A/N: Welcome to the long epilogue of Shadows Within the Light, which was the sequel to Broken Mind, Fractured Soul. You don't need to read the preceding novels to understand this epilogue, but I do recommend it. Otherwise, read with a suspension of disbelief. The personalities of the characters will be similar to canon but with differences that were evolved over the coarse of the two previous stories.
A/N2: This story covers sensitive issues and will be dark in nature. The first chapter, especially, is dark in nature. Be prepared when you read it that there is highly emotional and mildly graphic content. This is rated M for Mature for a reason.
Flying with Tattered Wings
~ Friday, March 2nd 1999 ~
"Get the belt, freak."
The way he said it sent shivers down his back. So calm, so matter-of-fact. Boy whimpered. With trembling hands, mind in chaos, he slunk up the stairs. Hyperventilating, he swung the bedroom door open. Aunt was reading. Her cold eyes never looked up. Shaking, nauseous, Boy went to the closet and grabbed the thickest belt with the heaviest buckle. A whine escaped his throat as phantom agony seared through his back, legs, stomach. He knew exactly what was waiting for him downstairs. He was shaking so hard, he almost couldn't keep a hold of his punishment.
Uncle was waiting. In the kitchen. It was easier to clean tile up than carpet. He was grateful for that at least. He hated to disappoint Aunt when stains didn't come out. As he entered the room, he sank to his knees. Watery blue eyes glared at him from within a face twisted with hatred and anticipation, the two emotions flaring and snaking around his body in a sickening halo of color.
"Get over here, boy."
Sobbing, Boy crawled forward and offered the horrid instrument.
Uncle shoved a wad of socks forward.
He flinched but then obediently opened his mouth. The cloth would muffle his screams.
Wouldn't want the neighbors to hear, he sneered mentally. Couldn't let them know there was a freak in the house. And he wasn't referring to himself.
All his other thoughts were downed out by bone-deep terror. He curled over his knees, arching his back and presenting a target. The belt whistled as it came down. He moaned miserably as it struck his flesh. The pain lit up his mind with lightning. He closed his eyes tight, grunting with each blow. Every lash pushed him closer to the edge of no return. H was shaking so hard now, his body threatening to fly apart at the seams.
The buckle viciously slammed into his temple. He cried out weakly and toppled limply to the blood-soaked tile. Unconsciousness teased and flirted, just out of reach. He was screaming now, but he was too weak to make it carry far. The neighbors would remain undisturbed.
"… no… please…" he begged on a sob.
The belt slithered to the ground. Relief almost brought the blessed darkness within reach. He looked up through swollen eyes. Uncle had a knife.
"I'll cut the filth from you…"
Boy gasped. His shaking hands coming up in supplication. The knife cut his palms. Slashed down at his chest. His back spasmed painfully as he was pressed onto the open wounds by a hard shoe.
"Scream for me, freak…"
Uncle laughed, evil drenching him, pouring out and tainting everything in the room. Especially his victim.
Boy screamed. He arched and writhed as his skin was impaled again and again, his red blood pried from concealment. Sweat stung the cuts. Fear rattled his teeth and blurred the scene… the pain… until everything ran together. He was lost… lost…
"Fix yourself and clean this mess."
He lay panting. Blind. Dumb. Lost in the suffering. Slowly… so slowly… the White magic responded to his heartfelt plea that his body be restored, that everything broken be healed. The pain was pressed out… his body returned to him… and the rage came boiling up from his stomach. His back arched as his fingers clawed at the slick tile. Hate them… hate them so much!
The fury ruled him so completely, he couldn't think, could hardly breathe. It was too much and he passed out.
Sunlight woke him. Aunt was standing above him. She was disgusted. There was blood everywhere. He rolled over and stiffly moved to the sink. Underneath were the cleaning supplies she needed. She got the rags, the bleach, and felt satisfaction from Aunt. This made her smile. Yes, she could be good.
Love me… please love me… Don't hurt me anymore…
A wave of self-disgust washed over her, clung like slime. They would never love her. She knew that. It was proved again and again, written in blood and black hate. She hadn't known she was capable of such bravery, but she turned defiantly and met her Aunt's steely gaze. It sent her heart racing and a tremulous sense of power shimmering through her veins.
Aunt sneered, but couldn't hold his eyes. She turned away and began making breakfast.
Coward, he accused her silently.
He stood there and stared for a moment longer before looking down at the rag in his hand, the pail by his feet. He dropped the rag and marched out of the room. He wasn't going to clean up after Uncle this time. He stormed to his cupboard and pulled on the hand-me-downs he'd been given to wear. Panic swirled in his gut. He'd be punished for this for sure. Shaking his head, he pushed forward and opened the front door.
The warm sunlight hit his face, spilled over his shoulders. He laughed as he ran away from Privet Drive. He ran until, trembling, he fell to his knees. He rolled off the sidewalk. Grass cradled his body. Closing his eyes, he let the sun warm the ice in his marrow. It felt so good.
He lifted his hands and blocked the sun. It streamed through his fingers. He imagined it was reaching for him. It was sad he was trying to push it away. It loved him. His hand fell, and he was immediately pulled into a warm embrace. Tears spilled. He tried to ignore them, tried to stay in this rare moment, but he couldn't stop it. Sobs wracked his frame.
Draco watched silently as Shadow panted and sweated, his anorexic body rigid under his blankets. It took hours before his love went limp, his eyes stilling behind bruised lids. The nightmare was over. Draco took up the cloth by the bed and gently washed Shadow's face clean. When he was sure Shadow was resting peacefully, he rose smoothly and silently left the room.
The house was quiet. He could hear Omi in the kitchen, pans clanking quietly. Severus was underground, consumed with his potions. They had no visitors at the moment, so there was no one to see him slip silently out the front door or the feverish glint in his eyes.
Draco strode down the gentle hill and was soon embraced by sparse woods that surrounded the house. The sky was moonless yet he could see clearly. Not as you would in the day. It was a strangely flat and colorless rendition while the slightest motion lit up his vision. He was hungry. Sharp pains gripped his insides, and soon instincts would seep through his mind until what was looking out from behind his eyes was barely human.
Severus' potion helped tame his urges but could not suppress them completely. There was still no cure for vampirism. Not fully monster, not fully human, Draco maintained a very delicate balance. It wore on him, exhausted him, and he would have long ago given up the tightrope walk his life had become if it wasn't for Shadow.
"He sleeps still?"
Draco nodded his head once. The hunger was too strong to form human words.
"Winter is fading," Neville remarked as he moved to walk alongside the blond.
Grey eyes flashed to the left. The ex-Gryffindor had grown despite spending most of his time with his mind deep in the Earth. He stood at an even six feet, his shoulders broad, his muscles defined. His brown hair was long, coming to the middle of his back. His feet were bare. Draco had brought Neville the thin, baggy sweater and slacks he wore. They were beginning to look tattered. He'd have to bring more soon. As was his custom now, he avoided the brunet's dark brown eyes. Neville had the eyes of a monk; a holy man who'd seen something beyond the reality most were limited to experience.
"Your hunger is strong."
For Neville to notice, Draco knew he was closer to the edge than he'd realized. Shadow had been having a hard week, his dreams restless and disturbing. He hated to leave him in such a state, so he'd stayed in for six consecutive nights. Now he'd need more than his usual round with the whores in town to tame his bloodlust.
"Take my hand."
Draco didn't hesitate. Neville rarely offered assistance, but whenever he did, it was always worth it.
As their hands connected, Draco felt a strange sensation - a mix between Apparation and a portkey - before his feet hit the ground in a little park. Dum beats vibrated through his body to the symphony of human shouts. He'd been brought to a carnival; he'd guess in Italy from the feel of the spicy air.
Smirking, his senses kicking into overdrive Draco moved sensually into the crowd. Within minutes, he had a young man on one arm and a topless female on the other. Beads clinked around their necks and alcohol seeped from their pores. Sensual words poured from their mouths. Draco smiled, his eyes glowing, mesmerizing them. They melted into his embrace as he pulled them into a narrow alley.
The young man laughed as he was spun face-first against the wall. The woman gasped as his long fingers slipped inside her heat. With his free hand, Draco quickly prepared the boy. Soon the two were moaning and writhing, held up solely by Draco's inhuman strength. Their cries grew louder, quicker.
Draco buried his face in the girl's hair. He panted, his mouth wide open. Fangs descended from his upper gum. It took every ounce of control to keep from biting. He focused on his impending orgasm. Narrowed his whole world to the sensations of his physical body. Growling, he tipped over the edge and flung his head back to be certain he would not break his prey's fragile skin.
He released the boy and slammed into the woman, making her cries rise in decibel. He raced toward a second release, needing it to keep his sanity. Her body folded around his, her legs wrapping high around his waist. He reveled in her. Felt the rise and fall of her chest as her full breasts pillowed against his chest. Her sweat, her need, her juices flowing from her body, coating his own. He came with a bestial cry. Each completion loosened the grip the hunger held on him.
Like the boy, her knees gave out and she rested, dazed against the alley wall. Draco smoothed their hair in a gesture of gratitude before closing his pants and reentering the crowd. He surveyed the hundreds of inebriated humans dancing, twirling, singing around him, searching for the next willing body.
Back in England, Hermione stared into a full length mirror on the back of her door. She didn't see herself. She saw the room behind her, instead. The end of her twin bed with rumpled covers. Books that sat on the floor, on the corner of her desk, on a shelf above the bed. A shirt carelessly discarded. A pair of pants draped over the back of the chair. There was no window, no light except from the bare sixty-watt bulb above her head.
It was a perfectly Muggle dorm room at a perfectly Muggle University. There was no wand, or quills, or parchment. She'd left that behind long ago. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like magic was willing to grant her the same favor. Hermione's eyes slid to the reflection of her hand. A thick envelope with a wax seal could be seen.
The letters had come often at first, but as the years passed, they stopped coming. She'd almost had the past locked completely away when this one had come today. Then it had all come crashing back. Like it was yesterday, pain gripped her chest. A hot burning anger clawed at her sides, guilt seared through her stomach, and heart-wrenching grief shattered her heart.
She hated them for sending the blasted letter. Hated herself.
Why hadn't she thrown it away? She could turn around to her desk and burn it. But instead she stood there and looked at its reflection in the mirror, as if looking at it without an intermediary would strike her dead. The memory of second year at Hogwarts almost brought her to her knees. Tears scorched her cheeks and her mouth twisted in an ugly grimace. Her fist balled the torturous envelope, but still her fingers clung to the thick paper. Some masochistic urge had her tearing it open and unfolding the letter.
On the anniversary of the War's End, we are hosting the third Remembrance memorial for those who were lost. We would like you to attend and perhaps say a few words in remembrance of Ronald.
- Mrs. Molly Weasley
The letter fell from her limp hand as Hermione crumbled to her knees and sobbed.
~ Saturday, March 3rd 1999 ~
Severus felt grasped by a torturous hand every time he laid eyes upon his fragile son. Ever so gently, he carefully wiped the freshly fallen tears from Shadow's cheeks. It killed him. This waiting and watching. He needed to cure his child, to save him, but Severus was incapable of these things no matter how hard he pushed for an answer.
"You usually give him a calming potion by now," Draco muttered sleepily. The sun was still up, so it was amazing he was awake at all. It revealed the extent of his anxiety.
"I have come to believe he must face whatever he is enduring if we ever hope to have him awaken."
Draco moved further into the room. His limbs were heavy, his gait languid.
Severus eyed him carefully. "Have you eaten?"
"I am not hungry." With a soft sigh, he sat on the edge of the bed. His hand lay limp beside his love's thin arm. "He's suffering."
Severus said nothing to that. It was true. But plying Shadow with calming potions when he'd shown signs of distress hadn't produced any improvement. His dark eyes lifted to observe Draco's profile. Shadow wasn't the only one suffering. "Sleep with him. He rests better when you are near." It wasn't true, nothing outside reached his son's consciousness, but he knew it made Draco feel better to believe it.
The blond nodded and tipped forward. His dark-circled eyes shut before his head rested on the pillow.
Severus left quietly, giving Draco privacy. A few moments later, he found himself in the dining room. It was strange. For the past few years, he usually took his meals in the lab, but he'd reached the point where he could admit to himself that his efforts were in vain.
As soon as he sat in a chair, Omi appeared. "What may I get you, Master?" Even the elf's exuberance was slightly dulled.
It was late afternoon, so dinner would have been appropriate, but Severus wasn't in the mood for something that elaborate. He sat silently as the minutes passed. His mind was still, his spirit exhausted. Eventually a plate appeared before him. Tomatoes, eggs with onions, fried potatoes, toast… There was no meat. Meat aggravated Draco's condition. He couldn't stand it in inside the house, his sanctuary. Severus had become vegetarian with Draco as a consequence.
"Severus!" Marissa shouted as she came running into the room. Her face was lit with a bright smile and her copper curls bounced around her angelic face. The little girl stopped within reach and bowed. She was well accustomed to Severus' disdain for hugs.
"And how is the little lady?" he asked seriously.
"Up to no good," Sirius answered for her as he strode into the room. He smiled lovingly at his adopted daughter before his attention shifted to the Potions Master. "How's Shadow?"
"Can I go see him?" Marissa asked. "I want to read him the new story Papa bought me."
"When the sun sets," Severus answered. "Draco is sleeping with him now."
"Really? Can I got sleep with him, too?" She adored Draco despite the way he'd pulled away from her. "I haven't thanked him for my birthday present yet."
"You shouldn't have opened it as of yet. It is only Saturday, I believe," Severus drawled, an eyebrow raised at the man across from him. They didn't know Marissa's true birthday, so they had decided to celebrate it on the day of her adoption, which so happened to be March 6th, two days after the final battle had occurred.
"She pestered me for days!" Sirius protested. "Draco shouldn't have sent it to her so early!"
"Can I go?" the little girl asked again, bouncing in her seat.
"Let them rest," Severus denied. "Are you hungry?"
Marissa pouted and turned her begging eyes to her father.
Sirius winced but held his ground under Severus' watchful dark gaze. "Have something to eat, pumpkin."
"Fine." She huffed and called loudly, "Omi!"
The elf appeared instantly. "Yes, little madam?"
"Can I have some peaches and cream-sauce?"
"Right away, madam," he answered before disappearing again.
"Have you heard about Teddy's escapades?"
Marissa giggled. "He turned himself all red and goes around hissing at people! It's so funny! He won't turn back no matter what Uncle Remus or Auntie Tonks tells him."
"I wonder where he got the idea." Sirius narrowed his eyes at his daughter.
"I just told him what an imp was. It's not my fault you keep calling him that!" Marissa protested.
"This has been going on for almost two weeks. We can't take him into public!" Sirius exclaimed to a bemused Severus.
"Terrible twos holding up to their reputation?"
"Shuddup, Snape." Sirius sighed dramatically. "You really have no idea how exhausting that kid can be."
Marissa giggled, but she quickly smiled innocently when her father mock glared at her.
Severus chuckled. "Are you sure you're not having more trouble with the six-year-old?"
"Hey! I'm seven!" she protested hotly from around her mouthful of peaches.
"Not until Tuesday," Severus corrected and smirked when she glared at him in response.
"How are your potions going?" Sirius asked seriously. His eyes darkened in worry when Severus merely shook his head in answer. "That bad?"
"I have come to the conclusion that Shadow's condition is too specific and delicate. It does not help that I am uncertain as to what exactly ails him."
"So you're giving up?" Sirius quickly amended his statement when he sat the other man flinch. "Not that I blame you. You've tried everything."
"Shadow's never going to get better?" Marissa asked anxiously. Her eyes jumped back and forth between the two men, her treat forgotten completely. "Can't you fix him, Sev'rus?"
"I cannot," he raised his hand when she looked on the verge of tears, "but that is not to say he will never awaken. I believe it is something that he must do on his own. We can only wait for him."
"I think it's dark by now," Sirius interrupted cheerfully. "Why don't you go up and see Draco. Don't forget to thank him for your birthday gift."
Marissa looked like she might argue, but in the end she nodded and raced from the room.
"Are we still having the party here?" Sirius asked carefully. Severus and Draco had always looked worn down, but this was the worst he'd seen Severus in a long time. The man's hair hung in heavy, greasy locks, his skin was paler than ever, untouched by the sun, and depression sat heavily on his shoulders.
"Yes, of course. Omi is looking forward to it. As is Draco, I believe," Severus answered tiredly.
"Maybe you should get some rest…"
"I am fine."
The silence stretched until the sound of Marissa's laughter drifted down the stairs.
"Perhaps I shall take a small nap," Severus relented. The silence was so hard to deal with, but perhaps with people moving about he'd actually get some sleep. "I'm sure you wish to see Shadow, as well."
Sirius offered his once-enemy an understanding smile before rising and running up the stairs, taking them two at a time. "You better not be annoying, Draco, you little monster!"
Luna drifted through Hogwarts. Her hips swayed as her hands weaved a slow pattern in the air around her. Her thigh-length, dirty blonde hair floated around her body. The setting sun painted the stone corridor in colors of orange and gold. She laughed, and stepping up on her toes, she did a twirl. Spring scented the air; the cold was losing its claws and teeth. She stopped at a window and looked outside over the Forbidden Forest. Her delighted smile softened as she saw a shadowy figure move under the mysterious canopy.
Child of Earth… she thought dreamily, but then her mind cleared a bit. I miss Neville.
"I miss him, too."
Luna turned to see Ginny. Her glorious red hair was cut severely short in a military style. Her eyes were hard, and her mouth no longer gave easily to smiles or laughter. They were sad changes.
"Have you heard from him?"
"Not directly," Luna answered. She moved away from the window, offering the view to the other girl. "I see him in the shadows sometimes."
"Shadows…" Ginny stepped forward and gripped the stone window sill with tense hands. "Have you heard from him, then? Or Hermione?"
"They occupy a space to dark to reach them, but don't worry, Ginny. Spring is coming."
Ginny shook her head and crossed her arms. "They abandoned us. They won't come again no matter how many springs come and go."
"They didn't abandon us…" Luna reached out for the girl who used to be a Fire Child. Now Ginny held only embers in her heart.
"Don't defend them. Shadow said from the beginning he was done with this world once the war was over. I can forgive him. He at least took his family with him. But Hermione… No."
"They are trusting us to carry on, to be ready for them when they recover and come home." Luna grabbed her hand. "Did you pass?"
"By the skin of my teeth, but I got in. I'm going to be training as an Auror come August."
There was a moment of comfortable silence. The girls stood shoulder-to-shoulder, connected by their mutual grip on one another.
"Thanks, Luna," Ginny said softly, eyes forward on the outside scene. "After the war, the last thing people wanted to do was study more combat and practice dueling. They were so eager to push all that far, far away, but you always helped me." Shaking her head, she gave a wry laugh. "Can you believe we graduate in just over two months?"
Luna flashed a grin. "It will be a grand adventure."
"Are you coming with me to the Burrow tomorrow?"
"Remembrance Day wouldn't be the same without friends." Luna looked up into the taller girl's eyes. "Shall I bring a Hornblast to your mother? I'm sure I could find one around here somewhere…"
"There's no such thing," Ginny dismissed, although she didn't know why she continued to bother. Luna was Luna. She wasn't going to change. Sometimes that was annoying, but sometimes it was comforting. "I have to go. Halls to patrol."
Luna waved happily as the Gryffindor walked away. When she was alone again, she turned her attention back to the window. She waited patiently until the last sliver of light leaked from the wide open skies. She leaned far out over the sill, bringing her mouth closer to the oak that stood in the garden below.
"Come find me at the equinox. I have something to show you. Something important, Neville dear. Don't forget."
With that said, she blew a kiss goodbye and disappeared deeper into the school with a skip in her step.
A/N: I know it's short, but I wanted to get the ball rolling. Let me know what you think.