, eyes alight with interest and excitement, as he leaned closer to Teddy. In his hands, he held the empty cup of wolfsbane potion he'd dutifully drank without comment when Kreacher had appeared with it.

"Yep! This year is going to be in South Africa! Mum bought a box for the whole cup! It's going to be extra-ultra-mega brilliant to stay there for the whole thing!" Teddy exclaimed, his hair turning into a mix of red, blue, green, yellow, and white in honor of the colors of the flag of the country.

"Wow! So you two are going to have a very busy summer" Caroline commented with a little smile.

Teddy blinked, once, twice, visibly bemused. "Uh? What are you talking about? We're all going to go, right? …Right?" Seeing the two teenagers weren't giving him the answer he was seeking at the speed he wanted, her son turned his big, pleading eyes in her direction "Tyler and Caroline are coming with us, right mum?"

"I think that depends entirely on what they want, little wolf" And, to the two teenagers, she added "If you don't have any other plans for the summer, you should come with us. We're going a couple of weeks ahead of the cup so we can do our fair share of seeing sightings and, depending on how long it takes, we might even go to other countries close by…. If the problem is the money, don't worry about it. I'm your magical guardian, is my duty to take care of you."

"I- I-" Tyler fumbled over his words, visibly overwhelmed with the offer, as he turned his brown eyes, wide open with hope and wonder, towards Caroline in search of help. "What do you think, Care?"

"Yes" the blonde girl said, fervently, blue eyes shining with too many emotions to describe "I—we've always dreamed on- Yes, of course, we'd love to travel with you. Anywhere and everywhere you want to take us."

Aria smiled warmly, understanding their reactions. For their conversations, she knew the two of them had always dreamed of leaving their town and traveling the world but they'd always talk about it like a far, far away dream. It was probably a shock to have their dream so within reach. "Well, I don't know about everywhere because we're only going to Africa this summer but, you know, there's always next summer"

Teddy's eyes light up with ideas. "Oh! Yes! We should go to Greece next summer! They have one of the oldest dragon reserves in the world! And they have a whole island that's completely invisible for muggles! It would be wicked to go! Or… Oh! We could also go to South America! There are so many different and cool things there! Like this ancient tribe that lives in the middle of a giant lake that hides an extra-awesome water dragon that-" Her little wolf kept rambling on and Caroline and Tyler just sat there, apparently too dazed to do anything but nod or agree from time to time. It warmed her heart to see them so invested in plans for the future, to know that, for them too, this family was a permanent thing without an expiration date.

Before long, the sun went down and Tyler stood up. "It's time" he said, grimacing as he flexed his muscles "I can feel it"

Aria nodded as she got to her feet. "Let's go to the forest then" to the other two, who had frozen halfway up, she added sternly "As long as you remember to not cross the rune line, you can come with us as planned..."

They both nodded solemnly and, without another word, the four of them crossed the distance until the still golden rune line. Caroline hesitated for a second before throwing her arms around Tyler. "Try to keep yourself safe, ok? The next funding family's event is going to really suck if I don't have you making fun of everyone with me"

Tyler huffed as he squeezed her hard against his chest for a moment before letting her go. "As if I would let a little thing like the moon get the best of me"

In response, Caroline laughed, maybe a little watery, as she put a little distance between them, and Teddy took the opportunity to sneak past them and jump into Tyler's back like a monkey, his hair and eyes changing color to mirror Tyler's. "I'm not worried at all! My new big brother is going to be the best werewolf ever, right Ty?" her little wolf said, making them smile and Tyler straightened up in response to his words.

"Of course. There's nothing for you to be-" Tyler stopped mid-words as his face contorted in pain as his back abruptly twisted towards the ground.

Teddy quickly jumped from his back, scared. "Did I-?"

"Are you-"

"Do you-"

"No! Stay back!" Tyler cut them off, quickly backing up until he was on the other side of the line "It's starti—argh!" he cried as his arms and legs started to twist.

Knowing she couldn't waste another second, Aria closed her eyes and pushed her magic into the rune line, activating the protection. The runes glowed goldenly and, for a second, the entire line lighted up forming a golden dome around the inside grounds of the house "Don't forget to stay behind the line!" Aria ordered without looking back as she crossed to the other side. And then, between one second and the next, she called forth her inner animal and transformed.

And where once stood up a human, there was now a phoenix.

It'd been a surprise when she had discovered her inner animal form. It was widely known that becoming a magical creature wasn't impossible but it was pretty, pretty rare. Managing to become an animagus alone was an extremely difficult task in itself – besides the very, very complex process a person needed to go through to find your inner animal, to successfully manage the transformation it was necessary that the core personality traits of the person had to perfectly match with the ones of the animal – but, in addition to all that, to turn into a magical creature, the magic of the person also needed to match, in an almost perfect way, the magic of the magical creature.

A phoenix was an immortal and incredibly powerful firebird with the ability to be reborn from its own ashes, and the creature fit as her inner animal more than Aria cared to think or admit.

But, at that moment, she was thankful for it, because it allowed her to use the magic of her phoenix song to soothe Tyler as the bones in his body broke one after another. He had fallen into the ground, silently crying, as his body twisted and broke as he transformed for the first time. So, in an effort to comfort him, she flew towards him and started to nuzzle him with her head as she sang, calming him down to the best of her ability.

'It's okay' she was saying to him with her song 'I'm right here with you. We all are. You're not alone… You're going to be okay'

Aria didn't know how long they stood there. She, singing in her animal form as she nuzzled him gently with her head. Tyler, twitching and whimpering in the ground but even still heavily leaning into her touch. Teddy and Caroline, murmuring encouragements from their positions at the other side of the protective barrier, trying their best to show their support. And then, between one moment and the next, Tyler went still, letting out a long, long exhale, as his form shifted completely to a large, black wolf with very intelligent golden eyes.

The wolf stayed still on the ground for a moment and, after a couple of stretches, he stood up with careful moments, like he wasn't completely sure on how to use his new legs yet. But, after another moment in which nobody else move, the wolf turned in her direction, looked at her right in the eye and then bowed his head at her for a brief second. After that, he turned his head in the direction of the barrier, where Teddy and Caroline were staring at him with wide eyes, and nodded at them too, silently telling them that the potion was working and his human mind was in control.

Relieved with the knowledge, Aria opened her wings and flew to his side, gently bopping his head with hers in a gesture that felt natural in this form. The wolf let himself be nuzzled for a moment before huffing, soundly humanly exasperated, and then trotting in the direction of the woods. He stopped right at the edge of the forest and turned towards her, giving her a look that, even in wolf form, could only be read as 'Well, what are you waiting for? You promised we would run!' And she couldn't help but laugh – which sounded strange in that form – as she nodded her head in acceptance. The wolf gave her a big, wolfy grin and then run into the forest and she wasted no time in catching up with him, flying by his side.

And when Tyler howled several moments later, it wasn't as a warning or as a searching call, instead, it was a shout of happiness and freedom.


&&&/07/&&&


"It's almost time" Elijah announced from his right, his head barely tilted to the side as he kept track of the distant sound of the people talking on the Salvatore boarding house.

The two of them were standing miles away from the boarding house, out of reach of the inferior hearing of the Salvatore brothers – and probably Rose-Marie's too – but still keeping the house within the reach of their superior senses.

Kol nodded as he followed the position of the full moon on the sky, knowing what was coming a few moments before it happened. And then, just as he had anticipated, the clouds cleared, letting the moon shine at its fullest, and an angry howl echoed through the forest, originating from a point closer to the house. "She's finally on the move" he announced gleefully, referring to the she-wolf they'd been tracking from far away since Rose-Marie had told them about the Salvatore's latest stupidity.

"Yes" his brother agreed, listening intently to the sounds of the footsteps of the wolf as she advanced towards her chosen target "She's going to attack their house from the west"

"Of course she is. They tried – and stupidly failed – to kill a wolf on the one day of the month she's strongest than a normal vampire" Kol snorted, shaking his head. "Fucking morons…. To get marked by a werewolf on a full moon"

It was one thing for someone like him to piss off a werewolf – or a pack of them – on a full moon, and he had done it – multiple times actually – with no fear of what could come next. But he was an original vampire who could not die for a werewolf bite, he would only suffer the pain and hallucinations for a few days until the venom was completely out of his system, and even that was pretty relative as he could always pester Nik for his blood if he didn't want to put himself through that.

But the Salvatore brothers weren't him or his siblings. They were relatively young vampires, not yet strong enough to win an open battle with a werewolf on a full moon night, and they would die for sure if they got bitten. More importantly, according to Rose-Marie reports, they didn't have any experience fighting werewolves and, for that matter, their knowledge over anything relative to the supernatural world – not even mentioning the magical world – was so basic it was pretty damn laughable. And yet, despite all that, they had dared to threaten a werewolf on a full moon night and had not even prepared themselves for any kind of retribution.

It was all so fucking idiotic and reckless that it was almost impressive.

"In this case, their folly will work in our favor" Elijah hummed, listening to the distant sound of a window breaking and people screaming in fright "It's time"

"Finally!" he crooned, his mouth splitting into a wide, toothy grin.

"Don't go overboard" Elijah cautioned him just as he speeded away.

Kol laughed in response. After waiting to do something for days, he was going to squeeze every last bit of fun out of this as he could.

And so, in between one instant and the next, he was pushing open the door of the Salvatore house and getting inside without problem. Honestly, to be so stupid to not even think about signing off the property in the name of a compelled human. How utterly embarrassing. Do they were truly that thick?

For half of a second, he appreciate the scene in front of him.

At his left, Rose-Marie was following their instructions – and doing both, keeping herself out of harm's way and making sure the doppelgänger didn't die due to her own stupidity – as she pushed the human out of danger zone and towards the staircase. A little away from them, in the center of the living room, the two Salvatore brothers were failing to put up a decent fight against the she-wolf who was attacking them. The brothers were barely dodging her constant influx of rapid-paced attacks and, judging by the increased sloppiness in their movements, they wouldn't be able to escape her attacks forever. A second later, just like he'd predicted, the werewolf pounced one of the brothers – the elder one, if the mutual frightened yells from the other Salvatore and Tatia's copy were any indication – into the carpeted floor with a triumphant howl.

Knowing the perfect moment had arrived, Kol crossed the distance between them and lifted the wolf by her neck as if she was a misbehaving pup. The werewolf was snarling, kicking, and twisting in his hold, trying to break free, but he held her as if it was nothing. And it wasn't, not really. Not for him at least.

"Now, now" Kol tutted, smiling amused when the wolf tried to turn around and bite him "That's not very nice… And everybody knows what happens to those who are not nice to me…." he used his free hand to squeeze her legs against her own chest, pushing with so much force that the sound of her ribs as they broke was audible for even a human's ear. The wolf howled in agony, twisting and crying, but he ignored it and keep squeezing the life out of her without a care in the world. He didn't stop until her heart had been completely crushed down by her own broken bones. "….They died slow, horrible deaths for their insolence." Still smiling, he dropped the broken, lifeless body of the werewolf on the carpet and turned to face his audience.

And in the tense, fearful silence that followed, you could have heard a pin fall into the floor with no problem.

Kol's smile widened.

"Kol, remember your manners. You haven't even introduced yourself." Elijah chastised as he appeared through the door. His tone carried a light reprimand but the twinkle in his dark eyes gave away his amusement. "Please forgive my younger brother" he said to the room in general but with his eyes firmly locked on the paled face of Tatia's new copy. "I'm afraid manners are not part of his forte"

"No, they are not. My specialty is killing those who annoy me." Kol piped with a bright grin. Sadly, the brilliance of his comment was lost on his audience, as they were too focused staring with disbelieving, wide-eyed eyes at his brother.

"I- Impossible… You were dead" The eldest Salvatore – Damon – said as he got to his feet "I killed you"

Elijah shook his head slowly, his dark eyes shining in amusement. "I'm an original, I can't be killed" he proclaimed, proud and unshakable "I thought you would have known this by now. After all, we've already noted the interesting new addition to your little group… Hello Rose-Marie" he said, his aloof face subtly changing to portray anger, carrying on the charade they all had agreed on.

"Elijah, please…" Rose-Marie begged, doing an impressive job at looking suitably scared out of her wits.

Kol tutted in feigning annoyance, advancing towards them. "And to think my brother was so kind to spare your life… How disappointing"

"Please-"

"My brother is right…" Elijah said, as he flashed towards her and snapped her neck in a blink of an eye "…so sleep and be thankful I'm feeling merciful today"

The still body of Rose-Marie fell to the floor with a loud thud. It was nothing really serious – at most, she would come back to life in a couple of hours with a sore throat as the only evidence of her 'death' – but, judging by the ever-growing panic in the wench's face as she stepped away from them, they'd accomplished their mission of driving home how very, very dangerous it was to mess with them.

"Now, Miss Gilbert, I think it's time for us to have a little chat. So, please, have a seat…" Elijah announced, gesturing towards the nearest armchair with all the grace and gentlemanly manners he was known for. His move also served as a subtle reminder for everyone in the room that – even if the house belonged to the Salvatore's – they were the ones in control right now.

"Elena, don't listen to him" the elder brother – Damon – snarled, as he advanced towards them with murder in his eyes. His younger brother, probably anticipating what he was planning on doing, moved in front of the girl in an effort to protect her. "I killed him once, I'll kill him again" he proclaimed, using his speed to push Elijah against the wall by his neck.

"Young vampires" Elijah lamented, ignoring completely the hand that was squeezing his neck "always so foolishly single-minded"

Kol rolled his eyes, already feeling exasperated with the unnecessary back and forth. They were there for a reason and he was itching to get on with it. So, without waiting for a signal from his brother, he crossed the distance between them and threw Damon away from Elijah with all his strength. The elder Salvatore flew away to the other side of the living room until he impacted a wall with a loud crack, breaking a couple of his bones in the process judging by the sound of it, and then he landed with a loud thud over a wooden table, shattering it to pieces.

For a split of a second, he appreciated his work. From Damon, groaning on the carpet – too dazed from the pain to move – to the identical expression of dismay in the doppelgänger and her other boy-toy, and, finally, to the exasperated glint in Elijah's eyes.

With a wide, toothy grin, he speeded towards the fallen vampire and used one of the larger pieces of wood from the table to impale him in the chest, purposely missing the heart only by a few inches. The vampire cried out, wheezing out as he tried to push him away to no avail. Kol laughed at him, pressing his pseudo-stake a little deeper into his chest – making Damon howl in pain – while also closing the space between them until their faces were inches apart. "I don't have my older brother's patience. So, a word of advice, mate. You should keep your mouth shut… or the next time I won't miss" he threatened, using their closeness to better catch the faint scent that cloaked the other's skin and, in doing so, confirming his suspicions about something.

"What are you? Your brother's attack dog or something?" Damon shot back, words filled with disdain even if his features were contorted in pain.

He chuckled, more amused than anything. No one who really knew them could say he was the 'attack dog' as Damon had so eloquently put it, not when all of his siblings had the capacity to be as impatient, brutal and bloody as him given the right circumstances. Sometimes, they could be even worse than him. And more often than not, when that happened, it was his turn to be the rational one.

"No, I'm only someone with very little patience who enjoys making suffer those who annoy me" Kol commented truthfully, his tone completely conversational as he calmly broke Damon's right leg with his foot, making the vampire loudly scream in pain. "And I would stay exactly where I am, if I were you, Stefan" Kol added, turning his head to the side to pin his eyes on the suddenly still figure of the younger Salvatore brother "Move another step and my hand might slip towards your brother's heart"

"Please, stop" The younger Salvatore pleaded, his worry almost palpable "Just… stop hurting him, please"

"That's not on me, is it?" Kol smirked in the direction of the doppelgänger, who was staring at them with pure, unaltered horror "I believe my brother told you to sit, wench"

The girl stared at the shaking form of Damon for a moment and then, very slowly, she took a seat in the nearest armchair, with her boyfriend quickly placing himself behind her.

"Now, you're going to be a good boy and keep your mouth shut, yes? This conversation is reserved for the adults in the room and, obviously, that doesn't include you" Kol whispered in the ear of the older Salvatore. And, when all he received as an answer was a mulish glare, he casually put a foot over Damon's other leg and stepped on it, hard enough to hurt him but not yet breaking anything. Instantly, he cried out in pain. "Well? I'm waiting… and I think we've already established I'm not the patient type"

"Damon…."

"Please, Damon…."

The mutual pleas from his younger brother and the girl seemed to be mean something for the older Salvatore because Kol was able to see the exact moment when the fight went out of him and he resigned himself to his fate. His shoulders dropped ever so slightly as Damon stared at him with blue eyes full of anger and loathing, and then, slowly, he nodded his head in acceptance. Just once.

"Excellent" Kol grinned, pleased, as he pulled out the wooden piece of his chest and walked away without looking back.

"What—what do you want from me?" The wench asked, pale and barely keeping her composure.

Kol ignored her entirely, more focused on finding the comfiest sofa in the room and when he found it, he threw himself over it with his arms crossed behind his back, portraying the smiling, relaxed façade he portrayed in front of those he didn't trust when he wasn't maiming or killing them. Similarly, Elijah's stoic mask was on while he calmly walked towards the most impressive armchair in the room and sat down with the same flair all of the Mikaelson siblings were known for.

After a suitable long pause that made the girl squirm in her seat, Elijah finally spoke. "Do you know who we are, Miss Gilbert?"

"You're the originals" she nodded quickly, eyes darting from one to the other as if she was afraid staring too much would be the cause of her death. It was pretty hilarious. "Rose said… she said you guys were the oldest vampires in existence"

"Oldest, strongest, prettiest, wisest… We're the whole package, darling" Kol couldn't help but add, winking. His smile widened when he received two matching glowering glares from the Salvatore brothers.

The girl paused for a moment, clearly not knowing how to handle his attitude, but finally added "She also said you guys are something akin to vampire royalty"

Kol snorted.

Sweet dear Merlin, no matter how many times he'd heard the same thing over the centuries, it never stopped to be so unbelievably funny when lesser people referred to them as such. They could never understand you didn't need to be royalty to have absolute and unquestionable power over someone. Their family didn't need to have titles like kings and queens, or to be recognized as royalty, not when their names in themselves were equivalent to irrevocable power.

Outside and inside of the magical world, to everyone in the known of what truly existed in their vast world, the Mikaelson name was feared and respected in equal measures. Their name in itself was power.

And a lesser being like Elena Gilbert would never understand something like that.

Elijah's pursed lips said he was thinking along the same lines but, in true to his gentlemanly ways, he didn't say anything of the sort. Instead, he nodded. "A great many people think of my siblings and I as such" he agreed solemnly "Within that group is included your two ancestors, Katerina Petrova and Isobel Flemming"

The names caused an immediate response in the others. The girl gasped, her eyes widening, and the brothers snapped their heads in Elijah's direction, looking like they were visibly restraining themselves from saying anything. "What's does that mean?"

"Not so long ago, your biological mother, Isobel Flemming, contacted us on behalf of Katerina Petrova and proposed us a very simple deal. Katerina's freedom in exchange for your life, Miss Gilbert." Elijah ignored the visible flinch from the girl and the growls from the brothers, and continued with his speech "Under normal circumstances, we would have accepted the deal without hesitation but-"

"Katerina's life has belonged to us for the last five hundred years… And there's no way in hell we're going to forgive her for what she did" Kol cut in, the sharpness in his voice telling everyone he wasn't joking around.

He had never particularly cared for Tatia – not in the way Rebekah had hated the very sight of her and Elijah had worshipped the ground she walked on – and, initially, he had not cared for Katerina either. She had been just an annoying means to an end, and nothing else. Or at least he hadn't cared until she'd almost killed his favorite sibling and broke the heart of Elijah to a thousand pieces. Only then, it had become personal.

And for her actions, he would make sure Katerina died a particularly painful death very soon.

"…As my brother just said, Katerina's fate has already been decided and it won't change, no matter what she could ever offer us" Elijah continued, lips twitching as he retrieved a new, shiny tablet from one of the many inside pockets of his suit and turned it on "As for Isobel Flemming's fate… well, you can see for yourself what her fate was" he said, handing the tablet to the wary girl.

Kol perked up instantly.

He had seen the video a couple of times already but it never got too old to appreciate a job well done.

The light of the tablet reflected in the girl's face as she moved the object in a way that allowed her two shadows to watch the video as well. Sadly, her position meant he couldn't see anything, not without getting up and he wasn't in the mood of moving. Besides, he didn't really need to. The moment the girl hit play and gasped, horrified, he smirked as he replayed in his mind the exact thing she was watching.

A bloody Isobel, handling from her wrists to the ceiling with deep lacerations and burns on her arms and legs, her belly torn up with some of her internal organs and ribs missing, and the area of her chest marked with wooden splinters and dried blood for the many, many times she'd been stabbed just a few inches away from her heart.

The older Salvatore brother cursed, loudly, and the younger tried to take away the table from the doppelgänger's hands, telling her she didn't need to see more, but the girl held on firmly and refused to hand it over. "No" she said, white knuckles pressing on the object "I- I need to know"

After a moment, all of them could hear Nik's voice even if the video didn't show his face. 'So, dear Isobel, any last words for the daughter you gave up without second thought? Remember, make it interesting enough, and I will give you a quick death.''

There was a pause and then 'E-Elena…, just- just do as they say, please… it is for the b-best. And… I-I'm sorry. So-so sorry.'

'Well, at least you're owning up your actions. That's something, I suppose.' Nik's sighed, probably disappointed it wasn't anything more interesting 'But very well. A promise is a promise. I shall make this quick'

There was the distant sound of a button being pushed and then the great black panels covering the windows of Nik's torture room started to lift, one by one. A second later, Isobel started to scream as she burned to death. Contrary to popular belief, dying by sunlight – when the sun reached every part of the body – was actually one of the quickest and most effective ways of killing a vampire, so it wasn't that long before the screaming stopped when she finally died.

For a long moment after the screen turned black, nobody said anything.

They were all too busy staring at the girl, who had bowed her head and hid her face with her long hair in an effort to not let them see how affected she truly was. Unfortunately for her, they were all vampires who could hear the way her heart was beating erratically as a clear sign of distress, and they also could smell the tears she was refusing to shed.

Clearly, the Salvatore brothers didn't have a clue about what to do, because they just stood there, flanking her side by side, staring down at her in helplessness.

It was an amusing sight to be sure but Kol was more interested in the girl, in the way the beating of her heart started to slow down as she calmed herself and the smell of tears disappeared almost completely from the air. Because time and experience had taught him that – no matter how coy and vulnerable they pretended to be – the Petrova doppelgängers were fighters down to their very core. They possessed an inner fire that allow them to keep fighting towards their goal despite what Fate might throw in their way. Above everything else, Tatia had wanted to secure a better future for her child, and Katerina's wish had been to survive. And, in a way, despite having all the stakes against them, they both had obtained what they had wanted, and that knowledge was the only reason he was trying to not underestimate Elena Gilbert.

So he wasn't completely surprised when she finally lifted her trembling chin and stared directly into Elijah's eyes as she demanded "What do you want from me?" The fear was plain to see in her red-rimmed eyes but there was also a glint of something else, a fierce determination to keep going that made him instantly wary of her.

"Personally, I would prefer to have nothing to do with you and this miserable little town. And I'm sure my brother feels the same way" Elijah told her, head titled slightly to the side as he studied her closely "But, as it stands, you're the Petrova doppelgänger, the key to break the Sun and the Moon curse… You ask what we want from you. I thought the answer would be obvious. We want you to fulfill the reason of your existence and die in order to break the curse"

Apparently, that declaration was too much for the older brother. "This is fucking ridiculous! I don't care what big-shot vampire you think you are! We're not going to let you kill Elena!" Damon spat, forgetting he was supposed to keep his mouth shut.

For a moment, the younger brother seemed to be the slightly more intelligent one. As he moved to his brother's side and put a restraining hand on his shoulder "Damon, stop" And then he went and ruined it, proving stupidity run in their blood, when he added "Nobody is going to hurt Elena. We won't let them."

Kol snorted, loudly. "Please… As if the two of you could even hope to go against us and live long enough to tell the tale."

"Katherine beat you when she was human!" Damon taunted, lips twitching in a mocking smile "And that means you're not the invincible monsters you pretend to be!"

"Oh, dear" Elijah sighed, probably already anticipating what was coming.

His older brother knew him too well.

Unlike his siblings, even when they were all human, Kol had been unable to truly care for others besides a selected few. In fact, he could honestly say that, in the thousand years Kol had been alive, the number of people he had ever truly, truly loved didn't surpass the number of the fingers in his hands. That meant he had happily avoided suffering through the kind of gut-wrenching heartbreaks that Rebekah, Elijah, and even Finn had gone through when their lovers had left them, died, or worse, betrayed them. But it also meant he secretly coveted the attention and affection of those few loved ones with all the more intensity, and he was particularly, extra protective of them.

And the reason the words of the detestable older Salvatore made his blood boil with the need to hurt, to maim, to kill, was because there was an ounce of truth in them.

Five hundred years before, Kol had been bested by Katerina.

He – who had always been wary, spiteful, vicious, and jealous of those his siblings gave their affections outside the circle of their family – had failed to see Katerina as the threat she really was. He had failed to see how the girl had turned the captain of their guard into her personal puppy, how she had enchanted his older brother to the point of blindness, and how Ingrid had become so accustomed to her presence that she hadn't seen her betrayal until it had been too late. In his eyes, Katerina had been an ignorant and helpless human who was going to play the part of the unwilling sacrifice and, therefore, she didn't matter. And because of his failure, two of his siblings - two of the very, very few people he had ever loved – had been hurt.

And it grated him on his very nerve to be reminded of that.

Without thinking, Kol got to his feet. "Katerina is a treacherous bitch who didn't have the guts to face us." he snarled, his blood burning with the need of making someone pay. "She has been running from us for five centuries and the only reason we haven't kill her yet is because letting her live terrified of our mere names has been half of the fun…. But the two of you, you're not just interesting enough for that" And then, between one blink and the next, he attacked.

He went for the younger brother first, because he was the less annoying and he just wanted him out of the way. He kicked him in the guts with enough force to break a few ribs and also send him flying towards the stairs, which he impacted with a loud crack. Then, knowing he had at least a minute and a half until the younger brother was able to get over the pain and general dizziness to come back and attack him, he moved towards the elder brother, who met him halfway with a loud growl.

And, honestly, given his cocky and belligerent attitude, Kol was expecting a little more of a challenge.

Getting turned into a vampire meant the person acquired strength and speed beyond human capacity, and those attributes only increased as the vampire grew older. That meant the vampire was always guaranteed to win in a fight with a human. But if the fight was between two vampires, the younger one was at a disadvantage unless they knew how to fight smart, how to play their strengths to outsmart their opponent. And, after a couple of seconds, it was clear to him that Damon Salvatore didn't have any fighting experience with people who were physically stronger than him, he was all brawl and raw strength, without any technique or clever thinking. So, it was pathetically easy to pin Damon with his front against a wall as he held his hands behind his back.

With a precision born of centuries of training, he twisted his right arm until he snapped his humerus bone all the way down to the brachial artery. "Feel that?" he asked, feeling a part of himself purr in satisfaction as the other vampire cried out in pain and his blood started to fall into the floor "That's you, bleeding out from a major artery. If you were human, you would need immediate medical assistance to survive, but because you're not, I can keep breaking your bones, one by one, and then wait for you to heal to do it again and again" he continued, twisting his other arm like a pretzel until it was dislocated from his shoulder.

A small part of his mind was aware of the other people in the room, of all the noises they were making and tracking every sound to make sure nobody got close to him when his back was turned. But because Elijah was also in the room, he could focus his attention on the vampire he was making whimper in pain, knowing his older brother would step in if necessary.

Sadly, as much as he was enjoying making him suffer, they had a plan to follow through "And you know what the best part is? Nobody could stop me from torturing you for eternity if that's what I wanted. Not you. Not your brother. Not the fragile human doppelgänger you both love so much or her little, inexperienced witch friend. Because none of you are strong enough to fight an original like me and win…. So, you should try to remember that before you said something that really pisses me off." he advised, taking his head on his hands and then quickly snapping his neck.

With a satisfied smirk, he watched as the body fell to the ground.

"Happy?"

His smirk widened when he turned around and saw for himself why no one had tried to attack him. Stefan was lying at his brother's feet with his neck snapped, and the girl was kneeling by her boyfriend's side with both hands covering her mouth as her eyes went from one brother to the other.

"Are you?" Kol asked back.

Elijah raised a single eyebrow as he retook his seat. "You know I don't particularly care for violence, brother. But I wasn't about to let him attack you when your back was turned"

Knowing the truth of that statement, Kol nodded without a word and turned his attention towards the girl, who was still staring at them, completely frozen. "Is she in shock or something?" he asked his brother curiously, only half-teasing.

"Please take your seat, Miss Gilbert" Elijah ordered, pointedly looking at the couch. For a moment, the girl didn't respond in any way. But, slowly, she got to her feet and walked towards the couch, retaking her seat in silence. Only then, his brother started talking again. "As I was saying before we became distracted… There's nothing you can do to prevent your death, not now that your existence is well-known by all of us. To break the curse, you shall die…. However, your loved ones don't need to die alongside you. If you surrender your life peacefully to us, we will ensure their protection in return."

For the first time in the conversation, the girl seemed genuinely interested in what they were saying. "You're saying you won't hurt my family and friends?"

Elijah nodded. "As long as they don't try to attack us, they would be considered under our protection and we will ensure no harm comes to them, under our hands or the hands of others"

"And all of you will respect that?" the girl demanded with a frown, throwing a pointed look in his direction.

Kol snorted at her audacity.

The girl was lucky they were trying to play as nice as possible – keeping the causalities to the minimum – due to the fact that, for what Rose-Marie had managed to discover, Ingrid was at least acquainted with everyone in the circle of Elena Gilbert's friends and family, and they were trying to avoid turning Ingrid's opinion against them before she got the chance to meet them properly. If not for that, he would have supported Bekah's idea of kidnapping the doppelgänger, locking her up in the dungeon of one of their many and heavily warded safe-houses, and then killing anyone who tried to find her. "You might not know this but our family is known for our deals. If you keep your word, we will keep ours." Unless something happened and the deal no longer suited their family's best interest, because then all bets were off.

But, of course, he wasn't going to tell her that.

The girl nodded, absently biting her lower lip as her eyes went towards where the Salvatore brothers were, both of them were lying on the floor with their necks snapped, and, judging by her expression, there was a part of her that was sorely tempted to accept their offer so none of her loved ones could get more hurt, but it was also abundantly clear she was terrified of accepting and basically signing her own death warrant.

And, the more he analyze her, the more certain he was that pushing her more in that instant would only hinder all the progress they had made so far.

Evidently, Elijah was seeing the same thing too. Because he took out a small card and handle it to her. "Of course, we won't rush you for an answer right now. We want you to be absolutely certain of your decision, otherwise, the deal won't work… You'll have seventy-two hours to contact us with your answer. If the deadline ends and you haven't contacted us, the deal will be off the table and we will act accordingly."

The girl played with the card in her hands for a moment and then nodded, just once. "You'll have your answer before the time is up"

A small, barely noticeable smile appeared on Elijah's face and he nodded in return, clearly pleased. "Excellent… Well, then, we shall leave you for now, Miss Gilbert"

For the next ten minutes, Kol stayed silent as they departed the house and started walking towards the apartment they were staying in for the time being. He only spoke again after he was absolutely sure they were outside of the hearing range of everyone in the vicinity. "She's going to take the deal long before the deadline is up"

"Oh?"

"The elder Salvatore brother was bitten tonight… I was able to catch the smell of the venom in his system when I got close enough."

Elijah's lips curled in a smile. "You could have killed the wolf before Damon got bitten if you've wanted" he pointed out, visibly amused.

"If I've wanted" he conceded, giving his brother a grin full of mischief "But I wasn't in the mood of doing them any favors"

His response caused Elijah to chuckle, shaking his head in shared mirth. After a moment, his brother adopted a pensive expression as he contemplate the full implications of what Kol had revealed. "This is certainly going to work in our favor… At most, Damon has eight hours before the symptoms made themselves known and, when that happens, we're going to be the only ones who can help him…. And after we save his life, the Salvatore brothers won't be able to act against us, not with the life debt in place."

"Please…" Kol snorted, incredulous "There's no way those two have enough intelligence, or honor for that matter, to understand the significance of a life debt"

"True enough… But then again, their opinion is not the one that matters" Elijah pointed out.

He nodded, conceding the point. "One way or another, we've got the doppelgänger backed against a corner and she won't have any other choice but to take the deal"

"Indeed"

Kol whistled, practically skipping his next steps, feeling his blood hum in anticipation for what came next. With the doppelgänger issue out of the way, he could finally focus on the reason he had truly come to this infernal town.

His dearest sister.


&&&/07/&&&


"And here I thought Granger was the only workaholic one in your little group of friends" An amused and familiar voice commented, startling him out of his concentration. "But look at you, canceling your vacations to come here and work"

Neville took his gaze away from the pile of papers on his desk for the first time in who-knew-how-long, blinked away the letters that seemed to dance in front of his eyes, and then focused his attention on the unfairly handsome man casually leaning against the door frame of his office. "Hello, Blaise" he smiled, pleasantly surprised to see one of his closest friends after a couple of long, busy weeks in which work had made it impossible for them to meet up. After a moment though, he couldn't help but frown in confusion when his words finally registered "How did you know I canceled- Wait, no. Don't tell me. I don't want to know"

He had learned a long time ago – probably at some point after he'd realized that the Slytherin was better than the Weasley twins at uncovering secrets and private information about everyone, and he'd understood that Blaise only used all that information when he considered it suited best for him those he cared about – that it was best for his peace of mind that he didn't think too deeply on how exactly Blaise acquired his information. Because he wasn't stupid and could figure out that, at the very least, some part of the vast collection of information Blaise had acquired through the years had been done by illegal means. And the less Neville knew about it, the better.

Besides, Neville wasn't the best person to lecture someone else on breaking rules and laws, not after everything he had done in his life.

"I knew you were my favorite Gryffindor for a reason. My perfect, daring lion." Blaise purred, winking at him as he sauntered inside his office and took a seat in front of him with the kind of grace and confidence only he could pull off without looking like a giant prat.

His fifteen-years-old-self would had have a heart attack at Blaise's words and flirty attitude, he would have blushed and stuttered and generally make a fool of himself, too embarrassed and self-conscious to give a proper response. But, to be fair, his fifteen-years-old-self hadn't yet known that flirting was a defense mechanism for Blaise, a mask created out of necessity as the only son of the infamous Black Widow and perfected in his school years as a Slytherin student with Light inclinations. Luckily, a decade and a half of friendship had not only taught him all that, but it had also made Neville practically immune to Blaise's special brand of flirting. "We both know I'm not your favorite Gryffindor" Neville pointed out, choosing his words carefully and taking note of any changes on his friend's expression.

Because a decade and a half of friendship had also taught Neville that behind all his apparent confidence and irresistible charm, Blaise hid a vulnerable heart that had never allowed him to flirt with the one person he treasured above everyone else. And Neville was not the kind of person who liked to hurt his friends with blunt words spoken without a second thought.

At the reminder, Blaise's expression softened, his salacious grin turning into a smaller but much more real smile that lightened up his whole face and, in Neville's opinion, made him incredible more beautiful. But then again, he had always found raw sincerity to be enchanting and much more beautiful than any kind of mask. After all, that had been the very thing that had initially drawn him to Luna like a moth to a flame.

"True... But that doesn't mean I don't love you too, my daring lion" Blaise said, still smiling "And because of that affection, I almost wish you were off enjoying your well-earned vacation time and I was forced to talk with Granger instead of you"

Suddenly feeling wary – because Blaise might respect Hermione but he didn't particularly like her and it would be a cold day in hell before he voluntarily choose her over him – Neville sighed as he resigned himself to his fate. "Okay… Stop talking in circles and just tell me the bad news that has obviously brought you to my office"

Immediately, Blaise's expression shifted to adopt a more serious look as he retrieved two pieces of parchment from his robes and passed them to him in complete silence.

Confused, Neville couldn't do anything but stare at them, trying to figure out what the problem was. In his hands were pages containing the last five days, up until that day and detailing every last minute, of the Minister of Magic's schedule - obviously taken from the personal and private agenda of the man - but he couldn't find anything strange in them.

"I don't understand. What's so important? What I am not seeing?" he asked, frowning a little.

"These" Blaise said, pointing to four slots in the agenda.

"So, for the last four days, Kingsley has canceled his lunch to meet with a mysterious person, and the only thing we know about this person is that their initials might be RM" Neville said slowly "Okay, I admit it's out of the ordinary. But I still don't see the problem. Depending on the type of meeting, a person can ask that their identity be kept out of all records"

"True" his friend admitted, inclining his head "But the curious thing is that, yesterday, minutes after their meeting was over, our dear minister started the process of retrieving the Most Sacred and Extremely Ancient Book of Noble Houses from the restricted archives without bothering to notify the Wizengamot or follow any of the usual red tape" At his words, Neville sat up straight in alarm. No – he thought – Surely… surely, Kingsley would have not done something so stupid. Something so incredibly dangerous. "And today, just after the book was discretely brought to his office, the minister's agenda changed, canceling his next meeting without warning and giving that slot to the mysterious RM"

Neville fought back the urge of closing his eyes when his emotions – hurt and anger and betrayal – almost got the best of him, knowing it wasn't the time to let his personal feelings cloud his judgment. "You think Kingsley is going to give them the book. Or at least let them look through it…. That's why you came to me."

Blaise raised a single eyebrow, silently daring him to contradict him. "Tell me I'm being too paranoid and I will let the matter be"

"We both know you're not being paranoid" Neville snorted, shaking his head "To be honest, I'm a little surprised you came here instead of directly summoning an emergency session of the Wizengamot"

If Blaise had gone straight to the Wizengamot, Neville would have completely understood. Because, as it was, he was fighting back the urge to do that very same thing.

The Most Sacred and Extremely Ancient Book of Noble Houses had been created by Merlin himself when the Golden Age of Camelot had been at its peak. Back then, King Arthur's will and power had been absolute for magical folks and muggles alike in his kingdom. But the only reason the magical families had followed a muggle king in the first place had been because Merlin had willed it that way. For them, Arthur might have been the king of Camelot, but Merlin was the one they had been truly loyal to. And, as a sign of gratitude for their loyalty, Merlin had created a book, bound with the blood and magic of those families, to preserve the families and their history in its pages for eternity.

The book contained a chapter for each family, which detailed the family tree, the magical abilities – or lack of – for each member, and also recorded every birth, marriage, magical bond, and every other relevant thing that happened in the family. The book was basically sentient, actualizing itself with any change – even those nobody knew – that it considered pertinent to record. And, because it was bound with the blood and magic of each of the families, it was almost indestructible.

Sadly, after the fall of Camelot and Merlin's death, the book had also proved to be a valuable weapon against the members of those families, a way to discover every single one of their weaknesses and how to take them down. The book contained too much private information and, in the wrong hands, that information had proven to be lethal.

Many bloodlines had been eliminated because of that book.

Which was why, after the magical families had banded together and created the Council of Wizards to govern the affairs of the magical folks, one of the very first things they had done had been to track down the book, and then decide what to do with it. And so, after much debate, the Council had decided that every single noble family – including the ones that came after the fall of Camelot – needed to be bound to the book, to preserve their history in case the worst should come to pass. But they also had decreed that no one should have free and unrestricted access to it, so the book should be locked up and only be used with the approval of the absolute majority of the Council in cases of a grave emergency.

Of course, eventually, with the establishment of the Ministry of Magic, the Council of Wizards had disbanded and the Wizengamot had been formed in its stead. But all the rules pertaining to the book had remained. And that meant that no one besides the Wizengamot - not even the Minister of Magic himself - could use the Most Sacred and Extremely Ancient Book of Noble Houses without permission, much less lend said book to another person. Not even Voldemort had managed to convince his followers to hand him over that book.

And yet, it seemed that Kingsley was about to do exactly that.

"Honestly, my first impulse was to call an emergency Wizengamot session to kick Kingsley out of office for grave breach of trust… But I know you care about him, and I figured you've got a better chance to stop him before he does something that's going to ruin his entire career" Blaise explained, casually shrugging his shoulder as if it was nothing, even though they both knew it wasn't.

"Thank you, Blaise" Neville said heartily, as he checked the time with a quick tempus. There were ten minutes left before Kingsley's meeting with the mysterious person took place. He needed to hurry up if he wanted to make things right. "I'll go and deal with this right away" he promised, getting to his feet with the intention of going to see the Minister to give him a piece of his mind. He was almost by the door when his friend's voice made him pause and turn around.

"Neville" Blaise said, and it was the use of his name, more than the tone of his voice, that made him pause and turn around.

His friend was leaning against his desk, but his arms were crossed and there was a quiet but dangerous air around him that let him know that standing in front of him wasn't his friend Blaise, but the Lord of the Noble House of Zabini, the Slytherin son of the infamous Black Widow, who had managed to thrive in the House of Snakes despite the fact he'd spent most of his time there converting half of said House towards the Light under the nose of Death Eaters in-training and Snape, and the powerful and lethal wizard who had killed at least a dozen of Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts in defense of those he cared about. "Kingsley is only getting this one chance because he's your friend and a former comrade-at-arms but if he dares to go through with this foolishness, I'm going to forget all about that and I'll do everything in my power to make him face the full wrath of the Wizengamot"

"Don't worry, Blaise…. If it comes to that, I'll be right alongside you making him face responsibility for his actions" he promised without hesitation.

Blaise must have seen the truth of his words in his expression because he relaxed slightly and nodded his head in silent acceptance. Knowing there wasn't anything else to say, Neville walked out of his office and marched towards the first level of the Ministry, where the office of the Minister was located.

"Lord Longbottom!" the Minister's secretary squeaked when he walked past her and marched directly towards the door "I- I'm sorry but you can't go in, sir! The Minister asked to not be disturbed- Sir! Wait!"

"He will receive me" Neville assured her, without stopping to look at her. He didn't stop when he reached the closed door, allowing his magic to open it for him without a word. And he didn't bother to look around the pristine office, focusing his attention solely on the British Minister of Magic, who jumped to his feet, wand ready, as soon as Neville barged into the room.

"What's the meaning of this, Neville?!" Kingsley demanded, even as he lowered his wand.

Instead of answering, he lifted his wand in a quick movement born of two decades of constant practice, and fired out the summoning spell nonverbally. A half-second later, the ancient book flew from the desk towards his extended hand, evidencing without question that Kingsley had betrayed the trust all the Noble Houses had placed in him.

"How could you?!" Neville whispered, holding tightly to the book "You know better than most how dangerous this book is, the dangers it poses if someone decides to use it for malicious intention… For Godric's sake, your family is also part of this book! Why would you risk them like this?"

Instead of cowing or apologizing, Kingsley sent him a look full of paternal disapproval. "I'm going to overlook the fact that you barged into my office and fired a spell at me, because I'm capable of understanding that you're upset, Neville… But I need you to remember that I'm the Minister of Magic and my actions are towards the benefit of our country. You have to trust me on that." His tone was calm and reassuring, the tone of someone who knew was best without a doubt.

Once – before he had accidentally met Aria on their first ride on the Hogwarts Express, before he had seen first-hand the depth of the damage people in power could do by accident, before he had been forced to fight, kill and survive in a bloody war as a teenager because most adults had been content with pretending nothing wrong was happening – Neville would have caved at that tone of voice, especially directed from someone he'd respected for so long.

Now, it just filled him with burning outrage. Because it was clear that, for whatever reason, Kingsley thought he acting for the Greater Good, and he was ignoring – like so many others had done before – the possibility that people could get hurt in the process.

And Neville wasn't about to let him do that.

He opened his mouth, ready to give him a piece of his mind, when a female voice – full of disdain and arrogance – interrupted him and made him aware that someone had entered the office while they had been arguing.

"I don't see why you're indulging this child, Minister. It's clear he doesn't understand the finer points of politics."

Instantly, Neville turned towards the door, offended in ten different levels and ready to give whoever they were a piece of his mind, and then he caught sight of the person and he was forced to pause. Because if someone was the child in the room, it was definitely the blond girl with the appearance of a mere teenager in front of him. And it would have been easy to simply point that out. To let himself be that petty.

But he'd learned long ago that he needed to look past appearances because anything was possible in their mad, mad world. Especially when he could felt the ancient magic rolling off the blonde in waves and that kind of power didn't belong to a mere girl.

Whoever the blonde was, she was a very powerful and dangerous being.

So instead of doing what he had first planned to do, he put to use all the lessons his gran had beaten into his head and bowed his head slightly in her direction, just for a half of a second. It was a sign of respect – an acknowledgment of the power she carried – but it was also a silent warning that let her know he was powerful on his own right too, and he wasn't about to let her walk over him.

"I believe we haven't had the chance to properly meet" he said, voice calm and polite, looking straight into her blue eyes "My name is name is Neville Longbottom, Lord of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Longbottom, leader of the Wizengamot, Britain's Delegate on the International Confederation of Wizards, Order of Merlin, First Class, and Hero of the Second Wizarding Blood War"

When he'd been young – much to the great despair of his gran – Neville had not particularly cared for the title he was set to inherit, not when it was his father who should have been the Lord of their House but couldn't do it because he was stuck on a mental ward, too out of his mind to even recognize his only son. Back then, he had even toyed with the idea of letting his gran be his regent for as long as it was possible, knowing that carrying on with all those duties and responsibilities was much better suited for her than him.

But then he'd gone to Hogwarts and he'd seen firsthand injustice, corruption, and evil that existed in their world. He'd seen, time and time again, people in power abusing said power in order to promote their own agendas and causing great harm in the process. He'd seen how much War and Hatred could destroy.

But he had also seen how much it could be changed if someone was willing to step up and fight back.

Which was why, after they'd won the Battle of Hogwarts, he had stood in the broken remains of what had once been the Great Hall – the place of so many happy memories, his home away from home for so many years – surrounded by the dead bodies of his friends and classmates – children who had given up their lives for a better future – and he had promised to himself and them that he would never let something like that happening again.

There would be no more families torn apart. No more casualties of war. No more sacrifices. No more child soldiers. No more war orphans. Neville had promised that he would do everything in his power to make sure history didn't repeat itself.

For that promise, he had sacrificed his first love and his dreams of a quiet life. He had put himself on the line of fire and become the voice of change. He had accepted the titles, even the ones he didn't think he deserved, and all the duties, responsibilities, and expectations that came with them, and he'd sworn to himself he would do better than the ones that came before him.

So, when he recited his many, many titles to the mysterious blonde girl in front of him, his voice wasn't boastful or arrogant. Instead, it carried both, the calm confidence he'd gained after diligently working for so many years, and the unbreakable steel of his will, so everyone would know he was willing to use every weapon in his power if he considered it necessary.

The blonde raised an eyebrow, humming in thought as she analyzed him anew with a hint of curiosity in her blue eyes. After a moment, a slow smile painted itself on her lips. It could be considered a pretty smile, Neville supposed, but his friendship with Blaise had taught him to be wary of smiles like hers. They were always synonymous with danger.

"Rebekah Mikaelson" she smiled, slow and secretive "A pleasure"

After all the research on vampires he'd done lately, the name rang loud bells on his mind and it took him a second to understand why.

Right.

The Mikaelson Family was otherwise known as the Original Family. And if he wasn't mistaken, Rebekah was the name of the only female in the family.

Dear Godric, he was in front of an Original Vampire.

"Neville, Lady Mikaelson is-" Kingsley started, his cautious expression not hiding the awe in his eyes when he regarded the ancient vampire.

"-An Original Vampire" he completed, nodding "I'm aware"

"You don't look surprised" she noted, taking a few steps in his direction "Most people are when they discover our identities"

"To be honest, I'm too busy feeling less offended for being called a child" he told her, shrugging his shoulders "I suppose everyone is a child to you"

"Are you saying I'm old?" she demanded, and her tone was so honestly offended that he couldn't help but snort in amusement.

"Well, you're a thousand-year-old vampire, so yes"

Rebekah stared at him, visibly surprised by his blunt and honest response. In contrast, Kingsley was gaping at him, stunned by the way he was treating someone who held so much weight in the magical world.

It was kind of understandable.

Kingsley might not be the heir of his House, but he was still a member of a Noble House and he had probably grown up with stories about the Originals like all the members of the Noble Houses had done so in a way or another, even those who belonged to the most purist families.

Depending on the family, they could be prejudiced against the younger vampires, especially those who had been turned after the Statute of Secrecy, because, more often than not, they didn't know much about the magical world and their traditions and, therefore, were considered not much better than muggles. But the older vampires, those who had centuries of history and knowledge about magic, were universally respected. And the Originals, the oldest of them all, who had lived for centuries with the Immortal Witch by their side, who had not only ancient knowledge of all types of magic but who also possessed riches, connections, and power beyond equal, were respected and regarded as vampire royalty by everyone on the magical world.

And after centuries of being out of the public eye, to have an Original asking for a favor… he could understand why Kingsley had accepted.

Neville still thought Kingsley had made the wrong choice. But he could understand why.

"As enchanted as I am by your presence, Lady Rebekah" he said formally, because his gran would have cursed him if he dared to forget his manners in front of an Original "I'm still not going to let you take this book" he said as he lifted the book and nonverbally bound it to his hand so nobody could take it away.

"Neville!" Kingsley hissed, starting to look truly angry "You're overstepping-"

"No, you were the one who did that when you broke our trust and law" he replied, letting the deep of his anger show in his face and staring directly into his eyes to let Kingsley know that, no matter what happened, he wasn't about to forgive or forget. And, judging by Kingsley's grimace, his point was made clear. "And I get it. She's an Original. There are a thousand legal things she could have offered you, and ten thousand more that can be dealt under the table. All in exchange for this book…. But I don't care. I'm not letting her have it."

Rebekah snorted, loudly, breaking his eye contest with the Minister. Neville turned in her direction and he was met with a smile that spelled trouble, because her smile could be considered a pretty and sweet smile, if not for the clear mocking glint in her blue eyes and the hint of lethal danger that lurked just under it. "Oh? And how are you planning to stop me?" And before he could even lift his wand, she was in front of him, her right hand squeezing his neck. She smiled again and there was nothing but the threat of danger in it this time "If I wanted, I could kill you right now and take the book away before your body even touches the floor"

"Lady Rebekah!" Kingsley exclaimed "Please consider-"

"You could" Neville agreed, ignoring the Minister completely as he held Rebekah's gaze with his own, refusing to be afraid "But you won't… In all our shared history, you guys have never killed a wand-wielder without a good reason before. Your family has spent a millennia building good relationships with the wizarding community and killing me now would throw all that away…. You're right, I don't have the power to stop you from killing me and then take the book. But if you do that, sooner or later, the Noble Houses of Great Britain is going to find out The Originals stole our most sacred and dangerous book, and it would be considered a declaration of war…. And I don't think that's what you want. Otherwise you wouldn't have bothered negotiating with the Minister in the first place"

For a second, he could have sworn Rebekah's face twitched in annoyance in the same way Aria's did when her plan didn't work the way she'd anticipated. But then the second passed, and Rebekah was back at smiling at him with that sweet smile that promised pain and death, and he was sure he had imagined it. "Ah, but you're missing the point. It's not about what we want. It's about what we need… And we really need that book"

He wasn't sure what it was. But he saw something in her eyes that told him she was being sincere for probably the first time since their conversation had started and that, more than anything else, prompted his next words. "Is the information in this book that important to you?"

Rebekah didn't even hesitate, staring right back at him. "Yes"

Neville didn't have the natural charm and abilities of his best friends. He wasn't like Aria, who was both, powerful and charming enough to make everyone follow her through Hell. He wasn't like Ron, with a strategist mind that could formulate all kinds of plans to get them out of tough situations. And he definitely wasn't like Hermione, with her genius brain that paired with her ruthless streak allowed her to do anything in order to get what she wanted. Neville wasn't like them. But he'd been raised by the political animal monster that was his grandmother and he could spot the giant problem that was coming from a mile away. Because there was no way the Originals were going to give up if whatever information they were looking for was that important. No matter what he or anyone else did. And that meant he needed an alternate path. A way to make sure everyone got what they needed.

And, just like that, the beginnings of a plan started to take form in his head.

"Is there a risk someone may get hurt get hurt if I give you this book?" he asked after a moment of consideration.

"No" she responded immediately and there wasn't anything in her expression that made him suspect she wasn't being honest.

"Not even unintentionally?"

"No. We don't mean anyone any harm."

"And would you be willing to swear a vow on your magic saying that?"

"Yes! I would even swear on my brothers' name too if you want!" she said, clearly exasperated "Now, are you going to stop being difficult and give me the damn book?"

"No. I told you already, I'm not letting you have this book" Rebekah's face twisted in a silent snarl that send warning bells on his mind and told him she was a second away from snapping his neck "But if you tell me what you're looking for, maybe I can help you"

"I'm not telling you anything"

Neville barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes at her petulant expression. "I don't want details of what you're looking for, just a general idea"

"Why?" she demanded, still looking suspicious.

"Because not all the information in this book is private… There are a lot of things that are available to public knowledge. But it normally takes a long while to get it because of all the red tape… Luckily for you, I'm one of the few people in the country who can get almost any kind of information about the Noble Houses in a few days at most"

"A few days is too long" she frowned, displeased.

"It depends on the information… And you still haven't told me what you're looking for" he shot back, raising an eyebrow in a silent challenge.

Instead of giving him an answer, Rebekah closed the distance between them – which wasn't much to begin with; what with her still holding his throat in her hand and all that – until nothing but a few inches separated them. "Why the sudden interest in helping me?" she demanded with a fierce scowl, staring into his eyes "What do you want in exchange for this?"

"The only thing that I want is that nobody gets hurt. I want everyone to be at peace, happy, and safe. That's it" Neville answered, giving the truth away without thinking too much about it "So the only thing I want from you and your family is that you don't use whatever information I give you with ill intentions.

Rebekah snorted a startled, little laugh. "How utterly bizarre…. Did you know I can always tell when someone is lying to me? And you… everything you've just said to me is the truth. You truly do care…" she said, staring at him with a curious look in her eyes as she finally released his neck "It's very rare, you know? To find someone with such an honorable and selfless heart…."

Neville shrugged, for the first time feeling self-conscious. "I'm only doing what it's right"

For a moment, Rebekah stared at him with those old eyes of hers before something else caught her attention and she turned her head in the direction of Kingsley with a contemplative expression on her face "And what are you going to do if your minister doesn't approve of your little plan?"

"The minister" Neville said, his words carrying a sharp and pointed edge no one in the room could miss "is lucky I'm not demanding his immediate resignation. He has no say in this matter anymore"

From his position behind his desk, Kingsley just sighed as he retook his seat with the resigned air of someone who had finally understood the gravity of his actions.

Good.

Just because they were friends didn't mean Neville was going to put a blind eye to the enormous breach of trust Kingsley had committed.

Rebekah hummed, deep in thought, before nodding her head and focusing her whole attention on him again. "I need a list with the basic info of every living member of all the Noble Houses that are active at the moment"

Both of Neville's eyebrows shot up in surprise at the request. "That's a lot of information"

"Are you willing to help me or not?"

He didn't need to stop to think about it, especially because the information she was asking for was available to public knowledge. "I've already told you…. As long as you make a vow on your magic that nobody is going to get hurt if I give you that information, you'll have my help"

In response, Rebekah's whole expression softened in the first genuine smile he'd seen in her. It lighted up her face and made it impossible to ignore how incredibly beautiful she was. It was bright and light like the morning of a new dawn in spring, and it suited her much better than all the other fake smiles she'd been using so far. "You've got a deal, Lord Longbottom" she said, still smiling, as she extended her hand towards him.

Unable to do anything else but smile back, he shook her hand. "It's a deal, Lady Mikaelson"


&&&/07/&&&


"What do you mean she's not there?!" Kol snarled, more than a little annoyed, as he gripped the phone in his hand so tight he almost thought it was about to break. "Have you gone blind in the last few days by any chance, sister? Because that's the only reason I can think of why you wouldn't be able to find her!"

He was pacing back and forth around the town square, fighting back the urge to kill something and mildly regretting not waiting for Elijah's return – They'd received a call from the doppelgänger half an hour before and the girl had sounded frantic as she demanded their presence in the Salvatore House. And because Kol hadn't fancied the thought of caving to her demands, he'd decided to stay put while his brother went to see her – to call their sister for updates. Because, if nothing else, he could always trust his honorable, boring, older brother to cover up for him if he snapped and slaughtered a dozen of people in broad daylight in a fit of rage.

At the other end of the line, Rebekah growled, indignant. "I already told you! It doesn't look like she's here!"

"Nik and Finn said-"

"I know what they said! But I've gone through these records at least five times, brother, and I'm telling you, there is no one of our sister's age who fits the profile they made!"

"But that doesn't make a damn lick of sense!" he hissed back "Everything we've found so far indicates she's a member of a powerful and rich noble family, probably the Lady or heir because-"

"-of the power she needs to wield to negotiate directly with the goblins" she snapped back "Yes, I know… And there's no one of her age who fits!"

Kol scowled. "How sure are you of the information you were given? Maybe your source-"

"The information is true. My source didn't lie to me. I'm sure of that."

There was a strange defensive bite in his sister's voice when she said those words that caught his attention. Any other time and he would have probed her until she gave up and spilled the truth – because there was always something going on with his little sister and someone needed to make sure she didn't end up heartbroken for the million time – but, at the moment, there was a pressing need to solve the new puzzle in front of them, so he saved his suspicious for later. "…Wait. You said there's no one of our sister's age who fits. Does it mean that, if you forget about her age, there's someone who fits the bloody profile?"

There was a long pause at the side of the line. So much so that, if he couldn't clearly hear her breathing, he would have thought she had hung up on him. He frowned in consternation. "Bekah?"

"It's nothing… All the stress is probably making me lose my mind"

"Please, we both know you lost your damn marbles a long time ago, dear sister" he snorted, rolling his eyes "Now tell me what's on your mind"

"Well… if we forget the fact that our sister is obviously a teenager… There's someone that fits, scarily so… but it's impossible. Ingrid barely looked of age. It can't be her"

All things considered, the age was probably the only thing they knew for sure about their sister but then again, this was Ingrid they were talking about. The laws of logic never applied to her. "I wouldn't disregard an idea just because of that. Everything is possible when comes to our sister." He laughed "But who are you even talking about?"

"That's the thing…" his sister said, her voice oddly tentative "It's Aria Potter"

He paused mid-step, caught completely off guard. "I'm sorry. I think my super hearing is malfunctioning after a millennium of hard work… because I could have sworn you said Aria Potter" The silence at the other end of the line was damming "The last descendant of Iolanthe? The only member of the Potter's bloodline who is still alive? The famous Girl-Who-Lived? That Aria Potter?!" he asked, his voice increasing in volume as he tried to keep at bay the emotions this reminder had brought on.

Even after all those years and knowing that – against all odds – the Potter's – the Peverell's - bloodline had managed to live on, it remained a sore spot for their family the fact that, after an alliance of centuries, they had been unable to help them in their darkest hour.

"Yeah" she confirmed in a whisper, her tone carrying an echo of his own emotions.

"That's absurd! Just because they have the same first name doesn't mean they are the same person! The Potter girl is at least a decade older than our sister, for crying out loud!"

"You were the one that said anything is possible when it's about our sister, you bloody prat" Kol may have made a protesting sound because Rebekah shushed him before he could say anything else "Look, I know the age doesn't add up at all but… everything else just fits, ok? Even if you put aside all the powerful and impossible things she managed to do when she was young, she's still the Lady of the Potter, Black, and Peverell families. And, somehow, nobody knows where she is… But she has enough ties to the muggle world to know how to live in it and we both know the Potters have always kept a mutually respectful relationship with the Goblins, so they wouldn't have hesitated to help her disappear for the right price…. I mean..." Rebekah paused, huffing an incredulous laugh "...her legal name is Aria Dorea Potter-Black, Kol! And I know it sounds insane, but the more I read about it-"

"-the more you think that sounds exactly like our sister" Kol completed with a sigh, because that was exactly what had happened to him the more Rebekah had talked.

But it was impossible.

It was one thing to look the same age for some years if the magic of the person was powerful enough to slow down the aging process to that point but, even with the most powerful of sorceress, there was always some kind of a mark as Time caught up slowly with the person. Nobody was truly ageless, not if they weren't a vampire. And yet, once upon a time, Ingrid had remained looking the same age for centuries without any kind of difference or mark. If she hadn't been killed that fateful day, Time wouldn't have touched her and she would have lived for the rest of eternity looking exactly the same as he remember her.

Exactly the same as she had looked in the memories Elijah had shown them. As if no time at all had passed. As if…

He felt his whole body freeze as he tried to process the impossible, unbelievable idea forming in his head. It was utterly bonkers. But the more he thought about it, the more it felt like he'd finally found the final piece of the puzzle, a piece he hadn't known he was searching for until that moment. Especially because... "The last thing Henry told me before he died was that I needed to look out after his family"

"What?"

Lost in his memories, he barely paid attention to his sister's voice. At that moment, the only thing he could focus on was his memories of Henry Potter.

Like it'd happened with almost all the Lords and Ladies of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Potter, Kol had met Henry after he had assumed his role as Head of the Potter House to renovate the alliance their families had kept since the moment Iolanthe Peverell had married Lord Hardwin Potter. And, as it'd happened with almost all of them, Kol had liked Henry right away. There was just something innately likable about their mischievous and easy-going nature, as well as their recklessly brave heart of gold, all of which hid a truly ruthless and vindictive streak, that made them impossible to ignore even for someone like him.

Henry though, had also been insanely curious about the Originals and their history, and he had carried a deep love for potions that could have rivaled his. And before Kol had realized, he had found himself exchanging regular letters with Henry, debating potions and magic theories. Sharing their adventures and complaining about their families. And bonding over prank ideas and their other shared hobbies.

It had been almost too easy to trust him. To care for him.

Outside of his family, and Iolanthe, Henry had been the only person he had truly loved in the millennium he'd been alive.

Because of that, after Ingrid had been killed and he had needed a wand-wielder to perform the ritual that would make sure his sister would be reborn, Kol had turned towards Henry and asked for his help. And even though it had meant he would have to perform a never-done-before, highly dangerous, and illegal blood ritual that had a high chance of draining him of all his magic, Henry hadn't even hesitated to accept. He'd risked his life and magic on the off chance that Kol hadn't made a single mistake when he had created the ritual.

It was thanks to Henry that they had managed to do the ritual.

So, decades later, when Henry had caught a very severe case of dragon pox, Kol had dropped everything to go and see him. But by the time he'd arrived, it'd been already too late. Henry had been on his deathbed, completely delirious. He hadn't recognized anyone, nor his family or Kol. However, for a brief moment, just before he had died, Henry's eyes had cleared and he'd gripped Kol's hand as he mumbled the same words over and over again until he had passed away.

"…All this time, and I thought he was only reminding me of alliance between our families" Kol continued in a rush, speaking his thought out loud, barely paying attention towards Rebekah at the other end of the line "But what if he didn't mean that? What if he figured it out and that was his way of warning me?"

"Wha—Kol! I'm not Ingrid. I can't read your bloody mind! You need to explain to me what you're talking about!"

"I'm talking about the reincarnation ritual! The one I created!" he said in a rush as the pieces finally fell into a perfect picture in his mind "We used our blood to power up the ritual… But Henry was the one who cast the spell and activated the whole thing. His magic – the magic of the Potter family – was as much part of the ritual as our blood and magic... The ritual obviously worked, so the Potter's family magic needed to be as much part of Ingrid as our magic… And the only way that could have happened was if Ingrid was reborn into their family, into-"

"-the Potter family" Rebekah finished, sounding as stunned.

"Exactly. And you said yourself, Aria Potter sounds an awful lot like our sister"

"But wait… What about the age difference?"

"I don't know... I should probably check my original notes of the ritual again but maybe it's just another side-effect of the ritual…"

"You're saying the ritual made sure she stopped aging as before."

"Yeah… Well, maybe."

"That doesn't sound reassuring"

"What do you expect? We're talking about a highly experimental ritual that no one else has done. There are no precedents here."

"So, anything it's possible"

"Yep"

"That fits really well with our sister"

"You think so too, uh?"

"But it doesn't prove anything, not unless we confront her directly"

"In essence, yes"

"And if we do that, we are going to need to explain the history between our families and how we failed to keep our promise towards her new family"

"Exactly"

Rebekah sighed, long and tired. "We're screwed then"

"Pretty much" Kol agreed.

His sister snorted in dry amusement in his ear, probably also seeing the irony of it all. At the other end of the line, he caught the faint sound of pages as they were turned when, out of nowhere, Rebekah inhaled sharply and then cursed loudly and colorfully, making him laugh. "Language, sister! What would people say about such an uncouth behavior in a lady such as yourself?"

"I don't care what they say right now" Rebekah snapped, her voice carrying a note of something he didn't recognize "I just found out something… Kol, look, if Aria Potter is really our sister, there's something else everyone should know…. It's— it's unbelievable and amazing and-"

He frowned, confused. "What are you talking about?"

"According to this records Aria is not the last Potter… she-"

Whatever his sister was about to say was lost on him because, at that precise instant, he felt someone with an echo of indisputably familiar magic getting closer to him. "What- what's that?" Kol asked himself, as he turned around and tried to pinpoint the source of the magic he was feeling. The magic was powerful and eerily familiar, but it also carried a unique flare of something different that made it completely its own thing, and made him even more curious about the person who possessed such peculiar magic.

"….Are you even listening to me, you little troll?!"

"No. So just shut up for a second, Rebekah. There's someone-" he hissed, distracted, as he felt the person – the wand-wielder – whose magic felt so attune and familiar to Ingrid's magic got incredibly closer to him at a fast pace.

His thoughts came to a screeching halt when the source of the magic came in contact with him when a small body collided with him with enough force to almost make him stumble. And if not for his vampire reflexes, which didn't stop working even though his mind seemed to have frozen in place due to his shock, Kol wouldn't have reacted fast enough to stop the child from falling to the ground.

"Oof!" a new, and pretty young, voice mumbled from somewhere below his chest "Uh, uh... I'm so sorry! I didn't see you, sir!"

Kol wasn't exactly sure what he had been expecting but it certainly wasn't to look down and stare at a young kid – of twelve or thirteen years – with electric blue hair that was quickly turning red, the unmistakable features of a member of the Potter family, and Ingrid's unique emerald green eyes.

It couldn't be.

But there was no denying the evidence in front of him, wasn't it?

The child in front of him carried the same distinct features that every Potter had shared since ancient times, his changing hair was a clear sign of the metamorphmagus ability which in Britain was only present in the Black family, his magic sang in power with a signature very similar to Ingrid's, and he had her same emerald green eyes too. Honestly, there was only one possibility that made sense considering everything Rebekah and he had been talking about and the fact that he knew for sure that Aria Potter was an only child.

This child….

This impossible, unexpected child was his sister's son. And that meant he was Kol's blood. His nephew. After a millennium, the Mikaelson family had gained another member.

It was almost too much for him to comprehend.

Mesmerized, he stared at the child, drinking him in, categorizing every single one of his features and storing them up in his mind for the rest of eternity.

"Are you alright? I didn't hurt you, did I?" the child asked in a rush, extending his hands towards him as if he was preparing to catch him if Kol fell. "Oh, Merlin… Mum always says I should look when I run in the street… I'm so sorry, sir! I-"

"It's okay, I'm okay" Kol assured him, trying to calm him down. If the child was any other person, he would have enjoyed watching them work themselves into a worried frenzied over him. But he didn't fancy the idea of making his young nephew cry on their first meeting. "You just caught me off guard"

"Promise?" the boy asked with a relieved smile that was painfully familiar, as his hair changed back towards electric blue.

"Yes. Nothing to worry about" he repeated with a smile, clenching the phone in his hand as he tried to get a hold over his emotions. "Your mum is right though, you shouldn't be running in the street. You might get hurt"

In his ear, his sister scoffed an incredulous laugh. "Since when do you care about the welfare of random children? …What's going on, Kol?" Rebekah demanded, clearly impatient. But he chose to ignore her for the moment, more focused on the blue-haired boy with green eyes in front of him.

"I know, I know…. But Care says the burgers of the Grill are really good and I wanted to get there before it gets too crowded" the child explained in a rush, his smile sheepish and enthusiastic at the same time.

"Care?"

"Caroline. She's my sis— my mum's- ugh, I mean she's my big sister's friend!" the child said in a rush, green eyes wide and nervous about his slip of tongue. He recovered quickly though, giving him a friendly grin as he extended his hand towards him "I'm Teddy. Teddy Po-Black." At the other end of the line, his sister sucked a deep breath after hearing that, probably already suspecting the identity of the child, but she thankfully remained silent. "What's your name? Are you new in town? Are you from England? Your accent sounds a lot like mine"

"I'm Kol Mikaelson" he said, shaking Teddy's – his nephew's! – little hand with his own, and feeling the raw and untapped magical power he carried just with that simple touch. "And yes to all your other questions" he said, winking at him.

Teddy's smile grew and he inched even closer to him with an expression full of avid curiosity. "Really? That's brilliant! I thought not many people visited this town, why are you-"

"Teddy! There you are! Don't run off like that!" A feminine voice yelled, cutting him off. And it was only because of the genuine note of concern in her words that Kol didn't react violently in defense of his young, human nephew when he identified the blonde girl who had come running towards them.

Caroline Forbes. Baby vampire and one of Elena Gilbert's oldest friends…. And, according to Teddy, a close friend of Aria's.

Great. Just what they needed.

"Sorry, Care! I got too excited to wait for you"

"Ok, new rule, you're not allowed to leave my sight until we're back home" the blonde said, putting her arm around Teddy's shoulders and Kol didn't miss the way she subtly put her body in front of Teddy's, so she stood as a silent barrier between him and Kol.

It wasn't necessary, as Kol had no intention of harming his only nephew. But the action served to readjust his original opinion of the baby, blonde vampire. Apparently, not all of the doppelgänger's friends were a lost cause like the Salvatore brothers.

"I don't believe I've seen you before" the baby vampire said to him, not even trying to hide her suspicion from her expression.

"I'm new in town" he said, shrugging his shoulders with casual disinterest, before focusing his attention once more on the child in front of him. To him, Kol gave him a genuine smile "I've to go now but I'll be seeing you soon, Teddy. Maybe next time, we can chat some more"

"See you, Kol" Teddy said, with a small wave and a grin.

Kol winked at him one last time before turning around and casually walking in the opposite direction of them, his phone still in hand as he kept close attention to every sound coming from Teddy and the baby vampire. They were talking in hushed whispers but nothing said was particularly useful to him. The only interesting bits were the fact that Teddy had a pretty close relationship with the blonde vampire if their casual banter were any indication, and that Teddy was exploring with the blonde because Aria and someone named Tyler – the Lockwood kid? – were still sleeping after being awake for the full moon the night before.

He kept his attention on them until their voices were nothing but a faint murmur in the distance and he was sure to be far away from the earshot of the baby vampire. "It's safe to talk now"

Rebekah gave a long exhale at the other end of the line and, when she spoke, her voice carried a faint tremble that gave away her feelings. "Was the child just now… was he who I think it was?"

"That depends… A moment before, you were about to tell me Aria Potter had a child, yes or no?"

"Yes"

Kol nodded. He hadn't had any doubt, not after coming face to face with Teddy, but it was good to know everything fit. "And her child is what, twelve? Thirteen years old?"

"Eleven, actually. His twelfth birthday is a couple of weeks away… His full name is Edward Remus Potter-Black"

"Then yes, that child I was talking to was our nephew, Bekah" he announced out loud, savoring the words in his tongue and storing away for later everything else his sister had told him about Teddy.

"We have a nephew" Rebekah laughed, her voice full of joy and hope "A child… a child of our blood" Her words, full of awe and reverence, served as a reminder of the reason why his little sister had cursed their change almost as much as him. He'd cursed the loss of his Wiccan magic, and she had cursed the fact that she would never be able to have children of her own.

Discovering he could still be a part of the magical world and do things like detect magic, brew potions, and create the theory behind new spells and rituals, had felt like salvation for Kol. And he could imagine that discovering the existence of a child of their blood felt somewhat similar for Rebekah.

"You should call Elijah and tell him everything" Kol advised after considering the best course of action in his head. Now, more than ever, they didn't have any time to waste "He's the only one who has a chance of telling Nik the truth and not causing a massive slaughter in the process" Because nobody could predict how Nik was going to react to the news, especially taking in consideration that the possibility of Ingrid having children of her own had always been something of a taboo in their family. Because of the clear fact that, thanks to his vampirism, Nik could never be the biological father of any children.

"Bloody hell, for a second I forgot about Nik…"

"And after that, you should all come immediately here. There's no point in waiting to meet her. Not anymore"

"Oh? And what are you going to do in the process?" Her voice told him she already had a pretty good idea of his intentions.

"Me? I'm going to go and say hi to our sister"

"Kol! Don't you dare to do anything stupid-"

"No time to talk. Bye, sister!" he said cheekily, ending the call quickly.

Grinning, he took off in the direction of his sister's house at full speed.

Before that moment, he hadn't dared to come close to her house but he had memorized her address and, in a town like Mystic Falls, it didn't take him long to find the area where her house was located.

Kol was still a little far away from his sister's house when he stopped dead in his tracks before an invisible line. Surprised, he rocked back in his heels, staring in interest at the area in from of him. At first glance, there wasn't anything outside of the ordinary and he could bet everybody – Wiccans and wand-wielders included – thought there was nothing there. But he wasn't everybody and, thanks to the centuries he had spent learning how to detect all types of magic, even when it was hidden under concealment charms and wards, he was able to feel the echo of his sister's magic in the powerful wards she had created around her house.

Warding had always been one of Ingrid's strong suits – right after all the different types of combat magic – but she'd needed at least a half of a century to refine her wards to a point where they were completely concealed from everyone else. To have achieved the level of power and complexity of the wards before him only a decade after finishing school was pretty damn impressive.

He wasn't stupid enough to try and confront a witch as powerful as his sister inside her own wards, so he raised a hand and put it over the invisible line of the barrier, focusing a single thought – I mean no harm. Come here to talk peacefully – and repeating it over and over again in his mind, as he sent it out towards the wards.

A second, then another, and then an almost silent crack resonated as his sister appeared right in front of him, frowning at him in suspicion with her hand raised. "Who are you?" she demanded "What do you want?"

She looked exactly the same as he remembered her.

His sister, the one who had always been his favorite. The one who had been by his side since the day he'd been born and had never given up on him or thought him annoying. The one who had managed to convince him that he wasn't a broken monster after he'd been turned and lost his magic in the process. The one who had shared her magic with him for centuries – risking suffering magical exhaustion and not caring one bit about it – and, doing so, had taught him how to recognize the magic around him.

His sister, whom he had loved above everyone else in his life.

His sister, who now went by the name of Aria Potter.

Kol smiled, more genuine and brightly than he remembered smiling in a long time. "Hello, sister. Long time no see"


.and that's it!

This chapter was supposed to include the conversation between Kol and Aria but it would have been too much, so I cut it there. What do you guys think?

P.S. Some of you are wondering if I plan to continue this story into the Originals, and the short answer is no. When I first started to plan this story, I had a clear final in mind, one that closed everything as nicely as possible, and I don't want to change it (even if that means no Davina and no Freya)… Sorry, guys!