Author's Note: Justin and Nauze are to be blamed for ensuing shenanigans. (Sorry Charles. ;) )


Chapter 83 ~ Traitorous Games

"All warfare is based on deception. Offer the enemy bait to lure him."

~ Sun Tzu


ECOTS


They had spotted Amarante hiding behind an oversized shrub that simply had to of been usurping some sort of homeowner's association rule, a concerningly large pile of dead bodies nearby, and in an excitable fit Tonks had all but thrown herself alongside him to say hi.

Tres had followed suit.

That proved, in hindsight, to have been a rather terrible idea.

"Hold him down!"

"I'm trying!"

"Amarante! Amar, it's me!"

"Oh yes, because that's convincing him!"

Judging from his shouts, Amarante seemed rather convinced that Tres was either a doppleganger – pesky things so did like to consume the flesh of the dead and don their appearances after all - a polyjuiced Death Eater, or quite possibly his very own brotherly zombie.

This went a long way towards explaining why Amarante had just done his damnedest to commit fratricide.

Tres Gai made a frustrated sound, somehow managing to dodge a near point blank hex fired by his own brother. "Bloody hell! Amarante it's me!"

"The hell it is!"

Amarante threw an elbow, catching Tres in the nose and throwing him back, right onto his ass, the DADA Professor splashing down in the mud and blinking, startled. Blood dripped freely from his face as he outright gaped at his rather volatile "little" brother.

Tonks took the opportunity to throw herself bodily on top of the aforementioned brother, it rapidly turning into a flail of limbs and mud, managing to knock his wand loose before Amarante could do something inconvenient – like kill Tres. Really, they'd gone to great pains to make sure he didn't stay dead. It'd be rather rude if his own brother rendered him deceased. Again.

"Tonks! Get off!" Amarante made a grab for Tonks arm, but fortunately for her she was positively covered in rain and mud and other people's blood, her clothes sticking tightly to her like she'd been in some kind of macabre wet T-shirt contest - she briefly wondered if Remus would be into this sexy, she-devil look - and Amarante's hand slipped right off her.

Such was his momentum that he face-planted in the lawn.

Tonks seized the chance to literally pounce, the two rolling until Amarante's head smacked into that same shrub he'd originally been hiding behind, the metamorphmagus leaping onto his back like a drunken spider monkey.

"Blimey," Tonks spluttered out, "it's like he's not even excited that we pulled your moldy ass outta the ocea-"

"Moldy?"

"Fair enough. You weren't dead long enough to start growing mold. Barnacles maybe…"

Amarante snapped, "Tonks that's not my broth-"

With a flip of her wand she silenced, ignored and immobilized Amarante in quick succession, cutting him off and making shushing, cooing sounds. She even tossed in a few choice words about how she could just about, absolutely, almost guarantee that while Tres had returned to the realm of the living, that he did not harbor a desire to obtain his protein from human flesh. That kind of cannibalizing behavior was only reserved for extra special occasions.

Tres threw a deeply concerned look in their direction.

She ignored this and conjured up a quick set of ropes. The things dropped listlessly to the lawn like severely concussed snakes, the shape-shifter eyeing them thoughtfully. "Hey deliriously happy man," she called to Tres, as if they weren't in the middle of a battle, "what's that deeply disturbing thing you lot did with these things and hogs when you visited Texas?"

"You are not hog tying my brother." Tres shoved himself up, wiping at his bleeding upper lip. "And there's nothing disturbing about it."

"Look, what you and your brother do to ungulates in your free time is none of my business. Local laws and humane societies may disagree..." Tonks had already set about tying up Amarante's hands and feet behind his back.

Tres sputtered.

Tonks grinned.

A young woman stumbled out of the fog and attempted to take a bite out of Tres' back.

He reacted without even blinking. The recently undead man jerked his wand up and pointed it blindly back and over his shoulder, dispatching the woman with a piercing hex straight to the skull. Brain matter exploded backwards in a mushy pink rain, and the DADA Professor didn't even bother to look. "Tonks," he said with uncharacteristic sternness, "I've been looking forward to a reunion with my brother for months, and that requires him to be in one piece and not tied up and left out as an untimely hors d'oeuvre for the undead."

She just spun around and sat on Amarante's ass, giving his glutes a good solid pat. "Mmm, Tres, did you know that when you go all murderous on the ambling undead that it is dangerously close to hot?" Spotting movement across the remnants of Harry's street, she lifted a hand and gave a cheery wave at whomever it was, continuing, "I mean really, if you have an ass as tight as Amarante's here," she gave it another pat for emphasis, "then Remus might have some real competition."

Tres seemed caught between sputtering and a horrified laugh, managing, "Nymphadora, move away from my brother.

"What have I told you about using that infernal," her wand flicked up in hand and blasted a zombie away, "name?" She glared. She glared hard.

Tres snorted.

Then got distracted. All the fratricide-attempting-ruckus had attracted the attention of members of the undead, and zombies now were swarming. Fortunately, Tres took it upon himself to form the welcome party, adopting a precise and methodical 'off with their heads' greeting, whilst she saw to restraining his extremely agitated twin brother.

"Tonks, not to complain about your methods, but given-" Sending a blasting hex point blank at a particularly fast moving creature, it flying back and smashing into a house with a loud smash, he pressed, "Given things you may want to let my brother up. I prefer him alive and able to defend himself. Immobilized sort of prevents that."

Tonks blinked at him guilessly. "You'd prefer he keep trying to take off your head instead?"

"Tonks!"

"Fiiiiine."

She undid the immobilizing charm, and instantly Amarante tried to throw her off.

He failed, of course. She hadn't spent months engaging in grappling drills with Harry and his junk right in her face for nothing. She just sunk her nails deep into Amarante's ass and pretended he was a wild bull taking her for an unscheduled ride.

If she closed her eyes and purred a bit at the motion, she wasn't to blame. Really, she wasn't the one who turned on that German porno. That was Dinkle Duddykins fault. Or was it Dunkle Diddykins? No matter. Though the ride Amarante was currently giving her was giving her some new ideas…she wondered what Remus would think about a rope saddle?

"Tell me you're not getting off on riding my brother?"

"Gai, do you have any idea how long I've been celibate? I could get off watching a nature documentary about the mating habits of aardvarks right now!"

Amarante instantly stopped trying to throw her off, and made a strangled sound that strangely resembled a laugh.

"Aardvarks?" Tres repeated.

"Come now, you know I've been watching a lot of animal planet!"

The DADA Professor shook his head, spinning and lassoing two zombies at once. "Why Moody left you alone with that remote I'll never know."

"Hey!" she protested. "At least it was better than Cinemax!"

"Only because we had the hotel block it."

Once again Amarante made a strangled sound.

Tonks glanced over her shoulder and blinked innocently at the man she was sitting on backwards. "Just think, I haven't even untied you yet, you stallion."

Tres made a distressed sound. "Tonks, step away from my brother."

She was halfway through forming a rather convincing pout, the rain making it just a bit more difficult to achieve the full effect of scandalized innocence when her clothes were sticking to her and making her attire worthy of the wardrobe for Dudley's favorite late night TV viewing's sequel, when something simply marvelous happened.

A silver patronus leapt in front of her face, a wolf's gleaming eyes peering at her somewhat scoldingly, a voice – that wonderfully familiar voice! – coming out of it.

"You're late."

Tonks eyes snapped across the street with unbridled glee. The fog remained thick, random bodies scattered haphazardly across the tarmac and burning merrily, but around the side of a rather boring looking sedan she saw indistinct movement.

She also saw what looked suspiciously like Ginny Weasley under the car, slicing members of the undead down by the ankles through the liberal use of severing hexes.

That red head must have been part diviner, because the girl's eyes shot towards Tonks as if sensing her scrutiny, a sneaky smile on her face, and Ginny gave a wave right back. "Fancy seeing you lot here!"

Lee Jordan's dreadlocked head shot out from around the side of the sedan, grinning equally wide and holding up a bag of white fluff. "Care to join in? We were thinking of roasting marshmallows. Ginny's gone and created a pyre!"

Ginny gave a complacent shrug. "It's just a little pyre. Nice seeing you up and about Professor Gai! How long'd it take Harry to drag you out of your hole this time?"

Tres snorted, loudly.

Amarante abruptly stopped shouting; Ginny had gotten his attention.

There was a loud screech, followed by a distinct clank, like a piece of metal being forcibly pulled off something.

Ginny rolled what appeared to be the car's axel rod towards Lee. "Would this work?"

Captain Dreadlocks snagged it, tossed it in hand, and then promptly speared a marshmallow on it. "Ohhhh, this'll do nicely."

Yes, her wolf was bound to be over there, corralling the youths. In fact, she caught sight of his glorious, glorious head. Her stomach leapt and did crazed somersaults like a drunken acrobat.

"Remus!" she called excitedly, ignoring everything else and absolutely not bothering to keep her voice down despite the many, many reasons to do so. "What are your feelings on bondage? Because let me tell you it's been awhile and boy did Harry's cousin Duddykins TV viewing preferences give me some ideas!"

Fog rolled in, temporarily obscuring him.

There was a momentary silence.

Then she swore she heard a long suffering sigh, the sound somehow managing to make its way across the burning street, heard over the crackling flames, the occasional groans coming from Ginny's rapidly growing pile of 'partially dismembered undead', and the snickering teenagers, all of which ought to have drowned out something as typically quiet as an aggrieved sigh, but somehow Remus managed to make it work, laws of decibels be damned.

Then again, she did have that effect on men.

"You watched porn," he said with slow and infinite patience, "with Harry's cousin?"

He sounded like he wasn't entirely certain he wanted the answer.

Tonks gave it anyway.

"You bet your sweet ass I did!" she exclaimed, giving Amarante's ass a fir slap for emphasis. "And let me tell you, Wolfy, those Germans had moves. Did you know there's an actual place called Cockshaven!? It's literal heaven for your di-"

"Tonks…" Remus growled

"She means Cuxhaven," Tres corrected.

The metamorphmagus frowned. "Wait, so the whole town's into cuckolding?"

Ginny raised a hand from beneath the sedan. "What's cuckolding?"

Lee choked.

Remus sighed.

Rain pattered down while a dismembered torso rudely attempted to crawl up the sidewalk.

"Don't worry Remus," Tonks shouted reassuringly, "I would never make you watch me with another man. I mean really, you know what they say, once you've had wolf you never go back. Speaking of…you have a few free days after this, yeah? Because I have ideas."

From beneath her Amarante appeared to be laughing.

Remus just let out a long suffering groan. "Far be it for me to discourage an activity I might enjoy, but you do realize there are impressionable youths present?"

From astride Amarante's ass, she balked. "Might enjoy?" Her head whipped towards the shimmering patronus wolf conjured by her alleged fiancé and shot it an aghast look. "Did he just say might?" The shimmering magical construct sent her an odd look, but she swore to Circes it nodded. Nodded. The Auror scowled. "Why you just float right back on over there and inform that freakishly distinguished caster of yours that with that attitude, I'm liable to not even let him enjoy any time in the cage. And believe me, that's a punishment! I had a man-sized bird swing in mind! With stirrups, and-"

The patronus wolf began to creep backwards, in seeming horror.

Tonks rolled her eyes, lifted her wand and shot a quick piercing hex off at the portly man sneaking up on Tres from behind.

The poor man, after all, seemed rather distracted and was liable to get eaten at this rate.

Tres didn't so much as flinch and just gaped at her. "Is this how you usually say hi to a fiancé you haven't seen in a year?" He sounded genuinely curious.

Tonks shrugged. "Dunno, never had one before."

"You've been gone a year?" Remus again.

"Nah, more like just over half. Now Harry on the other hand…"

There was a quick tick of silence as Remus processed what that meant, rapidly followed by, "Tonks…do you mean to say that you weren't with Harry the entire time?"

"Nope! You know him, Wolfy, independent lad and all that."

"A disapproving wave practically washed across what was left of Harry's home street. "Tonks….is Harry still in one piece?"

Tonks declined to answer, rolled her eyes and promptly glanced between the still lingering patronus wolf and Amarante's rather shapely ass, speaking to both out of hope that at least one of them could shed some light upon the mysteries of Remus Lupin. "Let me guess, all of you stiffs let my Remy get more uptight while I was gone? Merlin mercy, you let him develop more gray hair, didn't you?" she accused.

Silence.

"You know, I spent a long time – weeks! – systematically breaking down that 'do gooder, rule-follower, pesky' streak he had. I even had a reward system. Break a rule, I wouldn't wear a bra for a day. Do you any of you have any idea how difficult is to date a male version of Hermione?"

The patronus wolf actually blinked, and for a moment Amarante stopped struggling.

Tonks patted his ass like it was a well-behaved pet she was sitting on.

Tres snorted.

From across the street came the distinct sound of Ginerva Weasley choking out, "Remy? You let her call you Remy?"

"Good God man," Lee agreed, "have some dignity."

"Does Harry know you let her give you pet names?"

Another long suffering sigh.

"I'm just saying…" Ginny pressed. "He's your main warlock right? Might want to clue him in. He may want to work it into his wedding speech." She paused. "Assuming it's nothing too dirty. You know, wouldn't want to incite my mother's wrath for giving me ideas."

Tres stood there in the rain and blinked. "My god, there's two of them."

Tonks let out an evil cackle.

That was apparently all Amarante could take.

In a move worthy of a collegiate wrestler Amarante jerked, throwing her off. Tonks was aware of a high pitched yelp – apparently from her - and then landed in a squelching puddle of rain and mud on someone's front lawn.

Rolling uncoordinatedly onto her stomach – rather like a fish caught in a particularly shallow puddle - she peered up, and it took her a second of bleary blinking to realize that the Australian wizard had actually dislocated his own shoulder, gotten loose of the ropes, and was now stood on his own two feet amidst a pile of loose ropes, one arm hanging limply and dislocated at his side, and the other…

Well…with his other he'd managed to reclaim his wand, it aimed directly at Tres' chest, a peculiar expression on his face.

Her mouth fell open in abject awe. "Tres," she breathed, "your brother's a contortionist."

The two brothers ignored her.

"Worthy of the circus."

They continued to ignore her.

Rain poured down, soaking the lot of them, and Tres and Amarante Gai just stood there, staring at one another in abject silence.

"Shite," Tonks muttered, shoving herself up. The patronus wolf hovered there for another moment, Tonks making a swift shooing gesture at it. "What're you hanging around for? You're in the line of fire man! They're liable to start hexing! Go! Quick!"

The patrounus wolf appeared to roll its eyes before evaporating.

She made a mental note to ask Remus about his strangely behaving patronus message charms later. Right after she jumped him. For now…

Rain pattered down, splattering bloodied mud, and the two Gai brothers continued to stand there. Silent.

Eerily silent.

The entire street had descended into quiet, only the steady downpour and crackle of flame to break it. It was like even the dead had all simultaneously decided to stand down, a temporary reprieve in unconscious recognition of one of their own having come back.

Strange that the attacks appeared to be coming in waves.

Ultimately it was Amarante who broke the noiseless vacuum.

"You're dead."

Tres offered a strained grimace. "Temporary state."

Amarante's throat rose and fell in a visible swallow. "But…you-you were dead."

"Yes."

Tres' arms remained at his side in a non-threatening stance, light brown hair slung in his face. He didn't deny it. He made no attempt at explanation. He just looked down the business end of his brother's wand and offered him a weak smile.

Tonks really hoped she wasn't about to see Tres' head blasted off by his own brother. Explaining that to Harry after they'd gone through all that trouble of bringing him back would be a bitch. A real, real bitch. And given the current climate of undead plague carriers stumbling about, most people had developed a 'destroy brains first and ask questions later' kind of policy when it came to dealing with the recently deceased. Given that, it was a real possibility.

"Er…." Lee Jordan had, at some point, stood up and approached, taking advantage of the lull in attacks. He glanced at her, then gestured at the stand off with his improvised roasting stick. "We should do something about this, right?"

Tonks made an impatient hushing sound.

"But-"

"Hush! They're about to admit they love each other."

"Dead-" Amarante repeated, his voice nothing more than a raw croak. "The dead don't just come back."

This time Tres actually raised an eyebrow, glancing at the street, the pile of recently reanimated dead burning merrily, then glanced pointedly back towards his brother.

Amarante scowled. "You know what I mean!"

Tres' eyebrow quirked higher, skeptical. "Do I?"

Amarante let out an uncharacteristic growl. "How?"

"Oh! Oh!" Tonks raised a hand and waved it about. "I know!"

Both the Australians shot her a look.

Tonks just grinned, wishing she had popcorn right now. Or a can of crisps. Instead she glanced at the muddy lawn she sat on, plucked a piece of grass, and gnawed on it, watching with rapt interest.

Tres let out a long suffering sigh eerily reminiscent of Remus, then shifted his attention back to where a wand remained pointed directly at his chest, rain droplets splattering off it. "Our cohorts, one of whom is over there and possibly concussed-"

"I prefer insane," she chimed in helpfully.

Remus groaned.

"-may have taken creative liberties with the use of an unauthorized timeturner." He paused. "They found a way to avoid a time paradox and went back for me."

"Yeah," Tonks interjected, happily munching on the blade of grass and wondering what rabbits saw in it, "worked out pretty well. Figured that's why none of us ever found his body before. You know," she gestured with the grass blade, "on account we were the ones to take it. Sharky feeding frenzy had nothing to do with it."

Tres shot her another one of those extra-special-you're-not-helping looks.

She beamed merrily.

At some point Amarante's wand arm had begun to shake. "So you've been alive…you've been alive this whole time."

"I would have stopped by to say hi, but…" Tres, the practical mirror image of his brother, smiled weakly. "Couldn't."

"Plus he spent a significant part of July locked up in a cage," Tonks added, deciding to help again.

Tres narrowed his eyes. "Information he could have done without."

"Oh come on, not every man gets to say they got to be a succubus' pet and lived to tell the tale."

Amarante looked alarmed.

Ginny had made her way over as well, idly kicking a severed hand out of the way and into the burning pyre. She looked mildly impressed. "You met a succubus?"

The sound Tres made could only be described as 'beleaguered.'

"Course he did, Gin-Gin," Tonks supplied, when it became apparent that the Australian was not about to be forthcoming. "Where do you think I got the sex cage from for Remus anyhow?"

From a bit closer came an annoyed sound, that simply had to be her fiancé. Tonks glanced over to find Moony in the center of the street, eyes up, tracking the fog as if looking for something.

Probably Death Eaters hellbent on killing them.

Her Remus was such a good, considerate, vigilant man. No one else was paying even the remotest attention, but he was. Well, she kind of was, but there was a lull and by Merlin she was going to enjoy the lull. Remus, however, would do no such thing. No wonder Mad Eye approved.

As if sensing her scrutiny the werewolf glanced over, an impossible warmth in his eyes as he looked her over for a swift, swift second, his lips twitching just a tad.

And then his attention was back on the sky, voice schooled into casual disagreement. "I'm not getting into that cage, Nymphadora."

Her mouth fell open in a positive pout. "But I brought it all the way back from Singapore!"

"I thought," Tres reminded, "we agreed never to speak of that again?"

Amarante – if possible – looked even more alarmed.

Tres' attention jerked back towards him, looking as if he was rather at a loss. "Amar," he said, "I'm sorry."

Amarante said nothing. Amarante, who had been through so sodding much, having only just recovered from the near fatal head injury from the looks of it, simply stood there, in front of the one family member he had left, processing that Tres was alive.

And he was shaking.

"If it helps," Tres offered, "think of it this way: if it turns out I am a zombie, you can just lock me in a shed and feed me dismembered body parts until this lot figures out a way to reverse it."

Amarante actually blinked at this, and his wand lowered fractionally. "Who-who in their bloody right mind would actually do that?"

"Come on, you're telling me you haven't given any thought to what you'd do if I turned into a zombie? I'm almost offended."

"So you're suggestion is to keep you as some kind of backyard pet?" Amarante repeated, just to make sure he'd got that right. "In a shed."

"I mean, it's what I'd do for you," Tres said with a beguiling grin. "What? You'd think I'd have been able to off you just because you tried to eat my brains?" An undead postman in Ginny's marshmallow roasting pyre let out a low moan. "Pfft, please. I may be a bogan but I'm not about to curse out my own brother. Even if you did enlist up with the zombie hoards."

Amarante made an expressive sound at that, looking almost awed.

Lee just leaned against the crumpled metal husk of a car, casually roasting a marshmallow. "So this is how well-adjusted siblings bond then? Plan to tie one another up and feed 'em remnants of the neighbors while waiting for a cure?"

Tonks grinned. "Hope springs eternal. It's actually kind of sweet."

"I ever turn, you are not doing that to me, dear." Remus again, from the street.

"Course not," she replied blandly, "I have a cage for that."

Remus choked.

Tonks ignored this. "Ginny, you have siblings. Back Tres and I up here. You'd never kill your own brothers if they turned into zombies, right?"

Ginny shrugged. "Depends which one."

Lee passed her a marshmallow.

Remus sighed again.

Tres took a cautious, tentative step forward, reaching out as if to push down his brother's wand…

Tonks leaned forward, eager-

And then it happened.

Amarante deflated. His wand arm dropped down to his side, limp, the shaggy haired wizard staring at his recently deceased brother.

And then he let out a loud sniff.

Tres eyed him like he was a beloved pet grindylow, wanting his attention, but not entirely certain if he could trust that he wouldn't try to strangle him.

"Stupefy!" A bright red light burst out of Remus' wand, striking something mid-air, a person on a broom whizzing to crash into the street.

The two brothers hugged one another, and if one of them let out a loud sob, no one present was evil enough to mention it.

Tonks clapped, almost giddy.

She registered the sound of approaching feet, the Auror looking over to find a pair of well-worn boots and holey robes in front of her face. Slowly she followed the robes up, drifting towards the face of the wizard they were attached to.

Remus Lupin looked down at her, a faint smile on his unshaven face. "Nymphadora."

Tonks spat out the blade of grass and scowled up at him. "Oh you are definitely going in the cage now. How many times have I told you to not use that infernal name?"

"I believe," he said, somewhat roguishly, "several dozen. Though, we may be getting close to triple digits."

Tonks growled a little.

"You were the one who suggested pet names," he informed, impenitent.

And then, without another word, Remus extended a soot-covered hand down to her. Tonks grabbed it, letting him tug her to her feet, the metamorphmagus smacking against his chest. His masculine, manly chest. Her attempt at a scowl slowly dissipated as she flexed her fingers against that deceptively hard chest. Merlin.

In her defense, she hadn't had a piece of him in a very long time.

Remus too appeared to be thinking along the same line, looking at her with an almost predatory intensity.

If Mad Eye saw either of them this distracted in the middle of a battle zone, he'd have hexed them both on the spot, on general principle, undead hoards that might eat them be damned.

"We'll just cover the perimeter then?" Lee said, glancing between the distracted 'couples'.

Ginny snorted, the sound as unladylike as it came. "Come on Jordan, you get the North. I'll get the South. This lot deserves some cuddle time."

Instantly the Gai brothers erupted in protests.

"We are not!"

"Men are allowed to hug!"

Neither Remus nor Tonks paid them any mind. Tonks batted her eyes, reaching up a hand to run her fingers against the once Professor's chin, the thick stubble betraying the fact that he was, indeed, a wolf in his moonlit hours.

It somehow, if possible, seemed even more gray than usual.

"You know Remus, you're looking a bit scruffy."

"Some might call it ruggedly handsome."

"I think the word you're looking for is unkempt."

She addressed him as if they hadn't just been separated for seven months.

And then he kissed her, because that was what well-trained hounds did. Tonks practically melted against him, Remus' arm sliding firmly around her waist, his hand pressing against her lower back to draw her incredibly near, the witch positively purring. It was cold and messy and wet given the downpour, but Tonks couldn't care less.

It ended far too soon, and when they broke apart with matching sets of dazed smiles, she couldn't help but notice that not only had the Gai brothers resolved that whole 'Tres being dead and possibly a zombie' misunderstanding, but they'd joined Lee Jordan in gaping at them.

It probably had a little something to do with the mass of undead stumbling down the road, the mass of bodies so thick it looked as if some sort of concert had just let out.

Tonks frowned. Remus merely looked over her head and sighed. "It appears that the next portkey has made its delivery."

Ah…so that was why the attacks were coming in waves.

The Auror instantly narrowed her eyes, the color changing rapidly from brown to red to gray. "Those sneaky buggers."

"That snake," Ginny practically hissed, "is becoming a pain in my ass."

"He's not a snake anymore," Tres said, almost absently. "But if you see Viktor Krum walking around…"

Ginny, Lee, and Amarante balked.

Remus just cast an inquiring look down at Tonks' face, quietly awaiting explanation. So she shrugged. "Harry killed him. Again. But that whole horcrux thing…bastard refuses to die. But on the upside, he has appeared to have, at least temporarily, lost that annoying lisp."

"Not to mention he's gotten rather good at that whole 'possession of other bodies' thing," Tres added.

Remus closed his eyes and sighed.

Ginny's wand fell firmly into her hand, the red head frowning fiercely. "You have to admit, that is extraordinarily inconvenient." She glanced between Tres and Tonks. "Take it Harry's with you then?"

Tonks snorted. "Please, like he didn't abandon us the first chance he got to go snare a snog." Speaking of, Tonks turned her attention away from the ambling undead and beamed up at Remus. "So, what do you think of a week from today for the wedding? Ought to give the rain enough time to clear up, doncha think?"

Amarante choked on a laugh.

Tres stepped forward, a glowing lasso capable of slicing a zombie in half falling out of his wand.

Lee just took a last bite of a roasted marshmallow, the tossed his metal stick to the side, muttering sticky-sounding profanities.

And Remus…

Remus just smiled. "Well…there is that trivial matter dear, of evacuating the rest of the lingering Muggles to safety, ensuring the rest of these undead do not contaminate England, and then our own inevitable quarantines, given that even with the antidotes we have been exposed."

"Fine. Two weeks. Not a second more."

And that was how they picked their wedding date.


ECOTS


Her back slammed against something solid – like a particularly hard bench. It felt like someone had unceremoniously shoved her against one in an inane effort to keep her still.

And then that mysterious someone slapped her.

Hard.

"Kal! Kal, wake the hell up!"

She blinked blearily at the figure, and let out a feeble groan.

That did absolutely nothing to calm down the blurry, dark figure.

"Words, Kal. I'm gonna need them here."

Slowly, emphasis on slowly, her eyes flickered open. That blurred figure swam into the focus, and Kally realized with some serious brain fog that she was staring into the deep brown eyes of her best friend.

Dean Thomas stared at her with a mixture of relief and annoyance.

His hair had been buzzed, cropped close to his scalp. She could barely see this beneath the hood of his cloak. Half his face had been darkened, looking covered in what looked suspiciously like soot. A faint scent of smoke and sawdust wafted off him. Thunder rumbled, shaking something quietly, rain pattering outside.

Strangely she was no longer soaked, though Dean…was.

He also looked strangely relieved, as if a sudden weight had been lifted off him. A drop of water slid down his face, the wizard sinking down beside her, heaving a long, calmer sounding breath.

She blinked once, twice, and the shadowy ceiling past his head slowly swam into focus, as did the underside of the keys of a rather old and used grand piano, which was mere centimeters from her nose.

She appeared to be laying on its bench.

It was not comfortable.

Her cheek still stung.

"I am really," she murmured tiredly, "getting sick of waking up like this."

Dean's frown was instant. "From slapping?" There was a pause. "Damn, didn't realize you and Potter were into that kind of S&M, but if you needed a fill in should have just said-"

"Dean," she hissed, scrubbing a hand across her face. Her fingers were cold. So, so sodding cold. Her hand felt heavy, like lead, her movements sluggish. She was distantly aware of pain, of how incredibly sore she was. It wasn't simply her muscles that hurt; her actual skin hurt. Everything felt tender, her legs felt weak and shaky, and she was slightly dazed and disoriented.

She also felt incredibly out of breath.

Stopping with her palm over her nose, she closed her eyes and groaned softly. "I overdrew again, didn't I?"

Dean scoffed quietly. "Yeah, but to be fair, kinda come to expect that outta you."

Kally cracked her eyes and glared.

Dean managed a weak grin, the smile not quite reaching his eyes. Eyes that were shadowed by a flap of fabric that hung over his face. That fabric was a hood, attached to a dark cloak.

And the cloak was scarily alike the one that siren bitch had worn.

In fact, it was identical.

Everything came rushing back, a surge of panic icening her blood. The undead. The fog. The attack. Ron.

With a start Kally tried to sit up, terrified. "Ron!"

A hand on her chest caught her, gentle but firm and shoved her straight back down, her shoulders bashing into the bench with a solid oomph. "Easy there, Kal! Sheesh, try to do a girl a favor by being chivalrous and rescuing her ass, and all she can do is shout out another wizard's name." He scoffed dramatically. "Lucky for you I don't have an ego."

She knocked his hand away and tried to dart up-

Dean threw an arm over her chest and solidly held her there this time, the pressure heavy, the wizard looking less amused. "They got away, Kal," he told, eyes raking over her with a peculiar expression. "More than I can say for you, impersonating a smushed insect under a child's play thing." He paused, swallowed heavily, and released a breath. Then he fixed her with a mildly annoyed look. "Seriously, I left you alone for a couple of months and first thing you bloody well do is go and get yourself blown up and smashed all in a single night. Really woman, could give a man heartburn. Going to have a bloody anxiety attack next time I have to leave ya unsupervised. So do me a favor and relax for a minute."

Dean was dressed as a Death Eater, she'd just been in a major attack, and he was talking like everything was normal.

Only nothing was normal.

Nothing.

Her mind still seized onto the limited information he'd given. "So Ron, Fred…they're aliv-"

He huffed like a bull. "Chill woman. Think I'd be hunkering down in here with you if they weren't?"

The look she shot him spoke volumes.

"For Merlin's sakes, Kal, hold still for a minute," he ordered. "Case you didn't notice – and because it's you I shockingly need to check because you seriously might not of – but you snapped your ankle in half. I need you to give it a minute for the bone mending charms to settle, alright? Unless you want bendy bones for life?"

She processed that slower than she would have liked. There'd been pain. So much pain. The crashing of the swing set on her. The fog rolling in. Drawing. The magic rolling from her fingers like liquid gold. The snapping of that undead thing's lifeline like a wire, and then-

Blackness.

Dean must have dragged her out of the wreckage. "You dragged me out," she whispered, staring at him in no small amount of shock. She wasn't stupid. She knew what that meant. She knew the risk. But he'd done it anyway. "Dean…"

He was silent for a tick too long, a strange expression overtaking his face, and when he spoke his voice was hard and intractable. "Didn't leave you before, Kal. Not about to start now."

And she knew instinctively what he meant. He hadn't left her after the train crash. He wasn't about to leave her now. But he hadn't shown up. He hadn't shown up all summer. He hadn't shown up when the Order had needed help. He hadn't shown up to prepare for the attack on Privet Drive, because he was a part of the ones attacking it. But…

He'd somehow shown up for her.

Even Harry hadn't done that.

A thousand questions swirled through her mind, like what had happened. How he'd found them. But in the end Kally simply clenched her eyes shut, asking none. She simply took a deep breath, and then, for good measure, she took one more, feeling undeniably shaken. "Okay," she breathed. "Okay."

Dean said nothing, but his fingers flexed on her upper arm, as if reassuring himself that she was intact and there and most definitely not smashed by a behemoth-sized member of the zombie hoard. His fingers were freezing, like ice. His sleeve was sopping wet, the stubborn wizard clearly having dried her off, but not bothered to take the same care for himself.

And he was looking at her with a peculiar look, as if he were hurt that she'd thought he might have left her, for even a second.

She snared his hand with hers, squeezing. "I know that. Promise." Letting her eyes dance across his face for a moment, just a moment, she more quietly pressed, "And if I hadn't, you forgetting to dry yourself off when you clearly were worried about me was a sweet, obvious touch."

Dean huffed. "Sap."

She shot him one of those looks only girls could master. "Shut it."

"Unlikely. But now that ya mention it, swear half our friendship is me and Potter taking turns doing dying and warming charms on ya. One of these days someone's gonna have to teach you the minor, little nuances of something called hypothermia."

She thudded her head back down on the bend and let out a mild groan.

Dean just chuckled.

Kally simply lay there and let the dizzying, throbbing, awful feeling of overdrawing abate. The rain pattered down, Dean's arm slung 'casually' across her in a clear warning that if she tried to sit up, bolt, or otherwise move that he'd forcibly hold her down until his ankle-mending charm finished the job.

Given how bad that had hurt, she sure as hell wasn't about to fight him on it. She hated this. She hated waiting. She hated that her friend were outside, with creatures, and she wasn't with them. She also knew that her limitations were ones she had to deal with, so she took a minute to feel less breathless, less exhausted.

Drawing was difficult, and left her weak in the best of circumstances.

And these…these were not the best.

Biting down on her lower lip, several more seconds passed. "Out of curiosity, where are we?"

"Some old lady's house the lot of you must of evacuated," Dean replied, interlacing his fingers between hers and giving her hand a hard squeeze. "Isn't it obvious? Swore the scent of mothballs would have given it away."

She shot him a petulant look, but made no move to move. "All I smell is smoke."

"Well, I have it on good authority that you were recently set on fire." The weight of Dean's arm across her chest seemed to grow heavier, just like his voice. Her brow furrowed at the sudden change, eyes flying to his-

The guilt was practically etched on his face.

It took her a second.

In fact, it took her several.

Her heart skipped. Never would it have occurred to her that she was smelling herself. And he was here, in a Death Eater cloak. Merlin…he'd have seen what happened to her. Fred had set her on fire. "Dean…" she started.

He grimaced. "Much as I'd love to play catch up on that whole new mental trauma file I've got called 'ways my best mate tried to get herself killed'," he interrupted, not unkindly, "now's not really the time."

Her head gave several dull throbs, Kally hissing an upset breath. "I don't care."

"Course not. You're a woman. Your very sex is prone to being disagreeable."

She hissed like a venomous snake.

Dean grabbed her other hand, most likely to keep her from hitting him. Kally simply sucked in a long, deep breath. He was right. Dean Thomas was sodding right.

Now wasn't the time.

"At least this time," he offered, "didn't involve any sharks."

Laying there, on the bench, Dean's hands clutched reassuringly in hers, she couldn't help it. She laughed. She actually laughed. "I'll take the sharks over zombies."

"Zombie sharks."

"Your point?"

"Sadist."

She fixed him with a look, and then moved on, settling on the mysterious case of her left ankle, that she, for some reason, could no longer feel. She really, really hoped it was a side effect of his charm work. "Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"Why is my foot…numb?

"Strangest thing…apparently going a few rounds with a zombie hoard has this interesting side effect..." his voice lowered substantially, "your bones don't just break, they shatter."

"I didn't ask what happened. I asked why-"

He cut her off. "Couldn't fix your ankle out in the open. Something might have grabbed us. So, hit ya with one helluva numbing charm if I do say so myself, so I could get you inside without risking something incredibly inconvenient: like you waking up screaming." He paused, voice strained. "Besides, couldn't exactly have my new friends catch me playing for the opposition out in the open and all."

He practically spat the word friends.

A cold pit of dread dropped deep in her stomach. Everything slowed. Reality came into sharp, sharp focus.

Dean was a spy.

Dean was a spy, and he had just risked exposure by helping her.

"Shit," she whispered.

He made a dryly amused sound. "Yeah, exactly."

She tried to sit up, and this time he let her, grabbing onto her shoulders to steady her. Good thing, given that the entire room of lace dollies and one too many sky blue furnishings appeared to be spinning. She ignored that, grabbing onto his arms right back and hissing, "Are you insane? Did anyone see you?"

"Dunno," he said, shrugging, "guess we'll find out if they decide to Avada me."

She was going to kill him. She'd apologize to Ginny for the sorta-boyfriend-killing later. "I swear to fucking Merlin, Thomas-"

"You swear to Merlin? Well hell, didn't think we were at the 'invoking father of modern wizardry stage' of the verbal dressing down, but-"

"No." She sounded upset. "Dean this isn't a game, you could die."

He met her gaze unblinkingly, expression hard and unyielding. "Exactly. So could you. That was sort of the whole point."

"Damn't Thoma-"

As soon as she tried to move, her words cut off in a truncated wince, given that her entire left calf felt like it was missing. Stopping short of leaping off the bench to flat out strangle him, she hissed a breath of pain instead.

Dean chuckled.

Dean chuckled as if she was being ridiculous to be upset.

She made a sound that was possibly rabid.

"Don't growl at me. Told ya not to move for a few."

"Yeah, well, I told you not to do anything stupid," she muttered, "yet here we are."

"Says the one who just got her ass kicked by a child's playset."

The collapsed remnants of that swingset reminded her far too acutely of why they needed to move. A war was going on – she couldn't just sit here. But first she had to assess how bad off she was, and numbing charm or not, she would have to look down.

She was half afraid to.

She did anyway.

To her relief both her legs were still there, if worse for wear. The bared skin along her exposed shins, leading all the way up to her kneecaps and lower thighs was muddied and blood-smeared, the abrasions that had bled out having already healed, but ugly bruises still marred her flesh in random spots. The 'Girl Guides' skirt she'd worn was torn haphazardly in multiple places, her legs exposed enough to have made her self-conscious in literally any other circumstance. And her ankle…

It looked shockingly intact. Dean had removed her left shoe and wrapped her foot from toe to high ankle, having sealed the bandages with a magical smiley face sticker.

She figured it was magical given it winked.

Her head darted up so fast that she nearly knocked Dean in the nose, her hand rising to press against his chest, her fingers curling in the front of his dark robes as she looked at him. Just looked. The tiniest, most infinitesimal smile tugged at the corners of her lips. "Do I even want to know where you got that from?" she asked. There were horrible, horrible things going on outside, but all she could think of at that exact moment in time was that stupid sticker.

Dean's mouth twitched just a bit. "Last time I had to fix your leg," he told, "Ginny might have had a few choice comments about the quality of my bandage job while you were unconscious." He gave a mock tisk. "Really Kally-kins, you chicks are so picky, even when it comes to making sure an attempt to stem massive blood loss is," lifting one hand up, he made air quotes, "done 'prettily' enough."

Right. She did remember that. After the train wreck, when the metal shard in her lower leg had shifted, spurting blood.

But clearly she had missed the Ginny-patented verbal tongue lashing while she'd been unconscious.

Kally let out a half-amused, half-horrified breath. "I had no idea."

Dean waggled his eyebrows. "Course not. You were too busy being lazy and having a lay-in. Selfish."

Her mouth fell open and a startled laugh escaped. "Is that what we're calling a fever-induced-plague-coma now?"

"Yup."

The 'p' on his jest popped, but really, there was nothing funny about it.

The last time he'd helped her had been right after Dublin. Right after she'd found out he bore the Dark Mark. And yet…he'd helped her anyway. Just like he had now. Just like when she'd been sick, plague-ridden. Just like when she'd first started at Hogwarts.

Dean Thomas had always helped her.

Now he hovered directly in front of her, kneeling on the ground, his kneecaps sinking into disturbingly thick blue carpet. Slowly his brow began to crease, until a deep furrow marred his entire forehead, his dark eyes raking over her, as if looking for any injuries he might have missed. And Kally…

She did the same. She drank in the sight of him. Dean was alive. After months of hearing nothing, he was here, right in front of her in this dark shadowy room, alive and completely intact.

Until that moment she hadn't realized how utterly afraid she'd been of losing him. He'd been gone; Harry was still gone...

The wind outside howled eerily, rain pattering against the shaded windows. A broken seal around the pane sent the blinds thunk thunking against the glass. The noise was loud, concerning. If anything heard it…

She barely noticed.

Dean looked older. There were lines on his face that hadn't been there before, sharp contrasts to the creases that formed whenever he laughed. But these weren't laugh lines. These were anything but laugh lines. These seemed somehow more permanent.

It looked like he hadn't slept in days.

She hadn't seen her best friend since early June. She hadn't even heard from him; not once.

He could have been dead.

He'd been sent off with Snape to help spread the cure's recipe amongst those fighting the plague. But he'd been sent with Snape. Both of them were branded with the Dark Mark, and to maintain appearances, to make the others think they were loyal, she had a horrible, sinking feeling of what he may have had to do.

The Death Eaters could never know he wasn't on their side.

Voldemort could never know.

They would kill him.

She knew what Death Eaters did to people. A rainy night, so, so long ago, with her face being pressed into the watery mud, drowning her as her bones were broken, repaired, then broken again, while her brother was murdered beside her...

Kally suddenly had a very good idea about why Dean was so good at bone mending charms.

Her breath caught in her chest, a small choking sound in her throat as she raked her eyes desperately over his.

Dean didn't lie to her. Dean didn't have to vocalize that he was using a weak form of legilimency with her. Instead, he simply mustered a weak, unconvincing smile, that didn't quite reach his eyes.

The pain practically radiated from them.

She flung herself at him. She threw her arms around his neck and clung tight. Dean stiffened. It took him a second to respond, but when he did it was abrupt and violent and his arms practically crushed her to him.

She didn't care. The feeling of Dean hugging her, cementing her to his chest, sent something warm crashing through her. It fought back the complete and utter state of fear she'd been in, and she let out a shaken laugh.

Dean's low laugh responded, and she buried her face against his neck, shaking her head in a lame attempt to muffle the sound, becau-

Because there were undead plague carriers nearby.

Thunder rattled the house, the single desk light flickering as the power surged, and Kally pulled back to look at him. Her hands were on the sides of his face, the feeling of his skin something solid and good and real. She looked and looked and looked. Dean looked right back, the two hovering in the shadowy room while the storm raged, and she wet her chapped lips nervously.

Her best friend huffed a heavy breath, abruptly shifting, fisting his grip against the back of her head. An impulse later and his forehead thudded against hers, his fingers flexing rhythmically in her thick hair, the bright red hair kerchief long since lost. Her eyes closed, every single nerve in her on sodding edge, her breathing unsteady and shaken even as she finally, finally began to relax.

Her chest pounded, and she could practically feel his do the same.

Because she knew, and he knew that she knew.

He had tortured people.

He had been tortured himself.

"Dean…" she whispered shakily, "what did they make you do?"

She felt his brow crunch against hers, deep lines forming in it as he shook his head firmly against hers. "Told ya, not the time, Kally-kins." But the way he said her name…

There was no heart in it.

Absolutely none.

Abruptly his chest rose against hers, and with a deep breath he tugged back, his hand dropping out of her hair to rest against the top of her spine. His fingers played there, along her neck, as if the sheer motion could calm both of them. "We need to get you out of here. Before they notice I'm gone."

She sickeningly knew who 'they' were, Kally already nodding. "Yeah…okay."

Without preamble his hand slid down the length of her spine, Kally flat out shivering as he grabbed onto her waist and dragged her up to her feet, his dark eyes raking over her as he held her steady. It was like he didn't trust his own spellwork to hold. Her own fingers slid to his forearms, clutching back. Gingerly she tested her weight, her left ankle strangely holding. She tested it once, twice, Dean's large hands digging against her hip bones, but…

It held.

For a Muggle it would have taken weeks to heal, and yet Dean had in a matter of minutes. She sucked in a breath, eyes darting up. "Not sure I'll ever get used to that."

"To what?"

"Magic. Seriously, Muggles would kill for this."

That ghost of a smirk fleetingly reappeared. "Ah, well speaking of, might need ya to do me a solid," he said, large hands flexing against her waist.

He sounded enthusiastic. Oh-so-enthusiastic.

"Okay…" she drew the word out.

Dean grimaced as if he'd been asked to give another wizard his blessing to bed Ginny. "Truth is, I'm still crap at occlumency. Learning, but compared to Snape I'm garbage. Fortunately I don't get summoned by Vo-" he made a face, forcing, "Voldemort. I'm not high enough rank for that shit yet, but unfortunately Snape gets tasked with reading my mind on occasion, to see if I'm trustworthy. Then Voldemort uses legilimency on Snape aboutme."

Kally squeezed her eyes shut, a headache coming on. "Dark Lord bureaucracy. Got it."

Her dark skinned friend chuckled, his hands a stark contrast to her pale ones in the shadows. That stupid desk lamp flickered and finally died. "Good, because one of Snape's 'beginner tips to no longer being an incompetent halfwit'-"

Kally's lips twitched just a bit.

"-is to mix intentionally crafted misleading memories with the real ones you don't want someone to see. That way, if I get asked where I was tonight, I would have a real memory to fixate on; then they won't know I skived off from pillaging the masses to help you." He paused. "See Kal, if it's a real memory, makes it easier to mislead. Can plant it in my head, Snape looks for that specific one, then Voldemort sees only that. Not to mention if anyone else gets into my head."

She still wasn't tracking. "So…?"

"So, I need you to kick my ass."

She blinked.

She blinked twice.

A trace of the old Dean sparked in his gaze. "You know, just a bit. Can say I tried to snag ya, to bring you back to him since you're technically a creature."

At this Kally growled.

Dean was undeterred. "Fine, a magical variant. But do that 'shock' thing on me that your sorts prone to doing. Maybe give me a good shove while you're at it."

"That shock thing," she repeated, dubious. "You realize that shock thing kills people, right?"

"Pfft, please. Like you'd kill your rescuer."

"I'm tempted."

Now Dean just look exasperated. "Kal…."

And just like that, all traces of humor vanished.

She eyed him warily, a ball of dread building in her stomach. "Dean, you skived off to find me."

He lifted a hand and gave an errant strand of her hair a casual flick, but he looked tense. So tense. "More like followed a couple of the other lesser Death Eaters on brooms. Stunned them in the back when they weren't looking." He shrugged. "Hard for them to deliver an aerial attack if they've fallen seven meters to the ground and gotten knocked out. A few flying around found you lot, so I took care of it before they could take care of you." He paused for a second, thoughtfully adding, "Well…suppose the undead technically took care of 'em. Reckon that makes me a zombie chef of Death Eater hors d'oeuvres, doesn't it?"

He seemed almost quizzical about it.

There were a few relevant pieces of information there, least of all a level of ruthlessness she had never associated with him before, but first… "You have a broom?"

He smirked rather haughtily, pointedly popping another 'p' as he spoke. "Yup."

"Dean! Why the hell are you still here? You could have flown off already. You should have before somebody notices!"

"Please, like I'm leaving your trouble-attracting ass here alone? You'll get eaten. Can drop you off right outside the safe zone they turned Harry's relatives' place into. Can't get in," he tapped his dark mark in silent point, "but nothing's stopping me from flying right up to it and bodily tossing you onto the Dursley's tarmac."

"Except a slew of angry Order members who won't recognize you in this!" She reached up and gave his hood a rather angry tug. "Not to mention Death Eaters who, if they see you helping me, are going to try to take off your head!"

"Better be quick about it then."

"Dean!" she said his name like a cuss. He waggled his eyebrows, and she debated slapping him. "You're being unnecessarily reckless."

"There you go again, mispronouncing words. Think you mean chivalrous. Keeping my best friend from getting creature-nabbed or eaten?" He drummed his fingers along her hip bones. "You know most people would say thank you."

"Bit hard," she whispered fiercely, "when I'm terrified you're going to get yourself sodding killed."

Every muscle in him seemed to tense at once, the wizard taut as a wire. The thunder outside rumbled, the blinds thunk thunking as that cold breeze infiltrated. Dean didn't deny it. He didn't even attempt to. The line of his mouth just drew into something strained, grim, his hold on her growing so, so tight.

Kally's hand rose, fingers gripping at the front of his robes, nails digging against the dark, damp fabric covering him. "Can't help but notice," she murmured, "that you're not denying that's a possibility."

Dean didn't blink, but he was quiet for a long, long time. Longer than they probably had.

When he spoke his voice was low, devoid of emotion. "Kal," he wet his lips, "we don't have time for this."

She ignored him. "I haven't seen you," she told, "Ginny hasn't seen you," and at this he flinched, "in months. The last thing I want to do is let you put yourself in more sodding stupid, unnecessary danger because of me-"

With an abruptly upset sound Dean grabbed at the back of her head, his brow thudding roughly against hers, Kally letting out a startled breath. But she didn't move. She didn't dare. She just stayed there, feeling Dean's warm breath ghosting against her face, Kally cursedly cursedly aware that he was shaking.

So was she.

In fact, she was outright trembling, because Kalliandra was scared.

There were literal undead creatures outside. There were wizards and witches – insane ones – that wanted nothing more or less than to see them all dead in the most violent and painful way possible. If they found out about Dean they would kill him without hesitation. Her and Dean's actual friends were still outside, Fred and George and Regulus all injured, Kally having no idea if Ron and Charlie were still 'alright'. They could be deadby now, and-

There was literally next to nowhere that was fully safe.

Kally positively shook, frightened.

At some point Dean's fingers had begun raking through her thick, tangled hair again, and without thinking she let her hand slide against the front of his chest, content to just feel that he was here, with her, right now, present and sodding alive.

Right now, knowing that at least one person she cared about was alive was the best she could do.

Wordlessly they remained like that, hovering in one another's personal space for longer than should have been comfortable. But this was Dean. Wetting her lips, swallowing shakily, she shook her head against his, feeling the daft wizard shift to drop a chaste kiss against her brow.

And then his hand shifted in her hair, the wizard's eyes closing as he finally spoke. "Between you and Gin," he muttered seriously, "you two are bound to resurrect and then kill me all over again if I do get myself killed. And you're both violent, so…" his lips turned against her brow, the wizard shaking his head against hers. "I'll be fine. Alright? But we need to go…now preferably."

Sucking in a shaken breath, she managed a pathetically small nod of her own.

Dean kissed her head again, and then pulled back with painstaking slowness.

Truth was she was terrified. Terrified that he'd get himself killed. Terrified that he'd leave, disappear, and they'd simply never hear from him again. Terrified that his corpse would wind up rotting in a ditch, disposed of, and that she'd never find out what had happened to him.

Like with Harry.

She still didn't know what had happened to Harry.

Her stomach wrenched, Kally's fingers tightening against Dean's robes as she steeled herself. "Fine," she managed weakly. "Fine, I'll go with you, but…we compromise." Before he could even open his mouth she held up a finger. "One, you use disillusionment charms on both of us and your broom. I'm not being responsible for you getting 'made' and executed at a Death Eater pow-wow. This is bad enough as it is. Besides, Ginny would kill me if she sees you dressed like this."

Dean's brow creased, looking bewildered. "Ginny's here?"

She shot him a disbelieving look, the wizard managing to wince. "Right, of course she is."

She hissed another breath, continuing, "Two, we get nowhere near the Dursleys. Even if no one does see us, we get too close and we're still likely to get taken out by stray spells by accident. I won't let that happen to you."

Dean nodded. "Solid."

"And three, we try to find Ron and the others first. If we find them, you're leaving me there, with them, no arguments. I'm not leaving my friends alone out there."

A vague scowl crossed his face.

"Take it or leave it, Thomas."

"See? This is why I get heartburn."

"I'm choosing to ignore that."

"Choose away, Kally-kins. Now, can we get on with it?"

She hissed like an angered cat. He'd put himself at risk. He could die. He could sodding die and he was so utterly, stupidly, ridiculously cavalier about it.

Not to mention that she didn't know when she'd see him again. Not after this. The thought enough to send her stomach twisting uncomfortably in a dozen sodding ways she'd really rather not think about.

Her eyes flickered over his, something pathetically desperate in them. "When will I see you again?"

Dean dragged his large hand down to the back of her neck. "Honest? I have no idea." He paused, a glint entering his eye. "Why? Going to miss me? Really if you needed a replacement while Harry's been gone, could have just said so."

His tone was kidding. Mostly.

"You're a prat, you know that, right?"

Dean managed a forced grin, it only a bit self-satisfied. "Guilty."

A dozen things flew through her mind in swift succession. The fact that she needed to go. There was a sodding battle out there, her friends may need help, and she was missing it. The fact that she should do anything but let Dean leave to go back out there too. Dumbledore was dead, or at least missing. Harry was missing. Right now it was only her, Snape and Regulus who knew Dean was a spy, on their side, and she couldn't protect Dean from other Order members who wouldn't know not to hex him. She should sodding beg him to stay here, stay put in this musty old house and not move until it was all said and done, so he wouldn't potentially die, but…

He'd never listen, and she knew that.

A significant part of her knew that.

Kally sucked in a swift breath, managing an infinitesimal nod, coming to a decision. "Okay," she murmured, as if reassuring herself. "Okay."

The grin he'd had, one that hadn't quite been believable, weakened. Dean's gaze flickered over hers, something strange in his expression. Kally noticed it immediately, aware – so aware – that he was probably thinking along the same lines she was.

"I promise," she offered, "to try to not get myself killed."

"You'll try? Oh yeah, because that's totally reassuring."

Now a wane, exasperated smile touched her lips. "How about, I won't let them catch me. That better?"

Dean's eyes bored into hers, as if he could force her to be careful by sheer force of will. "You know what they'll do if they catch you, Kal."

"Probably nothing compared to if they found out about you."

His hand lifted, capturing an unruly lock of her tangled hair, smoothing it back, tucking it behind her ear. "Don't worry, they're all single-minded morons. Could strip down to the buff and wave my Death Eater cowl right in front of 'em and doubt they'd have time to even notice me."

She sniffed, unamused. "You're an imbecile."

"Your imbecile."

Her fingers tightened against the front of his cloak, the non-witch shooting him an infinitesimal glare. Then, without a word, she stretched up on her tiptoes, wincing as lancing pain shot through her bandaged ankle, giving her imbecile a quick peck on the cheek.

She dropped down to the flats of her feet, fixing him with a look, her own words softer, almost wary. "Don't make me regret leaving you unsupervised."

He snorted. "Please. I've been unsupervised constantly. I'm still alive."

"True…"

"Good. Quicker you realize I'm always right, the more streamlined our lives'll all be."

She shot him a look.

Dean smirked.

Well…at least he'd been good enough to irritate her a bit first. They needed to go, to get out of here, and they couldn't sodding wait any longer.

Wordlessly Kally's grip tightened on the front of his cloak. He could die. She knew that. There wasn't much she could do, but…

She could do this. Fingers gripping the dark fabric, she sucked in a shaken breath and pressed just a bit closer. Dean's brown instantly creased, Kally ignoring this. She was genuinely, truly terrified at what might happen when he left, when he was out of her sight, when Voldemort or Snape or someone looked into his mind if they saw that he'd done any – absolutely any – of this.

So Kally's eyes flickered up, studying him for a brief, fleeting second…

And then she slammed her knee up and between his legs.

Hard.

Dean jerked back so hard that he nearly tripped on his Death Eater cloak, wheezing, "Jesus fucking Christ, Kal!"

Despite everything her lips twitched. Clearly he'd forgotten that he'd asked her to kick his ass, so he could have the memory in his mind, but Kally never got the chance to follow it up with a shove, apology or anything.

She didn't because there was a creek, like a door opening.

Then a growl.

Her head darted to the side-

A blur of reddish bulk flew past, slamming into Dean and throwing him against the far wall. The drywall cracked, the garish blue wallpaper tearing straight down the middle as Dean was picked up and bodily slammed against it.

In the poorly lit room the entire incident had been a blur, but Kally could still make out the claw clenching around Dean's throat, the sharp nails leaving indents in his neck, pinpricks of blood welling up.

Kally had no time to process what had just happened, though a guttural snarl filled the room like liquid ice.

"You! You bloody bastard! WE TRUSTED YOU!"

Dean garbled an unintelligible response, on account his throat was being crushed.

And just like that things snapped into sharp focus.

It was enough to unfreeze her. "Ron, don't!"

Weasley's head jerked over his shoulder, and the look he leveled on her could have cut glass. It was hurt, and conflicted, and something she'd never seen on him before.

And it was levelled on her.

"Ron," she practically choked. "Let him-"

The werewolf cut her off. "I trusted you too, Kaylens."

There was no plainer way to say it. Her breath caught, Kally standing there in the musty-smelling room, shadows playing across her face, and she instantly knew what Ron had heard.

And what it'd sounded like.

"You know what they'll do if they catch you, Kal."

"Probably nothing compared to if they found out about you."

"Shit…" she whispered.

"Yeah," Ron acknowledged. "Shit."

He refused to look directly at her. A cold realization struck, Kally's breaths growing shaky. Ron's eyes were on her hands. Her hands that would spark with magic when she drew, because he was looking at her like she was a potential threat.

And she couldn't blame him.

She couldn't blame him. Not in the least.

The Gryffindor Keeper's expression was torn, jaw set in a conflicted line, as if chewing on some kind of bitter truth.

Merlin, they'd just been talking about not being found out. Not getting caught.

And Dean was standing there in a Death Eater cloak.

All of sudden it was like she couldn't quite breathe, and Kalliandra held very, very still. "Ron, whatever you're thinking…just-just don't, alright?"

Dean smacked at Ron's arm, trying to loosen it. "Yeah," he croaked, words barely intelligible, "what she said."

Ron rewarded this by curling his fist tighter around Dean's throat, her best friend making a death sound. "Youyou don't get to talk, " Ron snarled. "You traitorous bastard."

"Ron," she plead, "please. It's not what you thin-"

"You don't want to know," he cut across, "what I'm thinking."

Something horrible twisted deep inside, her stomach nearly bottoming out. "I can hazard a guess," she whispered.

"Are you imperius-ed?" His blue gaze shot between them, almost desperate. "Kaylens, did he fucking imperius curse you?"

Her lips fell apart, soundlessly.

His blue irises hardened like glacial chips of ice. "Well?"

"No!"

"Yeah…" Ron breathed, as if thinking it over. "You would say that, wouldn't you?" He rounded back on Dean, giving him a shake. "Did you fucking CURSE her!?"

This was bad. This was very, very bad. "Ron…" she pled. "Ron, he didn't. And don't you think-"

"Seems like I'm not the one who wasn't thinking." His voice was cold. So cold.

Kally physically shook, trying again. "Ron, can you just listen? Please?" Dean wasn't fighting back. He simply wasn't. Even though she knew for a fact that his wand was in his hand, something Ron hadn't appeared to notice. "Don't you think it's strange that Dean's not fighting back?" she pointed out, desperate. "He could! He could have tried, but he didn't! I know what you heard, but-"

In an instant Dean's wand was wrenched out of his hand and thrown, the wood clattering against the far wall with enough force to send it sparking. Both Kally and Dean physically winced, her dark haired friend wheezing, "So much for that."

Right. Pointing out that Dean had still been armed probably hadn't been her best idea.

Ron looked very much like he was trying to decide what to do. So Kally stood there. Her ankle throbbed badly, Dean's numbing spell starting to wear off. A rising, urgent need to stop this, to stop what was happening now was building, but she didn't know how to get through to him.

Dean would pass out in a minute. He needed air, and Ron wasn't about to give it.

In his shoes she'd have reacted the same way.

Ron's furious gaze sliced through the room like shards of ice, jerking between her and Dean. "You were both working for fucking him then? This whole god damn time?"

Kally shook her head. "No," she managed quietly. "Just him."

Ron scoffed.

She didn't dare close her eyes, though she desperately wanted to. "Ron…I know what this looks like. I know what you must be thinkin-"

"Oh, I highly doubt that."

Dean, at this point, had stopped fighting back. He just stood there, half pinned and half slumped, making a concerning noise as he tried to drag air through his constricted throat. Kally's eyes flickered frantically back and forth between the two wizards, her voice calm. So, so unnaturally calm. "Ron," she whispered, "you're going to kill him."

"Pretty sure," he bit, "that was the idea."

She physically flinched, opening her mouth-

"How long?" Ron demanded, coldly.

Her lips snapped shut, hesitating.

He practically exploded. "How long has this been going on?! How long have you known he was a fucking DEATH EATER, Kaylens!?"

There was no point in lying. Or explaining. He wouldn't believe it anyway. "Since Dublin."

"Me," Dean croaked, apparently needing to clarify. "Just me." He made a wheezing, rasping sound. "Not her."

Ron's face had grown red. Rapidly red. His heard jerked around to stare at Dean like a tightly wound pressure cooker about to go off. His claws clenched as if preparing to crush his windpipe once and for all…

A strangely upset sound emitted from her throat, Kally hating this. Hating everything about it. Her eyes flickered through the shadows, resting on her friend. Her friend who had just called himself a Death Eater. "Dean…Dean, you're not."

Now that furious look of Ron's was leveled on her. Dean just looked like it was taking everything in him to avoid passing out. He wasn't fighting back. He wasn't even trying.

He could. Kally knew he could, but if he did…

He could hurt Ron.

Or Ron could wind up killing him.

Shit.

Ron's jaw was set in a taut line, his wand in his free hand, it aimed less than subtly at her as he slowly, slowly choked the life from Dean with his other hand. She met his gaze unblinkingly. There'd been a time when he'd hated her, when they hadn't been friends, when any look he'd levelled her way had been full of suspicion and antipathy and annoyance.

She'd never realized how much she'd hated that look. But despite that she'd never been afraid of him.

Now she was. "Ron," she whispered, voice wavering, "we don't have time for this."

The sound he made was so bitter and so enraged it was a wonder steam didn't shoot out his ears. "Oh? But you've got time for canoodling? Is that it?"

Her jaw dropped. "We weren't canoodl-"

Dean made a rasping, choking sound. "We were kind of canoodling."

Her eyes shot to Dean. "You're not helping."

Ron's teeth ground so hard she could practically hear the enamel scraping, but when he looked at her…

His eyes were burning with too many emotions to count.

"You left us," he choked. "I thought you were bloody well dead. We were losing our damn minds looking for you and I find you here-here with him."

He didn't raise his voice; he didn't have to.

"I dug through that entire playset and couldn't find you."

Kally could only stand there, guilt etched across every inch of her face. "I didn't leave you," she said, picking her words carefully. "I got hurt, Ron, and Dean- Dean helped me."

Ron looked entirely unconvinced.

"The others," she started, "they were hurt. Are they-" she faltered, sucking in a breath. "Are they alri-"

"Like you care."

The Reach sucked in a tremulous breath. Outside a powerful gust of wind howled, infiltrating the crack in the window, sending the living room shades rattling in the dark. The pattering sound of rain being twisted sideways to assault the siding grew momentarily louder, before dying down, and when Kally spoke she scarcely recognized her own voice. "I do care." Her eyes flew towards Dean. "Dean said you were all okay?"

Her friend, still pinned by a werewolf's oversized claws, croaked what sounded like a 'yeah' and gave a weak thumb's up. The slight movement from him sent Ron jerking around, shoving the end of his wand directly into his abdomen, the threat, "Hold still," snarled into the air.

"Ron," she said uneasily, "you're on edge-"

He choked on a laugh. "Caught onto that did you?"

"Regulus and Fred, are they-"

"They're alive. Fucked up, but alive."

Her stomach tightened. "Alright," she said quietly. "So if you're here, then where are they at?"

Ron shot her a withering look. "On their way with Charlie and George to the front yard of Harry's bloody useless relatives. I stayed behind. To look for you."

George had been hurt. So it was Charlie – just Charlie – trying to protect three people. "Shit…" she breathed.

"Yeah," he bit stiffly. "About sums it up. And then I found you. Here. With him."

And Ron practically spat the word him.

She let out a steadying breath, words slow, careful. "My ankle got shattered. Dean dragged me in here to fix it. It-the spell he used takes a bit to heal. So we had to wait before we could move."

And though he didn't say anything, she saw Ron's eyes flicker towards her ankle, the conjured bandages wrapped tightly around it, the strangely purplish-skin peeking out just above the top. It was dark and nasty and looked terrible. And then, as if to add insult to injury, that smiley faced sticker sealing it all together sodding winked at him.

Kally closed her eyes and let out a quiet groan.

Dean just let out a croaking laugh.

The beginnings of a faint red glow began to be visible outside the window, casting the previously dark, shadowy room in an aberrant light. It threw both Ron and Dean into stark contrast, dark spots of crusty substance staining nearly available inch of Ron's shirt, and she didn't have to ask what it was.

Blood, and most of it did not look like his. She'd seen him after the car wreck, and he'd looked bad. Really bad.

But not this bad.

Shit.

And that glowing red outside the window was creeping closer, beginning to light up the room.

Fire.

Her breathing had grown incredibly unsteady. "Ron," she tried again, not moving, not daring, "please. We don't have time for this. Dean is-" Glancing around, not knowing who or what may be nearby, within hearing distance, she realized it didn't matter, because if she didn't tell him, then Ron might kill him.

She had to.

But she couldn't risk saying it aloud either.

Her eyes shot to him, beseeching. "Cast a silencing charm."

The look he shot her made it clear he intended to do nothing of the sort.

She hissed a frustrated breath. "Cast a silencing charm, please."

Ron's only response was for the sharp nails of his claws to extend just a bit farther out, the tips digging into the flesh of Dean's dark skin.

Her mouth went dry, Kally feeling incredibly unsteady on her feet and idly wondering if she was bleeding internally again, her head screaming, stomach twisting, everything wrong. "Ron there's fire coming," she begged. "It could be fiendfyre. We need to go. Unless your plan is to stun and leave us here to burn." She didn't miss the flinch in his expression, the tension rifling through him.

Over the pattering of rain outside, she could hear a faint crackling.

Her heart rate sped up, honestly afraid.

"You asked if I was imperius-ed," she reminded, appealing to reason. "You wouldn't have asked if something about all of this didn't add up. And you're right, what you're thinking doesn't add up for a reason.A good one. But right now? Right now you're in control. You're stronger than Dean and have your claws digging into his literal jugular, and we both know I can't draw fast enough to do anything about it. Not before you'd already killed him, or me, or perhaps both. So I'd say the chances of hearing me out going sideways are low. And I-" she faltered. "I can explain if you put up a silencing charm. But there's too much at stake for me to risk being overhead, so I can't otherwise. And I'd really, really, like to explain before you finish enacting out Harry's fantasy number five and crushing Dean's throat until all that's left are teeny tiny pieces of trachea."

Dean choked a sound that sounded like a dull chuckle. A chuckle while he was being choked out. She was going to kill him if they survived this.

Even Ron was eyeing him strangely.

It wasn't her fault Harry talked in his sleep.

Wetting her lips, hazel eyes flickering back to Ron's imploringly, she hazarded, "Ron, you can't be this-you can't be this dense, alright? I think even you realize something is wrong here, because if you didn't-if you didn't you'd have already broken Dean's neck, hexed me, and left, but at last count you've done none of that."

Dean gargled something that sounded suspiciously like don't give him ideas.

She ignored him. "And after everything we've sodding been through…if you seriously think I could be a Death Eater and that Harry somehow never noticed you're an absolute moron." Her ankle gave a vicious throb, Kally sinking back down to sit on the piano bench, shooting him an irritated look.

At that Ron actually blinked.

Ultimately he didn't say a single, solitary word. He just soundlessly fixed her with a suspicious look, his wand flicking at first the window, and then the doorway, muffling charms muttered.

And then his hold on Dean's throat loosened, marginally. Enough for Dean to choke out, "Oh, good…now no one'll hear us scream. Great idea, Kal."

She shot him as black a look as they came.

Then her attention darted back to Ron.

He fixed her with a narrowed eyed, humorless expression that she couldn't read. She didn't try.

Instead she huffed a breath and glared. "Dean's a spy for the Order," she told, matter-of-fact and not dancing around it. "He's been working with Snape since Dublin. I only found out by accident, after that train crash when his sleeve got tugged up during…well, after." She kept her words intentfully quiet, just in case. "Dumbledore knows-knew. It was his idea. Black and Snape know. I know. And Harry kne-knows." She forced the present tense, even though she didn't know if he was alive or not. That hollow pit inside her grew, her eyes practically burning as she stared at Ron, across the room. "That's it, Ron. No one else knows. We couldn't let people know, for obvious reasons."

Nothing in Ron's expression had changed. He simply stared at her in the darkened room, red light beginning to flicker across his face.

She wanted to scream, unable to physically do anything. So there she sat, a fire creeping closer, her friends out there, Dean at more and more risk of being found out the longer he was away.

Dean, for his part, just seemed mildly annoyed.

So was she.

"Harry," Ron finally said, "would have told me."

She considered throwing the piano bench at him. "Yeah well, for what it's worth, Harry was pretty pissed he couldn't. If you're bored later, have somehow learned Legilimency, and don't mind accidentally hearing some pillow talk, you're welcome to use it on me to hear that particular rant. Really, it was long. Idiot kept me awake. Not fair that I'm the only one who's been subjected to it."

Sarcasm practically bled from her words. Ron seemed to be thinking it over.

"Dean risked exposure just to help us, Ron. How do you think we got as far as we did without any Death Eaters on broom attacking us again? Dean. That was all Dean. He-" She stopped abruptly, hearing something creak. Her eyes shot towards the doorway Ron had shot through only moments prior, the non-witch getting so used to being afraid that it may as well be a permanent state. Her head whipped back towards him. "Ron, that could be someone coming to look for him. We don't have time for this."

Ron had narrowed his eyes towards the doorway, but at that his head darted back to regard her, the accusation in his eyes lessening marginally. It looked like he was stuck on something. "If that's true, then what the hell did I walk in on, Kaylens?"

"Our merry chat about what the Death Eaters would do if they caught me or found out about him."

"I meant," he rephrased, "the canoodling."

Kally often wished she could hex people. Right now she wanted to hex Ron. "You can't be serious."

"Do I look like I'm kidding?"

"My apologies," she said bitterly. "How dare I say goodbye to my best friend, who very well might be walking out to his death, because he risked exposure by pulling me out of that wreckage and not handing me over to Voldemort. Whatever could I possibly have been thinking?"

The red head made a face. Sharp nails extended, then retracted around Dean's throat, as if deep in thought.

She wanted to punch him. "When have I ever given you honest reason not to trust me?" She didn't bother to restrain the bitterness in her voice. "Not like we've had one another's backs for months or anything."

She got why Ron was conflicted; she got it.

But that didn't mean it didn't hurt.

She resolved to punch him later. Hard.

Ron's face was going through several motions, none of them readable.

"Or we could just keep sitting here," Kally said blandly, "until that fire reaches the house. Don't know about you, but swore my life's secret ambition was to impersonate a s'more. I've always heard death by being burnt alive was particularly pleasant."

Dean made another one of those half-dead, half-laughing sounds.

Ron seemed to be thinking, his entire face tense, and then…

He let Dean go.

No ceremony. No explanation. He simply grimaced, letting him go. In the next second he had summoned Dean's wand, holding it up in front of the wizard. "You'll excuse me if I just hold onto this then."

Dean coughed, reaching up to rub at his throat, eyeing Ron with an impressive amount of annoyance for someone who had recently had his head nearly torn off by an angry-werewolf-mutant with anger issues. "Geeze, thanks," he croaked.

Kally just sat there and glared.

The tension within the room vibrated so hard it could be cut with a knife.

Ron hovered there, in Dean's personal space for a moment longer, gaze hard and threatening. "Don't mistake me not tearing out your throat for trust, Thomas."

Dean snorted. "Well hell, this mean we can't be friends, Ron?" Blood prickled at his throat from five distinct spots, in the shape of a claw, the wizard dead panning, "Couldn't bear it if this meant we couldn't be friends. Hell, was thinking of draggin' ya out for drinks. Askin' ya for your blessing with Ginny."

Ron simply stared.

Dean, despite everything, managed a grin - the sort that could incite a bunch of monks who'd taken vows of peace to engage in coordinated, premeditated homicide.

Ron actually snarled. "Go fuck yourself, Thomas."

"You mean solo work? Nah. According to you thought I'd stolen Harry's girl to do that for me?"

"Dean!"

"What? He accused us of canoodling." He shot her a pointed look. "If I was going to canoodle you, believe me, you'd notice."

Kally added Dean to her 'to punch' list.

Every inch of Ron had gone rigid, and the questioning look he shot her…

She met his gaze and didn't flinch. "If you seriously think for a second I'd so much as touch anyone else, Weasley, you're clearly suffering from a traumatic brain injury." Champagne colored eyes narrowed assessingly. "Then again I suppose you were recently thrown from a moving vehicle. That could explain it."

"A head injury? Really? That's the line? Well hell Kal, that hurts." Dean gave a mock thud at his chest. "Right here. Real deep down."

She shot him an extra special look.

Ron turned a calculating look of his own onto Dean. "Maybe I should leave you to burn alive."

"Given what I'm probably walking out into, what makes you think I'd mind?"

Kally sputtered, loudly.

The two wizards ignored her.

"Let's be clear…right now, I don't like you."

"Well damn, I'll just have to tear up our friends forever bracelets then. And to think, I spent all summer braiding them."

Now Ron and Kally both stared. Openly.

"What? I needed to get the embroidery floss just right."

Ron was silently mouthing the words back. "Emboridery….floss?"

She rolled her eyes. "Dean babysits."

"Hey!" the wizard in question interjected. "You promised you'd take that to the grave!"

"Little girls," she clarified. "That put bows and ribbons in his hair."

Now Dean was glaring, rubbing his throat and speaking as if he hadn't just been centimeters from death. "A primary reason I cut it you know."

She tilted her head and despite the situation, despite where they were, despite the undead and the fire and the Death Eaters and a pissed off and suspicious Ron, her lips twitched just a little. "Hrmmm," she murmured, "I bet you make the ribbons for them to use. From scratch."

Dean looked affronted. "Of course. Kinda have to. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find colors that don't clash with gingers?"

Ron was eyeing Dean with the sort of look ordinarily reserved for escaped felons. "Ribbons," he repeated. "This is why you and I have never been friends."

"Really? Here I thought it was my tendency to snog your sister."

Something dark crossed Ron's expression, and Kally decided right about then was a good time to move. "Calm down Ron, I'm sure Dean'll promise," wincing as she put pressure on her ankle, Dean's numbing spell having truly worn off now, "to make you some extra pretty bows."

Ron looked like he'd had quite enough for the day. "I'm going to fucking kill Harry for leaving."

"Yeah? Get in line," she muttered, eyes flickering towards the window. The fire was getting closer, but…

Her eyes shot back to Ron, taking a second to look him over. At some point he'd retreated, taking several steps back and away from Dean, a wand held tight in each hand. His brow was still creased, drawn over his eyebrows, gaze suspicious, but compared to before…

Compared to before it looked like he was sitting through a particularly troublesome potions lesson, rather than finding out one of his roommates was a traitor.

"You believe us?" Kally cut right to it. She wasn't certain it was even a question. "Ron, what made you-"

He shot her a sharp look. "Because it's you." He said it like she was daft for even asking. "I don't trust him for a minute. I'll need a bit more explanation about how he got stuffed into that," gesturing at the Death Eater robes, "before that happens. But you? Had this been a year ago, Kaylens, I sure as hell wouldn't have. But now? Much to my bloody surprise, I do. So make of that what you bloody well will." He grimaced, shaking his head as if engaged in some inner war. "Guess this is what Hermione is always prattling on about: emotional growth or some shit."

And hell, he sounded almost disappointed in himself.

Kally managed a relieved-sounding laugh.

Ron shot her another glare, but this time it was less heated. "Try not to sound so shocked."

"Well," she managed, taking a step and testing her weight on her ankle once more. It held. It throbbed, but it held. "First I find out you told your brother I'm your friend, then you were worried about me, and now you're taking my word about something serious?"

"Yeah, judgements clearly fouled up. I'll be sure to hex myself in the head later for it."

Dean, in the meantime, had tugged his dislodged hood back over his head, a spell muttered, it obscuring his face. "You know mate, it's not like she had multiple chances to kill ya, leave ya to the literal sharks or anything. I mean really, if she was working for us she's doing a piss poor job. Fouling up letting Harry die and all. Sheesh Kal, all the Dark Lord asks is for you to sit back and do nothing, and instead you save his ass from creatures, then when he finally is dead you go and zap him back to life again and again. Can just about guarantee you'd fail your mid-point Dark Lord performance review."

And then he gave a mock tisk.

Both her and Ron slowly turned to stare at him.

"What? I'm just saying, if she's a bloody Death Eater, then I'm Father Christmas."

Ron continued to stare. "Much as I'd like to beat you to a bloody pulp, Thomas-"

Dean glanced towards Kalliandra. "Didn't he already do that?"

"-Kaylens at least had multiple chances to kill me, and didn't. And lucky for you, I happen to trust her, and spies happen to be Dumbledore's thing, so…I don't like it, I'm suspicious as hell. But I'm going to allow this." He fixed Dean with a rather directed look. "But if you give me a reason to regret that, if I find out that you Imperius-cursed Kaylens, or that you are lying…then Thomas, I will hunt you down, in the dead of the bloody night if I need to, and I'll remove your reason for calling yourself a man."

"Well hell, Weasley, if I didn't know better would say that sounds like a come on."

Dean sounded casual. Oh so casual.

Ron stared.

"Don't swing that way, just in case you were curious."

While she could no longer see Dean's face, she swore she could hear the grin in his voice.

Ron's knuckles had grown rather white around both wands.

Outside the window there was a flare of bright red light, something popped, and just like that all traces of playfulness were gone.

"Look Ron," Dean said, tone shockingly serious, "I've already made one atrocious decision in my life that I'm paying for. I will never stop paying for it. I'll probably die because of it. So right now the only thing I care about is making sure no one else I actually care about dies. Alright?"

Kally's stomach dropped, but she suppressed the feeling. "Dean, the battle-"

"Stalemate," he anticipated her question without her ever needing to ask it. "We had timed portkeys for an hour set up, so those keep depositing more and more of the undead here, which is keeping your lot busy. Very busy. Though your lot successfully took out a half dozen Death Eaters, but the rest? We were ordered to remain disillusioned until Potter showed up."

Ron frowned, and the expression wasn't becoming. "Harry's not around. You know that. Hasn't been for…" he trailed off, clearly uncomfortable.

"Yeah," Dean scoffed. "Fancy that. Wonder where they'd have gotten the idea that he might be."

Kally hissed a breath, dragging a hand through her now loose and tangled hair. "You," she breathed. "You fed them misinformation."

"Me and Snape, actually," he corrected. "They were going to attack anyway. We just…redirected it to make it a bit easier for you lot to counter it."

"I don't know whether to deck you," Ron muttered, "or ask what plan they'd of come up with that would've made this one look appealing."

"Taking kids hostage and drawing the Order out into the middle of Muggle London, using Harry's family as bait got thrown around."

"Bloody hell…"

"See? Blowing up only one street was, shockingly, improvement."

Ron glowered. "I still don't like you."

Dean seemed entirely unaffected. "How about I switch up that friendship bracelet to blue? That do anything for ya?"

There was something incredibly disturbing about a cloaked figure with a hidden face asking about friendship bracelets. To Ron's credit, he only twitched a little, and his scowl mostly hid it. "Fuck off, Thomas."

Kally couldn't help but proffer a tiny smile. "He also bakes you know."

Ron didn't even bother to let her finish listing out the plethora of items that Dean could bake. Instead he slashed his wand around the room, removing the privacy charms, muttering about Black being right about being surrounded by insipid drones with screwed up priorities, before stalking out.

Without further preamble, Kalliandra and Dean followed.

Though Kally did manage to convince Ron to hand over Dean's wand, which he did, under protest.

Protest that he wanted noted.

In writing.

They stepped out the suburban home's front door and onto the front lawn, the night tar-black and raining. Kally's feet sunk in the muddy grass, rivulets running down the drive. It was dark, the street near vacant. From farther off an aberrant reddish-orange hue could be seen, lighting up the horizon over the suburban roofs, and from the stench of smoke and blood and death Kally knew that many things were burning that shouldn't be.

It was sickly sweet, familiar.

And when the wind blew, the stench was downright acrid.

Alongside her Ron made a gagging sound, shoving a fist over his mouth. "Bleeding hell," he choked. "That smells…"

"Don't think about it," she hissed, trying to focus on literally anything else.

"But what is that?" Ron said, unperturbed.

"People," she murmured, "burning."

Ron took a second to gape. "Why exactly do you know that?"

A shiver swept up her spine, a swirl of memories within her mind she'd rather forget.

She answered anyway.

"Dublin," she relayed softly. "We burned a lot of bodies." The drizzle was light, but her scant clothes stuck wetly to her as the wind sent her hair tousling around her face. "And before…when Death Eaters came to take me, before I knew any of you…they burned one of my brother's friends alive in the front yard."

She spoke quietly. So quietly.

Dean said nothing, but his fingers fisted around the cuffs of his robes, every visible inch of his dark skin tense. Unconsciously Kally reached out, brushing her hand over his knuckles as her eyes darted around the dark, empty street, and for a quick, fleeting second Dean grabbed at her hand back.

Ron noticed and scowled. "Not canoodling my ass."

She ignored him, squeezing Dean's hand before letting it go.

Thunder rumbled overhead, the electric buzz of poorly working streetlights and their steady thrum barely audible above the pattering sound of the rain. The downpour had lightened, it now a bare drizzle, but the roofs of abandoned vehicles and the tarmac still danced with spray.

The gentle rain chilled her skin everywhere it touched, it already slickening Ron's bright hair to his face, her own sparse clothing clinging to her. The Girl Guide's shirt was white, and had she not been covered in blood and mud and scratches it might have occurred to her that this was not what she'd had in mind when she'd volunteered to play at bait around town. For now, Kally stood there and shivered, eyes raking over the concerningly quiet street. The thick, unnatural fog that Regulus had conjured to provide them cover had long since dissipated, leaving only empty lawns and blacktop and not a sign of a Death Eater in the sky.

It was also eerily devoid of the undead.

"Fires probably drew those things away," Dean commented, giving voice to her own thoughts as he looked around. He kept his voice low and hood raised. "Things seem to like light."

"Oh good," Ron uttered humorlessly, "so the walking snarling biting machines behave like moths to a flame and t-rexes. Just don't move or cast any spells and they can't see you. We'll just stand still the rest of the night, not fight back when the rest of your sort find us, and we'll probably be fine then, yeah Thomas?"

Dean made a mildly irritated sound. "Just don't cast any bright spells or burn anything and you'll be fine."

"Upside," Kally interceded, "you'll both be highly motivated to not set me on fire again."

Predictably Dean's head jerked towards her. "How many times exactly have you been set on fire tonight?" he asked, sounding very much like he wasn't entirely certain he wanted the answer.

Ron simply snorted.

"It's not my fault that the Weasley men are all lighter happy."

"You realize I did put you out? Twice." Ron sounded distinctly put out. "Besides Kaylens, give my brothers some credit. Fred used a match the one time. That's not a lighter."

Hazel eyes swiveled towards him, her eyebrows raising. "Yes," she said slowly, "and jet fuel."

Dean made a distressed sound.

And that was when the Death Eaters found them.

There wasn't always an explosion in battle. Sometimes there were simply figures who'd been disillusioned and circling above, landing on the ground directly behind you, dropping their brooms into the sodden grass with a gentle plop, followed by wands being summoned.

Kally's wand was wrenched out of her grip, as was Ron's.

Her heart lurched, Kally making an upset sound and trying to spin around-

Dean caught her by the wrist to stop her.

"Thomas, we were wondering where you'd run off to." The voice was cold, words calm and measured, and they'd come from right behind their backs.

Kally froze, Ron emitting a low growling sound that promised a brawl, claws extending-

"I have a wand aimed at the back of your skull, blood traitor. Now be a good little hound and put those claws away."

Dean's fingers clenched against her inner wrist so hard it physically hurt. And though she couldn't see his face, she knew he was thinking. Rapidly.

They'd been caught.

"Told you we couldn't trust this one," snarled a voice she didn't recognize. "He was fraternizing with the enemy!"

The other voice made a 'hrm-ing' sound with his throat. It seemed half-curious, half-eager. "Well Thomas," it drawled, "were you? Fraternizing? Do try to lie. I always have enjoyed a good bedtime story."

Hearing that voice…it was like being bathed in ice.

Kally knew that voice. She'd know it in her sodding sleep, because the speaker had once held a knife to her throat in a clearing, shortly before attempting to drown her.

Her and Harry had also slashed him with glass.

She was afraid to move, but in the dim reflection of a car window she watched Detreck Broussard's reflection, the wizard smiling in a twisted way, wand up and aimed directly at the base of her neck. He held a second wand, this one levelled at Dean. His companion's pointed at Ron.

Through the rain droplets streaking down the glass, she could see Broussard's twisted smile.

Besides her Ron had gone completely rigid, clearly debating if he could manage some kind of attack fast enough. Similar nerves racked her. Kally's free hand was held loosely at her side, cool rain droplets sliding down her face. She already knew she couldn't draw quickly enough. Ron's eyes slid to hers, clearly thinking the same thing. Even if he could manage it, he couldn't protect them both, and where those wands were aimed…

They'd be dead before they'd so much as blinked.

For the thousandth time since she'd been thrown into the wizarding world, she mentally cursed her inability to incant. Months back Harry had been right to be concerned. She couldn't duel; she couldn't fight the way the others did, and-

Dean made an impassive, almost amused sound. "Bedtime story?" he repeated, as if death threats were commonplace. "And here I was thinking you'd both owe me a round of drinks." Abruptly he interlaced his fingers between hers and turned slightly, peering over his shoulder at the intruders.

But for a second, just a second Dean's eyes caught onto hers, words meaningful even if they were directed at Voldemort's followers.

"Really, can't you two just roll with it?"

Just roll with it.

Dean had said that far, far too often to her.

And then his wand hand jerked, a callous flick of his wand in Ron's direction and three short syllables that sent her stomach lurching.

"Imperio."

The spell hit Ron before he could move, Dean shoving his hood down and rolling his eyes as if annoyed by their presence. "Do either of you," he snapped, and all of sudden he did not sound like the Dean she knew at all anymore, "have any idea how hard it is to round up unique creatures without getting yourself killed?" His expression contorted into a deep scowl, shooting her a look so black she actually flinched. "Or at the very least kneed in the balls?"

Broussard sniffed loudly, as if almost amused himself.

His companion, however, sounded skeptical. "That's your story? That you were in the process of rounding them up?"

"That's our job, isn't it?" Dean bit back without missing a beat. "Last time I checked I wasn't exactly high enough ranked to be on team 'round up Potter,' so figured I'd get his girl and best mate instead." He jerked his head almost violently in her direction, "I've spent the past year cultivating a place amongst Dumbledore's croonies to gather information for our Lord, just for that idiot Daniel to blow my cover. I had to confound this one to get her to cooperate. And that one," head tilting towards Ron now, Dean's voice growing – if possible – even more annoyed, "nearly found out. I had the wolf nice and calm and going with me willingly thinking I was helping him get to his friends, but you two imbeciles just had to interrupt. Do either of you have any idea what could have happened if my wand wasn't quicker than yours? You would have lost the Dark Lord two new pets on a platter all because you were too stupid to read the room."

From off to the side Ron made a growling, angered sound-

"Down boy," Dean commanded. "Better yet, dance for me. Moods a bit bleak. Could use a little uplifting."

Ron's expression contorted into something murderous.

Dean merely swiveled his head, dark eyes narrowing. "I said," he repeated, "dance ginger dog."

Something flashed in Ron's eyes, like he'd rather do anything but, only…

Jerkily his arms lifted up, like an unwilling puppet under control of its sick and twisted marionettist, Ron fixing Dean with a pointed look that promised all kinds of pain and retaliation, but by god…

He began to prance.

In circles.

Mud flew and blades of grass kicked up beneath his feet, the wizard wearing a sour expression the whole time.

Dean shot the two suddenly silent Death Eaters a mildly interested look, as if he'd just discovered a particularly interesting species of beetle. "Any requests? He's a ginger, so I can only assume does a mean river dance."

Broussard sniffed once again, the sound reminiscent of someone fighting a sinus infection. "Clever," he acknowledged, his wand not lowering. "And what of her?"

Dean glanced from Broussard to her, and back. "Her? You mean my new squeeze?" Her lips parted in protest, only for Dean to flick his wand just as casually back at her, "Confoundus," muttered, and the spell-

It was like being slapped in the face with a wave of warm water. When it struck something strange and calming swept over her, a dizzying confusion, only…

It cleared remarkably fast.

"Pesky thing wears off rather quickly when hypothetical comrades in arms remind her it's a spell," Dean was saying, rather conversationally. "Have to re-apply as necessary."

And then Dean tightened his hold and gave her an abrupt tug towards him, Kally thudding against his side rather willingly. Blinking, fighting off the spell's lingering effect, it took her a minute.

It took her a full minute. Rain pattering down, Dean's arm firmly around her, she sucked in breath after breath as she waited for the dizzying haze to abate.

"Like the killing curse. It's about intent." Dean was talking. It sounded like his words were reaching her through a long, long tunnel. "I 'remind' her that Potter broke her heart when the bastard left her alone without any means of defense, and that I was the one to be there for her, and really," he tone dripped with out-of-place arrogance, "she practically tripped over herself to get to me. And believe me, Potter's got good taste. She's one hell of a snog."

Her ears buzzed, Kally's eyes clenching shut tightly as she struggled to stand.

"I mean really, if you don't mean it you can say Avada Kedarva until you're blue in the face, but it won't do shit. The person will just get right back up. Same with confoundus. Have to actually want her for it to work, and really…look at her. How could I not? Face isn't much to look at but that body?" Dean let out a low whistle. "I could have fun with that."

Intent.

Magic was about intent.

All of sudden there was a rush in her ears, of blood and sound and wind.

Dean hadn't put intent behind his spell. He'd made it weak. He'd made it weak intentionally.

Ron wasn't under the imperious curse. Dean hadn't put any will behind it. Ron was still completely and totally in control of his own actions, and Dean was buying them time.

It took a moment for the fog in her mind to clear. She was dimly aware of voices around her talking, while Ron continued to dance in circles. She was vaguely aware that Dean had insulted her, and then-

Kally sucked in a breath and blinked like a recently awoken child, but made no move to protest. She simply stood there as Dean slid his large arms around her. "Besides, what better way to stick it to Potter than to steal his girl?" he was in the middle of saying, the nearest Death Eater chuckling.

Broussard, however, was eyeing them with an unreadable look.

She hadn't the first clue how she was supposed to act when 'confounded', but she settled on eyeing Broussard warily, shifting to get closer to Dean. "Dean…" she questioned, as if his insult was the only thing that presently mattered, "do you seriously think my face is-"

"It's gorgeous, luv," he reassured. "Potter's the one who didn't like it, remember?"

Peering up at him in the rain, she bit down on her lower lip as if momentarily confused. "Oh…right."

"Are you sure we have to bring her back alive?" Broussard growled. "After all, accidents happen."

Kally's head jerked around to eye him in what she hoped was blatant fear.

Dean just shot the wizard a scolding look. "It's okay luv," he reassured, his hand squeezing up and down her side in a way that most certainly would have gotten him punched had Harry been around. "Know you two have history, but big bad Broussard's not going to hurt you while I'm here, is he?" He paused, meaningfully adding, "After all, we have orders."

Broussard made a disappointed sound.

Kally allowed her eyes to shift towards the cloaked man skeptically.

Broussard regarded her with similar skepticism. "So you expect me to believe," he uttered humorlessly, "that you've gotten this little…Muggle-creature-"

"I am not a Muggle."

The bastard pressed on. "-who was impervious to Chang's siren-voice and dared defy our Lord in favor of that pathetic blood-betraying ingrate, to forget all about her precious little boyfriend due to a Confoundus?" The man had not lowered either of his wands, one aimed in her and Dean's general direction, the other tracking Ron's circular dancing.

Currently Weasley had his arms spread way out, zooming around the front lawn in leaping circles like a drunken airplane.

"Seems," Detreck challenged, "too easy."

Dean snorted, as if amused by this, and opened his mouth to reply, but Kally beat him to it.

"Why exactly is it that you're so concerned with my dating life?" She demanded, casting a scathing glare back at Broussard, just like an upset female would if they were truly confounded. "And for your information Potter dumped me. Didn't even have the courtesy to tell me," she muttered woundedly. Her eyes flickered from Broussard to Dean, feigning insecurity. That seemed like the thing to do. "Dean…should I be worried? This thing with you…you're not just…you're not just using me like he was are-"

Dean cut her off, slipping his free hand around to the back of her neck, fingers massaging along her spine as he pulled her tight to his chest. "Shush. He's just jealous doll. Hasn't been laid in far too long. Ya know, on account he's..." The wizard lowered his head down to speak conspiratorially near her ear, stage-whispering as if divulging a secret, "impotent."

Broussard made an annoyed sound, Kally genuinely trying to repress a smile against Dean's robes.

"I don't buy it."

"Buy what you want," Dean bit, "but like it or not I get results. More than I can say for you."

Kally had no idea what her best friend was planning, or how they would escape. This wasn't exactly an ideal situation. Her and Ron were disarmed. They were out in the open. They were obviously questioning Dean's loyalty.

She slid her hand up the front of Dean's chest, fingers curling against the front of his robes, contenting herself to follow his lead for the moment. For now, she pretended to be confounded and utterly enamored with him.

Ron continued to act like an imbecile, solidifying the impression as he leapt into a puddle and sent water splashing up around his 'jigging' feet.

She also couldn't help but notice that the ginger wolf was making his way closer.

In as mad a way as possible.

Fred and George were going to be disturbingly proud if they survived this.

"Fine," Broussard growled, shifting his wand so that the tip sparked, "you expect me to believe this. How exactly did you get the drop on them when the rest of us couldn't?"

He sounded skeptical. Oh so skeptical.

It occurred to her that he was a truly idiotic Death Eater. If Dean were actually telling the truth, his verbiage was bound to clue her in. "Dean," she questioned, narrowing her eyes at one of her least favorite people, "what does he mean by 'got the drop'?"

"Don't worry about it, luv," Dean responded, tone rather calm as he fixed Broussard with a flat look. "What's the matter, Detreck? Mad I found an easier way to round them up?" He thudded his chin on top of her head, Kally shivering from being soaked. "Or mad you didn't think of it first? Because really, if you're jealous about the fringe benefits I'm going to get, if you ask nicely I might be willing to share her. Play pass-the-Reach around the campfire if you really want."

Kally's head shot up, a protesting, angry sound coming out – that not needing to be faked – only she never got the chance to swear at him.

She didn't because Dean Thomas silenced her with his mouth.

And he kissed her.

Hard.


ECOTS


Author's Note: You're welcome Charles. ;)

Thank you to Justin, Nauze and Charles for helping with this chapter when I needed someone to bounce excerpts off of. I appreciate you lot!

Thank you also to readers for your patience and sticking with this. It's been an incredibly busy year on my end due to COVID related things, but now that things are calming down a bit, I'm hoping to be able to get back to semi-regular posting soon. Fingers crossed that the Delta Variant isn't a total asshole.

I've actually gotten quite a few private messages recently that had nothing to do with fanfiction and everything to do with COVID, so figured it would be easiest to answer the most common questions here.

1) No fics are abandoned, I promise. I simply am volunteer EMS and healthcare corps, and my day job is in public health. EMS and the healthcare corps have been called upon a lot this past year to work vaccination sites, ICUs that were understaffed, fill in at hospital COVID wards and Alternate Care Sites, and moonlight in ERs. If you know anyone who works or volunteers in healthcare, please go give them a hug. And a cookie. And an espresso maker. Seriously. They need one.

If you are someone who is genuinely interested in volunteering with the healthcare corps and you are a healthcare professional, feel free to message me and I'm happy to share information about how to join our ranks.

2) Weird question that I got a lot…but yes, I caught COVID this year after being fully vaccinated. I was exposed to and caught one of the mutant variants the vaccines were not fully designed for. However, while I got sick, I'm obviously A-okay. The vaccine definitely helped, even agains those pesky mutants, a lot. Thank you to those who were concerned.

3) Another weird question I got, but I'll answer. Yes, I know people who died from COVID. This was the strangest question I received and I received it multiple times. So yes, I've lost friends, coworkers, and two fire chiefs to COVID this past year. Regrettably, that is the price healthcare workers pay. While I understand the curiosity, I honestly do not want to discuss that. Suffice it to say, it sucks.

4) Last but not least, to any readers who are in healthcare, from the depths of my soul I want to say THANK YOU. Truly, thank you.I have seen you work tirelessly this past year. I have seen the literal rocks thrown at you (and myself) simply for showing up to work at a vaccination clinic. I have seen friends dismiss this virus as minor and nothing significant in conversation, as if they were dropping some 'significant' truth on you, when you've just gotten off a 16 hour shift and spent a chunk of it desperately trying to keep a 28 year old marathon runner on a ventilator alive, in defiance of the 'healthy people don't get sick' stereotype, only to watch them lose their fight alone with no family present. I have seen you quietly slip off to sob in the closet when you couldn't take it anymore, clutching that same N95 mask that you've worn for two weeks straight. I have seen you and been with you as you've scrubbed yourself from head to toe after every shift (hell, in a few cases at ACS's I've held the literal hose), out of abject fear that you would bring the virus home to a vulnerable family member. I've seen your hair literally fall out from the vigorous washing. I've seen people call you cattle. I've seen the hate. I've seen people tell you 'all about that friend they have who is a nurse whose hospital isn't at all affected so it muuuuust be overblown'. I've seen the death. I've seen you take up residence in your basement, sleeping away from your at risk spouse or special needs child, out of fear of getting them sick. I've seen your face when you were notified that yet another friend and coworker has succumbed. I've seen you suck it up sixty seconds later, toss on your scrubs, tie your hair back, put on your overused mask, and head in to start your shift with a fake smile for the patients. I've seen you have to put every fun hobby in your life aside as this virus became all consuming.

I see you, and thank you.

For me, this was volunteer on a part time basis. For others that is something you lived with and dealt with full time on a daily basis, working long and breakless hours. Words cannot express my appreciation for your willingness to walk into danger every day against an enemy we cannot see. So to our healthcare workers this past year….THANK YOU.