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Starfall by Slide
Chapter 37 : Mercurial Matters
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6


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Mercurial Matters


‘Oh, good,’ said Selena when she saw the view from the balcony of her hotel room in Lisbon. ‘I was getting so sick of the tent. It’s time for a bit of luxury.’ In truth, her heart was in her throat at the sight of sunbathed oceans stretching out beyond the window. ‘There better be a mini-bar.’

Then Lillian Rourke slammed the door behind her, and remembering Methuselah was suddenly not as important as the reminder her mother was angry. ‘I can’t believe you.’

‘No, seriously.’ She turned. ‘I’ve not had a nice drink since Kythos, and that’s stretching the definition of “nice drink” to include scrounging ouzo. I want someone to bring me a drink. With a little umbrella in it.’ Her mother’s expression didn’t change, but Selena held her ground. This was how arguments with Rourke women went. Who could be the most stubborn the longest.

‘You stole from me.’

Technically I stole from the government. You’re not the government. Yet.’

‘You stole government property on my watch and then dragged your friends across the world to almost die. It was stupid and it was risky -’

‘And this year I was trapped in Hogwarts, saw a little boy die, saw my boyfriend die, fought dark wizards and Dementors and took part in a procedure to alter and down-power a lethal ritual.’ Selena went to the mini-bar and cracked it open. ‘Ooh, gin.’

‘Selena!’

‘Mum!’ She straightened. ‘I’m not sorry. I did what I had to do. I did what was right. Your Convocation wasn’t catching Prometheus Thane, and he’s been running around doing something exceptionally dangerous. If it weren’t for us, the Council of Thorns would be way more powerful by now.’

‘I am going to change the International Convocation,’ said Lillian, jaw setting. ‘We are going to destroy the Council of Thorns. We are going to destroy Prometheus Thane, and Albrecht Raskoph, and all their ilk. You don’t need to take matters into your own hands any more.’

‘There’s got to be a glass here somewhere,’ mused Selena, grabbing the tiny can of tonic to go with the tiny bottle of gin, and stomped about the room. ‘I can’t just pour these down my throat at the same time.’

‘Are you listening to me?’

‘Not at all!’ Selena disappeared into the bathroom and came out with the glass tumbler from the sink. ‘This isn’t exactly classy, but it’ll do.’

‘Selena -’

‘There will always be a need for people to take matters into their own hands, Mum.’ Selena stalked to the table. ‘The Council of Thorns has infiltrated the highest levels of the British government, and if you think they haven’t infiltrated the Convocation then you’re an idiot. Of course you’re going to change this, of course you’re going to make this better, but that will take time, and one thing we don’t have is time. Now. We have a much more serious problem.’ She turned to her mother, sombre. ‘There’s no ice.’

Then her mother was by her side, grabbing her elbow. ‘You have to listen to me, Selena - I know you’ve lost a lot, suffered a lot, and I know you feel helpless -’

‘Not any more.’ Selena pulled back. ‘I felt helpless at home, sat in tea shops with my friends, pretending I wasn’t grieving and doing nothing. Yes, I’m out here; yes, I’m risking my neck, but at least I am doing something. At least I am making a difference!’

‘You are looking to get yourself killed.’

‘Wrong again.’ Selena unscrewed the gin bottle and poured it into the tumbler. ‘I’ve seen death. I’ve looked death in the face, and I chose to live. But I chose that because there’s still stuff to do.’

‘Thane and Raskoph are bad news. You’re not even fully-qualified witches and wizards. I know you’ve done well, but I just got you back. Now I’m going to spend every day terrified something else will happen.’

‘And it might. If there’s one thing I saw today, it’s that anything can still happen to any of us, at any time, for any reason.’ She cracked open the can of tonic and tried to not think about the sight of the spiralling, tumbling golem-dragon, with Scorpius and Matt trapped atop or in it.

‘You have to come home.’ Lillian straightened. ‘If you want to make a difference, I can find you work. In my office, in the Convocation, something which is helping.’

‘Yes. I can save the world by filing paper.’

‘Better than getting yourself killed with this childish delusion that one person can save the world!’

‘I’m not one person.’ Selena sipped her drink and made a face. ‘We’re a team.’

Lillian Rourke stared at her, then drew a slow breath. ‘You’re too young to know what you’re doing.’

‘Wrong. I might be alive, but more than Tim Warwick and Methuselah Jones died at Hogwarts. To be all melodramatic about it, our childhoods died.’

‘I know you’re hurting at losing Methuselah, dear, but punishing Thane won’t bring him back. Nothing will.’ Her mother’s lips thinned. ‘Why are you doing this? It’s not just to do the right thing; you’re convinced you have to do it yourself. And vengeance is no reason to get yourself killed.’

Another sip of tepid gin and tonic. Today really had gone to the dogs. Selena shrugged. ‘Maybe I inherited your sense of civic duty. Mum, this isn’t up for debate. And you can try to use your power to stop me, but I bet that the Weasley-Granger-Potter conglomerate will be on Albus and Rose’s side, which means trying to stop me will mean trying to stop them, and you have better things to do than have that political fight!’

‘I do not have better things to do than keep you safe. You have to -’

She slammed the glass down. ‘I don’t have to do anything. I do what I choose, and yes, what I choose is dangerous, but I’m an adult and I have enough experience to know what I’m getting myself into. I am carrying on. This is not up for debate. There are only two things you can do to help me, and one of them is to get out of my way.’ She frowned at the drink. ‘The other is to tell me where the hell I can get ice and lemon in this place.’

‘Selena -’

She snapped her fingers. ‘Right. The bar. Goodbye, Mum. I’ll see you before we board the boat.’ And without another word she stalked past her mother and stormed for the hotel room door, ignoring the echoing in her ears of the question that hadn’t been answered in and amongst all the shouting.

Why are you even doing this.

* *


‘The Bahamas.’ Ron Weasley turned away from the balcony to sigh at his wife. ‘That blows the New Forest out of the water.’

‘You are doing a terrible job of disapproving, Ron,’ said Hermione, sat before the stack of folders the sea breeze threatened to pull off the table.

‘I’m not disapproving. Because that’d make me a hypocrite.’ Ron winked at Rose, who suppressed a smile. ‘Seriously, we did worse in our day.’

‘They broke into the Rabbit’s Foot Casino -’

‘Which is cool.’

‘Ron!’

Rose lifted her hands as her parents mock-glowered at each other. ‘I’m sorry. But I can’t come home yet. This isn’t over, and I have to finish what I started. I know you understand.’

Hermione gave her a look. ‘I really wish you wouldn’t use our experiences against us. I don’t mean that it’s inconvenient. I mean that it was different for us.’

‘No, it wasn’t. It was different for Uncle Harry. You had a choice, both of you, and you chose to stick by him.’

‘That wasn’t a choice,’ said Hermione.

‘And neither’s what I’m doing.’

Ron laughed, breaking the ice and winning another glare from his wife. He shrugged and pulled up a chair to sit next to his daughter. ‘Nobody was going to talk us out of this twenty-five years ago, Hermione.’

‘I don’t get how you’re so calm -’

‘I’m not.’ He put his arm around Rose, and she was startled by how iron-tight his hold was. ‘I’d love Rosie to come home with us, to worry about nothing more than school and boys who aren’t Scorpius Malfoy. But it’s been drummed into me that fathers almost never get what they want for their daughters.’

Rose looked up at him, eyes shining. ‘I’m sorry, Dad. I really, really didn’t want to hurt you.’

He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. ‘I know, Rosie. And I trust you. You’ve got your mother’s brains, after all.’

‘No,’ said Hermione, expression softening as she watched them both. ‘She’s got her own brains. Fine.’ A file was plucked from the stack, and slid across the table. ‘There are several transport options for getting to the Bahamas. Do as you like, but I’m planning on scheduling you a few Portkey tickets to other locations, muddy the trail. I know it’s best if we limit how much information comes back to us, to Britain, though even if you can’t tell us where you are, I would appreciate regular updates to be sure you’re all right.’

‘I can manage that much.’ Rose’s lips thinned. ‘I wish I could explain it better, but… I have to do this, Mum, Dad. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve hurt you and that I’m just going to run off again, but I - but this needs doing. I can’t come this far and then stop.’ She hesitated. ‘Did you manage to figure out why you did it? More than for Harry?’

‘It was for Harry,’ Ron sighed.

‘But you’re still an Auror. You fought a war and you still go out and fight bad guys.’

‘These days I fight the evils of bureaucracy. But you’re right. Ask me to explain in one sentence why I still do this and… well, I guess it’s what I do?’ Ron’s brow furrowed. ‘Which is a shoddy answer.’

‘And yet it’s the only one there is,’ said Hermione, gaze dropping.

‘How’s everything been going with Eridanos?’ Rose asked.

‘Actually rather well.’ Her mother looked troubled, rather than reassured. ‘We’ve been destroying every pocket of it, and it’s popping up less and less. From intelligence gathered from prisoners, it looks like they made it from one huge ritual somewhere in Central America, and deposited it in containment crystals which their agents could use to unleash it on certain places. But we found the ritual and dismantled it, so our experts are suspecting there’s a finite amount of Eridanos left in the world. The more pockets we wipe out, the more containment crystals we seize, the less the virus is out there.’

‘It works differently to Phlegethon, then.’

‘Phlegethon was inefficient. But I think that to be more powerful, more fast-acting and non-reliant upon an infecting ritual at every site, the limitations upon how to create a strand of Eridanos were more strict.’

‘It’s at least a victory in the making,’ said Ron.

‘I’ll take it.’ Rose suppressed a shudder. ‘I don’t want to think too much about a more fast-acting version of Phlegethon.’

‘It’s not pleasant. But we’re on top of it.’ Hermione patted the file she’d slid across the table. ‘That’s got everything we’ve found on Raskoph and Thane’s movements. I appreciate they might know what we know, but it’s all I can do. Oh. And one more thing.’ She pulled out another file. ‘This is everything I could get on Lisa Delacroix.’

Rose stared at that one. ‘Does she check out?’

‘It took some time. Paris weren’t cooperative, seeing as she’s from a company which offers security for high-profile individuals. Unsurprisingly they weren’t that keen to share their secrets. But then Lillian leaned on her contacts and this came through.’ Hermione flipped it open. ‘You can take a look for yourself. It’s a bit messy. But, yes. She checks out.’

Gingerly, Rose reached for the file, and wondered if this was better or worse than looting Lisa’s brain with Legilimency without her permission. ‘Thanks. I think.’

‘I don’t know what more I can give you, going forward,’ admitted Hermione. ‘Especially if I’m trying to hide information from my own office. I intend to infer to them that you’ve moved on to Africa.’

Ron shifted. ‘I’d rather we could still get in touch with each other, though. Even if it’s just you getting in touch with us.’

‘The Patronus was traced on my end. But it’s less likely to be traced on yours.’

Rose frowned. ‘I don’t know how to send my Patronus as a messenger.’

Her parents exchanged glances, and Hermione pulled out her wand. ‘Well,’ said her mother. ‘Seems we’ve got a job for the next little while, then.’

* *


James had stayed quiet during the Potter reunion. There had been tears and upset, laughter and relief, and tense, tense debates of the days ahead. But Albus knew his parents, and they knew him. This wasn’t over, and so all they could do was make the most of the time they had.

Even Lily had left the room with Harry and Ginny when they were done, Albus still worn and battered after the fighting, but his brother waited near the door, shut it behind the rest of the family, and turned with a face like thunder. ‘You need to stop trying to play hero.’

Albus, sat in an armchair, blinked. ‘I’m not playing at anything, Jim -’

‘No, you’re trying to get yourself killed. Again.’ James stalked to the middle of the room. ‘Do you know what you did? How much you hurt Dad? How much you hurt Mum?’

Albus looked down. ‘It couldn’t be helped.’

‘Yes, it could! You could have come home, Al, you could have told us, “Hey, I’m actually not dead” -’

‘It’s not that simple -’

‘Yes, it is!’ James clenched his fists. ‘They spent the last six months freaking out over Hogwarts, over Lily being infected and you running around in a hot-spot of danger, and once you’re out, what do you do? Run away again, right into danger. We thought you were dead!’

Albus grimaced and pushed himself to his feet. ‘What am I supposed to do?’

‘Come home. Stay safe. Stop shoving yourself into danger you don’t have to. You’re not Dad.’

A scowl. ‘I know that much. I’m not doing this to try to be Dad.’

‘Then you’re trying to wriggle out from under his shadow!’

‘You don’t understand. It’s not like that. You can’t understand.’

‘Why.’ James’ voice was flat as he put his hands on his hips. ‘Because I’ve not flying head-butted Death in the face, I don’t get what this is like? I know, I know, you fought mercs, you disabled a ritual, you just killed a dragon today -’

‘I did.’ Albus straightened, speaking firmly but without pride. ‘And yes, that does give a different perspective. I’ve come too far to give up now. We’ve all come too far to give up.’

‘So you’re just going to go. Go away, again, let Dad draw away from Mum some more…’

Albus flinched. ‘Don’t do this, Jim…’

‘…let Lily work herself into this mixture of hero-worship and fear, let me be the one who has to take care of everyone -’

‘I’m not responsible for Mum and Dad!’ Albus shouted at last, something bursting in his gut.

‘But you are responsible for the fate of the bloody world? Explain that one to me, little brother - explain how the wellbeing of your family isn’t your responsibility, but the wellbeing of people you’ve never met is.’

Albus looked away, arms folding across his chest as James’ accusation echoed about the tiny room. When he spoke, his voice was low, hoarse. ‘Was it that bad?’

‘It’s been that bad since September,’ said James, jaw clenched. ‘Dad runs to Ron and Hermione. Mum worries and runs to family, sometimes, and the rest of the time it’s me. Me to make her feel better, me to keep the press at bay, to keep Dad’s coworkers at bay. Me to make everyone believe the Potter family is one happy, united front, because what the hell do you think would happen if the wide world got a whiff of that?’

‘I can’t stop this.’ Albus ran a hand through his hair. ‘I can’t just come home. If nothing else, the others won’t, and I’m not leaving them.’

‘But you’ll leave our family?’

‘Don’t give me that, Jim.’ At last he glared at his brother. ‘Don’t give me this, “I’m the model son,” stuff. You’re the one who kept landing in the press with this scandal or that girl or another drunken debacle -’

‘I didn’t go looking for the press to hound me with -’

‘But they were going to hound you anyway! Because we’re Harry Potter’s sons! That’s the legacy! And you didn’t care about the pressure it put on them both, how it made Dad look, how it made Mum worry, how it made it harder for Lily and me to dodge questions! The press was out there sniffing for stories, and you were all too eager to give them!’ Albus clenched his jaw. ‘You’ve been making life harder for this family long before I started. At least mine is for a good bloody reason!’

James looked away at that, eyes blazing. They didn’t look much like brothers - Albus was broad, dark-haired, green-eyed, while James was willowy, brown-eyed, his hair a dark, coppery red. But when they argued, when they were angry, they shared their father’s temper. Not like their mother’s easily-sparked flames which died as quickly as they came, but something slower-burning, a smoldering inferno which blazed all the hotter.

It was the most they had in common.

‘They won’t ask you to come home, because they think they should be supportive and they’re projecting their damned issues all over you,’ said James at last. ‘But it’s what they want, and they’ll hate themselves for not asking you. Because if they just asked, you’d be so keen to please them you’d do it, wouldn’t you?’

Albus’ expression set. ‘Once, maybe. But I’m not doing this for them. I can’t come home, Jim. I have to do this.’

‘Great.’ James turned away. ‘Then I guess this is goodbye, little brother. You better hope there’s a Potter family for you to come home to.’

Albus’ gut twisted as his brother reached the door. ‘James -’

But he didn’t stop, didn’t look back, and then he was gone.

* *


‘So where’s this de Sablé fellow now?’

‘He wanted to leave and we weren’t about to stop him. I’m not sure we could. He seemed rattled by… he accepted he had to trust us because it was clear the Council are after the Chalice and the Council are trouble, but he didn’t like it. He seems to think there are people out in the world still affiliated with the Templars, and that if people are going after Templar interests it’s time they had a reunion. I just don’t know where he’s going or what he plans other than that. But. There’s a reason I wanted us to talk. Just me and you.’ Matt looked at his father. ‘I could do with a spot of honesty.’

Gabriel Doyle looked across the coffee table in the hotel room, gaze guarded. ‘Go on.’

‘I met Alfonse Guerrier. He called you an information broker. So, not just a businessman.’

His father sighed. ‘That wasn’t so much a secret as - all right, it was a secret. It is a secret. It’s not something you can’t know, it’s just something there was never any reason to tell you.’

‘Now might be a good time?’

Gabriel tensed. ‘Don’t look at me like - it’s not like that. Yes, I’m in the business of making everyone else’s business my business. Corporate issues, political issues… yes, criminal issues. After the war, I wanted to be able to use my abilities as a Seer for something good. Keeping tabs on bad things so good people could act on it. Though for most of the last ten years I’ve not done much. It was peaceful.’

‘Criminal issues.’ Matt paused. ‘Like the Council?’

‘I don’t work with the Council,’ said Gabriel. ‘I have been using my considerable resources to try to help the International Convocation fight the Council. I funded an operation to Peru last year when we heard Thane was behind Phlegethon, to see if we could trace anything. I had agents in Egypt looking into the reagent smuggling that went down to prep for the Phlegethon ritual. If I’d known you were going away to do this, I’d…’

‘Have stopped me?’

‘Helped you.’

‘Then what do you know about the Council? We worried they’d infiltrated the Ministry -’

‘They have. I don’t know where, but too much information on Ministerial operations leaks out. They’ll have their infiltrators in the Convocation, too.’

‘Scorpius suspects his father.’

Gabriel’s expression pinched. ‘Draco Malfoy is bad news. Draco Malfoy has been bad news his whole life.’

‘We know about the bounty.’

‘The Council is not, from all we have gathered, one united entity. It’s too big to be, too international. There are different factions with different wishes, and some of them were reportedly irate at you being… killed.’ Gabriel flinched. ‘It was from those corners, and the criminal underworld, that the reports came Malfoy would pay a significant amount of money for your killers.’

‘Do you think he could be in the Council, in one of the factions which didn’t want us dead?’

‘I’ll tell you what I know.’ Gabriel put down his tea. ‘I know that when Phlegethon struck, Draco Malfoy slunk out of the public eye entirely. I know that when Eridanos began to strike across the world, it has always struck somewhere the Malfoy Company has business interests. On the one hand, that’s a lot of the world. On the other, the timing has often come after significant shipments of magical equipment have come into Malfoy-owned properties. There’s a lot of uncertainty on how the Council is getting this array of magic goods past government inspections, and when it doesn’t look like corrupt governments, it looks like smugglers who know what they’re doing. And it’s far, far easier to smuggle in illicit goods under a veneer of respectability.

‘You think he’s been smuggling Council agents and their equipment into Eridanos strike spots?’

‘Nothing I can prove. And the way I gather my information doesn’t stand up in a court of law anyway. It’s harder to trace with Eridanos on the back foot - which is good, don’t get me wrong, but it makes the likelihood of collaring Malfoy slimmer.’

‘So you have been watching him.’ Matt frowned. ‘Keep it up.’

‘I will.’ His father hesitated. ‘There was never a reason to mention this to my children. Especially when it was something that was more relevant to my life during the war and after. You had to know I was a Seer because I sometimes have a vision, but in truth I haven’t had one in five years. Not even during Phlegethon, not even when I meditated.’

‘You said you could bring them on. That’s not worked?’

‘Bringing them on was never exact. But it’s odd that I can’t do it right now. It came reasonably easy during the war. There was… lots to see. For good or ill.’ Gabriel’s lips thinned. ‘It’s possible that Phlegethon, Eridanos, the Council meddling with death magics, has somehow interfered; I don’t know. But I can’t count on it like I used to.’

Matt looked at his hands. ‘This isn’t over,’ he said quietly. ‘There’s more to do, more to chase. And I have to see this through - I’m the one who’s done the research, they need me. It’s like I can do it, so I should, but that feels crazy.’ He raised his gaze. ‘You fought in Mum’s unit in the war. Why?’

‘“Unit” is a fancy word for it,’ said Gabriel wryly. ‘Merry band of pompous Gryffindors was another -’

‘That’s five words, and I’m a Gryffindor.’

‘Which means you’ve got your mother’s pig-headed idealism, and that makes me love her so it’s no bad thing.’ He sobered slowly. ‘I didn’t fight a war for ideals and causes. I fought a war for my friends. If the war hadn’t touched them I probably would have steered clear of it, and I’m ashamed of my eighteen year-old self for having that mentality.’

‘For wanting to fight for your friends?’

‘For only wanting to fight for my friends. I was…’ Gabriel’s voice trailed off. ‘You’re not me, and I thank the stars for that. You’ve got a better heart. But I couldn’t talk with your grandfather about what I was doing, or your uncle. It was my wish that you would live in a more peaceful time. But you can’t, and I am, at the end of the day, a pragmatist.

‘I’m not Hermione Granger. I’m not Lillian Rourke. They have always stayed on the straight and narrow, and it’s got them spies in their midst. I assure you that the vetting procedures I run on the people who work for me are more thorough, because I do not have to be fair, and nice, and even. I have done what I can, what I must, when I must. If I can’t make these more peaceful times for you, I can make sure you live through them.’ He reached into his jacket and pulled out a business card. ‘If you need me, I’m there. No questions. No judgements. No parental disapproval. Use this, and ask me.’

Matt took the card. It was rectangular and white and just had the black logo of his father’s company on it, along with his name. His brow furrowed. ‘How does it work?’

* *


From a train, to a tent, to a cell, to a fancy hotel. Scorpius couldn’t complain about the end of his day. Especially as he wasn’t paying for the hotel. Nor had he paid for the cell, admittedly, but the swankiest magical hotel in Lisbon was something even his bank account balked at. Coming back from the dead had its advantages, and the advantages today were that the Ministry of Magic footed the bill for all of the tearful reunions no doubt going on upstairs.

So he’d gone to the bar. Bought a beer and sat in the early evening moonlight that dazzled him through the windows, reflecting off the chrome plating and shiny, modern fixtures. Pretended to focus on the papers in front of him for booking Portkeys, chartering ships. But there was only so much he could do with it all, until…

‘I see you have no heartfelt family reunions.’

He looked up to see Lisa stood at the table. Something had happened to her today, too - she had gone from tightly-coiled and ready to explode to, somehow, awkward. Like she was unsure of her place, unsure of where to even put her feet. Somehow that was reassuring. He nudged the chair opposite him back with a foot. ‘Neither do you.’

‘No. But my name’s not been plastered all over the evening edition of the press.’ Lisa pulled a folded paper from inside her jacket and slid it across the table to him.

Scorpius’ eyes widened, snatching up the Daily Prophet. ‘Five Alive. Oh, that’s witty. Wait. “The Hogwarts Five have been found alive and well after foiling a Council of Thorns attack on Tomar, Portugal. Earlier today, magical authorities raced to the historic town to answer reports of a stone dragon devastating the area, only to find it had already been destroyed and its wizard-handlers incapacitated by the previously presumed-dead saviours of Hogwarts.” I guess you don’t get a credit.’

‘I guess not.’ Lisa did not look at all put-out by this. ‘Congratulations. Hero.’

‘You’re pretty sardonic when you get going.’

‘Of course I am. I’m not getting attention, and I prefer it.’

‘I would prefer it. But it beats being famous for the name.’ Scorpius tossed the paper down with a sigh. ‘I reckon I owe you a drink.’

‘Why, exactly?’

‘Today. You saved Albus and me from Thane. With exquisite timing; I really can appreciate a good entrance.’

‘We’re a team.’

‘No. We’re a team, and you’re sort of… hanging around to get the job done, and only taking Albus remotely seriously.’ He flipped the paper shut. ‘Until today.’

Awkward, she raised her gaze. ‘I thought I was that, yes. But today I found myself not thinking. Just fighting. Backing up Selena, Matt, Rose. Racing after you two. I have survived as long as I have on instinct, and today my instincts told me to fight with you. Not just on the same side as you.’

Scorpius snorted, but lifted a hand. ‘Sorry. That wasn’t disbelief. You just say you’ve survived “as long” as you have - you’re, what, a year older than me? Two?’ She just grimaced, and silence fell again. He frowned at his drink. ‘So how do you cope with it?’

‘Killing?’

Of course she knew. I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t know she knew. He swallowed, throat dry. ‘Yeah.’

‘Someone’s going to tell you that you did the right thing at Ager Sanguinis. That it saved Matt, that this was a “bad guy”. Maybe they’re right. I don’t know. I’m not so good on “right” things. Just necessary things.’ Lisa met his gaze, eyes dark but firm. ‘Every side in a war believes something. But when you’re in trouble, when you’re in the middle of a fight, when it’s magic of blood and bone and guts, nobody cares about their cause. You care about winning, saving your own neck, maybe saving the neck of the person next to you. So then it comes down to killing. Fighting for your beliefs means danger and death, and if you don’t accept that, if you don’t embrace that, then you’ll lose and you’ll die.’

Scorpius watched her for a long moment. ‘That’s psychotic.’

‘Am I wrong?’

He looked away. ‘I don’t know. I do know the cause matters.’

‘I’m not saying it doesn’t. I’m saying that causes must be fought for, and fights aren’t won by the person who believes the most, they’re won by the person who wants to live the most. And living, very often… demands killing. If you know the cause matters, then you know you’re right to kill for it.’

Scorpius drew a deep breath. ‘That’s a way to look at it. Except it sounds like a great way to become a monster, too.’ She didn’t answer. And just as he was trying to figure out how to change the subject or answer his own fear, the bar door swung open. He swore under his breath. ‘Speak of the devil.’

This was inevitable.

For some reason, he was relieved Lisa was the one with him. She was backup, he didn’t care much for what she thought of him, and she might not even stop him if he pulled his wand. Which was always a temptation when he spoke to his father.

Draco Malfoy looked cool and collected in professional robes, his hair swept back and expression controlled as he approached, and it was all Scorpius could do to mirror him. He was still scratched and worn, hair messy, clothes battered, but there was a shred of the Malfoy poise within him, and he knew that he had to fight fire with fire.

‘I came as soon as I heard,’ said Draco, and Scorpius’s heart sank.

‘Really? Hermione Granger didn’t tell you?’ He snatched up the folded newspaper. Malfoy poise hadn’t lasted. ‘The Daily Prophet managed to write and publish an article since it went down, and this is the fastest you could get here?’

‘I was caught up in -’

‘Then you came as soon as it was convenient. That’s not as soon as you heard.’

Silence fell across the hotel bar, quiet at this time of the evening, and Lisa intently studied the window as the two Malfoy men stared at each other, Scorpius’ gaze accusing, Draco’s tense and defensive. Finally, his father drew a slow, steady breath. ‘I had to see you. You’re -’

‘Why, so you can call off that bounty you put on my killers?’ Scorpius’ eyes flashed. ‘Yeah. I found out about that. Couldn’t stand someone hurting the family? Undermining the name “Malfoy”?’

Draco’s jaw tensed. ‘I didn’t come here to fight, Scorpius. I thought you were dead.’

He moved suddenly, and if he were any other father, Scorpius would have assumed he was going for an embrace. But his father didn’t hug, didn’t make overt demonstrations of affection; that wasn’t the Malfoy way. So he stepped back, lip curling. ‘I’m not. I survived. Congratulations, you don’t have to hunt down some poor Black cousin to make your heir.’

‘I don’t -’

‘There is only one thing I want from you.’ Scorpius squared his shoulders. ‘And I know you’ve got it with you, Draco, because I know you. I need the paperwork to prove I’m not dead.’

Draco stared at him, as stunned by the request as he was by the abandonment of any familial endearments. ‘The paperwork - what, so you can continue to squander your money on this ridiculous international jaunt, pretending to be a hero?’

There it is. Scorpius fought his quiet, unsurprised smile at the dismissive, perplexed tone in his father’s voice. ‘I don’t think you get to judge what I do with my own money.’

‘I think I’m your father and I can do as is necessary for the good of the family. Which includes you coming home. If I have to cut off your funds in order to do that -’

‘You can’t cut off the funds - that money is mine, by all legal and moral rights -’

Moral rights? That money was made, for good or ill, by me, your grandfather, your great-grandfather - Malfoy men you have tried to distance yourself from. Right until you need your inheritance? You ridiculous, hypocritical boy -’

Scorpius clenched his jaw. ‘You’ve got the paperwork on you, because you wanted to use this to bring me home. You’ll hand it over now, and then you’ll trot right back to England and we don’t need to have anything more to do with one another. Because if you don’t, gee, you know who I’m working alongside? Rose Weasley - I bet Hermione Granger would love to know about Pureblooded families trying to keep the family money in the hands of the old patriarchs. Oh, and Matt Doyle - isn’t he the son of the Head of Legal Affairs? Isn’t his uncle a senior partner in the Doyle & Suarez law firm - see, the clue’s in the name.’ He planted his hand on the table. ‘I don’t need you any more, Draco. You have now become entirely irrelevant to my life, not just emotionally but now financially, too!’

Draco took a step back as if struck. But when he rallied he did so magnificently, his jaw tilting up, his shoulders squaring. ‘I am your father; no matter how much you wish to act otherwise, this is still -’

‘No. Because this Christmas, when I was cut off from the world, alone and desperate and scared, when someone close to me had died and I was just one of a handful of kids with the weight of the world on my shoulders, you wrote to me to tell me I was an embarrassment to the family name, that I was making a fool of myself. That not only had my choices been wrong because they were bad for you, but that I needed to come and abandon all of my friends, everyone I cared about, everyone who was counting on me, because I was… what, more important than everyone else?’

Every parent thinks their child is more important than everyone else.’

‘Maybe.’ Scorpius looked at his other hand, and felt it beginning to shake. The surge of adrenaline from the row was kicking off the same fight-or-flight reflexes which his fight today had fired, and his brain was too jumbled to tell the difference. He swallowed on bile. ‘Give me the papers.’

Draco’s lips thinned - then he reached into his robes and pulled out folded parchment. ‘I can’t keep these from you. But you should know I’m going to start taking legal measures to reclaim this money; the trust funds had certain requirements you had to meet if you wanted access to them. I can make a good argument that you do not meet them.’

Scorpius looked at Lisa, who to his astonishment seemed to get the message and took the papers from Draco. He looked his father in the eye, and tried to slow the thudding in his heart. ‘If you do that then I will spread news of this bounty, this lead on your connection to bad people, to all of your enemies.’

His eyes narrowed. ‘I’m family -’

‘Which is why you get a warning. Goodbye, Draco.’ He didn’t move; didn’t trust his legs to not crumple under him, but his father seemed to take the dismissal anyway, turning on his heel and stalking across the bar towards the door. The moment he was out of sight, Scorpius collapsed onto a chair, burying his face in his hands, not caring one jot that Lisa was there and had seen the whole thing, because now his father was gone, and that was what mattered.

If he didn’t see him again in all his life, Scorpius thought, that would be too soon.


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