Chapter 16 : In a Dream World
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‘She’s tied up and unconscious in our bedroom,’ said Rose as she came out of the girls’ room into the apartment living room. ‘I think she’s as secure as she’s going to be. I’m going to make every effort to ensure she doesn’t wake up until she’s back home.’
‘I’m totally sleeping on the couch or in the boys’ room,’ said Selena archly. ‘I’m not going to try to have a nap while you rip apart someone’s brain in the same room, and I’m not waiting for this farce to be over. Wake me if she tries to kill us all.’ And without another word she sauntered over to the boys’ room, not even waiting for Albus or Scorpius to object or permit.
Albus rolled his eyes. ‘I’ll go to the Rabbit’s Foot,’ he said. ‘Warn Matt. He can keep an eye on security there to see if they’re spooked.’
‘And, what, run to tell us?’ Scorpius raised an eyebrow.
‘It’s better than nothing. Scorp, help keep watch here.’
Scorpius sighed as Albus headed for the door - and Rose tensed as she realised it was just the two of them, alone together for the first time in days. The first time since -
‘Are you okay?’ The words slipped past her lips before she could think. If she’d thought, she’d have remembered now wasn’t time to get into this.
‘You have a long night’s work ahead,’ he said, and she recognised the tone of his voice, the look in his eyes. It was the same hunted gaze he’d worn last winter, when she’d not left Hector and had hurt him, and old, familiar guilt twisted in her gut. ‘You should get to it.’
Rose opened her mouth to object - then realised, despite his obvious evasion, that he was right. ‘We’ll talk later,’ she said, and it wasn’t a request.
And despite his dismissal, his lip curled. ‘Oh, you want to talk?’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Nothing,’ he lied. ‘I just figured you’d be happy enough talking to Matt.’
Rose looked at him, bewildered. ‘…and what’s he got to do with us?’
Scorpius’ eyes flashed, but he squared his shoulders and stalked to the sofa. ‘Nothing. It doesn’t matter. You’ve got your mind-rending to do. Go do.’
While she objected to being talked to like that, there was a long list of things which happened in her interactions with Scorpius these days that she objected to, and it didn’t seem the time to get caught up in such issues. So she merely scowled at him and stomped back to the room where she’d left Paquet trussed up in a chair, head lolling forwards, slumped in unconsciousness.
This was what mattered, Rose told herself. Not Scorpius. Not Matt, not Albus, not Selena. Not the world outside these walls. Just her and the other witch.
She slung her jacket on her bed and sat at the foot of it, fiddling with her wand, casting no magic for a long time but simply running through the process in her mind. Half of Legilimency was planning, her mother had told her. You didn’t rush into someone else’s mind and start looting, and above all, the Legilimens needed the discipline to ensure the tables weren’t turned.
Nevertheless, there was a reason many Legilimens used a Pensieve, and she didn’t have one of those. So she was just going to have to be better and smarter. Than a head of security in a world-class organisation.
Rose gave a slow, shaking exhale. She’d been told she was better than everyone else, smarter than everyone else, for approximately half her life. Then she’d met Methuselah Jones and this fiction had been rather cruelly destroyed. There were no prizes for coming second place.
But she didn’t have to be the best person in the world - and that competition was easier now Methuselah Jones was dead. Right now, she just had to be the best person in this room.
The best person in Amanda Paquet’s head.
Rose closed her eyes, extended her wand, extended her mind, and murmured, ‘Legilimens.’ And she was no longer in Monte Carlo.
It was a bare, grey landscape, grey skies, the ground underneath rocky and flat, no sound on the air but the echo of their own breathing. It was barren and desolate and an absolutely perfect blank canvas for what was to come ahead. And she and Paquet were sat at a chessboard in the middle of the wasteland.
Paquet arched a superior eyebrow at the pieces on the board. ‘Why are we here?’
‘Because this is what I choose,’ said Rose. She was white, of course - hers was the first move, of course - and so she decided to use her father’s favourite opening, hand moving with confidence to shift the piece along the board.
‘This isn’t a dream. This is a metaphor. You’re in my mind.’
Rose tried to not look surprised. ‘You’re very good.’
‘I’m trained to be very good. But you’re rather good, too. Usually people start out just trying to root through my memories.’ Paquet moved her first piece. ‘But this is…hmm. Control. If you can overwhelm my mind here, then you won’t be fighting me every step of the way. If my mind’s a building, everyone else breaks through a window and loots what they can while the alarm’s going off. You’re trying to jimmy the door and avoid the alarm altogether.’
‘That is,’ said Rose, ‘the general idea.’
It wasn’t as if she meant to talk, to explain. But then, this wasn’t really happening. She was coming to Paquet with this game, this vista, and forcing it upon the other woman’s mind. What Paquet extrapolated from the situation was completely out of Rose’s control, and in this case, the other witch had assessed the Legilimency perfectly. This wasn’t a huge surprise. She would be trained in Occlumency, after all.
And even if Paquet knew what was going on, it didn’t mean she could stop her.
‘So, why chess?’ said Paquet.
‘I’m hammering through your mental defences as we speak,’ said Rose, taking one of Paquet’s pawns. ‘A game of chess is the most appropriate way my mind can depict this. It’s a challenge of wits, knowledge, expertise. And, frankly, I’m better than you at breaking mental defences, and at chess. I’ll win.’
Paquet made her next move, defensive rather than offensive. ‘You are good,’ she agreed. ‘How come?’
Rose moved her knight. ‘My father taught me,’ she said - then Paquet’s rook came as if from nowhere to take her knight, and the entire grey vista around them rumbled underfoot. She froze. That had been a personal admission and the loss of a key chess piece. She wasn’t supposed to volunteer information. She wasn’t supposed to make a blunder in the game like that.
The tables were turning.
‘Your father taught you well. He plays chess a lot?’ Even though Paquet was like the mouse who’d suddenly turned monstrous before the cat, her voice was light, conversational. Rose had to move her bishop to protect the queen, and though Paquet didn’t press that offensive, she began shifting pieces along the other flank.
Sweat broke out on Rose’s forehead. ‘Only sometimes. He’s an Auror. But he likes chess. He -’
The space to her left, the blank grey vista of nothing, shifted, the air shimmering, and as Rose had expected, figures appeared as if from nowhere. But when she’d been banking on seeing something from Paquet, when she was supposed to populate this empty space with her enemy’s recollections and thoughts, the tables had been far too sharply turned, and instead what appeared was another chessboard and another pair of figures at it, sat upon comfortable armchairs.
‘Checkmate!’ said the little red-haired girl, giggling with glee. ‘I beat you! I finally beat you!’
Rose watched as her father broke into pleased laughter, getting to his feet and sweeping her younger self into a hug. ‘Fair and square, little Rosie.’
Her younger self pulled back to give her father an accusing look. ‘You didn’t let me?’
Her father hunkered down next to the chair. ‘You think I let people beat me at chess? You’ve gone and taken your old man’s tricks and added your mother’s patience.’ Ron Weasley’s brow furrowed. ‘Well. She’s more patient than me.’
Her younger self’s smile turned sad. ‘I’m going to miss these games.’
Her father squeezed her shoulder. ‘I know, Rosie. Me too. But I promise, you’re going to be so busy at Hogwarts, learning things and having a great time, it’ll be Christmas before you know it. Speaking of which…’ He put his free hand on the board. ‘Pack up the board. It’s yours. Don’t tell your mother I’m giving you a treat as well as that blasted cat.’
Rose’s younger self looked petulant. ‘Artemis didn’t mean to steal your bacon…’
‘I think she knew exactly what she was doing.’ Ron Weasley’s smile turned wry. ‘But take the board. You can play at Hogwarts with Al.’
‘Al’s no good!’
‘Then teach him!’
And the memory faded into nothingness, leaving them again sat in the dreary bleak wasteland. Rose’s brow crinkled. That hadn’t been exactly how it happened - she hadn’t beaten her father for the first time on the very last game before Hogwarts, but he had given her the chessboard before she’d left, and she’d vowed to get Albus into the game so they could play together -
‘How sweet,’ said Paquet, and took a pawn.
Rose’s gut twisted and her gaze swept back down to the chessboard. ‘Congratulations,’ she sneered. ‘You know I was a child, once.’
‘I know who you are, Rose Weasley. I might not be British but I can recognise one of your national heroes when I see them. Did you ever play chess with “Al”?’
- who’d been Sorted into Slytherin and the board had accumulated dust as Hestia and Cheryl showed no interest and playing with the dark-haired Doyle boy a couple of times a year wasn’t the same -
‘No,’ said Rose, and shifted some pawns to shore up her defences while she could arrange her heavier hitters.
‘Oh, that hurt,’ said Paquet. ‘Why not?’
And the vista shifted again.
A long silence as Albus placed the Sorting Hat on his head. The longest silence imaginable, in fact, as the furrows on the Hat shifted as if it was thinking, and Albus’ eyes were screwed shut. Happy certainty turned to cold worry in her gut - why wasn’t it calling out? This was Harry Potter’s son, why wasn’t this the easiest call it had ever made -
And a cold hush fell upon the Great Hall, the faces of everyone stunned - but with three people astonished above all others as Albus calmly stood, removed the Hat, and proceeded to the Slytherin table. In horror, Rose’s gaze sought James, whose jaw had actually dropped, before she watched Albus make it to the table, where he stopped at the astonished Malfoy boy, clapped him on the shoulder, then sat down next to him.
And Rose knew nothing was ever going to be the same again.
‘…it’s done very differently at Beauxbatons,’ mused Paquet. ‘It all looks rather silly.’
Rose furrowed her brow as she watched the dreary grey landscape return. ‘It is,’ she mused. ‘That was a long time ago.’ Then she took another of Paquet’s pawns.
Paquet scowled. ‘It seems to have left its mark.’
‘Lots of things have left their mark. I got past this one. I was a child, children take bumps and scrapes all the time. The important thing is that Albus is family, and I love him, and we’re closer now than we’ve ever been. He’s my best friend.’
‘Are you his?’
Rose deftly moved her bishop to guard her remaining knight. ‘That’s a pretty juvenile attitude to take. You could say we both value Scorpius more than we value each other. Isn’t that silly?’ She gave a wry but sincere chuckle, and looked the other woman in the eye. ‘Do you know Prometheus Thane?’
The air flickered to the right, though all she was rewarded with was the shifting, static form of the man she’d never properly met in the flesh - when they’d been in that hole in the ground in the Forbidden Forest he’d been cloaked, hooded, and he’d Stunned her before he’d revealed himself.
‘He’s at the Rabbit’s Foot,’ said Paquet, voice mechanical, and Rose took her bishop. ‘He’s one of Monsieur Maisson’s associates. He brought with him the items for the next auction. Six of them, ancient artifacts. They will be sold next Friday to the highest bidder. Monsieur Maisson is going to take a cut of the profits but the rest will go to these associates of Monsieurs Maisson and Thane. The Council of Thorns.’
‘When will Thane leave?’
‘After the auction, with the proceeds.’
‘Are they all being sold?’ Rose moved up her offensive line of pawns, pushing back the front Paquet had launched earlier.
‘No,’ said Paquet, desperately trying to shield her queen. ‘There’s one he’s had secured away from them. Something personal but valuable.’
‘Do you know what it is?’
Rose scowled as Paquet blocked her next thrust, and focused on the other side of the board. ‘How many people does he have with him?’
‘There are seven of them in total,’ said Paquet. ‘Thane is not the one dealing with Monsieur Maisson. The Colonel does that.’ And the air next to Thane’s form shifted to show that of a tall, austere wizard, grey-haired but built as if carved from stone, his craggy features as stern and cold as granite. ‘Colonel Raskoph. He is old, but he is the one who is dealing with the money, the business. Monsieur Maisson sees Thane as a business partner - but he is afraid of Raskoph.’
‘And the others?’
‘Five of them, Thane’s men. Mercenaries. Most are just brutes, but there are two who stand out. A woman, but also a brutish man -’
The air shimmered next to Raskoph and Thane to show the squat, square form of Elijah Downing. A second started to form, too, presumably the woman, but the sight of Downing made the old, ivory scars across Rose’s abdomen screamed in recollection, and it dissipated.
Paquet took a pawn. ‘You know him.’
‘He almost killed me,’ said Rose before she could stop herself, and the vista to the right turned to snow, and white, and cold, and pain. ‘We planned, we planned so hard how we could ambush him, all that planning and all that surprise, and he still beat me…’
‘He is just one of them,’ said Paquet. ‘They are all excellent. He is just one, and he beat you. You would take them all on?’
Rose gritted her teeth and looked Paquet in the eye. ‘We beat you. We’re better than we were.’ She took her rook. ‘And we’ll beat them, too.’
‘How?’ said Paquet. ‘What do you have to beat a group of mercenaries? You’re a good Legilimens, do not mistake me. You’ll need to be a well-oiled team to beat these kinds of professionals. Are you?’
It probably wasn’t Occlumency on Paquet’s part which had Rose responding not with aversion or confidence - but open laughter. ‘Professionals,’ she giggled. ‘You could say that.’
And the air to her left shifted from ice and snow to her four companions - Albus, first and foremost, the only other one of them she’d confidently take to deal with Thane and his men, the only one she’d follow to deal with Thane and his men. Then Scorpius, and his form was shaky and indistinct as she tried to not think too hard about him, then Matt, quick with a wand and working with that ridiculous sword but who still had no real idea what he was up against, and Selena, who wasn’t the best with magic or the best with planning and yet somehow kept them struggling through…
Paquet looked at Scorpius. ‘Him, again,’ she mused. ‘You veer away from him.’
Then the grey vista wasn’t a barren landscape anymore - but pitch blackness. This wasn’t another visual replica of an event or a person, but the facsimile of a sense. That bedroom in Paris, that intimacy and warmth, ripped away so suddenly to be replaced by coldness, loneliness, rejection, guilt -
And when that faded they were in the gloomy grey wasteland and Paquet took Rose’s queen. ‘…and yet you do keep coming back to him. Running back to him. Check.’
Shit. All Rose could do was move her king one square over. ‘It’s not your business -’
‘You’re in my head, that’s a poor response. He rejects you and you still feel guilty about it? Check.’
The thump of her king moving away. ‘I did something wrong -’
‘Like you did last time? Check.’
‘I hurt him -’
‘You hurt him before, and that was all your fault last time, so that makes it all your fault this time. Check.’
Rose’s head was spinning, and she opened her mouth to respond, reached her hand out automatically to just move the king away - then stopped. Focus. You’re better than this. One wrong move and you’ll be out of her mind and there’s no way you can try to break it twice in one night, you’ll be too drained.
She let out a deep breath. ‘Maybe it is all my fault,’ she said, voice low. ‘But there’s one thing you’ve not figured out.’
‘Oh? More crippling teenaged insecurities for me to use to kick you the hell out of my mind?’
‘No.’ Rose reached for her bishop, and knocked down the rook who had been threatening her king, destroying the breach behind her lines. ‘That maybe you’re right. Maybe it is all my fault. I hurt him before, betrayed him before. I let him down. I abandoned him when he was at his worst, rejected him when he was vulnerable. I had my reasons but he was still hurt. So perhaps this is just my chickens coming home to roost, the consequences of my actions, a punishment I deserve and will have to suffer.’
‘So what’s the one thing I’ve not figured out?’
‘That I know and accept this. That it doesn’t matter here and now. Because we’re still in your mind - and I’m better than you. How’s your life beyond work?’
Images flashed up on the right side, witches and wizards she didn’t recognise, but Paquet’s lined face flickered. ‘Work keeps me busy -’
And then facts and knowledge rolled before Rose, as they had to have rolled before Paquet when she’d pierced her defences, a whole vista of the invasion of someone else’s life and memories. ‘So busy your children don’t talk to you any more?’ She moved her knight forward to seize Paquet’s queen. ‘So busy your husband’s probably having an affair in his office? Wow.’ Paquet’s desperate defensive move was cracked through with crippling ease. ‘And yet, even at work, you think one of your employees is cooking the books and you can’t catch them when that’s your job? Check.’
Paquet squirmed and moved her king away from danger. ‘I am excellent at my job -’
‘Yes,’ Rose agreed. ‘You’re an excellent chief of security, which is why you know everything there is to know about the defences of the Rabbit’s Foot Casino. You’re also excellent at Occlumency, which makes it unfortunate that you’ve come across a superior Legilimens, who is going to know everything you know about your work.’ She reached for her rook and moved it across the board to back up her knight, the two pieces trapping Paquet’s king. Their eyes met as the featureless grey vista faded, images rising and swirling to surround them, snapshots of Paquet’s life now completely unleashed, unprotected, at Rose’s mercy to be sifted through and studied.
‘Check and mate,’ said Rose in a low voice. ‘I win. Tell me everything.’
‘Tea. Drink it.’ Selena pushed the cup across the café table. ‘You look like death warmed up.’
‘I feel it,’ groaned Rose, her sunglasses on even though they were sat in the shade, the streets of Monaco-Ville tumbling before them. ‘Honestly, this is worse than that time Cheryl got Randolf to sneak pumpkin schnapps into the common room Christmas before last…’
Selena’s eyes lit up, and she leaned forward as she stirred her coffee. ‘I’ve not heard this story.’
‘It was very silly. Hestia declared her undying love for John and spent the evening sobbing on the steps when he turned her down. Cheryl and Randolf started singing, and Matt and I -’ Her cheeks coloured. ‘Well, we were going out then.’
‘Drunken fumblings, the most romantic of teenaged entanglements.’ There was a melodramatic sigh. ‘So the morning after Legilimency is a lot like a hangover.’
‘Legilimency, writing down everything I saw and heard and using charms to make sure I did it as accurately as possible, and altering Paquet’s memory. She won’t remember a thing, and Albus got her back in her home within four hours of her abduction. So, it was a busy night, but it was successful. I’m allowed to feel like hell.’
‘Drink it.’ Selena stabbed a finger at the tea. ‘You’ll feel better.’
‘Actually, I feel like I’m going to throw up.’ But Rose obliged and had a sip, then peered over her sunglasses at her friend. ‘So what’s going on with you?’
Selena blinked. ‘Me? You’re the one who had a tough night and you and Scorpius -’
‘I asked first, don’t try that. You’ve been subdued and sorry for yourself since we left Paris.’
She tossed her hair. ‘Am I not allowed to be? Surely the least you can permit is that I’m sorry for yourself.’
‘I’m concerned, Selena. We’ve been busy, but now we’re not. Something’s happened.’ Rose took her sunglasses off and tried to make her squinting look sympathetic. ‘Tell me.’
Selena looked away, the mask of control fumbling. ‘I kissed Matt.’
‘Or he kissed me - it was a mutual - it was stupid, okay? We did it, we realised immediately that it was dumb, we waved it off, we had a perfectly pleasant evening getting quite merry and him getting really drunk to beat ancient illusions. It was stupid because were both needy and dumb and the other was there, and it’s not an issue…’
Rose tried to not think about why Matt had been needy and dumb. ‘I didn’t notice you two being awkward at each other, no.’
‘Because it’s not a thing.’ Selena bit her lip, not looking at her still. ‘…he’s the first person I kissed since Methuselah…’
‘Oh, Selena…’ Rose sighed, reaching for her hand. ‘I’m sorry. This doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t mean you’re forgetting or disrespecting him -’
‘Which would be worse? Kissing someone who means nothing? Or kissing someone who did mean something, moving on…’
‘Moving on’s not a crime - are you moving on with Matt?’ Rose tried to not wrinkle her nose. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that prospect.
‘No! Hell, no!’ Selena looked stricken. ‘I don’t have a type for the brainy. He’s arrogant and condescending and while he can be sweet and he’s a bit adorable when he rambles, he’s also broody as hell and his ego and insecurities are the sort of cocktails I leave to you, Rose. He was there. It was no more complicated than that. It could have happened with Albus, except I figured a long time ago that he’s not my type. It was just one of those things. I felt down, and you know how it is when you’re friends with boys, there’s that period where you figure out if you’re really just friends or if there’s a spark…’ Her voice trailed off, and she waved a dismissive hand. ‘Turns out he and I are really just friends.’
‘But you’re rattled.’
Selena’s expression pinched. ‘I explained that. It feels like a betrayal. Methuselah’s only a few months dead and here I am, running around like a slut -’
‘You are not, there is nothing wrong with you kissing whoever you feel like kissing for whatever reason!’ said Rose hotly. ‘Kisses aren’t disasters!’
‘Your track record would imply otherwise.’
‘We’re not talking about me.’
‘Except we’re done with me - I know it’s silly, I feel bad about it, I’ll get over it. I don’t really want to dissect how much I feel like a horrible person, because I already have grief pretty well ripped apart, I don’t think I need to also figure out guilt to that extent. So what the hell’s going on with you and Scorpius?’
Rose winced. ‘I don’t… I don’t know.’
‘But something did happen. In Paris.’
‘Or didn’t.’ Shame swirled to the forefront, utter shame, and it was Rose’s turn to look away. ‘We were - we made it back to the hotel room, and things were getting, you know, and then he - he just pulled back, freaked out, basically ran out the room, and since then he’s been this vicious sneering mess at me like he used to be, like he’s angry with me… and I don’t know why!’ She’d tried to be controlled. But worry had wormed in, worry and insecurity and she found her words tumbling over one another.
It was Selena’s turn to reach for her hand, touch reassuring. ‘Scorpius does this. I’m not saying it’s okay. But him being a sulky git, lashing out at everyone else for things which are his fault is pretty much his go-to choice when it comes to reacting badly to something. That doesn’t mean it’s your fault.’
‘I don’t know what it is, he didn’t say - I mean, maybe we should have talked about it more, we started to in Badenheim and then we were interrupted and then everything happened, we shouldn’t have just lunged into stuff - I assumed it wouldn’t be a problem for him! I thought the problem would be me! Why’s he freaking out?’
‘It really doesn’t make much sense,’ Selena agreed, stirring her coffee, perfect nose wrinkled as she thought. ‘Considering he and Miranda - shit.’
Rose stared at her. ‘Considering he and Miranda what?’
‘Shit, shit - forget I said anything!’ She flapped her hands, but wilted under Rose’s piercing look. ‘Oh, don’t ask me to - it’s not my business! This isn’t fair, it’s not my fault I’m friends with his ex! This doesn’t make me the go-to girl for information!’ But Selena wilted, scowling to herself. She reached for a pastry. ‘I know he and Miranda slept together. Last year, Easter holidays. I didn’t hear of him freaking out then. Apparently it was awkward, but first times are awkward and with practice it got -’
‘Okay, I suddenly don’t want to know as much.’ Rose lifted a hand, but her heart was sinking. ‘I get the picture. I can paint a blurry watercolour, in fact.’
‘I would say “I thought he’d told you”,’ said Selena. ‘But that would be a lie, of course he didn’t tell you.’
‘I didn’t ask.’
‘Did you and Matt have sex? Or you and Hector? Or, well, anyone, you sly dog, you?’
‘What? No.’ Rose shook her head. ‘It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. I thought it was, but then I -’
‘Use your words, Weasley, we’re not twelve.’
Rose coloured. ‘I’m not used to talking about this!’
‘I can tell! And you know what? That’s the problem.’ Selena pursed her lips. ‘That and the fact that Scorpius Malfoy is one of the world’s most self-absorbed plonkers. And you can do better, you know that?’
‘Superior to - look. He kisses you when you’re with Hector, then he has the gall to get pissed at you when you don’t dump Hector - who’s dying of plague - to be with him. Utter plonker. Then you get together, and one moment he’s all charming and stuff - I’m assuming he’s charming, I’m assuming he didn’t seduce you with Quidditch stories - and gets you into bed, then runs out and somehow he’s pissed at you?’
Rose sipped her tea, crestfallen. ‘He apologised for how he acted about the Hector things.’
‘Oh, sure.’ Selena waved a hand. ‘He was horrible to you - to everyone, but you especially - for about two months, and only manned the fuck up when you almost died, but gee, he said sorry…’
‘Are you trying to advise me to fix the relationship or end it?’
‘Sorry. No, not end it. This is how I help, dear, you need someone righteously on your side, and I’m not just saying these things. I know he can be lovely, I do, and he’s very sweet when he fusses, but he can also be a complete pillock and you’ve been really jerked around by him. I don’t know what happened to make the indomitable Rose Weasley convinced that everything in this relationship is her fault…’
Rose bit her lip. ‘I really did hurt him with Hector.’
‘And he hurt you by punishing you far more than you deserved, and now this.’ Selena sighed, mulling something over. ‘…Miranda really messed him up.’
‘…yeah?’ Rose looked dubious. ‘He seemed to run after anything in a skirt immediately after.’
‘Yes. Think about it, Weasley. I know you don’t like Miranda, but he was really crazy about her. Your first real relationship was with Matt, and while I don’t think that ended as healthily as you say, it still ended on friendly terms. And then you were with Hector, and while that had its issues, you knew exactly what you wanted out of that relationship - namely, a killer six-pack - and you got it. He falls for a girl, sleeps with her, then she cheats on him, tells the entire school that he cheated on her - what do you think it means when he goes running after anything leggy that he can catch?’
The tea had gone colder than Rose liked, but she finished it because otherwise Selena would glare. ‘…much the same as it meant when I got with Hector so I didn’t have to look at Matt and feel lonely,’ she admitted. ‘I suppose that makes sense.’
‘Only in a very messed up way,’ Selena conceded. ‘But all of this makes sense most of all in thoroughly messed-up ways. Are you going to talk to him?’
‘What do I say? He’s the one who’s got to explain things to me! I don’t even know what’s wrong!’
‘That is a minor obstacle, I grant you. And I hate to pull this professional card, but is now really the time to try to corner him?’ Selena winced. ‘I don’t know when a good time is, but this is easily the most mental thing we’ve ever done, and one way or another it’ll be over next week - either we succeed and get the Chalice and go home, or we fail and Thane’s gone somewhere the hell else.’
‘Yes, but when are our lives ever quiet?’ Rose sighed noisily. ‘You’re not wrong. I don’t know what to say - we need to have a real talk, in private and not interrupted and we’re in about the worst possible place for that right now. Stop trying to get the waiter’s attention, we should head back.’
‘But I wanted another tea…’
‘There’s tea in the flat.’
Selena grumbled, getting to her feet. ‘It’s not good tea.’
‘I’ll pick up some good tea.’ Rose stood and looked at the other woman. ‘To say, you know. Thank you. For listening.’
She gave a small smile. ‘And for telling. And… thanks, too. It does help. I know it might sometimes seem like nothing helps. But not being alone helps.’
Rose gave her arm a squeeze. ‘You’re never alone.’
Selena didn’t look like she believed this, but she didn’t argue, and so the two of them made their way on foot down across the city to where their flat was. It had been charmed up by Rose herself to make it as safe and secure as could be, though they were relying more on keeping a low profile to make them safe. Paquet had been sent home with no recollection of what had happened, Thane had no reason to believe they were in the city, and while Guerrier probably had his methods of keeping tabs on them, he had certainly not been told where they were.
‘I’m going to nap,’ said Selena as they got in to see Albus bent over the many stacks of paper on the coffee table. ‘Let me know when I need to work.’
‘I’ll need you,’ called Albus. ‘But not yet. I want to double-check some things first.’ His voice was firm but distracted, and he didn’t even bother with a greeting. His sleeves were rolled up, his brow furrowed, and he looked utterly entrenched in the work - which, Rose could see, was every single note and piece of information that she’d extracted from Paquet’s mind about the movements of Thane and the insides and security of the Rabbit’s Foot.
Rose padded over as Selena left. ‘How’s it going?’
Albus gave a small smile, but still didn’t look up. ‘We can do this,’ he said.
‘Paquet knew lots, of course, and that’s everything she knows, but this is still one of the most secure places on Earth. You think we can waltz in tomorrow and take the Chalice from under Thane’s nose?’
‘It’s in there,’ he said. ‘And so’s Thane. And he’s not selling it, of course, he’s not even moving on yet. So, yes, I think we can waltz in and take it from under Thane’s nose. But not tomorrow.’
‘We need more time?’
‘I have an idea,’ said Albus. ‘Several, in fact. This is going to take intricate planning, coordination, and resources. But if one piece of this works, the rest will fall into place.’ He finally looked up, and she was startled to see how his eyes glinted. Days ago he had been so cautious about everything, but this was the most determined and driven she’d ever seen him. ‘I controlled the security wards in Hogwarts; get me on the inside at the Rabbit’s Foot and I can most certainly control those.’
‘Oh, so, if we get you to the command and control centre of the casino unimpeded, then it’ll be easy.’ Rose snorted. ‘How long is this going to take?’
‘It won’t take long to confirm the details. Put the plan together. Make the preparation. But we can take it slow. Because we’re not doing this for another week.’ He tapped the schedule of the Rabbit’s Foot’s events she’d written down, pointing to the date of the auction. ‘That night.’
‘We’re going to steal the Chalice and all of their relics?’
‘No, it’d be impossible to get several bulky, unusual magical artifacts out of that building - or, at least, risky. The only relic we’re walking out of there with is the Chalice.’ Albus’ smile twisted. ‘Trust me. This is going to work.’
A/N: The depiction of Legilimency and Occlumency is, indeed, somewhat different to how it’s come across in the books. This is intentional. The idea here is that we’re dealing with two people powerful in both fields, and Rose isn’t just lunging into Paquet’s mind to loot details - she wants unfettered access. The ‘chess game’ is thus an intentional construct by Rose, to overpower Paquet’s will and then have free rein inside her memories. The more typical depiction of the books would require Rose to brute force Paquet’s memories chunk by chunk.
And I wanted a different depiction of Legilimency anyway.