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if the storm ends

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i. gold hair and lightning

June. Midnight. The cool breeze is a welcome respite from the stifling city air.

In front of you, Godric sleeps: his cloak bundled into a makeshift pillow, his back against the wall, his blond hair spread around his head like a halo. He looks peaceful, like the children you see sometimes through windows, sleeping in their beds.

You should go to sleep.

You come to realize, slowly, slowly, that you could stay here forever.

It scares you.

You get up, pace back and forth—back and forth—back and forth.

It scares you, this: not being in control. It scares you: Godric could say, come with me, and you'd drop everything and follow him.

You can't let anyone have so much power over you.

Godric's asleep; he won't wake up for hours. By then you'll be long gone. It's not as though you matter to him, in any way. He stays because—you don't know. You could find out. You could find out so, so easily. Something stops you, something you can't quite formulate into a thought.

You've made your decision long before you manage to justify it to yourself.

You do the only thing you can: you run.

By dawn, you're far away.

It would probably be a good idea to leave London, but somehow you can't bring yourself to. Maybe you shouldn't be so surprised when Godric finds you again. It's a few hours later and the sun sets in front of you but there's Godric, eclipsing it all.

"Why did you come?" you ask.

"I don't know," Godric says, but he flushes red: he is a terrible liar. He doesn't say anything else.

He doesn't ask why you left.

But he doesn't ask you to stay.

Chapter Text

ii. the silver forked sky

"What will you do," you ask, "after?"

"Go home," he says. "To my uncle. My aunt."

Back to this life of mine, he doesn't say.

Somewhere you can't follow, you hear instead.

"What about you?" Godric asks.

"The same, I suppose," you say, and maybe there's a note of bitterness in your voice, a twist of your lips—you don't know what gives you away but even Godric sees.

"Is that what you want?" he asks.

A pause.

"What do you want, then?"

And you look at him and you think: do not leave me. But you cannot go with him; his life is not for you.

"I want to get out of here," you say, instead.

"Of London?"

"No. Out of this life."

He agrees, of course. You don't know why you expected any differently. And he makes his arrangements and he talks to his people and he tells you, I'll have something set up for you soon but all you want to hear is, I can't do that; please come with me.

You never do.

---

Lightning. Rain pours down from the skies but you're sheltered, tucked away into a corner—pressed into each other—hidden.

Next to you Godric is warm. His head again on your shoulder is a comforting weight. And you don't need to move closer; you don't need to press yourself against him but you do and you tell yourself that it is to escape the rain.

And almost immediately, you flinch back. You'll be leaving soon.

"Sal?" Godric murmurs, sleepily.

"Yeah?"

"Don't go."

"I'm right here."

"I don't want you to go," he says, awake.

You don't say anything.

"Come with me," Godric says, and it should be everything you've been waiting for and more but it isn't. It isn't enough.

And Godric looks at you with that expression on his face and he meets your eyes and you want, so, so desperately, to know that what he thinks but you can't bring yourself to look.

You turn away.

You open your mouth, as though there's something you want to say—too many things; there are a hundred languages in the world and none of them are enough

"I can't," you say instead.

A pause.

"So this is goodbye, then," Godric says.

"Yes."

You are at a loss for words.

"Goodbye," you say.

Don't go, you think.

And before you can regret it, you walk away.

Chapter Text

iii. the planet's last dance

Salazar

You've been on the road for months, now, never stopping for longer than a few days in one place. It's not that you don't like this—seeing things, meeting people—but something inside you longs to stop, longs to have someplace to call home.

But Godric drags you from place to place and you think, maybe, maybe, one day, he'll look at you and say to you: here; this is where we stop; this is where we stay.

You know he never will leave this life; his home is on the road and he's never been observant, not like you are.

Daybreak. You haven't stopped travelling through the night in hopes of reaching a town and an inn but there's been nothing.

"Where are going now?" you ask.

Godric shrugs.

"Onwards, I guess," he says.

You try your very best not to grit your teeth.

Onwards. God knows when you'll stop.

Another day. Another town. Another group of faceless people, their features and clothing and mannerisms blending into one another and yet so, so clearly burned into your memory.

Godric talks to a group clustered around the well, laughing loudly and boisterously.

Jealousy—hurt—bubbles up inside you but you push it down, turn away and walk to the edge of town where the forest meets cobblestone streets. But once you're here, you can't stay so close to town. You keep walking, just off the side of the road.

You recite spells in your head as you walk, potions recipes and old texts.

By the time you manage to pull yourself out of your head, the sun is setting and you're far away enough that you don't know your surroundings.

You take a deep breath, only now recognizing the hunger in your stomach.

You sigh. Time to go back.

But before you have time to turn around, a flicker of flame in the distance catches your eye. Travellers, maybe? Your curiosity roused, you cannot turn back.

They're not travellers. They're bandits.

You're turning to head back when—snap

Behind you a branch cracks and you've whipped around, wand in one hand, the other reaching for a knife but it's only Godric.

"Bandits," you say, gesturing to the campfire.

He nods, hand creeping towards his sword.

You shake your head.

Godric looks at you, nods. And wordlessly, you head back, towards the town.

The townspeople aren't particularly happy that you've called a meeting—it's the middle of the night and you're strangers at that, too!—but at the word bandits, they're awake.

They make plans—escape routes and hiding places and weapons and people—and all the while, Godric's face grows stonier and stonier.

"You should leave," the leader of the village says. "It'll be dangerous."

You're not welcome here, he doesn't say.

You acquiesce (after all, this isn't your village; this isn't your problem) but when you turn around, Godric's hands are clenched and he's unhappy.

"Leave it to them," you say. "They don't want us here."

Godric nods, sharply, and you think (hope) that he understands what you mean, that he'll leave with you. You head in the opposite direction of the bandits. Godric doesn't talk to you that day but that's fine (you tell yourself). It's been a long day; neither of you have slept for a few days now. (he's just tired)

It's only much later, when Godric goes missing in the middle of the night (and you curse, why didn't you see this coming?) and he's gone back to the village (of course he has) and half the buildings are on fire and you can't find Godric that you realize: he will never do as you wish, only what he wants. You will always be second place.

The town's empty now, everybody (bandits and villagers alike) having fled.

You finally find Godric. Only—you almost wish you hadn't.

"What are you doing?" you yell.

From inside the burning barn come screams.

Godric runs. Straight into the fucking barn. That's on fire.

You look around and when you see no one there, you pull out your wand, spell on your lips. It doesn't take long for the fire to be put out.

Godric comes out, two kids in his arms, completely drenched.

You glare at him.

You resolve not to talk to him. Not for a few hours, at least.

---

Godric

When Salazar finally decides to talk to Godric, it's two days later and they're far far away from the town.

"You are," Salazar says, "a complete and utter fool."

"I just might be," Godric says. He knows he will never be like Sal—will never be as quick, never as observant, but he's long accepted that.

"A burning building," Salazar says, "and you run into it. Completely forgetting that you are a wizard with a wand."

A pause. There's something else he doesn't say. You can't figure out what.

"Do you even," Salazar says, gesturing wildly, "use your brain?"

Godric opens his mouth, closes it. Then opens it again.

"I just thought," Godric says, "that I needed to rescue them."

Salazar looks at him.

"You just have to, don't you," Salazar says, flatly.

Godric doesn't say anything.

"How long will it take you," Salazar says, "to accept that you cannot save everyone?"

"Well I did," Godric says, stubbornly.

He will not accept that Salazar has a point; he knows it is childish—dangerous—to believe in his own invincibility.

Salazar shakes his head.

"Godric," he says, "never do that again."

'That' does not refer to running into a burning building; 'that' refers to something else and Godric can't fucking figure it out.

"I can't promise you that," he says, instead.

"I'll make you."

"You couldn't."

"I'll come up with something," Salazar snaps. "Tie you to a tree or stun you."

"Salazar," Godric says, "you couldn't."

"This is stupid," Salazar says. "I can't watch you tear yourself apart over your past actions; I can't watch you near kill yourself trying to atone for them. You can't. The dead are dead and nothing will bring them back. Accept this."

Godric hears it now: they are dead but I am not.

"I can't," Godric says. "I can't."

He knows full well what he's saying, for once: I cannot go with you.

Salazar looks at him, silver eyes bright.

"And neither can I," he says, with all the weight of an executioner's axe.

In all Godric's years, he had never thought they would be parted like this.

"So this is goodbye, then," Godric says.

"Yes," Salazar says. "This is goodbye."

Then Salazar turns and leaves, walking away from Godric.

Wait, Godric wants to say. Don't leave. I'll change.

But that would be a lie.

Chapter Text

iv. a distant echo

Godric

"Professor!"

The head boy—William—runs into your office. (Is it already morning? You hadn't noticed.)

"Professor Gryffindor!" he says, panting. "Professor Slytherin's gone."

Your cup slips. Falls onto the floor. Spills.

You nod, numbly.

William leaves. The door closes. Thud.

You sit.

You wish—

Earlier

"All things considered," Rowena says, "I would call this a success."

Helga snorts.

"We had to invent a whole new branch of magic," she says. "The outer defences are a patchwork of spells and hastily covered holes. We built an entire castle without knowing how. And somehow that worked. Of course this is a success."

You look up to your greatest achievement, silhouetted against the dusk: towers stretching towards the sky, spiraling staircases and hidden rooms and thick sturdy walls of stone circled with layer upon layer of protective wards, so dense that if you tried to unravel them, you just might pull out a wrong piece and break it all.

Alright, so that might have been an issue and not a perk but it's not as though anyone's ever accomplished such a feat before: hiding not a person, not a cart, but an entire castle and its surroundings. You don't know how you've managed to do it but you're definitely impressed.

Never mind how dangerous the surrounding forest turned out. It isn't as though any of you knew that this much magic would attract so many magical creatures.

"Now for a toast," Rowena says. A pause. "Before I met you, the three of you, a magical school was nothing but a passing thought. A place where witches and wizards could learn magic in safety, where they didn't need to fear persecution or death, it was nothing but a wish—a hope—a dream. Now it's become reality. I couldn't have done it without you. All of you."

"Here's to us," you say, raising your goblet.

"To us," Rowena says, sipping at her vodka.

"To us," Helga says, already on her seventh cup.

"To us," Salazar says, drinking his water.

He smiles at you, softly, softly, haloed by the setting sun. You smile at him, move closer until your arms are wrapped around his waist and his head leans on your shoulder.

Rowena rolls her eyes at you but she moves closer to Helga, holding her in her lap.

"At least now," you say, "our students will have a roof over their heads."

"That isn't a badly constructed tent, you mean," Salazar says with a glint in his eyes.

"Shut up," you mumble, but your face heats up (it's the alcohol, you tell yourself) and you're smiling.

"At least now," Helga echoes, grinning mischievously, "you two will finally have a door to lock."

You nearly choke on your drink.

"Helga!" you exclaim, and throw the nearest thing you can find (a stick) at her.

Rowena tsks at you.

"How could you do such a thing," she says, mockingly.

Next to you, Salazar has stopped trying to hold back his laughter.

You throw a stick at Rowena too.

---

Later

Salazar's using you as a pillow again.

His hair spreads across your bed and his head's cushioned against your chest and his face is unguarded, nose scrunched up. You don't think you've ever seen him look this adorable before—this young.

You should get up but you don't. There are no morning classes, anyways, and the sun's shining through the windows and you're warm and you're happy.

You drift back off to sleep.

When you wake up again, it's to the sense that something is wrong. Salazar is still sleeping, though it's past noon. It's only when your hair drapes over your shoulder that you see—it's blue. Striking navy blue.

You stand there, in front of the mirror for half an hour muttering counterspells and swearing at Rowena before Salazar stumbles out of bed.

"Morning," he mumbles, eyes still not open yet.

You yank a hat over your head, shoving all your hair under it.

"Morning," you say.

Salazar shuffles towards you, awkwardly, and you move to hug him. He doesn't protest.

The door slams open, nearly falling off its hinges.

"You're awake," Rowena says, eyes flicking to your hat. "Good."

Salazar says something but it's muffled by the fact that his face is buried in the crook of your neck.

"We're leaving in ten minutes," Rowena says.

"I thought we said two hours past noon," you say.

"We did," Rowena says.

You manage to somehow extricate yourself from Salazar's grasp—though you don't particularly want to—and get dressed. It's not until you're on the road that you realize: your hair is still blue.

"Rowena," you say, "turn my hair back."

"No," she says, deadpan.

You sigh and pull your hat lower.

Salazar casts a curious look at you but doesn't mention anything.

When you get to the town—several apparition jumps and some walking later—there's a commotion on the edge of town. A group of people are clustered around a building, loudly arguing, and further into town, there's louder shouting.

"Excuse me," you say, approaching the villagers. "Good afternoon."

They turn, as one, to glare at you.

"What do you want?" one asks.

"We're travellers," Salazar says, coming up to stand next to you. "We're hoping to buy some supplies for our travels. Would you know—"

"There'll be nothing left," the one on the right says. "They took everything."

"Bought," the one next to him says, "and they're missionaries spreading the gospel, not an odd riff raff of hooligans for you to talk about like that."

"They're murderers," the first spits.

You've just about had enough.

"Can you point us to the nearest merchant, then?" you say.

The second grudgingly gives you directions. You walk away first, leaving the villagers to go back to their arguing, without waiting for the others to follow.

Salazar grabs your arm.

"What they were saying could be important."

"Religious zealots," you say. "Probably trying to convert the town."

"Good to see you using your brain for once," Rowena says. "Unfortunately, you're wrong."

Rowena points to a black robed man—you almost mistake him for a monk, at first, but then you see that he's—with his sword, plain hilt hanging at the side of his hip. And around his neck hangs a pendant: dark wood and gold filigree.

Witchhunter.

"If they're here," Salazar says. "If they're here, at least we know we're in the right place."

There's no pyre burning just yet but time's running short and you can't breathe from the urgency.

You forget all about your still blue hair until Rowena mutters something under her breath and tells you that you can take off your hat now. You look at Salazar for confirmation (the last thing you want is the witchhunter catching one of you) and he nods.

The lightheartedness of the morning has dissipated.

Helga's jaw is clenched.

"Are you alright?" you ask, leaning towards her.

She nods, stiffly.

You squeeze her shoulder in a way you hope is reassuring. She gives you a small smile.

You split up, the four of you, each taking a piece of the town. It's not all that large but you can't just go and ask: are you, by any chance, a witch?

It's sheer luck that leads you to the house before the witchhunters come.

You manage to save the boy (John; he's young, not quite fifteen). You don't save his sisters.

Their screams echo in your ears long after you've returned to Hogwarts.

---

And then. And then.

You're buried in a pile of blankets, the fire in your hearth burning steadily, Salazar wrapped around you like moss on a tree.

You're content to stay here for a while, Salazar sleeping so peacefully. But you just can't have peace.

The head boy—Edward—knocks on your door, hard enough that you think he must have a battering ram.

You unlock the door with a wave of your wand.

Edward bursts in, yells, "we're under attack!"

You jump out of bed. Salazar is up in an instant, dressing himself with a few incantations.

"Where," he demands.

You reach for your sword.

---

Your sword in your right hand, your wand in your left: it's not an unfamiliar feeling—you've been on dozens of battlefields—but you look around you and this is wrong.

(how did it come to this; where did you go wrong; this was meant to be safe this was meant to be somewhere you could escape them somewhere the children wouldn't have to live in fear)

You're standing on top of the castle wall, Salazar to your right, Rowena to your left, Helga on Rowena's other side, and in front of you there's a horde of people.

(maybe a hundred, poorly armed with pitchforks and shovels and torches—farming equipment—only at the very front there's a witchhunter holding the pendant between his fingers and there won't be just one of them; there'll be more coming soon unless—you could still confuse newcomers but you can't get the ones that are already here out, not when they're right in front of your walls)

"We can take them," you say, confidently. No need to share your worries just yet.

"I won't have the children seeing bloodshed," Helga says.

The children are in the Great Hall, barricaded in—safe—and you try to convince yourself that everything will be alright.

The witchhunter has gotten tired of waiting.

He starts, as witchhunters generally do: listing your supposed sins, launching into a tirade about redemption, and finally, ending with your sentence—death.

Only—at the front of the crowd is a young boy, not quite fifteen. You recognize him. John. The new arrival. His sisters burned. And so did, you are certain, his parents. And he's standing right next to the witchhunter and you just know that he's the one that led them past the wards, led them straight to the school.

You hold onto the hope that maybe, maybe, they'll leave peacefully but it's foolish.

They bring out a battering ram (where did they hide that?) and swing. The spell leaves your wand before you're even aware that you've thought it. The battering ram bursts into flames, and the people holding it leap back.

A volley of arrows. It's not difficult to turn them into something harmless.

You won't sit around and wait for a siege, though, so you jump, straight into the fray. It's not hard to drive the farmers away, not with Rowena and Salazar covering you and Helga from on top of the castle walls.

But just as you think: it's over, finally, and without much of a fuss, a new group of knights charge forward, yelling. They're witchhunters, proper ones: armed with swords and axes and shields and armor. There's no way you'll be able to fight all of them.

You turn to Helga, ready to return to the walls when the front door creaks open. Edward walks out, wand in his hand, and he yells, "I'm going to fight."

You don't have the opportunity to yell at him to go back—to shut the fucking door—before an arrow sprouts from his throat, and he drops to the ground: dead.

And after that it's a flood that you can't control.

You don't remember much, just snippets.

Dead bodies strewn before you—your hands slick with blood—flashes of light.

And Salazar's beside you, spells firing.

There's a child on the ground, unmoving. She's. One of yours.

A hoarse yell. The clash of metal against metal. Someone's screaming. Footsteps. Another dead body. A flash of green. Fire. Lightning. Red.

And you're collapsed against the ground, blood seeping out of a cut on your left side, an arrow sticking out of your left thigh, and your hair damp with sweat and sticky. Salazar sits next to you, head against your shoulder, unmoving and you're scared (enough to grab him, shake him to make sure he's alive).

"Stop that," he snaps, but it's half hearted. "I'm fine."

There's a kid in front of you now (one of yours).

No. Not one of yours. Not anymore.

You stagger to your feet.

"John," you say, weary. "What are you doing?"

"This is wrong," he says, panicked, breathing hard, eyes glassy. "I shouldn't—I'm—"

"Is this what you wanted?" you ask. "All this death?"

"Yes!" he says, but he doesn't look at you. "You're all going to hell. We're just—"

You stun him, before Salazar can do something worse, and you bring him back into the school. You can feel the weight of Salazar's gaze on your back. You can feel his judgement.

Inside the school, it's a mess. The younger children are crying, the older ones injured or dead or crying, staring blankly in front of them. You comfort them as best as you can. It wasn't supposed to come to this. They were supposed to grow up without needing to fear for their lives. They weren't supposed to die for your school.

Distantly, you're aware that Salazar is handing out potions, Helga is whispering words of comfort, and Rowena is muttering charms under her breath. You're aware of the puddles of red on the floor and white bandages and multicoloured spells.

But on a more visceral level, you're not here. You're blanking out, somewhere between here and not. Waves of sound wash over you, a dull buzzing in your ears. The torchlight is too bright.

Salazar walks over to you, takes your hands in his.

He kisses you and it's a slow drift back to reality. But there's still something wrong and you can't pin it down.

"Better?" he asks.

"Yes."

---

It's a long few days until everything resumes a normal routine—at least, as normal as things can be now. John is locked up in an empty classroom. He hasn't talked to anyone since the battle.

"We need to decide what to do with him," Rowena says.

The four of you are seated in a circle, slumped against chairs.

"We ought to kill him," Salazar says.

"No," you say, vehemently.

"What would you do, then?"

"Drop him off somewhere far away," you say.

"What, so he can come back, try again?"

"He won't."

"You know he will."

"I won't kill an innocent child."

"He's hardly innocent," Salazar says. "How many people died, Godric? How many?"

Seventeen of your students. But you don't say anything.

"After what he's done?" Salazar says. "Death would be a mercy."

"You're talking about executing him," you say. "Haven't you had enough death?"

Salazar scoffs.

"I won't let him go free," he says. "Not when that's a risk to the school."

"I won't let you execute him."

"You would let him go," Salazar says, flatly, "even when he's killed so many people? He could lead them back, you know. Find more witchhunters. Another army."

"That's a risk with every student," you say. "We know this. And we chose to keep recruiting from the villages even with that risk."

"And you're saying that this is an acceptable outcome?"

"No, of course not!"

"You're right," Salazar says. "This is a risk that comes with recruiting students with non magical backgrounds. And this time, they've proven that we can't trust them. That they're a danger to us. To our school. To the children that we've been charged with protecting."

"What are you saying?"

"Maybe it's time we stop."

"What?"

"Stop letting them in."

You laugh, incredulously.

"Salazar, you—"

"Listen to me, Godric," Salazar says. "Seventeen children died. We can't have a repeat of this, not ever. And if not allowing muggleborn students in is what it takes, then so be it!"

"You can't be serious," you say. "You'd rather leave them in the outside world with their uncontrolled magic and witchhunters everywhere? You'd rather have them feeling like outcasts for the rest of their lives, hunted and feared? How many children would the witchhunters kill?"

"They aren't our responsibility," Salazar says, evenly. "The children at our school are."

"I can't believe you," you say, incredulous.

"Nor can I," he says.

Helga and Rowena remain silent. You won't resolve this, not easily.

You don't talk to Salazar for a week.

You smuggle John out of the school and you tell him: never come back.

He doesn't look at you.

---

The fights continue.

You're not sure you can take much more of this.

They escalate, too, until every time you're in the same room as Salazar, you'll eventually end up in a screaming match.

Two months in, someone throws a hex and it devolves from there.

It gets worse. Helga agrees with you and normally you'd be ecstatic to have someone agree with you, only—this time, you're not. Rowena, too, takes your side.

The fights continue.

They don't stop.

Neither one of you will budge.

---

Now

Helga visits you. Rowena visits.

"We're stopping class for a few days," Rowena says. "At least, until we figure things out."

You restart classes eventually. You don't appoint a replacement.

He'll be back.

You can't imagine a world where he doesn't.

Chapter Text

v. rattle cage after cage

Godric

It takes him a year and a month to return. He's not quite the same afterwards. But you look at him, with his dark hair and razor sharp smile and flint grey eyes, and all you feel is relief.

The four of you design better defenses. The area around the school repels all muggles. But it doesn't stop there. You use what's around you: the forest. You enchant parts of the building. You build secret passages.

You won't let more children die in your school. Not now. Not ever.

That's what drives you. There's a drive in Salazar too, a brittle need for something but you can't tell what that something is. You can't find the words to ask.

Years pass.

Your early students (the ones who still remember when your school was just a collection of hastily built houses in a clearing in a forest) leave to find their fortunes elsewhere.

Word spreads of a safe haven—somewhere children can learn to use magic without fearing persecution—and scattered households send a child, two. The old families come and they send their children to you.

Your school gains more students every year. They come from all around now, from Ireland and Wales and—rarer but still, one or two each year—Normandy. There's too many to teach with just the four of you, so you hire a new teacher. And then another.

Your first students send their children back. They settle a while away from the castle, a group of buildings clustering around one road, then two.

Rowena and Helga have children. They're adorable little things, chubby cheeks and soft smiles. They grow up.

There's a chasm between you and Salazar and whatever you do you can't quite seem to bridge it. You're not entirely sure that you want to.

And Salazar? Well, you're not exactly sure what he wants. Once you thought you did but maybe you've never truly known him.

So when he slips away in the middle of the night, when Rowena and Helga's children are grown and the school is an established part of the magical community and the town by its edges has a name, you don't know if you should follow.

You tell yourself: he just needs some space.

You tell yourself: he will be back.

But Salazar doesn't come back.

A year passes and he doesn't return.

We need a way to sort our students, Rowena says, after we're all gone.

What, you think Salazar isn't coming back? you ask, but she doesn't answer you.

So you take your hat and you enchant it. And it sings and it works and the next year, when school begins, there are new students wearing green and silver and it's almost like Salazar himself is back.

But he isn't.

You think you see him on the edges of the school, hovering by the boundaries of the forest, but then you blink and he's gone.

You go looking for him. You tell yourself that there aren't that many places he could be. What you told yourself would be a one time trip turns into a hobby (obsession) turns into a semi annual tradition. You tell yourself, every time: this time I will bring him home; this time I will not fail.

You are wrong.

Rowena's daughter vanishes. Rowena fades by the day.

I would like, she says, for the four of us to be together again.

So you go looking for Salazar.

You find him this time. It's like he's stopped hiding.

Or maybe. That he can't hide anymore.

He's holed up in a cabin in the woods, tucked away in the shadow of a hill.

Salazar lies on his bed, sleeping, when you come in. He's ill, then, or injured—he wouldn't let down his defenses like this if he could. You don't see any signs of injury, and his breathing is steady and his pulse is strong so you leave him to sleep, for a while, as you walk through his house to try to find out what he's been up to these past years.

(and maybe, years later, when it's night and you're alone, you'll admit to yourself that you don't wake him because you don't know what to say)

There are shelves and shelves of vials, each holding a potion of some sort: green and orange and purple, glowing and glittering and murky dark. But they haven't been touched for a while now, a thin layer of dust coating the glass. There are books, too, written in Salazar's own handwriting, spidery and cramped. You can't decipher anything he writes—it's in his own code.

"Godric?" Salazar calls, from the other room, and it's with a voice so soft that you barely hear him, at first.

"Salazar," you say, once you've walked in. "I—"

Awake, he looks terrible. He's pale and painfully thin and—you've never seen him like this before.

"What happened?" you ask.

He shrugs, a jerky motion.

You sit next to him, and you wrap an arm around bony shoulders.

"It's nothing," he says. A pause. "Why are you here?"

You make a choked noise. He doesn't know. Of course he doesn't know why would he?

In strangled sentences, you tell him everything.

"I don't think I'll make it back," he says.

I don't think Rowena will be the first to die, he doesn't say.

There's too many things you want to say. You can't seem to force the words out of your throat. But that's alright; words have never been your strong suit anyways.

You kiss him instead. Tenderly, not as though you're afraid he'll break, but because you're scared you'll give him everything and he'll throw you out. He kisses you back, but you have to break apart soon: Salazar is already out of breath.

"I'm sorry," he says. "For—for everything. Forgive me."

"I forgive you," you say, without hesitation. "I will always forgive you. No matter what you do."

He smiles at you, softly.

"I was experimenting," he says, out of the blue. "All sorts of things. Dangerous things."

A pause.

"I was experimenting on myself."

You're not quite sure what to say to that. Instead, you nod slowly.

"I'm sorry," he says.

That startles a laugh out of you.

"I know," Salazar continues, "it's been a while. I'm sorry. Forgive me."

"I will," you say. "I do."

You wish you could find the words to say what you want to. But you've never been good with words and for all you want to, you can't string your words together.

(they rattle in your head with a cacophony of noise)

Instead, you just hold him.

"I should ask for your forgiveness," you say, after a while. "For not being with you."

"It was my choice."

"Would you choose differently?" you ask. "If you could go back."

Salazar's face tightens.

"We don't get another chance," he says. "Why imagine?"

A pause.

"Please don't go," you blurt out.

He takes your hand.

"I don't think I have a choice," he says.

You want to weep.

"Will you stay?" Salazar asks you instead.

"Of course."

And you stay with him, until the end.

Chapter Text

vi. if the storm ends

Salazar

You don't expect to wake up. Sure you've theorized (like hundreds before you), spent a few sleepless nights pondering, but you've never really thought that you'd be here.

For a moment there's nothing but a vast expanse of light—it would blind you but it doesn't and some corner of your mind registers that this isn't right but the greater part of your consciousness focuses on the fact that you're here. You're alive.

(or are you?)

The light fades, slowly, slowly, growing ever dimmer. Panic grips you—you remember closing your eyes; you remember awareness fading away. You remember—

Godric.

You turn, looking for him but it's too dark now. Even if he is here, you won't be able to see him.

Pitch black. And then: colours bleed back, vivid and familiar and—

You're in Hogwarts. The familiar stone walls frame empty halls, sunlight filtering in through blurry glass. In the distance, a bell tolls: one—two—three. You listen, waiting for the sound of children yelling and feet stomping but there's nothing, only silence.

You walk. Everything is the way you left it: a crooked painting—a chipped vase—scuffed stones and oaken doors—a doorway swings open as you approach. Even your notes (from how long ago?) are as you left it.

You stop.

The weight of the years you ran from rushes back and for a moment you can't breathe. You stand, choking on the dusty air and the ghosts you left behind.

How ironic. It is you who is dead.

You wander the empty halls, aimless. Time passes. You have no way to tell the turn of the days. The sunlight does not waver, does not fade: it remains a fall afternoon, unchanging.

And there, alone, you think you begin to understand. You've never really thought that there would be an After. But you're here now. You're here to stay.

In the distance, a bell tolls: one, two.

For a moment, it doesn't register in your mind, that something has changed. Then you hear it: footsteps.

Your breath hitches in your chest. You've been alone for so long.

You return to where you first appeared but there's nothing there, not even an imprint to mark a presence here. It's only then that you recognize where you are. You're not sure why it took you so long to see.

It's just outside of your room. The one place in the castle that is irrevocably yours. So that means—

You just need to know who it is.

(you pray you are not wrong; you pray you are wrong—you do not want Godric or Rowena or Helga to be dead; you want them to be here so you can say—so you can—)

You break into a sprint, shucking lethargy like an old cloak.

Not the kitchens (Helga); not the astronomy tower (Godric)—

Rowena finds you first.

"Hello Salazar," she says, quietly, behind you.

You whip around.

"Rowena," you breathe. "I—"

A pause.

"How did you die?" you ask.

"Godric didn't tell you?"

You shake your head.

"He didn't get a chance to."

She sighs.

"You've missed a lot," she says. A pause. "I wish you were there."

"Will you tell me?" you ask.

She leads you to the Room she and Helga created, and she tells you of her daughter and her diadem, of the students and the years you spent alone.

You lapse into a companionable silence, afterwards.

"Why are we here?" you ask, later. She's always thought about death more than you have.

"Waiting," she says.

For Helga. For Godric.

So you wait.


In the distance, a bell tolls: one.

You leap to your feet.

Helga or Godric.

You share a glance with Rowena. She races for Helga's kitchens; you run for Godric's tower with his stupid sculpture and twisting staircase. There's no one there, not even after you push past an eerily silent sculpture into the office proper. You must admit, you didn't expect Godric to be the last one alive.

(though something in you crumples at the thought of Godric, alone)

When you return to the room, Helga is already there, locked into an embrace with Rowena. You excuse yourself (without words, in your own head) and go exploring, if only to distract yourself from missing Godric.

Helga comes looking for you, later.

"Are you alright?" she asks.

"Of course," you say. "I should be asking you that question. I mean you just died."

She laughs.

"It was my time," she says. "I've made my peace with death."

"You must not have wanted to be here."

She shrugs.

"I'm with you," she says, but you don't think that she's happy with what you have.

"That's what is important," you say, but your heart isn't into it. You miss Godric.


This time there is no bell.

You round a corner, pacing, lost in your thoughts.

"Salazar." Your name, quietly.

Your head snaps up: you see him—Godric.

All your words dry up inside your head, and you open your mouth, uselessly, trying to say something that just won't come out.

"Godric," you say, instead.

He crosses the distance between you in a few steps (you stand frozen) and wraps you into a hug. You hold onto him, as though he'll disappear just when you need him.

"Don't go," he chokes out. "Salazar, don't leave me again."

"I won't," you say. "I swear I won't."

You're crying. Both of you are. And you stand there, weeping, until Rowena comes looking for you and freezes, standing very still. Helga joins her, not much later.

And the four of you are together again, at last, but you only care about one thing: Godric, next to you.


What if the storm ends
And I don’t see you
As you are now
Ever again.