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Starfall by Slide
Chapter 32 : Whistle in the Dark
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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Whistle in the Dark


The Veil loomed in the centre of the chamber, a shimmering sea of grey that glowed darkness. Even with the morning sun breaking through the round hole in the ceiling, the pale stonework was cast in shadows that danced and twitched at the corners of his vision. Matt ran a hand through his hair and tried to not touch his still-aching nose. ‘It wasn’t kept in here.’

Albus squinted at the Veil. ‘Not that I’m eager to linger,’ he said, ‘but are you sure?’

‘None of the Celtic knot-work of Emrys,’ said Matt, swishing his wand about the circular chamber. ‘That’s what the book described.’

‘Knot-work of Emrys?’ said Rose.

He shrugged. ‘I think it’s associated explicitly with the Chalice, and so I think it’s probably associated with Myrddin Emrys. It’s our clue, it’s our reason for being here. If you can’t detect the Chalice’s energies, we need to look for that.’

‘I probably can detect the Chalice’s energies, now we’re here. It’s hard - that… that thing is giving off a lot of necromantic magic.’ Rose wrinkled her nose as the Veil. ‘The closer we get to the Chalice, the easier it’ll be to find the trace of its magic amongst all the… death. Fewer trails to chase.’

He and Albus stayed silent as Rose lifted her wand and began to walk in a wide circuit around the flat Veil, eyes half-closed, muttering to herself. Her voice echoed off the close walls and bounced to Matt’s ears from different angles, and he flinched at the hissing whispers which reached him at the same time, an undercurrent of words not spoken by any of them. A quick look at Albus’ tense shoulders suggested he was getting the same thing.

At last Rose opened her eyes and nodded towards the stairway up which Matt and Scorpius had fled the day before. ‘That way.’

‘There’s nothing up there,’ said Matt.

‘It’s not coming from up,’ said Rose.

They tromped through to the short corridor leading to the winding stairway, and Rose shrugged as they looked about the stonework. ‘What can I say? It’s coming from more or less in front of us. I don’t know how far, but it’s on this level, and it’s further in.’

‘I didn’t take a close look yesterday. Too busy running. Maybe there’s something here,’ Matt said, and hunkered down at the steps to peer at the masonry. He gave a thin smile. ‘I see it. It’s faint, but there’s writing on these.’

Rose stepped up beside him, peering over his shoulder. ‘Looks like Greek to me.’ She hesitated. ‘Literally. Ancient Greek lettering. I wasn’t being facetious.’

‘Of course it does.’ He gave a smug grin and reached out to tap his wand on one of the steps. The faintly carved lettering gained the slightest glow, and his smile broadened as he heard Rose’s breath catch with surprise. ‘It is the alpha…’ Then he jumped up a couple of steps, examining the lettering until he got to the one he wanted, and his wand came out to tap that, too. ‘And the omega.’

And from below, at the bottom of the spiral stairway, came the scraping of rock on rock, and a soft, ‘Huh,’ from Albus.

Matt looked down to see the right-hand side of the stairway had slid open, leaving a narrow opening into a low-roofed corridor deeper into the belly of the cliff. ‘”I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” More from Revelation. I think the Templars not only believed the Chalice of Emrys was holy, but I think they believed it would have role in the end of the world.’

Rose’s lips thinned as they peered down the corridor. ‘And what do you think?’

He shrugged, but didn’t hesitate before he ducked under the low opening and, stooping, made his way along the gloomy corridor, a bead of light from his wand showing the way. ‘I think it’s a clue. No more, no less.’

It was not a long corridor, which was just as well as Matt was feeling a crick in his neck after not too long, and he didn’t want to think about how hard this would prove for Albus, taking up the rear without complaint. The masonry here was old, but the air was not stale, which struck him as odd for a sealed passageway. But soon it opened up to a wider chamber and he could straighten - and the sight before him made him grin, even if that hurt his pained nose.

‘Jackpot.’

This chamber was not all smooth masonry, having been built into a natural cave. While some patches of wall were flat bricks, other contours of the room were untouched, jagged rock, especially where the passageway went deeper, the original cave curling into a route further into darkness.

Albus nodded at that. ‘Do you think it’s a way out?’

‘Maybe. Maybe it was a bolt-hole.’ Matt didn’t give it much thought, though, because his gaze was drawn elsewhere: the centrepiece of the masonry. A tall arch not dissimilar to the one he’d seen in the Catacombs in Paris lay along the wall, bearing the same Celtic knot-work and decoration. The platform at the middle, the centre of all of this grandeur, was similarly flat, though that didn’t surprise him.

Rose lifted her wand. ‘Yeah. That same signature as in Paris, the same one they put on the fake. That’s here, a lingering presence. Though, interestingly, I think it’s older than the one in Paris.’

‘Great,’ muttered Albus. ‘So the Chalice was here, but then it came to Paris. This isn’t another lead at all.’

‘No, but it gives us a time-frame of when the Chalice was last confirmed accounted for.’ Matt approached the archway, before his gaze landed on what he’d thought was a flat piece of masonry under the plinth upon which the Chalice had once rested. There was a seam, and when he tugged at the horizontal piece of rock, he could lift it like a lid.

Under was a small stone gap, and it was not empty. Despite the pain, again, he grinned, and pulled out the leather-bound book that sat inside. ‘And this might be a lead.’

* *


‘So I’ve never heard of Tomar,’ said Scorpius, hands wrapped around the steaming mug of tea.

‘It’s a city in Portugal.’ Matt sat up, the leather-bound book in his lap, and he looked to them all sat around the table in the tent’s main chamber. ‘Relevant to our interests, it was a Templar town. History time.’

‘Oh, good,’ sighed Scorpius, but leaned back on his chair to listen.

‘The Templars were spread across Europe - all sorts of holdings - until their arrest and the executions of the early 14th century,’ said Matt, ignoring him. ‘But five or so years later, King Dinis of Portugal created the Order of Christ, to which a lot of the surviving Templars flocked. So I’ve been doing some more reading on them. They set up their headquarters in Tomar in about 1350, and the city grew.’

Rose frowned. ‘The wizards fled alongside the Templars?’

‘The Church was not insignificantly powerful and regularly had its clashes with the magical world in that era.’ Matt shrugged. ‘Some wizarding historians even theorise that the Templars were hunted down and destroyed by the Church specifically because wizards were so entrenched in their ranks, though most of those historians have noted anti-Church biases. It was a different world back then; the lines between Muggle and wizard were fuzzier. And a lot of the wizards in the Templars were perfectly devoted to their duty, their work. They wanted to continue it. So they went to Portugal, along with the Muggles, and became a part of the Order of Christ.’

‘Okay,’ said Albus. ‘What’s in Tomar?’

‘The Convent of Christ is likely to be at the centre of whatever Raskoph and the others are after,’ said Matt. ‘I admit, I don’t know why. It was the official headquarters and it does have secret sections, according to my sources - wings hidden by magic, for use by the wizards, though these were never found or confirmed. But it’s - I mean, it’s a well-known place. Muggle tourists. Wizard tourists. We’re not talking another lost ruin full of secrets, it’s been pored over for centuries, it’s an inhabited town.’

‘Do they have reason to suspect the Chalice is there, you think?’ said Lisa.

‘Maybe. Let’s think this through. The Chalice was here, in Syria. Then no more.’ He patted the book in his lap. ‘De Sablé - and I really want to know who the hell he is - has left us extensive records about Ager Sanguinis. I’ve only had about an hour to scan over them, so between that and figuring out why Tomar might be important, I’m not the best I’ve ever been on research.’

‘That’s fine.’ Albus gave a small, firm smile. ‘Tell us what you found.’

‘Okay.’ Matt sat up. ‘First things first: These records span about a hundred years. All written by Reynald de Sablé.’

The six of them sat in a long, contemplative silence, before Scorpius cleared his throat. ‘Ten points to the possibility of the Chalice of Emrys granting longevity.’

‘Yeah,’ said Matt, brow furrowed. ‘A lot of people died in the Battle of Ager Sanguinis. Both battles. The magical one happened near here, and from what I can read it was one of the biggest wizard versus wizard battles in the last thousand years. Those didn’t happen often, and they certainly didn’t happen a lot in the second millennium. Not enough “space”. But this was a battle of hundreds, thousands of wizards fighting each other, and a lot of them died by magic. This, de Sablé wrote, left “ripples”. I’ve only skimmed his notes but I think he means those pockets of dark magic, the walls between life and death being thinned. Either it caused that Veil, or the Veil was made in order to contain that rift. I haven’t got that far in his writing yet. Either way, this site was considered dangerous and valuable, and so for the Templars’ own purposes and to stop it from being used by their enemies, the fort was constructed. The Chalice was brought here by de Sablé in about 1190 when the Third Crusade broke out, and he writes how he had hoped that its holy powers would stymie the damage and danger of such dark magics in this region.’

Selena arched an eyebrow. ‘Holy?’

‘That’s the word he used. He refers to it as magical, yes, but also holy. Remember, these Templar wizards were Christians as well as magic-users. Frankly I find it more interesting that he differentiates at all between what he can do and holy powers, instead of assuming his magic to be a holy power, but I digress.’

‘What were these writings? They weren’t that well hidden,’ said Rose.

‘Unless you count a clue which needed someone to have some knowledge of the Christian Bible to get. Truth be told? I think they were a warning for whoever came next. The Templars left Ager Sanguinis because the Christians were falling back from Antioch, leaving the Levant. Not only couldn’t they hold somewhere like this, but it didn’t matter so much if the Muslim wizards got their hands on the place. The Holy Land was lost. Sections of this are even written in Arabic, which I don’t have a hope in hell of translating, but it makes me think that for all he wanted to stop his enemies from getting this place, he wanted even less for them to screw around with it.’

‘I could translate it,’ said Lisa calmly.

‘Oh.’ Matt scratched his nose. ‘I forgot that. Sure.’

‘Does he actually say where he went next?’ butted in Scorpius.

‘Yeah - back to Paris, in about 1286. Though it would seem that de Sablé didn’t spend the entire time in Ager Sanguinis - he would leave for years at a time, but he always came back until the fall of the fort. Still, he left for good then, which is about thirty years after the birth-date on that tomb in the catacombs.’ Matt scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘This confirms the real Chalice was here, in Syria, at that date. The magical signature is there, there are further writings I can study on the effect the Chalice had on this place, and de Sablé has mentioned several times of the Chalice being used to heal wounded soldiers out in the Levant.’

‘Oh,’ said Scorpius. ‘So now we only have a window of about seven hundred and fifty years in which the Chalice might have been swapped for a fake in Paris.’

‘I’ve got a theory, actually. If this comes so close to the fall of the Templars, and if Raskoph is for some reason interested in the headquarters of the successors of the Templars, the place to which so many fled… what if the Chalice was swapped at the fall of the Order? So much Templar wealth was claimed by Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V; what if they made a fake of one of their most holy and valuable artifacts to stop it from falling into the wrong hands?’

Albus cocked his head at Matt. ‘Do you have much evidence behind that?’

‘No,’ he admitted. ‘It’s a theory. I’d have to read more of de Sablé’s writings here to be sure. But, it doesn’t need to be right. Because it sounds like Raskoph has at least considered the possibility that the Chalice might have followed the Templars fleeing to Portugal, or that records of it might have.’

‘He might know something we don’t,’ Albus agreed with a sigh.

‘What bothers me,’ said Rose, ‘is that Council wizard didn’t think he was coming to Ager Sanguinis to look for the Chalice. The Chalice didn’t even pop up in his mind. He was sent by Raskoph for recon in the fort. I’m worried they were interested in the Veil.’

‘We’re starting to fall into conjecture,’ said Lisa. ‘Maybe Raskoph isn’t going to Tomar for the Chalice, but he’s still going to Tomar. Are we going after him?’

‘I think we should,’ said Matt. ‘I want to know why he’s interested in the place. And this theory that the Chalice was taken to Portugal is worth investigating. Of course, it’ll take me - us - a while to go through de Sablé’s notes.’ He inclined his head to her in acknowledgement of his need of her translating aid.

She nodded. ‘What’re we doing with our prisoner? The Council wizard.’

‘His name’s Spinks,’ said Rose, voice a little flat. ‘I can alter his memories so he thinks a golem killed his partner, that we were never here, and send him back to report to Raskoph.’

Or we don’t let him get to report back to Raskoph,’ said Selena.

Albus looked at her. ‘Are you seriously suggesting we kill him?’

She tilted her chin up. ‘Are we going to get righteous about this? He would have killed us, and yes, yes, we’re better than them. But Raskoph wanted something from Ager Sanguinis - we should try to stop that as much as possible, and if we don’t know what he wanted then we don’t know how to fiddle with his memories to throw off the leads.’

‘If two of Raskoph’s people go missing out here, he’ll just send more people, and we don’t want them to suspect they found us,’ said Matt.

‘Yes, but we win time if they drop off the face of the map,’ said Selena. ‘If this guy reports back in, he does so soon, and then Raskoph can act on his information. No report, no information, it slows Raskoph down.’

Rose shifted her weight. ‘This shouldn’t be up for discussion -’

‘Because you don’t like it, Weasley? We can discuss it,’ said Selena. ‘And if it’s so abhorrent, then you can talk me down.’

‘No,’ said Albus, voice low, firm. ‘I’m not going to try to talk you down. Because you’re right. There are significant gains to killing Spinks, our defenceless prisoner, out here. It’ll slow down Raskoph.’ He leaned back on his chair. ‘He’s tied up and unconscious in the storage room. Go ahead.’

Selena blinked, and the room fell silent as everyone subconsciously held their breath. Matt closed the Book as silently as he could, Scorpius just stared at the table as Rose reached for his hand, and Lisa watched Albus, her expression utterly flat. He, for his part, did not take his gaze off Selena, who sat, chewing her lip.

Eventually she gave the gentlest, wryest snort. ‘Fine. Point made,’ she said, and didn’t move.

Rose exhaled with relief. ‘I’ll fiddle with his memories, blame it on the golems. We’ve already dumped his companion’s body through the Veil. He’ll lose some time but I’m sure I can plant some notions in his head to blame the weird magics.’

‘In which case,’ said Albus, ‘I think we have our next move. Rose, do you think you can apparate us to Aleppo?’

‘I’ve been there. I know where we are now. I have no concerns about getting lost in a desert.’ She nodded. ‘That should be do-able. But we’ve still got a trip across the entirety of southern Europe now.’

‘Should we try to disguise ourselves and find some wizarding Floo establishments?’ said Selena.

‘You still need the papers for international travel,’ said Rose. ‘We might do better if we got a proper high-speed Muggle train, though - but there’s a reason we took the slower ones; they’re cheaper and more discreet. We don’t have tickets and we have very little money.’

‘I think it’s about time,’ said Scorpius, ‘we stopped being coy and just started Confounding Muggle ticket conductors. I don’t care if it’s stealing, we’re trying to save the world.’

‘He makes a good point,’ said Matt.

Selena raised an eyebrow. ‘Can’t we just have Rigby apparate us across the globe with House Elf magic?’

Matt and Rose exchanged wide-eyed looks, until Matt shook his head. ‘Bad idea,’ he said. ‘Bad idea. On a short scale, sure, a House Elf can apparate a human. But the nature of their magic - there are reasons wizards can’t apparate that distance and it’s not just to do with power limits, it’s to do with what a human body can cope with. You’d splinch to hell and back because you couldn’t physiologically keep up with being catapulted that far, with that kind of magic. It’s what makes portkeys so different; they don’t just take you from A to B, they take you from A to B while preserving your body’s integrity -’

‘Woah, nerd alert.’ Selena raised a hand. ‘You could have just said, “no”.’

He looked abashed. ‘I like to explain.’

‘Then the answer is plain,’ said Albus with a sigh. ‘Let’s swindle some Muggles.’

* *


Their train out of Aleppo was thus faster and in better condition than the one before. Despite Scorpius’ protests, Rose had kept her Confounding of the involved Muggles to a minimum, remembering the warnings her mother had given her in the past. Her father’s manipulation of his driving test was a notorious cautionary tale around the house, and considering how her mother nagged him whenever they were in a car, she suspected Ron Weasley wished he’d played it straight to avoid grief later.

But nowadays Muggles used more computers, more digital records which were harder to trick by magic. Once upon a time it was easy to bewilder a Muggle with spells, but now they had automated recordings which would notice discrepancies, and which wizards were rarely well-enough informed about to be able to bewitch. So the Ministry took a harder line against such incidents - a one-off glitch in Muggle records would ruin nobody’s secrets, but consistent gaps in their computerised databases would raise eyebrows.

And the last thing the six of them needed was to be intercepted by an angry ticket conductor halfway across Turkey.

‘Even if Rigby could get us some of the way, I don’t want to use him too much,’ said Scorpius, lounging on their bunk in their room. ‘It’s not that I don’t trust him but - he’s not like other House Elves. My father’s had loyalty drilled into him far, far too much. I can use him here and there but if my father ever has cause to ask him a question, Rigby won’t lie. He probably won’t even obfuscate.’

‘He’s our best way of communicating quickly and long-distance,’ Rose pointed out, looking away from the darkness that swished past the window of the rattling train.

‘Sure. But if there’s one person I don’t want to know we’re alive, it’s my father.’

‘You still don’t trust him?’

‘Never have.’ Scorpius sat up. ‘He’s involved in the Council somehow. If we’re not getting in touch with your parents because we worry people close to them sold us out, then we should definitely be wary of Draco Malfoy.’

‘Thankfully, we’re doing all right on our own for now.’

He nodded, gaze going to the ceiling. ‘Still, Raskoph going to Tomar, sending those guys to Ager Sanguinis, it makes you wonder. What does the Council of Thorns even want? Okay, so they use Phlegethon and Eridanos to weaken governments, to cause discontent, and to make people fear them. So then they go on to seize power. Is this really about world domination? I feel silly just saying the words.’

‘Something about Dark Magic makes one apparently crave that. Power. Control. Even the whole world.’

‘Except every incident of this in history has included one figurehead. Grindelwald, Voldemort, Lucilla DeVreet. This is just a Council. Who the hell are the Council? Is it a literal Council, a group of rulers at the top with followers below? Is Raskoph in it, as Thane’s boss? Is Thane himself? Is Acosta in it, and has been “given” Brazil, or is he just…’

‘We don’t know.’ She reached out a hand for his, capturing it mid-frantic gesture. ‘And we can’t. All we can do is try to beat them to the Chalice. They obviously have plans for it.’

‘Which doesn’t reassure me. But, you’re right. And we’re doing fine. All we have to do is race across Europe and intercept and stop Raskoph when we don’t even know what he wants.’

‘Easily done.’ She gave a small smile as he settled, and let his hand go. ‘I’m going to go for a walk.’

Scorpius blinked. ‘What, up and down the train corridor, all relaxing, like?’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re a lousy liar.’

She gave him an apologetic smile. ‘Girl things.’

He looked abruptly less suspicious. ‘I don’t know if you mean stuff with the girls or other things, and either way I’ve decided I don’t want to know.’

‘I tried to shield your precious ears,’ she said, smile going lopsided, before she headed for the door. But her smile faded the moment she had her back to him, and she was relieved of the quiet darkness of the corridor. The train still rattled along its way, trundling to their destination, but it was late at night and most people would be asleep.

She hoped everyone, really, would be asleep.

So it was the softest knock she gave on the door to Lisa and Selena’s cabin, not wanting to be heard but needing to keep up appearances, and she was relieved to find the handle unlocked when she ducked in. Not that she couldn’t beat a lock, but if Lisa had locked the door she’d have put up charms, too, and Rose didn’t want to break through them, too. There were going to be enough breaches of privacy here.

The cabin was dark, and she slowed her breathing when she shut the door behind her, taking a moment to adjust her eyes to the gloom. A flash of gold on the pillow of the bottom bunk proved it was Selena’s, and so her gaze set on the shape on the top bunk, motionless. Lisa Delacroix, fast asleep - sleeping better than, to Rose’s recollection, she had when they’d been sharing the tent in the Syrian Desert. They’d only left the sandy wastes hours ago, but it felt like a lifetime ago.

This is sick, Weasley. Rose quirked an eyebrow to herself as she realised the internal monologue of self-judging had taken on Selena’s voice. That was curious. She wouldn’t normally think of Selena as the voice of reason and goodness. But Selena was the champion against self-delusion, and for Rose to act like what she was doing here wasn’t morally suspect was delusional.

And yet she raised her wand, fixed her gaze on Lisa, and breathed, ‘Legilimens.’

There were lots of different ways to do Legilimency. She was best-versed in the methods she’d used against Paquet - the complex breaking through initial defences to allow unfettered access to thought and memory, but indiscreet. She’d never expected to need to use Legilimency without her target being aware of it - had never wanted to use Legilimency without her target being aware of it. It was a road to a dark place.

And she’d just gone running down that road.

If she didn’t want Lisa to know she was reading her mind, all she could comfortably strike at were surface thoughts, and in sleep not only would Lisa not know what was going on, but those surface thoughts would be less guarded.

A blank, faceless shape, shambling forward through the gloom - unknown and yet so familiar, a familiarity tinged with horror and guilt and regret. ‘You ssstand for thiss one?’

A figure stood over her, tall and imposing and valiant, and she looked up at him, reached out to take his hand. His grip was so firm it stopped her from being washed away by the tide of death and judgement. ‘Don’t,’ she gasped at Albus, an imploring command.

She saw him tilt his jaw up half an inch, and when he spoke it was without hesitation. ‘I do.’

Why. Why, why, why me, I don’t deserve your support, I deserve judgement, I deserve -

Although the scene was confusing, the feelings with it were undeniable. Fear, guilt, pain. And a rushing, bewildered gratitude towards Albus, tumbling and without understanding but still fierce. Against the darkness, he was there, and that shone brighter even than the vein of self-loathing Rose could feel alongside the memory.

Then the memory changed.

Wham.

Downing’s fist took her off her feet, knocked her spinning onto the floor in the office in the Rabbit’s Foot. Hatred of him twisted and warped to fear in a heartbeat, all sense of control absolutely lost. Not just for him, not just for the knowledge that she was at his mercy and she knew he had no mercy, but for the memories it evoked.

Helplessness, and the pain which came with it, and the breaking of her promises to herself that she would never be helpless again.

‘You know,’ said Downing, leering at her as he rubbed his knuckles. ‘I dare say I’m going to enjoy this.’ Then another blow, a backhand across her cheek that snapped her head to the side and -

And then there was a flurry of movement, a shape crashing into Rose and slamming her back against the cabin wall. Lisa had flown from the bed in one swift movement to grab a fistful of Rose’s jumper and pin her wand against her throat. From the glint in her eye, dark though the cabin was, Rose didn’t think Lisa was fully aware of where she was, of what was going on.

The slight widening of her eyes as she saw her confirmed this. ‘Ah,’ said Lisa in a low, flat voice, her chest heaving. ‘That was only a matter of time.’

Rose didn’t struggle, remained pinned against the wall. ‘I’m -’ She stopped herself. Apologising would be churlish. ‘Yeah. It was.’

Then there was a soft thump on the cabin floor, and Selena was on her feet, wand levelled at the back of Lisa’s head. ‘Okay. What’re we doing?’ Her voice was casual and bewildered, but enough to make Rose feel a surge of guilty gratitude. Selena had no idea what was going on, but her instinct was to back up Rose first, and ask questions later.

Even if Rose rather deserved what was happening.

Lisa froze, then lowered her own wand carefully, deliberately. ‘Security checkups.’

‘Oh. Good.’ Selena lifted her wand once Lisa let Rose go, and latched her gaze onto her. ‘So, er, Weasley, this isn’t your cabin.’

‘It’s not,’ said Rose, not taking her gaze off Lisa. ‘I had to be sure.’

Lisa’s lips were set in a thin line, but she nodded. ‘I expected this sooner. Though you’ll forgive me if I didn’t volunteer to have you go looting through my brain.’

Oh,’ said Selena again. ‘We’re violating each other’s privacy and dignity because the fate of the world might hang in the balance.’ She backed off, though Rose saw her keep her wand in hand by her side. ‘How’s that working out?’

‘Albus didn’t ask me to do this.’ Rose’s gaze snapped back to Lisa.

‘What does that matter?’

‘It matters to you.’ She saw Lisa flinch at that. ‘He’s been suspicious and worried, but I took this on myself to do.’

‘Fine. Whatever. Did you find enough to satisfy you?’

The look in Downing’s eyes, that utter cruelty and glee from causing pain, was a sight that would stay with Rose for a good long time. She’d never had a good look at Downing, even though she bore the scar of his handiwork, but already Lisa’s memory was mingling with her own. Had he taken such satisfaction from almost killing her all those months ago?

‘Satisfy isn’t the word,’ said Rose. ‘Convince? Maybe.’

‘I’d invite you to plunder my memories more,’ Lisa sneered. ‘Except, no, I won’t. And not just for my own privacy. Trust me. You’re better off not knowing.’

Well,’ said Selena, leaning against the window with her wand slipped up the sleeve of her night-gown. ‘Hasn’t this gone edgy all of a sudden?’

‘I had to be sure,’ Rose told Lisa.

‘And what are you sure of now?’

She drew an awkward breath. ‘That you care genuinely about us, or at least about Albus. And that you have no love for Thane and his people. Especially Downing.’

Lisa looked away, and finally the furious defensiveness fled her face as her gaze landed on the darkness swishing by the window. In its place was something quieter and altogether more vulnerable. ‘Yeah,’ she breathed. ‘That’s about right.’ She backed off to swing onto the top bunk, perching there, shoulders slumped. ‘Don’t take it personally. This is about as dedicated as I get to the people I work with.’

‘That doesn’t reassure me very much,’ said Rose. The guilt gnawing in her was a curious thing - disgust at herself for doing this, regret at it having been done, but the knowledge that she would do it if she had the time over again.

‘You haven’t gone all self-righteous at me about it being necessary, or right, or for a bigger good. So. That’ll do.’ She scrubbed her face with her free hand, then slipped her wand back under the pillow. ‘Next time you want to know what I’m thinking, Rose, just ask.’

‘And you’ll tell me?’

‘Sure, let’s go with that.’ Finally Lisa looked awkward. ‘I didn’t kick off on you then because of what was going on. I felt a presence in my mind and reacted.’

‘I guessed.’

A long silence fell until Selena sighed. ‘Well, this isn’t weird at all. A spot of late-night mind-looting. Aren’t we the trusting little merry bunch?’

Lisa actually laughed at that, a dark, wry laugh which shook her shoulders and yet, against all understanding, sounded genuine. ‘You know what? I’m actually comforted by this. You guys were in danger of being a little bit too righteous for my tastes. It’s reassuring to know you will get your hands dirty.’

‘I’m not sure I’m reassured by this,’ sighed Rose.

‘Except you’d do it again,’ said Lisa, looking at her.

She flinched. ‘Yes.’

Lisa nodded slowly. ‘Good. You’re right to.’

‘This remains weird,’ said Selena. ‘And I want to get some sleep and Rose is still in our cabin when she should be off cuddling with Scorpius.’

‘Point made,’ said Rose. I’ll go. And let you guys sleep.’

She had violated Lisa’s privacy and seen dark corners of her memories, but the woman just waved a hand at her - and rolled over to get back to sleep. That was what stuck with Rose the most as she left the cabin and returned to her own. It was one thing to do these dark deeds, to choose to do something to someone else she would never want done to her. That much she could justify, even if she hated it.

But that Lisa could justify it being done to herself, even tolerate it, forgive it, put a foul taste in her mouth she couldn’t quite shake.

What is this world doing to us.

Scorpius was a sleepy shape in the bunk when she returned and slid under the blankets next to him. He made an incoherent mumbling noise, then rolled over to throw an arm around her, nuzzling the mad mess of her hair. ‘…that took a while,’ he murmured at last.

‘Yeah,’ she breathed, and closed her eyes so her world narrowed to become just her and him. ‘But don’t worry. It was just girl stuff.’



——————

A/N: Most of the above research kind of speaks for itself. Though for my first chapter back after a writing break, jumping right back into my own convoluted history of de Sablé, of the wizarding Templars, and incorporating it all into actual history, wasn’t easy! I think I wrote this chapter with about 6 research tabs open on my browser! Matt does a good job of separating Muggle history from the wizarding history.

The Biblical references in this are again, as stated, Book of Revelation. “And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” - King James Bible, Revelation 21:6, or at least that’s the one Matt is referring to in figuring out the clue on the steps.

‘Spinks’, the wizard who survived his encounter with Matt and Scorpius at Ager Sanguinis, was actually named from one of the original considered surnames for Draco. This doesn’t actually have symbology, I was just trawling for wizard surnames.

I missed a trick in my notes with the last chapter - the last chapter was the point where Starfall became longer than Ignite and, thus, my longest Potterverse fanfic yet! It’s okay, I can use this chapter as a marker, as this is the point Starfall cracks 200k words. We’re… coming up on the end of the second third? I admit the story’s more bloated than I would have liked, but I’m learning a lot from this kind of long fiction. It’s fascinating, for me, how I can think I’ve got my tricks down and then still realise there’s more to learn on structure and plotting.

In the writing, I’ve just finished Chapter 39 and coming up on 250k words. I predict the story will break 300k words, and be over 50 chapters. Thankfully, I’m making good progress!



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