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Starfall by Slide
Chapter 4 : Hitch Your Wagon
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 10

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Hitch Your Wagon

'News on Prometheus Thane has been thin on the ground,' said Lillian Rourke as her daughter trailed her through the offices of the Department of International Magical Cooperation. Or, more specifically, the part of it where the British branch of the International Magical Convocation, the global council of increasing prestige and power formed to fight the Council of Thorns, resided, with Lillian Rourke herself at the head of it. 'He's simply not the priority.'

'The man was responsible for Hogwarts,' said Selena through gritted teeth as she followed her mother through the bullpen to Lillian's office. She could walk straight-backed, head held high, full of confidence and cool detachment, and almost, almost feel it. 'He should be a priority.'

'I know,' Lillian sighed. 'But getting the Convocation to agree on anything is difficult.'

'How are they reacting to Brazil?'

'With fuss and panic.' Her mother grimaced as she let them into her office, a big affair with large windows through which streamed the afternoon sun and a huge desk upon which every single memo in Britain seemed to sit. 'I'm pushing for trade sanctions against them for starters. France and Germany are backing me, Europe's making progress in leading the charge of getting things done.'

'You should lead the charge in getting things done,' said Selena. 'You seem to be the only one who's getting results.'

'It's kind of you to say so, dear,' said Lillian with a thin smile, moving to sit herself down at her desk. 'But you do only hear my side of it. That said, we should have elections for the first official Chairman in two weeks, and I do anticipate carrying the vote. Then we can see about marshaling some real power in the Convocation to fight the Council of Thorns.' She rested her elbows on the desk and smiled more honestly at her daughter. 'But, not that it's not delightful to see you, my dear, was there something specific?'

'I'm not interrupting, am I?' said Selena.

'No, I was just wondering if I could help you.'

'I like to keep up to date on what's really going on. You always say how the press don't know half the truth and the other half are lies and manipulations anyway. And you work late. Not that I mind. You're busy.' She shrugged.

'But you asked about Thane.'

'He... matters. He did this to Hogwarts.'

'The Council as a whole brought Phlegethon to Hogwarts.' Lillian's expression creased. 'I know you're still terribly upset about your young man -'

Selena lifted a hand. 'I was upset. I'm sorry about what happened to Methuselah, but it's not about him. I'm past him. He was sweet but we weren't all that close. I'm sad about Tim Warwick, too. But Phlegethon hurt my friends and Thane did that himself.'

Lillian watched her for a moment, then sank back on her chair and rifled through the papers before she pulled out a file, which she flipped open. 'Prometheus Thane was spotted last week in Copenhagen, along with several identified members of his team. His departure coincided with the disappearance of a Professor Dresdner, a world expert on magical archaeology, and his assistant, after they failed to show at a conference. Since then there have been a few rumoured sightings, but nothing concrete.' She tossed the folder back down on the desk, closer to Selena's side.

Selena frowned. 'And he's not being hunted?'

'He would be,' said Lillian, voice going tight, 'but he's travelling across borders and the Convocation is loath to cooperate in arranging an international task force to hunt him like they're hunting other known members of the Council. His prestige after the Hogwarts infection ended has reportedly dropped, and so he's considered a lower priority.'

Something pinched in Selena's throat. 'He infected Hogwarts, he shouldn't be a lower -'

'I agree. I suspect foul play; Egypt are dragging their feet, as is Turkey, and I anticipate the hand of the Council themselves there. Thane might have less prestige but he's also dangerous and operates independently very efficiently. I think it's in the Council's best interests for him to move freely, and I think they want to do anything to stop the Convocation from interfering with him.'

'And this Professor?'

'I have no idea,' admitted Lillian. 'That could be simply coincidence. But so long as my hands are tied with him in the Convocation, I imagine we won't know. Perhaps if I make Chairman we can do something about this, but we shall see.'

'I don't -'

Selena was interrupted by the fireplace in the corner of her mother's office crackling to life with green flames, and Lillian gave her an apologetic look. 'I should take this,' she said. 'I'm sorry, my dear. Let yourself out, and I'll see you at dinner.' Lillian stood and headed for the fireplace, soon enough entrenched in a dry discourse with a flickering face Selena didn't recognise.

It was always like this. Conversations with a busy mother who did her utmost to make the time for them both, and she never resented her for it, but sometimes it was trying. All she could do now was get out of the way and wait until later, because there probably wasn't going to be more to learn here.

So Selena sighed, and got to her feet, and picked up her bag to slip it onto her shoulder, and when her hand brushed against the folder on the desk she didn't really think about it much.


* *

'They actually asked that? Mental.' Scorpius shook his head as he flicked his wand lazily and, as anticipated, the burst of red lights that shot out the end was easily deflected by Albus.

'Oi,' Albus said. 'Concentrate. Or I'll smack you down until you do.' His retaliation was a more vicious Stun that forced Scorpius back a step so he'd have the room to bring up his Shield spell, and he almost didn't raise it in time.

They were down the bottom end of the garden at Rose's house, just before the rhododendron bush and in a wide, open space where he and Albus could fling spells at one another with abandon. There was more room for them to practice here than at Godric's Hollow, and with Rose flopped on the grass not far away with an array of maps strewn out before her as she idly took notes and watched them, all in all it seemed a good place to go to kill an afternoon.

'I'm just saying,' said Scorpius, and this time feinted high before he flung his Stun at Albus' ankles, making his friend dart to one side to avoid it. 'They think we'd hunt Thane?'

'Obviously they think we're as damaged as they are,' muttered Rose, sticking a pencil behind her ear as she rummaged through papers, brow furrowed.

He grinned at her, and grinned at the wrinkle in her nose at her consternation, and then Albus smacked him in the gut with a soft Stun and knocked him flat onto his back.

'Told you to concentrate,' said Albus, twirling his wand in his fingers and smirking.

Scorpius groaned, but saw Albus was going to let him get to his feet, and did so. Halfway there his wand shot out with sparks, and Albus raised his shield - then he did it again, and again, and Albus' brow furrowed as he easily deflected the onslaught, before the splash of one shield seemed much less bright than any other.

That was when Scorpius swapped from quick, easily-cast illusions to divert or confuse his opponent to one hard-hitting Stun. Albus, complacent and uncertain in the face of Scorpius' light-show, had let his Shield's power slip, and the Stun punched right through it, ending up this time with him on his back on the grass with a groan.

'Ha! How's that for concentration?'

Albus laughed and sat up. As ever, he was more pleased by his friend's success than any sense of rivalry piqued at having been bested. 'It's a good trick,' he agreed. 'And you're good on those illusions, you're getting them more sophisticated. But you can't use it too often.'

'I know, if they figure what's going on they'll just put up a Shield and hold firm, or smack me one. But so long as they don't, they're wasting more energy and concentration reacting to the light-show than I am putting it on,' said Scorpius, and headed over to extend a hand to help Albus up.

A tinkling came from the direction of the house, and Rose stood. 'That's the front door. I'll be right back,' she said with some aggravation, and trooped up through the garden, up the hill.

Albus accepted Scorpius' hand, got to his feet, dusted himself down, and waited until Rose was out of earshot before he spoke next. 'So, we're taking Matt with us after all.'

Scorpius' expression went flat. 'Looks it, seeing as Selena's being a Grade O Bitch.'

'You really don't think she's just trying to divert?'

'If so, she's doing a stellar job of it. No, it makes me wonder how much were she and Jones something to keep her busy during the crisis.'

Albus' forehead creased. 'I don't know, mate. I mean, she was distraught when he died, absolutely broken. But - Matt.' Urgency entered his voice. They wouldn't have long to talk without Rose. 'Are you sure this is a good idea?'

'No,' Scorpius conceded. 'But I don't have much of a choice right now, do I? He's coming, he'll pay, and besides. You and Rose like him. It's not like I'll have to spend much time with him.'

'I just don't want this holiday to be awkward. I want it to be, you know. A holiday. Fun.'

'I won't make a fuss. I'll be good as gold. Promise.' And Scorpius gave a sunny smile of innocent promise a split second before he saw the figure in the back door of the house. And the smile promptly died.

It took Albus a moment to realise what was going on. One moment Scorpius was in front of him, grinning and joking - the next he was storming up to the house, fists clenched, shoulders iron-tense, and when Albus turned he saw exactly who had appeared to make him look like a bomb that was about to go off.

Draco Malfoy, standing in the back door of Rose's house.

'What the hell are you doing here?' Scorpius thundered, by now a peculiar shade of pink.

'I came to see you,' said Draco with utter calm, stepping out onto the back patio. 'She let me in.'

Rose followed in his wake, twisting her hands together and looking pale. 'He just barged in past me,' she stammered, looking at Scorpius with absolute shame.

'Of course he did,' Scorpius sneered, not in disbelief at her efforts to keep him out but in vehement disapproval of his father. 'I refuse to talk to you in Diagon Alley so you hunt me here?'

'You couldn't exactly storm off here,' pointed out Draco. 'Now, if you could send them away, we can talk.'

'If I am sending anyone away in this conversation, it is you!' Scorpius bellowed.

Draco's nose wrinkled. 'Don't shout, boy -'

'I haven't been shouting at you nearly enough, and now I've started I don't think I know how to stop! How dare you come here, how dare you try to -'

'How dare I?' His father's voice took on an icy edge. 'You walk away from me, from the family, from your duty to our household, and yet you still take the money -'

'That money is mine, left for me in trust and now I'm of age it's mine, I'm not taking a single knut of yours -'

'Money of the Malfoy family, money intended to go to the heir, not some ungrateful child turning his back on his responsibilities -'

'Responsibility to do what, be an outrageous arsehole and destroy the entire family?'

Draco looked aghast. 'You walk away and I'm the one who destroyed -'

'You drove away Mum, didn't you?' Scorpius barked, by now beyond caring that Albus and Rose were right there, both of them drawn back from the yelling match between father and son, his world narrowed to a tunnel of his father and his hatred. 'Made life so unbearable she couldn't possibly stay with you -'

'Or with you!' Draco pointed out. 'She left you, too, if she was so bloody saintly, why didn't she take you with her? Because she was a selfish, selfish woman who just wanted to be far away with as much money as she could take me fore - why do you think she barely gets in touch, why do you think she's not even come back since Phlegethon -'

Scorpius raised his hands. 'This isn't the point,' he said, though his father's words were hammering into his gut and threatening to fester there. 'This is about me, and you, and how I don't want anything to do with you any more.'

'So you want me to disown you, is that it?' Draco sneered.

'You wouldn't dare,' Scorpius retorted in the same tone. 'You need a precious heir for your precious lineage -'

'Not if that heir is an irresponsible, ungrateful brat who is abandoning every principle this house has stood for!' Draco's voice went quieter, harsher, and that was like ice in Scorpius' gut, that was the tone he knew to resent and, ultimately, fear, above all the yelling in the world. 'Disregarding the traditions that made us and cavorting with blood traitors and rutting with a filthy half-blood -'

The ice shattered. This was not freedom, though, but more like splinters exploding through every inch of Scorpius, and without thinking he was taking long steps towards his father until they were almost nose to nose. 'Don't you - don't you dare bring her into this, don't you -'


Hermione Granger's shout was like a whip through the air already crackling with energy, and it was enough to make the four of them jump. For Scorpius, at least, it broke the spell of the momentís intensity, and he darted back from his father as if to be too close was to be stung. He realised, on some level, why Rose had been so slow to appear outside after Draco. Because she'd been sending word for reinforcements, and now they were here.

Hermione's lips were nothing more than a thin line as she stepped onto the back yard, chin tilted up defiantly, gaze locked on Draco. 'Malfoy, I don't remember ever inviting you to my house,' she said, voice hard as granite.

Draco turned and his lip curled at the corner in a half-sneer. 'Weasley - or it's still Granger as you insist on being, how very modern of you. I am here to talk to my son. This is none of your affair.'

There had been a slight twitch in Hermione's expression when he called her by her last name, but that only went more tense in the end. 'You're on my property, that makes it my every affair. You're upsetting a guest who is actually welcome here, and you're saying things about my daughter when, frankly, I'd be happy if you never said a single word to a single member of my family ever again. I put up with enough of your hateful rhetoric for ten bloodlines.'

'Bloodlines, such as they are,' Draco muttered.

Scorpius went light-headed. 'Oh, you hateful bastard -'

Hermione lifted a hand to cut him off, by now utterly implacable. 'You're not going to disown Scorpius, he's quite right. You have nothing to do here but blow hot air, and so even if I didn't despise you for yourself, that would make you unwelcome.' She drew a tense breath. 'And if you did disown him, I would consider him lucky to never have to visit Malfoy Manor again. I recall my last visit there. It left its mark.'

There was a peculiar emphasis on her words that Scorpius couldn't place, but it made his father's expression flicker. When he spoke, there was a rough edge to his voice. 'Potter has fo-'

'I'm. Not. Harry,' said Hermione in a flat voice. 'And I remember everything you did, everything you didn't do, and I remember the war ending and you simply trying to toss around your backwards, hateful notions through more socially acceptable means. For our childhood alone, you are not welcome in my home. For your actions as an adult, I will not even be courteous about it. But for coming here to yell at this young man and insult my daughter, you now have ten seconds before I forcefully eject you and if you are very lucky you will leave the premises whilst not a ferret.'

The pink in his father's cheeks only increased, before his expression pinched. He straightened, opened his mouth for a retort - seemed to think better of it, opened his mouth for some social nicety which might maintain some dignity - seemed to see the glint in Hermione's eye, and instead pulled out his wand and disapparated on the spot.

When Scorpius exhaled, the shake was audible, and he took a step back. 'I'm - sorry you all had to see that,' he said, his voice rough. 'I should - I need to - I better -' And then all possible coherence fled from his thoughts and lips, and without another word he turned on his heel and stormed back down the garden away from the three of them, away from their gazes of confusion, or worry, or pity. Down the gravel path, past Rose's abandoned pile of books and maps, and towards the orchard at the foot of the garden - out of sight.

He only stopped once he was sure they couldn't see him, the bushes and trees of the garden blocking him from sight. And even then he didn't stop moving, but pressed his knuckles to his temples and broke into a frantic pacing back and forth, as if he could march off the churning in his gut and the spinning in his head, as if he could screw out his father's words thumping through his mind.

Getoutgetoutgetout -

He didn't know how long he was there, but it was probably not more than a few minutes even if it felt like hours before there was a gentle hand at his elbow, a gentle voice saying his name.


'No,' he found himself saying, pulling away from Rose. 'Don't -'

She looked startled when finally he opened his eyes to see her, pulling her hand back as if stung, worried and confused. 'I'm sorry, I just wanted to make sure you - I'm sorry, I'll leave you alone.'

Even though that was what he'd wanted, was why he'd rebuffed her, when she turned away that only made the churning in his gut worse, and he dropped his hands. 'I'm sorry,' he called out as she headed back up the garden. 'Stop. Please. I'm sorry.'

She did, and once she froze he could move, striding across the short distance, reaching out to grab her at the elbow, to turn her around - to pull her closer, one hand coming to cup her cheek, tilt her face up to his, and he kissed her.

Not a gentle kiss of seeking reassurance, not a determined kiss to reassure her, but a fervent, hungry embrace, his hold on her iron-tight, his breathing ragged and his lips greedy on hers. This was a kiss to try to melt the ice in him, a kiss to bring him back to the world of what was real and warm after he'd been set adrift in the cold. And when she made a small noise at the back of her throat, fingers clutching at his shirt and pulled herself closer, all but flowed into the kiss, into him, he could feel her dragging him back to the light from the dark.

'I'm sorry,' he whispered, though not for some time, for he was beyond breath before he could speak, the words ragged against her lips. 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry...'

'Don't be.í Her hands ran across his shoulders, her fingers moving to entangle in the hair at his nape of his neck. 'That was him, all him, and you're nothing like him and nothing like that hateful man says you are...'

'I couldn't stand it,' Scorpius said, voice torn. 'Listening to him, all over again, again, and then starting on you, when - you make me better, you make me worth a damn -'

'I think if you weren't worth a damn before me, I sure as hell wouldn't have let you kiss me,' she said, hand pressing against his cheek to tilt his face down for their foreheads to rest together. 'Remember all you did, all you've done, your heroics at Hogwarts, you got the Resurrection Stone...'

'I -' Didn't. I didn't. I lied.

'...and you're a good friend, a caring man, warm, funny, considerate, no wonder he can't understand or value any of that when all he values is himself.'

He turned his face into her palm, grabbing her wrist to keep her close, eyes shutting. '...I should head back up there.'

'You don't have to,' Rose whispered. 'When you're ready. Take your time. Nobody's going to push you, you're safe here, you're with people who don't judge you, you're with people who love you...'

They were dangerous words, Scorpius knew on some level, though right then it seemed childish to fuss over semantics and forms of love even if the words thudded through his gut in a manner that was the innate opposite of how his father's had. He managed a wan, exhausted smile. 'No, I should... show my face, thank your mum.'

She nodded and gave him one last kiss before she pulled back, her hand sliding down to his and absolutely refusing to let him go as they wound their way back to the path leading to the rear of the house. Albus and Hermione were still stood on the patio, his concern rather more obvious than hers, though they both looked relieved to see them returning.

It was Scorpius' instinct to let Rose go in the presence of her parents - not that they had no idea what was going on, but he had a preference for not radiating, 'I'm here to despoil your daughter'. But she didn't let him and he was too numb to pull away, and so he had to twist his free arm awkwardly to give Albus a companionable thud on the shoulder. 'I'm all right,' he said, and his voice sounded halfway genuine, which was reasonable as he was only halfway all right. Albus looked reassured by the punch more than his words, and Scorpius looked to Hermione. 'Thank you,' he said. 'Very much, thanks for... getting rid of him.'

'It was my pleasure,' said Hermione in a level voice. 'For my own sake, I confess, as much as yours. I've never liked him. And I stand by what I said. You are welcome here. He most certainly is not.'

Scorpius smiled, the icy tension abating, and softening even more as Rose squeezed his hand, but he couldn't keep the wry note from his voice. 'You're very kind,' he drawled, and glanced around the garden. 'But after that, I think getting away, far away, if only for a little while, sounds like a splendid idea.'

* *

'Are you sure you can fit everything in there?'

'For the tenth time, Al, Mum taught me this charm. We don't need to lug huge cases across Europe. Everything will fit in this.' Rose gave Albus a reassuring smile as the three of them hurried down the corridors of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, on the lower levels where the international portkeys were arranged and waiting.

The 'this' to which she referred was just a backpack, slung over her shoulder and into which had disappeared the travel bags of all three of them, a tent, and the assorted supplies for when they would need to camp out. Even though Scorpius had seen and helped pile everything into it before they'd left the Old Rectory, he shared Albus' dubiousness.

'Of course,' Scorpius said, shrugging past a group of Indian tourists heading out from one of the Portkey chambers, 'this does mean that if we lose the one bag we're wholly buggered.'

Rose pursed her lips. 'Sweetie, you packed enough clothes to costume up a whole cast on the West End. Do you really want to carry those cases across Europe?'

'I was thinking of having my luggage shipped ahead of me,' he said with an imperious toss of the head. 'The bellboy at the Ritz will pick it up for me and have it in my room upon arrival.'

Albus snorted. 'We're camping and getting cheap rooms. Not languishing in the lap of luxury.'

'Despite my best efforts in the planning stage being thwarted.' But Scorpius stayed silent, not pressing this point. Money had never been a huge issue between him and his friends, because neither he nor Albus had particularly wanted for anything. But while Scorpius had seen his father carelessly throw money at him and now was enjoying the savings from Draco and everything in his trust funds, Albus' parents had tried to instill him with a sense of fiscal responsibility. Pocket money was generous enough to fund a self-sufficient holiday. It was also, by design, tight enough that planning and common sense would be needed, which meant rather fewer bookings at the Ritz and dusting off an old tent.

This, alone, would make it a novelty for Scorpius.

He glanced at the all-important rucksack. 'You know, we should probably be gentlemanly and carry it for you.'

'Albus can, if he wants,' said Rose.

Albus raised his eyebrows. 'I'm good.'

'Why just him?'

'Because I trust him to not lose it.'

Scorpius narrowed his eyes. 'Meaning, you'd expect me to lose it?'

'Oh, sweetie. I know you have many talents,' said Rose diplomatically, but before he could summon a retort she'd checked the paper in her hand and pointed to one of the doors down the long corridor of portkey chambers. '13A, that's us.'

International portkeys were different to the old boots and bits of tat that were unofficial portkeys, usually left in a discreet location to allow swift transport. Moving between countries took considerably more magical power and was also highly regulated by magical governments. To make use of one cost money, required a booking with the Ministry, and arriving at the appointed time when a specific permanent portkey would be ready for transit to the desired destination. The chambers were specially magically warded and shielded to make the connection across the long distance strong, and the portkeys themselves rested upon pillars charged with energy to rejuvenate them. Instead of a bit of rubbish waiting for them on the other side, they were greeted by a solid silver ring, every inch of it constructed for this specific purpose.

They were also greeted by Matthias Doyle, who had been lounging against the wall with a book that he was now sliding into the hefty rucksack resting at his feet. 'I'm in the right place, good.'

'You are, sorry we're a bit - is that what I think it is?' Rose's eyes landed on the book he was putting away and promptly lit up.

Scorpius chewed the inside of his lip as Matt gave a small smile and pulled it back out. 'Yup. A Book of Many Books. It's only tied to my shelves so it's not amazing, but -'

'I've had to pack about twelve books and I still had to cut some,' Rose gushed, hurrying over with hands outstretched as he offered it over.

'It's true, she tried putting a shelf in there,' said Scorpius, nodding to Rose's bag. But for some reason the words came out a lot more harshly than he intended, and he got a warning glance off Albus for his troubles.

It was a mixed blessing, then, that Rose was so entranced by the Book of Many Books. 'I keep meaning to save up for one of these, but you know how it is.'

'I know.' Matt grinned. 'Why get a book to let you read other books when you could just get more books? It was a birthday present.'

Scorpius blew out his cheeks and checked his pocket-watch. 'So, Venice in five minutes,' he said pointedly.

'What is it?' said Albus, looking at the book and obviously deciding that bridging this gap would be wiser than letting it fester.

'A Book of Many Books,' Rose repeated, leafing through the pages. 'You need to bind it to a specific library, one you own, but it means you can access any text on those shelves. So, in this case, Matty can read anything he's left at home and only has to pack one book.'

Scorpius looked at Matt, who stood straight, eyebrows raised, gaze flat and determined. 'That's great,' said Scorpius. 'Matty. Really cool.'

Matt Doyle gave a thin smile. 'I'd let you borrow it, Malfoy,' he drawled. 'But I don't have any Quidditch magazines in there.'

Again, Scorpius narrowed his eyes. Doyle 10, Malfoy 0. But to respond would be to escalate, and Rose was just emerging from her book-fuelled haze and looking at her watch. 'We should make sure we're ready to... wait a moment.' She peered at the pillar in the middle, then moved closer, checking the papers next to the Portkey. 'This one's to Berlin.'

'Shit,' Scorpius breathed. 'We're in the wrong chamber?'

Rose gave a small squeak of fuss and pulled her roll of parchment with their booking details out again. 'No, no, 13A, we're in the right place, but the Portkey's not enchanted for the right destination -'

'Oh, but it is!'

Scorpius turned to the new voice at the door and stared at Selena Rourke, stood there in good boots, an expensive jacket, and a perfectly adorable suitcase levitating gently in her wake. 'We're going to the Black Forest!' she declared.

Stunned silence met her arrival as Scorpius failed to summon a response to her presence, to her change of heart, and to this apparent change to their itinerary. In the end it was Matt who spoke first, the one of them with the least reason to be surprised. 'Cool,' he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. 'There's some awesome hiking out there, and some great old castles...'

'We're going to Badenheim, in Germany,' gushed Selena, trotting into the middle of the chamber. 'They have this little end-of-spring festival, it's only once a year and it starts tomorrow; I know we said we'd be going to Venice, but we can go on to Venice, and we really won't get another chance for something like this.'

Rose was still staring at Selena, Albus had his head cocked to one side like he'd been punched and hadn't yet responded, and Scorpius again went fishing for words. 'Wait a minute. You want us to delay going to Venice so you can absorb some rural German magical culture?'

Selena hesitated. 'And shopping?'

Scorpius closed his eyes. 'There it is.'

'Um,' said Rose, her first noise in about two minutes. 'Not that it's not lovely to see you, Selena, but... but...' She flapped her hands. 'Our Portkey Pass is for four, and it was Matt who bought onto it -'

'I bought another!' Selena beamed. 'Just a solo one, you four have yours and I have mine, but it's the same free-roaming arrangement, we can all jump on the exact same portkeys!'

Scorpius again flailed for words. 'But didn't you - I mean you said - you weren't going to -'

Then Albus had nudged him significantly in the ribs - which, from a man of Albus' size, was rather like getting headbutted by an ox - before he moved forward to wrap Selena in a warm hug. 'I'm so glad you're coming with us,' he said, and being Albus, he had to mean it. 'Of course we can go to Badenheim first. It sounds great.'

Scorpius knew his best friend. Albus would be giving Selena the benefit of the doubt, believing she'd decided that she didn't want to be alone or away from the people who understood what she'd gone through, but had too much pride to ask. He would be welcoming her with open arms to make it clear she could tag along with them if that was what she wanted, and if he was right, if Selena really was just lonely and hurt, it was the right thing to do.

But for Scorpius' part, he wasn't entirely convinced they hadn't been press-ganged into Selena Rourke's pan-European quest for a new wardrobe.

'Badenheim,' mused Matt, scratching his nose. 'There's something about Badenheim...'

'It's old!' said Selena happily. 'Lots of things there. You can bookworm at them with Weasley and then we can pretend to be interested but instead fall asleep. But, no time, no time! It's going to power up any moment, so grab on, and we have a follow-up waiting for us in Berlin to take us to the Black Forest!'

Scorpius met Rose's eye as they tromped obligingly to the silver ring in the centre. She shrugged, but gave him a reassuring smile also, and he relaxed. After all, even if Selena's timing was awful enough that she'd dumped them for the trip with Matthias Doyle, she was another warm body, another person who wouldn't like Doyle, and another person to keep Rose engaged, to keep Rose amused, and above all, to keep Rose from nerding out with her ex-boyfriend.

Which was rapidly storming, as a principle, to the top of his priority list for the whole trip.

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