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Starfall by Slide
Chapter 18 : The Sky's the Limit
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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The Sky’s the Limit

‘Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,’ said Matt with a flourish of the hand, ‘to the Rabbit’s Foot Casino.’

The casino floor was as crowded as it had been two nights ago, and the two of them stepped into the same swirling mass of people, colours, excitement. Matt had been wrangled into a set of dress-robes which Selena had worked on to look better-tailored than they were - and open-fronted in anticipation of the very high likelihood that over the course of the evening, they were going to have to run like hell. For her part, she wore one of the many dresses she’d somehow managed to sneak in amongst her packing and which was, despite all likelihood, in perfect condition despite the extensive travelling.

She had her hand slipped into his arm, but as he spoke, her mask of tight control flickered. ‘Don’t talk like there’s more than one of us, Doyle,’ she muttered out of the corner of her mouth as they swept inside. ‘They’ll think you’re crazy.’

‘I am a little crazy,’ he sighed, gaze sweeping the tables. ‘I hate not having my wand.’

* *

The five of them were stood in the apartment’s main room, a miniaturised facsimile of the building - produced by Scorpius’ illusions - sat on the table, giving them a full display of the Rabbit’s Foot Casino, inside and out, as best as they could reproduce based on the information from Paquet.

‘Security is tight,’ said Matt, pointing to the front. ‘Your wand’s taken off you by security at the door, and they have the entranceway itself charmed up to not only detect a wand, but also to bring down any spells hanging on you. That includes illusions, polyjuice, concealment charms.’

Albus nodded. ‘So anyone security watches walk in is going to be unarmed and unequipped. It’s fine. I know what you guys are doing once you’re inside.’

* *

From outside they had seen the tall columns shrouding the entranceway and could look up to see the tower stab high into the starry sky, the architecture old-fashioned at the lower levels but becoming more solid and modern as the building rose. It had promised just as much opulence as they were given, but Matt moved like he knew exactly what he was doing, guiding Selena through the crowd towards where the exchange booths sat.

‘Is it going to be a bit diverting,’ she said, ‘you coming here with a different girl to a few nights ago?’

‘On the contrary. It helps my mystique.’

‘Yeah. That’s a word I associate with you. Mystique.’ She looked at him. ‘How did that go?’

‘Is now really the time?’

‘We’re in a queue. Perfect time.’

Matt sighed deeply. ‘We talked. Properly. About how we can be friends, how it’s okay if things are awkward between us, how we can be sensible and rational and be friendly without ignoring we were once a couple. Because pretending is silly. And we’re… it’s good. We’ll be friends.’

She arched an eyebrow. ‘Wow. I’m impressed.’

‘Because that’s incredibly mature?’

‘Because I didn’t think you could lie to her that well.’

He opened his mouth to protest, but then they were next in the queue, so he had to step forward - and they were back to work. Selena watched as he walked up to the booth and pulled out his coin purse. ‘I’ll take a thousand in chips,’ he said like it was nothing, and placed the pouch on the counter. She managed to keep a straight face as the coins were poured and weighed and he was given a small box with the appropriate amount, and didn’t speak or shift her expression until they were walking away.

‘A thousand.’

Matt frowned. ‘You think that’s enough? I wanted to keep some in reserve.’

She goggled despite herself. ‘How much do you have in that damn pouch?’

‘Now? Two hundred. I wanted to walk out with something, as I rather doubt we’re going to have the chance to exchange all of this. But I need to bring something to the high rollers’ table.’

‘…how much did you start with?’

‘The fifty I borrowed off Scorpius. I’m paying him back double anyway.’

She felt a little faint. ‘Doyle. Just how good at cards are you?’

He shrugged. ‘I used to play with my family. Holidays and the like. And then there was one summer, I was fourteen, I had dragonpox. All summer. Dad had it when he was little, he was fine, sat up with me lots and we played a lot of card games. I got really good.’

‘You got good enough to win a thousand galleons at the best casino in the world by playing cards with your dad.’

‘Actually, eleven hundred and fifty-three. And, yeah.’ Matt gave a lopsided smirk. ‘You play cards for a whole summer against a seer and you learn how to get really good at poker.’

And there was nothing more Selena could say to that, as it was the point they got to the card table. This was one where they could sit down, but Matt gestured for her to stay standing as he greeted the well-dressed wizards around it, all of whom seemed to know him. She didn’t understand most of the terms which flew around - buy-ins, aces high, pots, antes - but she knew, at least, why she was here.

To stand around and look pretty. It was going to be a long evening.

* *

‘According to Paquet,’ said Albus, hands planted on the table, ‘the auction will finish at ten o’ clock. We want to try to make our move at about half past ten. So you’ve got two hours to play some cards.’

‘Good,’ said Matt, ‘because if this is going to work, then I’m going to have to win, and I’m going to have to win big. Nobody’s going to care if I’m messing around with one hundred, two hundred galleons. I want that pot to be up to about five thousand before it all goes wrong. Or, in our case, right.’

* *

Selena was content to rest with one hand on the back of Matt’s chair as he played, chatting and smirking with the other players in a mixture of French and English, and let her gaze sweep across the Rabbit’s Foot Casino. There were easily several hundred people in there, and she knew there’d be even more on the floor above, in the conference room where the auction for the artifacts Thane and his gang were selling would be ongoing. According to Matt, it was quieter on the main floor than usual because of this - and once the auction was over, more money would flow freely across the games and tables and gambling contraptions.

She had no idea how much each chip represented, but she could see them piling up in front of Matt as the game wound on, even if he’d started with fewer than most of the people around the table. She couldn’t tell how - he sometimes gave up, sacrificing a few chips, sometimes stuck it through to win only a handful. Sometimes abandoned even a huge pot, and then, once or twice, swept the table clean. She had no idea what hands amounted to what, but so far as she could divine, from her own skills at studying the body language of the other players around the table, it was more about knowing when to quit than knowing when to push.

So it was only because she was keenly watching all the players around the table that she saw Matt slip a card from his sleeve.

It took until he laid down his winning hand with a triumphant smirk that the wizard to his left realised what was going on, planting his palm on the table and scowling. ‘What the hell was that?’

* *

‘The good news is that cheating isn’t hard. It’s cheating and not being caught that’s hard,’ said Matt. ‘So all I need to do is wait until they’re riled, they’re tense, there’s a lot of money in play, and then I need to get rumbled.’

Scorpius scowled. ‘And how do you make sure you don’t get caught before then, while you get the pot really high?

‘Simple.’ Matt smirked. ‘I don’t need to cheat to get the pot huge in the first place.'

* *

‘I don’t -’

A firm hand shot out to clamp around Matt’s wrist as he reached for the chips in the middle, the other wizard’s face twisted in fury. ‘You just mucked. I saw that. You little gobshite, you’ve been cheating -’

Matt’s expression folded into a mixture of anger and fear. It was, Selena thought, a pretty good bluff. Of course, it wasn’t hard to pretend to be scared right then. If this went wrong, the consequences for cheating when there were this many galleons in play could be steep. ‘You don’t accuse a man of -’

‘I’m sure this can be cleared up - let’s get security, hm?’ said one of the other wizards, the man Matt had called Bellegarde. ‘We’ll have them go through the pack. If there are two of anything in his hand, there, it’ll be simple enough to determine.’

‘Just because you’re losing,’ Matt sneered.

‘Do yourself a favour,’ said the wizard who still hadn’t let go of his wrist. ‘Stay sat down and don’t move.’ His gaze shot over to Selena. ‘You don’t move either, you probably slipped him the damned card.’

Her jaw dropped - but then, she was supposed to be suspected as well. ‘I did no such thing!’

‘Security will sort it out,’ came Bellegarde again. ‘I’m sure this is just a misunderstanding. But we sit and wait, and in the meantime, nobody moves.’

* *

‘If this was some mid-level cheating, a few hundred galleons or less, or even up to a thousand, I suspect that security would just rough Matt up and toss him outside,’ said Albus, tapping his fingers against his chin thoughtfully. ‘But with this much in play, Paquet says that security will take such individuals up to see Maisson.’

‘And do horrible things?’ said Matt. ‘I don’t fancy getting my fingers chopped off.’

‘Doesn’t this get dealt with by, I don’t know, local law enforcement?’ said Rose, brow furrowing.

‘Monaco is magically covered by the French government,’ said Albus. ‘There might be someone in town, but the Rabbit’s Foot has gone to great lengths to remain self-regulating. So nobody pays too much attention to what goes on behind closed doors. And this includes making sure nobody dares cheat at the Rabbit’s Foot Casino.’ He looked at Matt. ‘So make sure you piss them off so much they want to take you - both of you - to Maisson’s office.’

* *

‘A queen of hearts and… a queen of hearts.’ The security guard turned the two cards over, eyes cold as they locked on Matt. ‘If you’ll come with us, sir.’

Matt stood. ‘I don’t -’ But there were two wizards, wands in hand, who moved up to flank him. The grip on his shoulder made it clear that this summons was no request.

Selena pursed her lips as they ignored her. This wouldn’t do. She had to be taken with him. And there was one way to make that a certainty…

‘Hey!’ That was the wizard who’d grabbed Matt in the first place, stabbing a finger in her direction as she went to slink off through the crowd. ‘Take the girl, too, I’m sure she was in on it.’

‘He’s not had her here before,’ said Bellegarde soothingly, ‘Leave the girl be.’

‘He’s not played at a table with these stakes before. Lulls us in a false sense of security, then brings the girl to distract and look pretty, thinking we won’t notice when he slips a card from his sleeve -’

One of the security guards let go of Matt to turn to her. ‘You too, then, Miss.’ He gave a polite smile that didn’t reach his eyes. ‘I’m sure if you had no involvement, this will all get cleared up quickly.’

I’m sure you don’t care, mused Selena. But she tossed her hands in the air and assumed a demeanour of long-suffering. ‘Oh, fine. If he wanted to be that much of an idiot - what were you thinking?’ She took advantage of being dragged up next to Matt to swat him on the arm.

‘Ow!’ Matt scowled at her. She suspected this was real.

‘Enough,’ said the first security guard. ‘We’ll take you to see Monsieur Maisson. He can clear this up.’

* *

‘The building’s security wards can be changed from two places - one being the main security room. That is going to be seriously guarded; there’s no way we’re getting anyone in there. Our second option is easier - and it’s also the only place from which, unknown to the majority of security but fortunately known to Madame Paquet, the security wards can be turned off. And that’s Maisson’s office.’

‘Isn’t that a bit silly?’ said Scorpius. ‘I mean, they’re going to march a cheater right into the middle of the control centre of the entire building and all of its protections?’

‘They’ll be surrounded by security,’ said Albus. ‘Maisson may or may not be there yet from the auction, but he’s no slouch himself with a wand, by all accounts. Four wizards, fully-trained and absolutely ready for anything, next to two people who have no wands, no enchantments, no disguises, absolutely no tricks on them? You can sneak a mundane card up your sleeve. You can’t waltz past the eyes of security into the Rabbit’s Foot with anything magical on you, at all.’

‘So how,’ said Rose, ‘are we making sure that Selena and Matt don’t get murdered, let alone taking control of the wards?’

* *

The door to Maisson’s office was slammed shut behind the last of the three security guards who’d escorted Matt and Selena, in absolute disgrace, across the main floor of the casino and up the stairs. It was a large room, wood-panelled and old-fashioned in its decoration. The windows on the far wall left Matt bewildered for a moment, as he knew this to be an inside wall from the information off Paquet - but then he saw how it displayed an impossible view of the casino floor, and realised the view was enchanted.

The security guard who’d led their procession stopped in front of the desk. Sat behind it was a middle-aged wizard whose appearance matched the photographs they’d studied of Pierre Maisson - entrepreneur, black market dealer, and owner of the Rabbit’s Foot Casino.

‘Monsieur?’ the guard began with absolute respect, even though Maisson was a rather short man without much presence. Money could compensate for personal charisma, Matt presumed wryly. But when Maisson looked up from the papers on his desk, his dark eyes latching not onto the security guard but Matt himself, he found his shoulders automatically tensing.

This was not a man who was going to suffer fools gladly.

‘I would hope this interruption is worthwhile,’ said Maisson in French, sitting up slowly. ‘Tonight has been busy -’

Which was when the room was pitched into absolute darkness.

* *

‘The wards on the front door are excellent. Comparable to what you’d find at Gringotts. There is nothing your average wizard is going to do which could bypass them.’ Albus reached to the bag at his feet and pulled out a length of shimmering cloth. ‘Fortunately, I am not the average wizard.’

Scorpius grinned. ‘The Invisibility Cloak.’

* *

Matt went to grab Selena, but he found himself clutching at thin air when she wasn’t where he’d thought she was as everything went pitch black. Then she grabbed him and yanked him to the floor, both of them lying flat as magic flew across the room - four spells, all in quick succession, illuminating the air around them in the briefest flash and followed by the sound of bodies hitting the ground.

And when the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder wore off, the only wizard still standing was Albus Potter. The three security guards were slumped on the floor, unmoving, and Maisson had collapsed across his desk.

‘That went well,’ Albus said, voice taut, then he reached for the pouch at his hip, extending his arm far further in than would have been possible if its inside hadn’t been magically enlarged. From it he pulled out a bundle of clothes and two wands, tossing the former to Selena and placing the latter on the desk. ‘There you go. I’ll get the door.’

Matt clambered to his feet to retrieve his wand. There had been no point leaving it with security - it had been with Albus, all along. ‘I thought we’d lost you on the second flight of stairs,’ he said. ‘You’re damned quick.’

* *

‘I can walk past their charms and not be seen. I can carry anything on me their wards would normally pick up, and they won’t pierce the cloak. But it’s still an Invisibility Cloak, not an Intangibility Cloak -’

‘That would be cool,’ Scorpius mused.

‘…so there are still some limitations,’ Albus continued without missing a beat. ‘I have to make sure I don’t walk into anyone. And if I just walk up to a door and open it - well, in a crowded room, that might not be a big deal. But if I wandered the corridors of the restricted sections of the building? Even if I could crack the locks on the secured rooms, someone would notice a door opening and closing and be suspicious.

‘So that’s our first job,’ Matt told Selena. ‘We get to be the Trojan Horse. Albus comes in with us, and when we’re taken upstairs to Maisson’s office, he can slip in between us. Security will literally open the doors for him.

‘And if it all works,’ Albus confirmed, ‘we have three people inside one of the major security control points for the entire building.

* *

‘I have to get changed in front of you two?’ Selena protested as she straightened out the security guard uniform they’d managed to replicate over the last week.

‘Do you see anywhere with privacy?’ Matt waved a hand around the room.

‘Watch the door,’ said Albus to him, heading for the desk. He planted another charm on Maisson, before hauling the man off his chair and dumping him onto the floor. ‘Looks like the auction’s over. That’s good. Everything should be in place.’

‘You’re sure you can bring these wards down?’ Matt slunk over to the door as Selena moved to a corner, turned her back to them, and muttered venomously as she pulled off her dress and began to pour herself into the rather more conservative uniform. He kept his eyes dedicatedly on the office door.

‘I mastered the wards at Hogwarts, adapted and altered them to our need for months,’ said Albus. ‘I’m confident that the Rabbit’s Foot’s aren’t going to be that much more sophisticated. We’re talking about two places of comparable magical importance and need for security. I don’t need to jimmy that much with the protections on the main entrance, for example - I shouldn’t, that’ll make it more likely that someone will notice what’s wrong.’

‘So you’re not lowering everything?’

‘Of course not,’ said Albus. He’d opened the drawer in Maisson’s desk within which sat the control gem, glinting and pulsing with its power, and he reached to Maisson to take the man’s wand before he flicked it at the gem. ‘Just the target locations. Oh, and the roof, of course.’

Matt pulled out his pocket-watch. ‘Five minutes until it’s time.’

‘Excellent. I can do this in five minutes. Oh - one thing.’ Albus reached with his free hand to his pouch and pulled out something which made Matt blink. It looked like only the hilt of the sword, broken off after all of an inch of blade, which had been tucked into a tiny pouch of leather from which dangled a strap. ‘A gift. Courtesy of Rose.’

He slid it across the ground, and Matt picked it up, peering with confusion before he tugged on the hilt - and the full length of the blade came sliding out of the impossibly tiny scabbard. ‘Extendable Charm on the scabbard,’ he said with surprise. ‘Nice. I should have thought of that, it’s obvious.’

‘Or, not obvious.’ Albus smirked. ‘Wear that under your robes, nobody’s going to see you’re carrying a ruddy great sword with you.’

‘I thought you said it was a waste of time?’

‘I did,’ said Albus, still manipulating the wards. ‘And then I realised that something pulsing anti-magic might be really useful if you’re going to have to break into a vault.’

Selena turned around. ‘I’m done,’ she said as she pulled her hair - turned black by a simple charm - into a more severe ponytail, now looking far less like a glamorous charmer to stand on Matt’s arm, and more like a professional member of the Rabbit’s Foot Casino’s staff.

As she said that, the air around them visibly rippled, and Albus wore a small smile, lifting his head. ‘Don’t worry. They won’t feel that outside. And there’s still more work to do. But that’s the roof protections deactivated.’

* *

‘There are very few ways into the building which aren’t watched by security. If we want anyone else in the building, they can’t walk in through any of the doors. Floo is going to be impossible. The apparition wards are so absolutely fundamental I can’t bring them down - those are charmed into the stonework itself. But we can’t do this with just three people, and there’s no way I can think of for us to get anyone else off the casino floor and onto the upper levels,’ said Albus.

‘So what’s the other way?’ asked Matt.

Albus looked at Scorpius who, despite the bags under his eyes, gave a firm smirk, and said, simply, ‘Up.’

* *

‘I don’t like this,’ said Scorpius, looking down at himself. It wasn’t that he could see through himself, but it felt like it, with the colours across his padded jacket taking on the same hues and textures as the rooftop he was stood on. Camouflaging charms were supposed to make him blend in; that was great except for when it made him feel like he wasn’t actually there.

‘What would you like?’ Rose barely raised her voice above a whisper, crouched at the edge of the rooftop and peering across the several buildings and roads between them and Rabbit’s Foot Casino. They were still in Muggle Monte Carlo, but concentration and passing by the front door had made the casino visible to them. It made the cityscape warp around the edges if Scorpius looked for too long, made it clear that space had been crumpled up and flattened out to slip the casino in between two buildings where there wasn’t supposed to be space for it.

There were two ways of doing it, Rose had said. The first was to stretch real-space, to flatten it out and eke every single millimetre from it, hidden from Muggle eyes. The second was to fold the space already there, making metres look like inches from the outside, but massive on the inside. The latter was easiest, but it required that the Muggles wouldn’t notice the space was gone in the first place. Diagon Alley, for instance, was folded, because it had been successfully lost in the streets of London over the hundreds of years, apparently folded inch by inch for centuries until it was completely hidden. The Rabbit’s Foot Casino was less than two hundred years old; Muggles would have noticed the disappearance of a whole building, and so expensive and powerful magics had allowed Maisson’s predecessors to steal precious inches of real-estate and turn it into a fortress.

Scorpius swatted at his arm. It did, of course, nothing. ‘Invisibility? I’d like invisibility.’

‘Albus has the cloak.’

‘I know. Is he done yet? It’s past ten.’

‘It’s not half-past. He’ll be done at half-past. That’s when we go.’

‘Can you tell? Because if he’s not done by then and we go then we will be noticed, and also, those charms might flatten us. I don’t want to do a pancake impression against thin air.’

Rose looked over, lips pursed with the air of aggravation he once delighted in provoking from her. It was hard to find satisfaction in such irritation under these circumstances - their job, their relationship. ‘Do you trust Albus?’

He scowled. ‘That’s a low blow - of course I trust Albus.’

‘Then trust that he’ll be done at half past!’

Scorpius muttered under his breath and reached for his pocket-watch, Sirius Black’s old pocket-watch. Twenty past. Still plenty of time - for things to go wrong. He sighed. ‘Do you trust me?’

Rose had been studying the building but at this she looked over, startled. ‘What?’

‘Do you trust me?’ He stepped up beside her, slinging his broom over his shoulder. ‘Because I want us spending as little time airborne as possible to avoid notice from Muggles, from security. We’ve got to travel a hundred and fifty metres and if we’re taking more than ten seconds then I think that’s too long. So that’s, what, thirty-five miles per hour? On a broom? Hitting a gap of about two metres wide?’

‘Stop swapping between metric and imperial measurements,’ Rose muttered.

He looked over at her - or a bit through her, the camouflaging charm was really disconcerting - and gave a lopsided, smirking grimace. ‘I’m just saying, you get to trust me, too, for us to get there without dying or being spotted.’

She looked away. ‘I trust your flying.’

He tried to ignore the stab of hurt there. Did he deserve that, for what he’d done? Was it fair, when she’d gone running to Matt the moment things had gone wrong? Now wasn’t the time. ‘That’s optimistic,’ he mused. ‘Seeing as I’ve not flown seriously since last season.’

‘And didn’t you lose the Cup last year?’

He gave an exaggerated scowl. ‘Gryffindor still had James Potter. We won our match against Hufflepuff.’

She flinched. ‘I remember.’

Of course. You got with Hector right after that. Scorpius glared across the buildings at the Rabbit’s Foot Casino. He’d hated Hector Flynn so badly that match. He’d been only a week out from the messy breakup with Miranda, where suspicion and hints and poor obfuscation had led him to outright challenge her on her fidelity - and she’d not denied it. He’d sworn to himself that the least he could do was crush Hufflepuff at Quidditch, and he had, he’d played his heart out. Even if Gryffindor had been too far ahead after completely annihilating Ravenclaw, he’d sworn the match would matter on a personal basis, and he and Albus had never been more synchronised as players, dragging their third Chaser, young Drake, with them to crush the opposition.

They’d won, he’d not cheered, he’d just felt some small sense of satisfaction, and then afterwards he’d seen Hector Flynn not destroyed and defeated, but snogging the face off Rose Weasley. It had been hard to not hate them both for that, a little - for denying him the one vengeance he could claim. So he hadn’t tried to not hate them.

His pocket-watch chose to be merciful at that moment, though, and chimed - just as Rose’s did, and they both reached to turn them off. Scorpius gave a tight, humourless smile. ‘I guess one of us gets to be proved right,’ he said.

‘Firstly, I didn’t say I expect this to go wrong,’ said Rose, turning her nose upward haughtily. ‘Second, even if I did, I would be proved right only very briefly.’

There was a little reassurance in there, a little self-mocking humour, and that went some way to loosening the tension in his gut as he swung his broom from his shoulder and climbed up. ‘Let’s rock and roll. Hop on.’

Her lips twitched as she pulled herself onto the broom behind him, grip ginger as she wrapped her arms around his midriff. ‘Only you would say that in the face of danger.’

‘I’m Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy,’ he said, voice taking on a light, self-mocking tone. ‘Danger is my bread. Adventure is my butter. Death is the jam I spread on top - the chunky, fresh, fruity stuff.’

He felt her shoulders shake with a suppressed chuckle, then she was leaning up, planting a kiss on his cheek. ‘Speak to you in about ten seconds.’

It was the first acknowledgement all week that they were, technically, still a couple, and despite it all he clung to the genuine confidence that affection gave him. They could talk. They could fix this. But in the meantime, he had to do something desperately dangerous and, if it worked, seriously awesome.

‘Or less!’ he said with mock cheer, before he kicked his broom off the ground, whirled it around to face the Rabbit’s Foot Casino, narrowed his eyes at his destination - and then they were off, bent low over the handle, picking up speed on this world-class model of broom to catapult themselves above the night-clad streets of Monte Carlo, a blur over the thousands of pinpricks of light of fuss and life below.

* *

‘There aren’t many physical entrances. Breaking in through a window is stupid, we have no idea who’s going to be where and we want to be discreet for as long as possible. But there is a roof access.’ Rose pointed to the top of the display of the casino. ‘Handling all of this international travel, the Rabbit’s Foot has its own Floo. Which means it has a Floo chimney - it must, to disperse that much wasted magical essence.’

‘You’re going down the Floo chimney,’ said Matt in a flat voice. ‘Isn’t that going to be protected?’

‘I’ll kill the protections,’ said Albus.

‘Isn’t that going to risk hitting a Floo transit and being splinched to hell and back?’

‘I’ll kill the Floo, as well. Just for a couple of minutes, so nobody notices. You use a camouflage charm to not be spotted by Muggles or security, hit the Floo chute, and then, bam, you’re inside.’

Scorpius gave him a smug look. ‘You’re making a feat of aerobatic derring-do sound easy.’

Albus snorted. ‘If there’s one thing which synchronising separate groups to make their entry into the upper levels of the Rabbit’s Foot Casino unnoticed by security at the same time isn’t going to be, it’s easy.’

* *


Scorpius thought he could hear his heart screaming that at him, over and over, until he realised it was Rose hissing oaths under her breath. The wind whipped through his hair, slapping at his face, but still he kept low, didn’t lessen the speed, kept the broom hurtling. Buildings and streets raced underneath as he kept his focus on the goal ahead - the slanted roof of the Rabbit’s Foot, the chimney flue.

Rose cut off as he shoved the handle of his broom down. He’d had to aim high above the casino, which wasn’t ideal, because he was going to have to hit the flue at as much of a vertical drop as possible if he didn’t want to stop and hover, and that meant more time in the air, out in the open.

There was no telling how many human eyes would be watching, inside and outside of the casino. They didn’t want to be spotted by Muggles, because camouflaging spells were only good, not perfect. And they really didn’t want to be spotted by security.

He was pretty sure that by now they’d passed any magical barriers which would have prevented them from doing exactly what they were trying to do - fly into the proximity of the building. Which meant, if this was the case, that Albus had successfully brought them down. So there would be no protections around the chimney flue to prevent them from doing this, too, and there was no safety in slowing down to check, because if they were spotted it was all over. Just as it would be all over if he flew them flat into a magical barrier, or missed his mark and flew them flat into the rooftop.

‘Tuck in,’ he hissed at Rose, and couldn’t tell if the wind had stolen his words as they fell into a dead drop on the last few metres, rocketing at the roof of the Rabbit’s Foot, at the tiny gap of the flue which came racing up at them -

- and around as he expertly flew them right through the narrow gap, then all was dark and he kicked his feet down to put the brakes on the broom as much as he could. But the gap was small and the flue began to twist and turn, and then they were in less of a controlled descent as tumbling through the narrow passageway of the chimney flue, gripping wildly onto the broom to stop them from travelling at tens of miles an hour, in the absolute pitch black -

Then Scorpius hit something, heard and felt the cracking of wood and prayed it wasn’t his broom, before he tumbled sideways and landed face-first in a thick, lustrous, and now soot-coated carpet, coughing and sputtering as the ashes flew up his nose, down his throat.

Rose was lying next to him, groaning and also coughing, and if the room with this Floo-enabled fireplace had anyone else in it, there wasn’t a damn thing they could do to recover their wits and defend themselves. He looked up, still sputtering, eyes watering as his gaze swept around the tidy waiting room which proved to be mercifully empty, and wiped his hands on his trousers before he tried to get soot from his eyes. This just seemed to spread it.

‘Chunky, fresh, fruity jam?’ Rose coughed.

‘That’s how you know it’s really good home-made stuff.’ Scorpius blinked, eyes streaming still. ‘Oh my God, I’ve got soot in places I didn’t know I had.’

Still sputtering, Rose pulled out her wand and set about cleaning them off, so they could see and function and concentrate, and also so they didn’t leave dark tracks telling anyone who travelled in their wake exactly where they’d gone. It would hardly be discreet in what was supposed to be a subtle infiltration.

‘That was actually fifteen seconds,’ said Rose when they were done, and she got to her feet, moving stiffly. ‘Also, if we can take a different way out, I would be thrilled.’

‘I’m working on the way out,’ Scorpius said. ‘Something will present itself. In the meantime… welcome to the Rabbit’s Foot Casino.’

* *

‘Paquet told us that there are three vaults in the casino,’ said Albus. ‘And the problem is that we’re not sure where the Chalice is going to be. We can make some educated guesses, but nothing is certain. However, we can narrow it down to two options.’ He pointed at the lower levels of the illusion, the ones showing the great underground vaults. ‘It won’t be in the main vaults, where all of the gold on-location is officially held. That’s for the legitimate gambling, and all the legitimate business of the place. If something like the Chalice was found down there, way too many questions would be asked.

‘So this leads us to the two other vaults. One is the larger containment vault on the middle levels where apparently all of the artifacts will be held before the auction, and after the auction the proceeds will be held there. It’s possible that the Chalice is going to be in with that. This vault’s only a floor above Maisson’s office. Once the wards are down and the office is secure, Matt’s going to make his way there while Selena heads back to the main casino floor to do her thing.’

‘What makes us think it’s not going to be in there?’ said Rose.

‘Because the upper levels of the Rabbit’s Foot are given over for conference rooms and guest rooms. Personal guests of Maisson, people who are here to have their business meetings and will be there for the auction - and possibly Thane, Raskoph, and the rest of his people. Maisson also offers an exclusive vault for the personal belongings of his guests. While it’s possible that Thane gave the Chalice over to be held with the rest of what they took from Badenheim, it’s equally likely he had it placed in this. It’s near the roof.’

Scorpius nodded. ‘Which is where we’re going.’

‘Rose and Scorpius take the rooftop entrance and make for the personal vaults, then get out any way they can - back the way they came if needs be. Matt goes for the middle vault, and Selena will arrange his extraction. I’ll hold down Maisson’s office to keep the wards down for as long as possible, until security are bashing at the door and I can’t delay them, and then I’ll take the cloak and at worst run out the front door.

‘So this is how we get in, and how we get to the vaults.’ Scorpius looked across the five of them. ‘Everything from there should be easy as pie, then.’

Selena rolled her eyes. ‘I cannot believe you said that.

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