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Starfall by Slide
Chapter 35 : The Fall that Kills You
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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The Fall That Kills You


He’d soared so high that looking down was like looking at a living, breathing map - not the world he’d flown away to protect. Every inch of his focus had narrowed to his broom, his limbs, the looming shape that raced after him, so much that anything else looked unreal. Irrelevant. A distraction. The only truths were the broom in his hands, the wind racing in his hair and rushing in his ears, and the buffeting wing-beats of the monstrous construct that snapped its stony maw shut in the space he’d been a heartbeat ago.

Scorpius would make a pun. Albus yanked up the handle of his broom to reverse his momentum, flipping backwards away from the dragon’s lunge. There are times I hate being the straight man. He didn’t know enough geology; he’d not understood the ‘gneiss guy’ pun made by, of all people, Matt.

Matt, the loon who apparated onto the back of the dragon and had by now reached the golem’s neck, who had tucked away wand and sword and was scrabbling, feet dangling in thin-air with every missed foot-hold, closer to the monstrosity’s mouth. Albus didn’t have a clue what he was doing, but he knew he could trust him. He knew he could trust all of them. Matt on the dragon’s back, Rose on the ground protecting the Muggles, Selena and even Lisa underground with whatever was going on there.

But that was not where the bulk of his focus lay. No, the bulk of his focus, when he wasn’t worrying about being eaten by a golem-dragon, was with the two figures stood on the monstrosity’s back, ducking and weaving behind the rocky ridges of its spine, of its stony hide, hurling spells and dodging and rolling and using every inch of physical and magical prowess to best each other - and to stay alive. Prometheus Thane. Scorpius Malfoy. Locked in a fight before Albus’ eyes, a fight he couldn’t make a single move to help with.

He’d tried. He’d spun over the dragon’s head to rain spells down on Thane, but then the dragon had tried to back-flip to follow him, and Albus had realised he had a third priority, after ‘stay alive’ and ‘stop the dragon from killing people’. He had to keep the dragon stable if he didn’t want it to toss Matt and Scorpius from its back. So he’d gone high, trusting his speed and resilience to stay out of the dragon’s way, even if it denied him the cover of trees and masonry, and he chanced what glances he could at the fight.

Thane’s wand lashed out and Scorpius fell onto his back, rolled along the golem-dragon’s hide towards the edge - and as Albus’ heart lunged into his throat, Scorpius grabbed a hold just before the long, long drop, secure, intact, alive -

Then the dragon’s buffeting breath thudded into Albus and his broom dead-on. He’d been distracted for that handful of crucial heartbeats, too slow to see the golem-dragon open its mouth. Before, he’d only been caught by edges of that torrent of air that crackled with magical strength.

Now it hit him like a freight train, knocking the breath from his lungs, sending him spinning over and over, his broom out of control, his limbs in pain -

Scorpius would have dodged that.

- and the broom went flying from his legs, flying from his grasp. Albus swore, reached for the handle - grabbed it - fumbled it - felt it slip from his fingers -

He fell, his broom tumbling far below him, his arms and legs flailing for purchase on thin air but finding nothing. And the dragon rocketed down with him.

* *


‘I can explain,’ said de Sablé, footsteps ringing out on the cold stone corridors of the castle. Even though Selena was in a dead-sprint behind him, she had to take a heartbeat to appreciate that he looked, in his chainmail and Templar tabard, like he belonged here in a way nothing they’d seen today did. ‘But first, that dragon. Or we’re all dead.’

Selena looked at the two halves of the broken dragon statue in her hands. ‘I’m assuming glue won’t work.’

‘No.’

He’s no fun. He doesn’t like my jokes. Selena threw a glance over her shoulder at Lisa when they burst from the shadowy corridors into the bright, blinding sunlight of the courtyard. ‘Then let’s find Rose. If anyone here’s going to be able to fix this thing in time, it’ll be -’

Spells flew from their left, an array of panicked Stuns and blasts, and de Sablé had to throw himself behind a nearby statue to avoid them. Selena ducked back behind the doorway, only chancing the briefest of glances to assess the situation. The courtyard had gone from medieval splendour to an ancient ghost town since she’d last seen it. Soaring spires and tall walls, as forbidding as an imposing teacher, had lost chunks of rubble from the golem-dragon’s onslaught, and the place was deserted of Muggles. Though it was not empty.

She could see Rose taking cover behind a fountain that had been shattered. Its water now sprayed into the courtyard, the sunlight turning it into a fine rainbow that kaleidoscoped even more as the colours of spells refracted through it. It was enough to give the fight a gentle glow, like it was something soft and delicate. Not harsh and murderous. Hunkered behind a chunk of fallen wall were their attackers: the tall, sallow-faced figure she’d concluded was Raskoph, and his surviving wizard. They’d had Rose pinned down, but with their arrival now they were forced to fight on two fronts.

Selena backed off. Lisa could take her place - and did so with gusto, spells flying from the tip of her wand with that ease which made violence look as natural as breathing. De Sablé had flattened himself against the ground, perfectly calm under fire, and reached to his belt to pull out a wand.

‘They’re falling back,’ Lisa called to her. ‘But I think Weasley’s about to loop around and pin them in - we can take them.’ There was a strange edge to her voice. The adrenaline of battle. The euphoria of pending victory. And something else, an almost wistful, pained air. But this wasn’t the top of Selena’s concern.

She searched the skies, and it didn’t take long to find the dark shape of the dragon, because it was rocketing downward, closer, larger, looming ever greater. Within seconds it wasn’t just a shadow; within seconds she could see the furl of its stone wings, the ridges of its hide and spines, the length of the rock teeth within its great maw. If it weren’t for the way the light just hit it, with none of the gleam of dragon’s scales, she could have been fooled into thinking it was real.

Then again, a real dragon didn’t usually go on a mad rampage as its very first action. This one was mindless, thoughtless - a monster in every sense of the word.

And it wasn’t the only dark shape in the sky.

‘Shit,’ Selena breathed as she saw the second dot. ‘Someone’s down. Someone’s falling.’

* *


Albus!’

Scorpius hurled himself to one side. Whistling through the space he’d been, Thane’s spell hit one of the golem-dragon’s ridges, and was met with that harmless ripple he expected from these magic-repelling constructs. He landed hard, shoulder smacking into rock -

Then the dragon was diving, breaking into a dead drop after Albus’ dead drop, and Scorpius clung on to not be tossed from the creature’s back. But at least Thane couldn’t push the advantage, because he had to hang on, too.

‘You know,’ shouted Thane, arm wrapped around one of the stony spines of the dragon’s ridged back. ‘You broke our agreement!’

‘You think I care?’

‘You might.’ Thane pulled himself half-upright, gaze going to the tumbling shape of Albus. ‘Because I did say I’d kill Albus Potter in front of you.’ And his wand shot out at him.

No!’

Scorpius lunged, not caring that he’d just hurled his life into gravity’s hands. He scrabbled over the dragon’s rocky back to slam his shoulder into Thane before the man could cast. They both went down, hitting stone, rolling, skidding, flailing for purchase. Again he had to reach out, again he fumbled for a hand-hold, again he caught himself before a long, long fall, but that didn’t matter, couldn’t matter, and before he even knew he was secure, he looked up -

- to see Albus snatching the broom that had rocketed back at him, getting a solid hold, hauling himself back onto it, and Scorpius’ heart started beating again.

‘So he had his wits enough for a Summoning,’ mused Thane. ‘No matter. I did say I’d kill him slowly and agonisingly. There’s always another time.’

The feeling Scorpius most often associated with Thane was terror. Blind fear and the knowledge that he couldn’t beat him. But that terror exploded into a thousand pieces, shattering and tumbling all around at the burst of rage that blossomed in his gut, and his fingers curled tight around his wand. ‘I’m going to kill you,’ he spat. ‘I swear to God, some day I’m going to kill you.’

Then he hurled his spells and the air was once again filled with magic. Once he could never have dreamt of going toe-to-toe with Prometheus Thane, but he was better now, faster, stronger, more powerful - and here, with the ground underfoot tumbling and falling, with agility as much a necessity as spellpower, he stood half a chance.

And he was determined that half a chance was all he’d need.

* *


This was your worst idea ever, Doyle. Matt felt his legs shaking under him as he edged around the ‘lip’ of the golem-dragon’s pitiless maw. During the dead drop as it descended after Albus, all he could do was cling on for dear life, watch the ground race up at them, watch Albus tumble, and do nothing.

Now he was secure. Now the dragon was levelling out, even if the castle, the town, were closer. All the people depending on him, closer to danger. Albus looked shaky on his broom, and he could hear the spells flung about above and behind him by Thane and Scorpius. They were running out of time.

Hand shaking, he reached for the sword-hilt nestled in his jacket. ‘I need you, big fella,’ he growled through gritted teeth, ‘to open up. Nice… and… wide!’

He didn’t know if this thing could feel pain. If it couldn’t, he’d have to hack his way through. The Templar sword shimmered in the sunlight, as balanced and perfect in his hand as ever, and a sense of certainty rushed through him. He could do this. He would do this. And then there’d be no more mocking of Matt the nerd, no more mixed attitudes from Selena and dismissal from Scorpius and polite disinterest from Albus.

And nothing from Rose. No, wait. He’d prefer nothing.

This was not the time to think about that.

He swung, and the sword came crashing down on one of the mighty, pointed teeth of the golem-dragon that was as large as he was tall. The magical energy rippled and broke like it was supposed to, and not only did he take off a clear three feet of the stony tooth, but the golem-dragon felt it. Matt had to tighten its grip as it jerked, bucked, and opened its mouth to roar with pain.

The mouth was a problem. It could bite him. It could emit that surge of magic-infused breath that had sent Albus off his broom and would doubtless catapult him into thin air if he himself was caught in it. But it was where he needed to be, because there was one universal fact of golems, if his reading was correct, which was the great weakness. Even for something this big.

So he swung inside the dragon’s mouth, finding himself in cool darkness -

And then it closed its mouth on him.

* *


‘Oh, hell.’

Albus was having trouble staying on his broom. His limbs were shaking, his hands and legs couldn’t grip properly, and he felt like he was going to slide off at any moment. Breathing was difficult, too, every inhale a shudder, and his heart was pounding so quickly he thought it was going to rip its way out of his chest. If the dragon went for him again, he didn’t think he was going to manage any more exciting acrobatics.

But if there was one distraction from his brush with death, it was seeing the dragon clamp its mouth shut around Matt.

‘He crawled in it. He crawled in it.’ He was bent over his broom, clutching at it for dear life, just trying to stay upright. Thane and Scorpius still threw spells at one another, able to go toe-to-toe just because the ground changed under them, the golem bucked and twisted, and the challenge was as much about staying on it as it was about wand-work. He had to help them. Or he had to guide the dragon elsewhere. Or he had to try to save Matt.

Except he couldn’t breathe. He could barely fly. He couldn’t fight.

Then the dragon bucked again, a ripple running across the golem’s entire form, like its stony skin was shivering. Except that was impossible - except what the hell was possible right now? - but he saw Scorpius tumble, roll over - grab a hand-hold, and he thought his heart would burst with relief.

Right up until the dragon slumped. Its wings stopped beating. Its head dipped, its limbs dipped.

And it fell like the stone it was.

* *


‘It’s going down!’ yelled Rose, but there was no jubilation as they looked up to see the enormous construct falling from the sky. It was over hillside, at least, and wasn’t going to come down on a building or on people, and Albus was back on his broom, so Selena didn’t know what made her friend sound so afraid.

Then she realised she couldn’t see Scorpius or Matt, and she turned her face up to the tumbling shape with horror.

They didn’t.

She wasn’t sure what they might have done, but if there was the remotest reason for them to do something stupid like ride a magic stone dragon, then of course that was what was happening.

There were twin cracks from around the corner, and some distant part of Selena’s brain registered that Raskoph and his remaining compatriot had taken advantage of the distraction, and probably of the destruction of their target, to make a speedy disapparition and getaway. She didn’t care.

The tiny dot that was Albus on his broom dropped after the tumbling dragon, rocketing through the sky like a bullet, and as he swung by the enormous shadow, Selena thought she saw another shape jump off the construct. It had to be Scorpius, she thought - Scorpius getting off the falling damned pile of rock, landing on the back of Albus’ broom next to him -

- and then the dragon rolled mid-air and she couldn’t see either of them any more.

She ran, but Lisa was faster, bolting for the crumbled gateway they’d come into the castle grounds by. Rose scrabbled after them and she had no idea where de Sablé was. Even if he was perhaps the most valuable and important person there, she didn’t care. In the woodlands they lost sight of the falling shape. But it didn’t take long before there was the resounding crash of impact, like a building had collapsed, like thunder had tumbled to mundane earth, and a shudder ran through the ground as the dust rocketed sky-high in front of them, a blanketing mist of debris and dirt. It enveloped them the moment they burst into the open ground where the golem-dragon had landed, shattered into hundreds of pieces of rubble, and as Selena skidded to a halt beside Lisa, for a moment she could see nothing but dust, hear nothing but the echo of impact.

Then Lisa cocked her head to the left and was off like a shot. ‘Albus!’

Selena went to follow - then couldn’t. Her limbs wouldn’t respond, and when she drew a deep breath of choking dust, she felt the shake.

No. No, I’m not going in there, I won’t see it again, I won’t do this again, I won’t, I won’t…

Rose skidded to a halt at her side, cheeks flushed, hair wild, and she grabbed her arm. ‘Where -’ There was the crack of magic, a flash in the dust-cloud, and Rose snapped up her wand. Nothing else happened, though the light of magic illuminated four silhouetted forms, and the dust started to settle enough for them to see. Albus and Scorpius had landed or crashed and either way lay groaning on the ground amidst the rubble of the shattered dragon. They looked alive but pained, and far too stunned to defend themselves against the tall, willowy shape of Prometheus Thane who stood above them.

So Lisa did.

She’d thrown a spell at Thane, who’d neatly blocked it, but then there was another, and another. Had Selena been able to care, she would have admired the wand-work from them both, quick as lightning, back-and-forth and anticipating the other’s moves as if they’d done this a thousand times before. But Lisa was driving him back, back, and she could see the widening of Thane’s eyes until he threw his wand upward, and her next spell just bounced off a solid Shield.

‘Fine!’ she heard Thane bellow across the distance. ‘The hunt’s back on, and I look forward to it. But there will be another time.’ Then he turned with the crack of disapparition and was gone, leaving them alone in the settling dust.

Rose shot from Selena’s side to come to a skidding halt next to the boys, picking themselves up from the rubble with a groan. ‘Scorp! Al?’

Albus lifted a hand. ‘I’m okay, we’re okay, bastard levitated himself -’ He broke into a coughing, sputtering fit, before he looked up at Lisa, who was frozen on the spot where she’d driven Thane off. ‘…thanks.’

She didn’t say anything, and that was when Selena looked away from the scene, found strength in her limbs enough to move. Matt. Matt, where the hell are you -

It was a familiar sense of the world shrinking to only what mattered. No care for whatever Lisa was doing or saying, no care for how Albus or Scorpius were because they were alive. She was aware of Rose next to her, understanding her fear even though she wished she didn’t, looking frantically through the rubble like it was the same for her even though it wasn’t -

And then, through the settling dust where the head had fallen, a figure limped towards them. First a silhouette, but relief flooded through Selena at the sight of the wand in one hand, the length of a long, shining sword in the other. Matt was battered and bruised, an absolutely filthy state, but when he stumbled into sight she could see he was grinning broadly, his teeth a flash of white in the dirt on his face, and she could only stop and stare when he saw her. His breath was shaky, but euphoric. ‘So. I killed a dragon.’

Again she couldn’t talk, couldn’t move, could barely breathe, though she cursed Rose for stepping forward and asking, in a hushed voice, ‘How?’

But then the air cracked again, and new figures appeared around them again, and for a moment Selena thought it was the Council of Thorns, back for more, at the sight of a score of wizards in long, impressive robes encircling them. Then they started to babble at her in a language she couldn’t understand, barking instructions which made it clear they were to not act, not make sudden moves, and flashing badges she distantly recognised.

At long last - though in practice it couldn’t have been more than five, ten minutes since the dragon had first appeared, even if it felt like a lifetime - the Portugese magical authorities had made it to Tomar.

And they were probably going to want answers.

* *


‘I want to see the others,’ said Rose, arms folded across her chest. ‘I have that right.’

‘You’re not in Britain any more, Miss Weasley. If that is who you are.’ The Portuguese Auror, who had given his name as Santiago, leaned back on his chair with his file in hand. ‘Don’t assume you know how we do things here.’

‘You… lock us up without any legal advice and stare at us until we give answers?’

The file slammed down on the table in the dark, cramped room, Santiago’s expression twisting. ‘You were involved in this country’s most massive breach of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy in a hundred years. A site of our national heritage has been ruined, Muggles are injured and panicking and babbling what they saw across the world, and I have several confirmed members of the Council of Thorns in cells.’

When the dust had settled, when they’d been surrounded by Santiago and his men, Rose had been the first to put down her wand as instructed, and had gestured for the others to do the same. Raskoph and Thane had seen them; they had no more reason to be coy about their identity, and what was the alternative? She was worn from reinforcing the tower at the convent, Albus and Scorpius could barely stand, and Matt had just finished somehow dropping a golem-dragon. That left Selena, clearly on the verge of panic, and Lisa, who looked like she’d rip out someone’s jugular with the remotest provocation.

It was time to cooperate with the authorities. Not fight them.

Looking at Santiago’s cold, dark eyes, she was wondering if she’d made a terrible error. ‘They’re there,’ said Rose, forcing her voice to be calm, ‘because we brought them down. There are Muggles alive because of us. We didn’t fight with the Council. We fought against them.’ She paused. ‘How are the Obliviators doing?’

‘Wiping a lot of memories. Thankfully we have good people who were able to clamp down on the photos and videos going out within seconds, so we only have to worry about the witnesses. As far as they’re concerned, there was a shift of some unstable ground which resulted in the building damage and the minor injuries from falling debris. It will be considered nothing more than an unfortunate natural incident. So don’t you worry about the Statute. Worry about how we punish people for threatening it, and so worry about the necks of the six of you.’

Six. Where’s de Sablé? He hadn’t followed them out of the castle grounds, Rose had realised once they were surrounded. Perhaps it was for the best. If their guesses were correct, he would be an awkward source of curiosity. But they would have to find him.

First, get out of here.

‘All right. I’ll worry about us. So I want to see them.’

‘You can’t -’

‘A couple of us are claiming to be the children of British war heroes. Another is claiming to be the daughter of the Chairman of the International Magical Convocation. All of us back from the dead. Now, you have to check this out, Auror Santiago, and I understand that, but you also can’t afford to do more than ask me some tense questions. Because if I’m not lying, doing more would end very poorly for you. So how about, until you hear back from the British Ministry of Magic with some confirmation one way or another, you let me see them?’

Her voice had raised to echo across the cramped interrogation room, both hands planted on the table. Santiago’s expression didn’t change throughout, though something more sour entered his gaze. His jaw tightened. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘You get one. Which one?’

She hesitated - then trusted her gut instinct. ‘I want to see Scorpius Malfoy.’

She’d seen him fall atop the dragon, seen him and Albus disappear in the chaos of the tumble, and she’d thought her heart would stop. But it didn’t - it thudded out every long moment of the fall, and she’d been powerless to do anything but stand and gawp. And then run. When she’d found him he’d been at Thane’s mercy, then she’d had to see if Matt was still alive, and by the time she’d got to his side, the Aurors had arrived. And she’d had to let them take him away.

Santiago led her out of the interrogation room and down the cold stone corridor of wherever this Auror office was towards the cells. She’d been stuck in one of those for an hour before the questioning, but he led her past the door to her cell and onward to another, which he opened with a key. ‘You’ve got ten minutes.’

‘Give me until you get an answer,’ said Rose. ‘It’s not like you’re in a rush or don’t have confirmed Council wizards to interrogate.’

He didn’t reply, and she stepped past him into the gloom of the cell. Being arrested was a new experience for her, but at least the Portuguese magical authorities kept their criminal containment areas - if dark and clearly quite ancient - warm and dry, with a bunk along the wall that it wouldn’t kill her back to spend a night on. Though she’d rather not.

Scorpius was sat on it, back to the wall. He was still covered in dust and dirt, his jacket still scuffed and battered, cuts and scrapes and bruises about him, but his eyes fluttered open at her arrival, bright blue to pierce the darkness. His expression set, and he got to his feet, aching but tall, real, there.

She wrung her hands together as Santiago closed the door behind her, and when she spoke, her voice shook. ‘Hey.’

His gaze was flickering over every inch of her face, shoulders sharing the same tension as her. ‘Hey.’

Then she flew over into his arms, clutching at him like he was her anchor to the only light in this darkness. ‘I thought you were gone; you were on that thing, then we lost sight of both of you…’

He staggered, but rallied to wrap his arms around her. ‘I’m okay! I’m okay. Al caught me, got us out the way…’

She pulled back only enough to lift her hands to his cheeks, fingertips wiping streaks in the dirt on his face. But I saw a world where I lost you, she thought, and couldn’t say. And for a few seconds I was in that world. ‘I…’ Her mouth went dry, and suddenly the silence was filled with the thunderous echo of the unspoken.

His breathing slowed as he sensed it too, then his hand was at her chin, touch no longer ardent but achingly gentle, and he bowed his head to lean inches closer. ‘I know,’ he whispered. ‘There was that moment where the dragon was falling, before I saw Albus… and I figured that was it. I’d like to say I thought about what I’d miss, what I’d regret, the things I hadn’t had a chance to do. I didn’t, I just pretty much thought, “argh”, but if I had promised myself I’d do something it would be this -’ He kissed her, and it was life in an embrace, like not only was he affirming he was alive, but that she was, too, they were. All she could do was fall into his arms, grab greedy fistfuls of his battered jacket, and by the time he pulled back they were both gasping for air. ‘I love you,’ he breathed against her lips. ‘That’s what I should have promised I’d say, so I’m saying it now, before the next disaster happens, before the next interruption -’

‘Miss Weasley? Mister Malfoy?’ The next interruption came quickly.

Rose opened her eyes and gritted her teeth. ‘Auror Santiago, if you could just give me one minute -’

‘This looks real touching, I’m sure, but I’ve got someone insisting to see you and she’s more important than you or me.’

‘Rose?’

Oh my God, moments I’ve been daydreaming of are happening at once and they are not going together well. Rose let go of Scorpius and turned to see her mother at the door. She’d tied her hair back, which was a sign that things were really wrong, that it would go wild if not restrained. Bags hung dark under her eyes, her skin was pale, and all-in-all, she looked like she’d not slept in weeks.

She probably hadn’t. But she still lifted a hand when Rose took an awkward step forward. ‘Stop.’ Although there had been hope and hesitation before, her voice now went cold. ‘When you were six years old, you snuck into my office with Hugo and, when you were playing, the two of you broke something. What was it?’

Ah. Rose drew a slow breath. ‘The little desk clock that Grandma Molly got you a few Christmases before that. It was like the one at the Burrow, with hands for all of us, but you hated it because it put Dad under ‘Mortal Peril’ every time he got into a fight at work and that was just stressful, so you weren’t that angry when it broke.’ Her throat went even tighter, apprehensive under her mother’s cold gaze. ‘You tried to not smile when telling us off.’

But Hermione crossed the distance and pulled her into a fervent embrace, and before she could stop herself, Rose burst into tears on her mother’s shoulder. For a long moment the two of them didn’t do anything, say anything, just clutched at each other, and when her mother spoke again it sounded like she was working hard to not cry. ‘You were dead. We thought you were all dead…’

‘We had to pretend - I’m sorry.’ The apology choked in Rose’s throat and with it came the wave of shame. She’d never truly doubted their choice, but it hurt to think of what she’d done to her family. ‘I didn’t want to, but Kythos, all those people - we had to keep secret -’

‘I know.’ Her mother’s hand came to her hair, a soothing touch. ‘I understand, it’s all right… I wasn’t sure it was you, I had to be sure…’

Finally Rose pulled back, and sniffed in a way which was definitely dignified. ‘Is Dad here? Harry?’

‘No, I wanted to make sure for myself. Word came to Lillian and she told me, but we came here, just us, and didn’t want to… if it wasn’t you, we didn’t want to get someone’s hopes up, but - how?’

‘We can tell the whole story, but we should get everyone for it - I bet Lillian’s with Selena? - and there are the others…’

Scorpius shifted his feet at this, and the sound brought him into the moment which before had narrowed to only her and her mother. He lifted a hand in greeting to Hermione, not quite meeting her gaze. ‘Hey, Ms Granger.’

Her mother hadn’t cried yet. But for some reason the sight of Scorpius was too much, and Hermione tore from Rose’s arms to throw herself at him, pulling him into a thoroughly weepy hug. He staggered at the impact and looked shocked beyond all belief, but all Rose could manage was a hapless, one-sided shrug and wry smile. And all he could do was put his arm around her mother and pat her shoulder in an astonished manner.

At least they were getting on.



----------------

A/N: Not much to say about this one in terms of historical background. Next chapter will have some more answers on things like 'just what did Matt do?' and other pertinent questions.

On a personal note, I have managed to injure my knee and so I'm not walking for the next few weeks. This will either result in an astonishing amount of writing productivity, or... absolutely none. Knowing me, it'll be nothing in between. I'm fine, and I have a buffer, but if things slow down, that's why! Ideally I'd like to use this time to just finish Starfall.


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